Pudicitia, the Goddess of Modesty

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The Roman goddess Pudicitia, whose Greek counterpart was Aidos, represented the virtue which may be translated as “modesty” or “sexual virtue,” a central idea in ancient Roman sexual ethics.

The term derives from the more broad pudor, the sensation of shame that controlled a person’s conduct as appropriate for society. Most typically, impudicitia, or sexual shamelessness, was associated with women, although it was also claimed to be present in men who disregarded traditional masculine sexual standards.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

Romans were required to preserve the complicated ideal of pudicitia, which was discussed by a number of early authors, including Livy, Valerius Maximus, Cicero, Tacitus, and Tertullian. The mythical character of Lucretia is characterized by Livy as the pinnacle of pudicitia. Despite her great beauty, she is modest and devoted to her spouse. Some claim that the Lucretia narrative demonstrates the relationship between a woman’s virtue and her attractiveness to would-be adulterers.

A person’s looks was considered to be a sign of their moral character; pudicitia was not just a mental but also a physical quality. People made assumptions about a person’s pudicitia based on how they presented themselves in public and the people they interacted with.

Featured image: Pudicitia. Roman copy of Flavian age (1st cent. AD) from Hellenistic original

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