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c. 70 b.c.e.–Late 1st century b.c.e.

Mime actress

Mime and Mistress.

"Lycoris" was the pseudonym of Volumnia Cytheris, a freed slave, perhaps originally a Greek, who became a famous mime performer and prostitute. Lycoris was the mistress of some of Rome's most famous men in the Republican era: Cornelius Gallus, poet and colleague of Catullus and first prefect of Egypt; Brutus, a well-known conspirator in the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 b.c.e.; and Marcus Antonius, lover of Cleopatra and the unsuccessful opponent of Augustus in the war for control of Rome in 31 b.c.e. She is mentioned in the poetry of Ovid, Vergil, and the fragments of Gallus's works, and unflatteringly in Cicero's letters. It is commonly believed that Roman actors on the "legitimate" stage were all male, and that respectable women were forbidden to act on the stage, but women were permitted to perform in the less reputable genre of mime and pantomime. All performers of Roman theater and spectacle were legally infamis ("disreputable"), and Lycoris, a woman, former slave, and a foreigner as well, lived on the margins of society even though she had connections to powerful political figures. There is no mention of Lycoris after the early 40s b.c.e.


W. Beare, The Roman Stage (London: Methuen, 1964).

Augusto Fraschetti, ed., Roman Women. Trans. Linda Lappin (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

A. Wallace-Hadrill, Patronage in Roman Society (London and New York: Routledge, 1990).