women

Terentia, Tullia, Publilia.

1. Portrait of a Wife and Husband. Wall painting from Pompeii. Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Image: wikimedia.

2a. Plutarch, Life of Cicero (19-20). Terentia during the Catilinarian conspiracy (63 BCE).

[19] It was now evening, and the people were waiting about the temple in throngs, when Cicero came forth and told his fellow-citizens what had been done. They then escorted him to the house of a friend and neighbour, since his own was occupied by the women, who were celebrating mysterious rites to a goddess whom the Romans call Bona Dea, and the Greeks, Gynaeceia. Sacrifice is offered to her annually in the house of the consul by his wife or his mother, in the presence of the Vestal Virgins…

[20] While Cicero was in this perplexity, a sign was given to the women who were sacrificing. The altar, it seems, although the fire was already thought to have gone out, sent forth from the ashes and burnt bark upon it a great bright blaze. The rest of the women were terrified at this, but the sacred virgins bade Terentia the wife of Cicero go with all speed to her husband and tell him to carry out his resolutions in behalf of the country, since the goddess was giving him a great light on this path to safety and glory. So Terentia, who was generally of no mild spirit nor without natural courage, but an ambitious woman, and, as Cicero himself tells us, more inclined to make herself a partner in his political perplexities than to share with him her domestic concerns, gave him this message and incited him against the conspirators.

2b. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p46:

‘As consul’s wife, Terentia was a source of patronage, especially for women. One Contemporary source, the Sicilian Diodorus, gave an account of a plot of the Catilinarian conspirators which seems to be doublet of the attempt to assassinate Cicero on 7 November. They thought of killing leading men by infiltrating their houses at the Saturnalia in December. It was this, according to Diodorus, which a young man (not named here) betrayed to his mistress (again, unnamed). She went to the “wife of Cicero” and warned her (40.5. a fragment). In the usual version, Cicero got information from Fulvia [=Sallust, Bellum Catilinae 23], the mistress of Q. Curius, and Terentia is not mentioned. But, on the use of Terentia as an intermediary by a woman informant, Diodorus is convincing.’

2c. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p48-49:

‘But a great deal of intervention by wives was acceptable and so normal that it was taken for granted and is rarely mentioned in our sources. For instance, in 62, Cicero wrote to P. Sestius, who was serving as proquaestor in Macedonia, about whether he wished to be replaced. An earlier letter from Sestius suggests that he did, but one of his trusted agents had been to see Cicero and told him that the proquaestor wanted to stay in the province. Cicero had not been sure if this was right and Sestius had indeed changed his mind until he followed up the matter with a certain Q. Cornelius and Sestius’ wife, Cornelia, arranged a meeting with Terentia. Here we see Cornelia as the repository of the most up-to-date instructions from her husband, contacting the consular’s wife quite formally to ensure that Cicero would oppose the recall of Sestius and persuade Sestius’ other friends in the senate to do the same. Terentia was a trusted intermediary. It was etiquette for the junior senator’s wife to approach her and not Cicero himself.’

3. Plutarch, Life of Cicero (29). The Bona Dea scandal (Dec. 62 BCE), Cicero, Clodia, Terentia…  

Now, Cicero was a friend of Clodius, and in the affair of Catiline had found him a most eager co-worker and guardian of his person; but when Clodius replied to the charge against him by insisting that he had not even been in Rome at the time, but had been staying in places at the farthest remove from there, Cicero testified against him, declaring that Clodius had come to his house and consulted him on certain matters; which was true. However, it was thought that Cicero did not give his testimony for the truth’s sake, but by way of defence against the charges of his own wife Terentia. For there was enmity between her and Clodius on account of his sister Clodia, whom Terentia thought to be desirous of marrying Cicero and to be contriving this with the aid of a certain Tullus; now, Tullus was a companion and an especial intimate of Cicero, and his constant visits and attentions to Clodia, who lived near by, made Terentia suspicious. So, being a woman of harsh nature, and having sway over Cicero, she incited him to join in the attack upon Clodius and give testimony against him.

4. Cicero, Letter to Quintus (1.3.3). Written from exile. Thessalonica, 13 June 58 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey

You can imagine how I weep as I write these lines, as I am sure you do as you read them. Can I put you out of my mind sometimes, or ever think of you without tears? When I miss you, I do not miss you as a brother only, but as a delightful brother almost of my own age, a son in deference, a father in wisdom. What pleasure did I ever take apart from you or you apart from me? And then at the same time I miss my daughter, the most loving, modest, and clever daughter a man ever had, the image of my face and speech and mind. Likewise my charming, darling little boy, whom I, cruel brute that I am, put away from my arms. Too wise for his years, the poor child already understood what was going on. Likewise your son, your image, whom my boy loved like a brother and had begun to respect like an elder brother. As for my loyalest of wives, poor, unhappy soul, I did not let her come with me so that there should be someone to protect the remnants of our common disaster, the children we have in common.

5. Cicero, Letter to Terentia (Fam. 14.4.1). Written as Cicero was going into exile. Brundisium, 29 April 58 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

I send you letters less often than I have opportunity, because, wretched as every hour is for me, when I write to you at home or read your letters I am so overcome with tears that I cannot bear it. If only I had been less anxious to save my life! Assuredly I should have seen no sorrow in my days, or not much. If Fortune has spared me for some hope of one day recovering some measure of well-being, my error has not been so total. But if these present evils are to stay, then, yes, I want to see you, dear heart, as soon as I can, and to die in your arms, since neither the Gods whom you have worshipped so piously nor the men to whose service I have always devoted myself have made us any recompense.

6a. Cicero, Letter to Appius Claudius Pulcher (Fam. 3.12.1-2). Written as Cicero was returning from Cilicia, Side 3 or 4 August 50 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

Indeed I do congratulate you heartily on the corruption trial—not on your acquittal, which was a foregone conclusion,… As for me, please for a moment put yourself in my shoes, imagine you are I; and if you have no difficulty in finding what to say, I won’t ask you to forgive my embarrassment! I should indeed wish that the arrangement made by my family without my knowledge may turn out well for my dear Tullia and myself, as you are charming and kind enough to desire. But that the thing should have come about just when it did—well, I hope and pray some happiness may come of it, but in so hoping I take more comfort in the thought of your good sense and kind heart than in the timeliness of the proceeding! And so how to get out of the wood and finish what I have begun to say I cannot tell. I must not take a gloomy tone about an event to which you yourself wish all good luck; but at the same time I can’t but feel a rub.

6b. Cicero, Letter to Atticus (6.6). Contemporary with 5a. Translated by Shackleton Bailey, with adjustments.

Here am I in my province paying Appius all manner of compliments, when out of the blue I find his prosecutor becoming my son-in-law! ‘Good luck to that,’ say you. So I hope and I am sure you so desire. But believe me it was the last thing I expected. I had actually sent reliable persons to the women (mulieres) in connexion with Tiberius Claudius Nero, who had treated with me. They got to Rome after the betrothal. However I hope this is better. The women are evidently quite charmed with the young man’s attentiveness and engaging manners.

7. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p36:

‘Cicero notoriously went to one party where the only woman known to be present was not the sort who could mix with senators’ wives. The dinner was at the house of P. Volumnius Eutrapelus and she, Volumnia Cytheris, was his freedwoman and had been his mistress and an actress, therefore disqualified on three counts from socialising with upper-class women. But this was probably while Cicero was divorced and he seems not to have made a habit of this kind of thing.’

8. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p47:

‘In his speeches, Cicero exploited his love for his family to illustrate the sacrifice he was prepared to make for his country. In fact, his execution of the conspirators came back to haunt him and to threaten his family. If Terentia, as hostess at the sacrifice to the Good Goddess, was responsible for announcing a favourable omen which steeled his resolution, she was morally implicated. Plutarch (Cic. 202) says she spurred him on. That rite was the high point of the year of the consul’s wife, but it came at a moment of crisis: Terentia rose to on both occasions.’

9. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p123-124:

‘Tullia told Cicero of the kindness Atticus had been showing her, but her presence was not the tonic it usually was [p124]:

I have not been able to take from her courage, kindliness and love the pleasure I ought to have taken from such an extraordinary daughter. Instead, I have been overcome by unbelievable pain at the realisation that such a human being is condemned to such a wretched lot and that this happens through no sin of her own, but by my grievous fault. Att. 11.17, Brundisium, 12 or 13 June 47.’

10. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p124:

‘Cicero continued to blame himself for the mess he had got into by leaving Italy in 49 and then by going back. His political career was in ruins, and this affected the standing of his wife and daughter, and his political decisions and his general negligence of financial matters had completely changed the financial situation and expectations of the family. But the disaster suffered by Tullia, her failed marriage with Dolabella, was not his responsibility. Although it might be considered partly Cicero’s fault that he had not seen her married before he left (compulsorily) for Cilicia, Tullia and her mother had chosen Dolabella. It was a poor choice, for reasons which Cicero had seen clearly at the time. Dolabella’s track record was bad and he did not change his ways. But Cicero was meticulous in avoiding any flavour of ‘I told you so.’ He did not exculpate all his family for his own anguish: ‘we have brought it all on ourselves by those mistakes and sufferings of mind and body, which I wish those nearest to me had chosen to heal.’ Att. 11.25, Brundisium 5 July 47.’

11. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p33:  

‘We know from Quintus that Helvia was a frugal manager. Quintus writes to his brother’s secretary Tiro to ask him to keep the letters coming even if he has no news: he should just send an empty letter so that Quintus will know he is not being cheated of correspondence. This will be just like his mother, who used to seal all the empty wine-bottles so that she could tell that no unauthorized person was drinking the wine.’ 

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