Bisexual tyrants and courtiers disregard cautious philosophers and physicians



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BISEXUAL TYRANTS AND COURTIERS DISREGARD CAUTIOUS PHILOSOPHERS AND PHYSICIANS


In spite of Augustus's campaign to restore the mos maiorum during the Principate, pederasty continued to be in fashion in avant garde Roman circles as well as in Hellenized areas. The moralistic Elder Seneca (54 B.C. 39 A.D.) complained that
the intellects of our lazy youth are

asleep, nor do they wake up for the

exercise of a single respectable

occupation; slumber and languor and,

what is more disgusting than slumber

and languor, the pursuit of wicked

things has invaded their spirits:

the obscene pursuit of singing and

dancing keeps them effeminate, and

curling the hair and shrilling the

voice into womanish cajoleries,

competing with women in the softness

of the body and cultivating them 

selves with the foulest elegances,

that is the pattern of our young

men. Who of your agemates is what

I might call intellectual enough,

diligent enough, rather, who is

enough of a man? Softened up and

emasculate as they were born they

remain all their lives, laying

siege to other people's chastity,

careless of their own.

(Controv., Intro. 8 9)


Augustan, like late Republican, imitations of Greek love poetry reflected and encouraged pederasty among the elite. But this imported superficial pederasty could not recapture the organic unity of the Spartan or even Athenian models.
Desiring to increase births to gain more taxpayers and soldiers, as well as to stabilize society and entrench his regime by appealing to puritanical conservatives, Augustus in 19 and 18 followed Cicero's advice to Caesar of a generation before, "less lust and larger families" (Pro Marcello, 23), and restricted marriages between the social orders and restrained adultery. The Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis forced men to marry between 25 and 60 to produce a child before 25 to avoid penalties. Women were to marry between 20 and 50 and to produce a child by 20. A mother of three received rewards and a father of three advanced more rapidly in his career. Aimed in part at legacy hunters who tried to become boyfriends of rich old men, laws forbade bachelors as well as spinsters and childless women to inherit except from close relatives. Augustus read to the rebellious Senate a harangue "on increasing the birth rate," composed in 131 B.C. by a censor already alarmed at the decline, and imposed an annual tax on men who refused to marry after age 30. That the widow had to remarry in a year and the divorcee in six months was softened in 9 A.D. by the Lex Papia Poppaea to two years and eighteen months respectively. Augustus also set aside for boys and their chaperons sections of theaters which were notorious as places for rendez vous (Suetonius, Augustus, 44.2).
Under the lex Julia, if the husband failed to do so within a specified time, any man could prosecute an adulterous woman for stuprum, which now also included a liaison of a citizen with an unmarried free girl (unless a concubine or registered prostitute), with a widow, or as stuprum cum masculo with another free male. Frequent legal charges and blackmail resulted. Ordering public celebrations for marriages and regulating divorce, the state took over from the family, which, for a long time at least among aristocrats, had hardly been enforcing the sanctions of the mos maiorum. Now those convicted of adultery were normally banished if from the upper and flogged if from the lower class. Under the Lex Julia de adulteriis Augustus's own alcoholic daughter Julia, along with Ovid and Mark Antony's son, among her many lovers, and later his grandaughter Julia the Younger, were prosecuted spectacularly. In the trials for sexual offenses slaves normally provided proof under torture. The Lex Scantinia, invoked less often than the Lex Julia, does not appear in surviving imperial records until the time of the moralistic Domitian (81 96). Though Ovid stigmatized female homoeroticism as monstruous (Met., 9.727 and 736), Romans never outlawed lesbianism and, in fact, passed no general ones against male homosexuality as such that can be proved without equivocation until the Christian triumph. The public, however, remained homophobic before, during, and after Augustus.1
The reign of Augustus was transitional. Claiming to be merely the princeps (first man of the Senate), he lived modestly, spoke of restoring the mos maiorum, old fashioned religion, and the Republic, maintaining along with Senate and assemblies relative liberty. Hellenization, including pederasty, probably increased among the Roman jet set, headed by the elder Julia, during Augustus's reign in spite of his archaicizing programs. His informal minister of culture, Maecenas, who prodigally dispensed patronage, was, though married himself, a very active boy chaser. Perhaps though, Virgil's gay poems, especially the second Eclogue, the most homosexual placed in Sicily modeled on Theocritus's and other Hellenistic bucolic poems, were written to please his patron rather than himself. Horace, a close friend of Maecenas, wrote not only gay but bisexual verses that were more erotic than Virgil's. Among Maecenas's other proteges Ovid sang of pederasty as well as heterosexual love. Born into a wealthy equestrian family from Abruzzo, Ovid lamented the death of Tibullus (54 19) and travelled for more than a year with the older poet Macer. Ovid never mentioned Maecenas but referred to other patrons in his Letters from Pontus where he was exiled for his affair with Julia. His close friend, the equestrian Propertius (f.l. 30 15) whose family had been pauperized during the proscriptions, received patronage from Maecenas and preferred homosexuality to heterosexuality.

After the death of Augustus, who had become ever more austere as he aged, the Julio Claudians exceeded the extreme license of Late Republican aristocrats. The emperors themselves set the pattern with new and unheard of orgies. Though exaggerated by Tacitus and Suetonius, the antics of the Julio  Claudians, who like their Greek and recent patrician models remained bisexual, have stultified even the jaded ever since. According to senatorial tradition preserved by those historians, Tiberius (14 37 A.D.), who introduced naked tyranny, broke all bounds of sexual restraint, but only when very old and otherwise deranged and only at his secluded retreat on the isle of Caprae. If one can believe that senility so corrupted the old emperor, he had a swimming pool filled with very young boys and girls dubbed "minnows" whose task was to swim between his ancient legs to nibble his private parts (Suetonius, Tiberius, 44). His overambitious chief minister Sejanus was once the sexual favorite of a Senator (Dio, 57.19.5). The incestuous Caligula (37 41) allegedly tore out the fetus from the sister he had impregnated and made his horse consul.


He had not the slightest regard for chastity, either his

own or others,' and was accused of homosexual relations,

both active and passive, with Marcus Lepidus, also with

Mnester the actor, and various foreign hostages; moreover

a young man of consular family, Valerius Catullus, revealed

publicly that he had enjoyed the Emperor, and that they

quite wore one another out in the process. (Suetonius, Caligula, 36)
The niece he forced to marry him poisoned the deformed but notorious womanizer Claudius (41 54), whom Gibbon characterized as the only one of his dynasty with correct sexual tastes because no homosexual scandal appeared in any source. 2 His son in law, however, was found in bed dead with a boy (Suetonius, Claudius, 29.2).
At an elaborate wedding Nero (54 68) took as his bride his favorite Sporus, whom he had had castrated because his face so resembled that of his former wife Poppaea and who accompanied the emperor to Greece on his celebrated tour in 66 (Suetonius, Nero ). Heliodorus's chapter on castration, of which the manuscript of the fourth century doctor Oribasius gives only the author and title was summarized by Paul of Aegina in his sixth century abridgement of the Medical Collection. It shows how widespread this practice must have been, perhaps reaching its apogee under the Byzantine dynasty of the Macedonians (867 1059). 3 If one counts Sporus as Nero's wife, as Nero did, he was a bigamist, for he was also then to married Statilia Messalina. Suetonius condemned him most sharply not for being homosexual per se but for "soiling" free youths (Nero, 28 29). Nero's patrician contemporary Sempronius Gracchus, who degraded himself as a gladiator, married a young male cornet player to whom he paid a dowry of several hundred thousand sesterces ( ). Some marriage contracts even forbade husbands to have concubines or catamites, requiring that they be sent away if, as was often the case, he already had them. 4 However, a master, if he was the active partner, was normally, as under the Republic, not censored for indulging in sex with either girl or boy slaves or both. As Nero's tutor Seneca (3 B.C. 65 A.D.) emphasized, "To be impudicus {i.e., passive} is disgraceful for a free man, but it is the slave's absolute obligation towards his master, and the freedman owes a moral duty of compliance." He also disapproved the custom of certain aristocrats of continuing to have sex with ageing male favorites known as exoletii (Seneca, ).
Tacitus told of Nero's favorite voluptuary Petronius, "the most cynical exponent of the depravity of the times" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed.,"Petronius"):
Regarding Gaius Petronius a few words

must be said by way of retrospect. His

days were passed in sleep, his nights

in social engagements and the pleasures

of life. The fame which other men attain

by diligence he won by indolence, and he

was not considered a debauchee and a

profligate, like others who exhaust

their substance, but a man of refined

luxury. His sayings and his acts, in

proportion as they were free and osten 

tatious of recklessness, were so much

the more gladly taken as a type of

simplicity. Yet as pro consul of

Bithynia, and presently as consul,

he showed himself a vigorous and

capable man of affairs. Then declining

again upon vice, or aping vice, he was

admitted by Nero among the select few

of his friends  the arbiter of elegance,

those things only appealing to the

jaded emperor's eyes and other senses

which the approval of Petronius

commended to him. Hence the jealousy

of Tigellinus, as toward a rival and

superior in the science of pleasure.

And so he played upon the emperor's

cruelty  the lust which now occupied

him beyond all other lusts  charging

Petronius with being a friend of

Scaevinus. . . . The emperor, as it

happened, had at that time started

for Campania and Petronius, on reaching

Cumae, was arrested. He refused to

endure the suspense of fear or hope.

Yet he did not put away his life

precipitately, but he had his

severed veins bound up and again

re opened at his pleasure, while he

spoke to his friends, not in serious

language or such as might win him

fame for his firmness, and listened

to them repeating  not anything

about the immortality of the soul

and the doctrines of the philo 

sophers  but light poetry and

frivolous verse. {Ann., xvi, 18}
Fragments from the fifteenth and sixteenth book of the Satyricon, normally attributed to Petronius ( ), depict an ostentatious and vulgar banquet given by the wealthy freedman Trimalchio, probably at Cumae, with tales of pederasty in those Hellenized parts as well as in the Aegean basin. Whether it had Hellenistic antecedents or not, the Satyricon was for all intents and purposes a gay romance, full of adventurous episodes succeeding each other without much rhyme or reason, continuing the tradition of Varro's Saturae Menippeae by mixing prose with verse. The Garland of Philip of Thessalonica (f.c.60) collected Greek pederastic poems of the philosopher Philodemus (c.110 c.40 B.C.), Automedon and Marcus Argentarius, contemporaries of Seneca the Elder, and Lucillius and Nicarchus, contemporaries of Nero, and Rufinus, whose date is uncertain.
Of Italian rather than Senatorial descent, Vespasian (69 79) rejected the scandalous behavior of the Julio Claudians and other aristocrats and attempted to restore the morality of the Early Republic. He could not, however, swim against the tide of moral laxity and conspicuous consumption exemplified by the nouveau riche as well as the old aristocracy; in fact, he could not control the behavior even of the freedmen of his own court. Famous for tolerating disrespect and inuendos, Vespasian tolerated

Licinius Mucianus, a bumptious and immoral fellow who traded

on his past services, in the matter of the Syrian legions, by

treating him disrespectfully. Thus, he complained only once

about Mucianus, and then in private to a common acquaintance,

his concluding words being: "But personally, I am content to

be a male" (Suetonius, Vespasian, 13).
Having grown up with Claudius's son Britannicus, to whom he was very close, the handsome Titus (79 81), soon followed his strict old warrior father to the grave.
He was believed to be profligate as well as cruel, because

of the riotous parties which he kept going with his more

extravagant friends far into the night; and morally

unprincipled, too, because he owned a troop of inverts and

eunuchs, and nursed a guilty passion for Queen Berenice, to

whom he had allegedly promised marriage (Suetonius, Titus, 7).


The deranged Domitian (81 96) ordered an abortion performed on his favorite niece, whom he had impregnated, and was murdered by those in his entourage who feared for their lives from his paranoia. He had offered to have sex with an ex praetor Claudius Pollio (Suet., Domitian, I) and had a prolonged affair with his cupbearer, the eunuch Earinos (Martial, 9.11 13, 9.16 17, 9.36). For a long time though Domitian proved an effective ruler, trying like his father and older brother to restore the mos maiorum (for others) especially during his censorship of 85.
He took such care to exercise over the city officials and the governors of the provinces that at no time were they more honest or just. . . . Having undertaken the correction of public morals, he put an end to license at the theaters, deprived notorious women of the use of letters, as well as the right to receive inheritances and legacies . . . . condemned several men of both orders, offenders against the Scantinian Law." He carried out the ancient penalty by burying Vestal Virgins alive for moral violations, prohibited castration of children, expelled prostitutes from Rome, and compelled men to marry their mistresses (Suetonius, Domitian).

The Satires of the Italian Juvenal (60 140) and the Spaniard Martial (c.38 c.100) who pointed out that although boys were "costly and recalcitrant" they were not as costly as mistresses, underscored the continuation of pederasty better than any extensive surviving works of Greek poets. 5


One must . . . question the moral seriousness of the

polemics against effeminacy and effeminate men in

Martial and Juvenal and their exclamations of shock

and consternation over the quasi marital unions,

often inaugurated by wedding ceremonies, entered

into by some men (see especially Martial 1.24,

12.42 and Juvenal 2.117 142). One suspects that

the cries of outrage are, to some extent, play 

fully rhetorical rather than inspired by a burning

zeal for traditional values; indeed, Juvenal's

description of male to male wedding ceremonies

may stem largely from the satirist's fertile

imagination. On the other hand, there is no

doubt that these unions did gravely offend

conservative sensibilities  and even the often

outrageous and provocative Martial is, in the

final analysis, a traditionalist at heart in

matters sexual, as John P. Sullivan has well

demonstrated in his 1979 article on Martial's

sexual attitudes. The severity of the ruling

of the Roman jurist Paulus at the beginning

of the third century, to the effect that the

"passive" partner in any unlawful sexual act

between men (the ruling probably applied to



ingenui only) should forfeit one half of

his property, underlines the continuing

hostility to any behavior that might be

construed as a radical abdication by a free 

born Roman male of his traditional masculine

role and dignitas. Yet the revelations in

Martial and Juvenal would suggest, despite

their satirical hyperbole, that, at least in

Rome of the early Empire, there existed a

small subculture of men who were bold

enough to try out radically non conformist

life styles and relationships, including

same sex marriage together with the

audacious relinquishing of traditional

gender roles which such a relationship

implied. 6

From Naples, Statius (45 96) rivaled Martial in praising imperial freedmen such as the eunuch Earinos, but was not as successful in extracting gifts from wealthy equestrian patrons, although Pliny the Younger paid for his travels in return for a poem of praise.
That pederastic relationships enjoyed a

considerable amount of social acceptance in

Rome of the late Republic and early Empire,

and not only in the most avant garde segments

of society, is very well demonstrated by

Statius, Silvae 2.6 (written around

90 A.D.), a eulogy and poem of consolation

addressed to Ursus shortly after the death

of his favorite young slave, Philetas, in

which the poet is completely frank about

the erotic aspect of Ursus' deep affection

for Philetas. . . . in his poem of eulogy

and consolation to Glaucias Atedius Melior

(Silvae 2.1) on the death of his

adopted young son (whom Melior had adopted

from his slave parents almost immediately

after birth), {Statius discloses} the

very strong physical, indeed virtually

erotic feelings which the adoptive

father had cherished for his young son.7

Most of the Latin pederastic poems from this as from all other periods have of course perished as have the Greek ones, but the best of both may well have survived.
Dio Cassius has the British Queen Boadicea c. 61 criticize the Romans as "men who bathe in hot water, eat prepared delicacies, drink unmixed wine, anoint themselves with myrrh, lie on soft couches and sleep with boys for bedfellows  boys past their prime at that" (62.6.4).
There was even some feeling against Romans speaking Greek, or at least against citizens not being at home in Latin (Dio 57.15.2); and as late as the mid first century A.D. thoughtful Romans could reflect on 'ancestral customs radically subverted by imported indulgences,' dissolving into gymnasia et otia et turpes amores. 'Imported' of course meant 'from Greece,' and the connection between gymnasia and vile love affairs of course pointed to male homosexuality   even at that late date, not truly Roman (Tacitus, Annals 14.20; Tertullian, Ad. nat. 1: 16 15)." 8
The Spaniard Quintilian (35 95) imagined a litigant in court retorting to a wealthy adversary: "You rich don't marry, you only have those toys of yours, those boy slaves that play woman for you" (Decl. 337).
Although the excesses of the courtiers so luridly described by Tacitus and Suetonius provoked other criticism, few went so far as Seneca the Younger (3 B.C. 65 A.D.) and C. Musonius Rufus (c.20 c.98) to protest the morbid fascination with gladiators and cruel spectacles. Other Stoics, often teaching in Rome and sometimes grouped as the Second Stoa, did become more ascetic and censorious than their predecessors, especially about sex and homosex. From the Flavians on, philosophy, which Romans approached pragmatically and eclectically rather than logically and theoretically, came to predominate over literature, the favorite vehicle of the old aristocracy which had virtually disappeared, often as victims of tyrants, by the end of Nero's reign. Later philosophers mixed Platonism, Stoicism, Skepticism, Epicureanism, and even Aristotelianism without regard to contradiction so long as they could come up with a plausible morality, useful and applicable. 9 Like his father, the Younger Seneca, who himself lived in the lap of luxury, rhetorically decried the extravagances of his time:
Everyone's retinue of slaves is carried

along, their faces made up to keep their

delicate skins from harm by sun or cold.

It is something to be ashamed of if there

is a slave in your following of boys whose

healthy complexion needs no cosmetics  

else the more stylish folk around you may

say in disbelief, 'Have you no girl 

favorite, no boy to rouse her envy?'. . .

These are the voices of 'everyone' that

you must flee. These are the men who

pass vice around and communicate it from

one place to another. (Epistle 123. 7 ff.)
The extreme C. Musonius Rufus, an acquaintance of Pliny, inveighed against infanticide and the abuse of slaves and sanctimoniously restricted sex for males to procreation within marriage ( ). Patron and teacher of the gynecologist Soranus, Rufus was banished by Nero for his strict ethics after being falsely accused of treason. Returning to Rome under Galba, he won the friendship of the Flavians. Vespasian excepted him when he banished philosophers from the city in . He inspired another student of his, Epictetus and became father in law of Artemidorus. Like his contemporary St. Paul, he and other Stoics introduced to Rome Platonic notions that homosexuality in any form was "contrary to nature," reinforcing the old argument that it was a foreign practice undermining the mos maiorum. 10 (Foucault, on the other hand, like Veyne and Boswell, overemphasized the "against nature" argument as if it had become familiar to and accepted by all.)
Certain members or sympathizers of the Second Stoa, often described as against pederasty, which had begun to evolve out of the First in the mid  second century B.C., such as Epictetus (60  120) and Dio Chrysostom (40 115) seem at least at times to support boy love. Similarly Perseus of Citium ( ) and Cleanthes ( ), who are assigned to the First Stoa, are often considered pro pederastic, yet were not exclusively devoted to pederasty. Foucault vastly oversimplified, selected, or suppressed evidence to support his theory of a Second homophobic Stoa prefiguring Christian ethics.11 Perhaps because he did not dare not to do otherwise given his audience, Hierocles (first half of second century A.D.), under Roman influence, attacked male love in direct opposition to Plato and the early Stoics culminating a supposed evolution that some see from the First to Second Stoa ( ).
Most women tended to accept the roles assigned them by the mos maiorum. It is incorrect to say that from antiquity "we only possess male witnesses." 12 In addition to the Greek poetesses, we have six poems of Sulpicia, a contemporary of Augustus, addressed to her male lover Cerinthus, preserved in Tibullus (Book 3, 13 18). In the time of Domitian, the younger Sulpicia earned Martial's praises for wifely devotion, but the 70 hexameters once attributed to her are now thought to come from the fifth century A.D. The second century Greek poetry of Melinno praising Rome is lost.

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