Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Elite from Cornelia to Julia Domna

Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Elite from Cornelia to Julia Domna

Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Elite from Cornelia to Julia Domna

Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Elite from Cornelia to Julia Domna

Synopsis

Matrona Docta presents a unique study of the education of upper-class women in Roman society in the central period of Roman history, from the second century BC to AD 235.Emily A. Hemelrijk reconstructs women's opportunities to acquire an education, the impediments they faced, the level of education they could reach and the judgement on educated women in Roman society. She examines also the role of women as patronesses of literature, learning and Roman women's writing.

Excerpt

In the preceding chapter we saw that the education of upper-class girls lacked a fixed goal. Since they were excluded from a public career, these girls had only one prospect: marriage and motherhood. Yet, though they were expected to be able to spin and weave, their education was not tailored to the domestic tasks of wife and mother. From the late republic onwards upper-class girls, as a rule, received an elementary education and quite a number of them followed (part of) the course in grammar on a level with the boys of their class, during which they were instructed in the same subjects and read the same ‘school’ authors. in addition to this, some of them were instructed in the liberal arts, especially mathematics and philosophy. What purpose did this education of upper-class girls serve? Why were they—up to a certain level—educated in the same way as boys although they were excluded from a public career? These questions are discussed in the first part of the present chapter, which deals with ‘objectives and ideals’.

Though quite a few upper-class girls were taught ‘grammar’, their education usually stopped short at the study of rhetoric. As a consequence their knowledge of prose and oratory was usually meagre, whereas their familiarity with poetry and—for the more widely educated—with the liberal arts could be considerable. in adult life some upper-class women returned to the subjects which they had been taught during their youth and continued their study of poetry, mathematics or philosophy. Such educated women were not universally admired in Roman society, where opinion on them varied from idealization of the docta puella to contempt for the ‘intolerable’ bluestocking. How are these contradictory feelings to be explained? Is there any development in the judgement made of educated women in Roman society? These questions are dealt with in the second section of this chapter (‘Conflicting views’).

Objectives and ideals

In the following, four objectives of the education of upper-class women will be surveyed. the first two sub-sections, those on ‘moral education’ and on ‘the ideal of educated motherhood’, deal with the ideals of education of women as

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