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THE CONFORMIST WOMAN AND THE INDEPENDENT WOMAN

In the historical scene of Rome of the first century, the decline of the Roman figure of the matron seems to correspond to the citizen’s moral degeneration in political, military and social fields.

The figure of the matron represented a model of virtus which all women followed, and it was also an object of admiration for the husband, as Titus Livius lets us know ("Forte potantibus his apud Sex. Tarquinium […] incidit de uxoribus mentio. Suam quisque laudare miris modis.", I, 57).

Her behaviour had to be characterised by indifference to social life and by complete devotion to housework ("Pergunt inde Collatiam, ubi Lucretiam haudquaquam ut regias nurus, quas in convivio luxuque aequalibus viderant tempus tenentes, sed noctae sera deditam lanae inter lucubrantes ancillas in medio aedium sedentem inveniunt.", I, 57), as is shown by the epigraphs, which list these feminine qualities: devotion and modesty.

The degeneration of habits involves a woman who is interested in various entertainments, like "orgies, loves, adulteries,[…] parties on the beach, banquets, revelries, songs, concerts, trips on the boat" ("Lubidines, amores, adulteria,[…] actas, convivia, commisationes, cantus, symphonias, navigia", Cic. Pro Cael., 35).

fresco.jpg (12277 byte)These attitudes were against the women’s traditional modesty, who never drank wine to avoid falling into pleasures dangerous for their respectability ("Vini usus olim Romanis feminis ignotus fuit, ne scilicet in aliquod dedecus prolabentur, quia proximus a Libero patre intemperantiae gradus ad inconcessam venerem esse consuevit.", Val.Max., Fac. et dict. mem. 2,1).

Sallustius and Cicero are witnesses of this change and they tell us about noble but corrupt women, clever at playing the lyre and dancing, expert in Latin and Greek literature ("[Sempronia] litteris Graecis Latinis docta, psallere [et] saltare elegantius quam necesse est probae, multa alia, quae instrumenta luxuriae sunt.", Sall., B. Cat., 25), who didn’t follow the ancient ideal of woman's behaviour.

The admired modesty had been replaced by dissolute lust ("Cum ex amplissimo genere in familiam clarissimam nupsisset, cur tibi Caelius tam coniunctus fuit? Coniatus, adfinis, viri tui familiaris? Nihil eorum. Quid igitur fuit nisi quaedam temeritas ac libido?", Cic., Pro Cael., 34), as we can clearly see in Appius Claudius Caecus’ famous prosopopoeia against Clodia.

The ancient Roman matrons practised frugalitas, a life-style inspired by sober habits, but the independent women used their riches to corrupt ("[Clodia] si se aurum Caelio commodasse non dicit, si venenum ab hoc sibi paratum esse non arguit, petulanter facimus, si matrem familias secus quam matronarum sanctitas postulat nominamus.", Cic., Pro Cael., 32).

Then it’s easy to understand that these women’s actions were not dictated by a respect for the Gods or devotion: this is another difference between them and the women with prisci mores, who showed a special pietas, erga parentes ("[…] Virgo vestalis Claudia […] patrem complexa triumphantem ab inimico tribuno plebei de curro detrahi passa non est.", Cic., Pro Cael., 34) and erga deos (" Quotiens vero inter virum et uxorem aliquid iurgi intercesserat, in sacellum deae Viriplacae, quod est in Palatio, veniebant et contentione animorum deposita concordes revertebantur.", Val. Max., Fac. et dict. mem. 2,1).

As we can see from the examples, the model of the matron dear to mos maiorum is turned down.

 

 Caterina Croce, Margherita De Mori, Federica Giarola, Manuela Marai e Valentina Pesci

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sirmione, Catullus' villa. Museum:
Fresco