Adultery and Poisoning

From the ad Herennium, a sample piece of rhetoric that articulates gender differences with regard to motivating passions:

When our ancestors condemned a woman for one crime, they considered that by this single judgement she was convicted of many transgressions. How so? Judged unchaste, she was also deemed guilty of poisoning.Why? Because, having sold her body to the basest passion, she had to live in fear of many persons. Who are these? Her husband, her parents, and the others involved, as she sees, in the infamy of her dishonour. And what then? Those whom she fears so much she would inevitably wish to destroy. Why inevitably? Because no honourable motive can restrain a woman who is terrified by the enormity of her crime, emboldened by her lawlessness, and made heedless by the nature of her sex. Well now, what did they think of a woman found guilty of poisoning? That she was necessarily also unchaste? Why? because no motive could more easily have led her to this crime than base love and unbridled lust. Furthermore, if a woman’s soul had been corrupted, they did not consider her body chaste. Now then, did they observe this same principle with respect to men? Not at all. And why? Because men are driven to each separate crime by a different passion, whereas a woman is led into all crimes by one sole passion.

Quintilian associates the connection of poisoning and unchasity to the judgement of Cato (the elder?  perhaps more likely than the younger? – must check current opinion…):

If an adulteress is on her trial for poisoning, is she not already to be regarded as condemned by the judgment of Marcus Cato, who asserted that every adulteress was as good as a poisoner?

Also compare Quintilian’s many examples regarding the difference between proof and indications, and how one thinks about the quality of evidence.  A large number have to do with the sexual activity of women or the morality of ‘womanish’ men!

[Why is this sort of post here?  I sometimes teach Sex and Gender in Antiquity and thus I’m always interested in useful teaching examples.]

note to self:  Why is it so useful to talk about sex and policing of gender roles when teaching rhetoric?  Is there a paper in that somewhere?

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