— Etruscan women
— Ilia/Rhea Silvia
— Sabine Women
1. The Etruscans. Map: wikimedia.
“Historically, the Etruscans were the people who inhabited the roughly triangular region on the west coast of Italy bounded by the rivers Tiber and Arno. Although they apparently called themselves ‘Rasenna’ (Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.30.3), they were known to the Romans as Etrusci or Tusci, and to the Greeks as Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians, names that survive in the language of modern geography (Tuscany, the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruscan civilisation reached its cultural zenith in the period from the 8th to the 5th century BCE, when powerful city-states emerged. These are conventionally divided into a southern group: Veii, Caere, Tarquinii, Vulci; a northern group: Volaterrae, Populonia, Vetulonia, Rusellae; inland: Arretium, Cortona, Perusia, Clusium, Volsinii.” (Cornell 1995: 45)
1a. Lucy Shipley, “To be a Woman,” in The Etruscans: Lost Civilizations (2017) p99:
“Indeed, the reputation of Etruscan women was so strong that their independence is one of the few features of Etruscan society that remains widely known – it is a key part of the Etruscan myth. Women are regularly represented in Etruscan imagery, enthroned alongside men in images on ceramics and decorative terracottas. Female faces and bodies feature in the friezes that decorated great Etruscan buildings. In tomb paintings, women are shown dining with men, equally gorgeously attired, seated on the same couches. These scenes are made eternal in sarcophagi and cinerary urns, on which women recline with their partners or alone. They share the same food, the same access to alcohol, the same luxuries as their men, and seem to have enjoyed equal respect as ancestors too. Inscriptions from tombs name their occupants, connecting them not only with their father, but with their mother and her family as well, recognizing the importance of the female line of descent.”
1d. Painted Etruscan terracotta sarcophagus (c. 150 BCE) of a woman named Seianti Hanunia Tlesana, holding a mirror. British Museum. The skull and other bones from the sarcophagus were found to belong to a woman who was probably about 50yo at the time of her death. Images: British Museum.
2. Attic black-figure amphora (6th c. BCE). Aeneas, carrying his father, Anchises, with his son ahead of him. Escape from Troy. Aphrodite/Venus, Aeneas’ mother, stands behind him. Image: Getty villa.
3a. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st c. BCE), Roman Antiquities 1.77:
Ilia, going to a grove consecrated to Mars to fetch pure water for use in the sacrifices, was ravished by somebody or other in the sacred precinct…Most writers relate a fabulous story to the effect that it was a spectre of the divinity to whom the place was consecrated [=Mars]; and they add that the event was attended by many supernatural signs, including a sudden disappearance of the sun and a darkness that spread over the sky, and that the appearance of the spectre was far more marvellous than that of a man both in stature and in beauty. And they say that the ravisher, to comfort the maiden (by which it became clear that it was a god), commanded her not to grieve at all at what had happened, since she had been united in marriage to the divinity of the place and as a result of her violation should bear two sons who would far excel all men in valour and warlike achievements. And having said this, he was wrapped in a cloud and, being lifted from the earth, was borne upwards through the air. This is not a proper place to consider what opinion we ought to entertain of such tales…
Ilia = ‘of Troy/Ilium’
Rhea = Greek rheō (ῥέω) ‘to flow’
Silvia = ‘of the forest’
3b. Fragment of Ennius‘ Annals*, 2nd c. BCE.
*transmitted by Cicero, On Divination 1.40 (1st c. BCE).
…when roused terrified from sleep the old woman brought the lamp with trembling limbs, and in tears Ilia told this story. “Daughter of Eurydica, whom our father loved, the force of life is now leaving my whole body. For a handsome man appeared to me and snatched me away through pleasant willows, river banks, and places unknown. So alone, my sister, afterwards I seemed to wander and slowly to track you and to search for you and to be unable to grasp you in my heart. No path kept my feet steady. Then I dreamt my father [=Aeneas] spoke to me with these words: “Daughter, you must first endure miseries, then your fortune will rise from the river.” Once father had said this, my sister, he suddenly disappeared and did not offer himself to view, although I desired it in my heart, although I often stretched my hands to the blue expanses of heaven, tearful, and with pleading voice called to him. Then sleep left me sick at heart.
“Aeneas’ ‘comforting speech’ provokes only tears and a deeper longing and sense of abandonment. The passage thus demonstrates the uselessness of the male and imperialistic perspective to Ilia. Reflecting this, Ilia’s corporeality in the passage contrasts strikingly with the ellipse of Mars and with Aeneas’ elusiveness.”
3d. Roman relief depicting Mars’ “seduction” of Ilia. 1st-3rd c. CE. Vatican Museum. Image: Warburg Institute Iconographical Database.
3e. Timothy Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome (1995: 58):
“Controversy centred around such matters as the parentage of the twins [=Romulus + Remus]. In most accounts their father was the god Mars; but other versions had been circulated, the most interesting of which asserted that their mother had been impregnated by a spark from the hearth — a motif which has many parallels in Italic myth.”
4a. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE), 1.4:
But neither gods nor men protected the mother herself or her babes from the king’s cruelty; the priestess [= Ilia] he ordered to be manacled and cast into prison, the children to be committed to the river. It happened by singular good fortune that the Tiber having spread beyond its banks into stagnant pools afforded nowhere any access to the regular channel of the river, and the men who brought the twins were led to hope that being infants they might be drowned, no matter how sluggish the stream….In those days this was a wild and uninhabited region. The story persists that when the floating basket in which the children had been exposed was left high and dry by the receding water, a she-wolf (lupa), coming down out of the surrounding hills to slake her thirst, turned her steps towards the cry of the infants, and with her teats gave them suck so gently, that the keeper of the royal flock found her licking them with her tongue. Tradition assigns to this man the name of Faustulus, and adds that he carried the twins to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to rear. Some think that Larentia, having been free with her favours, had got the name of “she-wolf” [lupa = “prostitute”, lupanar= “brothel”] among the shepherds, and that this gave rise to this marvellous story.
4b. Tomb of the Statilii on the Esquiline, north wall (1st c. BCE). Romulus and Remus are abandoned on the banks of the River Tiber. Image: The Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.
4c. Mosaic depicting the She-wolf with Romulus and Remus. Aldborough (UK), c. 300-400 CE (Leeds City Museum). Image: Carole Raddato.
5a. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE) 1.9:
Rome was now strong enough to hold her own in war with any of the adjacent states; but owing to the lack of women a single generation was likely to see the end of her size, since she had neither prospect of posterity at home nor the right of intermarriage with her neighbours. So, on the advice of the senate, Romulus sent envoys round among all the neighbouring nations to solicit for the new people an alliance and the privilege of intermarrying. Cities, they argued, as well as all other things, take their rise from the lowliest beginnings. As time goes on, those which are aided by their own manliness [virtus] by the favour of the gods achieve great power and renown. They said they were well assured that Rome’s origin had been blessed with the favour of the gods, and that their manliness [virtus] would not be lacking; their neighbours should not be reluctant to mingle their stock and their blood with the Romans, who were as truly men as they were. Nowhere did the embassy obtain a friendly hearing…
This was a bitter insult to the young Romans, and the matter seemed certain to end in violence. Expressly to afford a fitting time and place for this, Romulus, concealing his resentment, made ready solemn games in honour of the equestrian Neptune, which he called Consualia. He then ordered that the spectacle be announced to the surrounding peoples, and his subjects prepared to celebrate it with all the resources within their knowledge and power, that they might cause the occasion to be noised abroad and eagerly expected. Many people — for they were also eager to see the new city — gathered for the festival, especially those who lived nearest…
The Sabines, too, came with all their people, including their children and wives. They were hospitably entertained in every house, and when they had looked at the site of the city, its walls, and its numerous buildings, they marvelled that Rome had so rapidly grown. When the time came for the show, and people’s thoughts and eyes were busy with it, the preconcerted attack began. At a given signal the young Romans darted this way and that, to seize and carry off the unmarried women [virgines]. In most cases these were taken by the men in whose path they chanced to be. Some, of exceptional beauty, had been marked out for the chief senators, and were carried off to their houses by plebeians to whom the office had been entrusted…
The games broke up in a panic, and the parents of the young women fled sorrowing. They charged the Romans with the crime of violating hospitality, and invoked the gods to whose solemn games they had come, deceived in violation of religion and honour. The stolen girls were no more hopeful of their plight, nor less indignant. But Romulus himself went amongst them and explained that the pride of their parents had caused this deed, when they had refused their neighbours the right to intermarry; nevertheless the daughters should be wedded and become co-partners in all the possessions of the Romans, in their citizenship and, dearest privilege of all to the human race, in their children; only let them moderate their anger, and give their hearts to those to whom fortune had given their persons.
A sense of injury had often given place to affection, and they would find their husbands the kinder for this reason, that every man would earnestly endeavour not only to be a good husband, but also to console his wife for the home and parents she had lost. [1.10] His arguments were seconded by the wooing of the men, who excused their act on the score of passion and love, the most moving of all pleas to a woman’s heart…
[1.13 — after war between the Romans + the Sabines] Then the Sabine women, whose wrong had given rise to the war, with loosened hair and torn garments, their woman’s timidity lost in a sense of their misfortune, dared to go amongst the flying missiles, and rushing in from the side, to part the hostile forces and disarm them of their anger, beseeching 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 the suppliants’ children, grandsons to one party and sons to the other.
“If you regret,” they continued, “the relationship that unites you, if you regret the marriage-tie, turn your anger against us; we are the cause of war, the cause of wounds, and even death to both our husbands and our parents. It will be better for us to perish than to live, lacking either of you, as widows or as orphans.” It was a touching plea, not only to the rank and file, but to their leaders as well. A stillness fell on them, and a sudden hush. Then the leaders came forward to make a truce, and not only did they agree on peace, but they made one people out of the two. They shared the sovereignty, but all authority was transferred to Rome. In this way the population was doubled, and that some concession might after all be granted the Sabines, the citizens were named Quirites.
VIRTUS = gives us “virtue” but literally meant “manliness”
Latin vir = “man”
VIRtus = MANliness
5b. Pablo Picasso, “Rape of the Sabine Women” 1963. MFA, Boston. Image: MFA. Read this Guardian piece by Rhiannon L Cosslett on how this painting may be read in context of #metoo movement.
6a. Stephanie Jed, Chaste Thinking (1989: 45):
“I intend the expression ‘chaste thinking’ as a figure of thought constituted at the join of two conflicting lexical families of terms, one representing the impulse of touch and the other, the impulse to be cut off from contact. These lexical families include, on the one hand, words related to touching or the absence of touching — tangible, contaminate, contact, integrity, intact, etc., and, on the other hand, words related to cutting — chastity, castigate, caste, and Latin carere (“to be cut off from, to lack.”). The narrative of the rape of Lucretia and the subsequent liberation of Rome from tyranny, I will argue, brings together these two conflicting series into a seemingly necessary relation of consequentiality, which, thus, sustains the figure of chaste thinking.”
6b. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE) 1.57-59:
The royal princes sometimes spent their leisure hours in feasting and entertainments, and at a wine party given by Sextus Tarquinius at which Collatinus, the son of Egerius, was present, the conversation happened to turn upon their wives, and each began to speak of his own in terms of extraordinarily high praise. As the dispute became warm Collatinus said that there was no need of words, it could in a few hours be ascertained how far his Lucretia was superior to all the rest. ‘Why do we not,’ he exclaimed, ‘if we have any youthful vigour about us mount our horses and pay your wives a visit and find out their characters on the spot? What we see of the behaviour, of each on the unexpected arrival of her husband, let that be the surest test.’ They were heated with wine, and all shouted:
‘Good! Come on!’ Setting spur to their horses they galloped off to Rome, where they arrived as darkness was beginning to close in. From there they proceeded to Collatia, where they found Lucretia very differently employed from the king’s daughters-in-law, whom they had seen passing their time in feasting and luxury with their acquaintances. She was sitting at her wool work in the hall, late at night, with her, maids busy round her. The palm in this competition of wifely virtue was awarded to Lucretia. She welcomed the arrival of her husband and the Tarquins, whilst her victorious spouse courteously invited the royal princes to remain as his guests. Sextus Tarquin, inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia, formed the vile project of effecting her dishonour. After their youthful frolic they returned for the time to camp.
[1.58] A few days afterwards Sextus Tarquin went, unknown to Collatinus, with one companion to Collatia. He was hospitably received by the household, who suspected nothing, and after supper was conducted to the bedroom set apart for guests. When all around seemed safe and everybody fast asleep, he went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, ‘Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquin, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die.’ When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart.
When he saw that she was inflexible and not moved even by the fear of death, he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour. Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her, each accompanied by one faithful friend; it was necessary to act, and to act promptly; a horrible thing had happened. Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, the son of Volesus; Collatinus with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he happened to be returning to Rome when he was met by his wife’s messenger.
They found Lucretia sitting in her room prostrate with grief. As they entered, she burst into tears, and to her husband’s inquiry whether all was well, replied, ‘No! what can be well with a woman when her honour is lost? The marks of a stranger Collatinus are in your bed. But it is only the body that has been violated the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. But pledge me your solemn word that the adulterer shall not go unpunished. It is Sextus Tarquin, who, coming as an enemy instead of a guest forced from me last night by brutal violence a pleasure fatal to me, and, if you are men, fatal to him.’
They all successively pledged their word, and tried to console the distracted woman, by turning the guilt from the victim of the outrage to the perpetrator, and urging that it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt ‘It is for you,’ she said, ‘to see that he gets his deserts: although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia‘s example.’ She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death-cry.
6c. The enduring emblem of Lucretia…
- Philippe Bertrand, “Lucretia”, 1704 or earlier. Image: Metropolitan Museum.
- Johann Peter Pichler, “Tarquin and Lucretia”, 1792. Image: Metropolitan Museum.
- Titian, “Tarquin and Lucretia”, 1571. Fitzwilliam Museum. Image: Wikimedia.
- Artemisia Gentileschi, “The Rape of Lucretia”, 1645-1650, Neues Palais, Potsdam. Image: Wikimedia.
- Rembrandt, “Lucretia”, 1666. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Image: Wikimedia.