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I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome

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I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome
Edited by Diana E. E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson.(Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1996. Pp 228. 11 color and 250 b&w photos.) ISBN: 0-89467-075-1.

I Claudia II: Women in Roman Art and Society

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I Claudia II: Women in Roman Art and Society
Edited by Diana E. E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson. (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2000. Pp xii, 179. 78 b&w photos and 5 line drawings.) ISBN: 0-292-74340-8.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - November 1, 2000

The study of history, until recent times, has been a field of study that was male-centric. This condition developed due to a number of factors. These factors include the fact that, historically, women were underrepresented in political life and that they seldom received a comprehensive education. Consequently, women tended to stay in the periphery of the 'history'.

When engaging in the study of history, most historians tend to concentrate upon the major events and the major players - the rulers, the generals, and the dissidents that had a major impact upon the political or social landscape. Because women seldom played a prominent role in such events, they often took a backseat to the major participants that graced the historical stage. In the past, when women were referenced, it was usually as background scenery. Unfortunately, in all too many history books, it can appear that there were no women in the ancient world except for a few upper class women and the occasional slave.

Modern historians have tried to rectify the underrepresentation of women in the historical record. However, modern historians are often hampered by the lack of first person narratives, such as diaries and letters, especially when studying ancient women. Moreover, ancient historians tended to ignore the role of women, depriving modern historians of useful source information.

While first person documents may be hard to find, historians are not totally blind when it comes to deciphering how women lived in the ancient world. Recently, the
Yale University Art Gallery held an exhibition on Women in Ancient Rome. Using artifacts, both artistic and practical, they illustrated the roles that women played in Roman society.

Two books emerged from this exhibition: I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome and I Claudia II: Women in Roman Art and Society. Each book is jammed with informative essays, photos, and detailed descriptions of exhibition items.

Each book contains fascinating insights into the lives of Roman women. Using funerary inscriptions, sculptures, paintings, murals, reliefs, references from classical literature, and modern research, these books help illuminate the world inhabited by Roman woman - not just those of the imperial classes, but women from all social stratums.

I, Claudia was originally released as the companion catalog to the exhibition. The text of I, Claudia is organized into three distinct themes: Roman women in the public realm, domestic realm, and the funerary realm. Through the art, and the essays, it serves to offer a realistic overview of what life was like for Roman women. The essays contained in this book include: I Claudia II, builds upon the work begun in I, Claudia. While I, Claudia was primarily a catalog with some added essays,I Claudia II is a book of essays that is illustrated with photos from the art exhibition. The essays contained in I Claudia II are: These books are geared for a wide audience. If you have an interest in women's studies, social history, the classics, Roman history, archaeology, or art, you will find a wealth of information contained within these books. Just the exhibition descriptions alone will help expand your understanding of what life was like for Roman women. For example, in I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome, following a description of the head and bust of a male child, there follows a discourse on the place of "Sons in the Roman Family" (pg 143). This discourse talks about the role that mothers played in the education of their sons, as well as in their moral and social development.

While these books are geared for a general audience, they are also superb works of historical importance. In addition to offering the reader the opportunity to view many of the items that were in the exhibit, they also provide the avid researcher with detailed fodder from which to pursue this subject. Both books include suggestions for further readings, detailed bibliographies, and copious footnotes. I, Claudia also contains dynastic genealogies and a glossary.

Of the two books, I, Claudia has much more of a 'catalog' feel than does the second volume, I Claudia II. In part, this is simply because I, Claudia was the companion catalog that went with the exhibition on Women in Ancient Rome. As a catalog, it is resplendent with photos of the exhibition pieces and detailed descriptions of those pieces. Personally, I would have liked I Claudia II to be equally inundated with photos. Nonetheless, it is generously illustrated. More important, those illustrations used were selected to enrich the essays which they illustrate, rather than to simply give the reader a feel for the exhibition.

The essays, in both books, help bring the ancient world to life and give you a unique view of the Roman world from the female viewpoint. In short, they help to fill in some of the missing pieces from traditional books on Roman history. They also offer an unprecedented glimpse into Roman social history.

Related Reviews:

Women and Beauty in Pompeii,by Antonio d'Ambrosio.
This richly illustrated book offers a brief overview of the Pompeian, and by extension, Roman concept of beauty - and the methods by which this beauty was achieved.

Women of Byzantium, by Carolyn L. Connor.
Connor offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives and history of Byzantine women from all walks of life, including empresses, monastic women, commoners, and artisans.

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