Celts and the Classical World

By David Rankin | Go to book overview

13

Celtic Women in the Classical World

Aristotle thought that the Celts were exceptional among barbarian warrior-nations in that they were not ruled by their women (gynaikokratoumenoi: Pol. 1269b 27), but preferred masculine attachments. Pausanias refers to the notable courage of Celtic women: his theme probably goes back to Phylarchus, or Duris of Samos (10. 23.7-8; Sot. 36). In Classical literature there are examples of Celtic women outstanding in character and bravery. Greek authors who record these instances of female individuality were particularly struck by the contrast they presented with the repressed attitudes of most Greek women. So the descriptions of Celtic women in Classical writings are supported in point of general likelihood by information which is available about insular Celtic customs. The Romans also noted the vigour and independence of some of the women of the Celtic peoples, though they themselves were not without their own ethnic paradigms of female strength of character.

Roman women enjoyed high familial and social status (Nepos Vit. Pr. 6ff): Volumnia, the wife of Coriolanus, and his mother, Veturia, give evidence of the importance of wife and mother in society as well as family in their leading of a great delegation of women to appeal to Coriolanus not to destroy his native city of Rome (Livy 2.40). Volumnia added to the strength of her appeal by taking her children along with her. In the period of the Civil War which brought the Roman Republic to its collapse, a certain Q. Lucretius Vespillo went to war on the side of Pompey in 49 BC. This was almost immediately after his marriage to a lady called Turia. She was a Roman woman in the heroic mould: in the absence of her husband she vigorously pursued those who had suddenly and savagely murdered her parents: she kept her

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