Ab Urbe Condit Livy's Story Of Rape

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THE TURNING POINT: RECONCILING RAPE AND ROME’S FOUNDATIONS Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita tells the story of the founding of Rome, and includes several prominent stories of rape: that of Rhea Silvia, the Sabine women, Lucretia, and Verginia. Curiously, each of these rape stories is tied to the founding of integral parts of Roman society and politics. I will argue that Livy’s stories of rape are directly connected to the founding of Roman political institutions because the rapes act as turning points, marking the transition from chaos to order; this reflects Livy’s own historical context: the transition from Republic to Principate. The definition of rape in the eyes of the Romans must first be established, as it differs from the modern one–sexual …show more content…
In each of these stories, there was chaos, often described as tyranny, in the time preceding, which reached a climax in the event of the rape, and was then followed by the restoration of order through some political creation. The first of these is the rape of Rhea Silvia. Her father Numitor, king of Alba Longa, was deposed by his brother Amulius, who killed Numitor’s son and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal virgin to prevent her from birthing a son who might contest his claim to the throne (Livy 1.3). Amulius, in his usurpation and violence, is a tyrant figure, representing a loss of order by disrupting the rightful line of succession. However, Rhea Sylvia became pregnant with twins, despite her forced virgin vows, because she was raped (Livy 1.4). In this, Livy presents the rape positively, as a way to circumvent Amulius’ machinations. Livy writes that, “she named Mars as the father of her dubious progeny, either because she thought he really was the father or because naming a god as the one responsible for her transgression made a more respectable story,” (Livy 1.4). The fact that the rapist was (supposedly) a god allows the unpleasantness of the action to be excused/ignored. This downplaying of the rape is necessary, because the rape resulted in the birth of Remus and Romulus, who would …show more content…
Preceding the rape, Livy describes how Tarquin ousted Servius Tullius as king of Rome and began ruling as a tyrant (Livy 1.47-48). Tarquin, out of tyrannical greed, attempted to conquer Ardea and the Rutulians, though the war became a long and unsuccessful siege (Livy 1.57). During this time, several noblemen, including Tarquin’s son Sextus Tarquinius, had a contest to determine whose wife was best; Collatinus’ wife Lucretia was declared the most chaste and virtuous (Livy 1.57). This inspired Sextus’ lust for her, and he later raped Lucretia, who only relented to him when he threatened to make it seem as if she had committed adultery with a slave (Livy 1.58). Livy describes this as a “conquest of the woman's honour,” (Livy 1.58), which implies Sextus’ lust was an act of tyranny, like Tarquin’s tyrannical greed. Lucretia then asked her husband and his companions to avenge her, and committed suicide to save her ruined honour (Livy 1.58). Among the companions was Brutus, who turned the blame on the tyrannical behaviour of Sextus and his father Tarquin, and vowed to drive out all kings (Livy 1.59). He used Lucretia’s rape to incite revolution among the Romans, “rebuk[ing] them for tears and useless complaints when what they should be doing as men and Romans was to take up arms against those who had dared such violence,” (Livy 1.59). Thus, Lucretia’s rape is politicized as a call for

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