Designing women : studies in the representation of femininity in Roman society




Shumka, Leslie Joan

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This dissertation aims to explore the rôle of cultus (body care) and ornatus (adornment and dress) in the lives of women in the central period of Roman history. Literary, archaeological, and documentary evidence is assembled to illuminate social attitudes toward the impeccably presented woman, and to understand women's perceptions of cultus and ornatus. Chapter One begins with a discussion of Clement of Alexandria's Paedagogus, a work that provides considerable evidence for women's cosmetic and adornment practices. The Paedagogus serves two purposes: it permits a characterisation of traditional male attitudes toward feminine self-display, and it allows us to formulate questions which establish the importance of cosmetics and adornment to Roman women. This chapter also includes an overview of modern research on women's self-presentation. Chapter Two examines literary evidence for Roman beauty culture, from which we learn much about the range of body care products, clothes, and adornments available to women. Analysis suggests that women used beauty culture to convey their notions of femininity and, perhaps most importantly, their sense of individuality. The urban-élite bias of literary evidence necessarily informs us of the beauty culture of privileged women, yet there is also strong evidence to support the belief that women of the lower orders also defined femininity in their own terms by means of ornatus and cultus. Chapter Three focuses on a group of commemorative monuments from Italy and the Roman West. These memorials are sufficiently numerous that they allow a typology of toilette scenes to be created and discussed. Because of their artistic debt to Greek and Etruscan culture, the chapter begins with a survey of toilette scenes in earlier art sources. Discussion of the monuments then raises questions of whether women wanted to be represented in idealistic poses, or whether such depictions were the work of men. I argue that toilette iconography presupposes that women identified with beauty culture, and spent time while alive using cosmetics and adornment to differentiate themselves. Chapter Four examines a group of funerary inscriptions that accompany toilette iconography. These inscriptions have not previously been analysed as a unified body of evidence, nor as an important source for understanding the construction of femininity in Roman society. In current research, little attention has been paid to the status of honorands, or the extent to which ideals of femininity crossed social and economic boundaries. However, with the information gleaned from these inscriptions, further light is shed on how femininity was constructed, and how widely notions of femininity were disseminated and perpetuated within Roman society. Chapter Five introduces comparative evidence, from the modern era, to demonstrate that ornatus and cultus were part of women's strategy for achieving distinction and expressing self. The wealth of evidence from Roman literary, archaeological, and documentary sources affirming the importance of personal display in women's lives is invaluable, but does not in itself make explicit what women hoped to achieve by fashioning themselves and their own conceptions of womanhood. By comparing the ancient evidence with the modem, we see that beauty culture offered Roman women an opportunity to construct self and to create a sense of individuality. In Chapter Six the conclusion is reached that a synthesis of all primary sources is essential to a deeper understanding of the central rôle of self-presentation in women's lives. Each of these sources is a fundamental piece of a larger puzzle which when integrated, rather than studied independently, demonstrate that cultus and ornatus gave women the means and the independence to create a strong and effective presence, as differentiated individuals, in the communities to which they belonged.



Femininity, Rome, Women, Rome, Women's clothing