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Public Life

174. Sempronia, a revolutionary. Rome, 1st cent. B.C. (Sallust, Conspiracy of Catiline 24.3-25. L)

The historian Sallust regarded the conspiracy led by Catiline in 62 B.C. as a result of moral decline; in his account, Catiline's supporter Sempronia egregiously lacks the qualities for which virtuous Roman matrons are celebrated, but possesses others.

(24.3) At that time Catiline is said to have attracted many people of every sort, including some women. These had first sold their bodies to finance their luxuries, but later, when age set a limit to this activity-but not to their tastes-fell heavily into debt. Catiline believed he could use these women to win over the urban slaves, set fire to the city, and either enlist or kill their husbands.

(25) One of these women was Sempronia, whose masculine boldness had already led her to commit many crimes. This woman was favoured by fortune in birth and beauty as well as in her husband and children. She was well read in Greek and Latin literature; she played the lyre and danced with greater skill than propriety warrants; and she had a number of other accomplishments all of the sort that promote dissipation. But to her nothing was more worthless than modesty and chastity. It is not easy to say which she threw away more wantonly, her money or her reputation. She was so oversexed that it was more often she who went after men than the other way around. She had often broken promises, disavowed her debts, and been an accessory to murder. Love of luxury combined with poverty had driven her headlong. And yet, she had real talents. She could write verse, make jokes, and converse with modesty, tenderness, or wantonness. She was a woman of considerable wit and charm.