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Head of Zeus
Messalina: A Story of Empire, Slander and Adultery by Honor Cargill-Martin

The story of Messalina – third wife of Emperor Claudius and one of the most notorious women to have inhabited the Roman world.

The lubricious image of the Empress Messalina as a ruthless, predatory and sexually insatiable schemer, derived from the work of male historians such as Tacitus and Suetonius, has taken deep root in the Western imagination. Here, the classicist Honor Cargill-Martin puts this traditional narrative of Messalina on trial. She looks first at Messalina's life as it is recounted in the sources, before using material and circumstantial evidence to reconstruct each aspect of Messalina's character: politician, wife, adulteress and prostitute. Finally, she explores how posterity has memorialised Messalina, whether as artist's muse, epitome of depraved pagan womanhood, or as libertine icon portrayed in literature and film.

Cargill-Martin sets out not to rewrite entirely Messalina's history, or to salvage her reputation, but to look at her life in the context of her time and to reclaim the humanity of a life story previously defined by currents of high politics and patriarchy.

Head of Zeus, an Apollo book * Ancient History
11 May 2023 * 352pp * £9.99 * 9781801102612
Honor Cargill-Martin
Honor Cargill-Martin
Honor Cargill-Martin is a twenty-two-year-old novelist and historian from London. She won an undergraduate scholarship at Oxford and graduated with a first class degree in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History in 2019. Remaining at Oxford as a postgrad, she was awarded a distinction in her masters in Greek and Roman history in 2020. It was here that she met Messalina, who became the subject of her final thesis. Honor is the co-author of a trilogy of YA novels and is currently working on a number of fiction projects for younger readers, while also studying for a second masters in Italian Renaissance Art History at the Courtauld Institute. Messalina is her first foray into non-fiction.