- Women and War in Antiquity ed. by Jacqueline Fabre-Serris, Alison Keith
Originating in a symposium at Lille 3 on war from the perspective of gender, this volume comprises sixteen thought-provoking chapters on various aspects of the topic at hand. Women and war is indeed a fascinating subject precisely because of its relatively marginal status in the ancient world: men fight, women speak or lament, and then men write about both.
This elegantly produced book is divided into two parts, the first of which (“From Words to Deeds: Between Genres”) looks at the literary and visual representations of women and war from Homer, tragedy and elegy to Latin epic poetry. The first three essays focus on the Homeric epics. In particular, Philippe Rousseau examines Hector’s apostrophe to Andromache that war should be in the care of men, which is then, the author attractively submits, echoed in the Odyssey, with the replacement of “war” by “speech” and “bow.” Marella Nappi then examines female speech on war in the Iliad: often advisory, mostly prohibitive, at times reprimanding, these speeches reflect on the female experience of war. Therese Fuhrer examines the teichoscopy scenes from Homer through Horace and Flavian epic to point to the female articulation of various feelings concerning warfare; even though such criticism is not central, the underlying message about its consequences is mostly pessimistic. François Lissarrague’s analysis of visual materials (vases, frescoes, mosaics) that depict scenes of a warrior’s departure for war, and where women are prominently displayed, well complements the previous essays.
The next two chapters are dedicated to tragedy. Louise Bruit Zaidman explores the gendered dynamics in the Seven against Thebes and the Phoenissae to show how women are implicated in war. Jacqueline Fabre-Serris looks at Seneca’s Troades from the perspective of Senecan philosophy on the emotions and self-control: some women lose control of their emotions, while others display a Stoic attitude to war and death.
The final three essays of the first part turn to Latin epic and elegy. In an insightful chapter, Federica Bessone analyzes the role of love in turning a woman into a fearless being in the face of war. In Statius’ Thebaid, Argia exemplifies this role, in an epic that celebrates women in arms, such as the murderous Lemnians. Statius’ foray into elegy introduces us to the next chapter by Alison Keith, who astutely examines Tibullus’ and Propertius’ portrayal of the elegiac mistress’s espousal of war and Roman imperialism, as well as the celebration of the sexual spoils of military conquest. Finally, Alison Sharrock focuses on Amazon-like figures in Latin epic, especially Vergil’s Camilla as a “professional woman” who defies conventions.
In the second part of the volume (“Women and War in Historical Context”), the focus shifts from literary representations to historical evidence, with [End Page 275] four essays on Greece and three on Rome. Pierre Ducrey collects evidence of women’s military exploits (active involvement in battles) and their fate upon defeat, while Stella Georgoudi delves into women’s attitudes concerning war to underscore that they often become collaborators, and helpers, not opponents of the men’s efforts. Pascal Payen looks at foreign queens, such as Tomyris and the Amazons, and Violaine Sebillotte Cuchet continues with the queens of Caria (Artemisia I and II and Ada I) to highlight Greek bias and prejudice in the sources: women at war in antiquity were often valued.
On the Roman side, Judith Hallett begins with Fulvia, a woman construed as both a domina and a monstrous aggressor; as Hallett points out, the blurred boundaries between factual history and imaginative poetry are hard to define. Stéphane Benoit examines women at war under the empire (e.g., Agrippina, Boudicca, or Zenobia) to show how their usurpation of imperium becomes a threat to the legitimacy and masculinity of those in power. Finally, Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer offers an overview of women in the panegyrics of Claudian, with a special focus on Serena, Stilicho’s wife...