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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Epicharis

Flourished circa C.E. 65, Rome

Epicharis was a key figure in the Pisonian conspiracy of C.E. 65, in which the Roman statesman Gaius Calpurnius Piso conceived a plan to assassinate Emperor Nero. Piso’s co-conspirators included senators, soldiers, even the poet Lucan, for Nero’s extravagance and cruelty had earned many enemies. As Piso and his comrades debated the optimum time to strike, Epicharis, a freed slave, became frustrated with their equivocating and took matters into her own hands. She attempted to recruit a Roman officer to kill Nero, but instead he revealed the plot to the emperor and Epicharis was arrested. Tortured multiple times in multiple ways, she refused to divulge the names of the other conspirators and strangled herself with her own restraints. The historian Tacitus (56–circa 120), who recounted Epicharis’ story in the Annals, marveled at her integrity: “All the nobler was the example set by a freedwoman at such a crisis in screening strangers and those whom she hardly knew, when freeborn men, Roman knights, and senators, yet unscathed by torture, betrayed, every one, his dearest kinsfolk.”

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). <em>The Dinner Party</em> (Heritage Floor; detail), 1974–79. Porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 48 x 48 x 48 ft. (14.6 x 14.6 x 14.6 m). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photograph by Jook Leung Photography
Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party (Heritage Floor; detail), 1974–79. Porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 48 x 48 x 48 ft. (14.6 x 14.6 x 14.6 m). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photograph by Jook Leung Photography

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