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Tarpeia the Vestal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 September 2019

Jaclyn Neel*
Temple University


Tarpeia's role as a Vestal has become a matter of scholarly consensus in the past two decades. This article questions that consensus by suggesting that Varro and Propertius are the two major proponents of this ‘Vestal version’, which is not present in other major narratives such as Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch. Propertius’ version in particular, which depicts Tarpeia as a Vestal in love, has been overprivileged in analyses of this myth as a dramatisation of individual identity versus loyalty to the state. Varro's account, which also includes Tarpeia's Vestal status, suggests a different interpretation: it is likely that Varro considered Tarpeia a non-Roman Vestal whose Vestal status supported the state. This version resolves certain dissonances in early Roman myth.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2019. Published by The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies 

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I would like to thank Isabel Köster, Melanie Racette-Campbell and Karen Hersch for reading drafts of this paper at various stages of completion. Earlier versions of this paper were delivered at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania; both audiences offered generous comments, for which I am grateful. I am also grateful to the anonymous JRS readers, whose suggestions have improved this paper immensely; any remaining faults are my own.



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