Lucretia: Behind the Myth
Lucretia: a name, that for students of Women’s Studies and the Classics, brings up many emotions. For some, it is pity for her tragic end; for others, anger, at the way she was used in Roman literature. In either case, it is clear that Lucretia has a lasting place in academia and in history, but how much of the truth are we really getting from Livy? Hopefully, we will discover the answer today, as I had the fortune of interviewing Lucretia herself on the events that made her famous and the legacy they created.
D: For those unfamiliar with your story, would you mind giving a brief summary?
L: Not at all. Collatinus, my husband, was away at the siege of Ardea, and apparently they found time to have a party in the royal barracks. He and his cousins began boasting about how virtuous their wives were, and (egged on by too much wine, I’m sure) decided to test us. So they rode to Rome where all the royal daughters-in-law were at a banquet, quite enjoying themselves while the husbands were away on the battlefield. Hoping to find me in a similar situation, they rode to Collatia. Much to my husband’s delight (and his cousins’ dismay), they found me sitting with my maidservants wool-working. This pissed Sextus, the king’s son, off, and after all had returned to battle, he came to my house. As he is related, he was granted entry, and breaking into my bedchamber, he raped me. Long story short, the Tarquins were expelled, ending the kingship, and the Republic began.
D: Now, Livy states that you called Collatinus and your father the next day, and after you told them what happened, you committed suicide. There is some question of whether this is actually what happened. Some say your father killed you because of the shame. What really happened?
L: (sighs) That is the main reason I agreed to this interview. I am tired of being used as the poster girl for “Roman womanhood.” Yes, Sextus raped me. Yes, I told my husband and father who vowed to avenge me. Yes, it caused the downfall of the kingship and the beginning of the Republic. But, no, I was not killed by either my hand or the hand of my father.
D: But Livy?
L: Livy was a historian, but he liked to embellish a bit. Particularly in my case. Why should I have committed suicide? I had done nothing wrong! Sextus was a vile pig of a man who forced me at sword-point. Yes, I felt betrayed and violated, but I was mostly angry. How dare this man, kin of my husband, abuse his relationship so, and all because his own wife was being silly and frivolous at a banquet!
D: So, all this time, Women’s Studies students have been getting incensed for no reason?
L: Well, no…I mean, yes, but for the wrong reasons. The anger was at my feeling that I needed to kill myself to avoid the shame of being a “sullied woman,” when really it should have been at the establishment that felt it necessary to write the story that way. And from what I gather from your media, it hasn’t changed much…