Pudicitia - As Virtue

As Virtue

Romans, both men and women, were expected to uphold the virtue of pudicitia, a complex ideal that was explored by many ancient writers, including Livy, Valerius Maximus, Cicero and Tacitus. Livy describes the legendary figure of Lucretia as the epitome of pudicitia. She is loyal to her husband and is modest, despite her incredible beauty. The story of Lucretia shows that the more virtuous a woman was, the more appealing she was to potential adulterers.

Pudicitia was not only a mental attribute but also physical; a person’s appearance was seen as an indicator of their morality. The way a man or woman presented him or herself in public, and the persons they interacted with caused others to pass judgment on their pudicitia. For example, if a woman was seen associating with men other than her husband people would make a negative judgment on her pudicitia. Romans idealized the woman who was univira, a "one-man" woman, married once, even though by the time of Cicero and Julius Caesar, divorce was common, the subject of gossip rather than social stigma. Modest self-presentation indicated pudicitia. The opposite of pudicitia was impudicitia, "shamelessness" or “sexual vice.” An assault on pudicitia was stuprum, sexual misconduct or "sex crime."

Romans associated the loss of pudicitia with chaos and loss of control. In Cicero’s oration against Verres, he discusses many of the governor’s transgressions including sexual misconduct with both men and women. In the Imperial age, Augustus enacted a program of moral legislation to encourage pudicitia.

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