Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of Femininity
by Lauren Caldwell, published by Cambridge University Press, (2019), 9781108730259
This is an academic yet accessible book about the lives of girls in Ancient Roman society. Rather than using it as a class text, I have used this book to deepen my own understanding of what life was like for Roman girls and women before teaching the topic.
The book focuses on the experiences of girls during puberty and the transition from childhood to womanhood. Caldwell explores the paradox of marriage for Roman women: 'It has been persuasively demonstrated that older Roman women of the upper social strata were often educated, socially prominent and relatively legally independent. At the same time, the social regime that […] ushered girls into marriage at a young age was quite restrictive.'
The various experiences of girlhood described in the book can be contrasted with each other and with the ideal presented in the story of Cloelia. You could focus a lesson on a rite of passage that Roman girls commonly experienced, such as those relating to marriage. Epitaphs to deceased girls could serve as a discussion starter about Roman ideas of girls and women – the class could discuss the content of the epitaphs, then compare and constrast them with the views of Musonius Rufus (pages 19–20, from his On Why Daughters Should Receive the Same Education as Sons) and Pliny the Younger’s epistle on Minicia Marcella (page 24).