The historical novel, The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis gives a classical perception of gender and sexuality in ancient Rome. The novel tells the story of Caenis a freed slave girl who had a love affair with Emperor Vespasian. Caenis was a scribe and served as one of the freed-woman secretaries of Antonia who happens to hail from a noble descent. It was the course of her duties that they accidentally met with Vespasian who later became an emperor. They both got attracted to each other and eventually begun a love affair which was for sure unaccepted by the Roman society and law.
Through her brilliance and diligence, she earned Antonia's 'trust which enabled her to receive a share of her fortune and freedom after her death. Being free she used the fortune to build a life of her own and to support Vespasian to rise up the ranks in his political career. The story portrays great drama on how Emperor Vespasian rose to power remarkably with the support of freed-woman Caenis. It also highlights the way the Roman law clearly defined the relations and associations among people of different social classes and financial statuses. The ancient Roman society did not approve of the case of someone on a senatorial position marrying a slave. Reputation had a great impact on the way people related.
Delightfully, we can deduce that Caenis sacrificed her love for their common good. The success of the Vespasian's reign was also her success. It took the effort of two to achieve a success without separating on the social status of an intelligent person. Therefore, success is not determined by gender and sexuality. Financial status is not a determinant since later on the empowered freed woman became of great help financially to a man of high society. She fuelled the success of Vespasian even though she did not come from upper societal class.
Financial statuses and social status were closely linked. Those who belonged to the upper-class status in society also had greater financial stability. This is depicted where after the death of Antonia, Caenis is left with her fortune which she then uses it to shape her life and advance the political career of his lover the emperor Vespasian. Women, in this case, are identified to be supportive and able to identify those who deserve appreciation.
Moreover, both were clearly aware of the fact that Roman law did not permit a man of a senatorial class to marry a slave woman. Therefore, at some point, sacrificially Caenis and Vespasian had to end the affair. Vespasian then found himself a woman of his class to marry so that he would proceed with his career as an emperor. On the other hand, after the death of Antonia due to her brilliant, diligent and pleasant character, Caenis is freed and is left with her fortune. Despite being freed woman still, she would not get married to Vespasian since that would prevent him from proceeding with his "course of honor".
Vespasian brought some improvement in the Roman Empire but it was not an easy reign since there were rivals such as the Nero and Caligula. He found himself opposed even by Nero's wife. Despite that, he triumphed in his political path and managed to rule until his death. He was then succeeded by his son Titus. He had a great support from his mistress, Caenis. This presents us the support of a strong-willed woman who helped a man to pursue his course of honor.
In the novel, Nero's wife is brought out as a threat to Vespasian's reign 'but finally, Nero's reign fell and gave way to the four emperors' reign. Vespasian and Caenis were both strong and enduring lovers despite the fact that we are left in a suspense trying to understand what became of their love finally.
According to the novel, it's evident that in ancient Roman society, people would only marry according to their societal classes and financial status. This was particularly fuelled by the need to uphold a good reputation among those of high social class. The story tells that Caenis was a scribe and as one of the freed-woman secretaries of Antonia who happen s to hail from a noble descent. It was in the course of her duties that they accidentally met with Vespasian who later became an emperor. They both got attracted to each other and eventually begun a love affair which was for sure unaccepted by the society and law.
In ancient Roman history, the social status defined the course of political succession and interaction among the high and the low class. The law itself made it clear for the people especially those who were in senatorial class. Those from a high societal class married those of their class. As for Caenis and Vespasian they had to sacrifice the love they had for each other in order to uphold the course of honor. Challenging as it was they managed it. In relation to gender and sexuality matters, both genders suffered from the restriction of law. Women had to bear much. It took Caenis' strong character to sacrifice their love and still support his lover along his course of honor, despite the fact that it seemed to take him away from her reach.
Vespasian's advance in political power came at a dangerous time, especially with the existence of the notorious emperor in reigns like Caligula and Nero. This posed a greater challenge even with his relationship with a freed- slave woman. The restrictions of the law had a greater impact. Even after the death of his wife, he took her former mistress but as he moved up his career they sometimes separated for long periods. This rendered the relationship almost not existent. This was also a sacrifice for the course of honor. Vespasian manages to rule harmoniously until he hands over the throne to his son Titus. He managed to start Coliseum and rebuilt Rome as well.
Reputation is also interlinked with the financial and social status of a people. People of higher social cadre had financial stability and good reputation. As a result of this, those of the same class were free to interact and marry. People of a lower social class could never interact with those of high class since it would be seen as a disguise for those in power or wishing to climb the political ladder. This is the sole reason why even though freed Caenis still had to sacrifice her love for the emperor in order to sustain his career.
Through the story, old-fashioned traditions followed by the ancient people seem to deprive .women of the good things that life would provide. Most of the sacrifices taken by the main character in the novel seem to have been self-chosen but it's clear that she did that for the good of her loved one. Through her eyes, we get to understand the emotions that the customs and everyday life inflict in people. The antique collection of the furniture, tunics, cloaks and perfume jars and ancient pottery lamps highlights the deep embrace that people had on the culture.
Women in ancient society were able to bring out a good result in their work at the same time could try to bring out a downfall. Just like Nero's wife who tried to create some opposition to Vespasian. Nonetheless, the deeds of brilliant women as Caenis and Antonia superseded all evil. The success of the characters of a particular gender is not necessarily defined by the social status of a person. This is true because Caenis was not from a noble descent, neither did she know her roots. She was just a slave girl who was later freed basing on her pleasant character and charisma that attracted her employer Antonia, causing her to leave some fortune for her. The good character also endeared her to Vespasian. With good and ambitious ways she used the fortune wisely to shape her future and to support his lover in his political career.
He took charge of a larger empire after succession. Apart from the problems they had to endure during the sacrifices it is actually prudent to notice that success also was achieved. The unbreakable rule of the law of ancient Rome held them back from marrying but the magnificent charisma exhibited by the slave girl could not be contained by the Emperor. Being her mistress was all she could manage in order to survive the pressures of the ancient laws. Their love was something that could not be imagined.
In conclusion, the historical novel clearly brings out the way social class, financial status, and concern for good reputation in political power is interrelated. As well, the effect that the three issues have on gender and sexuality especially on women, Caenis a freed-woman and the emperor Vespasian could not marry due to their social differences in ancient Rome. Restricted by the Roman law from enjoying their companionship they decide to sacrifice their love for the pursuit of the course of honor. Unity of both genders yields a positive result.
Women in society can also help bring about change and success in different situations Antonio left her fortune to Caenis a freed-woman who served her diligently as a scribe and secretary. She used her fortune to support the emperor advance his political career and to thrive in treacherous times. Ancient Roman law was responsible for bringing a bigger rift between people of the high and low classes. This should not have been the case since anyone can be useful to the society no matter the social class. This statement was proven right by Caenis a freed -slave woman who used her fortune to assist Vespasian realize success in his political career as an emperor.
The restrictions of the law had a greater impact. Those from a high societal class married those of their class. As for Caenis and Vespasian they had to sacrifice the love they had for each other in order to uphold the course of honor. Women have also shown their will and ability to support others financially. This also was the sacrifice for the course of honor. Old-fashioned traditions followed by the ancient people seemed to deprive .women of the good things that life would provide Reputation was also upheld all along in order to protect the course of honor. Certainly, it can be concluded that the ancient Roman law had a strong grip on the way people lived and interacted.
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