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Men's Opinions



53. Womanly virtue. 1st cent. A.D. (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 6.7.1-3. L)

The historian Valerius Maximus chooses three examples of womanly virtue. Loyalty to a husband appears to have been the highest excellence a woman could attain (cf. Arria, no. 170, and Fannia, no. 172)

Tertia Aemilia, the wife of Scipio Africanus and the mother of Cornelia,[1] was a woman of such kindness and patience that, although she knew that her husband was carrying on with a little serving girl, she looked the other way, [as she thought it unseemly for] a woman to prosecute her great husband, Africanus, a conqueror of the world, for a dalliance. So little was she interested in revenge that, after Scipio's death, she freed the girl and gave her in marriage to one of her own freedmen. [2]

When Quintus Lucretius [Vespillo] was proscribed by the triumvirs, his wife Turia [3] hid him in her bedroom above the rafters. A single maidservant knew the secret. At great risk to herself, she kept him safe from imminent death. So rare was her loyalty that, while the other men who had been proscribed found themselves in foreign, hostile places, barely managing to escape the worst tortures of body and soul, Lucretius was safe in that bedroom in the arms of his wife. [4]

Sulpicia, despite the very close watch her mother Julia was keeping on her so that she would not follow her husband to Sicily (he was Lentulus Cruscellio, proscribed by the triumvirs), nevertheless put on slave's clothing and, taking two maids and the same number of manservants, fled secretly and went to him. She was not afraid to risk proscription herself, and her fidelity to her proscribed spouse was firm. [5]


Notes:

1. Mother of the Gracchi; see nos. 259 and 260 and the index.

2. 191 B.C. Cf. Plutarch's suggestion that a wife should see respect for herself in her husband's turning to another woman for debauchery (Moralia 140b).

3. Cf. no. 167.

4. 42 B.C.

5. 42 B.C.