In letter 7.24 Pliny provides his readers with a character sketch of the elderly matriarch of a distinguished and wealthy Italian family-Ummidia Quadratilla. Ummidia passed her later years as a fan of the theater; specifically, "she had pantomimes." Pliny disapproves of the shows presented by these performers, and he chastises Ummidia for her interest in pantomime. In fact he views her conduct as symptomatic of a vice among women in general: "I have heard that she herself used to relax her mind with checkers or watch her pantomimes, as women do in the idleness of their sex." We should not be surprised by these comments; there was a tradition of ambivalence among the Romans toward the professions of the theater, and when women became involved with these professions, the ambivalence could turn to contempt. Given the general disposition of Roman males toward pantomime and women, modern readers should not so readily accept Pliny's assessment. By training her slaves as pantomimes, Ummidia was greatly increasing their value. From numerous ancient sources we know that the monetary value of slaves trained in the theatrical professions was among the highest accorded any slave. Moreover, because of Ummidia's endowment of a theater in her native Casinum and the performance of Ummidia's pantomimes in public games, we might say that she was the manager of a small "theatrical empire." Finally, because of the great interest in pantomime on the part of the masses and the desire of the upper classes, including members of various imperial families, to soothe these masses with games, control of popular pantomimes might have given Ummidia access to limited political power.
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