Roman women portrayed in divine guises : reality and construct in female imaging
Hansen, Inge Lyse
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The thesis concerns representations of Roman women of the imperial period depicted in the guise of a divinity. Portraits of women of all social levels have been included as have representations in any media excluding numismatic evidence. The latter, with its specific contextual characteristics, is only included and discussed as comparanda for the main body of material. The juxtaposition of a recognisable reality and a heightened reality in these representations raises a variety of interpretative questions: whether it is possible to establish a correlation between the mythological interpretation of a goddess and the socio-personal interpretation of an image of a mortal woman; the nature of the message being communicated through the choice of a particular deity; and whether the choice of deity for association in some way may be seen to conform to established ideals or topoi for women. The work examines Roman portraiture as a vehicle for self-expression and the transmission of ideals. Various aspects of the 'mechanics' for achieving this (idealisation, imitation, etc.) are investigated. Though, of particular importance to the argument is the relationship between image and spectator: the perception of portraits and the various factors contributing to forming an interpretation. Thus portraiture is established as a medium which within its contextual framework also includes the spectator - and the spectator's cultural reference points. The main body of the thesis centres on a dual examination of the range of deities with which Roman women were associated and the women presented in the divine guises, respectively proposing avenues of interpretations for the divine allusions and offering suggestions for methods of interpreting their use. The examination of the various deities in whose guises Roman women appear is also juxtaposed with the distinctions and attributes used to characterise women in literary and epigraphic sources. The correlation between these helps to elucidate the values represented in the images of women under discussion, and how they fit within a framework of ideals and virtues, and with the social personae of Roman women. Similarly, affinities between social status and mythological depiction are juxtaposed with a discussion of the role of the mythological representations themselves - exploring especially the relationship between mythological narrative and the tradition of exempla in Roman literature. It is further argued that interpretation is influenced also by viewer response - encouraged through empathetic identification and social emulation - and that the images of women in divine guises therefore may be perceived both as revealing intrinsic personal characteristics and as a costume symbolically articulating aspirational values. The inherent duality in these representations does in other words not so much concern degrees of reality as interacting realities: the individual"as a social participant, the public persona evidencing personal virtues. The images of Roman women presented therefore contain equally a reconfiguring response to the world and a socialising affirmation of identity.