The Rape of Lucretia and the Founding of Republics

Readings in Livy, Machiavelli, and Rousseau

By (author) Melissa Matthes

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 January 2001

Length of book:

192 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271020556

The bonds among republican citizens are created, in part, through the stories told and retold as the foundational myths of the republic. In this book, Melissa Matthes takes advantage of the way in which republican theorists in different eras—Livy, Machiavelli, and Rousseau—retell the story of the rape of Lucretia to support their own conceptions of republicanism.

The recurring presentation of this story as theater by these different theorists reveals not only the performative elements of republicanism but, as Matthes argues, adds to Hannah Arendt’s emphasis on the oral dimensions of speech and hearing the important idea of public space as a visual field.

Lucretia’s story also helps illuminate the gendering of republicanism, particularly the aspects of violence and subordination that lie at its very origin. By focusing attention on this underlying and deeply gendered quality of republics, Matthes brings republican theory into fruitful dialogue with feminism.

“This book investigates the various and often surprising use by political thinkers of the story about the rape of Lucretia and its role in the founding of the Roman republic. This turns out to be a rich theme in the history of republican political thought, one that Matthes explores with enthusiasm and insight. The book should be of interest not only to students of the history of political thought but also to students of the representation of women in political and dramatic literature.”

—Bernard Yack, University of Wisconsin