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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid and useful survey (with some flaws), 4 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Elite from Cornelia to Julia Domna (Routledge Classical Monographs) (Paperback)
Emily A. Hemelrijk is a lecturer in the department of history at the University of Utrecht. The hardcover edition of her book appeared in 1999; the paperback edition in 2004. The main text is divided into six chapters (fortunately, each chapter is divided into shorter sections by several subheadings). Here are the chapter headings:

1. The social position of upper-class women

2. The education of upper-class women: opportunities and impediments

3. The education of upper-class women: aims and opinions

4. Patronesses of literature and learning

5. Women and writing: poetry

6. Women and writing: prose

The scope of this study is explained on page 2: the time frame is the second century BC to AD 235. As for geography and language, the focus is on educated women in Rome and Italy, occasionally also on upper-class women of the Latin-speaking western provinces, while "women of the Greek-speaking eastern provinces and Christian women are excluded." As we shall see, this promise is not always kept.

Hemelrijk got some good reviews. On the back cover of the paperback version there are excerpts from four reviews of the hardcover version. Here are two examples:

BRYN MAWR CLASSICAL REVIEW: "An exemplary and thorough study of the subject."

GNOMON: "The author gives proof of sound judgement and sobriety in her way of formulating criteria and providing arguments. She displays a good critical eye in the handling of sources."

I agree.

The review in BMCR is written by Holt N. Parker from the University of Cincinnati. His review (2002.07.32) begins and ends with a positive statement, but in between there are several critical remarks. The first two are quite serious, while the last two are minor disagreements:

# 1: The layout of the book chosen by the publisher means that "the book is rendered quite difficult to use." There are 219 pages of text followed by 138 pages of notes. But notes should be footnotes, not endnotes.

# 2: The structure of the book chosen by the author causes too many repetitions: Cornelia (mother of the Gracchi) is discussed no less than nine times from nine different angles.

# 3: On page 49 Hemelrijk claims that "short and personal poetry, chiefly elegiac epigram, was the genre women chose when writing themselves." Parker says: "No, that's all that's come down to us."

# 4: Regarding the framework Parker says: "Hemelrijk rightly excludes Christianity, but Perpetua keeps sneaking in." Vibia Perpetua, a Christian martyr from North Africa, is mentioned four times in the text and two times in the notes.

[For more information about this woman see Thomas J. Hefferman, The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity (2012).]

I agree with these objections raised by Parker, and I want to add two more, which he does not mention:

(A) Illustrations are not exactly the strong side of this book. There are merely five black-and-white illustrations, none of which shows a woman whose name we know. Many portraits and statues of ancient women are preserved until today. Not one of them is shown in this book: even when it is possible, Hemelrijk fails to put a face to the persons discussed in her book.

(B) Vindolanda is mentioned four times - two times in the text (pp. 188, 191) and two times in the notes (p. 235 note 49, p. 345 note 14) - but not listed in the index. Hadrian's Wall is added in two of the four cases, but not listed in the index either. Each time Hemelrijk places the Roman fort and the Roman wall "in northern Britain," which is not true. Vindolanda is near Hadrian's Wall in northern England, not far from the modern border between England and Scotland.

A large number of ancient women are presented in this book. Here are some of the main characters:

* Cornelia (mother of the Gracchi) is discussed nine times (as explained above). A full-scale study is available now: Suzanne Dixon, Cornelia: Mother of the Gracchi (Women of the Ancient World) (Routledge, 2007)

* Terentia (first wife of Cicero), Tullia (daughter of Cicero), and Publilia (second wife of Cicero) are mentioned several times. A full-scale study is available now: Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia and Publilia: The Women of Cicero's Family (Women of the Ancient World) (Routledge, 2007)

* Livia (third wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius) is mentioned several times. Two books are available now: A. A. Barrett, Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome (Yale, 2002) and Matthew Dennison, Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia (HC 2010, PB 2011)

* Julia (daughter of Augustus) is mentioned several times. A full-scale study is available now: Elaine Fantham, Julia Augusti (Women of the Ancient World) (Routledge, 2006)

* Poppaea Sabina (second wife of Nero), Agrippina Minor (last wife of Claudius and mother of Nero), and Domitia Longina (wife of Domitian) - "the wicked women" - are discussed on pp. 113-116.

* Vibia Sabina (wife of Hadrian), Plotina, (wife of Trajan), and Matidia the Younger (sister or half-sister of Sabina) - "the modest women" - are discussed on pp. 116-122.

* Julia Domna (wife of Septimius Severus and mother of Caracalla) is discussed on pp. 122-127. A full-scale study is available now: Barbara Levick, Julia Domna: Syrian Empress (Women of the Ancient World) (Routledge, 2007)

* Julia Balbilla (companion of Vibia Sabina) is discussed on pp. 164-170. She is from Commagene, one of the eastern provinces, and her poems, which are inscribed on the Egyptian Colossus of Memnon, are written in Greek. She falls outside the scope of this study, but is included because of "the firmly Roman context of her (Greek) poetry" (p. 324, note 35). Her poems are translated into English in Ian Michael Plant (editor), Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology (2004).

"Matrona Docta" is, in Parker's view, "a solid and extremely useful survey of what we know, what we think we know, and what little we can know" about educated women in ancient Rome. I agree. But it has some flaws, and therefore I cannot give it more than four stars.
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