Abstract

This article does not discuss the intertextual allusions to Ovidian epistolography in Pliny's letters, but puts forward the claim that women in both Ovid's and Pliny's letters are part of a female literary culture that implicitly clashes with the conventional gender patterns of what constitutes a female exemplum and a female anti-exemplum. This article presents Pliny's letters as both prescriptive and descriptive, and argues that the texts extol as well as advocate specific patterns of behavior, including that of the ideal wife. The examination of the Plinian text is enriched with a parallel reading of Ovid's letters in the Heroïdes, in which fictional women appear as “enabled” to rewrite their pseudo-biographies, even though these are composed and “edited” by a male poet. In reexamining Ovid's unconventional female mythological constructions vis-à-vis the Plinian perception of distinguished women of Roman history, the reader is eventually encouraged to reconsider some well-established views on Pliny's social, cultural, and political “conservatism.”

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