According to her name, Claudia Quinta was the fifth daughter of a male member of the gens Claudia (see line 33 below), a proud and illustrious but haughty and arrogant family, one of the most powerful and oldest in Rome. Her father, Publius Claudius Pulcher (consul in 249 BCE), was one of the four sons of Appius Claudius Caecus, who featured in Cicero's speech attacking his descendent, Clodia Metelli. She entered the historical record in 204 BCE, when, at a crucial point in the Second Punic War, Rome sought the aid of the gods in driving Hannibal out of Italy. Prompted by a consultation of the Sibylline books, the Romans sent a delegation to King Attalus I of Pergamum to negotiate the transfer of a black aniconic image of the Mother of the Gods, Cybele, from Asia Minor to Rome. After receiving further encouragement from Apollo during a stop at Delphi, the delegation reached its destination and achieved its objective, bringing the cult statue from Pessinus, the site of Cybele’s temple, or from Pergamum to Ostia, the port of Rome. Following the instructions of the Sibylline books, P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica, cousin of the famous P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus, was elected the vir optimus by the Senate in Rome and given the honor of receiving the goddess upon her arrival, together with the city’s matrons. The statue was accompanied by a wild and ecstatic troupe of Cybele's eunuch priests, the Galli. When, in the passage below, the goddess' ship ran aground on a sandbar in Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber River, Claudia Quinta, whether to demonstrate or vindicate her chastity, stepped forward, took hold of the ship's guide rope and easily freed it (see lines 33-47). The ship followed Claudia up the river to Rome, where Cybele's statue was temporarily installed on the Palatine Hill in the Temple of Victory until the goddess’s own temple was dedicated in 191 BCE. A lectisternium and games were held in honor of the Magna Mater in 204 BCE, but the ludi Megalenses appear to have been officially instituted later in 191 BCE, during Scipio Nasica's consulship. In the passage below from the opening of the final book of the Punica, Silius Italicus' epic poem in dactylic hexameter about the Second Punic War, the poet recounts the arrival of the cult statue of the goddess at Ostia and the miraculous deed of Claudia Quinta (see outline of the passage). Other major versions of this event include Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica fr. 34.33; Livy, Ab urbe condita 29.10-14; Appian, Hannibalica 56; Dio Cassius, Historia Romana fr. 56.64; Ovid, Fasti 4.179-372.
iamque petita aderat Latia portante Cybele
isque ubi longinquo venientia numina ponto
ferte gradus nec vos casto miscete labori,
At this point, in response to the priest of Cybele's call for "[ali]qua [femina] pudica mente valet," Claudia Quinta boldly steps forward from the throng of matronae to lay claim to such virtue.
“caelicolum genetrix, numen, quod numina nobis
si nostrum nullo violatum est crimine corpus,
tum secura capit funem, fremitusque leonum
nulla pulsa manu, sonuerunt tympana divae.
45contraque adversas ducentem praevenit undas.
finem armis tandem finemque venire periclis.
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