Historian Peter Thonemann reviews books on childhood in the Roman republic and empire in the TLS.
A lot is about trying to uncover the Romans’ balance between sentimentality and utility, particularly in the upper classes:
House-reared slaves, as Beryl Rawson shows in Children, Memory, and Family Identity in Roman Culture, could play a variety of roles in the Roman elite family, from surrogate son to erotic plaything. What is difficult for us to deal with is the notion that, as in the case of Statius’s beloved boy, they might have played both roles simultaneously.
And the inevitable problem:
Needless to say, both of the books under review see Roman children through the eyes of their parents and owners. How could it be otherwise? Aside from the odd cheeky remark about enjoying Cicero, the voices of ancient children are lost for good. A rare exception comes from the temple of Sarapis at Memphis in Egypt, where, in the mid-second century BC, an eccentric recluse called Ptolemaios faithfully recorded the dreams of two little Egyptian twin girls, Thaues and Taous: “The dream that the girl Thaues saw on the 17th of the month Pachon. I seemed in my dream to be walking down the street, counting nine houses. I wanted to turn back. I said, ‘All this is at most nine.’ They say, ‘Well, you are free to go.’ I said, ‘It is too late for me’.” It is salutary to be reminded quite how little we really know or understand about the experience of childhood in antiquity.