Prof Dame Mary Beard – Lucretia and the politics of sexual violence

Prof Dame Mary Beard – Lucretia and the politics of sexual violence

welcome to you all to the Gifford
lectures, I’m Emma Wildwood, I’m in the school of divinity here in the
University of Edinburgh and I’m delighted to welcome our distinguished
speaker Professor Beard professor at the University of Cambridge and fellow of
Newnham College as she continues her series on the theme the ancient world
and us from fear and loathing to enlightenment and ethics who have been
here already and heard the first two lectures know that we’ve been taken to
the Coliseum, to gladiatorial combat we’ve gazed at the artwork of the
ancient world and much more but we’ve also been asked to reflect on profound
questions like how the ancient world saw humaneness how they categorized issues
of identity and categorized the world they saw around them and how we do that
as well so this evening we will hear the third of Professor beards six lectures
which promises to be equally thought-provoking it’s entitled Lucretia
and the politics of sexual violence and as before the lecture and the questions
this evening are being recorded and the video will be available on the Gifford
lectures website so now it’s my great pleasure to hand over to Professor Mary
Beard thank you very much everybody it’s nice
to see you get the title this is the lecture that caused the the adult themes
notice on the different website and let me say it was not a trigger warning
which is a term which seems to upset people outside universities terribly it
was simply intended to give due notice that the focus of this lecture
in fact this lecture is all about various forms of rape and sexual
violence in the mythical history of ancient Rome none of what I’m going to
talk about ever happened you’ll be pleased to know but it’s all the more
interesting for this but the bottom line here is that early Roman history whether
you like it or not is bound up with rape almost all stories of the foundational
moments of Rome feature violence against women as in a sense the immediate course
of political change and these are moments that have become part of Western
literary musical visual and the intellectual repertoire of the West ever
since and its these that I want to confront tonight to ask how we’re to
make sense of them what it tells us about the ways the Romans saw themselves
and once again as Emma said what it tells us about us the way we look at
these stories how do they reflect back on us so I said every single example I’m
going to talk about is mythical in the common sense of the term but it doesn’t
make it any less culturally important simply because it didn’t never happen
really and in fact it probably makes it more important no the most famous or
infamous incident and the one I’m going to spend
time on is what is now generally called by one of those casual short hands the
rape of Lucretia right if you’ve seen here in Botticelli’s version which you
had a little brief prequel off earlier in the week but there are many many
other artistic representations of this story from Titians rape of Lucretia
in Cambridge to Artemisia Gentileschi version or any of the many productions
of Benjamin Britten’s opera on the theme up to date version of Lucretia
it’s a story and I’ll come back to this but let me just give you a kind of a
headline version it’s a story that is set near the beginning of the history of
Rome in the reign of the seventh of the seven kings of Rome they’re largely
mythical characters perhaps not entirely and if we were to put it in our terms
although this gives it a rather spurious precision it’s a story which is set at
the end of the sixth century BC, Botticelli actually gives you narrative quite well gives you
the headline narrative Lucretia is a virtuous married woman and she is raped
by the Sun year of the reigning king her reaction to this crime is to summon her
husband and her father to tell them what happened and then in their presence to
kill herself that’s Lucretia here, yeah probably dying that’s her a reaction their reaction is
to join forces to expel the king and his relations to abolish the Roman monarchy
and to establish a free quasi Democratic Republic now governed by
elected officials and in case you didn’t get the point
in Botticelli’s version here is david top of there’s the corpse of Lucretia
with the dagger rather prominently sticking out you know the pillar David
with the head of Goliath here David was the florentine symbol of Liberty so if
you are – if you want the point that the death of Lucretia is the beginning of
Roman Liberty Botticelli’s given you that and it is I
think the most famous story of sexual violence and early Rome but it’s by no
means the only one the whole of Roman mythical history started with a rape
this is not blaming the wolf here this is a rather kind of clunky or charming
dependent depending on your point of view mosaic from Yorkshire with Romulus
and Remus here underneath this grinning animal now we tend to forget because we
think of Romulus the wolf and the twins we tend to forget that they were born
after their mother who was a virgin priestess had been raped by the god Mars
what is more the first Roman marriage was also a rape if you go back to the
the very beginning of Roman history and you say right okay you’ve got these two
twins who found the city Romulus and Remus they quarrel Romulus kills Remus
and attracts a kind of motley crew of Runaways and criminals to be the sort of
blokes for his new settlement but Romulus because he’s smart
realizes that you can’t have a city with only men not if you want it to have a
future so he invited to a festival some of the people, sabine people who were
then around about and in the middle of the festival give us a signal and he has
his men basically just carry off or steal the young women among the visitors
now what you’ve got on the screen here is a version of Poussin’s version of the
scene it’s memorably reworked by Picasso and
it’s also interestingly a scene that was publicly paraded in Rome in one of the
major buildings of the Roman Forum yeah just about I think quite difficult these
the women of being carried off by this roman men as I say this is the origin
of Roman marriage effectively and I think for me it’s always a kind of
interesting it’s an interesting reflection here that those of us who
thought that the feminist claim of the 1960s that all marriage is rape you know
that it wasn’t the 1960s feminists what invented that claim Roman marriage is
based on the principle that it’s origin was rape and there’s more
but that’s only three I’m gonna give you one more before we get down to think
about what it all means there’s a rather less well-known story set fifty years or
so after the death of Lucretia which was also extremely popular in the
Renaissance according to this story you’ve got this New Republic this new
crazy Democratic Republic in Rome but it’s terrible class conflict in it it’s
torn apart by social unrest so they’ve established this new system
after the death of Lucretia but it’s going very badly so what the Romans do
when they see this social unrest when they realize they’ve got to do something
about it is they establish a commission of ten men to codify law in the first
year these ten men did a very good job but they haven’t finished so another ten
men were elected to finish it off and this
lot went to the bad in almost every way including terrible abuse of power what
Botticelli did a pair to his rape of Lucretia depicting this scene now what
happened is that one of these 10 men appears Claudius had decided that he
wanted for his bed a poor woman named Virginia and he made extravagant
promises to her which she rejected partly because she was already engaged
to somebody else in the face of her refusal he devised a terrible trick he
had one of her retainers his he had one of his retainers claimed that the girl
was his eye that she was a slave who belonged to the retainer and when the
girl obviously could test it this and said that she wasn’t a slave the
retainer insisted that they should take that to law they should have a legal
judgment about this which they did and the judge in the case of course it was
all set up with none other than up his Claudius he wanted the girl and he of
course passed judgment in favor of a teener and the idea was going to be but
the retainer would then hand the girl directly over to Appius Claudius but at
this point their girls miles from here the girl’s father
stabbed his daughter to death rather than let her face falling into the hands
of Appius Claudius the only way to save her from that was to kill her paternal
violence then became an antidote to the violence of the attacker he is a rather
mourner age but he near aversion as Virginia now dead and this is dad there
was however a happy ending the final option was that the people
deposed the ten men and restored full Republican government without the
corruption what I want to do this evening is to confront these stories and
particularly the story of Lucretia I want to face up to them and look them in
the eye and I want not only to think about what the prominence of these
stories of sexual violence in the myths of early Rome and that kind of hyper
real world that the myths construct I want to think about what that prompt
prominence tells us about how the Romans saw themselves and how we should see
them but I also want to think about how and why they these stories particularly
Lucretia has been embraced and paraded and debated in Western culture ever
since to put this in its simplest and slightly jocular terms if you go back to
Botticelli’s panels which were probably commissioned by some florentine
aristocrat to decorate his home it looks they look as if their domestic pieces
about 1,500 you do have to wonder what lay behind it when he came home to his
wife and said I’ve got two lovely panels with a bedroom darling you know what was
the rape of Lucretia the others the death of Virginia what did he think he
was doing why were they so interested why did this seem appropriate why didn’t
she throw them in his face now let me just
say at this point that I am taking it for granted and I’m not going to belabor
it as we go on I’m taking it for granted that these scenes are unpleasant nasty
and possibly upsetting and it seems to me absolutely fine for us to deplore
these stories and in fact I think that one of the things that classics as a
subject has got better at over the last 20 30 perhaps 40 years is actually doing
that when I was a student myself that 40
years ago bit more than we were actually I think we were taught not to notice the
rapes in Roman history or literature and if we did notice them we were taught we
were expected somehow to take them for granted you have the rape of the Sir
binds the rape of Lucretia whatever without thinking or or trying to kind of
poke at their implications or we were also I think taught to kind of translate
these problems away now it is true that the Latin word are rappy Oh doesn’t
necessarily mean a rape always in our terms
it can mean seas it can mean carry off but somehow I look back all those
carryings off that we talked about so they carried off on which we were
expected to see in Roman literature in culture they were actually a wave just
not looking at this sexual violence we just sort of drew drew a kind of
sanitizing euphemistic veil over it so I think that you know it’s fine to say
this is awful but I think it’s it’s more important than just deploring it I think
it’s I think it’s obviously essential that we notice it and we attend to what
these stories are telling us rather than sweet down to the carpet I think not
looking at this means that actually I think we misunderstand Roman culture
terribly because one of the things I think we’ve got to see is not just that
Rome paraded sexual violence certainly did that but more than that
every single major political revolution or turning point in Roman history was
integrally bound with sexual violence foundation of the
city the first Roman marriage the establishment of the Democratic Republic
and its reestablishment after the abuses the awful commission of ten so it’s not
just there’s a lot of rape there’s a lot of rape which is really inseparable from
how you understand the politics of Rome in one sense there is an inextricable
link between the female body and the Roman state but that’s only the start
because all of these Roman stories have gone on being central to moral political
and sexual debates ever since antiquity itself and right up to now and
especially the rape and suicide of Lucretia cinta Gustin puzzled over the
story boccaccio feature it in his 14th century compendium on famous women
so did Geoffrey Chaucer Machiavelli composed a rather odd comic parity of it
so did Pushkin in the early 19th century Shakespeare wrote his own version
there’s a mid 20th century staged version by the French playwright zsa zsa
do and of course as I’ve said Benjamin Britten made his own operatic version
based on another 20th century French play about Lucretia and there’s
literally hundreds more versions of this and as we’ve seen it’s represented to
countless times in modern art interestingly and I throw this out and
if anybody’s got any suggestions I’d really like to talk about it there are
no certain roman representations of the rape of Lucretia at all we have as I
showed you that the star binds there’s nothing on the rape of Lucretia the fact is also that just the name
Lucretia remains a name to come to it now expect some of you know a little
familiar with judy chicago’s feminist installation called the dinner party
whereas a table is laid with place settings for the famous but usually
neglected women in history people run the table and on the floor
underneath those that couldn’t actually find a place at the table or given
recognition by being inscribed on the floor on which the table stands is done
in this nineteen sixties now sadly I have to say Lucretia herself doesn’t
make it to the main table but she is on the floor and in fact no fewer than five
Lucretia’s are found on the floor of Judy Chicago’s dinner party there’s all
in Krisha plus this lot Lucretia marinilla
who’s a an Italian woman of the 16th century who wrote a great tract entitled
the nobility and excellence of women and the defects and vices have met a name to
conjure if there’s the 19th century anti-slavery campaigner Lucretia Mott
and then two famous Italian 15th century well matriarch span fatale or whatever
you like to call him the Lucretia’s Borja and Turner Bonnie all of them are
named for the Lucretia of our story she has in other words never gone away and
might claim the seasoning is that when even now in the West at least and I I
say in the West simply because I don’t want to foist these arguments and these
prejudices on to the whole planet when we debate rape when we debate
issues of consent when we debate what counts as consent we are still debating
questions that were raised in the ancient world itself by this story right
happily we get some different answers what the Romans got but the questions
are much the same but we need first to look at Lucretia story and a little bit
more detail and we’ll have Rembrandt’s for the trauma version now there are
various as always there are various slightly different versions of this
story but I’m following the longest one written by the historian Livy after the
end of the Democratic Republic whose establishment was bound up with the life
and death of Lucretia written in fact at the very beginning of the second phase
of one-man rule at Rome under Empress not Kings and he’s writing half a
millennium then from the notional events of Lucretius death it didn’t ever exist
half a millennium is rather fuzzy term but a long time ago it’s a long time
again his story is set at the moment when the early Roman city and I’m saying
city but we got to think village basically the early Roman big village
it’s attacking one of its neighbors which is another big village quarter
deya just down the road it’s a long siege and
one evening in this siege the officers officers who included the king’s son
Sextus Tarquinius and Lucretia’s husband Tarquinius Collatinus you can see he’s
also related to the ruling family of the Tarquins these young officers were
sitting up and getting drunk Livius rather politely they were hot with wine
and a terribly blokish laddish way they fell to quarreling in their cups
about whose wife was the best and unable to agree they decided because it was
still quite near Rome they decided in order to settle the dispute they’d get
on my horse this gallop back to Rome and see what
the wives were doing and then judge who was the best when they get there they
discover that most of the women were having just as good a time as the men
right they were drinking partying in the absence only Lucretia was different the
Brittain opera was spinning with her female slaves so Tarquinius Collatinus
Lucretius husband was as Livy put it the winning man and to celebrate he invites
the other blokes in for dinner prepared by Lucretia the slaves it was at that
point Livy says that a bad desire took over the kingdom and he conceived of a
desire to take Lucretia the winning wife by force what drove him was according to
Livy the combination of her beauty and her purity you can’t win whether you’re
pure or beautiful or both you can’t win here anyway so he’s got
this bad desire but nothing happens that night they all had dinner and galloped
back even more drunk to their siege quarters few evenings later however Sextus Tarquinius goes back on his own too Croesus house and she because she’s a
good woman properly entertains him and finds him a guest room but he is
according to Livi burning with passion we love with a more and so sword in hand
he goes to the room where Lucretia her selfish sleeping wakes her and threatens
that she will die if she makes a sound and it’s what is happening in this
medieval version sexist or queen yes and there’s Lucretia looking rather matronly
over here he begs her to sleep with him and when she holds out he threatens even
more strongly that if she doesn’t give in he will kill her and kill a slave and
leave their bodies out together as if they had been caught in adultery and
murdered it was a horribly effective mobilisation of another form of the
Roman social hierarchy and discrimination the story of the free
versus the enslaved here intersects with male power versus female weakness and
faced with that dishonour Lucretia submits sexist Tarquinius leaves an
accretion a straightaway sends a messenger to summon her husband and
father who arise she explains to them what had happened but she says I’m
quoting Livy here only my body was violated my mind is innocent death will
be my witness she then calls on them to avenge what will be her suicide the men
tried to dissuade her because they say look it’s the mind that commits a crime
not the body you know you were you were innocent in your mind but she won’t be
swayed she again insists that she’s innocent
and she means import at least I think innocence of the crime of adultery bit
complicated come back to that she insists that she’s innocent
but she must nevertheless die I am NOT going to provide an example or a
justification for any unchaste woman to go on living and those words became
absolute slogan ever after I’m not going to provide an example or a
justification for any other unchaste woman and so she kills herself and you
can see how much worse slogan they become because in this 16th century
painting in the National Gallery gallery probably of another woman called
Lucretia those words are written on the piece of paper by her I am NOT going to
provide any olar exemplar I am going to be no justification for unchasity by
my life in the story Lucretia then takes a dagger and plunges it in herself and
as her husband and father get terribly upset as they would what one of the
friends you’ve come along to Marcus Junius Brutus pulls the dagger out of
the body and vows to depose the monarchy this is the happy ending and drive
the whole family of the King out of town and that is Brutus I think about having
got the dagger and about to depose the monarchy now the name Marcus Junius
Brutus may well sound familiar to you and that is because he is the mythical
ancestor with exactly the same name of the Brutus who was the leader of the
plot to assassinate Julius Caesar in 44 BC and I think it gives you a little
glimpse of a layered complexity of this myth and this history how these stories
got invented and in bed when and why we had to ask the question
did Brutus in 44 BC assassinate Caesar in order to follow in the noble
tradition and his family footsteps or more likely were those family footsteps
partly invented so that the later Brutus who killed Caesar could follow in them
terribly kind of convoluted here now there are all kinds of variants on that
canonical tale in ancient literature different emphases different details and
I’ll be looking at one of those later and there are even in Roman literature
even to my taste some rather vulgar Blokish jokes apart Lucretia Roman
satirist love saying good and if I fancy being married to a Lucretia you know
she’d be really boring but those apart you can see some fairly clear themes in
the story and in the kind of ideological template in what makes it make sense one
very clear surface message is obviously the importance of chastity and the
virtue that women can claim by displaying chastity that’s what’s made
explicit in Lorenzo lotos portrait with brandishes Lucretia’s own slogan or the
slogan that Livy composed for her and presumably it’s one thing that idea the
virtue of the parade of chastity alongside the assertion of political
Liberty which drives the domestic display in this florentine household
these two very unpleasant stories right what they’re doing is saying just a
t-raines in this house I have to say I think that must be true at some level I
the story of Lucretia sure is unpleasant and I can but I can see how you can draw
the morale that chastity is a good thing out of it I find the idea that you could
draw any good moral about this two out of the story of Virginia in which dad
has to kill daughter in order to stop her being taken by the nasty aristocrat
I find even more difficult to get my head around but certainly very little
comfort I can’t imagine sitting down in my
bedroom with this with the death of Virginia in front of me but still I
ain’t got chastity but you can spot I think in the stories I’ve told it other
kind of embedded ancient stereotypes on the role of elite women but a slightly
hinted at in the way I’ve told the story one of those is the assumption that
woman is a male commodity whatever the highlighting of Lucretia’s plight the
agents in this story are the men when they are bantering about whose wife is
best how does Livy describe what’s going on
who describes it as a muli a Bri a muli a breaker Talman that’s a woman
competition now that would be like saying it’s a juggling competition it’s
a discus competition the women are not the agents here there is little the
agents as the javelin is the agent in the Olympic Games
all right and it’s literally I suppose it’s a competition about women but it’s
one in which the only agent are the men and you find that in the way when Livy
describes a Lucretius husband you know he’s the
victor the victor emeritus is the winning husband so although it looks
like a competition which is really about whose wife is the best it’s really a
competition about who’s husband which husband is the best
so the women are part of a male game they don’t have any agency themselves
likewise in a way that’s uncomfortably familiar to us I think insofar as Livi
gives Lucretia any agency at all he does end up hinting that some of the blame
here attaches to her not only to the rapist the fact is that Livi is
ambivalent he refers to the bad desire that murali beedo that takes hold of
Tarquinius but it’s the woman who prompts it it is her beauty or her
purity that is responsible for inflaming this bad desire now it’s even his love
for her which she has prompted by her beauty that drives him on I don’t need
to give you the modern parallels for that which you could find in any British
courtroom most weeks I suspect but you can see how our own export exculpatory
cliches about she was wearing two shorter skirt or you know she was you
know she was showing too much whatever us already there in this story about who
caused the rape of Lucretia to some extent she caused it because she was too
beautiful it is however more complicated than this and I’ve said that we have
literally thousands of representations of this story now as a basic rule of
thumb stories do not get repeated time and time again paintings don’t get
painted and repainted if they are telling us something we know already the
insistence this insistence on the stories being told again and
again with subtly different emphases is a sure sign that these stories and the
story of Lucretia is a very difficult one they’re raising questions that can’t
easily be solved now I might compare here images of the crucifixion of Jesus
Christ now images of the crucifixion do not
flood the Christian world simply because they’re the kind of brand logo for
Christianity they flood the wrote the Christian world because they direct us
these images of the crucifixion to some of the most difficult questions of the
articles of faith that Christianity depends on what happened on the cross in
what sense did Jesus die or not die how do we understand the status of Jesus as
God or man and so on so if you find themes and subjects which get this kind
of overwhelmingly repetitive treatment you can be pretty certain that it’s
actually focusing on a subject that means something very different to the
people who are producing it and in the case of Lucretia in the case of Lucretia
you scratched the surface of this story beyond what I’ve said you find many more
awkward questions that continue to be debated around her ones which tend to
force into the background the resonances the political resonances about the
foundation of the Democratic Republic that are so clear in Livy and embodied
Chile for those into the background rather by for grounding the sexual
politics of the story in earlier in in the way the Romans tell it easy there is
a very very strong political resonance and this is how
great institutions the Republic start it that does fade away in the repetition of
these stories and it gets more about rape in our terms and the questions that
are raised about new Krisha go back ultimately to issues of guilt or
innocence now most 21st century commentators would
start with the idea that the only question of guilt surrounds secateurs
Tarquinius the rapist and it’s true to say but although the crime of rape in
history is often very differently defined from our own and it is extremely
complicated in Rome if you were to ask me what exactly is the law of rape at
the time we live he is writing it would be very hard to summarize leaving that
aside is it’s true that none of the accounts we have actually are on sexist
Tarquinius aside nobody says he was a good guy there are
no that’s not entirely true there are later a couple of wild
parodies which suggest that this is a sixteenth seventeenth century wild
parodies which suggest that you know how do you make sense of this well there’s a
backstory here they’d had a fling a long time ago you know and that’s why he
comes back and there’s more to this than meets the eye but there’s a real minor
variants mostly in the history of Lucretia nobody thinks that Sextus
Tarquinius it’s a goodie and no one much debates his role the focus of interest
both in ancient Rome and later has been on an creature and on how far as already
hinted how far is she guilty here now in technical Roman terms was she guilty of
adultery was this adultery with her assailant and a woman’s penalty for that
could be death which she inflicts on herself or more generally
this is what gets going very soon after the first time we see this story in
living if she was as innocent as the story suggests why did she kill herself
how do we how do we weigh up her innocence and her death that question
lurks already in Livy’s account Livys’s is the first the earliest
coherent account you have he didn’t invent this story we’ve got traces of it
before but it is the earliest coherent and still one of the longest accounts we
have and the question of if if she’s innocent why did she kill herself is
lurking in Livi you can see it when her male relatives tell her that she’s
innocent right it’s the mind that commits a crime not the body and of
course she too wants her innocence but so she’s going to kill herself anyway
400 years after Livy, St.Augustine homes in on this question when he examines
Lucretia’s guilt or innocence in the context of some notorious recent
examples of sexual violence and he reaches an impossible conundrum if she
was entirely innocent why did she commit self murder which is a crime that he
judges much more harshly than we would or to put it another way as he said if
she was actually guilty of adultery how on earth has she been so honored as
a symbol of chastity now a 21st century reading is likely to think that Lucretia
suicide was connected to her distress her trauma her shock but that has not
been the view of most of the historical commenters on this scene and nor is it
entirely the case even now now I don’t want to blame Augustine in in any crude
way because actually Augustine was trying
partly to defend some rape victims who hadn’t followed Lucretia’s example and
hadn’t killed themselves so partly he’s driven to let off some nuns who had been
raped and had not taken this chance so he wants to unpick Lucretia in order to
let his nuns off the hook but since Augustine got at the story there’s been
a terribly strong counter-narrative going right through history why up to
now actually which is actually questioned the innocence of Lucretia
with closer overlaps than we might like to think about with our own debates on
sexual violence on consent and the right to hear a woman’s voice now I don’t mean
to suggest that the Harrow is a ssin of Lucretia as a symbol of sexual virtue
has ever stopped or ever been entirely defaced by a different story but a
different story there certainly is and the basic logic
as I hinted goes if she killed herself she must have been guilty of something wonderful moment if she killed herself
she must have been guilty something what was it
no one predictable maneuver has been to argue but new Krisha did in fact consent
sure sexist Tarquinius had a knife but no force was ever used on Lucretius body
merely persuasion one 17th century moralist William Vaughn it was only one
of many who argued that actually Augustine had been too kind on Lucretia
but she had allowed sexist Tarquinius to do what he did and so it was complicit
in their act and had committed adultery now again I don’t need to point out the
parallels there with some modern judgments in our own culture of sexual
violence in which it is only if the victim can point to physical injury and
signs of a struggle that that she can prove that she didn’t
consent we’re still living in a culture in which it’s hard to say that you meant
no unless you got bruises etc to prove it that was basically what went back to
Augustine and the the problem of consent and all these people who were saying she
was okay it was rough persuasion but she agreed
it is a yeah when a woman says no she means yes kind of argument Lucretia sort
of said no they said but she meant yes a more edgy and to me even less palatable
tactic is a variant on this argument of consent that is to say some very loud
male voices indeed particularly from the Renaissance on claim that Lucretia had
taken pleasure in her sexual encounter with Sextus Tarquinius and that is why she
and she alone knew she had to die she’d enjoyed it one of a whole series of
literary debates on the Lucretia problem putting the pros and cons on my side is
by one Florentine Coluccio Salutati writing around for 1,400 and although
solute are tea leaves the verdict ultimately open
he has Lucretia in his kind of reconstruction of this say that when she
recalls what happened she is assailed by the enticements of
her disobedient members and by the traces of their marital flame
even with sexist Tarquinius and she refers very eroticized terms to the
memory of the man’s hands on her body almost as if they mimicked the
penetration the body with the dagger that she
herself welded and one seventeenth century writer in English rather
snappily put it though slightly chillingly she might have been chased
before the rape and she might have been chased after
but she wasn’t chased during the act itself no believe it or not that issue
of whether she enjoyed it continues to be debated even now within the academic
high ground of art history especially in relation to Titian famous painting of
the scene I should point out partly it’s next to invisible but I’m going to point
you out anyway the theme of my last lecture here we have the slave right and
but Titian like Botticelli before is actually as I said in the questions last
time has racialized has made the slave of black slave when there would be no
possible implication that that was what was the case in the story now in the
1980s there were fierce arguments over the interpretation of this painting one
radical art historian male are read the counter
narrative here suggesting that Titian was showing in this painting a willing
victim it’s in a luxuriously sexualized setting he said and he said that he
thought he could detect not sure I can the trace of a smile on Lucretia’s face, blimey right in answer one equally radical female
critic expressed amazement that the male critic could possibly
in this anything other than the unambiguous exhibition of force and
defenselessness of in intimidation and fear of violation of the women’s privacy
integrity selfhood and will how could you said possibly turn this which he had
done into an image of Lucretius consent now I don’t want to pursue that
particular conundrum now though we can go on with it in the questions if you
like what I want to underline is the longevity of these debates here we’ve
got two modern art historians engaging with
St. Augustine’s problems with the early Roman myth of Lucretia as portrayed by a
16th century Venetian artist are we still talking about it
are we still can’t agree now a different version of Lucretia has focused on a
different fault everybody’s always anxious to find fault with Lucretia, another criticism has been that she’s been too concerned with their own
reputation right Augustine’s main answer to the question of why she chose to kill
herself was because public shame might have been more important to her than
true chastity now Livy had already almost hinted that in writing about
Lucretia sphere of dishonor that would fall on her but these later writers
began to push that further and to make her the victim of vanity the vanity of
her own reputation she killed herself because she was vain some went even
further to suggest that the bottom line here was pride that it wasn’t guilt or
innocence that was at stake with Lucretia it was pride and that was even
worse an English 16th century critic said bluntly God more abhorred
than the whoredom of any whore and that’s what was going
on here in other words it was a kind of Lucretia was making a histrionic display
of sort of celebrity virtue now it’s often said that this line of argument
about Lucretia is is more than anything else a Christian one
it belonged to a culture of t he conscience not to the world of shame
that the Romans were more interested in its Christian guilt here notching an up
to a point that’s no doubt right but not entirely I want to take you back one
last time to the ancient world itself to a poet writing just a few years after
Livy and to a line of rather clever latin which you’re going to enjoy even
if you don’t know a word of Latin I promise well I’ll try the poet is Ovid
one of the cleverest trickiest and funniest writers to survive from ancient
Rome he was a controversial figure in antiquity and was eventually exiled by
the Emperor Augustus we don’t quite know why but it bad behavior had something to
do with it and he’s a controversial figure now because Obid wrote a lot
about sex violence and erotics– and those who study him still don’t agree
whether he generally takes a highly gendered pleasure in describing what we
would call male mistreatment of women or whether he’s pointing up and exposing
the gendered faults of his own culture so is he enjoying being a sexist or is
he showing us that we’re sexist right now one clear case of this is in his
description of the rape of the Sabine women you remember that I said in order
to get wives and mothers for the early city Romulus resorted to stealing raping
abducting running off with the young women he’d had invited to the festival
with their parents now in his description of this Livy he goes to
great lengths to de-eroticize the scene of the rape of the Sabines he stresses
for example rather bizarrely that the young Romans didn’t choose the women they took
there was no kind of targeted desire like I fancy you but I don’t fancy you
they just took anybody they bumped into at random (in-audible) oh I didn’t fancy them, its alright is the Livy line Ovid conjures up the same moment but his
young men in his description of the rape of the Sabine a blokes on the sexy
will make they pick the ones they fancy and they chat them up and part of their
pickup routine is to say to these frightened crying traumatized young
women oh you do look lovely absolutely gorgeous when you’re upset
right now you can easily see where modern disagreements lie I hear you know
has obvious just turned this into another excuse for some appalling ly
sexist boy-meets-girl narrative with a bit of kind of rough stuff on the side
making the violence a kind of part of the pickup line or as I would prefer to
think but I don’t really know is Ovid actually calling out the
attempts to cover up the sex in these acts of political violence is he trying
to say you can’t do it like Livy this this is a sexual scene is he
simultaneously revealing and parodying the brutality of Roman male behavior
even when it’s been reprocessed into a patriotism right we don’t know but
always also has a go at telling the story of the rape of Lucretia and I want
to pick up just one line it comes at a moment when sexist Tarquinius has made
the threat that he will dishonour Lucretia by killing her together with
the slave this is what Ovid
then comments I’ve got a translation up Succubuit famae victa puella metu – here’s one translation I’ll explain how we get it the girl gave
in overcome by fear of bad reputation now as often with Ovid or all Latin poetry
in general there’s more than one way to translate any individual line partly
because the sense of the Latin doesn’t depend on the order of the words as it
does largely in England in English and as I say the straight forward way to
translate this is to say the girl the puella conquered victa metu – conquered
by fear, of famae of reputation but it can mean bad reputation gave in, succubuit a
girl conquered by fear of a bad reputation exceeded now interestingly
puella is the latin word standard Latin word for girlfriend or mistress so we’re
already being asked to wonder how far this is seduction not quite the rape
that it seems but there’s also an even stronger sense than you get a hint of in Livy that Lucretia’s main concern is her
reputation but you can take it even in a nasty away than that remember that the
order of the words is not giving the sense here and remember that in Latin
famae, fear of famae can mean reputation whether it’s good or bad or celebrity in our
sense if you want to have fun with off it here and see how some of the most
extreme we interpretations that you find in
Renaissance and later literature were already prefigured here you can also
translate it like this the girl overcome by fear surrendered celebrity succubuit famae that is an equally legitimate translation which is not so
very far from the modern newspaper accounts that we read about how the
victims did it for the fame and the money and the celebrity we hope that
Ovid is writing with irony but we can’t really be sure but it is one of those
absolutely what an absolutely classic lines where where you put was she
conquered by fear of Fame or did she give in to celebrity and Ovid is making
us think the big point I want to make is it the story of Lucretia and its long
history of replication has been part of how for centuries readers and viewers
for better or worse have thought about sexual violence what is another way many
of the standard templates that we have for defining sexual violence for
excusing it for giving alibis to it for challenging women’s accounts and
motivations are rooted in classical antiquity and in all the debates that
classical antiquity has sparked in the literature and painting of the millennia
that followed we can’t in other words get rid of Lucretia from the world and
if we were to we wouldn’t understand why so many arguments on this topic
unlike they are or why we talk as we do about consent temptation celebrity and
all the rest now I’m not saying here that we are but passive inheritors of
this ideology of course we’re not and they weren’t all in
around the figure of Lucretia but we are still using the building blocks of these
arguments the ones that come out very clearly from the story of Lucretia as a
way of thinking about and talking about sexual violence we’re still debating the
Lucretia problem should be the Sextus Tarquinius is problem but we call it
the Lucretia problem and that obviously and so I’m gonna finish should prompt us
to think about how we might challenge some of the ways how might we get out of
thinking about rape and sexual violence in a way that Lucretia has set out for
us no I’m not going to last I’m not good I’m going to raise a big problem but
only very briefly I want to just point her to finish a couple of the forms in
which thinking differently about this might take so far I’ve used this
painting by 17th century Artemisia Gentileschi without much comment as if
it was Lucretia what I haven’t mentioned was that Artemisia Gentileschi herself
was raped it’s a well-known incident because she herself very rarely took
part in the prosecution of the rapist and was tortured to give truthful
evidence in the process and she repeatedly returned to the subject
unsurprisingly of Lucretia not a few female art historians have thought
possibly in looking at the work of Artemisia Gentileschi
17th century rape victim that we might find a different sort of counter
narrative and some of the paintings I don’t see it here but if you look at
that version I think that all I would challenge anyone to see pleasure and
consent in that version of Lucretia oh this painting was actually sold for 2
million dollars last year one feels something slightly spooky about the idea
that the rape victims painting of a rape victim then make somebody 2 million dollars
you know but nevermind we don’t know where it is now it’s gone to some
bankfull but I think we can’t just look back a few hundred years we got to tell
we’re gonna stop telling our own stories about Lucretia if we’re not gonna throw
new crucial away which I think we can’t we have to make her speak for us in a
different way we probably have to try to retell her now I’m not sure exactly what
this retelling is going to look like but I have had a sneak preview of a new
opera which is about to open in the autumn in Boston Massachusetts
this opera has a twist because in the Opera that we’re now going to see on
stage not like the gloomy operas where Lucretia dies horribly Lucretia turns
out not to have died at all it was all a trick and the composer who is
unsurprisingly I think a woman told me that what she wanted to do is to take
this story you know the ultimate story of patriarchal male violence and try to
and you know what I’m going to and try to tell it in a way that sort of was
better for the me to generation so all we can say is a rather hope that it’s
successful but we just have to wait and see thank you well thank you very much once again for
a very stimulating lecture this is the moment where there’s a stampede out the
door for those who need to leave I’m just going to go through a few notices
as you do that because we want to spend as much time as we can on questions so
just for those who haven’t heard this before
we’re holding an online discussion throughout the fortnight of the series
on our Gifford lectures blog led by andrew johnson of new college do look at
the website to contribute we’re also back here a week beginning Monday the
27th of May for the 4th lecture in the series at 5:30 entitled us and them and
you’re also all formally invited to attend the Gifford seminar which is
co-hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the University of
Edinburgh which is going to be on Wednesday the 29th of May from 2:30 to
3:45 it’s in the G.03 lecture theatre and 1550 George square if you want to
join that please check out for tickets they are limited so now if there’s no
further disruption we shall take a few questions in the few minutes that we
have left so forget have a hands that’s one at the front there the back and
there’s one right at the back there it’s just a very Swift etymological question
really it’s only just occurred to me after decades of reading Latin that
Famae is cognate with Famae and it just means being talked about doesn’t it it
doesn’t actually mean anything other than so it’s it is the basic same
route as Famae and so so it sometimes is good
reputation you can be talking about well it can be talked about badly you can
just be talked about yes it’s a bad reputation good reputation or just
anything anything that stirs gossip yeah and you’re in the you know and you know
if you go back and to think about things like Pericles is so-called funeral
speech talking about you know the greatest tribute to a woman was not to
be talked about then Famae and women does not go
together in traditional classical culture that’s good I think there’s a
question right up at the back there thank you and staying on the Ovid line
you said that the first translation is more generally accepted I wonder are
there sort of Roman commentators or medieval scholars that give that
interpretation you know where I picked it from Tony Boyle translated it’s from
Ovid Fasti he translated it in the second way that I’ve translated it and I
was just reading through his translation so out of interest really
and it just brought me up short because that’s not how it is usually translated
now the problem of out of its jokes and Ovids exploitation of the way
Latin word order doesn’t constrain you the problem for translators you have to
walk in English she’s got what for one or the other so you I don’t see I’ve not
thought her away in English which could reflect that ambiguity but although I
mean I was taught that if you haven’t seen a joke in any line of of it that
you were reading you hadn’t read and carefully enough and I think it might
not be wholly true but it’s a good message and there I have no doubt that
he’s playing with one’s assumptions about Famae and Lucretia
and enabling you to push it harder but it you know that’s why it’s so difficult
to translate and you know and when you do see it translated kind of
authoritatively in my second way it does you know it’s it jolts you actually
look you’ve got you haven’t got the it’s yeah you could all go away and you can
put on if you can think of a way of translating that of it in a way that
keeps the ambiguity in English put it on the the gifford blog site and we’ll all
congratulate you well there’s a challenge for this
evening yes somebody other than no were you out twenty by the time I see two
questions just here okay and there’s another one like across yes that was
that was fascinating and I was very intrigued by what you said about the
link between the female body and the Roman state could you expand that I
think that with difficulty you can see that that is in some level what’s going
on because it’s not that we just bite as I said there’s not it’s not just oh my
goodness miss stories and disruption woman gets raped and a big political
change in some way it’s it’s I mean I think it’s proper you quoted me
correctly but I was I should have said I think that the politics was absolutely
in structured and integrally linked to to the idea of violence against the
against the female body and I think I’d say that you know that is about as as
extreme a patriarchal culture as you can get you know you you cannot think
further into patriarchy then a culture which says
not that our democratic republic say is a link to a woman’s body is linked to
violence against a woman’s body but what the politics is actually kind of built
on the abusive women not not just on women it’s built on the abuse of women
now in some ways but once I’ve said that I’m not quite sure where to go next
right I think it’s it stands out and it also stays out of the way we you know
when I was an undergraduate never to think about that and even now I think
these phrases we have but you know picture titles yes if they had kind of
it’ll hi since the rape of the sidelights the regular Lucretia just
takes that awareness away from you but I think that Roman politics in it’s the
way it’s mythically presented is is saying that the state depends on it
depends on violence against women I find that quite chilly let’s take another
quickly thank you so much for your lecture I found it fascinating and I
really enjoyed the references to the current discussion as well and I wonder
you talked a lot about male thinkers and male responses what about women could
you comment a bit on that please if there’s very little and that’s because
the problem I suppose I should look up that lovely and I’ve I’ve held online as
it were in the way all things on Lucretia Marian Ella’s book about the
vices of men I ought to look what she says about Lucretia but it’s why
everybody goes to Artemisia Gentileschi because there is one place where we
it’s not just that she was raped but she’s actually she’s a woman and
otherwise it’s a story which is told entirely but I think I think that you
know as I flip through you know Pushkin Machiavelli all the boys they’re all
they’re all in there you know Oh clever ones who sold you know they that was a
back story here you know – that wasn’t he wasn’t quite so bad they were trying
to make it up it’s it is a male story now that you know the truth is that most
of classical literature is a male story and perhaps we have to wait well the my
composer of the Opera is a woman and but what’s interesting is that we you know
we have in the last 10 years had quite a lot of modern female attempts to to kind
of recoup some of these stories like the stories of the Trojan War or the Odyssey
Circe by Madeline Miller or Pat Barker the silence of the girls or Margaret
what’s Penelope art they have they haven’t got to work yet or Roman myth
and maybe they should we’ll take one final question thank you very much um my
question is about what starts off with Augustine who first introduced me to
this story I was always struck by his preoccupation is maybe a bit harsh but
over the question of her enjoyment right but this was the crucial factor in
adjudicating her guilt or innocence and because that seems to be a step after
consent with health or consent given in our modern frameworks right and and I
think it the question of enjoyment is problematic for any sexual violence
against either a woman and even more so of sexual violence against men right
becomes even more complicated and so my question is just did it was that a
preoccupation with Augustine is it clearly evidence the question of
enjoyment as a question of guilt is that evidenced pre-august in or is that
something he seems to be particularly I think not I think that I think consent
comes in before Augustine and the question of whether whether Lucretia
could be deemed to have been persuaded but I don’t think that before Augustine
you get enjoyment where one would look for that is in the the rather nasty
radish jokes in Roman satire which process I ought to go look at again you
know but you know do fancy being married to a Lucretia now maybe if one looked at
them harder you would find that element I don’t recall it and it does seem to me
and you’re right to say that consent is one thing by the time you get to
enjoyment we’re not just in a sort of you know fusty old english judge who
says you know if you’re not bashed up you’ve said yes we’ve got to you know
the nastier side of rape fantasies or the accusation of rape fantasies and so
it’s so that does kind of that does become a big term turning point I think
it’s true I sort of I this is one of these kind of
terrible confessions that you shouldn’t make it but I will I mean an academic
confession it was only quite recently that I that I went and looked at the
passage as I went to see the context of the argument and until recently I just
dumped on Augustine as if you know oh my goodness me here you’ve got it awful but
uh you know Christian I do longer you comes along and this is what he does
with the story of Lucretia that’s wrong because actually he’s got the the what
Agustin is trying to argue is actually something which is a quite good argument
it’s just quite how he decides to frame that argument that’s difficult so I
think when I’ve talked about it this to my students before I like me feel rather
guilty that I’ve that I’ve been so nasty about Augustine but I do think you’re
right that it’s that it’s what you should what one should focus on is the
way he claims that she enjoyed it that’s that seems to be that the next
bridge which from which there’s been no going back
thank you very much there we’re going to have to leave the questions but there
will be another opportunity to listen to Professor Beard and to ask her questions
on Monday the 27th of May and maybe can we thank you once again for a very

4 Replies to “Prof Dame Mary Beard – Lucretia and the politics of sexual violence”

  1. Strange to hear that people argue over Lucretia's suicide. It's obviously a way to make her male relatives experience a tragic loss (and perhaps share in some of the feeling of vulnerability of being female). Otherwise the story can't work; if she just got raped and stayed alive, they'd be pissed off, but would she inspire a civic revolt?

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