Urbanitas against Urbanism: a Latin Paradox

by

Pierre Maréchaux

Keywords

  • urbanitas
  • rhetoric
  • Roman antiquity
  • Cicero
  • Vitruvius

There is nothing more polysemic than the word urbanitas, which refers to urban life before characterizing the manners and language in their spiritual dimensions. From Cicero to Quintilian, the Vrbs structures an entire episteme _and a body of knowledge about the city, which expands in the ethics as well as in the esthetics. However, when we inquire into the Roman architecture, it is easy to notice that it also reminds us of rhetoric, and that a stone building is always the conjugated fruit of invention, of disposition, and ornamentation. In other words, these notions find inspiration in one another, thus generating an implicit path between the City and language, only to arrive, via the architectural treatises, back to the City. This crisscross is the study object of the article. By taking a special interest in the Roman urbanity, this text aims to establish a working hypothesis: if the Ciceronian _urbanitas was hostile to urbanism, Vitruvius is nonetheless the architect of their reconciliation.