Gender and Leadership in Plutarch's Life of Mark Antony
Rome in the Late Republic (c. 147-30 BCE) had several things in common with the heroic world of Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad: continual warfare, deadly rivalries, and chances for everlasting glory. There are two important differences, though, from the perspective of leadership. First of all, the Late Roman Republic actually happened, and we can uncover its realities with a careful analysis of the sources from the time period, especially the historiographers like Plutarch (c. 46-120 CE). In terms of historical analysis this period pairs nicely with the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, which featured two remarkable leaders, Pericles and Brasidas, respectively (see "Golden Years" and "The Song Remains the Same"). This period witnesses the conspiracy of Catiline (see "A Political Thriller") and the rise and fall of Julius Caesar (see "Born to Run") and sets the stage for the emperor Augustus (see "Money Talks" and "Spirits in the Material World"). Secondly, the course of the Late Roman Republic was also steered by powerful and intelligent women, none more so than Cleopatra the Seventh (63-30 BCE), the final Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt. Whereas the "prizes" of war in Homer's Iliad, Chryseis and Briseis, have no say in their fates (though Briseis does eventually speak), Cleopatra spoke many languages and played her role as "prize" to great advantage for herself and her people. This time period in general is thus a great place to study the role of gender in ancient leadership, a subject you may explore again in "Who Runs the World? Girls" and "I'm Every Woman".
As the current presidential election cycle has made crystal clear, how we evaluate the actions, achievements, and character of a leader is often dependent--consciously or not--on a leader's gender. In this module, we will examine how beliefs, expectations, and stereotypes about gender affect perceptions of leadership. Plutarch's Life of Antony allows us to examine some of those gender dynamics in the context of ancient political biography. We will consider the construction of both femininity and masculinity, in Antony, Fulvia, Octavia, and Cleopatra, and how gender presentation negatively and positively affects the leadership abilities and achievements of the subjects of the Life.
Our ultimate goal is to to formulate cogent, well-substantiated answers to the following two questions:
- Who in the Life of Antony is most successful at "playing the gender card"? (On the meaning of "playing the gender card" see Kelly Dittmar on the 2016 election.)
- If we consider Antony alongside Fulvia, Octavia, and Cleopatra, can we construct a list of positive or negative qualities of leadership that applies to any individual, regardless of gender?