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Domitianic ‘Arachnes’ and ‘Lucretias’: An Inter-discursive Perspective

Emma Buckley

University of St. Andrews

Construction on Domitian’s Forum Transitorium began at the same time as the emperor, in his capacity as censor, revived Augustus’ Julian laws. Along the entablature of Le Colonnacce (the only two surviving columns projecting from the walls of the Forum), a frieze depicts Minerva and the myth of Arachne, flanked by images of spinning and weaving women: a visual program expressing not just an ideology of reform indebted to and evolving from the ‘moral topography’ of the Augustan principate, but also a powerful warning of the consequences of disobeying authority.

This paper starts by offering a comparative reading of the frieze’s Arachne-figure with the account in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 6, arguing that the frieze, in toto, serves as a potent monument to ‘knowing one’s place’ artistically and culturally. Moving to the other figures of the frieze – the virtuous ‘Lucretias’ that flank her – and the contemporary ‘Lucretias’ to be found in Martial’s epigrams. I suggest that while Martial offers a ‘ludic’ twist on the Lucretia-exemplum, he has also learned from Arachne – and Ovid – to articulate a new negotiation with imperial power. Throughout, I test ‘epigrammatic’ approaches to reading the Le Colonnacce against a ‘monumentalizing’ reading of Martial’s epigrams and conclude that an inter-discursive reading of Domitianic art and text can open up new approaches to understanding the ways in which Domitianic Rome absorbed, responded to, and developed an imperial ideology of political and social order.

Session/Panel Title

The Writing on the Wall: The Intersection of Flavian Literary and Material Culture

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