THE WAYS OF WOMEN
IN the days of Saturn,2 I believe, Chastity still lingered on the earth, and was to be seen for a time--days when
men were poorly housed in chilly caves, which under one common shelter enclosed hearth and
household gods, herds and their owners; when the hill-bred wife spread her silvan bed with
leaves and straw and the skins of her neighbours the wild beasts
2 i.e. in the golden days of innocence.
--a wife not like thee, O Cynthia,1 nor to thee,
Lesbia,2 whose bright eyes were clouded by a sparrow's
death, but one whose breasts gave suck to lusty babes, often more unkempt herself than her
acorn-belching husband. For in those days, when the world was young and the skies were
new, men born of the riven oak,3 or formed of dust,
lived differently from now, and had no parents of their own. Under Jupiter, perchance,
some few traces of ancient modesty may have survived; but that was before he had grown his
beard, before the Greeks had learned to swear by someone else's head, when men feared not
thieves for their cabbages or fruits, and lived with unwalled gardens. After that Astraea 4 withdrew by degrees to heaven, with Chastity as her comrade,
the two sisters taking flight together.
To set your neighbour's bed a-shaking, Postumus, and to flout
the Genius of the sacred couch,5 is now an ancient and
long-established practice. All other sins came later, the products of the age of Iron; but
it was the silver age that saw the first adulterers. Nevertheless, in these days of ours,
you are preparing for a covenant, a marriage-contract and a betrothal; you are by now
getting your hair combed by a master barber; you have also perhaps given a pledge to her
finger. What! Postumus, are you, you who once had your wits, taking to yourself a wife?
Tell me what Tisiphone, what snakes are driving you mad? Can you submit to a she-tyrant
when there is so much rope to be had, so many dizzy heights of windows standing open, and
1 The Cynthia of Propertius.
2 The Lesbia of Catullus.
3 There was a legend that men had been born
4 Astraea, daughter of Zeus and Themis, was
the last mortal to leave the earth when the Golden Age came to an end; she was placed
among the stars as Virgo.
5 The fulcrum was the head of the couch,
often ornamented with the figure of the Genius in bronze.
the Aemilian bridge offers itself to your hand? Or if none of all these modes of exit
hit your fancy, how much better to take some boy-bedfellow, who would never wrangle with
you o' nights, never ask presents of you when in bed, and never complain that you took
your ease and were indifferent to his solicitations!
But Ursidius approves of the Julian Law. l He purposes to bring up a dear little heir, though he will thereby have to do
without the fine turtle-doves, the bearded mullets, and all the legacy-hunting delicacies
of the meat-market. What can you think impossible if Ursidius takes to himself a wife? if
he, who has long been the most notorious of gallants, who has so often found safety in the
corn-bin of the luckless Latinus,2 puts his silly head
into the connubial noose? And what think you of his searching for a wife of the good old
virtuous sort? O doctors, lance his over-blooded veins. A pretty fellow you! Why, if you
have the good luck to find a modest spouse, you should prostrate yourself before the
Tarpeian threshold, and sacrifice a heifer with gilded horns to Juno; so few are the wives
worthy to handle the fillets of Ceres, or from whose kisses their own father would not
shrink! Weave a garland for thy doorposts, and set up wreaths of ivy over thy lintel! But
will Hiberina be satisfied with one man? Sooner compel her to be satisfied with one eye!
You tell me of the high repute of some maiden, who lives on her paternal farm: well, let
her live at Gabii, at Fidenae, as she lived in her own country, and I will believe in your
little paternal farm. But will anyone tell me that nothing ever took place on a mountain
side or in a cave? Have Jupiter and Mars become so senile?
1 A law to encourage marriage
2 An actor who played the part of a lover in hiding.
Can our arcades show you one woman worthy of your vows? Do all the tiers in all
our theatres hold one whom you may love without misgiving, and pick out thence? When
the soft Bathyllus dances the part of the gesticulating Leda, Tuccia cannot contain
herself; your Apulian maiden heaves a sudden and longing yelp of ecstasy, as though she
were in a man's arms; the rustic Thymele is all attention, it is then that she learns her
Others again, when the stage draperies have been put away; when
the empty theatres are closed, and all is silent save in the courts, and the Megalesian
games are far off from the Plebeian,1 ease their
dullness by taking to the mask, the thyrsus and the tights of Accius. Urbicus, in an
Atellane after-piece, raises a laugh by the gestures of Autonoe; the penniless
Aelia is in love with him. Other women pay great prices for the favours of a comedian;
some will not allow Chrysogonus2 to sing. Hispulla
has a fancy for tragedians; but do you suppose that any will be found to love Quintilian?3 If you marry a wife, it will be that the lyrist Echion or
Glaphyrus, or the flute player Ambrosius, may become a father. Then up with a long dais in
the narrow street! Adorn your doors and doorposts with wreaths of laurel, that your
highborn son, O Lentulus, may exhibit, in his tortoiseshell cradle: the lineaments of
Euryalus5 or of a murmillo!6
When Eppia, the senator's wife, ran off with a gladiator7 to Pharos and the Nile and the ill-famed
1 The Megalesian games began on the 4th of
April and lasted for six days; the Plebian games took place early in November.
2 A famous singer.
3 M. Fabius Quintilianus, the famous Roman
rhetorician, A.D. 40-100. No grave and learned man like Quintilian will attrack them.
4 The conopeum was properly a
mosquito-net; here it seems to be used for a bassinette or cradle.
5 A gladiator.
6 A murmillo Was a gladiator equipped
as a Gaulish warrior in heavy armor.
He carried the image of a fish on his crest, whence the name [Greek] or
7 Ludus is properly a gladiatorial school,
or a troop of
gladiators. Lagus' city [next line] = Alexandria.
city of Lagus, Canopus itself cried shame upon the monstrous morals of our town.
Forgetful of home, of husband and of sister, without thought of her country, she
shamelessly abandoned her weeping children; and--more marvellous still--deserted Paris and
the games. Though born in wealth, though as a babe she had slept in bedizened cradle on
the paternal down, she made light of the sea, just as she had long made light of her good
name---a loss but little accounted of among our soft litter-riding dames. And so with
stout heart she endured the tossing and the roaring of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, and
all the many seas she had to cross. For when danger comes in a right and honourable way, a
woman's heart grows chill with fear and dread, she cannot stand upon her trembling feet:
but if she be doing a bold, bad thing, her courage fails not. For a husband to order his
wife on board ship is cruelty: the bilge-water then sickens her, the heavens go round and
round. But if she is running away with a lover, she feels no qualms: then she vomits over
her husband; now she messes with the sailors, she roams about the deck, and delights in
hauling at hard ropes.
And what were the youthful charms which captivated Eppia? What did
she see in him to allow herself to be called "a she-Gladiator"? Her dear
Sergius had already begun to shave; a wounded arm gave promise of a discharge, and there
were sundry deformities in his face: a scar caused by the helmet, a huge wen upon his
nose, a nasty humour always trickling from his eye. But then he was a gladiator! It is
this that transforms these fellows into Hyacinthuses! it was this that she preferred to
children and to country, to sister and to husband. What these women love is the sword: had
this same Sergius received his discharge, he would have been no better than a Veiento.1
Do the concerns of a private household and the doings of Eppia
affect you? Then look at those who rival the Gods,2 and hear what
Claudius endured. As soon as his wife perceived that her husband was asleep, this august
harlot was shameless enough to prefer a common mat to the imperial couch. Assuming
night-cowl, and attended by a single maid, she issued forth; then, having concealed
her raven locks under a light-coloured peruque, she took her place in a brothel reeking
with long-used coverlets. Entering an empty cell reserved for herself, she there
took her stand, under the feigned name of Lycisca, her nipples bare and gilded, and
exposed to view the womb that bore thee, O nobly-born Britannicus!3 Here she
graciously received all comers, asking from each his fee; and when at length the keeper
dismissed his girls, she remained to the very last before closing her cell, and with
passion still raging hot within her went sorrowfully away. Then exhausted by men but
unsatisfied, with soiled cheeks, and begrimed with the smoke of lamps, she took back to
the imperial pillow all the odours of the stews.
Why tell of love potions and incantations, of poisons
brewed and administered to a stepson, or of the grosser crimes to which women are driven
by the imperious power of sex? Their sins of lust are the least of all their sins.
"But tell me why is Censennia, on her husband's
testimony, the best of wives?" She brought him a million sesterces; that is the
price at which he calls her chaste. He has not pined under the
1 Probably the husband.
2 In allusion to the deification of the
3 Messalina [Claudius' wife] was the mother
of Britannicus, b. A. D. 42.
arrows of Venus' quiver; he was never burnt by her torch. It was the dowry that
lighted his fires, the dowry that shot those arrows! That dowry bought liberty for her:
she may make what signals, and write what love letters she pleases, before her husband's
face; the rich woman who marries a money-loving husband is as good as unmarried.
"Why does Sertorius burn with love for Bibula?"
If you shake out the truth, it is the face that he loves, not the wife. Let
three wrinkles make their appearance; let her skin become dry and flabby ; let her teeth
turn black, and her eyes lose their lustre: then will his freedman give her the order,
"Pack up your traps and be off! you've become a nuisance; you are for ever blowing
your nose; be off, and quick about it! There's another wife coming who will not
sniffle." But till that day comes, the Lady rules the roast, asking her husand
for shepherds and Canusian sheep, and elms for her Falernian vines. But that's a mere
nothing: she asks for all his slave-boys, all his prison-gangs; everything that her
neighbour possesses, and that she does not possess, must be bought. Then in the winter
time, when the merchant Jason is shut out from view, and his armed sailors are blocked out
by the white booths,1 she will carry off huge crystal
vases, vases bigger still of agate, and finally a diamond of great renown, made precious
by the finger of Berenice.2 It was given as a present
long ago by the barbarian Agrippa to his incestuous sister, in that country where
1 This passage is thus explained: The lady
buys various articles of the Sigillaria (December 17-20), so called statuettes
which were then on sale. These and other articles were set out in canvas booths, which
were built up against certain public buildings so as to screen them from view. One of
these was the Portico of Agrippa on which there were paintings of the Argonauts. Thus
"the merchant" Jason and his armed sailors
were shut out and could not be seen.
2 Sister to King Agrippa II. (Acts,
kings celebrate festal sabbaths with bare feet,1 and
where a long-established clemency suffers pigs to attain old age.2
"Do you say no worthy wife is to be found among all these
crowds?" Well, let her be handsome, charming, rich and fertile; let her have ancient
ancestors ranged about her halls; let her be more chaste than all the dishevelled Sabine
maidens who stopped the war--a prodigy as rare upon the earth as a black swan! yet who
could endure a wife that possessed all perfections? I would rather have a Venusian
wench for my wife than you, O Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, if, with all your virtues,
you bring me a hanghty brow, and reckon up Triumphs as part of your marriage portion.
Away with your Hannibal, I beseech you! Away with Syphax overpowered in his camp!
Take yourself off, Carthage and all!
"Be merciful, I pray, O Apollo! and thou, O goddess, lay
down thine arrows. These babes have done naught: shoot down their mother!" Thus
prayed Amphion;4 but Apollo bends his bow, and Niobe5 led forth to the grave her troop of sons, and their father to
boot, because she deemed herself nobler in her offspring than Latona was in hers, and more
prolific than the white sow of Alba. For is any dignity in a wife, any beauty, worth the
cost, if she is for ever reckoning up her merits against you? These high and transcendent
qualities lose all their charm when spoilt by a pride that savours more of aloes than of
1 Josephus relates that Berenice
sacrificed at Jerusalem with dishevelled hair and bare feet.
2 For Jewish abstinence from pork see Tac. Hist.
3 Alluding to the exploits of the elder
4 Husband of Niobe.
5 Wife of Amphion, king of Thebes. Proud of
her six sons and six daughters, she boasted herself against Leto, mother of Apollo and
Artemis. Indignant at her presumption, they slew all her children with arrows.
honey. And who was ever so enamoured as not to shrink from the woman whom he praises to
the skies, and to hate her for seven hours out of every twelve?
Some small faults are intolerable to husbands.What can
be more offensive than this, that no woman believes in her own beauty unless she has
converted herself from a Tuscan into a Greekling, or from a maid of Sulmo1 into a true maid of Athens? They talk nothing but Greek, though
it is a greater shame for our people to be ignorant of Latin. Their fears and their wrath,
their joys and their troubles--all the secrets of their souls--are poured forth in Greek;
their very loves are carried on in Greek fashion. All this might be pardoned in a girl;
but will you, who are hard on your eighty-sixth year, still talk in Greek? That tongue is
not decent in an old woman's mouth. When you come out with the wanton words [Greek], you
are using in public the language of the bed-chamber. Carressing and naughty words like
these incite to love; but though you say them more tenderly than a Haemus or a
Carpophorus,2 they will cause no fluttering of the heart--your years are
counted upon your face!
If you are not to love the woman betrothed and united to
you in due form, what reason have you for marrying? Why waste the supper, and the wedding
cakes to be given to the well-filled guests when the company is slipping away--to say
nothing of the first night's gift of a salver rich with glittering gold inscribed with
Dacian or Germanic victories?3 If you are honestly uxorious, and devoted to one
woman, then bow your head and submit your neck ready to bear the yoke. Never will
you find a woman
1 Sulmo, in the Pelignian country, was
the birthplace of Ovid. ["Greekling" and
"Greek" are probably comparable to saying French woman and French 1600 years
2 Names of actors.
3 Alluding to the gold coins (aurei)
minted by Trajan in honour of his victories. The aureus was about equal in metal
value to our guinea.
who spares the man who loves her; for though she be herself aflame, she delights to
torment and plunder him. So the better the man, the more desirable he be as a husband, the
less good by far will he get out of his wife. No present will you ever make if your wife
forbids; nothing will you ever sell if she objects; nothing will you buy without her
consent. She will arrange your friendships for you; she will turn your now-aged
friend from the door which saw the beginnings of his beard. Panders and trainers can make
their wills as they please, as also can the gentlemen of the arena; but you will have to
write down among your heirs more than one rival of your own.
"Crucify that slave!" says the wife. "But what crime
worthy of death has he committed?" asks the husband; "where are the witnesses?
who informed against him? Give him a hearing at least; no delay can be too long when a
man's life is at stake!" "What, you numskull? you call a slave a man,
do you? He has done no wrong, you say? Be it so; this is my will and my command:
let my will be the voucher for the deed." Thus does she lord it over her
husband. But before long she vacates her kingdom; she flits from one home to
another, wearing out her bridal veil; then back she flies again and returns to her own
imprints in the bed that she has abandoned, leaving behind her the newly decorated door,
the festal hangings on the walls, and the branches green still over the threshold. Thus
does the tale of her husbands grow; there will be eight of them in the course of five
autumns--a fact worthy of commemoration on her tomb!
Give up all hope of peace so long as your mother-in-law is
alive. It is she that teaches her daughter to revel in stripping and despoiling her
husband; it is she that teaches her to reply to a seducer's love-letters in no unskilled
and innocent fashion; she eludes or bribes your guards; it is she that calls in Archigenes l when your daughter has nothing the matter with her, and tosses about the heavy
blankets; the lover meanwhile is in secret and silent hiding, trembling with impatience
and expectation. Do you really expect the mother to teach her daughter honest ways--ways
different from her own? Nay, the vile old woman finds a profit in bringing up her daughter
to be vile.
There never was a case in court in which the quarrel was not
started by a woman. If Manilia is not a defendant, she'll be the plaintiff; she will
herself frame and adjust the pleadings; she will be ready to instruct Celsus2 himself how to open his case, and how to urge his points.
Why need I tell of the purple wraps3 and the
wrestling-oils used by women? Who has not seen one of them smiting a stump, piercing
it through and through with a foil, lunging at it with a shield, and going through all the
proper motions?--a matron truly qualified to blow a trumpet at the Floralia!4 Unless, indeed, she is nursing some further ambition in her
bosom, and is practising for the real arena. What modesty can you expect in a woman who
wears a helmet, abjures her own sex, and delights in feats of strength ? Yet she would not
choose to be a man, knowing the superior joys of womanhood. What a fine thing for a
husband, at an auction of his wife's effects, to see her belt and armlets and plumes put
up for sale, with a gaiter that covers half the left leg; or if she fight another sort5 of battle, how charmed
1 A fashionable doctor of the day.
2 Either a jurist or rhetorician.
3 The endromis was a coarse, woolen
cloak in which athletes wrapped themselves after their excercises.
4 Games in honour of Flora (April 28-May 3),
at which much female license was allowed...
5 i.e. a gladitorial contest.
you will be to see your young wife disposing of her greaves! Yet these are the women
who find the thinnest of thin robes too hot for them; whose delicate flesh is chafed by
the finest of silk tissue. See how she pants as site goes through her prescribed
exercises; how she bends under the weight of her helmet; how big and coarse are the
bandages which enclose her haunches; and then laugh when she lays down her arms and shows
herself to be a woman! Tell us, ye grand-daughters of Lepidus, or of the blind Metellus,
or of Fabius Gurges, what gladiator's wife ever assumed accoutrements like these?
When did the wife of Asylus1 ever gasp against a
The bed that holds a wife is never free from wrangling
and mutual bickerings; no sleep is to be got there! It is there that she sets upon her
husband, more savage than a tigress that has lost her cubs; conscious of her own secret
slips, she affects a grievance, abusing his boys, or weeping over some imagined mistress.
She has an abundant supply of tears always ready in their place, awaiting her command in
which fashion they should flow. You, poor worm, are delighted, believing them to be tears
of love, and kiss them away; but what notes, what love-letters would you find if you
opened the desk of your green-eyed adulterous wife! If you find her in the arms of a slave
or of a knight, "Speak, speak, Quintilian,2 give me one of your colours,3"
she will say. But Quintilian says "I'm stuck. Find it yourself," says he.
"We agreed long ago," says the lady, "that you were to go your way, and I
mine. You may confound sea and sky with your bellowing,
1 Supposed to be a gladiator.
2 The famous Roman rhetorician, b. A.D. 44,
author of the Institutiones Oratoriae. Cp. p.88. n.3.
3 Color is a technical term in
rhetoric, denoting an argument which puts a favourable or palliative light on some act.
I am a human being after all. "There's no effrontery like that of a woman caught
in the act; her very guilt inspires her wrath and insolence.
But whence come these monstrosities? you ask; from what
fountain do they flow? In days of old, the wives of Latium were kept chase by their humble
fortunes. It was toil and brief slumbers that kept vice from polluting their modest homes;
hands chafed and hardened by Tuscan fleeces, Hannibal nearing the city, and husbands
standing to arms at the Colline tower.1 We are now suffering the calamities of
long peace. Luxury, more deadly than any foe, has laid her hand upon us, and avenges a
conquered world. Since the day when Roman poverty perished, no deed of crime or lust
has been wanting to us; from that moment Sybaris and Rhodes and Miletus have poured in
upon our hills with the begarlanded and drunken and unabashed Tarentum.2 Filthy
lucre first brought in amongst us foreign ways; wealth enervated and corrupted the ages
with foul indulgences. What decency does Venus observe when she is drunken? when she knows
not head from tail, eats giant oysters at midnight, pours foaming unguents into her
unmixed Falerian, and drinks out of perfume- flasks, while the roof spins dizzily around,
the table dances, and every light shows double!
Go to now and wonder what means the sneer with which Tullia
snuffs the air, or what Maura whispers to her ill-famed foster-sister, when she passes by
the altar of Chastity?3 It is there that they set down their litters at night,
and befoul the image of the Goddess, playing their filthy pranks
1 For Hannibal at the Colline Gate, B. C.
213, see Liv. xxvi. 10.
2 Duff explains this of a scene in the
theatre in Tarentum when the people, garlanded in honor of Dionysus, insulted the Roman
ambassador (Dio. Cass. fragm. 145).
3 The ancient Temple Of Pudicitia was in
the Forum Boarium.
for the moon to witness. Thence home they go; while you, when daylight comes, and you
are on your way to salute your mighty friends, will trend upon the traces of your wife's
Well known to all are the mysteries of the Good Goddess, when
the flute stirs the loins and the Maenads of Priapus sweep along, frenzied alike by the
horn-blowing and the wine, whirling their locks and howling. What foul longings burn
within their breasts! What cries they utter as the passion palpitates within! How
drenched their limbs in torrents of old wine! Saufeia challenges the slave-girls to
a contest. Her agility wins the prize, but she has herself in turn to bow the knee
to Medullina. And so the palm remains with the mistress, whose exploits match her birth!
There is no pretence as in a game; all is enacted to the life in a manner that warm
the cold blood of a Priam or a Nestor. And now impatient nature can wait no longer: woman
shows herself as she is, and the cry comes from every corner of the den, "Now we can
act! Let in the men!" If one favoured youth is asleep, another is bidden to put on
his cowl and hurry along; if better cannot be got, a run is made upon the slaves; if they
too fail, the water-carrier will be paid to come in. . . . O would that our ancient
practices, or at least our public rites, were not polluted by scenes like these! But
every Moor and Indian knows who was the she-lutist who brought a yard bigger than the two
Anticatos of Caesar into a place whence every buckmouse scuttles away conscious of his
virility, and in which every picture of the male form must be veiled.
Who ever sneered at the Gods in the days of old? Who would
have dared to laugh at the earthen-ware bowls or black pots of Numa, or at the brittle
plates made out of Vatican clay? But nowadays at what altar will you not find a Clodius?1
I hear all this time the advice of my old friends--"Put
on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who will ward the warders? The wife
arranges accordingly and begins with them. High or low their passions are all the
same. She who wears out the black cobble-stones with her bare feet is no better then she
who rides upon the necks of eight stalwart Syrians.
Ogulnia hides clothes to see the games; she hires attendants, a
litter, cushions, female friends, a nurse, and a fair-haired girl to run her messages; yet
she will give all that remains of the family plate, down to the last flagon, to some
smooth-faced athlete. Many of these women are poor, but none of them pay any regard to
their poverty, or measures themselves by the standard which that prescribes and lays down
for them. Men on the other hand, do sometimes have an eye to utility; the ant has at last
taught some of them to dread cold and hunger. But your extravagant woman is never sensible
of her dwindling means; and just as though money were for ever sprouting up afresh from
her exhausted coffers, and she had always a full heap to draw from, she never gives a
thought to what her pleasures cost her.
1 Alluding to the profanation of the
mysteries of the Bona Dea [meant for women only] by Clodius, in B.C. 62, by appearing in
the disguise of a female lutist.
"Whenever a cinaedus is kept he taints the household.
Folks let these fellows eat and drink with them, and merely have the vessels washed, not
shivered to atoms as they should be when such lips have touched them. So even the
lanista's establishment is better ordered than yours, for he separates the vile from the
decent, and sequesters even from their fellow-retiarii the wearers of the ill-famed tunic;
in the training-school, and even in gaol, such creatures herd apart; but your wife
condemns you to drink out of the same cup as these gentry, with whom the poorest trull
would refuse to sip the choicest wine. Them do women consult about marriage and
divorce, with their society do they relieve boredom or business, from them do they learn
lascivious motions and whatever else the teacher knows. But beware! that teacher is not
always true, he darkens his eyes and dresses like a woman, but adultery is his design.
Mistrust him the more for his show of effeminacy; he is a valiant mattress-knight; there
Triphallus drops the mask of Thais. Whom are you fooling?1 not me; play
this farce to those who cannot pierce the masquerade. I wager you are every inch a
man; do you own it, or must we wring the truth out of the maid servants?"
I know well the advice and warnings of my old
1 He now addresses the cinaedus himself.
friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who is to
ward the warders? They get paid in kind for holding their tongues as to their young
lady's escapades; participation seals their lips. The wily wife arranges accordingly and
begins with them. . . .
If your wife is musical, none of those who sell their voices1 to the praetor will hold out against her charms. She is for ever handling musical
instruments; her sardonyx rings sparkle thick all over the tortoise-shell; the quivering
quill with which she runs over the chords will be that with which the gentle Hedymeles
performed; she hugs it, consoles herself with it, and lavishes kisses on the dear
implement. A certain lady of the lineage of the Lamiae and the Appii2 inquired
of Janus and Vesta, with offerings of cake and wine, whether Pollio could hope for the
Capitoline oak-chaplet and promise victory to his lyre.3 What more could she
have done had her husband been ill, or if the doctors had been shaking their heads over
her dear little son? There she stood before the altar, thinking it no shame to veil her
head4 on behalf of a harper; she repeated, in due form, all the words
prescribed to her; her cheek blanched when the lamb was opened. Tell me now, I pray, O
father Janus, thou
1 i.e. professionals who sing for hire on
2 i.e. of a noble family.
3 A prize of oak-leaves was given at the agon
Capitolinus, intituted by Domitian. Pollio was a player on the cithara.
4 To veil the head was part of the ceremony
at a sacrifice.
most ancient of the Gods, dost thou answer such as she? You have much time on your
hands in heaven; so far as I can see, there is nothing for you Gods to do. One lady
consults you about a comedian, another wishes to commend to you a tragic actor; the
soothsayer will soon be troubled with varicose veins.1
Better, however that your wife should be musical than that
she should be rushing boldly about the entire city, attending mens meetings, talking with
unflinching face and hard breasts to Generals in their military cloaks, with her husband
looking on! This same woman knows what is going on all over the world: what the Chinese
and Thracians are after, what has passed between the stepmother and the stepson; she knows
who loves whom, what gallant is the rage; she will tell you who got the widow with child,
and in what month; how every woman behaves to her lovers, and what she says to them. She
is the first to notice the comet threatening the kings of Armenia and Parthia; she picks
up the latest rumours at the city gates, and invents some herself: how the Niphates2 has
burst out upon the nations, and is inundating entire districts yonder; how cities are
tottering and lands subsiding, she tells to every one she meets at every street crossing.
No less insufferable is the woman who loves to catch hold of
her poor neighbours, and deaf to their cries for mercy lays into them with a whip. If her
sound slumbers are disturbed by a barking dog, "Quick with the rods!" she cries;
thrash the owner first, and then the dog!" She is a formidable woman to encounter;
she is terrible to look at.
1 i.e. with so much standing about.
2 Properly a mountain; here meant for a
She frequents the baths by night; not till night does she order her oil-flasks and her
quarters to be shifted thither; she loves all the bustle and sweat of the bath; when her
arms drop exhausted by the heavy weights, the anointer passes his hand skilfully
over her body, bringing it down at last with a resounding smack upon the top of her thigh.
Meanwhile her unfortunate guests are overcome with sleep and hunger, till at last she
comes in with a flushed face, and with thirst enough to drink off the vessel containing
full three gallons which is laid at her feet, and from which she tosses off a couple of
pints before her dinner to create a raging appetite; then she brings it all up again and
souses the floor with the washings of her inside. The stream runs over the marble
pavement; the gilt basin reeks of Falernian, for she drinks and vomits like a big snake
that has tumbled into a vat. The sickened husband closes his eyes and so keeps down his
But most intolerable of all is the woman who as soon as she has
sat down to dinner commends Virgil, pardons the dying Dido, and pits the poets against
each other, putting Virgil in the one scale and Homer in the other. The grammarians make
way before her; the rhetoricians give in; the whole crowd is silenced: no lawyer, no
auctioneer will get a word in, no, nor any other woman; so torrential is her speech that
you would think that all the pots and bells were being clashed together. Let no one
more blow a trumpet or clash a cymbal: one woman will be able to bring succour to the
labouring moon!1 She lays down definitions, and
discourses on morals, like a philosopher; thirsting to be deemed both wise and eloquent,
She ought to tuck up her
1 Eclipses of the moon were supposed by
the ignorant to be due to the incantations of witches. To prevent these from being heard,
and so ward off the evil events portended by the eclipse, it was the custom to creste a
din by the clashing of bells, horns and trumpets, etc.
skirts knee-high,1 sacrifice a pig to Silvanus,2 take a penny
bath.3 Let not the wife of your bosom possess a special style of her own; let
her not hurl at you in whirling speech the crooked enthymeme! Let her not know all
history; let there be some things in her reading which she does not understand. I
hate a woman who is for ever consulting and poring over the "Grammar" of
Palaemon,4 who observes all the rules and laws of language, who like an
antiquary guotes verses that I never heard of, and corrects her unlettered5 female friends for slips of speech that no man need trouble about: let husbands at least
be permitted to make slips in grammar!
There is nothing that a woman will not permit herself to do,
nothing that she deems shameful, when she encircles her neck with green emeralds, and
fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears: there is nothing more intolerable than a
wealthy woman. Meanwhile she ridiculously puffs out and disfigures her face with lumps of
dough; she reeks of rich Poppaean6 unguents which stick to the lips of her
unfortunate husband. Her lover she will meet with a clean-washed skin; but when does
she ever care to look nice at home? It is for her lovers that she provides the
spikenard, for them she buys all the scents which the slender Indians bring to us.
In good time she discloses her face; she removes the first layer of plaster, and
begins to be recognisable. She then laves herself with that milk for which she takes a
herd of she-asses in her train if sent away to the Hyper-
1 i.e. wear the short tunic of a
2 Only men sacrificed to Silvanus.
3 i.e. bathe in the public baths.
4 A treatise on grammar by Q. Remmius
Palaemon, the most famous grammarian of the early empire.
5 The word Opican is equivalent to Oscan,
denoting the early inhabitants of Campania. It is used here as equivalent to
6 Cosmetics, called after Nero's wife
borean pole. But when she has been coated over and treated with all those layers of
medicaments, and had those lumps of moist dough applied to it, shall we call it a face or
It is well worth while to ascertain how these ladies busy
themselves all day. If the husband has turned his back upon his wife at night, the wool
maid is done for; the tire-women will be stripped of their tunics; the Liburnian chair-man
will be accused of coming late, and will have to pay for another man's1 drowsiness; one will have a rod broken over his back, another will be bleeding from a
strap, a third from the cat; some women engage their exectioners by the year. While the
flogging goes on, the lady will be daubing her face, or listening to her lady-friends, or
inspecting the widths of a gold-embroidered robe. While thus flogging and flogging,2 she reads the lengthy Gazette, written right across the page,3 till at last,
the floggers being exhausted, and the inquisition ended, she thunders out a gruff "Be
off with you!"
Her household is governed as cruelly as a Sicilian Court.4 If she has an appointment and wishes to be turned out more nicely
than usual, and is in a hurry to meet some one waiting for her in the gardens, or more
likely near the chapel of the wanton Isis, the unhappy maid that does her hair will have
her own hair torn, and the clothes stripped off her shoulders and her breasts. "Why
is this curl standing up?" she asks, and then down comes a thong of bull's hide to
inflict chastisement for the offending ringlet. Pray how was Psecas in fault? How would
the girl be to blame if you happened
1 i.e. the husband's.
2 The text reads as if flogging was done by
the lady herself. But it was evidently done for her by slaves.
3 Books were usually written lengthwise on
the roll; but it seems that the acta diurna, here mentioned, were written
4 In allusion to Phalaris, tyrant of
not to like the shape of your own nose? Another maid on the left side combs out the
hair and rolls it into a coil; a maid of her mother's, who has served her time at sewing,
and has been promoted to the wool department, assists at the council. She is the first to
give her opinion; after her, her inferiors in age or skill will give theirs, as though
some question of life or honour were at stake. So important is the business of
beautification; so numerous are the tiers and storeys piled one upon another on her head!
In front, you would take her for an Andromachel; she is not so tall behind: you
would not think it was the same person. What if nature has made her so short of stature
that, if unaided by high heels, she looks no bigger than a pigmy, and has to rise nimbly
on tip-toe for a kiss! Meantime she pays no attention to her husband; she never speaks of
what she costs him. She lives with him as if she were only his neighbour; in this alone
more near to him, that she hates his friends and his slaves, and plays the mischief with
And now, behold! in comes the chorus of the frantic Bellona
and the mother of the Gods, attended by a giant eunuch2 to whom his obscene
inferiors must do reverence. . . . Before him the howling herd with the timbrels give way;
his plebeian cheeks are covered with a Phrygian tiara. With solemn utterance he bids the
lady beware the coming of the September Siroccos if she do not purify herself with a
hundred eggs, and present him with some old mulberry-coloured garments in order that any
great and unforeseen calamity impending may pass into the clothes, and make expiation for
the entire year. In winter she will go down to the river of a morning,
1 Hector's wife Andromache must be tall,
as living in the heroic age.
2 [Reference to Cybele and one of her
break the ice, and plunge three time into the Tiber, dipping her trembling head even in
its whirling waters, and crawling out thence naked and shivering, she will creep with
bleeding knees right across the field 1 of Tarquin the Proud. If the
white Io2 shall so order, she will journey to the confines of Egypt, and fetch
water got from hot Meroe3 with which to sprinkle the Temple of Isis which
stands hard by the ancient sheepfold.4 For she believes that the command was
given by the voice of the Goddess herself--a pretty kind of mind and spirit for the Gods
to have converse with by night! Hence the chief and highest place of honour is awarded to
Anubis,5 who, with his linen-clad and bald crew, mocks at the weeping of the
people as he runs along.6 He it is that obtains pardon for wives who break the
law of purity on days that should be kept holy, and exacts huge penalties when the
coverlet has been profaned, or when the silver serpent has been seen to nod his head.
His tears and carefully-studied mutterings make sure that Osiris will not refuse a
pardon for the fault, bribed, no doubt, by a fat goose and a slice of sacrificial cake.
No sooner has that fellow departed than a palsied Jewess,
leaving her basket and her truss of hay,7 comes begging to her secret ear; she
is an interpreter of the laws of Jerusalem, a high priestess of the tree,8 a
trusty go-between of highest heaven. She, too, fills her palm, but more sparingly, for a
Jew will tell you dreams of any kind you please for the minutest of coins.
1 i.e. the Campus Martius.
2 Apparently here identified with Isis. Io
was changed into a white cow by Juno out of jealousy.
3 An island formed by the waters of the
Nile. See xiii. 163.
4 The Temple of Isis was in the Campus
Martius near the polling-booth (saepta) here called ovile.
5 A god of the dead; he attended on Isis,
and is represented with the head of a dog.
6 The priest who impersonates Anubis laughs
at the people when they lament Osiris.
7 See iii. 14: Iudaei quorum cophinis
8 Jews were allowed to camp out under trees
as gipsies do in our own country. See iii. 15, 16.
An Armenian or Commagenian sooth-sayer, after examining the
lungs of a dove that is still warm, will promise a youthful lover, or a big bequest from
some rich and childless man; he will probe the breast of a chicken, or the entrails of a
puppy, sometimes even of a boy; some things he will do with the intention of informing
against them himself.
Still more trusted are the Chaldaeans; every word uttered by
the astrologer they will believe has come from Hammon's fountain, for now that the
Delphian oracles are dumb, man is condemned to darkness as to his future. Chief among
these was one1 who was oft in exile, through whose friendship and venal ticket
of prophecy the great citizen2 died whom Otho feared. For nowadays no
astrologer has credit unless he have been imprisoned in some distant camp, with chains
clanking on either arm; none believe in his powers unless he has been condemned and all
but put to death, having just contrived to get deported to a Cyclad, or to escape at last
from the diminutive Seriphos.3
Your excellent Tanaquil4 consults as to the
long-delayed death of her jaundiced mother--having previously enquired about your own; she
will ask when she may expect to bury her sister, or her uncles; and whether her lover will
outlive herself--what greater boon could the Gods bestow upon her? And yet your Tanaquil
does not herself understand the gloomy threats of Saturn, or under what constellation
Venus will show herself propitious, which months will be months of losses, which of gains;
1 According to Tac. Hist. i. 22 the
name of Otho's astrologer was Ptolemy.
2 The emperor Galba.
3 One of the smaller Cyclades (Serpho),
a well-known place of exile.
4 i.e. his wife. Tanaquil was
the wife of Tarquinius Priscus (perita caelestium prodigiorum, Liv. i. 34).
of ever encountering one whom you see clutching a well-worn calendar in her hands as if
it were a ball of clammy amber1; one who inquires of none, but is now herself
inquired of; one who, if her husband is going forth to camp, or returning home from
abroad, will not bear him company if the numbers of Thrasyllus2 call her back.
If she wants to drive as far as the first mile-stone, she finds the right hour from
her book; if there is an itch when she rubs a corner of her eye, she will not call for a
salve until she has consulted her horoscope: and if she be ill in bed, deems no hour so
suitable for taking food as that prescribed to her by Petosiris.3
If the woman be of humble rank, she will promenade between the
turning-posts4 of the Circus; she will have her fortune told, and will present
her brow and her hand to the seer who asks for many an approving smack.5 Wealthy women will pay for answers from a Phrygian or Indian augur well skilled in
the stars and the heavens, or one of the elders employed to expiate thunderbolts.6 Plebeian
destinies are determined in the Circus or on the ramparts7: the woman8 who displays a long gold chain on her bare neck inquires before the pillars and the
columns of dolphins whether she shall throw over the tavern-keeper and marry the
These poor women, however, endure the perils of child-birth,
and all the troubles of nursing to which their lot condemns them; but how often
1 Roman ladies carried balls of amber in their
hands, either as a scent or for warmth.
2 The favorite astrologer of Tiberius.
3 An ancient Egyptian astrologer.
4 The metae were the turning-posts at
each end of the low wall (spina) round which the chariots had to turn. Each meta consisted of a group of conical pillars with dolphins on them.
5 Poppysma is a smacking sound made
by the lips; it was apparently a sign of approval and satisfaction. These sounds are made
by the consulting party.
6 By burying (condere) what had been
7 The famous rampart of Servius Tullius.
8 Apparently alluding to a low class of women.
does a gilded bed contain a woman that is lying in? So great is the skill, so powerful
the drugs, of the abortionist, paid to murder mankind within the womb. Rejoice, poor
wretch; give her the stuff to drink whatever it be, with your own hand: for were she
willing to get big and trouble her womb with bouncing babes, you might perhaps find
yourself the father of an Ethiopian; and some day a coloured heir, whom you would rather
not meet by daylight, would fill all the places in your will.
I say nothing of supposititious children, of the hopes and
prayers so often cheated at those filthy pools1 from which are supplied Priests
and Salii,2 with bodies that will falsely bear the name of Scauri. There
Fortune shamelessly takes her stand by night, smiling on the naked babes; she fondles them
all and folds them in her bosom, and then, to provide herself with a secret comedy, she
sends them forth to the houses of the great. These are the children that she loves, on
these she lavishes herself, and with a laugh brings them always forward as her own
One man supplies magical spells; another sells Thessalian3 charms by which a wife may upset her husband's mind, and lather his buttocks with a
slipper; thence come loss of reason, and dark-ness of soul, and blank forgetfulness of all
that you did but yesterday. Yet even that can be endured, if only you become not raving
mad like that uncle4 of Nero's into whose drink Caesonia poured the whole brow
of a weakly foal5; and what
1 These were pools or reservoirs in which
infants were exposed [left to die]. Fortune delights in spiriting these foundlings into
the houses of the great.
2 The priest of Mars, recruited from noble
3 Thessaly was famous for witches and the
magic art. The husband here is made mad by a love-potion.
4 The emperor Caligula. His wife Csesonia
was said to have made him mad by a love-philtre.
5 Alluding to the hippomanes, an
excrescence on the head of a young foal, which was used in love-potions.
woman will not follow when an Empress leads the way? The whole world was ablaze then
and falling down in ruin just as if Juno had made her husband mad. Less guilty
therefore will Agrippina's mushroom1 be deemed, seeing that it only stopped the
breath of one old man, and sent down his palsied head and slobbering lips to heaven,
whereas the other potion demanded fire and sword and torture, mingling Knights and Fathers
in one mangled bleeding heap. Such was the cost of one mere's offspring; and of one
A wife hates the children of a concubine; let none demur or
forbid, seeing that it has long been deemed right and proper to slay a stepson. But I warn
you wards--you that have a good estate--keep watch over your lives; trust not a single
dish: those hot pastries are black with poison of a mother's baking. Whatever is
offered you by the mother, let someone taste it first; let your trembling tutor take the
first taste of every cup.
Now think you that all this is a fancy tale, and that our
Satire is taking to herself the high heels of tragedy? Think you that I have out-stepped
the limits and the laws of those before me, and am mouthing in Sophoclean tones a grand
theme unknown to the Rutulian hills and the skies of Latium? Would indeed that my words
were idle! But here is Pontia proclaiming "I did the deed; I gave aconite, I confess
it, to my own children; the crime was detected, and is known to all; yes, with my own
hands I did it." "What, you most savage of vipers? you killed two, did you, two,
at a single meal?" "Aye, and seven too, had there chanced to be seven to
1 Apprippina the younger murdered her
husband, the Emperor Claudius, by a dish of mushrooms (Tac. Ann. xii. 57, Suet.
44). See v. 147.
Let us believe all that Tragedy tells us of the savage
Colchian1 and of Procne2; I seek not to gainsay her. Those women
were monsters of wickedness in their day; but it was not for money that they sinned. We
marvel less at great crimes when it is wrath that incites the sex to the guilty deed, when
burning passion carries them headlong, like a rock torn from a mountain side, when the
ground beneath gives way, and the overhanging slopes of the hillside fall in. I
cannot endure the woman who calculates, and commits a great crime in her sober senses. Our
wives look on at Alcestis undergoing her husband's fate; if they were granted a like
liberty of exchange, they would fain let the husband die to save a puppy-dog's life. You
will meet a daughter of Belus3 or an Eriphyle every morning: no street but has
its Clytemnestra.4 The only difference is this: the daughter of Tyndareus5 wielded in her two hands a clumsy two-headed axe, whereas nowadays a slice of a toad's
lung will do the business. Yet it may be done by steel as well, if the wary husband, son6 of Atreus, have beforehand tasted the medicaments of the thrice-conquered king of Pontus.7
2 Procne,daughter of Pandion, king of Athens,
revenged herself on her husband, Tereus, by serving up to him the flesh of his son Itys.
She was turned into a swallow.
3 Belus was daughter of Daneus; hence
Danaids = Belides.
4 The Danaids (daughters of Danaus),
Eriphle, and Clytemnestra, all killed their husbands.
5 Clytemnestra was daughter of Tyndareus.
6 Agamemmnon, murdered by his wife
7 Mithridates, who was said to have secured
himself against poisoning by prophylactics.