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Gender and exemplarity in Valerius Maximus



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Langlands, Rebecca 


This thesis is a literary study of Valerius Maximus' Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, with particular focus on chapters 6.1 (about the quality of pudicitia) and 8.3 (on women who speak in public). It explores the process by which exempla, the material of Valerius' work, communicate their moral messages to their readers, and the role that gender, as a rhetorical tool, plays in this process. The exemplum is a formal rhetorical device employed in speeches and treatises and as such belongs to the elite and masculine world of oratory. Yet it is also a tool of moral education, and its truncated narrative draws on and manipulates stories from a popular tradition which is less gender and status specific. Valerius' text mediates between the two and offers us a glimpse of Roman culture beyond the narrow world of the orator. Despite being an important source for the Tiberian era, as the ubiquity of decontextualised citations from it in the footnotes of contemporary historical scholarship testifies, Valerius' work has never been the subject of detailed literary analysis before. Part I is an introduction to the Facta et Dicta Memorabilia. Recent work on Valerius' text has viewed it as a mere handbook for orators and as a work of little literary interest, and it is argued here that the work is in fact designed to inspire and teach, to conjure up a vivid display of heroic deeds, and is worthy of close study as a work of literature. Structure, context and progression have a central function in Valerius' work, and it should be read as a continuous piece, and not simply plundered for examples. Parts II and III are detailed studies of two chapters from Valerius' work. In 6.1 the exemplary narratives deal with the quality of pudicitia, and issues surrounding sexual crime and its punishment in ancient Rome. In 8.3 the tales of three women who give speeches in public raise issues about the relationship of oratory to Roman conceptions of "masculine" and "feminine". These sections explore the work's differentiation of the sexes through narratives and the use of language, and the way Valerius uses gender to lend moral and educational force to his exempla. Parts I and II also examine in detail the relationship between the stories which are told in these chapters and the moral messages which they convey. My study makes clear that Roman ideas about "male" and "female" were complex and often alien to us. They are also often put to rhetorical use in the exemplary context, and thus drawing conclusions from the text about Roman "attitudes" is not a straightforward matter. In addition, my study of Valerius' work as "literature" has important implications for the way that it is currently used as a historical source; Valerius should be brought out of scholarly footnotes and his exempIa recontextualised within an understanding of the text as a literary whole. A deeper exploration of the way that Roman exempla function as didactic tools leads to the methodological question of what exempla in general and Valerius' text in particular can tell us about Roman culture; my thesis begins to address this question.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
This research was enabled by financial support from the British Academy and from Gonville and Caius College and the Cambridge Faculty of Classics.