Oppian Lae

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Oppian Law (173)

(For Livy as a source, see previous documents)

Livy uses this debate to illustrate ethical issues raised by Augustus’s new laws. Livy was writing 200 years after the debate, at a time when luxuria (extravagance) had become even more of an issue and when Augustus was trying to recall old family values. Livy uses Cato and Valerius to present both sides of the contemporary arguments. To us they may not appear very different. They are shades of grey, rather than black and white. Livy’s speeches are either recreations (worked up from the actual speeches but based on what Livy thought these types of men should have said) or dramatic inventions, based on the same assumptions.

The women want the sumptuary law, which applies only to females, withdrawn. In order to make their point, the women had been blockading the entrance to the forum, lobbying the men they met and ignoring their husbands’ instructions.

Cato, whose view is ultimately rejected, is made to argue from the basis of what he sees as traditional values (mos maiorum), seeing the past as a sort of Golden Age when men’s superiority was unquestioned. He advocates total submission of women to men because this is how, in his view, things have always been. He fears women’s lack of judgement and self-control and concentrates mainly on the bad qualities of the women. The women of Rome go to their husbands to complain about the Oppian law, which Cato sees as meddling in public affairs that women shouldn’t be interested or involved in. Speaking to the magistrates about the law as they passed is also seen as audacious. They go out in public without a guardian, which shows a lack of obedience and subservience to their husbands, and they “converse


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