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The modern use of ‘classicism’ to refer either to the art and literature of a period held to represent a peak of quality or perfection, or to the conscious imitation of works of such a period, derives from M. Cornelius Fronto's use of classicus (lit. ‘belonging to the highest class of citizens’) to denote those ancient writers whose linguistic practice is authoritative for imitators (quoted in Gell. NA 19. 8. 5). The possibility of designating a period as ‘classical’, and of the consequent appearance of ‘classicizing’ movements, arises with the Hellenistic consciousness of the present as set off from, but heir to, a great past tradition, and with the self-conscious development of a theory of imitation (see imitatio). A full-blown classicizing movement emerges in 1st-cent. bce Rome, fostered by Greek writers like Dionysius (7) of Halicarnassus who champion Thucydides (2) as a model for historians and argue for the superiority of ‘Attic’ over ‘Asianic’ rhetorical models (see asianism and atticism); in the visual arts there is a parallel movement to imitate Greek models of the 5th and 4th cents. bce (see retrospective styles). In modern scholarship on the ancient world ‘Classical’ has been used as a period term (often with evaluative overtones), opposed to ‘Archaic’, ‘Hellenistic’, ‘baroque’, etc. , to refer in particular to the art and literature of 5th- and 4th-century bce Athens and of late republican and Augustan Rome. ‘Classicism’, referring both to the imitation of antique models and to more general stylistic choices, has been a key term in the cultural history of the 18th and 19th cents.


T. Gelzer in Le Classicisme à Rome, Entretiens Hardt 35 (1979), 3–7.Find this resource:

    J. Stroux, in W. Jaeger (ed.), Das Problem des Klassischen und die Antike (1931), 1–14.Find this resource:

      G. M. A. Richter, Journal of Roman Studies 1958, 10–15.Find this resource:

        J. I. Porter (ed.), Classical Pasts (2006).Find this resource:

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