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“Women’s speech and social status in Plautine comedies”
Allison Das (University of Washington)

In Plautine comedies women’ use of speech in conflicts with citizen males differs according to their social class. Wives of citizen males (matrona) are freer with their words: they verbally abuse their husbands and sometimes threaten physical abuse –a common recourse that citizen males resort to when they are angry with each other, their courtesan (meretrix), or wife. Prostitutes, conversely, employ blandus (coaxing) speech to convince their former or present lovers to give them gifts or to soften the durus pater’s (the obstinate father) opposition against her love affair with his son. The clever, female slave (serva callida), similarly to the meretrix, also makes use of blandus speech to manipulate her master to do her own or her mistress’ bidding. I believe that the distinctive approaches of the citizen wife and meretrix/serva callida in conflicts with citizen males reflect the social realities of each woman. In this paper I propose to explore the social realities of the matrona, meretrix, and serva callida as portrayed in speech. I intend to show that the meretrix/serva callida depends on her words for survival while the matrona is entitled to some verbal liberty because of her financial contribution to the familia, her dowry.

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