Octavia and Cleopatra: Parallel Lives in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives
Graduate Scholars Lectureship by Lien Van Geel
Even today, the general public is hardly as familiar with Octavia Minor—emperor Augustus’ sister—as with, say, Cleopatra VII, that famous Ptolemaiac queen and Antony’s lover. Livia, Augustus’ influential spouse, has also consistently received closer scrutiny in the scholarship of the last century. Yet, in parallel with these notorious figures ran the life of Octavia Minor, Augustus’ elder and only full sister. Lien Van Geel’s lecture focuses on Octavia’s presence in Plutarch’s Life of Antony. She demonstrates how this literary depiction forms another parallel life with that of Cleopatra in the work as a whole. The Plutarchan Octavia is especially conspicuous when juxtaposed with the versions that Appian and Cassius Dio have handed down to us. One merely needs to look at the three authors’ depictions of the Treaty of Brundisium and the Treaty of Tarentum to see the different existing Octavias. Van Geel ties the focus of her talk to her current book project on Plutarchan female characters in the age of Caesar and how their literary presentations reside in the cultural imagination.
Lien Van Geel received her PhD in Classics at Columbia University in June 2022 after she defended her dissertation titled “Soror Augusti: Octavia Minor’s lives and afterlives,” in which she examined the different and changing roles, narratives, and representations of Octavia during the triumviral period and beyond. During the 2022–2023 academic year, she teaches and conducts postdoctoral research as an Early Career Fellow in Classics.