The First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars

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Caesar asks Antony to touch her as he passes her in the race that is a part of the celebrations. Caesar asks this because Calphurnia is childless, and superstition dictates that the touch of the athlete during this holy feast will make her fertile.

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The implication, then, is that she is at fault for not producing an heir. In fact, the implication is that Caesar is no longer potent enough to impregnate her. His request of the athletic womanizer, Antony, is an indication of Caesar's own effeminacy. Such is the root of Caesar's downfall. He has taken on too many feminine characteristics. His prowess is in the past and is only momentarily evident in Act II, Scene 2 when he refuses to listen to Calphurnia's worries about what will happen if he goes to the Capitol.

Portia is a much more interesting character on her own and yet she, too, is really only portrayed through her relationship with men. Her relationship with her husband is clearly one of intimacy and respect. She speaks openly with him about the unrest he has recently exhibited and forces him to speak to her and tell her what is going on.

Note, however, how she does this.

First Ladies of Rome: The Women Behind the Caesars

Brutus does not want her to know what is going on. She changes his mind by pressing him to define her in one of the two ways in which a woman can be defined in this society: She is either a good Roman woman worthy of his secrets, well-wived and well-fathered, or she is "Brutus' harlot.

Unfortunately for Portia, the knowledge that he imparts is her downfall. Such knowledge is too much for her and she commits suicide in the very garden in which she first heard Brutus' secrets. With this, Portia is gone from the play, and the reader never again sees a female character. What the audience does see, however, is a transference of Portia's feminine qualities to her husband by means of his relationship with Cassius. At the beginning of the play, the relationship between these two men was less than profound.

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They are connected by a common desire to overturn Caesar's tyranny but have entirely different motivations. In addition, Cassius' approach toward convincing Brutus to join him has been cynical to say the least. Now Freisenbruch has stepped in to provided for lively, balanced, and expert account of the imperial wives. Annelise Freisenbruch delivers considerable scholarship in a lovely, easy-going way.

But to do so with vividness longer available, evoking vibrant lives out of broken sculpture and distorting texts, is a triumph of scholarship.

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Clearing away the historical murk, Caesars' Wives is a convincing answer to an ancient mystery. Numerous references to cesarean section appear in ancient Hindu, Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, and other European folklore. Ancient Chinese etchings depict the procedure on apparently living women. The Mischnagoth and Talmud prohibited primogeniture when twins were born by cesarean section and waived the purification rituals for women delivered by surgery.

The extraction of Asclepius from the abdomen of his mother Coronis by his father Apollo. Yet, the early history of cesarean section remains shrouded in myth and is of dubious accuracy. Even the origin of "cesarean" has apparently been distorted over time.


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It is commonly believed to be derived from the surgical birth of Julius Caesar, however this seems unlikely since his mother Aurelia is reputed to have lived to hear of her son's invasion of Britain. At that time the procedure was performed only when the mother was dead or dying, as an attempt to save the child for a state wishing to increase its population. Roman law under Caesar decreed that all women who were so fated by childbirth must be cut open; hence, cesarean.

Other possible Latin origins include the verb "caedare," meaning to cut, and the term "caesones" that was applied to infants born by postmortem operations. Ultimately, though, we cannot be sure of where or when the term cesarean was derived. Until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the procedure was known as cesarean operation.

Caesars' Wives

This began to change following the publication in of Jacques Guillimeau's book on midwifery in which he introduced the term "section. One of the earliest printed illustrations of Cesarean section. Purportedly the birth of Julius Caesar. A live infant being surgically removed from a dead woman.

Caesars' Wives: The Women Who Shaped the History of Rome

From Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars , woodcut. During its evolution cesarean section has meant different things to different people at different times. The indications for it have changed dramatically from ancient to modern times.



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