This drawing, attributed to the French artist Gilles Marie Oppenord (c. 1672-1742), was inspired by the ancient story of the death of the Roman noblewoman, Porcia Catonis. She was the daughter of the brilliant Roman statesman, Cato the Younger (95-46 BCE), who spent his life fighting against corruption and defending the status quo of the Roman Republic against prospective dictators, such as Julius Caesar. The Republic and its defenders, however, lost the war against Caesar, and this turn of events caused Cato to eventually take his own life in 46 BCE. Cato’s daughter, Porcia, was just as wrapped up in the war as her father. She was married to the influential figure, Brutus, who famously was involved in stabbing Julius Caesar to death on the Ides of March in 44 BCE. Brutus, however, was hunted down by Caesar’s successors in the next generation of the Roman Civil War by 42 BCE, and he, too, committed suicide as the forces of Octavian and Mark Antony closed in. Porcia, unfortunately, soon followed in the footsteps of her father and husband, as she also allegedly committed suicide not long after Brutus. The most popular accounts of her death either involve suicide by sealing herself in a room with noxious smoke, or by gruesomely swallowing live coals. It is the last of the accounts that Gilles Marie Oppenord apparently chose for the artwork, as Porcia can be seen holding a burning coal close to her head.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- War Commentaries by Gaius Julius Caesar and Aulus Hirtius, translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn, 2014.