Skip to main content

Woman in the Mirror: The Rhetoric of Adornment in the Roman World

  • Chapter
Women in Ancient Societies


The modern study of the female body in the ancient world is largely a study of reflections. In the metaphors of modern criticism, we do not gaze directly upon women of flesh and blood, instead we see women only indirectly in the mirror of discourses composed almost exclusively by men.1 Thus two recent collections of essays on women in antiquity have stressed our confrontation with male constructions of the female by employing the terms ‘reflections’ or ‘images’ in their titles.2 In this chapter I wish to survey some literary and visual texts of the Roman world which themselves articulate the female form as an image constructed in a mirror. For the Roman texts which describe the practice of female adornment, whether in a philosophical, medical, historical, comic or satiric context, hold up a mirror to the ancient world in which we see a woman who, before her own mirror, displays a body that has been ‘made-up’.

I am very grateful to the co-editors of this volume, and to Duncan Kennedy, John Henderson and Jonathan Walters, for their comments on and criticisms of this chapter. I would also like to thank Roy Gibson for drawing my attention to some of the source material, and Maria Pia Malvezzi of the British School at Rome for her help in tracing the photographs reproduced here. I am grateful to the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge, for assistance towards the costs of the photographic reproductions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

USD 16.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Copyright information

© 1994 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Wyke, M. (1994). Woman in the Mirror: The Rhetoric of Adornment in the Roman World. In: Archer, L.J., Fischler, S., Wyke, M. (eds) Women in Ancient Societies. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics