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Increasing female presence in the Cambridge Latin Course

One of the primary aims for the forthcoming 5th edition of the Cambridge Latin Course is to increase and improve female representation in the Course. Of course the way in which students perceive the female characters in the CLC is to some extent dependent on how their teachers guide discussions of story line and characterisation in their classrooms. For instance, the Metella of the 4th edition stories can seem to students a lazy character, almost comical in the perception that she sits in the atrium doing nothing all day. However, if teachers help students to realise through discussion that her seat in the atrium is an excellent position from which to oversee the work of the household slaves and slave girls, she immediately appears a more busy and useful member of the household. (Teachers can point out that in the story Cerberus Caecilius is sitting in the garden while Metella, sitting in the atrium, is hard at work supervising the work of the slave!) Similarly if students initially find Metella an unsympathetic character due to her cool reception of Melissa in venalicius, a proper examination of Caecilius’ actions and motivation in buying Melissa will go some way to explain to students Metella’s attitude. Her later kindness towards Melissa in Metella et Melissa is then seen to be all the more touching.


Alongside such existing opportunities to use the female characters in the CLC to discuss Roman women in a positive and fruitful manner, the 5th edition aims to provide additional material on Roman women. Of course, this is not straightforward. While there is some literary, artistic, epigraphical, and legal evidence concerning Roman women and girls, a lot of this evidence tells us primarily about elite females: those who moved in the same circles as men of letters, those whose families enjoyed sufficient wealth to commission paintings, funeral monuments, and inscriptions. We (arguably) know most about the women of the imperial family. It is obvious that such evidence tells us little about the lives of those women who worked in bars, laundries and similar to earn a living. Indeed we must query to what extent the lives of women who belonged to the social and material elite were mirrored by the lives of women such as the female kin of Caecilius (descended from a freedman, wealthy but not nearly as wealthy as some). Similarly, the Roman empire extended over space and time. It could be misguided to assume that the story of a woman in Roman Egypt or Britain was the same story lived by a woman in Italy, or that life for women in imperial times continued much as it did in the early Republic.

These are not the only respects in which the authors maintain a healthy scepticism about our sources in re-writing the CLC to improve the depiction of women. Much of what we know about Roman women comes from the pens and paint brushes of Roman men, so we must ask ourselves how much they tell us about real women and their lives. Literature, epitaphs, and works of art often show us how Roman men idealised or demonised women, rather than offering a representative picture of real women and their lives. The particular women discussed by Roman men were often deemed worthy of mention precisely because they were atypical; there was no need to write down that which would have been obvious to their ancient audience. Care must be exercised when faced with the temptation to generalise from one or two individuals.


The difficulties in writing about the women and girls of first century A.D. Pompeii, Britain, Egypt, and Rome are thus manifold, and the authoring team proceeded with infinite care and caution as they made changes to the presentation of female characters in the Latin stories of the CLC for the 5th edition. These changes, mainly affecting Unit 1, include a new story for Stage 11 and minor adjustments to the existing stories of Stage 7, which have placed a greater emphasis on Metella’s role in entertaining her husband’s business associates, an important duty for a woman of her status, and on her part in bringing up the children. Tacitus compares “the good old days”, in which mothers supervised their children’s upbringing, studies and games, with the “present day” first-second century A.D. when children are handed over to slaves (Dialogue 28-29). Yet it seems likely that a mother’s involvement in her daughter’s upbringing varied according to her circumstances and inclination. Juvenal’s worry (also in the first-second century A.D.) about the example which parents set for their daughters (Satire 14), as well as Pliny’s talk of the influence of his wife’s mother-substitute (Letter 4.19), suggest that some parents had an intimate involvement with their children’s upbringing. The authors have imagined Metella to be one such parent.

Perhaps a more significant change made for the 5th edition of the CLC is the introduction of a fictional sister for Quintus in Unit 1. She is not - as she should be - called Caecilia, as this would be too confusing for beginners in the Latin language. Instead she has acquired her name from her father’s praenomen: Lucia. To increase her appeal to teenage students, Lucia is not a very young child. However, since she is depicted in and around Caecilius’ home, she is still unmarried. A study of the ages at which funerary inscriptions to females are dedicated by husbands rather than by parents indicates that, outside the elite families, Roman girls were married later than is often suggested, in their late teens (or even, according to the census information from Roman Egypt, their early twenties). So Lucia is envisaged to be somewhere in her teens.

In writing Lucia into the CLC stories, the authoring team has tried to balance the constraints of the (limited) primary evidence with the need to provide entertaining story lines. To give an example of this, the nature of Roman society prevents a depiction of Lucia as an all-action heroine, but she is realistically imagined to be an intelligent girl with a healthy interest in the world around her. Indeed, she is engaged in Pompeian politics to the extent that she and Quintus have taken the place of Marcus and Quartus in quarrelling about the rival electoral candidates. In providing a fun storyline for Lucia, the authors overlook the lack of concrete evidence that she would have had access to money to pay Sulla the sign-writer. However, we never depart from what was feasible: there is no evidence that a girl like Lucia did not have access to small amounts of cash. Moreover, women’s interest and investment in politics is evident from the graffiti on the walls of the town: of the slogans from the final 17 years of the town’s existence in which a rogator is named, approximately 7% were sponsored or co-sponsored by women. Lucia is the sort of girl who would grow up to advertise her political allegiance thusly. She also enjoys reading, like the daughter of Pliny’s friend who used to read studiously and intelligently (Letter 5.16); the authors imagine that she will grow into a woman of literary and intellectual leanings, like Pliny’s wife (Letter 4.19), Sempronia (Catilinarian Conspiracy 25) or Cornelia (Life of Pompey).

In addition to Lucia, a professional woman is introduced into the CLC, to prompt discussion of the many women who worked to earn their living as, inter alia, traders and artisans. A list of female artists in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History 35, and a wall painting in Pompeii’s House of the Surgeon of a female artist at work, suggests that the transformation of Celer into a female artist is appropriate. Yet this too is not straightforward. For instance, Celer is described as a pictor, but there is no female equivalent in Latin: pictrix was never used. As an appropriate alternative, the authors have settled on artifex, often used to describe painters by Pliny the Elder, and also employed (in a somewhat less positive context) in Tacitus’ Annals 12 to describe a woman who was an “artist” at administering poison! With her occupation settled, we turn to her name. The only artist named by Pliny with a convenient 1st declension name is Iaia. Anxiety about whether students would cope with the pronunciation prompted the alternative suggestion of Clara (a name borrowed from Verania Clara, a freedwoman whose name appeared in a funerary inscription in Pompeii’s Nucerian Gate necropolis).

Line drawings

As well as these new characters in the Latin stories, women and girls are more visible in the line drawings which make such an important contribution to students’ understanding of the Roman world. The line drawings show Lucia wearing her hair in the so-called “melon” hairstyle seen most clearly on an A.D. 200 sculpture of a girl now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Although literary sources refer to togate girls (Propertius 4.11.33, Cicero Against Verres 1.44) and lunulae (a half-moon shaped trinket equivalent to the bulla worn by boys; Plautus’ Epidicus 5.1.639), Lucia is not depicted as togate with a lunula. Girls wearing togas and lunulae are rarely depicted in art (with the exception of the Ara Pacis and Roman-period Egyptian mummy portraits respectively). It is thought that literary sources may prescribe rather than describe the dress of Roman girls, or that girls may have worn the toga only in an early period, or on extremely formal occasions. The CLC authors have chosen to follow the artistic evidence which shows Roman girls garbed in a long tunic with a second shorter tunic belted over the top (see, for instance, the second century AD relief in the Louvre of children playing ball games).

The visibility of other female characters in the Course is increased through new line drawings: Plotina, Vilbia, Vitellia, and unnamed characters such as some electoral supporters in the Stage 11 Model Sentences, a caupona in Stage 18, Simon’s mother and grandmother in Stage 29, and members of the crowd in the forum in the Stage 29 Model Sentences. Such line drawings will help students to position women appropriately in their mental picture of the Roman world, even when no change is made to the text of the stories.

Civilization sections

The authors have also allotted more space to women in the civilization sections of the 5th edition of the CLC. We have included a segment on the historical Rufilla in Stage 13 of Unit 2, which balances that on Salvius and looks more closely at the inscription (still in Urbisaglia, once Urbs Salvia) set up by her son. In addition a small section on Domitia now appears in Unit 3, Stage 34, making use of Suetonius’ Life of Domitian 3 and also coin and statuary evidence. These sections provide more background to the lives of our story characters for students to consider as they read and interpret the stories. While the stories in this Course are fictionalised, they are grounded as far as possible in primary evidence.

As well as providing greater detail on these specific women, the authors have also provided more information about the lives of women in general. While not disguising the shortcomings of the surviving evidence for Roman women (of course the real name of Caecilius’ wife is unknown), there is more information in the 5th edition on the experiences of women, both those like Metella who belonged to relatively wealthy families and also less privileged women. For instance, in Stage 9 the authors have included more information and speculation about women’s experience of the baths, in the light of archaeological remains of bath complexes with and without separate suites of baths for women. Due to lack of evidence we were forced to avoid the question of whether women and girls took exercise in the palaestra at the Pompeian baths at the end of the first century A.D. When they were built, the Stabian Baths provided no access between the women’s suite of baths and the palaestra. A door was later created, but it is not known whether this was for use by female bathers or just by the bath attendants. With no way to be sure, we have avoided committing ourselves on the issue.

We also suggest that the claims made in the 4th edition (Stages 5 and 8) that women had to sit at the back of the theater and amphitheater are debatable in the setting of Pompeii. Propertius (Elegy 4.8.74-8) may well imply that there was separate seating for women at the back of the theater even in the first century B.C., and Augustus did legislate for separate seating for men and women (Suetonius’ Life of Augustus 44). However, we cannot be sure that the law applied and was enforced in Pompeii at the end of the first century A.D. We were able to be a little more positive later in Unit 1 (Stage 10) on the subject of the education of girls. As mentioned above, it is clear that at least some girls and women from the elite stratum of Roman society were educated far beyond basic literacy and numeracy, some at home by their mothers or tutors (see, for example, the first century A.D. wall painting from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii, of a mother with a child reading), while others attended the school of the ludi magister (Martial’s Epigram 9.68.1-2). As mentioned above, in Stage 11 we have also highlighted women’s engagement in politics, as revealed in the electoral graffiti adorning the walls of Pompeii.

Further information on freedwomen is included in Stages 6, 31 and 34, including the sorts of occupations undertaken, and their relationships and obligations towards their patrons (as seen in their epitaphs, as well as in literary references and legal sources: Perry 2013). We also acknowledge that women as well as men could own slaves and have clients. In Stage 19, the role of priestesses in the cult of Isis is made explicit: a priestess of Isis appears in a mid-first century A.D. wall painting from Stabiae, now in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, and there is also epigraphic and literary evidence (see Heyob 1975). In Stage 23 the priestesses of Ceres and the Vestal Virgins are introduced at slightly greater length, as is the deification of some female members of the imperial family. The latter is a practice for which we have both literary and coin evidence (for instance, Suetonius’ Life of Claudius 11.2 on Claudius’ deification of Livia, and a coin struck to commemorate Livia with DIVA AUGUSTA). Stage 20 now mentions the female doctors who practised in the Roman world, particularly their involvement in childbirth, relying on evidence such inscriptions proclaiming a woman obstetrix, medica or nutrix, as well as the relief of a birthing scene at the Museo Ostiense, Italy. We also introduce Mary the Jewess (who appears in the writings of the fourth century Zosimos of Panopolis) and Hypatia (literary sources: see Deakin 1995), both female scholars at Alexandria. Such material is integrated into the existing background material from the 4th edition, providing more information with which to think about the Roman world and against which to read the stories in the CLC and later Classical Latin literature.


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