Theses Doctoral

Soror Augusti: The Literary Lives and Afterlives of Octavia Minor

Van Geel, Lien

In this dissertation, I trace the different lives and afterlives of Octavia Minor, Augustus’ sister. I offer a comprehensive study of the ancient literary representations of Octavia; through the course of four chapters and an epilogue, I demonstrate how she occupies a defining space in the public imagination of the early principate. The purpose of this dissertation is to make the literary lives and afterlives of Octavia more visible and to examine how such representations may relate not only to Octavia’s time but also to the times of the sources, from antiquity to the Renaissance.

In Chapter 1, I start by pointing out how late Republican customs of marriage and female alliances influence Octavia’s life and its representations and monitor the influence that Octavian had on his sister, and vice versa. Here as throughout the dissertation, I examine how different authors represent Octavia, her widowhood, and her betrothal at the Treaty of Brundisium. In Chapter 2, I trace Octavia’s travels through Greece and the Hellenistic influences in representations of her. This chapter concludes with how she is presented in treatments of the Treaty of Tarentum, where she grows into her role either as mediator or political pawn, according to which sources are followed.

Chapter 3 begins with the honours of 35 that both Octavia and Livia receive. Thereafter, I argue for Plutarch’s Octavia as the subject of a mini-parallel life as Cleopatra’s foil. After her divorce with Antony, the literary Octavia seems to negotiate the boundaries between the public and private sphere habitually: we will trace this phenomenon in depictions of Augustus’ victorious return, Octavia’s mourning of Marcellus, and, ultimately, in her own state funeral.

In Chapter 4, I examine the different ways in which Octavia’s continuing influence is felt and expressed through the different areas in her life, such as lineage, education, and culture, in what I call “the Octavia Factor.” The epilogue recognizes the historical Octavia as a point of intertextual reference in the pseudo-Senecan Octavia and explores the possibilities of future work on renaissance reception of Octavia. It is in this way that I shed new light on the development of “the Octavia narrative” in the literary sources.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Volk, Katharina
Williams, Gareth David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2022