Porcia was the daughter of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticencis (Cato the Younger), and is therefore often known as Porcia Catonis, though technically Roman women had only one name. She was married to Marcus Junius Brutus, who would become famous as Caesar’s assassin. When the conspiracy formed, she noticed there was something her husband wouldn’t tell her. To prove to him and herself that she could stand pain and torture, she gave herself a deep gash in the thigh with a knife that caused a great flow of blood, and, soon after, violent pains and a shivering fever. Plutarch relates her speech to her husband as follows:
“I, Brutus, being the daughter of Cato, was given to you in marriage, not like a concubine, to partake only in the common intercourse of bed and board, but to bear a part in all your good and all your evil fortunes; and for your part, as regards your care for me, I find no reason to complain; but from me, what evidence of my love, what satisfaction can you receive, if I may not share with you in bearing your hidden griefs, nor be admitted to any of your counsels that require secrecy and trust? I know very well that women seem to be of too weak a nature to be trusted with secrets; but certainly, Brutus, a virtuous birth and education, and the company of the good and honorable, are of some force to the forming our manners; and I can boast that I am the daughter of Cato and the wife of Brutus, in which two titles though before I put less confidence, yet now I have tried myself, and find that I can bid defiance to pain.”
It seems that this 1664 painting by Elisabetta Sirani is the only rendering of Porcia wounding her thigh as a standalone work of art, as opposed to an illustration of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans.
The painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s New York on January 24, 2008. The estimate was $300,000–500,000.