Saturday, October 2, 2021

Matrona vs. Mater Familias? Aulus Gellius DiscussesTerminology of Women, Noct. Att.

 This passage provides insight into the objectification and treatment of women in ancient Rome.

[4] Ex eo libro verba haec suit: “' Matrona ' est quae semel peperit, quae saepius, ' mater familias'; sicuti sus quae semel peperit, 'porcetra,' quae saepius, 'scrofa.'” [5] Utrum autem hoc de matrona ac de matrefamilias Melissus excogitaverit ipse et coniectaverit, an scripture ab alio quo legerit, hariolis profecto est opus. [6] Nam de “porcetra” habet sane auctorem Pomponium in Atellania, quae hoc eodem vocabulo inscripta est; [7] sed “matronam” non esse appellatam nisi quae semel peperit, neque “matrem familias” nisi quae saepius, nullis veterum scriptorum auctoritatibus confirmari potest. [8] Enimvero illud impendio probabilius est quod idonei vocum antiquarum enarratores tradiderunt, “matronam” dictam esse proprie quae in matrimonium cum viro convenisset, quoad in eo matrimonio maneret, etiamsi liberi nondum nati forent, dictamque ita esse a matris nomine, non adepto iam, sed cum spe et omine mox adipiscendi, unde ipsum quoque “matrimonium” [9] dicitur, “matrem” autem “familias” appellatam esse eam solam quae in mariti manu mancipioque aut in eius in cuius maritus manu mancipioque esset, quoniam non in matrimonium tantum, sed in familiam quoque mariti et in sui heredis locum venisset.

--Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae

(4) In his book, [Aulus Melissus] states, “A matron [matrona] is a woman who gave birth once, but a matriarch [mater familias] is a woman who gave birth to many children, just like a pig who has given birth once is called a porcetra, and a pig that has given birth multiple times is called a scrofa. (5) But heaven knows whether it is the author’s opinion on this terminology, or if he made it up himself. (6) Pomponius has attested the specific usage of porcetra in his Atellania, (7) but I can’t confirm in ancient testimonia what he says about matrons and matriarchs. (8) It’s more likely to be true what better scholars state on this topic, that a woman is called a matron who enters a marriage with a man, and continues to be a matron as long as she remains married to him, even before the arrival of children. She obtains the name of a mother [a matris nomine] before she becomes one, in the hope that soon she will be one. This is where we get the term “marriage / matrimony” [matrimonium]; but a woman is only called a matriarch when she is under the authority of her husband [maritus] or in the power of his family, because then she is not only married to him, but also now a member of his family and one of the beneficiaries of his will.



Name:  Aulus Gellius

Date:  2nd. c. CE

Works:  Attic Nights



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Aulus Gellius lived during the 2nd century CE. His work, the Attic Nights, are a collection of anecdotes about literature, history, and grammar.  From internal evidence, we can deduce that he was in the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ social circle, having close friendships with Herodes Atticus and Fronto.



Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE

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