Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Nousek, Debra


This thesis examines the transitions that the Roman discourses of otium experience between the years 60–40 bce. I examine the instances of otium in Cicero, Catullus, and Sallust to reconstruct the discourses that influenced their usages of the term, and to shed light on how elite Roman men were adjusting to their shrinking access to the political sphere as a small number of men gained power. To perform this analysis, I rely on discourse theory and leisure studies. I have identified six main usages of otium in their writings: otium as free time; otium as peace, or time without disturbance; otium as opposite public business; otium as time for textual creation; otium as time for study; and cum dignitate otium. These usages are not mutually exclusive, demonstrating how various discourses overlap, change, and develop. When used for a collective, otium moves from being used as a signifier of tranquility within a nation to a dangerous state that fosters sedition. On an individual level, textual creation within otium without participation in politics replaces the discourse that mandated otium be earned from negotium. This study narrows the gap between Republic and empire, demonstrating that the need for politics to form male identity was already being minimized before the early empire.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis examines how three Roman authors, Cicero, Catullus, and Sallust, thought about and portrayed otium, the Roman word for leisure in the years 60–40 bce. The authors had different levels on involvement in politics and held different political beliefs. An examination of their uses of otium reveals how their beliefs and ideals appeared in their writing and also shows that Roman men were confronting the changes in their world and re-evaluating how to be a man during the political crises of 60–40. By the end of the time period under examination, some authors were using otium as a substitute for political work, foreshadowing a trend that would emerge in the Empire. This study endeavours to narrow the gap between the Republic and the Empire by demonstrating that the changes in values that are noted in the Empire were already underway during 60–40.