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Sulpicia, a Latin Sappho?

Thu. Feb. 17 04:00 PM - Thu. Feb. 17 05:30 PM

Dr. Alison Keith, Director of the Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto

This talk aims to shed light on the historical and literary contexts of Sulpicia, “Servius’ daughter,” known to us only from a cycle of poems, celebrating her amatory trysts and tribulations with a man named Cerinthus, included in the third book of Tibullus’ works ([Tib.] 3.8–18). Unlike other famous aristocratic women from classical antiquity, the poet/lover Sulpicia is not mentioned anywhere else in ancient literature or material documents, and so our knowledge of her historical existence and literary activity derives solely from the poems in which she speaks and is named. This constitutes a distinct challenge for constructing her biography, and one not shared either by the famous Greek poet Sappho or by such notorious historical women as Cleopatra or Livia, both of whom were the targets of copious, often critical, commentary in the male-authored literature of classical antiquity but who have left no first-person accounts of their lives and loves. If other scholars of women in antiquity have asked how it is possible to write biographies of women whose life-histories are known to us only in refraction, filtered through ancient preconceptions of gender and sexuality (and in Sappho’s case, through tattered fragments of first-person verse), this talk explores the possibility of direct contact with a historical Roman woman.

Alison Keith received her BA from the University of Alberta and her MA and PhD from the University of Michigan. She is the Director of the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto, where she teaches in the Department of Classics and holds cross-appointments at the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Women and Gender Studies Institute. She has written extensively about the intersection of gender and genre in Latin literature and Roman society, and has authored or edited books on Ovid and his reception, Vergil and Latin epic, Propertius and Roman literary cultures, Roman dress, women and war in antiquity, and motherhood in antiquity. A past editor of Phoenix and past President of both the Classical Association of Canada and the Ontario Classical Association, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Current projects include a biography of Sulpicia, the earliest female Latin poet whose work survives, and a monograph on Latin literature and Roman Epicureanism.

Please email Dr. Melanie Racette-Campbell (m.racette-campbell@uwinnipeg.ca) for Zoom information.

Download the event poster [PDF version of image below]

Promotional poster for Alison Keith talk, full text on web page; poster downloadable as PDF