Livy: Rape of Lucretia
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Livy: Rape of Lucretia

The Rape of Lucretia was, evidently, a legend in the Roman Republic and it was included in Livy’s notable work the History of Rome. The the violation of chastity is also a violation of the domos of man. The act of rape, in this case, is the interaction between men. A rape of one’s dignity and a violation of family honor. The story of Lucretia is filled with notions of tyranny, often associated with violation and hyper sexuality. There is a lack of control so one must act on it.

Livy, the writer of Lucretia, typically wrote about women causing the overthrow of Rome. The health of the state itself was based on the health of the women, so the health of the State itself is in bad shape if chastity is challenged. Additionally, the violation of chastity is also a violation of the domos of man. The act of rape, in this case, is the interaction between men. A rape of one’s dignity and a violation of family honor. The story of Lucretia is filled with notions of tyranny, often associated with violation and hyper sexuality. There is a lack of control so one must act on it.

The Rape of Lucretia was, evidently, a legend in the Roman Republic and it was included in Livy’s notable work the History of Rome. The sons of the King of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, are at Ardea, a city that the army is attempting to conquer, when they hear of the virtue of the Roman matron Lucretia.

The legend demonstrates that princes and kings have absolute power over everyone else. It also shows that power is more important that honor, to some that is. Yet, Lucretia's beauty and virtue only drove Tarquinius to desire her because of her husband’s initial boasting about her qualities.

“There was no need to argue; they might all be sure that no one was more worthy than his Lucretia”. When the men arrived, they were all impressed by Lucretia's chaste honor, but it was Tarquinius who was “seized by the desire (hyper sexuality) to violate Lucretia's chastity, seduced both by her beauty and by her exemplary virtue”1. He threatened her with death, raped her, and he left, having taken away her honor.

Sextus Tarquinius had triumphed over Lucretia’s virtue but he had also stolen the chastity of a household. Suicide or murder is used to defend a women’s honor in Lucretia. The household was marked by her chastity, so she kills herself out of honor and also to motivate her husband to seek revenge. Failure to defend her honor would be acceptance of chaos and tyranny. Lucretia absolves herself from blame by ending her life because no women whose chastity is compromised will be able to compare their situation to hers. This story sets a rigid model for the loss of chastity and how a woman should respond to it.

  1. Tite-Live: Histoire Romaine," 1, Vol. 1, ed. Jean Bayet and Gaston Baillet (Paris: Societé d'Édition "les belles-lettres, 1995).

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Comments (3)

Hi Lauren, I Facebooked and Tweeted this one. I am out of votes but will return later to recommend your article. Blessings, Chris

Excellent profiling Lauren.

Thank you Chris and Ron. Another bit of research from a sex and antiquity class.

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