|dc.description.abstract||This thesis examines the ways in which the speech of women and their interaction with men contribute to the ethical framework of Plutarch’s Roman Lives. In particular, it explores the significant features shared by the various examples of female speech: every Roman woman who speaks is a member of the elite; all speak at a point of civic and personal crisis; and all are portrayed as virtuous exempla. The lone exception to this model is Cleopatra, whose direct discourse functions as a philosophical and cultural contrast to the virtues espoused by the Roman women, although ultimately, Plutarch provides the Egyptian queen with a measure of redemption at the close of the Life of Antony. A close reading of these texts therefore offers a complex view of how Plutarch regarded gender, culture and identity under the rule of the Roman Empire.
Chapter One analyses the public intercessions of Hersilia in the Life of Romulus and Volumnia in the Life of Coriolanus. In these episodes, Plutarch incorporates Greek tragic models and Roman cultural ideals in order to present female action and direct discourse as a dramatic articulation of the importance of sophrosyne and paideia for both the statesman and state. Chapter Two explores the more intimate speeches delivered by Julia, Octavia and Cleopatra in the Life of Antony. The discourse of these women serves to illustrate the ethical tension between eros (passion) and logos (reason), and the conflict between the pursuit of public and private goods. Chapter Three examines the spoken interaction between husband and wife in the Lives of Pompey, Brutus and Gaius Gracchus. The women’s speeches, modelled again on Greek tragic and epic archetypes, explore the vital difference between eros and marital philia (friendship), reinforcing the connection between private conjugal harmony, virtue and civic stability.
Plutarch thus regularly deploys female direct discourse to dramatically reinforce his moral and philosophical themes at watershed moments of the narrative. As each speech is delivered not only at critical points of the protagonist’s life, but at critical moments for Rome, each scene dramatically exemplifies an unsettling mode of instruction within the narrative by questioning the statesman’s roles and responsibilities within Rome’s societal structures; and each subsequently reasserts the social and ethical foundations on which the protagonist (and Plutarch’s ideal reader) should rely.||