Roman Women: A Literary Analysis

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With these moral structures set in place, the characteristics of an ideal Roman woman and the reality of the power distribution in relationships, with outcomes extremely unfavorable towards women having power took shape. While not explicitly discussed, the ideas for ideal women and “correct” behavior in a relationship can be seen in literature. Two pieces of literature that are especially illuminating are Ars Amatoria, or “The Art of Love”, and the Heroides, or “The Heroines”, by Ovid during the reign of Augustus. To put it in context, this was the time of transition between Republic and Principate, when Rome was finding stability as it shifted to a new balance of power within the government. This began the time when familial power was starting…show more content…
This did not mean that men were any less caring towards women, in an ideal setting, but these documents show that women were something to be simultaneously treasured and feared. Overall, Ovid’s advice to young men contained in Book I and Book II, details not only the logistic and physical aspects of wooing a woman but also the mind games involved in such a task. On the other hand, Book III, which is his advice to young women, is primarily focused on the physical aspect of a relationship. In reading these writings, it becomes clear that women were considered something to manipulate, in order to avoid being manipulated by them, and that women would always want a man in the end. In addition, his advice to each sex only reinforces the stereotypes set out for each. Ovid sees women as things to be hunted and that “love is a kind of warfare” (Ovid 1979: 83). To Ovid, relationships require plotting, mostly on the men’s part, and although it required strategy, women could always be won with persistence (Ovid 1979: 31, 45). Deceit was fair as long as it produced results. Ideal relationships were goals to achieve, no matter the cost. In a way, this reflects the elite Romans’ conduct in all other arenas, especially politics, where power could always be gained by obtaining the right connections through whatever means necessary. As with all ideal relationships in the Roman society, men were clearly the dominant in the relationship, always initiating interactions. In fact, any relationships where the women were more powerful would be improper (Ovid 1979: 33). This is because Romans saw men as the calmer, more logical ones, since they could control themselves, where as a woman’s lust is “keener…than [men’s], and has more of madness” (Ovid 1979: 37).
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