• Laura Chambers

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis aims to demonstrate that there is an implicit conceptual distinction between how male and female exempla are constructed within a number of Roman literary texts dating from the first-century CE. Beginning with the idea that exempla have been interpreted by recent scholars as existing within a recognisable and mappable system that balances singularity and repeatability in predictable ways, this thesis will establish how female exempla are constructed as different to what should be understood as the male ‘normative’ model. This is founded upon the application of a methodological framework that emphasises the significance of a defined conceptual space, similar to the idea of the theoretical ‘declamatory arena’, within which female exemplary behaviour is considered. The thesis will show how this space is used to construct the female exemplum, and manipulates the social behaviours and expectations associated with her to a greater extent than is the case with men. This involves the frequent repetition of several rhetorical features, including the deployment of transgressive language that defines the female exemplum as ‘set apart’ from the rest of her sex, intensifying her sense of uniqueness, and focuses on her singularity only. There is also an associated shift along an imagined ‘spectrum of operation’ – ranging from the ‘ordinary’ or non-exemplary to the socially transgressive or extreme – within this conceptual space, often occurring more than once within the same episode. This marks out the status of the female exemplum as fluid, simultaneously destabilising her position as an exemplum within the text and complicating her relevance as repeatable. Finally, this thesis addresses the implicit assumption that all exempla have the potential to be imitated, which in turn ensures that the exemplary cycle continues to be reiterated over time. It contends that this is primarily relevant to men, as female exempla are constructed in such a way that intensifies their unique status within society (from other women as well as men), and complicates their usability as exempla. As a result, it should be recognised that there is a ‘gendered usability’ at play when it comes to applying the lessons from female exempla to the world outside of the text. In consequence, this thesis argues that the Roman discourse of exemplarity ought to be seen as a system that has clear differences based upon the gender of the exemplum in question.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaria-Ruth Morello (Supervisor) & Roberta Mazza (Supervisor)


  • Roman women
  • Roman exempla
  • Exemplum
  • Female exempla
  • Roman literature
  • Gender

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