This 1703 edition of ancient letters edited by John Savage presents a “severe” yet artful letter by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It opens by describing several Roman ladies’ theatrical farce upon the Emperor, their question to him about what scholars say of the origin of women, and the Emperor’s satiric reply.
Whilst I continue at Rhodes, improving myself in the Art of Oratory, you, I understand, have made and play’d a Farce upon me at Rome, on the Feast of the great Goddess Berecinthia. What you intended by this sort of Proceeding I have also learn’t, which was to expose my Life and trample upon my Fame.
The Author of this piece of Scandal I have likewise heard to be, Avlinia for the Composition, Lucia Fulvia for the Transcribing, and you Toringula for the Singing Part.
It seems you represented me after different Manners.
- You gave me a Book turn’d upside down, to signifie I was an absurd Philosopher:
- You made me go with my Tongue lolling out, to shew I was a bold Speaker:
- You planted Horns upon my Forehead, to make me pass for a common Cuckold:
- You put a trayling Pike into my Hand, to denote me a Cowardly Leader:
- You represented me with no Beard, as an effeminate Person:
- And lastly bound an Handkerchief about my Eyes, to make me look as if I had been a condemn’d Criminal.
Moreover not contented with all this, you at another time equipp’d me after a new Manner. You made me a Statue with Feet of Straw, Legs of Wood, Thighs of Brass, Belly of Horn, Arms of Pitch, Hands of Paste, Head of Plaister, Asses Ears, Serpents Eys, Cats Teeth, a Scorpions Tongue, Hair of Vine-Roots, and a Forehead of Lead, whereon were engraven the following Capitals, M.N.T.N.I.S.U.S. which signifiy’d, as I take it, That this Statue of mine, was compos’d of no more different Materials, than I was of variety of Falsehoods.
[The ladies’ question]
Now after all these affronts put upon me, I cannot but wonder how you cou’d have the Assurance to send Fulvius Fabritius, to ask me a Question in your Names?
Yet to shew you, your harmless Satyr does not in the least affect me, I will gratifie your Request, tho’ you have so little derv’d it of me. Your Question is,
Whether I have found in all the course of my Reading, of what, by whom, where, when, what and how the first Woman was made?