Appropriate Transgressions: Parody and Decorum in Ancient Greece and Rome


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Parody is a widespread but undertheorized phenomenon in Greco-Roman literature. This project shows that “appropriate transgression”—the idea that parody must justify itself in terms of propriety even as it breaches the decorous integrity of its model—is the paradoxical key to ancient conceptions of parody. In recovering Greco-Roman parody’s double relationship to notions of decorum (“appropriateness”), parody emerges as a surprising but crucial participant in discourses about this central aesthetic and ethical value. A series of case studies, from Hegemon of Thasos on generic decorum to crossdressing as gender parody in Statius’s Achilleid, demonstrates how parody enters into dialogue with ancient philosophical, rhetorical, and literary-critical accounts of the virtue of decorum, and lays bare the weaknesses and limitations of their understanding of propriety. Parody, this project shows, is a form of literary and philosophical criticism by different means.