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Doing Justice to the Classics

Lucretia invoked to illustrate the desirability of being raped

“Feminists are Hysterical About Rape Because No Man Wants to Rape Them” is a recent headline on the misogynist site Return of Kings, whose appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity Pharos and others have documented. The article mocks the #metoo movement, accuses women of “manufacturing stories about sexual assault and rape,” and celebrates the “days of Vikings, global conquests, and crusades, where raping and pillaging were common” because women raped in that period “fulfilled their biological imperative…to pass on the strongest genes possible to her offspring.” The article features Hans van Aachen’s painting of The Rape of Lucretia (pictured below) in order to support the claim that being raped is desirable and to perpetuate the myth that only attractive women are raped.

According to the version of the story recorded by the Roman historian Livy, Lucretia was the most beautiful and virtuous noblewoman in Rome. When the king’s son saw her he was overcome with lust and raped her, after threatening to murder her and frame her for adultery with a slave if she resisted. The author of the post, by including this image, appropriates Lucretia for his argument that being raped is somehow desirable: Lucretia is an example of a “top tier woman” who “gets exposure to the top-tier-men” (if the murderous rapist son of a tyrant can be described in this way). The article contrasts this kind of woman with “undesirable” women who adopt feminism out of frustration that “today’s sexual marketplace is discriminate [sic] against the laziness and repulsiveness of fat women and feminists.” The author’s recommendation to these women is to “leave feminism behind to embrace the lives that will lead them to the men they want, and therefore, the lives they want.” It is hard, however, to make Lucretia fit the post’s perverse model of what women should want: Lucretia committed suicide after revealing the rape to her husband and urging him to avenge her. A desire to suppress this suicide may be why she is presented in the article only as an image without any commentary on her story.

More generally this ending to Lucretia’s story undermines some of the core tenets of the worldview of Return of Kings, which routinely features complaints about any departure from what they see as traditional values (as Pharos has shown, their use of Greco-Roman antiquity reveals that what they actually long for are values that keep men like them in power). The rape and suicide of Lucretia, in Roman myth, led to a political revolution in Rome that deposed all the men who had been in power previously. This is not to say that the myth of Lucretia is a feminist myth. Because Livy emphasizes that the rapist was “inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia” the story lends itself to victim blaming. Furthermore the men who avenged her by overthrowing the monarchy were protecting their own status more than they were supporting women. Nevertheless, the myth of Lucretia is not a story that those who wish to maintain their own positions of power should cite in support of their regressive worldview.

Return of Kings includes advertisements, so we have linked above to a screenshot of their site to avoid generating revenue for them. You may visit the site itself here.

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