Faint Praise in Pain(t)ed Phrases: A Narratological Reading of the Laudatio Murdia

Eras Journal – Keegan, P: Faint Praise in Pain(t)ed Phrases: A Narratological Reading of the Laudatio Murdia

Faint Praise in Pain(t)ed Phrases: A Narratological Reading of the Laudatio Murdia
Peter Keegan
(Macquarie University)

Text of Laudatio Murdia CIL 6.10230 = ILS 8394 = FIRA III 70

The explicit multivocality of any text argues for the possibility of magnifying the details from which information on the lives of women can be inferred. An approach which reduces the sociocultural and ideological ‘static’ of pre-established (‘dominant’) ‘readings’, and proposes alternative (re)constructions, is narratology.[1] Before going any further, it is important to note that practitioners of narratological method embrace both the study of ‘story’ as signified (that is, ‘what happened’) and ‘narrative’ as signifier (that is, ‘the way it is told’). This paper explores the latter perspective, focussing on the rhetorical construction of a text and its underlying functional structure.

In the simplest terms, a narratological interpretation of any given textual account looks for the person or persons who speak, see and act. This entails a search for:

  • whoever possesses the prerogative and authority to communicate a particular (re)telling of occurrences;
  • whose perspective is provided in the narrative; and
  • which specific deeds are performed by which intermediaries.[2]

A complex interpenetration of speech-acts, subject positions, ideological commitments, and power relations is susceptible to identification, mapping and interpretation. The questions posed by narratology afford access to the actions and experiences of ‘speakers’, ‘observers’, and ‘actors’. At the same time, a narratological interrogation pays due regard to the discursive fields of gender, ethnicity, class, belief system, or any of the discursive regimes which otherwise determine knowledge in textual (re)presentations.

A three-fold framework for historical analysis obtains. Even though the general presupposition about ancient discourse is that its speakers are male, sometimes female agents are cited, and the status of these references remains to be evaluated. Moreover, in any given text demonstrating gendered instrumentality, it may be possible to ascertain the degree to which the views expressed conform to those representative of the dominant distribution of power, and, if so, which positions are imperfectly suppressed. Finally, it may be argued that a narrative structure exemplifying recuperation within reductive male interests might equally well reflect any alternative cultural communities from which it emerged. These differences in meaning-production and consumption would be dependent not only on the standpoint(s) of the commemorative agent(s) but also on those of the viewer(s)/interpreter(s). That is to say, eschewing essential or cultural configurations of sex/gender, women (or men willing and able to ‘read as a woman’)[3] may be able to order and rework the collection of possible meanings inherent in any given text, such that the view (re)presented in the narrative structure undergoes an(other) interpretative transformation.

This final point takes on particular significance in ancient ‘reading’ environments. If ‘reading the terms of the excluded requires critical examination of the terms of the included in order to make room for “other meanings,”‘[4]such an analytical perspective also registers the likelihood that the community or individuals marginal to the dominant mindset already did so. In other words, women may well have been (re)presented within the prevailing kyriarchic[5] discourse; but this does not automatically entail a similar reading of conventional significations. Further, what if women identified themselves by the elements of discursive practice so important to masculinist interests and so much within the kyriarch’s control? Using the sociolinguistic tools of alienation and repression to (re)present oneself might suggest an awareness of denigrating cultural values and the commemoration of cultural attitudes and material needs beyond the normative and the superordinate. In short, authentic female voices may be (re)constituted through ‘textualised remainders’.

If this were a study of the post-industrial world, it would be a short methodological step to apply this mode of analysis to the ‘memory residue’ of oral performance(s). Nevertheless, while extant documentary material of a scientifically neutral cast is necessarily thin on the ground in the ancient world, I suggest an exemplum: the sepulchral inscription of the funeral oration for Murdia, or the Laudatio Murdiae (CIL 6.10230 =ILS 8394 = FIRA III 70).

CIL 6.10230 has been dated on orthographic principles to no later than the end of the Augustan era (that is, the first decade or so of the 1st century CE), and is a substantial fragment of the laudatory epigraphic genre. It conforms to a number of the criteria of philological and historical assessment traditionally applied to inscriptions of this kind. Most significantly for the purposes of this inquiry, it can be (and has been) cited as a representative illustration of ancient masculinist discursive strategies. Even though it stands as a memorial to the Roman woman Murdia, the vocabulary, narrative thrust, and explicit commitments of the male commemorator register the laudation as deeply invested in the regulatory fiction of sexual coherence. To the modern observer, the world of this epitaph would seem intrinsically kyriarchic; in consequence, its sociolinguistic template must radically delimit any alternative ‘reading’ of the extant text. What better material than this by which to gauge the usefulness of an alternative approach (in this case, analysis of the narrator and the focus-points of his narrative) as a touchstone for ‘reading’ gender? If a plausible reconstruction of marginalised female interests can be rendered from such an un(com)promising discursive field, I would suggest that the methodological underpinnings of this investigation are anchored firmly and encourage some optimism for less conventional epigraphic material.

Who speaks? Murdia’s son by her first marriage. It is interesting to observe the explicit matrilineal continuity of familial ties, at least with regard to whom has the right and power to pronounce a specific account of certain events in Murdia’s life (over her body and in perpetuity). The fact that a son by his mother’s first (rather than her more recent) marriage appropriated her public commemoration in death signals Murdia’s priority in substance as well as in form. Whether or not the matter of the son’s seniority by birth – any putative superiority by virtue of political or military rank must be discounted from the social equation, given the inferred equestrian status – has a bearing on his assumption of laudatory obsequies, is of secondary concern. Murdia L. f. mater is foregrounded, and it is her status as mother that determines the prerogative and focus of the memorial.

Who sees? The same. It is certainly the son’s perspective on Murdia which pervades the laudatiohis view which is given in the account of events. If we accept Horsfall’s claim[6] that the commemorator is an equestrian ‘of modest means and no strong political allegiance,’ then we may envisage his commitments as representative of such a status affiliation and concomitant political connection. That is, his position within the discourses which produced and constrained the equestrian social class of the Augustan period – free birth and a landed interest; the non-political section of the Roman upper-class – should be evident in the epigraphic stresses of his funeral speech. So, we find emphasis given to:

  • Murdia’s (testamentary?) judgement (iudicio,consilium) regarding bequests, property and allocations of shares (ll.5-14);
  • her relationship to her husbands, her children, and her extra-familial community (ll.15-19); and
  • the propriety of the laudatory genre (ll.20-31).

In the first instance, the speaker provides an estimation of a mother’s love which is predicated by the formula (ll.4-5): affection for children + evenness of shares (caritas liberum aequalitas partium). This is supported in the second place by the assertion (ll.17-19) that Murdia’s allocation of shares is indicative of a grateful and loyal spirit (gratum fidumque animum), fairness (aequalitas), and justice (iustitia). The linguistic weight of these claims skews affective maternal relations toward the maintenance of marital, reproductive, and social-cultural trust. For those receptive to the (re)citation of masculinist formulae, the commemorator’s concluding ‘manifesto’ for the good woman’s funeral speech (ll.20 ff) only serves to confirm the status of this laudatio as archetypically conservative and phallogocentrist.[7]

At this stage, I would suggest a qualification to Horsfall’s assessment of the speaker’s (and by extension his gentilician and inter-familial) status, though not necessarily his ideological leanings. His identification of Murdia’s commemorator as ‘of modest means and no strong political allegiance’[8] may need to be reassessed in view of an implicit reference to a legal provision that places parents and children in a markedly superior census category. The impact of this relocation on the two-fold process of epigraphic meaning-production is not insignificant. To support my contention, however, I must first catalogue which actions are performed by which agents in the memorial narrative.

Who acts? Murdia: daughter, mother, wife, and widow. She performs the following actions:

  • fecit (l .4): she ‘made’ all her sons equal heirs; and data (est): a share (partitio) was given to the daughter by her second marriage;
  • legauit (l.6): she ‘left’ a fixed sum to her (second?) husband;
  • praelegauit (l.8): she ‘bequeathed’ certain things (certae res); and
  • constitit (l .14): she ‘was consistent’ in this (in hoc) with herself (sibi).

We should examine these actions in order, noting particularly Murdia’s position as agent in the performance of each. First, we should consider the social-juridical distinction explicitly drawn between sons and daughter in the process of ‘making’ heirs and ‘being given’ a share. According to Gardner (1986: 170), Q. Voconius Saxa (who proposed the lex Voconia in 169 BCE) may be identified as the individual indirectly responsible for this differentiation between male inheritance and female legacy. A restriction imposed by Voconius’s law forbade the institution of women as heirs.[9]The laudator tells us that Murdia apportioned a proportion of the estate to her daughter as a legatum partitionis (by which the heirs share the estate with a named legatee), but made all her sons heirs.

It is in this regard that I suggest a modification to Horsfall’s ‘modest’ equestrian classification. For this most notorious and controversial provision of the lex Voconia apparently applied only to citizens registered at the last census in thehighest property class. It is true that the holding of the census in the late Republic was irregular. Strictly legal interpreters might also expect that the lex Voconia would be more relevant in a case where male heirs were not obvious. Nonetheless, it is still possible that the explicit registration of separate provisions in the funeral speech and epigraphic testimony belies the applicability of the law’s provision to this familia. If this were so, we may reasonably infer the commitments of testators, inheritors, and legatees identified in this inscription as linked to echelons of the equestrian ordo beyond the ‘inconsequential’ or ‘indeterminate’ stratum. Of course, it may be also argued that the laudator was an upward-looking individual reflecting the male ‘laudatio’ of the senatorial class. However, acknowledging use of the term liberalitas as characteristic of individuals of lesser status should not preclude its deployment in other contexts; nor should it blind us to the considerable rhetorical education undergirding the laudatio in extenso .

The impact of this amendment to social-political affiliation should be evident. For a start, it locates the laudatio even more firmly in the ‘male-stream’ of contemporary discourse. Complementarily, any displacement or tension in the narrative strategies of the epitaph should resonate that much more jarringly against the dominant phallogocentric matrix. It is reasonable to generalise that equites in the late republic formed a plutocracy with the senatorial order, sharing both landed and business interests in a continuous range of proportions. As such, a familia whose social and economic interests overlapped those of the senate and the nobilitas might (equally reasonably) have reflected the enculturation of common sociological precepts.

In this regard, how might we interpret Murdia’s hypothetical evasion of Voconius’s provision on inheritance? Strictly speaking, the laudator finds little cause to decry Murdia’s testamentary division, and much to celebrate in relation to the utilitas (cf. Gellius, NA 20.1) by which she accommodates maternal love and financial equity. This is significant in view of my adjusted assessment of the son’s (and his familia ‘s) standing. That is, we may see in the speaker’s emphasis on Murdia’s accommodation of family and community interests a desire to ensure adequate financial backing for the maintenance of social and political status by a marginally (in political, not social-economic terms) upper-class male.[10]

Consider this possibility in the light of Murdia’s second action,legauit . Interestingly, her (second?) husband’s right to her dowry (ius dotis) is seen to be enhanced by the honour shown to her (testamentary?) judgement (honor iudici). How should we measure the acknowledgement of Murdia’s financial and juridical acumen with respect to the pervasive prescriptive discourse of imbecillitas mentis (Valerius Maximus 9.1.3) and infirmitas sexus (Quintilian, Decl. 272; cf 327, 365) – a demonising approbation arising in codified form during the decemviral proclamations of the 5th century BCE? How rigorously is this customary expectation of female incapacity in financial matters deferred by Murdia’s son in favour of masculine testamentary imperatives?

With respect to Murdia’s husbands, if they were sui iuris(independent), then legally they were sole owners of the property of their familia in their lifetimes. As we know, the Roman paterfamilias had absolute control over the disposal of this property (whether res mancipi or res nec mancipi). Regarding Murdia herself, the laudator informs his audience that his mother was under the authority (in potestate) of L. Murdius and the influence of her mother; in ll.14-15, Murdia is said to have retained marriage(s) given (to her) by her parents. Despite this declaration, it seems that Murdia was married without manus or already sui iuris in the tutela of her own familia or as designated by her pater. According to the inscription, the commemorator’s father (Murdia’s first husband) appears to have made provision in his will for his widow, as well as for his son. Murdia also passes back to her eldest son the property she had received from his other parent. Ostensibly, she had received her second husband’s property unconditionally, with no instruction as to how to pass it on at her death. In each instance, the nature of the tutelary control, which was open to the paterfamilias to determine, is outside the usual legal designations. That is, neither husband would seem to have wished to impose strict instructions for the disposal of property in their possession, other than to provide for their children and for Murdia specifically. In sum, while the inscription clarifies none of these relationships, it seems likely that Murdia was married sine manu in both instances.

According to Cicero (de republica 3.17; cf Verr. 2.1.104, 112), the lex Voconia was passed ‘for the sake of the practical advantage of men, but it is full of injustice to women’. A startling enough admission, but a sentiment shared by the likes of Augustine (CD 3.21), who says: ‘I know of nothing that can be spoken of or thought more unjust than this law’. Taking these (uninterpreted) views into account, it is possible to read the commemorator’s praise of his mother’s actions as a conservative investment in kyriarchal business; namely, that Murdia is shown to be implicated in the masculinist desire for status maintenance and a willing accomplice to the preservation of familial continuities. What cannot be avoided is the concomitant implication that – regardless of the rhetorical commonplace of women’s supposed weakness of judgement in matters of law and business practice (Gaius, Inst. 1.144; cf Ulpian 11.1: levitas animi) – Murdia’s competence in handling her familial affairs foregrounds the difference between what was permitted and what was done. In this sense, it is possible for all requisite duties and loyalties to be maintained, while at the same time for a woman to exercise independent judgement and rationally deal with the testamentary obligations usually reserved for paterfamilias or tutor legitimus.

To summarise: first, the idea of ‘the weakness of the female sex’ in the conduct of res publica is repeatedly asserted in rhetorical literature from the aforementioned Cicero (pro Murena 27: infirmitas consilii; cf Seneca, ad Marciam 1.1:infirmitas muliebris animi) onwards; second, the transmission of property was not only one of the most elaborate and complicated areas of Roman law, but absolutely imperative to the structure of the kyriarchal Roman family. Consequently, a son’s public declaration of his widowed mother’s integral and self-reliant role in the conveyance of such material assets (inherited, bequeathed, and endowed) would seem fraught with discursive tensions. Take thelaudator ‘s citation of his mother’s praelegatum (as previously noted, the action performed by Murdia in l.8 of the inscription). Bequeathing a legacy chargeable on the estate to her eldest son is tantamount to admitting her capacity as usufructuary. This is disturbing terminology, but legally precise. In less tortuous words, at some point prior to his decease, Murdia’s (first) husband decided to bequeath to her the right of enjoying the use and advantages of his property. In turn, Murdia passed on her usufruct to her eldest son. Gardner (1986: 55) notes that ‘such a practice was a way for the husband to provide for the maintenance of [the wife’s] standard of living’; as already seen, the lex Voconia specifically provided that a woman could not legally claim parity of inheritance with her husband’s children. Murdia’s usufruct mitigated the interests of all concerned (husband, widow, and children). Diminishment of the children’s patrimony was ameliorated, and Murdia’s welfare ensured.[11]

Murdia’s status as uidua (widow) should be emphasised. On the death of her husband(s), Murdia, a woman marriedsine manu, was no longer suus heres (unlike her children); as a widow, she was in fact legally in the lowest category of intestate heirs. Even a cursory examination of the inscription reveals that her husbands made provision for her in their wills. If both men were equestrians who belonged to the highest property class, these provisions must have been allocated by means of legacies. This would help to explain Murdia’s competence in evading the vexatious qualifications of the lex Voconia . And even if we reject the claim that Murdia had evaded the requirements of the lex Voconia, she is clearly familiar with the procedures of inheritance law for women of her status affiliation and possesses knowledge of the mechanisms by which to arrange chains of inheritance. Over and against the commonplace nature of early death, divorce and remarriage in Murdia’s social environment, her capacities are significant enough to warrant recognition. More generously, her cognizance of the requisite legal mechanisms by which to guarantee transmission of property and surety of personal endowment would only be problematic for those who rejected female agency in practice as well as principle. This social-cultural and ideological ambivalence may help to explain the lengths to which the laudator goes in order to (re)appropriate the moral and biological high ground in the last ten lines of extant inscription.

However, before treating the masculinist precepts underpinning the commemorator’s idealised laudatio for the good woman (ll.20-31), it is important to deal with Murdia’s pivotal act, constitit . It is difficult not to avoid the naturalising regulatory ideal of the associated signifier, Murdia as married woman (nupta ). The speaker’s explicit equation of Murdia’s identity and her social-cultural function is reinforced by:

  • the designation of qualitative personal capacities, obedience and ethical strength (opsequium, probitas);
  • the prior arrangement of her marriage under the auspices of parental authority (parentibus dignis viris data matrimonia ); and
  • a successive catalogue of relational terms (gratior, carior, ornatior) addressed (?) to parents, husbands, children, and the wider community.

Confirmed in this way, Murdia’s traditional status is linked rhetorically to the moral crux of lines 17-20 (quom discriptio partium). Here, the speaker highlights the idealised thematic tricolon already prefigured in lines 4-5: judgement pertaining to character = (re)presentation of identity => laudation. Rather than leave the potentially problematic tensions of his mother’s testamentary ability unchallenged, Murdia’s son (deliberately?) co-opts her judicious legal manipulations under the familiar banner of the ‘good woman’ – self-effacing, temperate, reasonable, sedulous, constant.

What follows (ll.20-31) is nothing less than a declaration of dependence, a sociolinguistic paradigm by which to (re)construct at will the essential(ised) archetype of the neuter(-male) woman. Throughout, the speaker refuses to engage affectively with the subject of his tribute, except to say carissima mihi mater. The extensive justification for his funeral speech is subordinated to the perceived exigencies of the genre, and specifically to the biological categories which endorse and inform the ‘natural excellences'(naturalia bona) of all good women. In fact, the speaker would seem (by dint of over-emphasis) to desire his audience to register the surpassing ordinariness of his mother and her conformity to the social-cultural template of epigraphic identification and commemoration. This is expressed to the point where the litany of expected virtues (modestia, probitas, pudicitia, opsequium, lanificium, diligentia, fides) is suggestive of deliberate hyperbole. Spatially and semantically, there is only the smallest hiatus between Murdia as agent (whom we have seen endowed with the wherewithal to ‘make/do’, ‘leave’, and ‘bequeath’) and Murdia as nupta, consistent with her ‘self’. This mother’s son would seem to ‘protest too much’.

And yet, this may simply be a case of the late twentieth-century interpreter’s inability to digest the often incomprehensible appetite of the ancient world for the all-inclusive catalogue. This trend stretches across the centuries – from the memorial of Claudia (2nd century BCE: CIL I2.1211 =ILLRP 973 = ILS 8403) to that of Allia Potestas (mid 1st/late 3rd century CE: CIL 6.37965 = CLE 1988) and well into the late Imperial period of Christianised antiquity. Even the most cursory perusal of the commemorative inscriptions of megalopolitan Rome shows all too readily the propensity of Graeco-Roman epigraphic culture for just this kind of serial registration, especially in relation to the virtues of feminae bonae. Nonetheless, the problematic conceptual imprecision which Murdia’s son brings to bear in his rendition of the epigraphic formula is suggestive, and warrants interrogation. The qualities against which Murdia is measured may well belong to a traditional genre of meaning-production; but, as already theorised, the individual deploying these moral categories belongs to a set of social-cultural discourses susceptible to alternative modes of (re)presentation. Complementarily, if an attempt is made to assemble a select corpus ofdated Latin inscriptions (for example,Gordon (1958-65)), the initial perception of characteristic-catalogue overload is significantly tempered.

Indeed, if one focuses particularly on the explicit agency apportioned to the twice-widowed daughter of Lucius (as opposed to the rhetorical counterpoint of the inscription’s termination), an interpretative landscape less traversed opens out before the ‘reader’. Of course, we must first negotiate the mandatory pessimistic contours which delimit such a recognition of female agency as designed to objectify or sanction or legitimise the testamentary arrangements which benefit the speaker (specifically the patrimonial bequest attributed to Murdia’s first husband). Yet, this rationalisation is amenable to incorporation in a broader conceptual topography. Perhaps the regulatory ideals invoked in stylised mantra by the speaker (the wide-ranging and all-embracing virtues of the femina bona , whether filia, mater, nupta or vidua ) represent a reactive sociolinguistic phenomenon. Oral, aural, visual, spatial and temporal, we might term this a semantic exchange, a discursive ‘conservation of energy’ set into motion in the face of an undeniable, yet unexpectedly powerful, expression of female instrumentality. Murdia’s testamentary agency (highlighted in ll.4-13, and possibly in whatever might have preceded this excursus on female judgement in the inscription on the missing left-hand slab) might well have demanded the hyper-conservative reification of traditional imagery we find in ll.20-31 – imagery with which the ancient speaker sought to counter an awkward rhetorical-ideological problem, and on which the modern interpretative eye all too often converges uncritically.

It is pertinent at this point to acknowledge the stages that characterise the composition, production, transmission, reception, and interpretation of such a memorial. Most particularly, the exciting potential for Murdia’s participation in the formulation of this lasting testimony. Not only is this a contingency which admits to a degree of self-representation over and beyond a son’s praise of a mother’s generic virtues, but a notion which compels the modern reader to contemplate a specific possibility: that Murdia’s judicious manipulation of Voconian property law (in concert with her other actions) was not solely acclaim springing from a masculinist standpoint. In a similar vein, we might also ponder the uncontestable (though demonstrably speculative) interiorisation of multiple meanings by the commemorator’s audience (at the graveside, on festival days, and in perpetuity by the intentional and chance interpreters of ancient and modern times).

In the first place, excluding any other bereavement in her life (an unlikely scenario, given the ancient Mediterranean world’s distressingly high mortality ratio, but a hypothetically useful exercise),[12] we can allow a twice-widowed late Republican woman like Murdia a certain period of mourning before remarriage. As Ovid tells us (Fasti 1.33-6), ‘for so many months’ – that is, the length of time a child takes to emerge from its mother’s womb; namely ten, according to Roman tradition (cf Paul, Sent. 1.21.13) – ‘a wife, after her husband’s funeral, maintains the signs of mourning in her widowed home’. For Murdia, we may imagine her engagement in the calendrical processes of lamentation and commemorative practice, in addition to the performative and ritual actions of the funus tacitum [13] (cf Ovid,Trist.1.3.22) itself. Accepting the possibility that this well-placed, eminently marriageable, clearly practical and hardly unintelligent woman engaged in some way(s) in the classical Roman memorial cycle of observance, remembrance, and celebration is not difficult. It is only the extent to which her considerable faculties were brought into service which requires temperate assessment.

Leaving this evaluation aside for the time being, the reception of this singularly life-critical speech-act (only the moments of birth, passage, and marriage challenge the integral nature of the death-experience) warrants brief discussion. Regularly, it is the standpoint of the kyriarchy which is indiscriminately taken as normative, value-neutral, and least susceptible to interpretative contamination. After all, when a Romanist speaks of the equestrian class, he (sic) is ‘naturally’ referring to a masculine order, comprising an aristocratic (male) Roman core and ‘leading men from colonies and municipiapublicani, and even negotiatores, many of similar background, but some self-made men‘.[14]The cumulative masculinist presuppositions (and masculine-gendered Latin collectives) underlying the composition of Murdia’s (and numerous other women’s) ordo are instructive. However, it may be possible to ‘read’ CIL 6.10230 from a different point of view: the perspective of the only other specific female identified in the inscription (other than the modest, decent, chaste, obedient, industrious and loyal ciphers embodied by the speaker as ‘good women’) – Murdia’s daughter. [15]

The limitation of space prevents any detailed discussion of this suggestion. Nonetheless, asking how Murdilla (Murdia minor)[16] might have registered the tensions, ambiguities, interdependencies and counterpoints of the funeral speech for her mother is a useful first step in reorientating interpretative protocols regarding ancient oral-textual remainders like this. To posit an auditor whose relationship to the subject of the narrative stands outside the assumed terrain of speech-reception immediately strikes a discordant (yet enervating) interpretative resonance. I can only speak for myself, but the intensity of this (hypothetical) experience must call into question the standard view of epigraphic laudatio; that is, a formulaic recitation of topological virtues, a set-piece recognised by its audience as the product of a rhetorical culture. Murdilla is centimetres from the washed, anointed and perfumed body of her biological mother, and Murdia’s eldest son is speaking words (already inscribed on marble; perhaps already shared in some form between mother and daughter) in celebration of her life. The moment is something more than commonplace; the speech-act redolent with temporal and spatial significance. If we take into account the myriad occasions apportioned by Roman calendrical practice to the remembrance of the dead (the festivals of Parentaliaand Feralia , the days of Violets and Roses), then it may be possible to concede this narratological framework as a recognisable point of entry into the ‘other’ world of commemoration, epigraphic culture, and meaning-production in ancient Rome.[17]

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[1] Here I foreground the work of Mieke Bal. For an overview of the assumptions underlying narratological analysis, see Mieke Bal, Narratology. Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, University of Toronto Press, Toronto-Buffalo-London, 1985. Her focus privileges the rhetorical construction of textual works over and beyond underlying functional structures. Back

[2] For a stimulating application of these narratological principles to a specific historical text, see Simon Hornblower, ‘Narratology and Narrative Techniques in Thucydides’ in Hornblower,Greek Historiography, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994, pp. 131-166. For dense, technical surveys of fictional narratives from antiquity, utilising the same analytical categories, see Irene J. F. de Jong, Narrators and Focalizers. The Presentation of the Story in the Iliad, Amsterdam, B.R. Grüner Publishing, 1987 and de Jong, Narrative in Drama. The Art of the Euripidean Message Speech. Mnemosyne suppl. 116, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1991.Back

[3] For an exploration of this adaptive standpoint (as an integral part of a theoretical exegesis expounding the principles of post-structural literary criticism), see Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1983. It is apt at this point to acknowledge the influence of Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, tr. Gayatri Chakrovarty Spivak, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1976, (1) on the formulation of anti-oppositional views regarding the roles of language in general, and (2) in respect of the challenge his philosophy offers to the orthodoxy of classical ‘closure’ in particular. I am especially indebted to his view of structuralist analysis (placing complex systems into sets of binarisms) as a methodology whereby ‘one’ side has ‘paternal authority’ over the ‘other’. Back

[4] Dominick LaCapra (1985), History and Criticism, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1985, p.36; cited in Sandra R. Joshel, Work, Identity and Legal Status at Rome. A Study of the Occupational Inscriptions, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1990, p.163. Joshel’s study of attitudes towards work, social contexts, and self-representation among freed artisans and domestic servants in the extant material of CIL 6 is apposite to this study, and highlights the degree to which the production of meanings is a demonstrably relative activity.Back

[5] The terms ‘kyriarchy’ and ‘kyriocentrism’ relate to a socio-political system of domination and subordination based on the power and rule of the lord/master/father. These neologisms are explained by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her. A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian OriginsSCM Press, London, 1995. According to Fiorenza, such an analytic distinguishes the androcentric symbolic gender constructions – which ‘shape and legitimate the social-political kyriarchic system of oppression that in turn has produced such rhetorical constructions’ – from the ‘prevalent dualistic understanding of patriarchy as domination of men over women’ (xix).Back

[6] Nicholas Horsfall, ‘Allia Potestas and Murdia: two Roman women’, Ancient
Society: Resources for Teachers
 12.2, 1982, p.29. Back

[7] Given the fragmentary nature of the inscription, this is problematic. If we note particularly the laudator‘s citation of extra-domestic virtues of courage, industry and wisdom just before the fragment breaks off, it is possible to infer that the speaker went on to address other more public activities of Murdia worthy of commemoration.Back

[8] Horsfall, ‘Allia Potestas and Murdia’, p.29. Back

[9] For references to the lex Voconia, see Livy, per. 41; Gai. Inst. 226, 274; and Pl. Pan . 42.1. Back

[10] cf Jane F. Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society, Routledge, London and New York, 1986, p.176.Back

[11] I note in passing the phrase neque ne mente (l.9), which, in relation to the foregrounded praelegauit, strongly alludes to some form of intentionality on Murdia’s part. Such an implication requires consideration in depth. Back

[12] For a selection of hypothetical tables showing probable kinship survivals for people at different stages of life – including the percentages for living ascendant relations of 15-year-old and 20-year-old females entitled to wieldpatria potestas (respectively: father alive, 62/49%; paternal grandfather alive, 2/1%) – see Richard Saller,Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, p.41. Back

[13] According to ancient writers, there were two kinds of funerals: public and private. From what remains, the latter were either called funus tacitum or translatitium (Suet.Nero 33). Back

[14] Ernst Badian’s contribution to the 3rd edition (1995) of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, s.v. p.551.Back

[15] For a similarly patchwork (re)construction of the events surrounding Roman burial and funeral rituals from different types of sources (though representing different times and places, and comprising little differentiation in status), see Hugh Lindsay,’Death-Pollution and Funerals in the City of Rome’ in Valerie M. Hope and Eireann Marshall (eds), Death and Disease in the Ancient City, Routledge, London and New York, 2000, pp.161-169. Back

[16] Rather than participate in a further silencing of female participation and/or agency, and deliberately in contradiction to (public) ancient Roman nomenclative practice, I have chosen to designate Murdia’s (unnamed) daughter by way of an affectionate diminutive normatively associated with patrilineal descent. In this instance, the abbreviated form of address is specifically derived from matrilineal association (via the grandfather L. Murdius). Here, I take as my locus classicus M. Tullius Cicero’s references to his beloved daughter as Tulliola – an (admittedly and inescapably one-sided) exemplum which (nonetheless) succinctly exposes a sociolinguistic designation that (whether intentionally or otherwise) effectively erased Terentia’s reproductive and affective relations with herdaughter. Back

[17] For inadvertent poetic references to encounters in contemporary non-elite funerary contexts, cf Catullus 59 and Propetius 4.7.4. In the former instance, the reader encounters the marginal(ised) exploits of Rufa, Bolognese wife of Monenius, the indeterminate Rufulus (desiring irrumator objectified in verse-graffito), and the unnamed ‘half-shaven corpse-burner’ (proletarian penetrator consigned to third-class anonymity). Note that the commonality of burial practice (offerings of food, funeral cremation) in the suburban spaces of the metropolitan under-class (‘some cheap graveyard’) can still be read over and against the coarse invective, desperate struggle for quotidian survival, and hyper-sexualised exchange economy. The latter introduces us to (1) the watchman who rattled a split cane to scare away witches and evil spirits from the corpse as it lay on the bier before the funeral, (2) the black toga worn by male mourners, (3) a broken tile supporting the deceased’s head, (4) the notion that burials were forbidden within the city boundary (Paulus, Sententiae 1.21.2-3), (5) the perfuming of the pyre with nard, the throwing of hyacinths, and the pouring of wine on the ashes (25-34); and (6) planting ivy on the grave (79-86). The reflexivity of the epigraphic process is confirmed in ll. 83-4:’Here on a column write me a fit epitaph but brief/ So travellers in haste from Rome may read it’. Back


CIL 6.10230 = ILS 8394 = FIRA III 70

Here is a translation [Horsfall (1982: 30-31)] of the funeral speech in honour of Murdia, daughter of Lucius, mother:

But by their own efforts let them relieve the rest, to make them stronger and more acceptable
[the sense is not clear; we do not know what went before]
[5] She made all her sons equal heirs and a share was given to the daughter. A mother’s love consists in affection for children and in evenness of shares. She left a fixed sum to her [second] husband, that his right to her dowry might be increased by the honour shown to her [testamentary] judgement. She recalled both my (her?) father’s memory and applied both it and her sense of loyalty to her decision-making. She made a reckoning and by her will bequeathed specially certain things not with the intention that she might prefer me to her [half-] brothers with some unfavourable reflection upon them, [10] but mindful of the liberality of my father. She decided that there should be returned to me the things which as a result of the [testamentary] judgement of her husband she had taken from my patrimony, so that they, guarded by her use (thereof), should be restored to my property. [15] So she was in this consistent with herself, that she retained two marriages given (to her) by her parents to worthy men by obedience and probity, that she, as a married woman, by her merits, became more agreeable [or, acceptable], that by her loyalty she became dearer that by her [testamentary] judgement she was left more honoured. After her decease she was praised by the agreement of the citizens. Since the allocation of shares displays a grateful and loyal spirit towards her husbands, fairness towards her children and justice in a true cause, [20] for which reasons, since the funeral tribute of all good women should be simple and similar, because their natural excellences, guarded by their own custody, do not require variations in language and since it is enough that all have done the same things worthy of a good reputation, and because it is difficult for a woman to acquire original themes for praise, because their life is tossed by lesser vicissitudes, it (follows) necessarily that conventional virtues should be pursued lest what is lost from the best principles should debase the remainder. Hereby my mother, dearest to me, won the greatest praise of all, in that in modesty, decency, chastity, obedience, woolmaking, zeal and loyalty she was like and similar to other good women nor yielded to any, [30] (having attained) the chief or at least an equal glory from her labour, wisdom, dangers.
[The last line is missing, or possibly more; the whole will have been almost exactly twice the length of the extant right-hand slab.]


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