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Reviewed by:
  • Amy Richlin
Kristina Milnor. Gender, Domesticity, and the Age of Augustus: Inventing Private Life. Oxford Studies in Classical Literature and Gender Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. xii, 360. $99.00. ISBN 0-19-928082-7.

Everything changed, and things once invisible became visible, while the familiar disappeared: the end of the republic, the beginning of the principate. Kristina Milnor here traces a story of the expression of a new ideology through the household—a tale familiar from the nineteenth century, from the 1950s, from totalitarian regimes past, present, and future (as in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale). Milnor's book is an exercise in discourse analysis, not in social history, though she doubts the two can be separated (41). Arguing that gender ideologies are traceable "not just in representations . . . but also in larger social structures" (3), she studies Augustus' house on the Palatine (ch. 1); Vitruvius' dicta on architecture (ch. 2); the Augustan marriage laws and accounts of the lex Oppia (ch. 3); tales of the heroism of women and slaves under the second triumvirate (ch. 4); and popular philosophy as instanced in Musonius Rufus and Columella (ch. 5). The wide range of sources also includes Strabo, the biography of Augustus by Nicolaus of Damascus, Appian's Civil War, Dio, Valerius Maximus, both Senecas, Nepos' life of Atticus, the Laudatio Turiae, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Cicero's translation of Xenophon's Oeconomicus, along with the usual Augustan suspects: "it is within texts which draw on the language of fact that we can see the most insidious manifestations of Augustan ideology" (105).

Milnor is at her best when juxtaposing stone with paper texts: ILS 5050 on the Saecular Games with the Carmen Saeculare (146–49); the Laudatio Turiae, read both as inscription and as speech (214–21), with exemplary tales and biographies. Her engagement with bridged fields—literature and history, philology and archaeology (viii)—produces an unusually 3-D view. She deals clearly and courteously with the bibliography of this heavily trampled period and set of issues (public vs. private, meaning of domestic space, did Roman women have an empire). I liked the treatment of Augustus' house as an Escher-like public space whose inside is its outside; the coverage of Vitruvius' important sections on gender, including the gender of columns (96–97), the story of the caryatids (110–15), and the contrast between the gender-segregated Greek house and the womanless Roman house (129–38); the assessment of the proscription tales as replacing traditional historiography with stories of historically insignificant people (192–93) and of the rise in the power of men like Atticus who refuse traditional overt political roles (213); the analysis of Columella's vilicus and vilica as "Adam and Eve figures" (256).

The book has some problems. Many of the texts featured are not Augustan but are treated as if they were: Tacitus; Appian and Dio (an unconvincing [End Page 463] and partial justification [241] writes these off, with Valerius and Velleius, as "Tiberian," and no consideration is given to the actual Antonine or Severan context in which Appian or Dio dwelt on a long-past time), and the younger Seneca, Columella, and Musonius ("consumers" of the Augustan vision, 284). The definition of the topic wavers from "Augustan discourse" to "discourse about the Augustan period" to "discourse about domesticity." The domus under discussion is always upper class, as are most of the sources used (acknowledged in a disclaimer, 37); thus in the discussion of the vilica (254–84), her probable slave status is mentioned only belatedly (278), so Columella's assignment of domestic virtues to lowly actors remains unproblematic. It is not true that Augustus did not censor declaimers (229), viz. the dramatic death of Labienus (Sen. Rhet.–8); the discussion of Musonius' Stoicism needs correction with reference to Kathy Gaca's Making of Fornication (Berkeley 2003). And, as is too usual these days, the book is full of typos— over fifty, especially in the Latin and Greek, into which Oxford has imported some bizarre typography over which I am sure the author had little control.

At $99.00 a copy you'd think Oxford could set Greek...


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