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Fulvia: The Woman of Passion By Joshua Rose

Fulvia is a well-known ancient Roman woman. In the book Roman Woman, Catherine Virlouvet writes a relatively brief biography about Fulvia. Virlouvet does a great job depicting Fulvia’s life to the reader, but there are patterns and themes that can be depicted from her writing style that affect the biography’s delivery. It is important as a biographer to be aware how the delivery of the life they’re writing about is. Many different biographers have different writing styles. These different styles impact, sometimes significantly, they’re overall depiction of the life they are writing about. Diogenes Laertius (an ancient biographer) has a distinct writing style that would show Fulvia in a somewhat different manner.

Virlouvet’s biography on Fulvia was concise, but written effectively. Her writing style seems to be a well-organized chronological timeline of the important parts of Fulvia’s life. She has breaks in her biography where she focuses solely on Fulvia’s first marriage to Publius Clodius, next on her second marriage to Scribonius Curio, and lastly her third marriage to Mark Antony. Virlouvet inputs other important info about Fulvia’s life based on these three major parts of her life. This is a good way to organize her biography chronologically. After the marriages, she breaks up the rest of the biography into important events of her life, such as “The Proscription of 43 B.C.” and “The Perusian War”.

Virlouvet also focuses on what she knows from sources to explain her biography’s details. If there is a gap in Fulvia’s life that isn’t well known, she takes a very well educated guess based from these various sources to come up with a great general idea to fill the unknown void. For example, when the proscriptions of 43 B.C. were taking place, Fulvia was getting a reputation as a very cruel and stern woman. How Virlouvet seemed to be writing it, was that she wasn’t going to believe that Fulvia was a cruel woman until there was enough evidence to prove her wrong. On page 75 of Roman Women, Virlouvet says this, “The macabre desecration of Cicero’s head, if it really did take place, and her refusal to hear the pleas of the proscribed men’s wives show that she may indeed have been a bit cruel” (75 Virlouvet). Virlouvet continues to provide more reasons to explain that Fulvia was a cruel woman after this sentence until the section is ended. These reasons almost ‘justify’ her being a cruel woman based off of Virlouvet’s writing style.

Virlouvet’s writing style portrays Fulvia in an important way. Fulvia seems to be a very influential and powerful woman, but not in a good way. For a woman to be as important as Virlouvet describes back in the Roman times, stresses even further how large a figure Fulvia is viewed to be. But in the ending section of this biography called “A Jealous Virago” Virlouvet goes on to say, “Fulvia knew how to play her part alongside Clodius, Curio, and Antony, but by daring, out of loyalty to Antony, to make her own decisions, exercise her own power in his place, she trespassed beyond the limits, established by men, that kept women from participating in politics. The ancients never really forgave Fulvia for this and they have passed down to posterity a negative picture of her…” (80 Virlouvet). The idea that the reader gets from this is that Fulvia basically manipulates her husbands into feeding her own thirst for power. Throughout the work, Virlouvet questions whether Fulvia had a significant impact on her then husband’s political decisions, which it is safe to say that she most likely did. These actions that Fulvia does, based off of Virlouvet’s writing style, gives the reader the image of Fulvia as a powerful woman (from her own background) who tends to use her husband to satisfy her own needs of power through cruel ways.

Another key point of Virlouvet’s writing style is her sources. A few points in the biography she throws in the opinions of various ancient writers and their thoughts of Fulvia at the time. When Virlouvet was trying to describe Fulvia’s personality, she uses Plutarch’s words as a source to describe her. “Plutarch tells us that she was by no means a woman “of humble thoughts, content to spin wool and tidy the house”” (68 Virlouvet). It is another interesting point to make that Fulvia was not known to be an attractive woman; during the ancient times, it was more likely that a woman would ‘corrupt’ and ‘manipulate’ men because of their looks, not their personality. Overall, Virlouvet’s writing style depicts a very strong image of Fulvia to the reader.

One ancient biographer was named Diogenes Laertius. One feature about Diogenes’ work is that his biographies tend to be sporadic. They tend to deliver information about the person, but not in a chronological manner. His biographies almost seem to be a random collection of sentences that describe a person, rather than an overall organized assortment. If Diogenes finds an important point and expands on it, he tends to be organized when he is expanding on these points, but if he is simply trying to describe the person, his work can almost be confusing to the reader. For example, on page 329 of Diogenes’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers, he is describing the personality of the ancient philosopher Pythagoras. In which he states “He forbids us to pray for ourselves, because we do not know what will help us. Drinking he calls, in a word, a snare, and he discountenances all excess, saying that no one should go beyond due proportion either in drinking or eating.” (329 Laertius). With these sentences Diogenes gives, the reader interprets and finds a real feel for the personality of the philosopher. Diogenes loved to throw these one-liner sentences that would show how a person reacted to a question or event, and how that related to the reader’s understanding was phenomenal. In the next paragraph however, Diogenes goes onto how Pythagoras divides life into four separate quarters. This shows his lack of chronological order as most biographies have. But when he is describing a key point on page 347, he goes on for almost a page and a half of concise order describing what happens. Each sentence explains something for the next sentence, “The soul of man, he says, is divided into three parts, intelligence, reason, and passion. Intelligence and passion are possessed by other animals as well, but reason by man alone. The seat of the soul extends from the heart to the brain; the part of it which is in the heart is passion, while the parts located in the brain are for reason and intelligence.” (347 Laertius).

If Diogenes was to write a biography on the life of Fulvia, it would be an interesting biography. Diogenes’ writing styles portray a person that the reader has to take sentence by sentence and really grow a feeling for, in order to understand that person’s personality. This approach tends to keep the reader more interested and connected to the person they’re reading about, which in the case of a biography, a reader really wants to understand the person they are reading about. Despite Diogenes’ not-so-chronological ways, his style of these one-liner sentences really engages readers to think about the person, not just simply read about them. Diogenes would put together a biography about Fulvia that is comprised mostly of one-liners describing her personality. Based on reading the biography Virlouvet wrote, it is understood that three important men, most of ancient Rome, and many modern scholars today were either influenced by her or wrote about her influence based on her personality, not looks. Diogenes’ biographies tends to throw much more description and focus on the character’s personality, instead of where he/she was from, what he/she did, etc. He certainly would not leave out her important events, such as the proscriptions, her marriages, and the battles of ancient Rome at the time that dealt with her influence. But primarily, his biography of Fulvia would deal mostly with her personality and how it related to her influence over many important men. Also, Diogenes may even focus on the men who bought into Fulvia’s influence as well, by describing their personalities with the same detail.

Diogenes’ writing style is a unique one. His biographies make the reader more connected to the person that he is writing about based off of their personality descriptions. It is interesting though because he does not simply state their attributes, he comprises sentences where the character is faced with a question or an event, and Diogenes says how the character reacts. These sentences tend to stray away from the chronological order that a traditional biography has, but they engage the reader to interpret their reactions to determine the character’s personality. This writing style focused on the life of Fulvia would be truly an interesting biography to read, seeing how Fulvia’s personality is what made her well known in ancient times. If the meaning behind a biography is to understand the person you are reading about, a biography of Fulvia written by Diogenes would be very ideal.

References Laertius, D. (1965). Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Cambridge: Harvard Universtiy Press. Virlouvet, C. (2001). Roman Women. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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