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32. Women in Imperial Roman Literature

Rhiannon Ash


Subject History
Roman History » Roman Empire

Place World » Mediterranean

Period 1 - 999 CE » 1 - 250 CE

Key-Topics community, gender, women

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405192842.2012.00048.x


Extract

In the literary texts that survive from the early Imperial period across a whole range of different genres, vibrant and memorable portraits of women abound. While some such representations are undeveloped and undeniably shaped by stereotypical conceptions of archetypal female (as opposed to male) traits, other depictions of women, evolving subtly over extended stretches of narrative, are much more nuanced and multifaceted, allowing scope for complex and divergent reactions from an audience. We can compare here the different ways in which we react to characters preserved in static “snapshots” as opposed to those appearing in complex films. Of course, the process of characterizing any individuals in ancient texts, whether men or women, is influenced by various factors. Two of the most important are how an author responds to the preconceived “rules” of a given literary genre (which are often subverted in inventive ways) and the practice (particularly prevalent in Roman texts) of creative allusion, which involves filtering one character or situation through another pre-existing text. It should never be forgotten that ancient readers were highly sophisticated consumers, with the ability to draw on their knowledge of previous Greek and Latin authors and engage in a lively “dialogue” with a new text. Take, for example, the intriguing opening sequence of Juvenal's sixth Satire about ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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