Assistant Professor of Classics Anne Feltovich recently discussed “Mothers and Daughters: Protectors in Roman Comedy” at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States in Silver Spring, Md.
Feltovich said that while most scholars treat citizen mothers and prostitute mothers separately, she argues that both are presented as protectors in Roman comedy. Citizen mothers protect their daughters by ensuring marriage to a citizen male, but prostitute mothers protect their daughters by ensuring that they have a steady stream of income, which requires taking on multiple customers.
In this way, the desire to protect one’s daughter leads to opposite outcomes: citizen mothers urge their daughters to be faithful to one man, and prostitute mothers urge their daughters to be faithless.
Regardless of social class, Feltovich said, playwrights frame mother-daughter pairs as doubly vulnerable: a son gives a woman stability, but a daughter keeps her vulnerable. A presentation of a mother-daughter pair is a commentary on what it means to be female in the patriarchal society of the Roman Republic.
The presentation was part of a larger manuscript project titled Women’s Social Bonds in Greek and Roman Comedy. In the manuscript, Feltovich examines mother-daughter relationships, sisters, female friends, and cross-class relationships such as citizen women’s interactions with free prostitutes, and enslaved women with their female owners.