By Josiah Osgood
OUP (2014) p/b 215pp £18.99 (ISBN 9780199832354)
Trying to gain real insight into the character of Roman women can be a challenge: filtered through the lens of their menfolk, Roman women can fade until they are mere shadows. In that light, the Laudatio Turiae—a lengthy, eulogising tombstone—both charms and intrigue: the woman who earned it from a grief-stricken husband strikes us as remarkable by any standard. O.’s fascinating book takes this Laudatio and sets about bringing this woman (whatever her name actually was) back to life: a woman, we read, who among much else avenged her parents’ murder (!) and offered her husband a divorce because was unable to bear children. O. begins with the painstaking gathering of the fragments. Frustratingly, since none of the fragments mention either the wife’s name or that of her husband, O. elects to refer to the couple without specific names. This usefully distracts the reader from the debate about who the couple were, and allows instead a real engagement with the eulogy.
O. then weaves the story of the couple through the threads of other contemporaneous lives: Caesar and Pompey, Cicero and Clodius, Tullia and Terentia. The reader is led to understand the husband’s eulogy through a series of well-devised exemplifications that not only clarify the eulogy but give an easily-digested overview of late Republic/early Principate Rome. O.’s methodical journey through the eulogy would make this book indispensable for anyone studying it; however, to suggest that this is only of interest to students would do it a great disservice. O. includes charming details that would capture the stoniest of hearts, such as the Roman tradition of a husband capturing his dying wife’s final breath with a kiss. The eulogy’s carved letters evoke a couple whose vitality makes them (ironically, of course) seem utterly alive. The husband freely admits that he has lost the power of self-control through the overwhelming nature of his grief; thus, the stereotypical image of the Roman Stoic is given a tweak, and we find that maybe, they are not so very different to us.
O. provides a wealth of information, culled from written sources as well as funerary monuments; in addition, there is a helpful chronology, a copy of the text with translation, detailed end-notes and a wide-ranging bibliography. Whoever the wife was, she is as well-served by O.’s commentary as she was by her devoted husband’s eulogy.
Cath Milnes—Sandbach High School