Ioannis Ziogas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham University (UK). He studied in Greece and the USA and worked as a lecturer at the Australian National University before moving to England in 2016. His main teaching and research interests revolve around interactions between law and literature in ancient Greece and Rome. His recent book (Law and Love in Ovid: Courting Justice in the Age of Augustus, Oxford University Press 2021) explores the juridico-discursive nature of Ovid's love poetry, constructions of sovereignty, authority, biopolitics, and the ways in which poetic diction has the force of law. The book concludes with a discussion of the plague in Boccaccio’s Dekameron, an epilogue written (almost prophetically) before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. He is currently co-editing (with Erica Bexley) a volume on Roman Law and Latin Literature (under contract with Bloomsbury).
Love and the Emergence of the Juridical Order
My presentation argues that Roman comedy casts love as the source of the law’s emergence. The context of performance is crucial here. Roman comedies took place during festivals that were defined by the suspension of legal action. The carnivalesque or Saturnalian context of the comic stage is the key to understanding comedy’s simultaneous denial and appropriation of legal discourse. The interruption of legal procedures is a requirement for the production of comedy. Yet, the world of Roman comedy is anything but devoid of legal issues. Building on Agamben, I argue that law’s creation of a specific time that lies outside the law does not result in anomie, but creates space for the institution of an alternative jurisdiction.
This jurisdiction is based on love— what Peter Goodrich calls the “laws of first Venus”. The comedic suspension of legal action is a return to a prejuridical condition. This prejuridical stage is defined by the absence of property law and thus the lack of distinctions between master and slave. Comedy’s subversion of the sociolegal hierarchy is thus a return to a golden age that was free from legal restrictions. At the same time, comedy gives birth to an alternative jurisdiction that is based on love, leisure, pleasure, and forgiveness.
The rule of comedy is not superficial. Comedy’s jurisdiction of love becomes a powerful legitimizing force that influenced real court cases (e.g. Cicero’s For Marcus Caelius) and juristic reasonings. The laws of love are the exception that aspire to become the absolute norm.