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Complex InferioritiesThe Poetics of the Weaker Voice in Latin Literature$
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Sebastian Matzner and Stephen Harrison

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198814061

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198814061.001.0001

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From Adultery to Incest

From Adultery to Incest

Messalina and Agrippina as Sexual Aggressors in Tacitus’ Annals

(p.205) 11 From Adultery to Incest
Complex Inferiorities

Vassiliki Panoussi

Oxford University Press

This chapter continues the investigation of rhetorical maneuvers clustering around social and amorous hierarchies in the fraught sphere of sexual agency by studying the trope of the sexually aggressive older female preying on a younger man in Tacitus’ Annals. On the basis of a detailed examination of the portrayal of Messalina and Agrippina, it argues that it is precisely the recognizable rhetoricity and artificiality in the deployment of this trope, here dramatized through rich intertextual echoes and connections (notably Vergil’s Aeneid and Euripides’ Bacchae), which narratively undercuts any unambiguous condemnation of female superiority over male inferiority, disrupts any simple re-assertion of traditional Roman gender hierarchies, and opens up the text to alternative interpretations beyond the reach of the narrator’s authority.

Keywords:   Messalina, Agrippina, Tacitus, Annals, gender, sexuality, Julio-Claudian dynasty, Latin historiography, intertextuality, Vergil

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