The Public Voice of Women
varium et mutabile semper femina – Virgil Aeneid V.569-570
Or, as rendered by David West, “Women are unstable creatures, always changing.”
A sort of wry smile would be shared around the room at university when we read sentences like this. A smug look that seemed to say, ‘ah, the ancients and their ways – of course we have come so far since then’. There was a sort of tacit agreement not to go too deeply into discussion about such assertions. You can’t call Virgil anti-feminist if feminism didn’t exist then right?
Well, what you can do is look at how some ancient views are embedded still in today’s society. Mary Beard has. In the first chapter of her manifesto, Women and Power, she highlights how some attitudes from the very earliest western literature still affect how we perceive women’s speech, particularly in public, today.