THE WAYS OF WOMEN
IN the days of Saturn,2 I believe, Chastity still lingered on the earth, and was to be seen for a time--days when men were poorly housed in chilly caves, which under one common shelter enclosed hearth and household gods, herds and their owners; when the hill-bred wife spread her silvan bed with leaves and straw and the skins of her neighbours the wild beasts
2 i.e. in the golden days of innocence.
--a wife not like thee, O Cynthia,1 nor to thee, Lesbia,2 whose bright eyes were clouded by a sparrow's death, but one whose breasts gave suck to lusty babes, often more unkempt herself than her acorn-belching husband. For in those days, when the world was young and the skies were new, men born of the riven oak,3 or formed of dust, lived differently from now, and had no parents of their own. Under Jupiter, perchance, some few traces of ancient modesty may have survived; but that was before he had grown his beard, before the Greeks had learned to swear by someone else's head, when men feared not thieves for their cabbages or fruits, and lived with unwalled gardens. After that Astraea 4 withdrew by degrees to heaven, with Chastity as her comrade, the two sisters taking flight together.
To set your neighbour's bed a-shaking, Postumus, and to flout the Genius of the sacred couch,5 is now an ancient and long-established practice. All other sins came later, the products of the age of Iron; but it was the silver age that saw the first adulterers. Nevertheless, in these days of ours, you are preparing for a covenant, a marriage-contract and a betrothal; you are by now getting your hair combed by a master barber; you have also perhaps given a pledge to her finger. What! Postumus, are you, you who once had your wits, taking to yourself a wife? Tell me what Tisiphone, what snakes are driving you mad? Can you submit to a she-tyrant when there is so much rope to be had, so many dizzy heights of windows standing open, and when
1 The Cynthia of Propertius.
2 The Lesbia of Catullus.
3 There was a legend that men had been born from oak-trees.
4 Astraea, daughter of Zeus and Themis, was the last mortal to leave the earth when the Golden Age came to an end; she was placed among the stars as Virgo.
5 The fulcrum was the head of the couch, often ornamented with the figure of the Genius in bronze.
the Aemilian bridge offers itself to your hand? Or if none of all these modes of exit hit your fancy, how much better to take some boy-bedfellow, who would never wrangle with you o' nights, never ask presents of you when in bed, and never complain that you took your ease and were indifferent to his solicitations!
But Ursidius approves of the Julian Law. l He purposes to bring up a dear little heir, though he will thereby have to do without the fine turtle-doves, the bearded mullets, and all the legacy-hunting delicacies of the meat-market. What can you think impossible if Ursidius takes to himself a wife? if he, who has long been the most notorious of gallants, who has so often found safety in the corn-bin of the luckless Latinus,2 puts his silly head into the connubial noose? And what think you of his searching for a wife of the good old virtuous sort? O doctors, lance his over-blooded veins. A pretty fellow you! Why, if you have the good luck to find a modest spouse, you should prostrate yourself before the Tarpeian threshold, and sacrifice a heifer with gilded horns to Juno; so few are the wives worthy to handle the fillets of Ceres, or from whose kisses their own father would not shrink! Weave a garland for thy doorposts, and set up wreaths of ivy over thy lintel! But will Hiberina be satisfied with one man? Sooner compel her to be satisfied with one eye! You tell me of the high repute of some maiden, who lives on her paternal farm: well, let her live at Gabii, at Fidenae, as she lived in her own country, and I will believe in your little paternal farm. But will anyone tell me that nothing ever took place on a mountain side or in a cave? Have Jupiter and Mars become so senile?
1 A law to encourage marriage
2 An actor who played the part of a lover in hiding.
Can our arcades show you one woman worthy of your vows? Do all the tiers in all our theatres hold one whom you may love without misgiving, and pick out thence? When the soft Bathyllus dances the part of the gesticulating Leda, Tuccia cannot contain herself; your Apulian maiden heaves a sudden and longing yelp of ecstasy, as though she were in a man's arms; the rustic Thymele is all attention, it is then that she learns her lesson.
Others again, when the stage draperies have been put away; when the empty theatres are closed, and all is silent save in the courts, and the Megalesian games are far off from the Plebeian,1 ease their dullness by taking to the mask, the thyrsus and the tights of Accius. Urbicus, in an Atellane after-piece, raises a laugh by the gestures of Autonoe; the penniless Aelia is in love with him. Other women pay great prices for the favours of a comedian; some will not allow Chrysogonus2 to sing. Hispulla has a fancy for tragedians; but do you suppose that any will be found to love Quintilian?3 If you marry a wife, it will be that the lyrist Echion or Glaphyrus, or the flute player Ambrosius, may become a father. Then up with a long dais in the narrow street! Adorn your doors and doorposts with wreaths of laurel, that your highborn son, O Lentulus, may exhibit, in his tortoiseshell cradle: the lineaments of Euryalus5 or of a murmillo!6
When Eppia, the senator's wife, ran off with a gladiator7 to Pharos and the Nile and the ill-famed
1 The Megalesian games began on the 4th of April and lasted for six days; the Plebian games took place early in November.
2 A famous singer.
3 M. Fabius Quintilianus, the famous Roman rhetorician, A.D. 40-100. No grave and learned man like Quintilian will attrack them.
4 The conopeum was properly a mosquito-net; here it seems to be used for a bassinette or cradle.
5 A gladiator.
6 A murmillo Was a gladiator equipped as a Gaulish warrior in heavy armor.
He carried the image of a fish on his crest, whence the name [Greek] or [Greek].
7 Ludus is properly a gladiatorial school, or a troop of
gladiators. Lagus' city [next line] = Alexandria.
city of Lagus, Canopus itself cried shame upon the monstrous morals of our town. Forgetful of home, of husband and of sister, without thought of her country, she shamelessly abandoned her weeping children; and--more marvellous still--deserted Paris and the games. Though born in wealth, though as a babe she had slept in bedizened cradle on the paternal down, she made light of the sea, just as she had long made light of her good name---a loss but little accounted of among our soft litter-riding dames. And so with stout heart she endured the tossing and the roaring of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, and all the many seas she had to cross. For when danger comes in a right and honourable way, a woman's heart grows chill with fear and dread, she cannot stand upon her trembling feet: but if she be doing a bold, bad thing, her courage fails not. For a husband to order his wife on board ship is cruelty: the bilge-water then sickens her, the heavens go round and round. But if she is running away with a lover, she feels no qualms: then she vomits over her husband; now she messes with the sailors, she roams about the deck, and delights in hauling at hard ropes.
And what were the youthful charms which captivated Eppia? What did she see in him to allow herself to be called "a she-Gladiator"? Her dear Sergius had already begun to shave; a wounded arm gave promise of a discharge, and there were sundry deformities in his face: a scar caused by the helmet, a huge wen upon his nose, a nasty humour always trickling from his eye. But then he was a gladiator! It is this that transforms these fellows into Hyacinthuses! it was this that she preferred to children and to country, to sister and to husband. What these women love is the sword: had this same Sergius received his discharge, he would have been no better than a Veiento.1
Do the concerns of a private household and the doings of Eppia affect you? Then look at those who rival the Gods,2 and hear what Claudius endured. As soon as his wife perceived that her husband was asleep, this august harlot was shameless enough to prefer a common mat to the imperial couch. Assuming night-cowl, and attended by a single maid, she issued forth; then, having concealed her raven locks under a light-coloured peruque, she took her place in a brothel reeking with long-used coverlets. Entering an empty cell reserved for herself, she there took her stand, under the feigned name of Lycisca, her nipples bare and gilded, and exposed to view the womb that bore thee, O nobly-born Britannicus!3 Here she graciously received all comers, asking from each his fee; and when at length the keeper dismissed his girls, she remained to the very last before closing her cell, and with passion still raging hot within her went sorrowfully away. Then exhausted by men but unsatisfied, with soiled cheeks, and begrimed with the smoke of lamps, she took back to the imperial pillow all the odours of the stews.
Why tell of love potions and incantations, of poisons brewed and administered to a stepson, or of the grosser crimes to which women are driven by the imperious power of sex? Their sins of lust are the least of all their sins.
"But tell me why is Censennia, on her husband's testimony, the best of wives?" She brought him a million sesterces; that is the price at which he calls her chaste. He has not pined under the
1 Probably the husband.
2 In allusion to the deification of the emperors.
3 Messalina [Claudius' wife] was the mother of Britannicus, b. A. D. 42.
arrows of Venus' quiver; he was never burnt by her torch. It was the dowry that lighted his fires, the dowry that shot those arrows! That dowry bought liberty for her: she may make what signals, and write what love letters she pleases, before her husband's face; the rich woman who marries a money-loving husband is as good as unmarried.
"Why does Sertorius burn with love for Bibula?" If you shake out the truth, it is the face that he loves, not the wife. Let three wrinkles make their appearance; let her skin become dry and flabby ; let her teeth turn black, and her eyes lose their lustre: then will his freedman give her the order, "Pack up your traps and be off! you've become a nuisance; you are for ever blowing your nose; be off, and quick about it! There's another wife coming who will not sniffle." But till that day comes, the Lady rules the roast, asking her husand for shepherds and Canusian sheep, and elms for her Falernian vines. But that's a mere nothing: she asks for all his slave-boys, all his prison-gangs; everything that her neighbour possesses, and that she does not possess, must be bought. Then in the winter time, when the merchant Jason is shut out from view, and his armed sailors are blocked out by the white booths,1 she will carry off huge crystal vases, vases bigger still of agate, and finally a diamond of great renown, made precious by the finger of Berenice.2 It was given as a present long ago by the barbarian Agrippa to his incestuous sister, in that country where
1 This passage is thus explained: The lady buys various articles of the Sigillaria (December 17-20), so called statuettes which were then on sale. These and other articles were set out in canvas booths, which were built up against certain public buildings so as to screen them from view. One of these was the Portico of Agrippa on which there were paintings of the Argonauts. Thus "the merchant" Jason and his armed sailors were shut out and could not be seen.
2 Sister to King Agrippa II. (Acts, xxv. 23).
kings celebrate festal sabbaths with bare feet,1 and where a long-established clemency suffers pigs to attain old age.2
"Do you say no worthy wife is to be found among all these crowds?" Well, let her be handsome, charming, rich and fertile; let her have ancient ancestors ranged about her halls; let her be more chaste than all the dishevelled Sabine maidens who stopped the war--a prodigy as rare upon the earth as a black swan! yet who could endure a wife that possessed all perfections? I would rather have a Venusian wench for my wife than you, O Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, if, with all your virtues, you bring me a hanghty brow, and reckon up Triumphs as part of your marriage portion. Away with your Hannibal, I beseech you! Away with Syphax overpowered in his camp! Take yourself off, Carthage and all!
"Be merciful, I pray, O Apollo! and thou, O goddess, lay down thine arrows. These babes have done naught: shoot down their mother!" Thus prayed Amphion;4 but Apollo bends his bow, and Niobe5 led forth to the grave her troop of sons, and their father to boot, because she deemed herself nobler in her offspring than Latona was in hers, and more prolific than the white sow of Alba. For is any dignity in a wife, any beauty, worth the cost, if she is for ever reckoning up her merits against you? These high and transcendent qualities lose all their charm when spoilt by a pride that savours more of aloes than of
1 Josephus relates that Berenice sacrificed at Jerusalem with dishevelled hair and bare feet.
2 For Jewish abstinence from pork see Tac. Hist. v. 4.
3 Alluding to the exploits of the elder Scipio.
4 Husband of Niobe.
5 Wife of Amphion, king of Thebes. Proud of her six sons and six daughters, she boasted herself against Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. Indignant at her presumption, they slew all her children with arrows.
honey. And who was ever so enamoured as not to shrink from the woman whom he praises to the skies, and to hate her for seven hours out of every twelve?
Some small faults are intolerable to husbands.What can be more offensive than this, that no woman believes in her own beauty unless she has converted herself from a Tuscan into a Greekling, or from a maid of Sulmo1 into a true maid of Athens? They talk nothing but Greek, though it is a greater shame for our people to be ignorant of Latin. Their fears and their wrath, their joys and their troubles--all the secrets of their souls--are poured forth in Greek; their very loves are carried on in Greek fashion. All this might be pardoned in a girl; but will you, who are hard on your eighty-sixth year, still talk in Greek? That tongue is not decent in an old woman's mouth. When you come out with the wanton words [Greek], you are using in public the language of the bed-chamber. Carressing and naughty words like these incite to love; but though you say them more tenderly than a Haemus or a Carpophorus,2 they will cause no fluttering of the heart--your years are counted upon your face!
If you are not to love the woman betrothed and united to you in due form, what reason have you for marrying? Why waste the supper, and the wedding cakes to be given to the well-filled guests when the company is slipping away--to say nothing of the first night's gift of a salver rich with glittering gold inscribed with Dacian or Germanic victories?3 If you are honestly uxorious, and devoted to one woman, then bow your head and submit your neck ready to bear the yoke. Never will you find a woman
1 Sulmo, in the Pelignian country, was the birthplace of Ovid. ["Greekling" and "Greek" are probably comparable to saying French woman and French 1600 years later.]
2 Names of actors.
3 Alluding to the gold coins (aurei) minted by Trajan in honour of his victories. The aureus was about equal in metal value to our guinea.
who spares the man who loves her; for though she be herself aflame, she delights to torment and plunder him. So the better the man, the more desirable he be as a husband, the less good by far will he get out of his wife. No present will you ever make if your wife forbids; nothing will you ever sell if she objects; nothing will you buy without her consent. She will arrange your friendships for you; she will turn your now-aged friend from the door which saw the beginnings of his beard. Panders and trainers can make their wills as they please, as also can the gentlemen of the arena; but you will have to write down among your heirs more than one rival of your own.
"Crucify that slave!" says the wife. "But what crime worthy of death has he committed?" asks the husband; "where are the witnesses? who informed against him? Give him a hearing at least; no delay can be too long when a man's life is at stake!" "What, you numskull? you call a slave a man, do you? He has done no wrong, you say? Be it so; this is my will and my command: let my will be the voucher for the deed." Thus does she lord it over her husband. But before long she vacates her kingdom; she flits from one home to another, wearing out her bridal veil; then back she flies again and returns to her own imprints in the bed that she has abandoned, leaving behind her the newly decorated door, the festal hangings on the walls, and the branches green still over the threshold. Thus does the tale of her husbands grow; there will be eight of them in the course of five autumns--a fact worthy of commemoration on her tomb!
Give up all hope of peace so long as your mother-in-law is alive. It is she that teaches her daughter to revel in stripping and despoiling her husband; it is she that teaches her to reply to a seducer's love-letters in no unskilled and innocent fashion; she eludes or bribes your guards; it is she that calls in Archigenes l when your daughter has nothing the matter with her, and tosses about the heavy blankets; the lover meanwhile is in secret and silent hiding, trembling with impatience and expectation. Do you really expect the mother to teach her daughter honest ways--ways different from her own? Nay, the vile old woman finds a profit in bringing up her daughter to be vile.
There never was a case in court in which the quarrel was not started by a woman. If Manilia is not a defendant, she'll be the plaintiff; she will herself frame and adjust the pleadings; she will be ready to instruct Celsus2 himself how to open his case, and how to urge his points.
Why need I tell of the purple wraps3 and the wrestling-oils used by women? Who has not seen one of them smiting a stump, piercing it through and through with a foil, lunging at it with a shield, and going through all the proper motions?--a matron truly qualified to blow a trumpet at the Floralia!4 Unless, indeed, she is nursing some further ambition in her bosom, and is practising for the real arena. What modesty can you expect in a woman who wears a helmet, abjures her own sex, and delights in feats of strength ? Yet she would not choose to be a man, knowing the superior joys of womanhood. What a fine thing for a husband, at an auction of his wife's effects, to see her belt and armlets and plumes put up for sale, with a gaiter that covers half the left leg; or if she fight another sort5 of battle, how charmed
1 A fashionable doctor of the day.
2 Either a jurist or rhetorician.
3 The endromis was a coarse, woolen cloak in which athletes wrapped themselves after their excercises.
4 Games in honour of Flora (April 28-May 3), at which much female license was allowed...
5 i.e. a gladitorial contest.
you will be to see your young wife disposing of her greaves! Yet these are the women who find the thinnest of thin robes too hot for them; whose delicate flesh is chafed by the finest of silk tissue. See how she pants as site goes through her prescribed exercises; how she bends under the weight of her helmet; how big and coarse are the bandages which enclose her haunches; and then laugh when she lays down her arms and shows herself to be a woman! Tell us, ye grand-daughters of Lepidus, or of the blind Metellus, or of Fabius Gurges, what gladiator's wife ever assumed accoutrements like these? When did the wife of Asylus1 ever gasp against a stump?
The bed that holds a wife is never free from wrangling and mutual bickerings; no sleep is to be got there! It is there that she sets upon her husband, more savage than a tigress that has lost her cubs; conscious of her own secret slips, she affects a grievance, abusing his boys, or weeping over some imagined mistress. She has an abundant supply of tears always ready in their place, awaiting her command in which fashion they should flow. You, poor worm, are delighted, believing them to be tears of love, and kiss them away; but what notes, what love-letters would you find if you opened the desk of your green-eyed adulterous wife! If you find her in the arms of a slave or of a knight, "Speak, speak, Quintilian,2 give me one of your colours,3" she will say. But Quintilian says "I'm stuck. Find it yourself," says he. "We agreed long ago," says the lady, "that you were to go your way, and I mine. You may confound sea and sky with your bellowing,
1 Supposed to be a gladiator.
2 The famous Roman rhetorician, b. A.D. 44, author of the Institutiones Oratoriae. Cp. p.88. n.3.
3 Color is a technical term in rhetoric, denoting an argument which puts a favourable or palliative light on some act.
I am a human being after all. "There's no effrontery like that of a woman caught in the act; her very guilt inspires her wrath and insolence.
But whence come these monstrosities? you ask; from what fountain do they flow? In days of old, the wives of Latium were kept chase by their humble fortunes. It was toil and brief slumbers that kept vice from polluting their modest homes; hands chafed and hardened by Tuscan fleeces, Hannibal nearing the city, and husbands standing to arms at the Colline tower.1 We are now suffering the calamities of long peace. Luxury, more deadly than any foe, has laid her hand upon us, and avenges a conquered world. Since the day when Roman poverty perished, no deed of crime or lust has been wanting to us; from that moment Sybaris and Rhodes and Miletus have poured in upon our hills with the begarlanded and drunken and unabashed Tarentum.2 Filthy lucre first brought in amongst us foreign ways; wealth enervated and corrupted the ages with foul indulgences. What decency does Venus observe when she is drunken? when she knows not head from tail, eats giant oysters at midnight, pours foaming unguents into her unmixed Falerian, and drinks out of perfume- flasks, while the roof spins dizzily around, the table dances, and every light shows double!
Go to now and wonder what means the sneer with which Tullia snuffs the air, or what Maura whispers to her ill-famed foster-sister, when she passes by the altar of Chastity?3 It is there that they set down their litters at night, and befoul the image of the Goddess, playing their filthy pranks
1 For Hannibal at the Colline Gate, B. C. 213, see Liv. xxvi. 10.
2 Duff explains this of a scene in the theatre in Tarentum when the people, garlanded in honor of Dionysus, insulted the Roman ambassador (Dio. Cass. fragm. 145).
3 The ancient Temple Of Pudicitia was in the Forum Boarium.
for the moon to witness. Thence home they go; while you, when daylight comes, and you are on your way to salute your mighty friends, will trend upon the traces of your wife's abominations.
Well known to all are the mysteries of the Good Goddess, when the flute stirs the loins and the Maenads of Priapus sweep along, frenzied alike by the horn-blowing and the wine, whirling their locks and howling. What foul longings burn within their breasts! What cries they utter as the passion palpitates within! How drenched their limbs in torrents of old wine! Saufeia challenges the slave-girls to a contest. Her agility wins the prize, but she has herself in turn to bow the knee to Medullina. And so the palm remains with the mistress, whose exploits match her birth! There is no pretence as in a game; all is enacted to the life in a manner that warm the cold blood of a Priam or a Nestor. And now impatient nature can wait no longer: woman shows herself as she is, and the cry comes from every corner of the den, "Now we can act! Let in the men!" If one favoured youth is asleep, another is bidden to put on his cowl and hurry along; if better cannot be got, a run is made upon the slaves; if they too fail, the water-carrier will be paid to come in. . . . O would that our ancient practices, or at least our public rites, were not polluted by scenes like these! But every Moor and Indian knows who was the she-lutist who brought a yard bigger than the two Anticatos of Caesar into a place whence every buckmouse scuttles away conscious of his virility, and in which every picture of the male form must be veiled.
Who ever sneered at the Gods in the days of old? Who would have dared to laugh at the earthen-ware bowls or black pots of Numa, or at the brittle plates made out of Vatican clay? But nowadays at what altar will you not find a Clodius?1
I hear all this time the advice of my old friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who will ward the warders? The wife arranges accordingly and begins with them. High or low their passions are all the same. She who wears out the black cobble-stones with her bare feet is no better then she who rides upon the necks of eight stalwart Syrians.
Ogulnia hides clothes to see the games; she hires attendants, a litter, cushions, female friends, a nurse, and a fair-haired girl to run her messages; yet she will give all that remains of the family plate, down to the last flagon, to some smooth-faced athlete. Many of these women are poor, but none of them pay any regard to their poverty, or measures themselves by the standard which that prescribes and lays down for them. Men on the other hand, do sometimes have an eye to utility; the ant has at last taught some of them to dread cold and hunger. But your extravagant woman is never sensible of her dwindling means; and just as though money were for ever sprouting up afresh from her exhausted coffers, and she had always a full heap to draw from, she never gives a thought to what her pleasures cost her.
1 Alluding to the profanation of the mysteries of the Bona Dea [meant for women only] by Clodius, in B.C. 62, by appearing in the disguise of a female lutist.
"Whenever a cinaedus is kept he taints the household. Folks let these fellows eat and drink with them, and merely have the vessels washed, not shivered to atoms as they should be when such lips have touched them. So even the lanista's establishment is better ordered than yours, for he separates the vile from the decent, and sequesters even from their fellow-retiarii the wearers of the ill-famed tunic; in the training-school, and even in gaol, such creatures herd apart; but your wife condemns you to drink out of the same cup as these gentry, with whom the poorest trull would refuse to sip the choicest wine. Them do women consult about marriage and divorce, with their society do they relieve boredom or business, from them do they learn lascivious motions and whatever else the teacher knows. But beware! that teacher is not always true, he darkens his eyes and dresses like a woman, but adultery is his design. Mistrust him the more for his show of effeminacy; he is a valiant mattress-knight; there Triphallus drops the mask of Thais. Whom are you fooling?1 not me; play this farce to those who cannot pierce the masquerade. I wager you are every inch a man; do you own it, or must we wring the truth out of the maid servants?"
I know well the advice and warnings of my old
1 He now addresses the cinaedus himself.
friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who is to ward the warders? They get paid in kind for holding their tongues as to their young lady's escapades; participation seals their lips. The wily wife arranges accordingly and begins with them. . . .
If your wife is musical, none of those who sell their voices1 to the praetor will hold out against her charms. She is for ever handling musical instruments; her sardonyx rings sparkle thick all over the tortoise-shell; the quivering quill with which she runs over the chords will be that with which the gentle Hedymeles performed; she hugs it, consoles herself with it, and lavishes kisses on the dear implement. A certain lady of the lineage of the Lamiae and the Appii2 inquired of Janus and Vesta, with offerings of cake and wine, whether Pollio could hope for the Capitoline oak-chaplet and promise victory to his lyre.3 What more could she have done had her husband been ill, or if the doctors had been shaking their heads over her dear little son? There she stood before the altar, thinking it no shame to veil her head4 on behalf of a harper; she repeated, in due form, all the words prescribed to her; her cheek blanched when the lamb was opened. Tell me now, I pray, O father Janus, thou
1 i.e. professionals who sing for hire on public occasions.
2 i.e. of a noble family.
3 A prize of oak-leaves was given at the agon Capitolinus, intituted by Domitian. Pollio was a player on the cithara.
4 To veil the head was part of the ceremony at a sacrifice.
most ancient of the Gods, dost thou answer such as she? You have much time on your hands in heaven; so far as I can see, there is nothing for you Gods to do. One lady consults you about a comedian, another wishes to commend to you a tragic actor; the soothsayer will soon be troubled with varicose veins.1
Better, however that your wife should be musical than that she should be rushing boldly about the entire city, attending mens meetings, talking with unflinching face and hard breasts to Generals in their military cloaks, with her husband looking on! This same woman knows what is going on all over the world: what the Chinese and Thracians are after, what has passed between the stepmother and the stepson; she knows who loves whom, what gallant is the rage; she will tell you who got the widow with child, and in what month; how every woman behaves to her lovers, and what she says to them. She is the first to notice the comet threatening the kings of Armenia and Parthia; she picks up the latest rumours at the city gates, and invents some herself: how the Niphates2 has burst out upon the nations, and is inundating entire districts yonder; how cities are tottering and lands subsiding, she tells to every one she meets at every street crossing.
No less insufferable is the woman who loves to catch hold of her poor neighbours, and deaf to their cries for mercy lays into them with a whip. If her sound slumbers are disturbed by a barking dog, "Quick with the rods!" she cries; thrash the owner first, and then the dog!" She is a formidable woman to encounter; she is terrible to look at.
1 i.e. with so much standing about.
2 Properly a mountain; here meant for a river.
She frequents the baths by night; not till night does she order her oil-flasks and her quarters to be shifted thither; she loves all the bustle and sweat of the bath; when her arms drop exhausted by the heavy weights, the anointer passes his hand skilfully over her body, bringing it down at last with a resounding smack upon the top of her thigh. Meanwhile her unfortunate guests are overcome with sleep and hunger, till at last she comes in with a flushed face, and with thirst enough to drink off the vessel containing full three gallons which is laid at her feet, and from which she tosses off a couple of pints before her dinner to create a raging appetite; then she brings it all up again and souses the floor with the washings of her inside. The stream runs over the marble pavement; the gilt basin reeks of Falernian, for she drinks and vomits like a big snake that has tumbled into a vat. The sickened husband closes his eyes and so keeps down his bile.
But most intolerable of all is the woman who as soon as she has sat down to dinner commends Virgil, pardons the dying Dido, and pits the poets against each other, putting Virgil in the one scale and Homer in the other. The grammarians make way before her; the rhetoricians give in; the whole crowd is silenced: no lawyer, no auctioneer will get a word in, no, nor any other woman; so torrential is her speech that you would think that all the pots and bells were being clashed together. Let no one more blow a trumpet or clash a cymbal: one woman will be able to bring succour to the labouring moon!1 She lays down definitions, and discourses on morals, like a philosopher; thirsting to be deemed both wise and eloquent, She ought to tuck up her
1 Eclipses of the moon were supposed by the ignorant to be due to the incantations of witches. To prevent these from being heard, and so ward off the evil events portended by the eclipse, it was the custom to creste a din by the clashing of bells, horns and trumpets, etc.
skirts knee-high,1 sacrifice a pig to Silvanus,2 take a penny bath.3 Let not the wife of your bosom possess a special style of her own; let her not hurl at you in whirling speech the crooked enthymeme! Let her not know all history; let there be some things in her reading which she does not understand. I hate a woman who is for ever consulting and poring over the "Grammar" of Palaemon,4 who observes all the rules and laws of language, who like an antiquary guotes verses that I never heard of, and corrects her unlettered5 female friends for slips of speech that no man need trouble about: let husbands at least be permitted to make slips in grammar!
There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do, nothing that she deems shameful, when she encircles her neck with green emeralds, and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears: there is nothing more intolerable than a wealthy woman. Meanwhile she ridiculously puffs out and disfigures her face with lumps of dough; she reeks of rich Poppaean6 unguents which stick to the lips of her unfortunate husband. Her lover she will meet with a clean-washed skin; but when does she ever care to look nice at home? It is for her lovers that she provides the spikenard, for them she buys all the scents which the slender Indians bring to us. In good time she discloses her face; she removes the first layer of plaster, and begins to be recognisable. She then laves herself with that milk for which she takes a herd of she-asses in her train if sent away to the Hyper-
1 i.e. wear the short tunic of a man.
2 Only men sacrificed to Silvanus.
3 i.e. bathe in the public baths.
4 A treatise on grammar by Q. Remmius Palaemon, the most famous grammarian of the early empire.
5 The word Opican is equivalent to Oscan, denoting the early inhabitants of Campania. It is used here as equivalent to barbarian.
6 Cosmetics, called after Nero's wife Poppaea.
borean pole. But when she has been coated over and treated with all those layers of medicaments, and had those lumps of moist dough applied to it, shall we call it a face or a sore?
It is well worth while to ascertain how these ladies busy themselves all day. If the husband has turned his back upon his wife at night, the wool maid is done for; the tire-women will be stripped of their tunics; the Liburnian chair-man will be accused of coming late, and will have to pay for another man's1 drowsiness; one will have a rod broken over his back, another will be bleeding from a strap, a third from the cat; some women engage their exectioners by the year. While the flogging goes on, the lady will be daubing her face, or listening to her lady-friends, or inspecting the widths of a gold-embroidered robe. While thus flogging and flogging,2 she reads the lengthy Gazette, written right across the page,3 till at last, the floggers being exhausted, and the inquisition ended, she thunders out a gruff "Be off with you!"
Her household is governed as cruelly as a Sicilian Court.4 If she has an appointment and wishes to be turned out more nicely than usual, and is in a hurry to meet some one waiting for her in the gardens, or more likely near the chapel of the wanton Isis, the unhappy maid that does her hair will have her own hair torn, and the clothes stripped off her shoulders and her breasts. "Why is this curl standing up?" she asks, and then down comes a thong of bull's hide to inflict chastisement for the offending ringlet. Pray how was Psecas in fault? How would the girl be to blame if you happened
1 i.e. the husband's.
2 The text reads as if flogging was done by the lady herself. But it was evidently done for her by slaves.
3 Books were usually written lengthwise on the roll; but it seems that the acta diurna, here mentioned, were written crosswise.
4 In allusion to Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum.
not to like the shape of your own nose? Another maid on the left side combs out the hair and rolls it into a coil; a maid of her mother's, who has served her time at sewing, and has been promoted to the wool department, assists at the council. She is the first to give her opinion; after her, her inferiors in age or skill will give theirs, as though some question of life or honour were at stake. So important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and storeys piled one upon another on her head! In front, you would take her for an Andromachel; she is not so tall behind: you would not think it was the same person. What if nature has made her so short of stature that, if unaided by high heels, she looks no bigger than a pigmy, and has to rise nimbly on tip-toe for a kiss! Meantime she pays no attention to her husband; she never speaks of what she costs him. She lives with him as if she were only his neighbour; in this alone more near to him, that she hates his friends and his slaves, and plays the mischief with his money.
And now, behold! in comes the chorus of the frantic Bellona and the mother of the Gods, attended by a giant eunuch2 to whom his obscene inferiors must do reverence. . . . Before him the howling herd with the timbrels give way; his plebeian cheeks are covered with a Phrygian tiara. With solemn utterance he bids the lady beware the coming of the September Siroccos if she do not purify herself with a hundred eggs, and present him with some old mulberry-coloured garments in order that any great and unforeseen calamity impending may pass into the clothes, and make expiation for the entire year. In winter she will go down to the river of a morning,
1 Hector's wife Andromache must be tall, as living in the heroic age.
2 [Reference to Cybele and one of her eunuch priests].
break the ice, and plunge three time into the Tiber, dipping her trembling head even in its whirling waters, and crawling out thence naked and shivering, she will creep with bleeding knees right across the field 1 of Tarquin the Proud. If the white Io2 shall so order, she will journey to the confines of Egypt, and fetch water got from hot Meroe3 with which to sprinkle the Temple of Isis which stands hard by the ancient sheepfold.4 For she believes that the command was given by the voice of the Goddess herself--a pretty kind of mind and spirit for the Gods to have converse with by night! Hence the chief and highest place of honour is awarded to Anubis,5 who, with his linen-clad and bald crew, mocks at the weeping of the people as he runs along.6 He it is that obtains pardon for wives who break the law of purity on days that should be kept holy, and exacts huge penalties when the coverlet has been profaned, or when the silver serpent has been seen to nod his head. His tears and carefully-studied mutterings make sure that Osiris will not refuse a pardon for the fault, bribed, no doubt, by a fat goose and a slice of sacrificial cake.
No sooner has that fellow departed than a palsied Jewess, leaving her basket and her truss of hay,7 comes begging to her secret ear; she is an interpreter of the laws of Jerusalem, a high priestess of the tree,8 a trusty go-between of highest heaven. She, too, fills her palm, but more sparingly, for a Jew will tell you dreams of any kind you please for the minutest of coins.
1 i.e. the Campus Martius.
2 Apparently here identified with Isis. Io was changed into a white cow by Juno out of jealousy.
3 An island formed by the waters of the Nile. See xiii. 163.
4 The Temple of Isis was in the Campus Martius near the polling-booth (saepta) here called ovile.
5 A god of the dead; he attended on Isis, and is represented with the head of a dog.
6 The priest who impersonates Anubis laughs at the people when they lament Osiris.
7 See iii. 14: Iudaei quorum cophinis faenumque supellex.
8 Jews were allowed to camp out under trees as gipsies do in our own country. See iii. 15, 16.
An Armenian or Commagenian sooth-sayer, after examining the lungs of a dove that is still warm, will promise a youthful lover, or a big bequest from some rich and childless man; he will probe the breast of a chicken, or the entrails of a puppy, sometimes even of a boy; some things he will do with the intention of informing against them himself.
Still more trusted are the Chaldaeans; every word uttered by the astrologer they will believe has come from Hammon's fountain, for now that the Delphian oracles are dumb, man is condemned to darkness as to his future. Chief among these was one1 who was oft in exile, through whose friendship and venal ticket of prophecy the great citizen2 died whom Otho feared. For nowadays no astrologer has credit unless he have been imprisoned in some distant camp, with chains clanking on either arm; none believe in his powers unless he has been condemned and all but put to death, having just contrived to get deported to a Cyclad, or to escape at last from the diminutive Seriphos.3
Your excellent Tanaquil4 consults as to the long-delayed death of her jaundiced mother--having previously enquired about your own; she will ask when she may expect to bury her sister, or her uncles; and whether her lover will outlive herself--what greater boon could the Gods bestow upon her? And yet your Tanaquil does not herself understand the gloomy threats of Saturn, or under what constellation Venus will show herself propitious, which months will be months of losses, which of gains; but beware
1 According to Tac. Hist. i. 22 the name of Otho's astrologer was Ptolemy.
2 The emperor Galba.
3 One of the smaller Cyclades (Serpho), a well-known place of exile.
4 i.e. his wife. Tanaquil was the wife of Tarquinius Priscus (perita caelestium prodigiorum, Liv. i. 34).
of ever encountering one whom you see clutching a well-worn calendar in her hands as if it were a ball of clammy amber1; one who inquires of none, but is now herself inquired of; one who, if her husband is going forth to camp, or returning home from abroad, will not bear him company if the numbers of Thrasyllus2 call her back. If she wants to drive as far as the first mile-stone, she finds the right hour from her book; if there is an itch when she rubs a corner of her eye, she will not call for a salve until she has consulted her horoscope: and if she be ill in bed, deems no hour so suitable for taking food as that prescribed to her by Petosiris.3
If the woman be of humble rank, she will promenade between the turning-posts4 of the Circus; she will have her fortune told, and will present her brow and her hand to the seer who asks for many an approving smack.5 Wealthy women will pay for answers from a Phrygian or Indian augur well skilled in the stars and the heavens, or one of the elders employed to expiate thunderbolts.6 Plebeian destinies are determined in the Circus or on the ramparts7: the woman8 who displays a long gold chain on her bare neck inquires before the pillars and the columns of dolphins whether she shall throw over the tavern-keeper and marry the old-clothes-man.
These poor women, however, endure the perils of child-birth, and all the troubles of nursing to which their lot condemns them; but how often
1 Roman ladies carried balls of amber in their hands, either as a scent or for warmth.
2 The favorite astrologer of Tiberius.
3 An ancient Egyptian astrologer.
4 The metae were the turning-posts at each end of the low wall (spina) round which the chariots had to turn. Each meta consisted of a group of conical pillars with dolphins on them.
5 Poppysma is a smacking sound made by the lips; it was apparently a sign of approval and satisfaction. These sounds are made by the consulting party.
6 By burying (condere) what had been struck.
7 The famous rampart of Servius Tullius.
8 Apparently alluding to a low class of women.
does a gilded bed contain a woman that is lying in? So great is the skill, so powerful the drugs, of the abortionist, paid to murder mankind within the womb. Rejoice, poor wretch; give her the stuff to drink whatever it be, with your own hand: for were she willing to get big and trouble her womb with bouncing babes, you might perhaps find yourself the father of an Ethiopian; and some day a coloured heir, whom you would rather not meet by daylight, would fill all the places in your will.
I say nothing of supposititious children, of the hopes and prayers so often cheated at those filthy pools1 from which are supplied Priests and Salii,2 with bodies that will falsely bear the name of Scauri. There Fortune shamelessly takes her stand by night, smiling on the naked babes; she fondles them all and folds them in her bosom, and then, to provide herself with a secret comedy, she sends them forth to the houses of the great. These are the children that she loves, on these she lavishes herself, and with a laugh brings them always forward as her own nurslings.
One man supplies magical spells; another sells Thessalian3 charms by which a wife may upset her husband's mind, and lather his buttocks with a slipper; thence come loss of reason, and dark-ness of soul, and blank forgetfulness of all that you did but yesterday. Yet even that can be endured, if only you become not raving mad like that uncle4 of Nero's into whose drink Caesonia poured the whole brow of a weakly foal5; and what
1 These were pools or reservoirs in which infants were exposed [left to die]. Fortune delights in spiriting these foundlings into the houses of the great.
2 The priest of Mars, recruited from noble families.
3 Thessaly was famous for witches and the magic art. The husband here is made mad by a love-potion.
4 The emperor Caligula. His wife Csesonia was said to have made him mad by a love-philtre.
5 Alluding to the hippomanes, an excrescence on the head of a young foal, which was used in love-potions.
woman will not follow when an Empress leads the way? The whole world was ablaze then and falling down in ruin just as if Juno had made her husband mad. Less guilty therefore will Agrippina's mushroom1 be deemed, seeing that it only stopped the breath of one old man, and sent down his palsied head and slobbering lips to heaven, whereas the other potion demanded fire and sword and torture, mingling Knights and Fathers in one mangled bleeding heap. Such was the cost of one mere's offspring; and of one she-poisoner.
A wife hates the children of a concubine; let none demur or forbid, seeing that it has long been deemed right and proper to slay a stepson. But I warn you wards--you that have a good estate--keep watch over your lives; trust not a single dish: those hot pastries are black with poison of a mother's baking. Whatever is offered you by the mother, let someone taste it first; let your trembling tutor take the first taste of every cup.
Now think you that all this is a fancy tale, and that our Satire is taking to herself the high heels of tragedy? Think you that I have out-stepped the limits and the laws of those before me, and am mouthing in Sophoclean tones a grand theme unknown to the Rutulian hills and the skies of Latium? Would indeed that my words were idle! But here is Pontia proclaiming "I did the deed; I gave aconite, I confess it, to my own children; the crime was detected, and is known to all; yes, with my own hands I did it." "What, you most savage of vipers? you killed two, did you, two, at a single meal?" "Aye, and seven too, had there chanced to be seven to kill!"
1 Apprippina the younger murdered her husband, the Emperor Claudius, by a dish of mushrooms (Tac. Ann. xii. 57, Suet. 44). See v. 147.
Let us believe all that Tragedy tells us of the savage Colchian1 and of Procne2; I seek not to gainsay her. Those women were monsters of wickedness in their day; but it was not for money that they sinned. We marvel less at great crimes when it is wrath that incites the sex to the guilty deed, when burning passion carries them headlong, like a rock torn from a mountain side, when the ground beneath gives way, and the overhanging slopes of the hillside fall in. I cannot endure the woman who calculates, and commits a great crime in her sober senses. Our wives look on at Alcestis undergoing her husband's fate; if they were granted a like liberty of exchange, they would fain let the husband die to save a puppy-dog's life. You will meet a daughter of Belus3 or an Eriphyle every morning: no street but has its Clytemnestra.4 The only difference is this: the daughter of Tyndareus5 wielded in her two hands a clumsy two-headed axe, whereas nowadays a slice of a toad's lung will do the business. Yet it may be done by steel as well, if the wary husband, son6 of Atreus, have beforehand tasted the medicaments of the thrice-conquered king of Pontus.7
2 Procne,daughter of Pandion, king of Athens, revenged herself on her husband, Tereus, by serving up to him the flesh of his son Itys. She was turned into a swallow.
3 Belus was daughter of Daneus; hence Danaids = Belides.
4 The Danaids (daughters of Danaus), Eriphle, and Clytemnestra, all killed their husbands.
5 Clytemnestra was daughter of Tyndareus.
6 Agamemmnon, murdered by his wife Clytemnestra.
7 Mithridates, who was said to have secured himself against poisoning by prophylactics.
The text, with slight alteration and addition, is from a Loeb Classical Library edition translated by G.G. Ramsay. This web version was prepared by Spartacus, editor of The Men's Tribune. Repostings must include this link. Please report errors.
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© Paul Halsall, Janaury 1999