The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Katrina Moore
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
The Portico of Octavia, built under the patronage of Octavia Minor, the sister of Octavian-Augustus.
When did you first come across this structure?
All the way back in my undergraduate career at the University of Houston! I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the Portico of the Danaids in Octavian-Augustus’ house/complex and in my research for that, I ran across Octavia’s portico – clearly, I didn’t forget it and I wrote about Octavia Minor for my MA thesis at Clemson University.
Can you tell me a bit about the portico and its context?
The Portico of Octavia was built in the 20s BCE and there has been academic debate about if she was indeed the patron – clearly I believe she was, following Margaret Woodhull.
Octavia re-furbished/re-built the older Portico of Metellus (built in 146 BCE with spoils of his Macedonian campaign), keeping the original temples to Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina and adding a curia and two libraries, one in Latin and one in Greek. Octavia’s portico was the first by a woman in the very-extra-male space of the Campus Martius. It was steps from the Theatre of Marcellus (named for her son and dedicated by Augustus in 13/12 BCE), and next to the Temple of Hercules Musarum (restored in 29 BCE by her step-father Lucius Marcius Philippus).
When Octavia built her portico, she filled/re-arranged/re-filled it with all sorts of art – many of which are listed by Pliny the Elder in his Natural Histories. But the statue of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi was the most historically connected to Octavia; they were both excellent mothers of excellent sons. The base of this statue still survives at the Palazzo Senatorio in the Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Unfortunately, like many buildings in Rome, the portico was damaged and partially destroyed in multiple fires, in 80 and 191 CE. The latter fire damaged the portico to such an extent that it needed to be repaired by emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla in 203 CE and these are the archaeological remains that survive today.
What is it about this building that appeals to you most?
I love Octavia’s portico because it is a physical reminder that even “good” girls could affect the landscape of Rome. Though most academics have found Octavia to be boring because all our literary sources stress her goodness – she actually breaks all sorts of rules!
She builds a portico in an very-masculine location (the first woman to do so!), she is the first woman to appear as herself (not a goddess) on Roman coinage, and she never remarries after her divorce from Marcus Antonius.
Here’s my absolute favourite coin of Octavia – she is facing Antonius and Octavian (in jugate!) reminding everyone of her crucial role negotiating between her brother Octavian and husband Antonius as the treaty of Tarentum in 37 BCE.
There is something appealing about Octavia herself, who was able to use her “goodness” to put herself into public spaces in Rome previously restricted to women. I love that some of her portico remains to remind us of her subtle rule-breaking.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Because I’ve found it difficult to carve out enough time, or mental space, to read these days (the pandemic and an almost-two-year-old can do that), I’ve been playing games on the Switch.
I recently found the super-fun Immortals: Fenyx Rising – which might be cheating this question, because its all about Greek mythology! But, to be fair, I consider myself to be a Romanist, so this is outside of my normal specialty in Classics! There is something quite cheerful about smashing a Hekatonchires in the face with an axe named for Atalanta!
Katrina Moore is a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Though born a Texan, she has become a Tex-pat, first in Clemson, S.C. where she received her MA, and then to the Big Apple where she currently shares a “cozy” apartment with her supportive spouse, her sweet-monster toddler, and pibble-mix Bathsheba in East Harlem. Her general academic interests include gender and identity in the late Roman Republic, patronage and power in the Roman Republic, and Roman art history. She recently published (2019) a chapter titled, “Octavia Minor and Patronage” in the Routledge Companion to Women and Monarchy in the ancient Mediterranean.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.