Livy: The Sabine Paradigm

Grizelda D. McClelland (Washington University)

This paper examines Livy's construction of femininity in the first book of Ab Urbe Condita. It argues first that his feminine characterization is inconsistent; and second, that Livy employs this characterization as a literary device to advance his history's preface agenda: inde tibi tuaeque reipublicae quod imitere capias. (1.pre.48-49) Morality and politics converge in Livy's feminine, and this paper studies the convergence. Like Judith Ginsburg's Representing Agrippina (2006 Oxford), this analysis does not seek to uncover the "historical" women nor to censure or admire their actions. Rather, it dissects feminine representation strictly as a narrative tool. While Livy's text is the main evidence for this paper, complementary consideration of the material record, both sculptural and numismatic, is employed at times to support its propositions.

For the purposes of time, this examination is limited to three significant representations of femininity: the Sabines, Tarpeia and Horatia. Analysis of Livy's diction throughout the Sabine narrative (1.9.1; 1.9.60; 1.13.l) reveals clearly contradictory feminine roles that cannot be neatly clarified by the Sabine shift from virginity to maternity. Sequentially, the virgins Tarpeia (1.11.21-23) and Horatia (1.26.7; 1.26.14-15; 1.26.62) are themselves then subject to the dissonant standard of the Sabines. Each review relies on a close reading of the text in an effort to unpack a moving target: Livy's sublime feminine.

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