Sexual Violence in History: A Bibliography

compiled by Stefan Blaschke


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First published: May 1, 2023 Last updated: May 1, 2023


Speaker: Anna Everett Beck

Title: Rape and the Word paelex: Agency and Opprobrium


Conference: Ancient Rape Cultures: Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian. International Conference (Organizer: Elina Pyy) - Online Program

Session: Session 1: Defining Sexual Violence in Graeco-Roman Antiquity (Chair: Ria Berg)

Place: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, Rome, Italy

Date: October 27, 2022

Language: English

Keywords: Ancient History: Roman History | Types: Rape; Representations: Literary Texts / Ovid





Abstract: »The Latin word paelex is used to refer to someone who has sex with a married man but is not married to him. It can be used in a technical and non-judgmental sense to refer to concubines or a man's informal partners; however, it is more usually used in a condemnatory sense, to emphasize the inferior status of a paelex to a wife. This is especially true in Ovid's poetry and Seneca's dramas, in which Juno and other high-status wives use the word to degrade their husbands' other partners. The word is strongly associated with jealousy and destructive force. It is particularly weaponized against rape victims: the wives (and other characters) apply the word paelex to rape victims to imply that the rape victims were willing participants and not coerced unwillingly. Just as Ovid's works are notable for the frequency of rape narratives therein, likewise the word paelex occurs far more frequently in the works of Ovid than elsewhere in Latin: Ovid's works contain 44 instances of the word, more than twice as many instances as are found in any other single author's works. The application of paelex to a rape victim engages with the ideas of consent and agency; while a paelex is often construed as a violent force that can destroy a stable relationship, more often in Ovid's works the paelex is subject to violence from her partner's wife, and has no meaningful power herself. The application of the label paelex to a rape victim implies her consent in her rape and suggests that she deserves the consequences.« (Source:

Wikipedia: Ancient history: Ancient Rome | Litearature: Latin literature / Ovid | Sex and the law: Rape / History of rape / Sexuality in ancient Rome