By Anthony A. Barrett
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Extra resources for Agrippina: Sister of Caligula, Wife of Claudius, Mother of Nero (Roman Imperial Biographies)
This enlightened attitude did, to some degree, have an ulterior motive. 8 In the Dialogus attributed to Tacitus, Vipstanus Messala fondly recalls worthy women of the old republic. 9 First in the list of those Tacitus admired (it includes also the mothers of Caesar and of Augustus) comes Cornelia, daughter of Scipio Africanus, who bore twelve children, including the two famous Gracchi brothers. She was widely acclaimed as the prototype of the sophisticated mother, dedicated to her sons’ education and constantly in the company of Greeks and scholars.
14 It might be going too far to say that Augustus laid down a legal principle of hereditary succession, but when the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended in AD 68 the short-lived emperor Galba could claim that Rome had in a sense become the ‘inherited property of a single family’. 15 In fact it was mainly the awareness of her descent from Augustus that would fuel the political ambitions of Agrippina. The prospect of her becoming, by virtue of this descent, ruler in her own right was never a serious one.
The reality that such tales belong to the realm of legend rather than history does not affect their potency. 16 By the second century BC the record of historical events becomes more secure and the element of fantasy recedes. A theme that prevails from now on is that of the corroding effect of female emancipation. Throughout the republic men seem to have had an irrational fear of the danger that the growing independence of women posed. The most celebrated statesman to give voice to such views was the austere Cato the Elder, who was obsessed by the notion of moral decay.