Stories of stoic women
“It is not men alone who possess eagerness and a natural inclination towards virtue, but women also. Women are pleased no less than men by noble and just deeds, and reject the opposite of such actions. Since that is so, why is it appropriate for men to seek out and examine how they might live well, that is, to practice philosophy, but not women?“ - Musonius Rufus
I want to start off by saying it's unfortunate that women of the Roman past were not given the representation that men were given. Many of their stories were not kept as well as man’s story. Heck, it was common for daughters to be given the same name but with a number following. For example, Atilia the first, Atilia the second, Atilia the third. However, it was in the men’s words where a woman’s story can be found. Today we will discuss the story of Porcia Catonis and Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor.
Porcia Catonis was the wife of Marcus Brutus. Yes, the same Brutus that killed Caesar. Cato was the father of Porcia and she was written as a woman who lived a courageous life. One who was not afraid of the power of her words in any person’s presence. She was a great lover of philosophy, often caught reading philosophical writings of Plato and important to this story, she was an intense lover to Brutus. It was during the time at which Brutus was plotting Caesar’s assassination that Porcia noticed his anxiousness intensifying.
She wasn’t aware of the plot and to get him to speak, she stabbed her thigh and reasoned: “I Porcia, was given to you in marriage, not a concubine, not just to bear children, but to hold close in your griefs”.
She reasoned that her role was to make him a better man. To go into more depth, this is not to say that she wanted to mold him or help him be a man. She called out to him with her own pain caused by his pain and said instead “to be a worthy man”, so Porcia may instead bear grief with a partner instead of suffering unknowingly. Brutus marveled at this revelation and hid no secrets from her, vowing to be a husband worthy of her presence, grit, and loyalty.
In his words, “she has a mind as valiant and as active for the good of her country as the best of us.”
This brings us to the virtues of stoicism. It was during that time that Caesar was becoming a tyrant, whether the assassination was just or not, to her Stoic mindset, she and Brutus reasoned that Justice must be laid as a foundation for the democracy of the people and therefore, must be removed for the future.
Annia Minor was the daughter of the great Marcus Aurelius. When Commodus succeeded her father as emperor and, sometime between 190 and 192, he ordered the deaths of Annia’s husband, her son, her brother-in-law and her sister-in-law’s family. Annia’s survived the political executions of Commodus, but when she was in her fifties the tyrannical emperor Caracalla had her executed, by forced suicide, as part of a purge. The Historian Cassius Dio recorded the manner of her death, showing Annia committed to honoring her father’s memory and following his moral example:
“Poor, unhappy soul of mine, imprisoned in a vile body, fare forth, be freed, show them that you are the daughter of Marcus Aurelius!” She committed suicide in a manner where she greeted death as a near friend, rather than fearing the unknown.
What every Stoic woman has taught us is that they all were composed in their life and led with their husbands, not behind. While the society of that time was one that belittled women, that was not always so in private. It was clear that women demanded that respect and equally demanded that love. Annia and Porcia both at times steered their husbands when they were drifting away from virtue. Their husbands are ecstatic to write of their courage, wisdom, moderation and justice.