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LHMP #371 Pyy 2019 Tracing Roman Ideas on Female Singleness: Virgil’s Aeneid Chapter 7

Full citation: 

Pyy, Elina. 2019. “Tracing Roman Ideas on Female Singleness: Virgil’s Aeneid” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Pyy, Elina. “Tracing Roman Ideas on Female Singleness: Virgil’s Aeneid”

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This article compares the literary figures of Dido and Camilla as commentary on Roman attitudes toward deliberate singleness in women. Very briefly, Dido begins by representing the faithful widow, resolved to remain loyal to her dead husband by never remarrying. Her subsequent relationship with Aeneas can either be seen as a betrayal of this ideal or adherence to a different ideal that a childless woman should remarry. But her unhappy end implies that the relationship with Aeneas was inadequately virtuous.

Camilla also resists marriage, but as an Amazonian warrior committed to virginity and war. She represents the “man-like” woman who rejects normative womanhood and is admirable only in a masculine framing. Her dedication to virginity, while given lip service as admirable, is seen as a waste, and the nature of her death in battle can be seen almost as a “corrective rape” motif. [Note: my label, not the author’s.]

The author suggests that hypothetical Roman ideals around female chastity were contradicted by more pragmatic attitudes idealizing procreation and motherhood.

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