Cicero's Portrayal of Fulvia in the Philippics: Rhetorical Commonplaces and Gender Stereotypes

Paloma Rodriguez

Universidad Complutense (Madrid, Spain)

It should not be surprising that those ancient authors, whose accounts we have preserved, depict Fulvia as a notoriously greedy, domineering, cruel and unmatronly woman. It should be surprising however the readiness of some modern scholars to accept such a portrayal as historically accurate. In fact when rhetorical commonplaces and gender stereotypes are taken into account, Fulvia's depiction appears to be the product of the literary and political bias of the ancient authors, rather than an unquestionable historical reality.

This paper intends to contribute to the revisionist efforts of an increasing number of scholars who seek to underline the rhetorical elements in Fulvia's portrayal as a way to distinguish historical facts from literary fabrication. This study focuses on Cicero's depiction of Fulvia in the Philippics where she becomes a useful tool for the effective vilification of her husband, Antony. Cicero's contradictory remarks about Fulvia show her as both a cruel virago and a sentimental lover, an adulterous yet faithful wife, an intruder in the male realm while a very domestic conspirator. It seems that the inconsistencies in her portrayal result from the need to undermine Antony's character, the real target of the invective, rather than constituting an organized attempt to denounce her political participation. In fact most of the actions attributed to Fulvia in the Philippics are well known negative gender stereotypes which can be found in the portrayals of other infamous republican ladies. Like Clodia Fulvia is a secret, unmentioned influence, like Sassia she is cruel, like Sempronia she provokes the sexual license and moral decline of the men around her. Like all of them Fulvia becomes the means for the emasculation and character assassination of a male associate, a frequent device in Roman invective, and as such a reason why we should consider all this news about her devious nature as historically suspect.


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