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Article

Marilyn B. Skinner

Volumnia Cytheris, a freedwoman of P. Volumnius Eutrapelus, was a celebrated mime actress (see mime, roman), notorious during the 40s bce for her affairs with prominent political figures. Her lovers included Mark Antony and C. Cornelius Gallus, the inventor of Roman love elegy, who celebrated her under the pseudonym “Lycoris” in four books of amatory verse (Serv. ad Verg. Ecl. 10.1 and 6). According to a late source (De vir. ill. 82.2) she was also the paramour of the tyrannicide M. Iunius Brutus (2). All three men were, like Eutrapelus, at one time adherents of C. Iulius Caesar (2), and her association with them may have furthered her former owner’s ambitions.1 While the name “Cytheris,” alluding to Venus’s birthplace, sexualizes its possessor and is thus a suitable appellation for a stage performer, “Lycoris,” reminiscent of a cult title of Apollo, transports her into the realm of literature.

Article

widows  

Thomas A.J. McGinn

While the task of defining the term “widow” is straightforward, the phenomenon of widowhood is more complex. Qualified above all by demographic and socio-economic factors, as well as conditioned by legal rules, the status of widow in classical antiquity was far from monolithic. The evidence for Greece, that is, above all Athens in the late 5th and 4th centuries bce, and Rome, with the main focus on the period from c. 200 bce to c. 250 ce, shows that neither society developed an independent legal category for such women. This means that they typically enjoyed or were denied the same basket of rights that held for most adult female citizens. It is even disputable whether widowhood was understood in either society as a distinct social category. Largely because men tended to be older than women at first marriage, husbands typically predeceased their wives, so that widows outnumbered widowers by a wide margin. Widows were often a source of tension and suspicion, functioning as lightning rods for the praise and blame of women in general. Losing a husband to death often entailed a reduction in available economic resources, though this was not inevitably true, and, where it was true, its implications could vary from culture to culture or even within a culture. Remarriage was an option much more available to upper-class widows than to the sub-elite.

Article

women  

Helen King

Almost all information about women in antiquity comes to us from male sources. Some women could read and write (see literacy), at least to the level needed for their role as guardians of the *household stores (e.g. Xen.Oec. 7.5 and 9.10; see housework), but, although there are many references to literary works by women, very few texts survive. The known exceptions to male authorship include women poets (e.g. *Sappho, *Corinna, *Erinna, *Nossis, Sulpicia (1 and 2)), early philosophers (e.g. *Hypatia; some Hellenistic pamphlets are attributed to Pythagorean women; see women in philosophy), personal letters from women, and the 5th-century ce travel diary of Egeria (*Itinerarium Egeriae). Many attributions to women are problematic. Were women's letters written by scribes? Is a text ascribed to a woman simply in order to attack a man (e.g. Aspasia's alleged authorship of *Pericles(1)'s speeches)?The central source problems, and the strategies developed to overcome them, underpin the large amount of work on ancient women produced since the 1980s.

Article

Sophia Connell

Women were involved in both practical and theoretical aspects of scientific endeavour in the ancient world. Although the evidence is scant, it is clear that women innovated techniques in textile manufacture, metallurgy, and medical sciences. The most extensive engagement of women in science was in medicine, including obstetrics, gynaecology, pharmacology, and dermatology. The evidence for this often comes from male medical writers. Women were also involved in the manufacture of gold alloys, which interested later alchemists. Maria of Alexandria innovated equipment and techniques while also theorizing about chemical change. Many of the works ascribed to women in antiquity were not written by women. However, they do indicate what sorts of sciences were taken to be the province of women.

Scientific achievements are not the result of individual genius. Science has been a collective endeavour, involving the whole structure of society. The ancient world is no exception to this. Indeed, what is known about the desire for knowledge and control of the physical world indicates that the ways in which Greeks and Romans pursued it were various and diverse, and included the thoughts and activities of many women.

Article

Zenobia  

John Frederick Drinkwater

Zenobia (Septimia), or in *AramaicBath Zabbai, one of the great women of classical antiquity (PLRE 1. 990 f.). The second wife of *Septimius Odaenathus of *Palmyra, on his death in ce 267, in suspicious circumstances, she secured power for herself in the name of her young son, *Septimius Vaballathus. As long as Zenobia kept the east secure, *Gallienus and *Claudius (II) Gothicus were prepared to accept her regime, including its bestowal upon Vaballathus of his father's Roman titles, and hence of the claim to be more than just king of Palmyra. However, in 270 Zenobia exploited the political instability that followed the death of Claudius to expand beyond Syria by taking over Egypt and much of Asia Minor, and further to enhance Vaballathus' Roman titles, while continuing to recognize *Aurelian as emperor. When Aurelian finally moved against her in 272, her forces failed to stop him at *Antioch (1) and *Emesa, and—now calling her son Augustus and herself Augusta—she was cornered in Palmyra.