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Journal Article

The Tyrant as Artist: Legal Fiction and Sexual Violence under Tiberius

Barbara Natalie Nagel
Law and Literature
Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 286-310
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Cardozo School of Law
DOI: 10.1525/lal.2013.25.2.286
Stable URL:
Page Count: 25
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The Tyrant as Artist
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Imagine that it is illegal to execute a virgin, so one must therefore violate a virgin prior to her execution—it is this legal crux from the reign of the second Roman emperor Tiberius that is the main object of this investigation. Tacitus’, Suetonius’, and Dio’s portrayals of Tiberius present the latter as the emperor of dissimulation, duplicity, hypocrisy, and pretense and at the same time as the self-proclaimed “justest emperor.” This article attempts a rhetorical analysis of Tiberius’ ironical dialogue with the law. It focuses on how Tiberius employs the genre of legal fiction to justify particularly gruesome punishments: Tiberius treats virginity as a legal fiction in order to literalize and thereby fix the concept of virginity. In effect, virginity is considered by the law not as a stable concept but rather as something transitory, which can be altered or molded.

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