Perspectives On and Of Livy’s Tarpeia

DOI : 10.54563/eugesta.1069


This essay examines the exemplary force of the women in Livy’s first book. A close reading of the Tarpeia and Horatia episodes reveals that Livy does not permit his reader to come to any firm conclusion about the moral lesson these stories offer. On the contrary: the historian emphasizes the indeterminacy of these episodes in two ways. First, Livy positions Tarpeia and Horatia both as Roman daughters and as potential allies to the foreign men who claim their allegiance; they thus are simultaneously insiders and outsiders and assist Rome’s assimilation of others while also threatening Rome’s integrity. Second, Livy mentions multiple and conflicting versions of the stories themselves, leaving it to the reader to choose and construct a narrative. Like Tarpeia and Horatia, Livy’s readers are faced with a fragmented and fragmentary picture that resists exemplary categorization as good/imitable or bad/inimitable.



Livy Tarpeia is generally the first Tarpeia that modern audiences meet, either as a short example of a “famous Roman woman”, or as part of the cycle of colorful stories that makes up early Rome. In this paper I will explore these Livian Tarpeias in turn: how Livy constructs (or deconstructs) Tarpeia as “exemplary”, and how he frames her example, such as it is, in the broader context of his first book. Considering these two together, I will argue that Livy keenly scrutinizes the role of women in early and contemporary Rome both as objects available for differing assessment from several perspectives within and outside the text, and as subjects who must negotiate their own process of discernment.

Nevertheless, the double role is crucial for the knitting together of communities and identities – the assimilation – that constitutes the rise of Rome and ensures its growth. Women, born into one family and then married into another, function as objects in the marriage transaction enacted among men and as subjects in those relationships who may perceive their identities differently from how those identities are perceived by others. Tarpeia’s story is one of the less tidy vignettes about Rome’s growth, not because she is a traitor (and thus an embarrassment to
Rome, though this did not stop them from telling her story), but because the process of incorporating outsiders is itself cluttered with various
perspectives not always able to be reconciled to each other. Horatia’s story offers a particularly rich point of comparison, for there the outcome is much more comfortable. In contrast to Tarpeia’s story, in which no one is heroic, Horatia’s story is full of commendable behaviors.

In both episodes, Livy exploits the language of seeing and seeming so as to frame the latent questions about identity that these foundational stories explore in terms of vision and perspective. Unfortunately, the distance of time and the panoramic view Livy offers in his first book do not help the reader of either tale come to a firm conclusion about the moral lessons these stories offer. Rather, like the actors within the stories, we are faced with a fragmented and fragmentary picture that makes it difficult for us to label as good/imitable or bad/inimitable. What Livy’s readers can have that Livy’s characters lack is the realization that their own perspective is partial and that they are studying a process of assimilation as much as an outcome. And this is the conclusion one takes from Livy’s narrative of the Roman traitoress: more than a character in Roman myth, she is a process personified.

Between History and Historiography: The Exemplum and its Requirements

Livy’s famous preface announces that history is a useful moral tool:

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod uites (praef. 10)1.

In understanding (past) events, this especially is salutary and beneficial: that you can see records of every sort of example set on display in this illustrious monument, from which you can take for yourself and your country both that which you should imitate, and that which, being shameful from start to finish, you should avoid.

This statement makes clear Livy’s goal of moral instruction, but this is no simple goal nor is it a simple statement of that goal2. The natural reading is to take this as a generalizing statement about history, but the words themselves give rise both to general and to more specific interpretations.

Livy’s specific wording in this passage links history with historiography as partners in moral instruction, and draws in his audience not only as impressionable moral agents but also as readers and learners. On one level we can simply say that the events of the past (res) are full of examples (exempla) for moral agents of (Livy’s) present. But this is not exactly what Livy says, and rerum and exempli are both genitives dependent on other nouns that are equally if not more crucial in his formulation. It is in the understanding of past events (cognitione rerum) that one finds evidence (literally, things that teach) of every sort of example (omnis exempli documenta). Understanding and evidence rather than history and examples constitute the path to moral instruction. Livy again draws attention to the teaching value of his work with the phrase inlustri monumento Like many scholars, I take monumento as a reference to Livy’s historical text in particular, like Horace’s famous monumentum at Carm. 3.30, rather than to history more broadly or abstractly or, on the converse, to the characters within it3. He calls his text tout court a tool for advising (monumento, derived from moneo, to warn) which is clear (inlustri) to boot, a pun that flatters Livy and points to the illuminating (educating) power of his history.

If the res and exempla are the raw materials, the content of Livy’s work – we might call it the history –, then the crafting of those materials into teaching and advising tools – documenta, monumento, inlustri – is the means whereby that material comes to the reader. We might call this means the historiography, which is the interface between the material and the learner4. For this reason it is not the past that provides moral help to the contemporary moral agent but the apprehension (cognitione) of that past. The importance of cognitione and Livy’s striking use of the second person singular – imitere, uites – and the pronoun te assign Livy’s reader a great deal of responsibility in learning and learning from the lessons contained therein5. I note here too that vision is the primary means for readers to absorb Livy’s content. Readers are to look (intueri) at and for documenta in this monumento. Inlustri likewise suggests a visual aspect. Given the usual meaning of monumentum – a physical monument6 – looking at it seems the right thing to do, but we might ask, from what perspective7? For how long? How many times? Such questions will arise in the episodes I discuss in this paper, and Livy seems to anticipate them here with the subjunctives imitere and uites. With the relative clause of characteristic (“the sort you might imitate or avoid”), Livy implies that readers must decide which examples are which. Even capias puts the ball in his readers’ court: “from which you might take examples”. And does inde lead back to monumento or documenta? The readers’ work grows.

My analysis here focuses on the gap between historical character (exemplum) and the reader or moral agent who would learn from it. How does historiography position the reader or viewer of an exemplum to adapt and use it? To what extent is the exemplum tranferable to other circum-stances? We may return for a moment to Livy’s preface, with its emphasis on learning, discerning, and individual appropriation of the past: imitere and uites are singular verbs, not plurals, further still from generalizing passives (including periphrastics). In the next section I explore the ways Livy’s Tarpeia refuses to be pinned down as an exemplum with clear or universal meaning, and how Livy opens many paths for the reader to interpret and appropriate the story in different ways. This section focuses not on what Tarpeia herself means as an example in Livy’s text, but how her story illustrates the process, or rather a process, of reading an example from the past.

Livy’s Equivocations

Tarpeia’s story appears in Livy as part of the Sabine cycle beginning with the Roman capture of Sabine brides and ending with the joint kingship of Romulus and Tatius. The capture of the brides sparked several skirmishes between Rome and her neighbors, none notable except the battle in which Romulus won and dedicated as spolia opima to Jupiter Feretrius the armor of the leader of the Caeninenses. Livy distinguishes as something different the skirmish in which Tarpeia’s treason plays a role:

Nouissimum ab Sabinis bellum ortum multoque id maximum fuit; nihil enim per iram aut cupiditatem actum est, nec ostenderunt bellum prius quam intulerunt. Consilio etiam additus dolus. Sp. Tarpeius Romanae praeerat arci. Huius filiam uirginem auro corrumpit Tatius ut armatos in arcem accipiat; aquam forte ea tum sacris extra moenia petitum ierat. Accepti obrutam armis necauere, seu ut ui capta potius arx uideretur seu prodendi exempli causa ne quid usquam fidum proditori esset. Additur fabula, quod uolgo Sabini aureas armillas magni ponderis brachio laevo gemmatosque magna specie anulos habuerint, pepigisse eam quod in sinistris manibus haberent; eo scuta illi pro aureis donis congesta. Sunt qui eam ex pacto tradendi quod in sinistris manibus esset derecto arma petisse dicant et fraude uisam agere sua ipsam peremptam mercede. Tenuere tamen arcem Sabini... (1.11.5-1.12.1).

The latest war arose from the Sabines and it was by far the most serious. For nothing was done out of anger or greed, nor did they give any sign of war before they attacked. Deceit even supplemented their strategy. Spurius Tarpeius was in charge of the Roman citadel. His daughter, a virgin, king Tatius tempted with gold so that she would let armed men into the citadel. She had, by chance, gone outside the fortifications to fetch water for sacred rites. Once they had been accepted, they crushed her with their weapons, either so that it would seem that the citadel had been taken by force, or for the sake of a moral example, lest there evermore be any compact with a traitor. A story is added to this, that the Sabines commonly had golden armbands of substantial heft on their left arms and rings bejeweled with extraordinary beauty, and that she had bargained for what they had on their left hands. Then their shields were heaped upon her instead of the gold gifts. There are some who say that, from the agreement of handing over what was on their left hands, what she really sought was their weapons and that, having appeared to act in fraud, she was undone by her own “wage”. At any rate, the Sabines got control of the citadel...

Let us start with Livy’s inclusion of the word exemplum in this passage. It is the first use of the word in his text, and it is complicated in that it is marked as a possibility for interpreting Tarpeia’s death, but not the only possibility – not even the only one Livy offers. It is also ambiguous in itself, since at first blush the exemplary proditor is Tarpeia, but Livy soon makes clear that the Sabines also violated the spirit of their agreement. Chaplin notes how Livy’s presentation of alternatives caps his narrative of the story and refuses to make a judgment, thus opening up Tarpeia’s story to interpretation and allowing readers to valorize or condemn Tatius8.

Similarly, by including variants to his bare narrative, Livy also opens up other avenues for interpretation, including one that vindicates Tarpeia. As usual, he does not name his sources, though we know his two core narratives (greedy traitoress, thwarted double agent) follow Fabius Pictor and Piso Frugi as preserved in Dionysius of Halicarnassus 2.38-40. Livy omits other known versions of Tarpeia’s myth9, and even streamlines Dionysius’ narrative considerably. His two sources agree on the core of the story: she was bribed to let Tatius into the Capitol. Livy presents this uncontested detail first, and then presents his reader with a number of puzzles to solve. First he invites us to make a choice about Tatius’ motive for having Tarpeia killed. Second, he introduces a detail that might be relevant: the Sabines’ habit of wearing golden armbands. Livy ascribes this detail to common belief with the word fabula (additur fabula). Habuerint in the subjunctive further distances Livy from this belief. The erasure of agency makes the reader’s work harder: who says this? How does this affect our judgment of Tarpeia’s or Tatius’ actions? Does it help to explain what precedes (the treason proper, Tarpeia’s death) or what follows? For just after this detail Livy adds a strikingly different version – Piso’s, but attributed again to an unnamed sunt qui dicant – in which Tarpeia was trying to trick (fraude) the Sabines out of their weapons. Again, Livy refuses to choose amongst these various points of view, and he moves on: Tenuere tamen arcem Sabini, “Whatever. The Sabines were in control of the arx”.

An exemplum is for the reader/viewer to interpret

Livy’s presentation leaves much work for the reader to do. Roller’s study (like Chaplin’s) shows how the meaning of an example is not fixed or permanent, but changes over time and with context10. One core purpose of this paper is to argue that Tarpeia’s meaning is also not fixed or permanent, but exists in – and through – the exchange between teller and audience. One cannot predict how such exchanges will develop, even how one’s own commemoration will be read.

We can see the inconclusivity of exempla not only in Livy’s grander narrative, in which some characters use exempla to inspire their actions, others debate the applicability of exempla, and still others deny that an exemplum fits or they use an exemplum in order to argue the opposite of its apparent meaning11. But we can see openness in interpreting an exemplum even within Tarpeia’s narrative. When Livy ascribes to Tatius the possible motive of making a moral example of Tarpeia (prodendi exempli causa ne quid usquam fidum proditori esset), the historian immediately makes such a hope moot since he tells an alternative version in which she is not a proditor; rather, she is a pro-Roman double agent12. Piso Frugi didn’t read Tarpeia’s death the way Tatius intended. We might phrase it thus: in the first motive ascribed to Tatius, Tatius wished to conceal Tarpeia’s treachery – impossible once Livy outs the concealment. In the second Tatius wishes to reveal her treachery, even make a spectacle of it – impossible since Livy immediately gives us a counter-example that proves one can’t control how later audiences will interpret a story. Similarly, in the most famous instance of a “negative example” in Livy’s text, Lucretia takes the sword to herself lest any woman’s impudicitia be justified by her precedent (ego me etsi peccato absoluo, supplicio non libero; nec ulla deinde impudica Lucretiae exemplo uiuet, 1.58.10). Three witnesses interpret Lucretia’s shame differently from this foreseen interpretation: her husband, her father, and their friend Brutus. Later in the first pentad, Verginius seems to take Lucretia’s example as she intended, for he kills Verginia in order to prevent her from suffering impudicitia. In a further chain of disputed exemplary precedent, Livy tells us (3.48.8-9) that interpretation of Verginia’s fate and its implications differed between men and women (matronae...virorum)13.

This same mutability of the exemplary force of Tatius’ and Tarpeia’s actions points to a gap between the original action (and its intended perception) and how it is perceived by later audiences, however later audiences may try to remain faithful to some perceived core meaning of the story.

One reason the moral of Tarpeia’s story is so hard to pin down is that its characters are all engaged in deception. Livy takes pains to draw attention to this deception. I have mentioned the deception suggested in Tatius’ first motive for killing Tarpeia: he wished to obscure the fact that he had relied on an insider’s help to take the Capitol and promote the idea instead that it had been taken by force. Livy has already introduced the idea of Sabine subterfuge. At the beginning of the Tarpeia digression at 1.11.5, the historian distinguished the Sabine attack from the other neighboring skirmishes by its scale (multo maximum) and because it was done on the sly, in a calculated manner. Nouissimum here adds point; it not only refers to the timing of this war in the sequence, but hints at its artfulness in the sense of nouissimum as “strange”14. The Sabines were moved by no anger or greed – passions that can’t easily keep themselves hidden – and showed no sign of war before their attack (nec ostenderunt bellum prius quam intulerunt)15. Livy’s next sentence, consilio additus dolus, brings home the point, but its brevity and the use of the passive raise questions as well: who added the dolus? Did the Sabines seek out a traitor to exploit, who by chance (forte) ended up being Tarpeia? Or did the dolus initiate with her? Dionysius’ exposition clearly identifies the origin of the compact with Tarpeia, who saw and desired the gold; her desire was Tatius’ good fortune. Livy’s compact sentence obscures the lines of responsibility, but the fact that Tatius is the subject and Tarpeia the object of the narrative’s core sentence (Tatius corrumpit filiam uirginem) suggests that the dolus arose in the Sabine camp first. But even in the Pisonian alternative in which Tarpeia is guilty of no treason, she is seen to be guilty of fraud (fraude), for she made a deliberately ambiguous promise, concealing her true intentions, as the Sabines had done when they were preparing for war.

Outright deception, present on both sides of this story, confounds accurate understanding. But in Livy’s narrative the difficulty in discerning goes deeper than the deliberate obfuscation of concealed intentions and double dealing. There is also the challenge of interpreting what one sees. Livy’s narrative of Tarpeia is full of words of showing, seeing and seeming, which individually and together draw attention to the gap between appearance and reality. We have already seen that the Sabines didn’t show their intentions for war before they waged it (nec ostenderunt). The core physical meaning of ostendo, “to stretch out (i.e., for display)”16, suggests that vision is important here. The Sabines did not put their war preparations on display. The way they looked wasn’t the way they were. Their appearances were deceptive. One of Tatius’ potential motives for killing Tarpeia was so that the Capitol would seem/be seen to have been taken by force – again, the fact that this may have been Tatius’ intention does not dilute the difficulty of those who are trying to determine how the Capitol was taken. The rings the Sabines wear are described as being magna specie, with great appearance; species is almost always fraught with deception in the first book17. Like Vergil’s Camilla, Tarpeia is lured by the lustre of the jewelry into dropping her guard against less apparent dangers – here, the Sabines’ shields and the possibility of their use as weapons against her18. Finally, in Livy’s condensed Pisonian version, Tarpeia was punished by the Sabines because she had seemed/been seen to have acted in fraud (fraude uisam agere).

The combination in two of these instances of outright deceit and the subjectivity of seeing (ostenderunt, uideretur) and the focus in two of these instances on the subjectivity of interpretation (uideretur, uisam) point to the challenges inherent in interpreting what one sees. The characters in the Tarpeia story suffer from these challenges, but so does the reader trying to understand her story as an exemplum. Here we may return to the studies of exemplarity mentioned above. Roller’s study of exemplarity unveils a domino effect of visual interpretation: an event happens, it is witnessed, it is commemorated, the commemoration is witnessed, and so on. Each act of witnessing and commemoration involves interpretation, especially given the additional interpretive layer of Livy’s prose as he describes the witnessed acts and the acts of witnessing19. Livy draws attention to the complexities by presenting so many interpretations of the original narrative kernel of Tarpeia’s betrayal, that is, of the part on which everyone agrees: that she opened up the Capitol. Beyond that there is doubt.

Roller’s 2004 study of the exemplary force of Cloelia’s equestrian statue proves useful for our consideration here of Tarpeia. After her heroic escape from captivity to the Etruscan king Porsenna, Cloelia was commemorated with an equestrian statue in the Forum Romanum, the first and only such granted to a woman. This statue was itself a commemoration of Cloelia’s deed that can be witnessed, thus sparking further interpretations of that deed. Consideration of Cloelia’s monument raises a question for Livy’s text: why does Livy omit mention of the Tarpeian rock and of the possible tomb of Tarpeia that figures so prominently in the Pisonian version? These two commemorations are problematic and illustrate the difficulty in assessing the moral value of what one sees. First, the rock. Tarpeia was not killed via or even perhaps at the Tarpeian rock. The rock was later designated as a place to punish traitors, but the first known instance of such punishment is found at Livy 6.20.11-13, in which Manlius is convicted of treason and thrown to his death; what is more, the much earlier designation of the whole Capitol as mons Tarpeius – named for her rather than vice versa, says Varro at De Lingua Latina 5.41 – confuses the reprehensibility of the place20. The altar whose annual libations prove Tarpeia’s patriotism for Piso does not convince any other known source except for Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Perhaps Livy omits mention of these monuments because they might not have existed or been thus desig-nated at the time of the betrayal21. We can never know. Later in the first book, he does include mention of a similar urban landmark that took its name from a deed he recounts: the uicus sceleratus, on which Tullia is said to have run over her father’s corpse (1.48.7): foedum inhumanumque inde traditur scelus monumentoque locus est – Sceleratum uicum uocant. This landmark is a vehicle for teaching (monumento), the same word Livy uses of his own history in the preface, about a deed he calls foedus – also a word from his preface, the descriptor of what is shameful start to finish. As if to confirm that Tullia is a negative example, Livy caps this vignette with the observation that the violated Penates of Tullius’ family would bring about that the end of her rule with Tarquin the Proud would match the beginning: principio...exitus – a phrase that recalls the language in the preface about negative examples that are foul start to finish (inceptu...exitu). Beginning would match end in a consistent, unquestioned foulness22. Tullia’s example seems rather clearer than Tarpeia’s, and one wonders why Livy omits mention of Tarpeia’s “monuments” inasmuch as they do not show readers how to assess her situation. They are not monu-ments.

To press the implications of viewing a bit further, let us consider Feldherr’s use of spectacle in Livy. Feldherr connects spectacle with group identity in Livy: groups of people watch events as a shared experience; their shared watching helps solidify common opinions and therefore builds civic identity. Group interpretation can be seen in Livy’s Tarpeia story as well, particularly in the phrases sunt qui dicant and additur fabula which also apply to later readers, and in uisam, which obliquely draws in Sabine viewers who interpret Tarpeia’s pact as fraud. If we extend this observation to Livy’s text writ large, his readers constitute a group looking at (intueri) Livy’s documenta. Recall, however, that in the preface Livy uses te as the subject accusative for intueri, rendering the phrase indefinite: “one may look”23. This configuration emphasizes a key point in Livy’s narrative strategy, for the indefinite te is both collective in the sense that it refers to any and every reader, and singular in that it refers to each reader’s reading act – your reading act, in fact. Indeed, as we shall see, an individual seeing as part of a group might experience a rift or tension between those two (or more) perspectives.

The reader with access to the whole monumentum might be expected to fare better in the interpretive maze than the characters do. The labyrinth is a metaphor Mary Jaeger has applied to Livy’s history, in which characters must negotiate decisions without the benefit of the bigger, bird’s-eye view available to the reader, who can see patterns in the larger image24. In Tarpeia’s case, Livy places himself in the maze-walker’s position, confronted with the forks and paths of alternative traditions amongst which he may choose. By refusing to choose (tamen), Livy places the reader in the same position, faced with many choices and unaware where they may lead. In the next section I explore what can be gained from juxtaposing the indeterminacy of Tarpeia’s anecdote with a bird’s-eye view of the episode in the context of the whole first book.

Woman as Conduit for Otherness

Livy reveals to the reader the difficult process of interpreting the facts and meaning of Tarpeia’s story, and in so doing he invites his reader to do the same sort of work. She is not thus so easy to characterize as a negative exemplum as it might seem. But this does little to explain what she means in his story, and any number of tales, as Chaplin, Jaeger, Connolly, and Feldherr show for Livy and Roller shows more broadly, present similar complications in perspective and interpretation25. I turn now to the other way Tarpeia is often described in Livy – as one of Livy’s legendary women of Rome’s rise. Rhea Silvia, Tarpeia, the Sabine Women, Horatia, Tanaquil, Tullia, and Lucretia together exert a pressure on Livy’s first book and on Rome’s era of seven kings. In keeping with the distinction made above, these women function historically, as agents with greater responsibility during a monarchy than during the Republic26; and historiographically, as markers of disruption in the world of men27.

My analysis also combines the historical with the historiographical. In this section I argue that Livy’s women are especially memorable and rich characters – and especially vexed – in that they are “readability” personified. Their very position as women, acting in the world of men but with their own voices for the most part muted, situates them as objects of spectacle and thus of interpretation from various perspectives. These various perspectives on them emerge from their role as the “coin of the realm” in transactions between families and/or between communities; they come from one household and marry into another, thus bridging natal and marital families within a community, or even, as in many cases, linking one community to another. Thus situated at a crux of people and identities, woman is also predisposed to having multiple perspectives. In the best cases (the Sabine women, Lucretia)28, her objective identities and her interests come to overlap, and woman bridges solidly and seamlessly the gap between the way(s) she is viewed and the way(s) she views. Tarpeia is not so lucky, nor is the heroine of one other extended tale in the book: Horatia. These two stories together reveal that unmarried women are especially vulnerable to the push-and-pull of divergent perspectives because, prone themselves to look beyond their fathers/fatherlands to the outside, they have not yet accomplished the assimilation of outside perspectives into the Roman consciousness, assimilation which softens Roman expansion.

Gary Miles has analyzed story of the rape of the Sabine women29. Using resources from anthropology and from Roman law, Miles argued that this story reenacts – or, rather, pre-enacts – the dynamics of the Roman marriage ceremony – not just specific practices in the marriage ritual, but also in some ideologies and tensions that underlie Roman marriage: e.g., the prowess and ingenuity of the Roman men, both collectively and individually, the vulnerability of women to that ingenuity, and the resulting potential for abuses on both sides. This potential, for Miles, constitutes the difference between “good” Sabinae and “bad” Tarpeia in Livy’s narrative. Miles concluded that women’s fundamental openness in Livy – her willingness to be persuaded – renders her helpful, if she is persuaded by the right people (Sabinae); and dangerous, if she listens to others (Tarpeia). I would characterize the difference differently: until her “openness” is closed off by marriage (or better still, absorbed and codified to the benefit of Rome via marriage), she remains much more sympathetic to other perspectives than is comfortable for Rome’s foundational men. She is willing to read (or tell) a different story, to entertain possibilities that do not square with the interpretation her father and fatherland might ask of her. And so she is doubly indeterminate: once, in the ways she is read by various audiences, and second, in the way she reads differently from what is expected. In some ways, then, the unattached woman acts as a model for Livy’s own readers, who are put in a position to choose options that are not at all clear and who can see, then, that many perspectives pertain.

For my purposes, the myth of the rape makes vivid the role of women in mediating between families. Who can deny the power of the image of the Sabine women, holding their husbands and fathers apart with their very bodies, which constitute, in fact, not just the metaphorical but also the physical locus for the mingling of two blood lines? The choice of the Sabine women for their new lives is telling in this context. To be sure, they are very diplomatic in their rhetoric and are careful to balance their affection for their husbands and fathers – but their argument based on their children with the Roman men identifies them rather as wives than as daughters, as members of their new bloodline rather than their old.

The result of their affection is, of course, that the Sabines and Romans unite into a common polity. Marriage blends family lines through children, who thereafter share in the common bonds of both families. The Sabine Women make the fathers and other Sabines into Romans as well, in as much as those fathers become part of the new twinned Roman state (geminata urbe). Their marriage thus acts as a powerful metaphor not just for the specific, familial integration but also for integration on a larger community scale. The language of Livy’s passage emphasizes their role as points of juncture, the meeting point at which self and other elide: hinc patres, hinc uiros, soceri generique, and uiris ac parentibus all stress separate identities (1.13.2-3); then uestrum and unam ex duabus, consociant and conferunt (1.13.3-5) show Sabines and Romans together; finally geminata urbe (1.13.5) reveals them to be indistinguishable30.

Not only the Sabine women, but all women in Livy’s first book act as “foundational mothers” in Rome’s rise, without whom the growth of Rome might have been quite different or even stunted. What they bring to Rome is the ability, and the means, to incorporate outsiders into the state, even at times at the expense of their fathers31. Livy’s first book emphasizes women’s roles as peaceful assimilators. Aeneas is, in Livy’s account, the first outsider (aduenam, 1.2.1, cf. 1.1.5 and 1.1.7) to blend into Rome32. Livy’s Lavinia is so attached to Aeneas or the idea of him that she raises Aeneas’ son Ascanius (Iulus) whether it is her son or Creusa’s (1.3.1-3) and acts as good regent for the boy until he is of age; Livy twice emphasizes uncertainty as to her maternity (ubicumque et quacumque matre genitus; matri seu novercae), but emphasizes that everyone agrees Ascanius was Aeneas’ son (certe natum Aenea constat). Rhea Silvia was the conduit for the expansion and continuation of Numitor’s line, despite the mandate of her substitute father, the wicked Amulius, who had consigned her to Vestal virginity and thus destroyed (he thought) her hope of offspring (1.4). The Sabine women introduced, quite literally, Sabine blood into the Roman stock, to the benefit rather of their husbands than fathers (the Sabines and Romans join together, but imperium omne conferunt Romam, 1.13.4). Tarpeia looked to Tatius for alliance rather than seeing to the needs of her father Spurius Tarpeius and her fatherland; while not a marriage, her outward-facing alliance harms Rome. Indeed Livy suppresses versions (Simylus’ apud Plutarch Romulus 17, Propertius 4.4) in which Tarpeia was in love, perhaps to emphasize woman’s intrinsic, rather than circumstantial, in-betweenness. Horatia remained loyal to her fiancé rather than her brother (i.e., her natal family), in a way that looked like treason at least to her father and brother. The astounding Tanaquil first incorporated Priscus’ (half-) Greek blood into the skeptical Etruscan state by marrying him (Lucumo is aduena, 1.34.5), then rejected her fatherland completely to advance her husband (oblitaque ingenitae erga patriam caritatis dummodo uirum honoratum uideret, she forgot her native affection toward her fatherland so long as she could see her husband honored, 1.34.5)33. Tullia married the would-be Tarquinius Superbus despite the wishes of her father (1.46.9 – iunguntur nuptiis, magis non prohibente Seruio quam adprobante, they were joined in marriage, with Servius not forbidding it rather than approving it), and her affinity with her husband as against her natal family went so far that she did outright harm to her father, running over old Servius in the road. Though we do not know the wedding story of Lucretia and Collatinus, it is notable that she is Roman and he Etruscan, son of Egerius and grandson of Arruns (Tarquinius Priscus’ brother), and that Collatia had only recently joined the Roman state (Livy 1.38.2).

Whatever their motivation, all these women (save Lucretia), by rejecting their fathers/fatherland in favor of foreign men, strengthen horizontal rather than vertical ties34. Note that in some cases the girl is Roman – Rhea Silvia, Tullia, Tarpeia – in others she is not – the Sabine women, Tanaquil, Priscus’ mother. Horatia’s category here is dubious since no one remembers which family was Roman and which was Alban (Livy 1.24.1). This horizontality is an interesting feature, since in the Republic heritage generally followed the father. All children in the examples above become Roman, no matter the ethnic heritage of their parents; this phenomenon parallels the ease of assimilation into Rome more broadly35. Livy’s myths of early Rome thus reveal a more liberal attitude – whether his, his readers’, or the populace’s – toward belonging in the Roman state than did Republican law. Suzanne Dixon argues that the imposition of a diachronic scheme to explain such anomalies undervalues the anomalies themselves36. Reality was likely to be looser than legal ideals, which were invoked only in the most extreme cases. As Dixon has shown, women often found ways to circumvent legal restrictions on inheritance and the like, leaving property to their children in a system that was vehemently agnatic. The Romanness of Livy’s children can be read in a similar light.

So too may we evaluate the level of independence Livy’s women demonstrate in their choices of allegiance and in their very willingness or ability to choose. The Sabine women, Horatia, Tullia, and Tarpeia all make the choice themselves to ally with their outsiders – even in the face of fatherly disapproval, and in the two cases involving marriage, even before the marriage37. The choice of the sponsae itself constitutes a paradox: their strong transfer of allegiance shows subservience to the new husband (which would be required once the marriage became formalized), while willingness to choose reflects more freedom and self-determination38. Livy’s women are situated at the point of conflict between these two ideologies – women as objects, as subjects – and not surprisingly the results are ambiguous: while fathers find themselves at risk in this tense situation, and daughters also often suffer, husbands (or their non-espoused analogues, i.e., Tatius) generally come out ahead39. In other words, individuals and families lose some ground, but the state broadens its citizen base. The only winner, in fact, is the groom – the one whose social role is most beneficial to an expanding state.

Because women’s actions lead to the growth of the Roman state, in some sense their choice of husbands over fathers is also a choice of fatherland over fathers. In this way these women prefigure Brutus’ vivid choice to be a statesman rather than a father (2.5.8). In his earliest book Livy builds for his readers the notion that Rome’s growth and success was a collective achievement. His women are part of that collective and add to that achievement, even though its primary beneficiaries are men. At the beginning of Book 2 Livy summarizes that securities of spouses and children inspired the community feeling that enabled the state (2.1.5).

Finally, the force of these Roman myths comes into sharp focus when we compare them to similar stories from Greek myth. Greek myth is rich with tales of girls caught between their fathers and their lovers, but unlike their Roman analogues, loyalty swings both ways in the Greek stories. Medea and Scylla, for example, betray their fathers out of loyalty to their husbands or potential husbands, but the Danaids (except for Hypermestra), Procne, and Antigone choose their natal families over potential suitors. Contrast this with the general trend in Roman myth, in which the Roman Tullia, Horatia, and Lavinia, cleave to foreign men40. Perhaps the difference lies in the ways these two cultures conceived of their origins: Greek communities rooted their identity strongly in the land they occupied; the Athenians and Thebans even sprang from that land itself. The Romans, on the other hand, had always been – and, as imperialists, would always be – composed of someone else41.

The Middle as Destabilizing

Thus Livy’s women are powerful means and instigators of horizontal ties, or agnatic relationships. Their external leanings lead to the incorporation of outsiders into Rome, and an expansion of “Romanness”. Antony Augustakis explores a similar phenomenon in Silius’ Punica, in which assimilated foreigners both adapt to the values of the Roman center and expand that center, thus strengthening it and yet destabilizing some of the categories in which it trades, such as male and female, insider and outsider42. In Augustakis’ study, it is non-Roman mothers displaying Roman virtues who break open a closed notion of Romanness, but virtuous Roman women in Livy’s narrative have also been shown to act as tokens of destabilization (and expansion) of normative categories43. Virtuous Veturia entering Coriolanus’ camp, for example, betokens a crisis in the political system, in which men should be in control (Livy 2.39-40). For Livy, evil Roman forum-visiting Tullia indicates a similar crisis (1.48)44. Everywhere women appear in Livy’s history, they appear precisely for their impact on men’s affairs. Lucretia spinning by night would never have been mentioned by Livy had her virtuous suicide not precipitated the fall of the Tarquin tyranny. These women acting like men, in a way, already blur a distinction between self (here, male) and other (female)45. What do gender categories mean when one side bleeds into the other?

Horatia and Tarpeia further blur categories of self and other – here, Roman and non-Roman – by standing at the point when the non-Roman has not yet been assimilated, and Romanness has not yet been expanded to accommodate the men (and their allies) with whom they trade. I believe their not-yet-ness is related to the indeterminacy of these women’s stories and the plurality of reactions to them, possible and actual, that Livy recounts. Both stories in a way recount a process of incorporation as much as an outcome (again, I am reminded of the interplay between historiography and history). One key difference between the two tales is that Livy’s portrayal of Horatia’s sad story in some measure exculpates everyone: Horatius and his father are vindicated by law, the king saves face, and Horatia garners sympathy from the crowd. The way he presents Tarpeia’s tale, in contrast, flatters no one. As we shall see, this is because Tarpeia’s story is interrupted before her death can be reconciled and understood in Roman terms, whereas Horatia’s death and its legalistic aftermath restore harmony between the state and the individual.

Horatia’s episode falls in mid-book, between the fantastic stories of Rome’s rise and the tragedy of Lucretia. The Albans and Romans have been itching for a fight and are moving toward open war against each other when Mettius, the Alban dictator, proposes an alternative: that the contest between the two states be resolved by single battle, or rather, triple battle, with a set of three brothers from each side standing in for his whole army. In the staged contest, the Alban brothers at first gain the upper hand, killing two of the Roman brothers. But then the remaining Roman combatant separates and kills all three of the Alban brothers. Fresh from his victory, he parades his spoils before his cheering, safe, victorious-by-proxy Roman comrades. When his sister sees the spoils and recognizes among them the battle cloak she had woven for one of the now-dead Alban brothers, to whom she had been betrothed, she laments and calls his name. Her Roman brother, upset at her allegiance to his defeated enemy, kills her on the spot. The crowd is horrified at his action yet hesitant to scorn its champion, and the matter comes before the king, who establishes a special court for adjudicating the case. The court pronounces the Roman soldier guilty and mandates his execution, whereupon the soldier’s father intervenes, claiming he believes his son did the right thing, otherwise he would himself have killed the boy. The crowd and king are moved, the boy is subjected to a symbolic punishment, a sacrifice expiates any wrong, the Albans come join the Romans, and all ends well – except for the dead sister.

Andrew Feldherr has interpreted at length this episode’s construction and deconstruction of civic identity, across the categories of self (Roman) and other (Alban), and family and state46. His analysis traces the way these categories become distinct only to collapse into each other, only to become again distinct. For example, the Albans are initially elided with the Romans through their common ancestor Aeneas. No one even knows which set of brothers were Roman and which Alban, so alike were they. Indeed they are so alike as to have produced and reared a set of triplet brothers, matched in age and strength to the enemy set (trigemini fratres, nec aetate nec uiribus dispares, 1.24.1). But then, Alban and Roman separate into distinct categories and mutual (specious) hostility, except they are aligned by their common motive for this hostility (desire for glory). The surrogate battle of the brothers again distinguishes Alban and Romans, both triplets and spectators, but then the peoples come to live together as one in Rome. In terms of family and state, the victory of the youngest Roman (named Horatius by Livy, after common practice) is an honor for his family and his fatherland, and his murder of his sister Horatia serves to avenge her dishonor of both. But the crowd sees it differently, and sees his act as a violation of his family obligations and unjust punishment of Horatia’s family ties. Feldherr links the instability of categories in this episode with a fundamental instability of sacrifice, in which the community must sympathize with both sacrificant and victim.

I cannot hope to improve upon Feldherr’s reading of this episode. I wish, however, to linger on the particular instabilities that surround Horatia’s death and to locate another source of instability, Horatia’s not-yet-ness, so as to draw out in what ways she resembles Tarpeia. The key passage follows:

Princeps Horatius ibat, trigemina spolia prae se gerens; cui soror uirgo, quae desponsa uni ex Curiatiis fuerat, obuia ante portam Capenam fuit; cognitoque super umeros fratris paludamento sponsi quod ipsa confecerat, soluit crines et flebiliter nomine sponsum mortuum appellat. mouet feroci iuueni animum comploratio sororis in uictoria sua tantoque gaudio publico. stricto itaque gladio simul uerbis increpans transfigit puellam. “abi hinc cum immaturo amore ad sponsum”, inquit, “oblita fratrum mortuorum uiuique, oblita patriae. sic eat quaecumque Romana lugebit hostem” (1.26.2-4).

Horatius came first carrying his triple spoils in front of him. His maiden sister, who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii, met him at the Porta Capena. When she recognized the cloak of her fiancé on the shoulder of her brother, which she had herself made for him, she loosens her hair and through her tears cries out by name for her dead fiancé. The lament of his sister, in the context of his own victory and such great public rejoicing, rouses the anger in the fierce young man, and so he drew his sword and rebuked her with these words as he pierced the girl through: “Go away from here with your untimely love to your fiancé”, he said, “heedless of your dead brothers and the one still living, heedless of your fatherland. Thus may any Roman girl go who mourns an enemy”.

Horatia confuses self and other. As Feldherr notes, the Romans see her as one of them47. But not her brother, for whom her action is one of a poor Roman, “heedless of family and state”, and Horatius kills her with almost the same verb Livy uses to describe his killing of the last Curiatius (Horatia: transfigit; Curiatius: defigit, 25.12). Yet Horatius equates her with the category “Roman girl” in his pithy precept, sic eat quaecumque Romana lugebit hostem, a precept that also draws a distinction between Roman and enemy. Horatia is both. Livy places her carefully on the point where self meets other (sc. obuia fuit): the Porta Capena, Rome’s southern entrance. She is inside going out, and he is outside coming in. Horatius emphasizes as much at the edges of his speech, with abi and eat. We might also note that he too at this moment stands between identities. Though he is identified with the Roman perspective (his victory is the public joy), he now has the trappings of his enemies, carrying their spoils and wearing the betrothed Curiatius’ cloak (cognito super umeros fratris paludamento sponsi)48. It is my fancy that Livy puts both fratris and sponsi in the genitive to suggest the interchangeability of one with the other, with only their location in the sentence to distinguish them49.

It is not only Horatia’s national identity that is confounded; she similarly resists familial and gender identification. Is she, or is she not, a part of her natal family? Her brother believes she still is and accuses her of being forgetful of it (oblita, cf. Tanaquil at 1.34.5, cited above, who had forgotten: oblita ingenitae erga patriam caritatis). This justifies his treating her as an outsider. But oblita implies that she has once been mindful of it, and evokes the idea that her identity has not been stable over time or perhaps cannot be stable because of her gender. When young Horatius is on the verge of public punishment, moreover, her father intervenes and firmly repositions her within his own family, calling her his filiam and asserting his right (patrio iure) to do with her – and her brother – as he wishes (1.26.9)50. We might understand the younger Horatius’ position, like his sister’s, as “not yet”: his punishment of her usurps the role of pater familias before his time.

The topography of the episode emphasizes the tension between inside and out, not-yet and fully realized. At the conclusion of the whole episode, Livy mentions – as if to remind us that she is a marker of identity exchange – that she was buried on the spot where she died (Horatiae sepulcrum, quo loco corruerat icta, constructum est saxo quadrato, 1.26.14). Her tomb, placed at Rome’s gate, is a monumentum to her position between communities. The symbolic punishment bold Horatius Jr. must undergo is to pass beneath the tigellum sororium, so named for its proximity to Juno Sororia, “Juno of the Swollen Breast” based on the connection with sororiare51. The name must also evoke his sister, soror, and his passage under the “Sister’s Beam” reverses in some sense the authority he showed over her earlier and marks them both subservient to their father. What is more, the tigellum is also adjacent to the shrine of Janus Curiatius; this cluster of monuments suggests liminality, transition, and perspective in two directions. Unlike Horatia’s tomb, made of the monumental and durable saxo quadrato, the beam is transitory, made of wood.

This last instance also draws attention to the elasticity of gender categories. Juno Sororia marks a moment in a girl’s life when she passes from childhood to marriageability. Her very body is thus in flux and poised between two configurations of femininity. Just so is Horatia, old enough to be promised in marriage but not yet married. Indeed, Livy earlier calls her a virgo (1.26) in the rich collocation cui soror virgo (whose virgin sister), which itself places her in an uncomfortable tension: is she his sister, part of his family, or a virgo, which makes her available to other men? When Horatius forbids her – or any woman so caught between families – from mourning, he closes her off from one of the key duties of women: to mourn the dead. That identity is no longer open to her. Finally, as if to sum up her place in the grey space between many categories, he refers to her love as immaturo. Were she already married, her allegiance would be uncomplicatedly to her husband. Were she not betrothed, it would be to her father. As it is, however, since her love is immature, she cannot win. The adjective immaturo could as well describe her, her “not-yet-ness” rendering it impossible to assess her, include her, or exclude her in any meaningful, lasting way unless it is in a stone-cold tomb.

I will depart from Horatia with a final note, again drawn from Feldherr’s observation but differently nuanced. We have seen how her identity is confounded, and this in turn renders indistinct the categories in which she might be classified and, therefore, the others who would be described by those categories. Feldherr connects the instability of roles in this episode (and in sacrifice, its more abstract real meaning to Feldherr) with the power of spectacle to inform identity. Those who watch the battle of triplets confirm their own identity by their reactions to the spectacle. Yet our identity depends on our perspective. The elder Horatius knows the crowd feels sympathy for Horatia, so he urges them to look at something else: the son returning victorious from battle:

Inter haec senex iuuenem amplexus, spolia Curiatiorum fixa eo loco qui nunc Pila Horatia appellatur ostentans, “huncine”, aiebat, “quem modo decoratum ouantemque uictoria incedentem uidistis, Quirites, eum sub furca uinctum inter uerbera et cruciatus uidere potestis? quod uix Albanorum oculi tam deforme spectaculum ferre possent. I, lictor, colliga manus, quae paulo ante armatae imperium populo Romano pepererunt. I, caput obnube liberatoris urbis huius; arbore infelici suspende; uerbera uel intra pomerium, modo inter illa pila et spolia hostium, uel extra pomerium, modo inter sepulcra Curiatiorum (1.26.10-11).

Meanwhile the old man embraced his son and, pointing out the spoils of the Curiatii fixed in that place which is now called the Horatian Pillar, said, “Romans, you just saw this man honored and processing victoriously in ovation. Can you now bear to see him bound under the gallows and tortured with the lash? Even Alban eyes would scarce be able to bear such a hideous spectacle. Go, Lictor, bind the hands which just recently took arms to secure imperium for the Roman people. Go, veil the head52 of the one who liberated this city. Hang him from a cursed tree, flog him within the pomerium, right there among the weapons and enemy spoils he won, or outside the pomerium, among the graves of the enemy Curiatii he slew.

The father’s emphasis on watching (uidistis...potestis uidere) hints that the spectators too are torn among divergent perspectives, if they can see young Horatius triumph and fall with the same eyes. And he here addresses the onlookers as Romans, Quirites, but with the word most calculated to draw them closer to the Albans, whom Livy has just named Curiatii; Not only does curiatii sound like Quirites, but Quirites indicates foreigners-become-Romans53. Horatius thus pegs their identity down and then connects that identity to a Roman way of looking that hints at the equation between Roman Quirites and Alban Curiatii54. His next comment further blurs the distinction between Roman and Alban by asserting some kind of universal perspective, for even Alban eyes could not tolerate such a sight. The sight of Horatius punished, even the potential of that sight, unifies the hostile people in a more subtle way than the overt conflict that had been resolved by the brothers. Thus the elder Horatius draws family, Rome, and Alba together into a unified perspective. Put differently, he expands Romanness and family and Alban so that they are coterminous with each other, and all of this based on the visual perspective of each. This recalls the beginning of the Alban conflict, in which the two sides hostile to each other were really more alike than different, each desiring war to further their glory but each putting forth petty spats as red herrings (speciosa, 1.23.7)55 for the hostility. Livy shows separation on the surface, unity underneath; the appearance of difference, the reality of likeness.

Let us return to Tarpeia to recall the way appearance was linked with trickery and danger in that episode – the Sabines were peaceful on the surface but preparing war, both parties practiced some deceit, the rings themselves had a lovely appearance (specie) but proved Tarpeia’s doom. I propose that here too Tarpeia dwells in the gap between appearance and reality, and between one identity and another, and therefore lends herself to multiple perspectives. In what follows we shall revisit some of the observations made in the first section of this paper, but with, I hope, a new understanding of the way those observations bring Tarpeia’s not-yet-ness to bear on the indeterminacy of her tale.

Note how Livy introduces her and her story, literally framing her (filiam uirginem) between her father (Spurius Tarpeius) and the outsider who would claim her allegiance (Tatius):

Sp. Tarpeius Romanae praeerat arci. huius filiam uirginem auro corrumpit Tatius ut armatos in arcem accipiat (1.11.6).

Spurius Tarpeius was in charge of the citadel, whose virgin daughter Tatius corrupted with gold so that she would admit them into the citadel.

His word order reflects her dual roles, as the phrase filiam uirginem also splits her in two – filiam, her familiar moniker, looking back to her father Tarpeius and uirginem, the word that announces her availability, anticipating Tatius at the sentence’s end (we recall here Horatia as soror uirgo). The word order likewise mirrors a movement from father Tarpeius, through daughter (vertical tie), through virgin (horizontal availability), to outsider Tatius. The fact that Livy does not name her specifically is no matter – Roman naming conventions render her Tarpeia, a name that connects her even more firmly to her father. Indeed there is little narrative need to mention Sp. Tarpeius – his position of authority doesn’t seem to give Tarpeia any inside information about the citadel’s defenses, and he does not appear blameworthy or at all involved after this incident56. Indeed he accomplishes nothing for the story other than to identify Tarpeia as a daughter. What Tatius entices, or compels, Tarpeia to do is the political analogue of Roman marriage – to admit men into her home (as mentioned above, Livy’s founding mothers enjoy matrilocal marriage; he follows her rather than the other way around)57. And like Horatia, Tarpeia is explicitly a uirgo. This descriptor implies Vestality, a “back-fill” detail to explain her presence in woman-poor Rome – especially after Varro, who had connected the dots in the tradition58. Livy seems to exploit our assumptions about her (that as a virgin she is a Vestal) even as he exploits her position as filia uirgo.

The mixed perspectives Tarpeia generates by those who see her are intertwined with the notion of the Roman self and the invading (but to be incorporated) other. The two primary variants Livy names in his narrative – Tarpeia as Roman traitor (Pictor) or as Roman patriot (Piso) both locate Tarpeia between two peoples – Romans and Sabine invaders – but interpret her loyalty and identity in opposite ways. In Pictor’s version her allegiance has shifted to the Sabines (or at least, to herself and her prize rather than to the Romans), and in Piso’s version she remains attached to her natal community. It is possible to interpret the women in the middle either way, for as a uirgo she is still connected to her father’s patria potestas but is eligible for moving horizontally. Unlike Horatia, who calls out her fiancé’s name and thus makes public her allegiance, Tarpeia is given no speech in Livy’s account to reveal which direction she faces as she is perched between perspectives: inside Rome looking out (Piso), or outside looking in (Pictor). It is telling here that in Piso’s version the Sabines interpret her end game as fraude; a perspective which they do not share appears to them (fraude uisam agere) as deceitful. This is a classic “us vs. them” pose, only here the Romans are the fraudulent “them”. But this pose is handed down by Roman Piso. Livy’s brief mention of Piso’s variant cannily exposes the messiness of Roman growth. Like Piso’s version itself, which seeks to get inside Tarpeia’s mind, Livy’s mention of Piso’s variant places his reader in the mind of the other (here, Piso). Again, history (Tarpeia, Romans, Sabines) and historiography (Livy, Piso, Pictor) collide. Which viewpoint – Roman, Other, or Middle – do his readers inhabit? The plurality of perspectives Livy offers suggests that it must be all three. “Roman” is big enough to accommodate difference, and just as no one knows which of the Horatii and Curiatii was Roman and which was Alban, no one can decide if Tarpeia was one of us or one of them. The scornful tamen that opens the next story shows that to Livy, it doesn’t matter anyhow.

The Sabines’ motives for killing Tarpeia also confound self and other. accepti obrutam armis necauere, seu ut ui capta potius arx uideretur seu prodendi exempli causa, ne quid usquam fidum proditori esset (Once they were admitted they crushed her with their weapons, either so that it would seem that the citadel had been taken by force, or for the sake of a moral example, lest there evermore be any compact with a traitor). First of all, the Sabines who kill her are now literal insiders, accepti. Their hostile presence on the arx suggests a multiplicity of perspectives even at the very center of the city. The first motive, that it should seem that the arx had been captured by force, again reveals a manifold perspective. So that it would thus seem to whom – to the Romans who had been invaded? To the other Sabine soldiers who weren’t in the first wave, to the rest of the Sabines, or to non-Romans and non-Sabines watching from the outside59? To later audiences of the tale, for the purpose of Tatius’ reputation (Livy’s very presentation nof this option in this case thwarts Tatius’ plan)? The “captured by force” appearance would suggest a strengthened division between Sabines and Romans even as they cohabit the Capitol, for all hint of cooperation, or any point of contact between the two states, has been eliminated and, through violence, the distinction between us and them is maintained (and indeed rages on beyond this moment of entry).

The second, moralistic motive for killing Tarpeia (and the more exemplary one, given as it is to a summary judgment) suggests a moral category that transcends the division of self and other. Ne quid, usquam, and the existential esset extend the life of this moral to all people and all situations at all times. Sabines and Romans would not be so different from each other in this explanation, and Tarpeia’s death would be interpreted as what must happen given her part in the opening of the arx. Pressing on this observation, one wonders whether there is a hierarchy of morals and behaviors. On lower levels we might see Sabines and Romans distinguished by their behavior, but on others they are united in perspective. The first motive violates and preserves a boundary between us and them, while the second motive zooms out to look at a bigger picture in which that boundary is meaningless.

As Livy’s presentation confounds the distinction between the Roman self and the non-Roman other, he also problematizes perspectives within Rome by blurring the lines between family and state. Tarpeia is labeled as a Roman daughter and a virgin in one sentence, and in the next she is identified as the water-seeker for sacred rites. The obvious conclusion, and the one Varro makes explicit, is that she is a Vestal virgin. As Mary Beard has shown in two seminal articles, the Vestal priesthood is vexed with paradoxes of identification – she is a virgin yet a wife of the state, herself barren yet a guarantor of fecundity, and the like60. As Beard expressed in the second of the two articles, which is a palinode of sorts to the first, these paradoxes are the point of the priesthood. In the context of the current exploration, I note that Tarpeia’s Vestal priesthood renders her both more Roman, in that she is firmly connected to the fledgling state’s institutions, and less familial, in that she is not to marry and no longer falls under her father’s patria potestas61. In this way, describing her as the daughter of Tarpeius and a priestess virgo, Livy again positions Tarpeia in between – this time, in between her family and the state institution she serves. She is in between in another way, too; Vestals are wards of the state. The state is her family, so for her those two entities are no longer distinct.

Gender-wise, too, Tarpeia is in between. As a Vestal, her ritual chastity freezes her at a stage between unripe girlhood and fulfilled womanhood. Roller has suggested that, as a virgin (and so not a fully realized women yet), heroic Cloelia arouses less anxiety than she otherwise would have, for her congress with the Etruscan Porsenna is not of such a sort as to allow him or his people to mingle, blood-wise, with the Romans62. Cloelia’s allegiance has never been in doubt. It seems to me that Tarpeia’s virginity in Livy functions differently from Cloelia’s. Tarpeia shows that the virgin might choose differently, and that her virginity is really a place of exchange. It is fitting that Tarpeia is buried by crushing, her body intact. The shields that cover her are the very weapon designed to protect the integrity of the fighter’s body. Tarpeia’s death is similar to the punishment meted out to transgressive Vestals, who were entombed alive (so as not to violate them even in their death). But it also forecloses any possibility that her body would be a point of reconciliation between Roman and Sabine, unlike Horatia, whose body, pierced by the same sword that had pierced Alban Curiatius, now admitted foreign blood.

Livian Tarpeia

Tarpeia’s refusal to be situated comfortably in any category – traitor or patriot, Roman or not, self or other, daughter, virgin, or bride – renders her, in a way, an anti-example. If we are to read Tarpeia as an exemplum, either positive or negative, we must strip her story of its complexities and incongruities. Valerius Maximus (9.6.1) sanitizes her story in just this way, but its exemplary force remains problematic even in his exemplary text. When Livy’s readers assess Tarpeia, they reveal the limits and contingencies of their own perspective. Livy puts us not only in the position of an onlooker with a broader view, but also in the position of Tarpeia herself, pulled in two directions at least63. Livy positions his reader, that is, as both self and other at once.

Horatia’s story, while it trades in tensions, resolves into harmony that blends family and state, women and men, and other and self – with the first element of each pair joining and subordinating itself to the second element, which then expands to accommodate the addition. Cicero describes this harmony as a set of concentric circles64. The refusal of Livy to circumscribe Tarpeia suggests how difficult it is to nest all the circles, for whatever shared space she occupies at the middle and at “not yet” is still riven by the many contradictory viewpoints from which she may be seen. Augustus’ marriage laws may be seen as an attempt to clean up this messiness by prescribing who may marry whom, how many horizontal bonds there may be (no more than one per woman, thank you), how many vertical bonds (children) the state requires, and the like65. As Milnor has argued, Augustus made himself the model of such harmony, by becoming pater patriae and performing as father to his people, and by making his house the hearth for the state66.

On the flip side, Milnor describes Livy’s concern with gender and domesticity as participating in the ideas and anxieties of the age. Livy’s women and Augustus’ laws are two symptoms of the same disease, and Livy turns the historical events into a historiographical event (Milnor’s phrase, p. 142)67.

Livy’s foundational women all play out various scenarios of self and other. In closing, let us briefly consider Rhea Silvia, the first unwed Roman woman to be found in Livy’s narrative (the first woman, Lavinia, was a good regent for Ascanius/Iulus until he was of age to rule). Rhea Silvia’s openness is a matter of fear to her uncle Amulius. Wishing to usurp power from his brother Numitor, Amulius closed off avenues for Numitor’s successor, who might threaten Amulius’ occupation of the throne:

Addit sceleri scelus: stirpem fratris uirilem interimit, fratris filiae Reae Siluiae per speciem honoris cum Uestalem eam legisset perpetua uirginitate spem partus adimit. sed debebatur, ut opinor, fatis tantae origo urbis maximique secundum deorum opes imperii principium. vi compressa Vestalis cum geminum partum edidisset, seu ita rata, seu quia deus auctor culpae honestior erat, Martem incertae stirpis patrem nuncupat. sed nec di nec homines aut ipsam aut stirpem a crudelitate regia vindicant: sacerdos vincta in custodiam datur, pueros in profluentem aquam mitti iubet (1.3.11-1.4).

He (Amulius) added crime to crime. He killed the male stock of his brother. As for his niece Rhea Silvia, when he named her a Vestal Virgin (pretending it to be an honor) he took away from her hope of offspring through her perpetual virginity. But the origin of such a great city as ours was indebted to the fates, the origin and the beginning of the greatest empire after the resources of the Gods. When the Vestal, having been taken by force, delivered twin sons, she named Mars as the father of her uncertain offspring, either because she believed it to be the case or because a divine instigator of her onus seemed more honorable. But neither gods nor men shielded the mother herself or the offspring from the king’s cruelty; the priestess was bound and sent into custody, and the boys he ordered to be thrown into the running river.

Note in this episode two instances of the now familiar pairing of deception and the difficulty of seeming. First, Amulius made Rhea Silvia a Vestal Virgin under the guise of honoring her, but his aim was really to prevent her from producing Numitor’s heir. I draw attention to the fact that Rhea is a virgin precisely because Amulius wanted to close off any possibility that she reproduce; he wanted extreme control over the ways the larger family would be open to expansion. Like the other women we have considered here, Rhea Silvia “goes outside” to produce the first true Roman offspring. Livy speculates about Rhea’s naming of Mars as the twins’ father in a way that renders that paternity doubly suspect: either (Mars was or was not the father but) she thought it was so (seu ita rata); or (he was not the father, she knew he was not, but) she thought that naming him would lessen the burden of her culpability (seu quia deus auctor culpae honestior erat). This pair of possibilities is the first instance of “twinning” in the story about twins, and like the concept of twins it exploits the meeting point between similarity and difference. As further indication of Livy’s equivocation he calls the babies incertae stirpis. These phrases together suggest just how powerful (and dangerous) the woman is in opening up a society to newcomers through her ability to incorporate external bloodlines. Exiled Romulus and Remus will turn out to have something regal in them that confirms, or at least suggests, their maternal regal heritage (aetatem eorum et ipsam minime seruilem indolem, 1.5.6), but what proof can there be of their divine paternity? Even Rhea Silvia does not know.

What is more, Numitor’s pretext of honoring Rhea Silvia with the priesthood is cast in terms that evoke the gap between appearance and reality: Siluiae per speciem honoris cum Uestalem eam legisset. Per speciem “under the appearance” foreshadows the magna specie “(rings) with great appearance” in Tarpeia’s narrative. Both uses of species point to the way appearances can be deceptive or lead to deception; indeed, as noted above in the first book this word repeatedly evokes the danger that attends appearances68. In Rhea Silvia’s case, what looks like an honor is actually a way to limit the family line.

Rhea Silvia, like Horatia and Tarpeia, exists in a gap, and at the same time they are that which constitutes the gap and the means by which that gap is bridged. Rhea Silvia is the point of connection between the Alban kings and Rome’s rulers; Horatia is both Roman and Alban; and Tarpeia exists in the moment between complete Sabine hostility and Sabine cooperation. Livy’s pluralistic Rome requires centripetality, but the way Livy positions his founding women shows a centrifugal force to be operative as well. At the meeting place of these two forces, women may exert themselves toward or away from Rome, and may be pulled toward or away from Rome. The variety of positions they may thus occupy renders them individualistic even while they constitute a type69. They invite Livy’s readers to reflect upon their own multiple stances, which brings new nuance to his moralistic salvo, hic illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri. What if, in addition to the straightforward reading of te as the subject of intueri, it is its object? This, then, would be beneficial and fruitful – to scrutinize yourself as records of every sort of example set on display in the illustrious monument you are reading70.


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1 The text is Ogilvie’s Oxford edition (1974). Return to text

2 Ogilvie 1965 ad loc. notes the ease of understanding the general sense but the difficulty of locating the “precise force of these words”. Return to text

3 See Feldherr 1998: 6-7, Jaeger 1997: 15-29, esp. 23-29, Miles 1995: 16-19, and Gowing 2005: 22-3 on history as a monument. The second position (monument as history writ large) is taken by Ogilvie ad loc., who argues against the third position (monument endorses a variation of this, that monument refers to history writ large. Return to text

4 Burck 1934 and Luce 1977 are the cornerstones of scholarship on Livian historiography. Return to text

5 See also Jaeger 1997: 23-4. Return to text

6 OLD sv. monumentum 1 and 2, and TLL sv. Monumentum B1 oppida, loca sim and B2 aedificia, artificia sim. Return to text

7 Jaeger 1997: 26 and Chaplin 2000: throughout, especially 50-72, both use the narratological concept of focalization to illuminate the complexities of exempla. Return to text

8 Chaplin 2000: 17 and see also Stevenson 2011. Return to text

9 Propertius 4.4 is his closest chronological neighbor; in that text, Tarpeia is in love with Tatius. Plutarch Romulus 17 lists several variants, among which are that she is a Sabine girl (Antigonus), or in love not with Sabine Tatius but with the Gallic chieftain during the sack of 390 (Simylus). Return to text

10 Gowing 2005 offers a fruitful corollary to this idea; discussing “reading” monuments and histories in his fifth chapter (“Remembering Rome”, pp. 132-159), Gowing notes that different meanings might be invested in monuments over time. The historical referent itself (the subject of a statue or sponsor of a building) is not the final arbiter of its own meaning. Return to text

11 Chaplin 2000 throughout, especially 47-49. Return to text

12 Further, McCartney 1924 notes also that the Sabines, who used treachery themselves, were surely not interested in providing a moral example to posterity about treachery. McCartney looks to Livy’s fondness for paronomasia in prodendi/proditor. Return to text

13 Joshel’s study of the Lucretia and Verginia episodes (1992) emphasizes this overlap of sameness (which would lead to exemplary relevance) and difference (which would hinder the applicability of the former situation to the later). One key difference is that Lucretia speaks and tries to manipulate her own exemplary force, whereas Verginia is silent and must accept what those around her find pertinent to say. The primary “audience” of these examples in Joshel’s view is not Brutus, Collatinus, or even Verginius, but rather Livy and his contemporary Augustan elite audience, for whom disciplined female sexuality is a core factor in maintaining elite male integrity. I here note that the Lucretia/Verginia pair dramatizes the tension between women as objects (Verginia) and subjects (Lucretia). Return to text

14 OLD sv. Novus entries 2 and 3. Return to text

15 Contrast the Roman counterattack later, done through ira and cupiditas, 1.12.1. Return to text

16 OLD sv. ostendo entry 1 p. 1274, and see also TLL praevalente notione originaria monstrandi (sc. offerendo obtutibus sive oculorum sive mentis). Return to text

17 Species: OLD sv. entry 5, p. 1799: “Outward appearance (opp. inner nature)”, entry 6: “the semblance (of something other than is the actual case), illusory appearance, impression”, And entry 7 (“an assumed appearance or veneer”). An added nuance is that of “good appearance, beauty, attractiveness” (OLD sv. entry 3b), which renders the image extra dangerous. I count eleven instances of species, including Tarpeia and Rhea Silvia. Outright deception or pretense occurs on 5 occasions: 1.3.11 (Rhea Silvia), 1.27.2 (Alban Mettius pretends alliance but intends treachery), 1.40.5 (a staged brawl to gain audience with the king), 1.41.6 (Servius Tullius pretends he is consulting king Tarquin, who is in fact already deceased), and 1.56.1 (the people are employed on projects that appear small but are labor-intensive). In 4 instances something’s appearance (species) inspires deception in others: 1.11.x (the rings whose appearance inspired Tarpeia), 1.7.4 (the beauty of Hercules’ cows), 1.9.12 (Thalassius steals a particularly pretty Sabine woman), and 1.45.4 (the Sabine cow of exceptional mien is in effect stolen). In the two other instances species refers to something deceptive, elusive, or unprovable: 1.31.8 (Tullus Hostilius performs rites incorrectly and receives no vision [species] of the gods), and 1.55.6 (the appearance of a skull found on the Capitol betokens world empire for the Romans). In this last instance, Livy calls the portent clear (haud ambages) but then labels the interpreters (so said the soothsayers, both local and imported from Etruria). Return to text

18 Euryalus also falls into this trap in Aeneid 9. The temptation to greed is styled as a female weakness by Fabius Pictor in his Tarpeia fragment (FGrH 8 apud Dionysius of Halicarnassus 2.38-40) and by Pictor’s contemporaries, such as the proponents of the lex Oppia (see Livy 34.1-4), but the Euryalus analogue may also simply characterize Tarpeia as immature or naïve. Her youth on this understanding would offer another twist on her perspective. Return to text

19 In more subjective genres, such as love elegy, there is additional trouble because of the double-subjectivity of the witnessing “I” and the commemorating “I”, a phenomenon that narratology has done much to explain. Return to text

20 Richardson 1992 ad loc. Return to text

21 Contrast Horatia’s tomb and the tigellum sororis, created at the time of Horatia’s death, and to be discussed below. Return to text

22 Also in this anecdote Livy notes consistency of behavior as a hallmark of the credibility of the story: she is believes to have instigated Tullius’ murder because it was consistent with her evil behavior (creditur, quia non abhorret a cetero scelere, 1.48.5). The consistency seems to make up for the passive voice’s hedginess, and at any rate immediately following this phrase Livy asserts that Tullia’s infamous carriage ride is sure and is commonly agreed (certe, id quod satis constat). Return to text

23 Leumann-Hofmann-Szantyr 1972: 419. L-H-S maintain that a real person is in mind in the indefinite second person in Classical texts; in post-classical texts, “keine reale Person denkbar ist”. Return to text

24 Jaeger 1999. Return to text

25 Chaplin 2000; Jaeger 1997; Connolly 2009; Feldherr 1998. Return to text

26 Glinister 1997. Return to text

27 Here fit the interpretations of Lucretia and Verginia as symbols of political malaise (Joplin 1990, Joshel 1992), and Milnor’s 2009 study of women operating in the public sphere as an indication of men’s failure to keep them at home. Consider also Tullia’s willingness to be in the forum or senate house, Livy 1.48.5: her boldness is a symbol of Superbus’ arrogant, transgressive power and a tip-off that the state is in disharmony (see particularly Milnor 2009: 282-3). Return to text

28 In the case of both Sabine women and Lucretia, not only are fathers and husbands aligned, but these overlap (or come to overlap) the needs of the state as well. The Sabine women’s plea to husbands and fathers to cease their violence leads to an assimilation into one, stronger state and a joint kingship; and Lucretia (1.58.5) has so blended her natal and marital families that she calls her father and husband to help her, and their subsequent actions benefit and strengthen the state. Return to text

29 He analyzes five versions: Cicero de Republica 2.12-14; Livy 1.9-13; Dionysius Halicarnassus 2.30-47; Ovid Fasti 3.167-258; and Plutarch Romulus 14-20. Return to text

30 The twin metaphor, which shall arise again below vis-à-vis Rhea Silvia, is a powerful device for exploring Rome’s assimilation of other peoples. On twins as a marker of (troubling) symmetry, see Wiseman 1995: 17 and Konstan 1986: 202-4. Return to text

31 The practice of offering asylum to foreigners strives to accomplish the same goal; asylum, however, has more limitations than intermarriage as a means of assimilation. See now Dench 2005. Return to text

32 The Greek Evander, chronologically earlier than Aeneas, does not appear in the narrative until 1.7.4, and his Greek heritage is given at 1.7.8. Return to text

33 See Bitarello 2009 on Tanaquil and Tullia, Etruscan women who are able to sway their husbands. Return to text

34 See generally Hallett 1984. Return to text

35 See Dench 2005: 37-92 for various ways and stages of “becoming Roman”. Return to text

36 Dixon 1992: 159 discusses the dynamic process of “the continual regrouping and redefinition that occurred over the individual and family life-span”. Return to text

37 Hallett 1984: 138 sees Verginia and Cloelia as the antitheses to the “self-assertive and politically disloyal Tarpeia, Horatia, and Tullia of monarchic legend”. She interprets these three as indicating that the support of a husband/lover that ends in “traitorous treatment of her father and his concerns point to a Roman belief that if a father’s demands upon his daughter came into conflict with demands made on her by a sexual partner, the father’s demands were supposed to receive precedence”. An interesting corollary is offered by the declamatory themes on the rape of a woman, the legal remedy for which is that the woman may freely exercise her will to marry or have killed her rapist. See Kaster 2001 for a discussion of this aspect of female autonomy. Return to text

38 For various tensions or opportunities a women might feel as a fiancée or bride in a variety of circumstances, see Dixon 1992: 71-97 and 133-159, Hersch 2010: 202, and Treggiari 1993: 13-36. Return to text

39 Alas for Horatia’s Alban fiancé. Return to text

40 Even Cloelia, a possible foil to this short list, is equivocal, because, whatever her motive and outcome, she remains with Porsenna. Return to text

41 Dench’s discussions in Romulus’ Asylum (2005) treat Roman secondarity at length; see especially her first chapter, on ethnographies (pp. 37-92). Return to text

42 Augustakis 2010: 197. Return to text

43 Milnor 2009. Return to text

44 See Milnor 2009: 281 on Sempronia in Valerius Maximus 3.8.6: “female virtue not only transcends civic immorality but transforms it, bringing back to the public sphere the integrity which its men have lost”. See also Joplin 1990: 52 on Lucretia and Verginia as part of Livy’s “causal link between female chastity and its destruction and the founding and preservation of Rome”. Return to text

45 Hallett 1989 explores this tension more broadly in Roman sources. Return to text

46 Feldherr 1998: 123-143. Return to text

47 Feldherr 1998: 134. Return to text

48 Likewise, as Feldherr notes, the tigellum sororium, where he must later resubmit to his father’s authority, is also the place where returning soldiers pass back into Roman civilians (1998: 144). See also Coarelli 1986: 111-117 and Platner-Ashby 1929: 538-9. Return to text

49 Festus 380L, in a passage dependent on this one, is even more ambiguous: morte sponsi sui fratris manu occisi. The position of sui renders it attributable to sponsi, fratris, or both. Return to text

50 All the while, as Feldherr notes (1998: 142), the elder Horatius buttresses his family rights with words that evoke public authority (iudicare, iure). Return to text

51 Rose 1934 and cf. Latte 1960: 97, 133, who also adopts the connection between Sororia and sororiare. See Festus 380L: sororiare mammae dicuntur puellarum, cum primum tumescent. Return to text

52 This is the archaic formula (cf. Cicero pro Rabirio perduallionis reo 13), but Festus (170M=174L) connects it to the language for veiling the bride. This can be read as more gender-overlap, inasmuchas punishing the young Horatius equates to making him a bride. Return to text

53 See Maltby 1991: 517 sv. Quirites, which Livy 1.13.5 and Varro DLL 6.68 derive from Curensibus, Tatius’ Sabines. A commentator on Lucan 5.32 even connects curia with Curenses, thereby rendering the connection between Curiatii and Quirites even closer. See also DeVaan 2008: 510 sv. Quirites. Return to text

54 Similarly, the proximity of the tigillum sororium to the shrine of Janus Curiatius also links the Quirites and Curiati. Janus is, of course, a god who emphasizes plurality of perspective. Return to text

55 Cf. Cicero Atticus 16.7.6 and cf. OLD sv. species entry 3, “fine-sounding, plausible, specious”. Return to text

56 Contra Plutarch, who expands a little on this character by claiming that he was tried for and convicted of treason after the fact (Romulus 17.5). Return to text

57 See Hersch 2010: 140-4 on the importance of the deductio in domum mariti, the usual movement, as a symbol of Roman marriage. Return to text

58 De Lingua Latina 5.41, and cf. Martini 1998. Return to text

59 Cf. Mettius’ suggestion at 1.23.8-9 in Horatia’s story that hostile Etruscans were watching keenly what happened between Rome and Alba, and were waiting like vultures to finish off what the war left intact. Return to text

60 Beard 1980 and 1995. Return to text

61 Vestals and patria potestas: Gellius 1.12.9, and see also Staples 1998: 141-3 and Lorsch Wildfang 2006: 64-75. Return to text

62 Roller 2004: 39 n. 82 notes that Tarpeia, Tullia, and Tanaquil reveal tensions between endogamy and exogamy, since their bodies are vehicles for the convergence of bloodlines, whereas Cloelia’s virginity alleviates some concern. See also Koptev 2005. Return to text

63 Solodow 1979 notes moral ambiguity inherent in providing multiple perspectives with respect to the Horatia episode. Return to text

64 De Off. 1.53: Artior vero conligatio est societatis propinquorum; ab illa enim immensa societate humani generis in exiguum angustumque concluditur, explored by Feldherr 1998: 118-120. Return to text

65 Raditsa 1980 offers a good overview of the law. Return to text

66 Milnor 2006: 47-93, and see also Severy 2003: 44-56. Return to text

67 The broader discussion of Livy is Milnor’s third chapter (2006: 140-85). Return to text

68 See footnote 16 above. Return to text

69 See Hinds 1998: 34-47 on topoi used both collectively/generally, and individually/idiosyncratically. Return to text

70 I am grateful to many for their contributions to this paper, particularly Anthony Corbeill, Emma Scioli, Elizabeth Adams, and Stephen Froedge. Return to text


Electronic reference

Tara Welch, « Perspectives On and Of Livy’s Tarpeia », Eugesta [Online], 2 | 2012, Online since 01 janvier 2012, connection on 23 mai 2024. URL :


Tara Welch

University of Kansas