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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Juvenal (c.55-c.130 CE):
Satire VI (xi.199-304, 475-503):
The Women of Rome.


[Davis Introduction]

About 100 CE. a keen and bitter satirist delivered himself as follows against the women of Rome. Some of his charges are clearly overwrought; but there is no doubt that the Roman ladies often abused the very large liberties allowed them, and that divorce, unfaithfulness, wanton extravagance, and many other like evils were direfully common. Also the women were invading the arts and recreations of men---a proceeding the present age will view more leniently than did Juvenal.


Now tell me---if you can not love a wife,
Made yours by every tie, and yours for life,
Why wed at all? Why waste the wine and cakes,
The queasy-stomach=d guest, at parting, takes?
And the rich present, which the bridal right
Claims for the favors of the happy night,
The platter where triumphantly inscroll'd
The Dacian hero shines in current gold?
If you can love, and your besotted mind
Is so uxoriously to one inclined,
Then bow your neck, and with submissive air,
Receive the yoke you must forever wear.

To a fond spouse, a wife no mercy shows
But warmed with equal fires, enjoys his woes.
She tells you where to love and where to hate,
Shuts out the ancient friend, whose beard your gate
Knew from its downy to its hoary state:
And when rogues and parasites of all degrees
Have power to will their fortune as they please,
She dictates yours, and impudently dares
To name your very rivals for your heirs.

"Go crucify that slave." "For what offence?
Who=s the accuser? Where=s the evidence?
Hear all! no time, whatever time we take
To sift the charges, when man's life's at stake,
Can e'er be long: hear all, then, I advise!"---

"You sniveler! is a slave a man" She cries:
"He's innocent? - be it so, - `tis my command,
My will: let that, sir, for a reason stand."

Thus the virago triumphs, thus she reigns
Anon she sickens of her first domains,
And seeks for new;---husband on husband takes,
Till of her bridal veil one rent she makes.
Again she tires, again for change she burns,
And to the bed she lately left returns,
While the fresh garlands and unfaded boughs,
Yet deck the portal of her wondering spouse.
Thus swells the list - "Eight husbands in five years"

A rare inscription on their sepulchers!
While your wife's mother lives, expect no peace.
She teaches her with savage joy to fleece
A bankrupt spouse; kind creature! she befriends
The lover's hopes, and when her daughter sends
An answer to his prayer, the style inspects,
Softens the cruel, and the wrong corrects. . .

Women support the bar, they love the law,
And raise litigious questions for a show,
They meet in private and prepare the bill
Draw up instructions with a lawyer's skill,
Suggest to Celsus where the merits lie,
And dictate points for statement or reply.

Nay more, they fence, who has not marked their oil,
Their purple rugs, for this preposterous toil?
Equipped for fight, the lady seeks the list
And fiercely tilts at her antagonist,
A post! which with her buckles she provokes,
And bores and batters with repeated strokes,
Till all the fencer's art can do she shows,
And the glad master interrupts her blows.

The house appears like Phalaris' court,
All bustle, gloom and tears.
The wretched Psecas, for the whip prepared,
With locks disheveled, and with shoulders bared,
Attempts her hair; fire flashes from her eyes,
And Awretch! why this curl so high?@ she cries.
Instant the lash, without remorse, is plied,
And the blood stains her bosom, back and side.
Another trembling on the left prepares
To open and arrange the straggling hairs
To ringlets trim; meanwhile the council meet,
And first the nurse, a personage discreet,
Gives her opinion; then the rest in course
As age or practice lend their judgment force,
So warm they grow, and so much pains they take,
You'd think her honor or her life at stake,
So high they build her head, such tiers on tiers,
With wary hands, they pile, that she appears
Andromache before;---and what behind?
A dwarf, a creature of a different kind!


Source:

From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 224-225, 239-244, 247-258

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu