The Other Sulpicias, Plus More Poetess Sulpicia

The “gens Sulpicia” was a really big, old Roman clan. It had tons of offshoots that were powerful clans in themselves. One of the offshoot clans, the Camerinae, used the name “Cornutus” a lot as a praenomen for sons. So if Cerinthus was Cornutus, he might have been a very distant cousin of Sulpicia’s.

Anyway, one of the Sulpicia clanmembers was a woman named Sulpicia who married Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, who served as consul four times. He also beat Hanno, Hannibal’s brother, at Beneventum, but was later defeated by Hannibal at the First Battle of Capua.

His wife was supposedly famous for being a very pure sort of matron, to the point that she was asked to dedicate for worship a new statue called “Venus Verticordia.”

There are various theories about what the title may have originally meant. But what the Romans meant by it was Venus Turner-of-Hearts — and it meant turning a woman’s heart away from lewdness, and towards chastity and faithful marriage.

So… it’s very interesting for a girl named Sulpicia to have been invoking Venus about not-so-great behavior.

There was also a satirist named Sulpicia, who was the wife of Martial’s patron, Calenus. Martial wrote a poem about her, which might have been consolation about her death, or might have been a satire on divorce. Shrug.

Anyway, she apparently was famous for writing frank poems about her husband and how she physically loved him. There are two lines by her that survive, which sadly do not seem to include any of her “sweet joke” stuff that other poets mention.

“If I should raise myself up, reclining together naked with Calenus, with the bed-cords of Cadurcian linen put back…”

Also, she lived under Domitian, which wasn’t a super-fun time. But at least we know she existed.

There’s a satire about the expulsion of philosophers which was apparently an imitation of her work, but it’s from a fan in the fifth century or so.

Moving along….

Names like “Sulpicia” weren’t really given names. “Praenomen”, a given name, was gradually falling out of fashion in Augustus’ times, and many men and women either had no praenomen, or it was used only by one’s family.

“Sulpicia” was really her nomen, her clan’s name, in feminine form. But if you were the first daughter, or if you married and moved out of your clan into another clan, where you’d be the only potential Sulpicia, that was what most people called you.

Cognomen was the name of an offshoot clan.

An agnomen was a fourth name, usually a personal epithet/nickname or title of honor. Sometimes it was the name of an offshoot of an offshoot of a clan.

And yes, St. Sulpicius Severus was also a member of the main clan, the gens Sulpicia. He married a consul’s daughter, but his wife died before they had any kids. This led to him becoming a writer, historian, friend of St. Martin of Tours, and a priest.

So it seems that writing talent ran in the family.

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