Vestalis

vestal virgins

Quae nunc Vestalis sit virginitatis honestas
discutiam, qua lege regat decus omne pudoris.
(…)
Inde ad consessum caveae pudor almus et expers
sanguinis it pietas hominum visura cruentos
congressus mortesque et vulnera vendita pastu
spectatura sacris oculis. sedet illa verendis
vittarum insignis phaleris fruiturque lanistis.
o tenerum mitemque animum! consurgit ad ictus
et, quotiens victor ferrum iugulo inserit, illa
delicias ait esse suas, pectusque iacentis
virgo modesta iubet converso pollice rumpi,
ne lateat pars ulla animae vitalibus imis,
altius impresso dum palpitat ense secutor.
(Prudentius, Contra orationem Symmachi 2.1062-3, 1096-1101)

Now I shall examine the high repute of the Vestals’ virginity, and the justice of its claim to be the standard for all the honour paid to purity. (…) Then on to the gathering in the amphitheatre passes this figure of life-giving purity and bloodless piety, to see bloody battles and deaths of human beings and look on with holy eyes at wounds men suffer for the price of their keep. There she sits conspicuous with the awe-inspiring trappings of her head-bands and enjoys what the trainers have produced. What a soft, gentle heart! She rises at the blows, and every time a victor stabs his victim’s throat she calls him her pet; the modest virgin with a turn of her thumb bids him pierce the breast of his fallen foe so that no remnant of life shall stay lurking deep in his vitals while under a deeper thrust of the sword the fighter lies in the agony of death. (tr. Henry John Thomson)

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