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Language and the value of intellectual inquiry : themes in the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius Reid, Shelley Annette

Abstract

Aulus Gellius composed his miscellany, the Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), in the mid-second century A D as a means of educating, entertaining and intellectually stimulating his fellow Romans. His work was part of a strong miscellany tradition in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Gellius is frequently dismissed as a dilettante who collected his material without discrimination or forethought, and it is assumed that his work lacks any thematic structure. While it is true that the Noctes Atticae comprises a considerable variety of topics, it is possible to trace particular themes in the Noctes Atticae, such as Gellius' fascination with language and his belief in the value of intellectual pursuits. Gellius' interest in language is expressed through his inquiries into discrete words, including the archaic vocabulary of early Latin writers, but he also gave consideration to the social aspects of language, especially the issue of the determination of language usage. The high value which he placed on intellectual inquiry and research is a persistent theme in the Noctes Atticae; Gellius was passionate in his belief that the truly educated man never forsook his intellectual curiosity.

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