Have you ever tried to find modern equivalents to Roman genres, or to single works? I mean, if Seneca had to publish one of his books today, which publisher would he choose? How would be the cover of his books? And, above all, who would buy his works?
For some reason, these are questions I ask myself rather frequently. So, this semi-serious article collects some of my modest proposals (more might follow in another article).
#1 Pliny the Elder and Wikipedia:
Well, this is an easy one.
Some parts of Pliny’s Naturalis historia could find specific equivalents (think of Sapiens by Y. N. Harari, whose subtitle is A brief history of Humankind, besides, of course, all those single-subject essays on art, botany, anthropology, religion…).
However, there is one comparison that comes naturally (haha). With their surprising amount of all-around knowledge (and the extraordinary congeries of fake news they contain), the Naturalis historia would definitely find their place in the pages of Wikipedia.
Old paper encyclopedias would be a good match too, of course, as well as some personal accounts of explorations of wild nature and animal behavior (National Geographic magazines? BBC documentaries?).
(What is surprising, though, is that while Wikipedia is the result of a collective work, Pliny wrote all by himself – but he didn’t have the Internet to distract him).
#2 Plautus and comedy movies:
Ok, I know that this comparison might seem less then flattering for some Plautus-enthusiasts out there, but we have to face reality. Today, Plautus would make for a successful filmmaker – and I am also talking about low budget, tawdry movies.
If you think about it, Plautus’ comedies often follow cliché storylines (old skinflints, servi callidi, identical twins, belated agnitions, comic misunderstandings…). Also, most of his vis comica is based on cheap punch lines and trivial jokes.
However, the audience seemed to like it a lot – much more than the slower, more introspective comedies by Terence (definitely a French or Polish filmmaker). People went to the theater to have fun, to laugh out loud, to eat popcorns.
On a nobler level, though, I would compare Plautus’ comedies with some movies by Woody Allen. Think about Melinda and Melinda, then compare it to the Bacchides, or Menaechmi. Everything is there. Theme of the double, misunderstandings, troubles, love affairs, tragicomedy and happy endings.
#3 Seneca and self-help books:
With his Letters to Lucilius and the Dialogi morales, Seneca would definitely be a best seller within the genre of self-help literature. If his publisher had to choose an appropriate title, he would probably go for something like How to defeat your fears and live an happy life, or Free yourself from distractions and reclaim your time (have you already watched my video on this topic?).
(Nothing new, though, because this is exactly what all those Stoicism-inspired books are doing).
What do you think about these comparisons? Are there any others that come to your mind? I tried to find a convincing modern correspondant for the Aeneid, but I haven’t found the good match yet, so I am open to your suggestions…