Livia the Poisoner: Genesis of an Historical Myth
Calhoon, Cristina G.
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Calhoon, Cristina G.
This dissertation examines the ambiguity with which Roman literary tradition has invested the figure of Livia, portrayed both as the embodiment of the virtues of the ancient Roman matron and as the prototype of the unscrupulous and power-hungry female. The portrayal by certain Roman historians (Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius and Velleius) of Livia as "gravis in rem publicam mater, qravis domui Caesarum noverca," is re-evaluated in light of archeological and numismatical evidence. Special attention is given to the role of literary stereotypes, both positive and negative, of politically ambitious women, as well as to the narrative patterns of episodes in Tacitus' Annales, Livy's history, and the work of Dio Cassius. The material of this study is divided into two parts. The first examines the historical Livia in the context of the evolution of the Augustan principate, with particular attention to the creation of her public role through the conferment of special honors and the emergence of her cult. Part Two investigates the image of Livia presented by historiographers. A preliminary discussion of the ideological function of the "ideal" matron, and of that of her opposite, the woman who seeks public recognition for her political capacities, provide the background necessary to examine the different elements of Livia's literary image. The figure of Lucretia is examined vis-a-vis her opposites, Rome's Etruscan queens, who present striking similarities to Tacitus' Livia and to her granddaughter Agrippina, mother of Nero. Also discussed are the figures of brilliant and energetic women who rejected traditional tenets of conduct and were perceived as a threat to Rome's political order. These observations are combined in the final chapter, where the figure of Livia is examined through a discussion of figures (e.g. the step-mother, the witch), certain of whose characteristics converge in the literary portrayal of "Livia the poisoner."