In Roman mythology, Pudicitia ("modesty" or “sexual virtue”) was the personification of modesty and chastity. Her Greek equivalent was Aidôs.
Romans, both men and women, were expected to uphold the virtue of pudicitia, a complex ideal that was explored by many ancient writers, including Livy, Valerius Maximus, Cicero and Tacitus. Livy describes the legendary figure of Lucretia as the epitome of pudicitia. She is loyal to her husband and is modest, despite her incredible beauty. The story of Lucretia shows that the more virtuous a woman was, the more appealing she was to potential adulterers.
Pudicitia was not only a mental attribute but also physical; a person’s appearance was seen as an indicator of their morality. The way a man or woman presented him or herself in public, and the persons they interacted with caused others to pass judgment on their pudicitia. For example, if a woman was seen associating with men other than her husband people would make a negative judgment on her pudicitia. The Roman ideal was that a woman be univira, or a “once-married woman.” Modest self-presentation indicated pudicitia. The opposite of pudicitia was impudicitia or “sexual vice.” Stuprum was the loss of one’s pudicitia, even if it was unwilling.
Romans associated the loss of pudicitia with chaos and loss of control, so they wanted their religious and political officials to uphold pudicitia. In Cicero’s oration against Verres, he discusses many of the governor’s transgressions including sexual misconduct with both men and women. This is one of the many reasons Cicero argues Verres is a bad governor. In the Imperial age, Augustus attempted to enact a program of moral reform to encourage pudicitia in Roman citizens.
According to Livy, there were two temples of Pudicitia in Rome. The original one was for women of the patrician class only, but when Verginia was excluded on account of marrying a plebeian consul, she, together with a group of plebeian matrons, founded an altar of Pudicitia for women of the plebeian class as well. Livy states that the plebeian shrine of Pudicitia eventually fell into disuse after its sacred character had been abused.
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