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The 10 Deadliest Femmes Fatales of Ancient Greece and Rome

In memory of the deliciously dangerous sex appeal of Lauren Bacall, here are some of ancient history’s most powerful leading ladies.

by
Spencer Klavan

Bio

August 18, 2014 - 8:00 am
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These days, everyone’s remembering the riveting beauty and power of Lauren Bacall, who created some of Hollywood’s most ruthlessly desirable women (remember Young Man with a Horn?) In my list last week, I commemorated Rome’s studliest heroes — a who’s who of men of valor from the ancient world. But now it’s ladies’ night: the women of Greek and Roman myth and history knew better than anyone how to seduce, deceive, and sometimes outright slaughter their way to unassailable wealth and power. To pay tribute to some of Bacall’s more insidious roles, here are 10 of classical history’s deadliest femmes fatales, listed — in descending order this time — along with the emasculated puddles of broken manhood they left behind. 

All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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Medea, as played by the great Zoe Caldwell, is so spectacularly evil you really need to put her closer to the top in sheer badness. When she discovers Jason is divorcing her, taking his kids, marrying Creon's daughter and thereby guaranteeing accession to the throne, Medea acts like any spurned wife: first she kills the bride, next her father king Creon and then, when Jason confronts her, tells him she has killed his sons as well. She "wrecks his house to the last beam", leaving him with nothing. That's revenge!
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wish I'd written this one! Great list!
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
The picture (from I,Claudius) you choose to illustrate Agrippina (the Younger) is of the actress Fiona Walker, who played Germanicus’ wife Agrippina (the Elder, if you will).

Claudius’ wife (IIRC) was played by Barbara Young, and in the show was called Agripinilla.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you want to expand your scope to the entire ancient world, the two that stand above everyone are: Tomyris, who defeated and killed one of the greatest generals who ever lived, Cyrus, and is still a heroine in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and Zainab, the Jewish woman who assassinated Muhammad.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Although not a lot is known about Artemisia of Cara, she doesn't really fit on the list - she wasn't a femme fatale per se, slaughtering her boy toys to get to the top. She had a son , but history has forgotten the father - Herodotus doesn't mention any men in her life except her dad. She was above all a feared warrior, probably the only female admiral of antiquity. After Salamis, she disappears from history.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Aye, Spencer, this is an uncomfortable covey of quail to have flying from your nether region on a lonely night. However, they serve to make committed bachelorhood seem more enticing than ever.

These character sketches will provide rich research material for the women in my novel about the triangular trade routes of the early 19th Century slave trade. I needed some despicable overly-ambitious femme fatale types and you have provided some derrière kicking examples.

Being the virtual slave of a beautiful woman is a ball busting experience; yet, some men stand in line to accept the shackles of volunteer slavery. Think of the temptation, when three enticing women want to enslave a young man. Fortunately, he has seen the horror of owning and trading black flesh during his first voyage and wants no part of owning or being a slave.

Great fun.


8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for bringing us these slices of Ancient Rome Spencer, I'm starting research for my fourth novel which is going to be set in the late Roman Empire. This has whetted my appetite.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
We should also note that Valeria Messalina was no slouch, either. Sort of a proto Agrippina, she was also married to Claudius and (depending on the historian) manipulated him, slept around on him (a lot!) and then tried to get her boyfriend to usurp the throne. Yeah, that didn't end well, either.

Hon mention to other minor league femme fatales of classical antiquity found in non-Hellenistic sources: Zuleika. Rahab. Yael. Jezebel. Salome. And now if you'll excuse me, I must go back to listening to "Dangerous Type" by The Cars....
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
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