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v2.1 Reference

Brides, Mourners, Bacchae

Women's Rituals in Roman Literature

Powerful female characters pervade both Greek and Latin literature, even if their presence is largely dictated by the narratives of men. Feminist approaches to the study of women in Greek literature have helped illustrate the importance of their religious and ritual roles in public life—Latin literature, however, has not been subject to similar scrutiny.

In Brides, Mourners, Bacchae, Vassiliki Panoussi takes up the challenge, exploring women's place in weddings, funerals, Bacchic rites, and women-only rituals. Panoussi probes the multifaceted ways women were able to exercise influence, even power, in ancient Rome from the days of the late Republic to Flavian times. Systematically investigating both poetry and prose, Panoussi covers a wide variety of genres, from lyric poetry (Catullus), epic (Ovid, Lucan, Valerius, Statius), elegy (Propertius, Ovid), and tragedy (Seneca) to historiography (Livy) and the novel (Petronius).

The first large-scale analysis of this body of evidence from a feminist perspective, the book makes a compelling case that female ritual was an important lens through which Roman authors explored the problems of women's agency, subjectivity, civic identity, and self-expression. By focusing on the fruitful intersection of gender and religion, the book elucidates not only the importance of female religious experience in Rome but also the complexity of ideological processes affecting Roman ideas about gender, sexuality, family, and society. Brides, Mourners, Bacchae will be of value to scholars of classics and ancient religions, as well as anyone interested in the study of gender in antiquity or the connection between religion and ideology.

About the Author

Vassiliki Panoussi is a professor of classical studies at William & Mary. She is the author of Vergil's "Aeneid" and Greek Tragedy: Ritual, Empire, and Intertext.


"A stimulating, well-researched, and insightful book that offers extensive investigation of an area of Roman literature that has not received sufficient attention. Panoussi offers nuanced readings of a wide variety of texts. There is no piece of scholarship currently available that provides such a comprehensive examination of women's ritual in Roman literature."

- Aaron M. Seider, College of the Holy Cross, author of Memory in Vergil's Aeneid: Creating the Past

"Brides, Mourners, and Bacchae is a marvelous achievement. Through brilliant readings of poetry and prose, Panoussi reveals how Roman writers deployed women's ritual actions to question social hierarchies. Her book demands attention from scholars of literature and ritual across eras."

- Dorota Dutsch, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of Feminine Discourses in Roman Comedy: On Echoes and Voices

"Panoussi offers a very appealing analysis of how religious rituals traditionally associated with women in antiquity—marriage, mourning, and Bacchic ecstasy—are represented in Latin literature. Scholars and students alike will appreciate the range of texts and authors she discusses, combining familiar with less familiar and offering at times surprising juxtapositions."

- Barbara Weiden Boyd, Bowdoin College, author of Ovid's Literary Loves: Influence and Innovation in the Amores

"Brides, Mourners, Bacchae offers new, insightful readings of a broad range of late Republican and early imperial texts through the lens of women's religious rituals. Panoussi sheds exciting light on the importance of female experience in ancient Rome and invites our fresh evaluation of the Roman literary canon."

- Carole E. Newlands, University of Colorado at Boulder, coeditor of A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid

"This wide-ranging and stimulating book looks at women's agency and empowerment through ritual and its representations in Roman literature, from Livy and Petronius to Catullus and Statius. It is an important intervention in the study of Latin literature and Roman religion, which goes beyond describing patriarchal norms to explore possibilities for resistance and change."

- Helen Lovatt, University of Nottingham, coeditor of Classical Reception and Children's Literature: Greece, Rome and Childhood Transformation

"Panoussi opens up a fruitful dialogue between the findings of scholars of Roman religion and specialists in Latin literature. Her research documents the central role played by ancient Roman women in civic and familial rites from marriage to death, Bacchic frenzy to sober matronal rituals. This exciting volume emphasizes women's crucial agency in the domestic and social contexts of Roman religion addressed in Latin literature. "

- Alison Keith, University of Toronto, coeditor of Women and War in Antiquity
Johns Hopkins University Press
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