published on 27 February 2012
The Roman historian, Livy, wrote a comprehensive history of Rome during the reign of Augustus. The work, Ab Urbe Condita, spanned from the time of Aeneas, preceding the founding of the city by Romulus, until the reign of Augustus. In ancient times, Livy’s work was immediately praised and used as an authoritative text on the history of Rome, and has been lauded for the author’s “passionate love of noble deeds and a rare insight into the workings of the mind and heart…united with a strength of imagination.” During the Italian Renaissance, especially, Livy’s work was “seized up” with a great zeal. Many of the stories that Livy related to his audience within his history then became the inspiration behind many Renaissance works of literature and art. One of the most enduring examples of commendable character that has endured from Classical times is from Livy’s first book of his History of Rome, the Roman woman Lucretia. The wife of Lucius Tarquinis Collatinus, Lucretia was a paragon of womanly virtue and uxorial fidelity who was treacherously overcome by a licentious prince, Sextus Tarquinius, in an act of violation of hospitality. Because she has become an embodiment of womanly virtue and admirable bearing, Lucretia graces multiple canvases of artists throughout the ages and has been featured in literary and musical works. The immortality that Lucretia has achieved through artistic achievement throughout history speaks to the universality and worth ascribed to the virtuous character of women, and Livy’s successful portrayal of her rape and suicide in his history.
Published Online (2009)