Goddesses on Earth? Tacitus on exemplarity and excess in the domus Augusta

Caitlin C Gillespie, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation investigates the divergence between the portrayal of imperial women in dynastic imagery and the characterization of these same women in Tacitus’ Annals. I argue that Tacitus portrays Julio-Claudian women as representative models of specific feminine ideals and imperial concepts used by Augustus and his successors to perpetuate the Julio-Claudian dynasty. I discuss Augustan ideals and policies that are manifested in the presentation of women of the domus Augusta in the public sphere. I then survey material evidence that contributes to our understanding of women’s roles in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Every chapter concludes with a discussion of Tacitus’ characterization of one of the imperial woman in the Annals. In each portrayal, Tacitus acknowledges the imperial ideals traditionally ascribed to each woman, and reinterprets both the woman and the ideals she represents. ^ Agrippina the Younger, Tacitus’ unicum exemplum, provides a framing figure for the dissertation. The four main chapters offer analyses of imperial women whose characterizations elucidate specific aspects of Tacitus’ critique of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Tacitus’ portrayal of Livia exposes the discrepancy between her private actions and her public presentation as a model of familial concordia; Agrippina the Elder problematically uses her fecunditas to gain public praise and authority; Tacitus’ record of Messalina proves the ineffectiveness of imperial sanctions against the memory of a public figure; Nero’s wife Poppaea gives Tacitus the opportunity to critique the imperial family’s use of divinization. ^ I conclude by returning to the image of Agrippina the Younger as a unique model, and by looking forward to imperial women of later dynasties. I demonstrate that Tacitus asks his readers to recognize that the exemplarity of the women of the domus Augusta as mothers, wives, and empresses remains controversial. The presence of the Julio-Claudian women in material and literary culture during the reign of Trajan, and the continued celebration of the ideals they represented, suggests that the memory and influence of these women lasted well beyond the end of the first imperial dynasty. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Classical|Classical Studies

Recommended Citation

Caitlin C Gillespie, "Goddesses on Earth? Tacitus on exemplarity and excess in the domus Augusta" (January 1, 2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3509064.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3509064

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