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A thousand causes concurred to produce this revolution of manners among
the Romans. The vast inequality of ranks, the enormous fortunes of
individuals, the ridicule, affixed by the imperial court to moral ideas,
all contributed to hasten the period of corruption.
There were still, however, some great and virtuous characters among the
Roman women. Portia, the daughter of Cato, and wife of Brutus, showed
herself worthy to be associated with the first of human kind, and
trusted with the fate of empires. After the battle of Phillippi, she
would neither survive liberty nor Brutus, but died with the bold
intrepidity of Cato.
The example of Portia was followed by that of Arria, who seeing her
husband hesitating and afraid to die, in order to encourage him, pierced
her own breast, and delivered to him the dagger with a smile.
Paulinia too, the wife of Seneca, caused her veins to be opened at the
same time with her husband's, but being forced to live, during the few
years which she survived him, "she bore in her countenance," says
Tacitus, "the honorable testimony of her love, a _paleness_, which
proved that part of her blood had sympathetically issued with the blood
of her spouse."
To take notice of all the celebrated women of the empire, would much
exceed the bounds of the present undertaking. But the empress Julia the
wife of Septimius Severus, possessed a species of merit so very
different from any of those already mentioned, as to claim particular
This lady was born in Syria, and a daughter of a priest of the sun. It
was predicted that she would rise to sovereign dignity; and her
character justified the prophecy.
Julia, while on the throne, loved, or pretended passionately to love,
letters. Either from taste, from a desire to instruct herself, from a
love of renown, or possibly from all these together, she spent her life
with philosophers. Her rank of empress would not, perhaps, have been
sufficient to subdue those bold spirits; but she joined to that the more
powerful influences of wit and beauty. These three kinds of empire
rendered less necessary to her that which consists only in art; and
which, attentive to their tastes and their weaknesses, govern great
minds by little means.
It is said she was a philosopher. Her philosophy, however, did not
extend so far as to give chastity to her manners. Her husband, who did
not love her, valued her understanding so much, that he consulted her
upon all occasions. She governed in the same manner under his son.
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