BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Kirsty Wark
"The only literary work by a woman to survive from ancient Rome"
 real 28k

Saturday, 10 June, 2000, 00:29 GMT 01:29 UK
Poetic justice after 2,000 years
Ancient Roman women
The poetry sheds light on the role of women in ancient Rome
The only literary work by a woman to survive from ancient Rome is being published in Britain, 2,000 years after it was written.

Sulpicia's contemporaries were Ovid and Horace, but while their work has been feted in the centuries since they created it, Sulpicia has been largely marginalised.

Sulpicia wrote of the joy to sin

Maria Wyke
The six poems identified as having been written by Sulpicia confirm that she was an educated, sexually liberated patrician.

Now they are to be published in a book by blind poet John Heath-Stubbs.

It is thought likely to prompt a re-examination on ancient Rome's literary output.

Maria Wyke
Maria Wyke believes Sulpicia's voice was unique
Modern, in your face and erotic, her staunchly romantic verse is focused on thwarted love. Sulpicia had a relationship with a man not her husband, but her uncle halted that liaison.

Mr Heath-Stubbs has translated the collection - being published next week by Hearing Eye - and there remains the possibility that at least two other surviving poems were written by her.

It is also thought possible that far more women from that era wrote literary works but were either overlooked or, as in Sulpicia's case, had their works attributed wrongly to a male writer.

One of the poems addressed to her illicit lover reads: "Have you any feelings now for your poor girl while a fever wracks her and torments her body?"

Another reads: "I should not want to overcome this illness unless I thought you would wish it too".

Maria Wyke, of the University of Reading, told BBC Two's Newsnight programme that Sulpicia was not the only ancient Roman woman to have written poetry but she was unique in writing about her own experiences for herself, not for a man.

She said: "Sulpicia wrote of the joy to sin and her sin was twofold: to love a man who was not her husband, and to be writing about it at all."

Classical actress Fiona Shaw hailed the work's emergence and said it "would be thrilling if there were more of her poems".

Referring to the earthy nature of Sulpicia's poetry, she said: "We should not underestimate that people from another time were just as passionate and peculiar as we are".

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

13 Jun 98 | Europe
Ancient Rome uncovered
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories