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

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Women in Ancient Societies

Abstract

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.

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© 1994 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

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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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-23336-6_8

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