Women in Livy
Catherine Littlefield
Suffering Women
• Women’s suffering used as exemplum, acting
as catalyst for male action to change
governmental structure
• Lucretia: The end of the Republic
• Verginia: The fall of the decemvirs
• Heraclia: The end of Syracuse regime
• Women important and needed as catalysts of
change, used by Livy to describe why and
how a historical event may have taken place
• The men who perform these misdeeds are
punished with a loss of power
Lucretia and the Fall of the
Monarchy (1.57-60)
• 1.58.7-11:
• sed date dexteras fidemque haud inpune adultero fore . . . vos'
inquit 'videritis, quid illi debeatur; ego me etsi peccato absolvo,
supplicio non libero; nec ulla deinde inpudica Lucretiae exemplo
vivet.’ cultrum, quem sub veste abditum habebat, eum in corde
defigit prolapsaque in vulnus moribunda cecidit.
“But give your right hands and trust that the adulterer will by no
means be unpunished … ‘you will see to,’ she said, ‘what is
owed to him; although I absolve myself of the sin, I do not free
myself from punishment; no woman shall live unchaste(ly)
thence by the example of Lucretia.’ She plunged the knife that
she had concealed beneath her dress in her heart, and slipping
on the wound, she fell dead.”
Verginia and the end of the
decemvirs 3.44-58
sequitur aliud in urbe nefas ab libidine ortum, haud minus foedo eventu,
quam quod per stuprum caedemque Lucretiae urbe regnoque
Tarquinios expulerat, ut non finis solum idem decemviris, qui regibus,
sed causa etiam eadem imperii amittendi esset. Ap. Claudium virginis
plebeiae stuprandae libido cepit.
“Another forbidden thing follows in the city having risen from a desire by
no means of less foul consequence, than that which through the rape
and the slaughter of Lucretia had expulsed the Tarquins from the city
and the throne so that not only was there the same end for the
decemvirs that there had been for the kings, but there was also the
same cause of their losing power. The desire of raping a virgin of the
plebs seized Appius Claudius.”
Heraclia of Syracuse 24.24-26
• Heraclia erat filia Hieronis, uxor Zoippi, qui legatus ab Hieronymo ad regem
Ptolomaeum missus voluntarium consciverat exilium. ea cum ad se quoque
veniri praescisset, in sacrarium ad penates confugit cum duabus filiabus
virginibus resolutis crinibus miserabilique alio habitu …
“Heraclia was the daughter of Hiero, The wife of Zoippus, who, sent as an
ambassador by Hieronymus to king Ptolemy, had decided on voluntary exile.
When she had learned that these guys were coming to her, she fled into a
sanctuary to the household gods with her two virgin daughters, with their hair
having been loosened and with other wretched appearance …”
Women killed before news
came of pardon
quod paulo post nuntius venit, mutatis repente ad misericordiam animis,
ne interficerentur. ira deinde ex misericordia orta quod adeo festinatum
ad supplicium neque locus paenitendi aut regressus ab ira relictus esset.
itaque fremere multitudo et in locum Adranodori ac Themisti—nam ambo
praetores fuerant—comitia poscere, quae nequaquam ex sententia
praetorum futura essent.
“… because a little after a messenger came, with their minds suddenly
changed towards pity so that they might not be killed. Thence anger from
the ones pitying arose from mercy because they had made such great
haste towards punishment and had left no place for regret or returning
from anger. And so the multitude raged and they demanded an election
in the places of Adranodorus and Themistus--for both had been the
praetors--which was about to be by no means from the opinion of the
The frequent death and
disappearance of Women in Livy
• Once women have served their purpose in
Livy’s histories they are eliminated
– Some disappear
• Rhea Silvia: Imprisoned for giving birth as a Vestal
Virgin--not mentioned again in Livy
– Served purpose as mother of founder of Rome (Romulus)
– Some are killed or kill themselves
• Lucretia
• Verginia
• Heraclia
The mos maiorum and
Augustan moral reforms
Livy uses women as exemplum to instruct to imitate virtue and avoid
vice as the ancestors would do
– The men who did not follow this (Tarquin, Appius Claudius and the
murderers of Heraclia and her daughters), caused ruin and collapse
of their governments
– Women are inclined to their pudor not only for the sake of
themselves, but also for their fathers who are affected if their
daughters become un-pure
• Lucretia gives into rape to avoid dishonor
– She also kills herself, being unable to live with the shame
of losing her honor
• Verginia is killed by her father so he avoids being shamed by
her nearly unchaste deeds
Lucretia’s Rape
ibi Sex. Tarquinium mala libido Lucretiae per vim stuprandae capit; cum forma tum spectata
castitas incitat.
“There, evil desire seizes Sextus Tarquinius to debauch Lucretia through force; both her
appearance and her observed chastity incite him.”
– Lucretia is attractive because of her chastity
ubi obstinatam videbat et ne mortis quidem metu inclinari, addit ad metum dedecus: cum
mortua iugulatum servum nudum positurum ait, ut in sordido adulterio necata dicatur.
“When He saw that she was resolute and was not being swayed by the fear of even death, he
adds disgrace to fear: he says that he will place a naked slave, having been slaughtered, with
her being dead, so that she would be said to have been killed in foul adultery.”
Pudicitia: Chastity of Lucretia causes her to give in to avoid being shamed in death
Death over Shamed Pudor
• 1.58.7
• 'minime' inquit; 'quid enim salvi est mulieri amissa pudicitia?
vestigia viri alieni, Collatine, in lecto sunt tuo; ceterum corpus
est tantum violatum, animus insons; mors testis erit.
“She replied, ‘Far from it; for what is well for a woman when she
has lost her honor? Traces of a strange man, Collatinus, are in
your bed. But my body only has been violated; my heart is
guiltless, death will be my witness . . .’”
• Lucretia would rather die than live without honor--shows how
chaste she really is
Women’s relation to her family and
• Tarpeia, 1.11.6
Sp. Tarpeius Romanae praeerat arci. huius filiam uirginem auro corrumpit Tatius ut armatos in
arcem accipiat . . . accepti obrutam armis necauere. . .
“Spurius Tarpeius commanded the Roman citadel. Tatius corrupts the virgin daughter of this
man with gold to admit armed men into the citadel . . . having been let in, they threw their
shields upon her to kill her . . .”
• Horatius’ sister, 1.26.3-4
mouet feroci iuueni animum conploratio sororis in uictoria sua tantoque gaudio publico. stricto
itaque gladio simul uerbis increpans transfigit puellam. ' abi hinc cum immaturo amore ad
sponsum' inquit, 'oblita fratrum mortuorum uiuique, oblita patriae. sic eat, quaecumque
Romana lugebit hostem.'
“The lamenting of the sister moves the spirit of the fierce youth in his own victory and in so
great public joy. And so, with his sword having been drawn at the same time complaining with
words he ran it through the girl. ‘Depart,’ he says, ‘from here to your spouse, with your untimely
love, since you have forgot your brothers, both the dead and the living, and forgot your country!
So go every Roman woman whoever will mourn an enemy!’”
*Going against the state = punishable by death
Women’s relation to her family and
• Sabines, 1.13.1-2
tum Sabinae mulieres, quarum ex iniuria bellum ortum erat, crinibus passis scissaque ueste,
uicto malis muliebri pauore, ausae se inter tela uolantia inferre, ex transuerso impetu facto
dirimere infestas acies, dirimere iras, hinc patres, hinc uiros orantes, ne sanguine se
nefando soceri generique respergerent, ne parricidio macularent partus suos, nepotum illi, hi
liberum progeniem.
“Then the Sabine women, from whose wrong had risen the war, with loosened hair and torn
garments, with their woman’s fear having been conquered by evils, having dared to carry
themselves amongst the flying weapons, with an attack having been made from the side,
divided the hostile battle lines, divided their anger, begging their fathers on this side, on that
their husbands, that fathers-in-law and sons-in-law should not stain themselves with impious
bloodshed, nor pollute with parricide their own offspring, the former their offspring of
grandsons, the latter their offspring of children.”
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