HOMOSEXUALITY IN ANCIENT ROME
Silver Favourites by Alma-TademaSexual contact among males occurred in the bath houses and elsewhere. Sex between women was regarded as taboo. With male-to-male sex the issue was not so much the sex itself but rather who was assertive and who was passive. Inspired by the tale of Phrygian goddess Cybelle, a cult of eunuchs was founded in Rome in 204 B.C.
Homosexuality in ancient Rome was a large part of society and of sexuality in general. Sex in the ancient world was considered a casual day-to-day practice with no emotional attachment, which is very different from the views of sex in modern day society. Despite its commonality, sex was something that was kept under wraps in ancient Rome and seldom spoken of. The ancient Romans also had a very different understanding of homosexuality than we do in modern society. There was no real concept of homosexuality or of heterosexuality. [Source: wikibooks +]
“Male with male relations were the most common and prevalent type of homosexuality in ancient Rome. Older men taking a young male lover was very common. For example the emperor Hadrian took a young lover named Antinous despite being married. Most scholars assume they were lovers because when Antinous died tragically Hadrian had a large of amount of deified statues made of him and placed all over the Empire. The emperor Nero also had a male lover who he eventually married. The dynamic between two male lovers was simple. First of all, one was usually of upper class and the other was either a slave or of lower class. The older and richer man was never the receiving party with regards to penetration. This was an unspoken rule among these couples and was in place because if a man was on the receiving end of a sexual relationship he was no longer considered masculine by society’s standards. If a man was the dominant one in a male on male sexual relationship it was just another way for him to assert his place of power in society. A place that was common for random male on male intercourse was the Roman bathhouse. It has been discovered that as a sign that a man was looking for sexual activity a man would scratch his head with one finger to signal that he was sexually available. +
The homosexuality of women was viewed in a completely different light then that of men in ancient Rome. First of all, the views of sexuality in ancient Rome were very focused among one figure in the relationship being masculine and deriving pleasure from the activity. This was because it was considered taboo and unheard of for women to have an active role in sexual activity in ancient Rome. As a result of this women who engaged in homosexual activity were usually portrayed as participating in masculine activities such as bodybuilding and drinking and eating excessive amounts. Overall the view of homosexual women was a negative one in the ancient world. It has even been recorded that some husbands would murder their wives for homosexual affairs. +
a vision of Emperor Hadrian and his loverHistorians have based a majority of what they know about Roman sexual practices on art and sculpture from the ancient world. One extremely popular example of this type of art is the Warren cup. Edward Perry Warren, for whom it is now named, first owned this cup and it currently resides in the British Museum. There are two main depictions on the Warren cup, both of male on male sexual activity. One side shows a young adult male and boy couple engaging in sexual acts. And the other side portrays a bearded man and a young adult male engaging in similar sexual acts. Historians interpret this cup to show the same lovers in two different times during their affair. This cup has been a valuable resource to historians and is the most valuable of its kind, despite that fact that its validity has been questioned.
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Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ;
“Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans;
The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ;
Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu;
De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org;
British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ;
Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art;
The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ;
Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com
Hadrian and Antinous
It is pretty well established that Hadrian was gay. He fell in love with a handsome boy from Asia Minor named of Antinous (Antinoüs, Antinoos), who became the emperor's companion. After of Antinous, drowned in the Nile im A.D. 130 at the age of 20, according to some theories to sacrifice himself to some mysterious cause, the grief-stricken Hadrian drowned his sorrows by placing statues of him all over the Roman Empire. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]
Cambridge classic professor Mary Beard wrote in New York Review of Books, “Antinous has a colorful history. He was the young Bithynian “favorite," and presumably lover, of the emperor Hadrian, who drowned in mysterious circumstances in the river Nile in AD 130. “Did he jump, was he pushed or did he merely fall? — are questions that have never been resolved. Marguerite Yourcenar's idea in her Memoirs of Hadrian that it was more than simple suicide, but a religious self-sacrifice, is one of many appealing, extravagant, and untestable theories. [Source: Mary Beard, New York Review of Books, March 3, 2010]
A statue of of Antinous depicted as the Egyptian god Orisis, with with a pleated loincloth and pharaoh-style striped cobra headdress, was found at Tivoli," Hadrian built a city called Antinoplis to mark the site where his lover died. Later he tried to of Antinous deified and raised a large colonnaded temple at Tivoli dedicated to him.
Persecution of Male Prostitutes in Ancient Rome
Claudine Dauphin of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris wrote: “Christianity's condemnation of any type of non-procreative sexual intercourse brought about the outlawing of homosexuality in the Western Empire in the third century and consequently of male prostitution. In 390, an edict of Emperor Theodosius I threatened with the death penalty the forcing or selling of males into prostitution (C.Th. 9.7.6). Behind this edict lay not a disgust of prostitution, but the fact that the body of a man would be used in homosexual intercourse in the same way as that of a woman. And that was unacceptable, for had St Augustine not stated that 'the body of a man is as superior to that of a woman, as the soul is to the body' (De Mend. 7.10)? [Source: “Prostitution in the Byzantine Holy Land” by Claudine Dauphin, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, Classics Ireland ,University College Dublin, Ireland, 1996 Volume 3 ~]
“In application of Theodosius' edict in Rome, the prostitutes were dragged out of the male brothels and burnt alive under the eyes of a cheering mob. Nevertheless, male prostitution remained legal in the pars orientalis of the empire. From the reign of Constantine I, an imperial tax was levied on homosexual prostitution, this constituting a legal safeguard for those who could therefore engage in it 'with impunity'. Evagrius emphasises in his Ecclesiastical History (3.39-41) that no emperor ever omitted to collect this tax. Its suppression at the beginning of the sixth century removed imperial protection from homosexual prostitution. In 533, Justinian placed all homosexual relations under the same category as adultery and subjected both to death (Inst. 4.18.4). ~
Male Friendship in Ancient Rome
Edward Carpenter wrote in “Ioläus,“In Roman literature, generally, as might be expected, with its more materialistic spirit, the romance of friendship is little dwelt upon; though the grosser side of the passion, in such writers as Catullus and Martial, is much in evidence. [Source:Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902]
Still we find in Virgil a notable instance. His 2nd Eclogue bears the marks of genuine feeling; and, according to some critics, he there under the guise of Shepherd Corydon's love for Alexis celebrates his own attachment to the youthful Alexander:
Corydon, keeper of cattle, once loved the fair lad Alexis;
But he, the delight of his master, permitted no hope to the shepherd.
Corydon, lovesick swain, went into the forest of beeches,
And there to the mountains and woods-the one relief of his passion
With useless effort outpoured the following art less complainings:
Alexis, barbarous youth, say, do not my mourn ful lays move thee ? \=\
“Showing me no compassion, thou'lt surely compel me to perish.
Even the cattle now seek after places both cool and shady;
Even the lizards green conceal themselves in the thorn-bush.Thestylis, taking sweet herbs, such as garlic and thyme, for the reapers
Faint with the scorching noon, doth mash them and bray in a mortar.
Alone in the heat of the day am I left with the screaming cicalas,
While patients in tracking thy path, I ever pur sue thee, Beloved."
The following little poem is taken from Martial:
As a vineyard breathes, whose boughs with grapes are bending,
Or garden where are hived Sicanian bees;
As upturned clods when summer rain's descending
Or orchards rich with blossom-laden trees;
So, cruel youth, thy kisses breathe -so sweet -
Would'st thou but grant me all their grace, complete ! " \=\
Catallus on Male Friendship in Ancient Rome
Catullus also (b. B.C. 87) has some verses of real feeling:
Quintius, if 'tis thy wish and will
That I should owe my eyes to thee,
Or anything that's dearer still,
If aught that's dearer there can be; \=\ [Source: translation Trans. by J. W. Baylis]
“Then rob me not of that I prize,
Of the dear form that is to me,
Oh I far far dearer than my eyes,
Or aught, if dearer aught there be."
Catullus, translated by Hon. F. Lamb, 1821. \=\
“If all complying, thou would'st grant
Thy lovely eyes to kiss, my fair,
Long as I pleased; ohl I would plant
Three hundred thousand kisses there. \=\
“Nor could I even then refrain,
Nor satiate leave that fount of blisses,
Tho' thicker than autumnal grain
Should be our growing crop of kisses." \=\
“Long at our leisure yesterday
Idling, Licinius, we wrote
Upon my tablets verses gay,
Or took our turns, as fancy smote,
At rhymes and dice and wine. \=\
“But when I left, Licinius mine,
Your grace and your facetious mood
Had fired me so, that neither food
Would stay my misery, nor sleep
My roving eyes in quiet keep.
But still consumed, without respite,
I tossed about my couch in vain
And longed for day-if speak I might,
Or be with you again. \=\
“But when my limbs with all the strain
Worn out, half dead lay on my bed,
Sweet friend to thee this verse I penned,
That so thou mayest condescend
To understand my pain. \=\
“So now, Licinius, beware!
And be not rash, but to my prayer
A gracious hearing tender;
 Lest on thy head pounce Nemesis:
A goddess sudden and swift she is-
Beware lest thou offend her." \=\
Martial Poems with LGBT Themes
On the three poems by Marcus Valerius Martialis (Martial), poet and translator Joseph S. Salemi wrote: They all deal with sex in some way or another. The first is about a lesbian named Bassa; the second is about a speaker's desire for a young boy (the eromenos of Graeco-Roman sexual practice); and the third is about some rather obscure but kinky sexual acts. In each case, the poem shows Martial exactly as he was: a Roman male who disliked homosexuality, but who had a proclivity for underage boys, and who appears to have favored a somewhat rough and exploitative sex. [Source: Joseph S. Salemi, “The Barefoot Muse, A Journal of Formal & Metrical Verse]
“Making love to an eromenos (a young make) was not considered abnormal at that time; indeed, if we are to believe Martial, it seems to have been a preferred sexual outlet for many adult Roman males. Epigram III.65 is a love lyric addressed to such a boy. The other two poems are satiric, making fun of lesbian sex and kinky heterosexual practices. There are other poems among Martial's Epigrams that make these three look like exemplars of Victorian reticence. Martial wrote many of his Epigrams during the reign of the tyrant emperor Domitian. It was a time of political repression, fear, and cowed speech. Nevertheless, he was allowed to ridicule whatever sexual practices or personality types he pleased. I trust that right now, in the United States, I have at least as much freedom of speech as Martial had under Domitian.”
Bassa, I never saw you hang with guys —
Nobody whispered that you had a beau.
Girls surrounded you at every turn;
They did your errands, with no attendant males.
And so, I guess I naturally assumed
That you were what you seemed: a chaste Lucretia.
But hell no. Why, you shameless little tramp,
You were an active humper all the time.
“You improvised, by rubbing cunts together,
And using that bionic clit of yours
To counterfeit the thrusting of a male.
Unbelievable. You've managed to create
A real conundrum, worthy of the Sphinx:
Adultery without a co-respondent.
Notes: 1) Lucretia: the legendary avatar of chastity among the Romans. She was a high-born matron who was raped by the evil king Tarquinius Superbus, and who committed suicide rather than bear the dishonor. 2) fututor: literally "fucker," but with the male suffix of agency. The oxymoronic fututrix would, if it existed, be the proper term for a woman, but that is Martial's comic point. 3) mentiturque virum prodigiosa Venus: literally "and your unnatural lust counterfeits a male." I have taken the liberty of translating somewhat freely here, using "bionic clit" and "the thrusting of a male" to capture Martial's meaning. 4) Thebano aenigmate: the Theban enigma was the riddle of the Sphinx, posed to Oedipus at the gates of that city. 5) ubi vir non est: literally "where there isn't a man." Adultery in ancient Rome could only be committed by a married woman and a lover of the opposite sex. Martial's joke here is that Bassa has turned herself into an ersatz man, thus making an action for divorce possible.
The breath of a young girl, biting an apple,
The scent that wafts from Corycian saffron,
The smell of the white vine, flowering with first clusters,
The odor of fresh grass, where sheep have grazed,
Fragrance of myrtle, spice-reaping Arab, rubbed amber,
A fire glowing pale with eastern incense,
The earth just lightly touched with summer rain,
A garland that has circled someone's hair
Wet with spikenard. Diadumenus, cruel child,
All these things breathe forth from your perfect kisses:
Can you not give them freely, unbegrudging?
“Notes: 1) Corycio...croco: Corycos in the province of Cilicia was noted for its production of saffron, a highly prized seasoning and aromatic. 2) messor Arabs: literally "the Arabian reaper." A great many spices came to Rome via traders in Arabia, and as a result Arabia was sometimes thought of as the actual source of many spices, rather than as a transit point. 2) saeve puer: literally "savage boy." Martial often writes of the lovely young eromenos who is sexually desirable, but whose boyish fickleness and petulance frustrate an adult male lover. See Epigrams VIII.46, XII.75.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, the BBC, and various books and other publications.
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