Part 5 out of 6
CHAPTER 34. Silver Skeleton, et seq.
Philosophic dogmas concerning the brevity and uncertainty of life were
ancient even in the time of Herodotus. They have left their mark upon
our language in the form of more than one proverb, but in none is this
so patent as "the skeleton at the feast." In chapter lxxviii of Euterpe,
we have an admirable citation. In speaking of the Egyptians, he says:
"At their convivial banquets, among the wealthy classes, when they have
finished supper, a man carries round in a coffin the image of a dead body
carved in wood, made as life-like as possible in color and workmanship,
and in size generally about one or two cubits in length; and showing this
to each of the company, he says: 'Look upon this, then drink and enjoy
yourself; for when dead you will be like this.' This is the practice
they have at their drinking parties." According to Plutarch, (Isis and
Osiris, chapter 17.) the Greeks adopted this Egyptian custom, and there
is, of course, little doubt that the Romans took it from the Greeks.
The aim of this custom was, according to Scaliger, to bring the diners
to enjoy the sweets of life while they were able to feel enjoyment, and
thus to abandon themselves to pleasure before death deprived them of
everything. The verses which follow bring this out beautifully. In the
Copa of Virgil we find the following:
"Wine there! Wine and dice! Tomorrow's fears shall fools alone benumb!
By the ear Death pulls me. 'Live!' he whispers softly, 'Live! I come.'"
The practical philosophy of the indefatigable roues sums itself up in
this sentence uttered by Trimalchio. The verb "vivere" has taken a
meaning very much broader and less special, than that which it had at
the time when it signified only the material fact of existence. The
voluptuaries of old Rome were by no means convinced that life without
license was life. The women of easy virtue, living within the circle
of their friendships, after the fashion best suited to their desires,
understood that verb only after their own interpretation, and the
philologists soon reconciled themselves to the change. In this sense it
was that Varro employed "vivere," when he said: "Young women, make haste
to live, you whom adolescence permits to enjoy, to eat, to love, and to
occupy the chariot of Venus (Veneris tenere bigas)."
But a still better example of the extension in the meaning of this word
is to be found in an inscription on the tomb of a lady of pleasure. This
inscription was composed by a voluptuary of the school of Petronius.
ALIAE. RESTITVTAE. ANIMAE. DVLCISSIMAE.
BELLATOR. AVG. LIB. CONIVGI. CARISSIMAE.
AMICI. DVM. VIVIMVS. VIVAMUS.
In this inscription, it is almost impossible to translate the last three
words. "While we live, let us live," is inadequate, to say the least.
So far did this doctrine go that latterly it was deemed necessary to have
a special goddess as a patron. That goddess, if we may rely upon the
authority of Festus, took her name "Vitula" from the word "Vita" or from
the joyous life over which she was to preside.
CHAPTER 36. "At the corners of the tray we also noted four figures of
Marsyas and from their bladders spouted a highly seasoned sauce upon fish
which were swimming about as if in a tide-race."
German scholars have adopted the doctrine that Marsyas belonged to that
mythological group which they designate as "Schlauch-silen" or, as we
would say in English, "Wineskin-bearing Silenuses." Their hypothesis
seems to be based upon the discovery of two beautiful bas-reliefs of the
age of Vespasian, which were excavated near the Rostra Vetera in the
Forum. Sir Theodore Martin has a note on these bas-reliefs which I quote
"In the Forum stood a statue of Marsyas, Apollo's ill-starred rival. It
probably bore an expression of pain, which Horace humorously ascribes to
dislike of the looks of the Younger Novius, who is conjectured to have
been of the profession and nature of Shylock. A naked figure carrying a
wineskin, which appears upon each of two fine bas-reliefs of the time of
Vespasian found near the Rostra Vetera in the Forum during the
excavations conducted within the last few years by Signor Pietro Rosa,
and which now stand in the Forum, is said, by archaeologists, to
represent Marsyas. Why they arrive at this conclusion, except as
arguing, from the spot where these bas-reliefs were found, that they were
meant to perpetuate the remembrance of the old statue of Marsyas, is
certainly not very apparent from anything in the figure itself."
Martin's Horace, vol. 2, pp 145-6.
Hence German philologists render "utriculis" by the German equivalent for
"The Romans," says Weitzius, "had two sources of water-supply, through
underground channels, and through channels supported by arches. As
adjuncts to these channels there were cisterns (or castella, as they were
called). From these reservoirs the water was distributed to the public
through routes more or less circuitous and left the cisterns through
pipes, the diameter of which was reckoned in either twelfths or
sixteenths of a Roman foot. At the exits of the pipes were placed stones
or stone figures, the water taking exit from these figures either by the
mouth, private parts or elsewhere, and falling either to the ground or
into some stone receptacle such as a basket. Various names were given
these statuettes: Marsyae, Satyri, Atlantes, Hermae, Chirones, Silani,
No one who has been through the Secret Museum at Naples will find much
difficulty in recalling a few of these heavily endowed examples to mind,
and our author, in choosing Marsyae, adds a touch of sarcastic realism,
for statues of Marysas were often set up in free cities, symbolical, as
it were, of freedom. In such a setting as the present, they would be the
very acme of propriety.
"The figures," says Gonzala de Salas, "formerly placed at fountains, and
from which water took exit either from the mouth or from some other part,
took their forms from the several species of Satyrs. The learned
Wouweren has commented long and learnedly upon this passage, and his
emendation 'veretriculis' caused me to laugh heartily. And as a matter
of fact, I affirm that such a meaning is easily possible." Professor E.
P. Crowell, the first American scholar to edit Petronius, gravely states
in his preface that "the object of this edition is to provide for
class-room use an expurgated text," and I note that he has tactfully
omitted the "wineskins" from his edition.
In this connection the last sentence in the remarks of Wouweren, alluded
to above, is strangely to the point. After stating his emendation of
"veretriculis or veretellis" for "utriculis," he says: "Unless someone
proves that images of Marsyas were fashioned in the likeness of
bag-pipers," a fine instance of clarity of vision for so dark an age.
CHAPTER 40. "Drawing his hunting-knife, he plunged it fiercely into the
boar's side, and some thrushes flew out of the gash."
In the winter of 1895 a dinner was given in a New York studio. This
dinner, locally known as the "Girl in the Pie Dinner," was based upon
Petronius, Martial, and the thirteenth book of Athenaeus. In the summer
of 1919, I had the questionable pleasure of interviewing the chef-caterer
who got it up, and he was, at the time, engaged in trying to work out
another masterpiece to be given in California. The studio, one of the
most luxurious in the world, was transformed for the occasion into a
veritable rose grotto, the statuary was Pompeian, and here and there
artistic posters were seen which were nothing if not reminiscent of
Boulevard Clichy and Montmartre in the palmiest days. Four negro banjo
players and as many jubilee singers titillated the jaded senses of the
guests in a manner achieved by the infamous saxophone syncopating jazz of
the Barbary Coast of our times. The dinner was over. The four and one
half bottles of champagne allotted to each Silenus had been consumed, and
a well-defined atmosphere of bored satiety had begun to settle down when
suddenly the old-fashioned lullaby "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" broke
forth from the banjoists and singers. Four waiters came in bearing a
surprisingly monstrous object, something that resembled an impossibly
large pie. They, placed it carefully in the center of the table. The
negro chorus swelled louder and louder--"Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked
in a Pie."
The diners, startled into curiosity and then into interest, began to poke
their noses against this gigantic creation of the baker. In it they
detected a movement not unlike a chick's feeble pecking against the shell
of an egg. A quicker movement and the crust ruptured at the top.
A flash of black gauze and delicate flesh showed within. A cloud of
frightened yellow canaries flew out and perched on the picture frames and
even on the heads and shoulders of the guests.
But the lodestone which drew and held the eyes of all the revellers was
an exquisitely slender, girlish figure amid the broken crust of the pie.
The figure was draped with spangled black gauze, through which the girl's
marble white limbs gleamed like ivory seen through gauze of gossamer
transparency. She rose from her crouching posture like a wood nymph
startled by a satyr, glanced from one side to the other, and stepped
timidly forth to the table.
CHAPTER 56. Contumelia--Contus and Melon (malum).
All translators have rendered "contus" by "pole," notwithstanding the
fact that the word is used in a very different sense in Priapeia, x, 3:
"traiectus conto sic extendere pedali," and contrary to the tradition
which lay behind the gift of an apple or the acceptance of one. The
truth of this may be established by many passages in the ancient writers.
In the "Clouds" of Aristophanes, Just Discourse, in prescribing the rules
and proprieties which should in govern the education and conduct of the
healthy young man says:
"You shall rise up from your seat upon your elders' approach; you shall
never be pert to your parents or do any other unseemly act under the
pretence of remodelling the image of Modesty. You will not rush off to
the dancing-girl's house, lest while you gaze upon her charms, some whore
should pelt you with an apple and ruin your reputation."
"This were gracious to me as in the story old to the maiden fleet of foot
was the apple golden fashioned which unloosed her girdle long-time girt."
"I send thee these verses recast from Battiades, lest thou shouldst
credit thy words by chance have slipped from my mind, given o'er to the
wandering winds, as it was with that apple, sent as furtive love token by
the wooer, which out-leaped from the virgin's chaste bosom: for, placed
by the hapless girl 'neath her soft vestment, and forgotten--when she
starts at her mother's approach, out 'tis shaken: and down it rolls
headlong to the ground, whilst a tell-tale flush mantles the cheek of the
distressed girl." Catullus lxv.
"But I know what is going on, and I intend presently to tell my master;
for I do not want to show myself less grateful than the dogs which bark
in defence of those who feed and take care of them. An adulterer is
laying siege to the household--a young man from Elis, one of the Olympian
fascinators; he sends neatly folded notes every day to our master's wife,
together with faded bouquets and half-eaten apples." Alciphron, iii, 62.
The words are put into the mouth of a rapacious parasite who feels that
the security of his position in the house is about to be shaken.
"I didn't mind your kissing Cymbalium half-a-dozen times, you only
disgraced yourself; but--to be always winking at Pyrallis, never to drink
without lifting the cup to her, and then to whisper to the boy, when you
handed it to him, not to fill it for anyone but her--that was too much!
And then--to bite a piece off an apple, and when you saw that Duphilus
was busy talking to Thraso, to lean forward and throw it right into her
lap, without caring whether I saw it or not; and she kissed it and put it
into her bosom under her girdle! It was scandalous! Why do you treat me
like this?" Lucian, Dial. Hetairae, 12. These words are spoken by
another apostle of direct speech; a jealous prostitute who is furiously
angry with her lover, and in no mood to mince matters in the slightest.
Aristxnetus, xxv, furnishes yet another excellent illustration.
The prostitute Philanis, in writing to a friend of the same ancient
profession, accuses her sister of alienating her lover's affections.
I avail myself of Sheridan's masterly version.
PHILANIS TO PETALA.
As yesterday I went to dine
With Pamphilus, a swain of mine,
I took my sister, little heeding
The net I for myself was spreading
Though many circumstances led
To prove she'd mischief in her head.
For first her dress in every part
Was studied with the nicest art
Deck'd out with necklaces and rings,
And twenty other foolish things;
And she had curl'd and bound her hair
With more than ordinary care
And then, to show her youth the more,
A light, transparent robe she wore--
From head to heel she seemed t'admire
In raptures all her fine attire:
And often turn'd aside to view
If others gazed with rapture too.
At dinner, grown more bold and free,
She parted Pamphilus and me;
For veering round unheard, unseen,
She slily drew her chair between.
Then with alluring, am'rous smiles
And nods and other wanton wiles,
The unsuspecting youth insnared,
And rivall'd me in his regard.--
Next she affectedly would sip
The liquor that had touched his lip.
He, whose whole thoughts to love incline,
And heated with th' enliv'ning wine,
With interest repaid her glances,
And answer'd all her kind advances.
Thus sip they from the goblet's brink
Each other's kisses while they drink;
Which with the sparkling wine combin'd,
Quick passage to the heart did find.
Then Pamphilus an apple broke,
And at her bosom aim'd the stroke,
While she the fragment kiss'd and press'd,
And hid it wanton in her breast.
But I, be sure, was in amaze,
To see my sister's artful ways:
"These are returns," I said, "quite fit
To me, who nursed you when a chit.
For shame, lay by this envious art;
Is this to act a sister's part?"
But vain were words, entreaties vain,
The crafty witch secured my swain.
By heavens, my sister does me wrong;
But oh! she shall not triumph long.
Well Venus knows I'm not in fault
'Twas she who gave the first assault
And since our peace her treach'ry broke,
Let me return her stroke for stroke.
She'll quickly feel, and to her cost,
Not all their fire my eyes have lost
And soon with grief shall she resign
Six of her swains for one of mine."
The myth of Cydippe and Acontius is still another example, as is the
legend of Atalanta and Hippomenes or Meilanion, to which Suetonius
(Tiberius, chap. 44) has furnished such an unexpected climax. The
emperor Theodosius ordered the assassination of a gallant who had given
the queen an apple. As beliefs of this type are an integral part of the
character of the lower orders, I am certain that the passage in Petronius
is not devoid of sarcasm; and if such is the case, "contus" cannot be
rendered "pole." The etymology of the word contumely is doubtful but I
am of the opinion that the derivation suggested here is not unsound. A
recondite rendering of "contus" would surely give a sharper point to the
joke and furnish the riddle with the sting of an epigram.
CHAPTER 116. "You will see a town that resembles the fields in time of
In tracing this savage caricature, Petronius had in mind not Crotona
alone; he refers to conditions in the capital of the empire. The
descriptions which other authors have set down are equally remarkable for
their powerful coloring, and they leave us with an idea of Rome which is
positively astounding in its unbridled luxury. 'We will rest content
with offering to our readers the following portrayal, quoted from
Ammianus Marcellinus, lib. xiv, chap. 6, and lib. xxviii, chap. 4. will
not presume to attempt any translation after having read Gibbon's version
of the combination of these two chapters.
"The greatness of Rome was founded on the rare and almost incredible
alliance of virtue and of fortune. The long period of her infancy was
employed in a laborious struggle against the tribes of Italy, the
neighbors and enemies of the rising city. In the strength and ardor of
youth she sustained the storms of war, carried her victorious arms beyond
the seas and the mountains, and brought home triumphal laurels from every
country of the globe. At length, verging towards old age, and sometimes
conquering by the terror only of her name, she sought the blessings of
ease and tranquillity. The venerable city, which had trampled on the
necks of the fiercest nations, and established a system of laws, the
perpetual guardians of justice and freedom, was content, like a wise and
wealthy parent, to devolve on the Caesars, her favorite sons, the care of
governing her ample patrimony. A secure and profound peace, such as had
been once enjoyed in the reign of Numa, succeeded to the tumults of a
republic; while Rome was still adored as the queen of the earth, and the
subject nations still reverenced the name of the people and the majesty
of the senate. But this native splendor is degraded and sullied by the
conduct of some nobles, who, unmindful of their own dignity, and of that
of their country, assume an unbounded license of vice and folly. They
contend with each other in the empty vanity of titles and surnames, and
curiously select or invent the most lofty and sonorous appellations--
Reburrus or Fabunius, Pagonius or Tarrasius--which may impress the ears
of the vulgar with astonishment and respect. From a vain ambition of
perpetuating their memory, they affect to multiply their likeness in
statues of bronze and marble; nor are they satisfied unless those statues
are covered with plates of gold, an honorable distinction, first granted
to Achilius the consul, after he had subdued by his arms and counsels the
power of King Antiochus. The ostentation of displaying, of magnifying
perhaps, the rent-roll of the estates which they possess in all the
provinces, from the rising to the setting sun, provokes the just
resentment of every man who recollects that their poor and invincible
ancestors were not distinguished from the meanest of the soldiers by the
delicacy of their food or the splendor of their apparel. But the modern
nobles measure their rank and consequence according to the loftiness of
their chariots and the weighty magnificence of their dress. Their long
robes of silk and purple float in the wind; and as they are agitated, by
art or accident, they occasionally discover the under-garments, the rich
tunics, embroidered with the figures of various animals. Followed by a
train of fifty servants, and tearing up the pavement, they move along the
streets with the same impetuous speed as if they travelled with
post-horses, and the example of the senators is boldly imitated by the
matrons and ladies, whose covered carriages are continually driving
round the immense space of the city and suburbs. Whenever these persons
of high distinction condescend to visit the public baths, they assume,
on their entrance, a tone of loud and insolent command, and appropriate
to their own use the conveniences which were designed for the Roman
people. If, in these places of mixed and general resort, they meet any
of the infamous ministers of their pleasures, they express their
affection by a tender embrace, while they proudly decline the
salutations of their fellow-citizens, who are not permitted to aspire
above the honor of kissing their hands or their knees. As soon as they
have indulged themselves in the refreshment of the bath, they resume
their rings and the other ensigns of their dignity, select from their
private wardrobe of the finest linen, such as might suffice for a dozen
persons, the garments the most agreeable to their fancy, and maintain
till their departure the same haughty demeanor which perhaps might have
been excused in the great Marcellus after the conquest of Syracuse.
Sometimes, indeed, these heroes undertake more arduous achievements.
They visit their estates in Italy, and procure themselves, by the toil
of servile hands, the amusements of the chase. If at any time, but more
especially on a hot day, they have courage to sail in their galleys from
the Lucrine lake to their elegant villas on the seacoast of Puteoli and
the Caieta, they compare their own expeditions to the marches of Caesar
and Alexander. Yet should a fly presume to settle on the silken folds of
their gilded umbrellas, should a sunbeam penetrate through some
unguarded and imperceptible chink, they deplore their intolerable
hardships, and lament in affected language that they were not born in
the land of the Cimmerians, the regions of eternal darkness. In these
journeys into the country the whole body of the household marches with
their master. In the same order as the cavalry and infantry, the heavy
and the light armed troops, the advanced guard and the rear, are
marshalled by the skill of their military leaders, so the domestic
officers, who bear a rod as an ensign of authority, distribute and
arrange the numerous train of slaves and attendants. The baggage and
wardrobe move in the front, and are immediately followed by a multitude
of cooks and inferior ministers employed in the service of the kitchens
and of the table. The main body is composed of a promiscuous crowd of
slaves, increased by the accidental concourse of idle or dependent
plebeians. The rear is closed by the favorite band of eunuchs,
distributed from age to youth, according to the order of seniority.
Their numbers and their deformity excite the horror of the indignant
spectators, who are ready to execrate the memory of Semiramis for the
cruel art which she invented of frustrating the purposes of nature, and
of blasting in the bud the hopes of future generations. In the exercise
of domestic jurisdiction the nobles of Rome express an exquisite
sensibility for any personal injury, and a contemptuous indifference for
the rest of the human species. When they have called for warm water, if
a slave has been tardy in his obedience, he is instantly chastised with
three hundred lashes; but should the same slave commit a wilful murder,
the master will mildly observe that he is a worthless fellow, but that,
if he repeats the offense, he shall not escape punishment. Hospitality
was formerly the virtue of the Romans; and every stranger who could
plead either merit or misfortune was relieved or rewarded by their
generosity. At present, if a foreigner, perhaps of no contemptible
rank, is introduced to one of the proud and wealthy senators, he is
welcomed indeed in the first audience with such warm professions and
such kind inquiries that he retires enchanted with the affability of his
illustrious friend, and full of regret that he had so long delayed his
journey to Rome, the native seat of manners as well as of empire.
Secure of a favorable reception, he repeats his visit the ensuing day,
and is mortified by the discovery that his person, his name, and his
country are already forgotten. If he still has resolution to persevere,
he is gradually numbered in the train of dependents, and obtains the
permission to pay his assiduous and unprofitable court to a haughty
patron, incapable of gratitude or friendship, who scarcely deigns to
remark his presence, his departure, or his return. Whenever the rich
prepare a solemn and popular entertainment, whenever they celebrate with
profuse and pernicious luxury their private banquets, the choice of the
guests is the subject of anxious deliberation. The modest, the sober,
and the learned are seldom preferred; and the nomenclators, who are
commonly swayed by interested motives, have the address to insert in the
list of invitations the obscure names of the most worthless of mankind.
But the frequent and familiar companions of the great are those
parasites who practice the most useful of all arts, the art of flattery;
who eagerly applaud each word and every action of their immortal patron,
gaze with rapture on his marble columns and variegated pavements, and
strenuously praise the pomp and elegance which he is taught to consider
as a part of his personal merit. At the Roman tables the birds, the
dormice, or the fish, which appear of an uncommon size, are contemplated
with curious attention; a pair of scales is accurately applied to
ascertain their real weight; and, while the more rational guests are
disgusted by the vain and tedious repetition, notaries are summoned to
attest by an authentic record the truth of such a marvellous event.
Another method of introduction into the houses and society of the great
is derived from the profession of gaming, or, as it is more politely
styled, of play. The confederates are united by a strict and
indissoluble bond of friendship, or rather of conspiracy; a superior
degree of skill in the Tesserarian art is a sure road to wealth and
reputation. A master of that sublime science who in a supper or an
assembly is placed below a magistrate displays in his countenance the
surprise and indignation which Cato might be supposed to feel when he
was refused the praetorship by the votes of a capricious people. The
acquisition of knowledge seldom engages the curiosity of the nobles, who
abhor the fatigue and disdain the advantages of study; and the only
books which they peruse are the Satires of Juvenal and the verbose and
fabulous histories of Marius Maximus. The libraries which they have
inherited from their fathers are secluded, like dreary sepulchres, from
the light of day. But the costly instruments of the theatre-flutes, and
enormous lyres, and hydraulic organs--are constructed for their use; and
the harmony of vocal and instrumental music is incessantly repeated in
the palaces of Rome. In those palaces sound is preferred to sense, and
the care of the body to that of the mind. It is allowed as a salutary
maxim that the light and frivolous suspicion of a contagious malady is
of sufficient weight to excuse the visits of the most intimate friends
and even the servants who are dispatched to make the decent inquiries
are not suffered to return home till they have undergone the ceremony of
a previous ablution. Yet this selfish and unmanly delicacy occasionally
yields to the more imperious passion of avarice. The prospect of gain
will urge a rich and gouty senator as far as Spoleto; every sentiment of
arrogance and dignity is subdued by the hopes of an inheritance, or even
of a legacy; and a wealthy childless citizen is the most powerful of the
Romans. The art of obtaining the signature of a favorable testament,
and sometimes of hastening the moment of its execution, is perfectly
understood; and it has happened that in the same house, though in
different apartments, a husband and a wife, with the laudable design of
overreaching each other, have summoned their respective lawyers to
declare at the same time their mutual but contradictory intentions. The
distress which follows and chastises extravagant luxury often reduces
the great to the use of the most humiliating expedients. When they
desire to borrow, they employ the base and supplicating style of the
slave in the comedy; but when they are called upon to pay, they assume
the royal and tragic declamation of the grandsons of Hercules. If the
demand is repeated, they readily procure some trusty sycophant,
instructed to maintain a charge of poison or magic against the insolent
creditor, who is seldom released from prison till he has signed a
discharge for the whole debt. These vices, which degrade the moral
character of the Romans, are mixed with a puerile superstition that
disgraces their understanding. They listen with confidence to the
predictions of haruspices, who pretend to read in the entrails of
victims the signs of future greatness and prosperity; and there are many
who do not presume either to bathe or to dine, or to appear in public,
till they have diligently consulted, according to the rules of
astrology, the situation of Mercury and the aspect of the moon. It is
singular enough that this vain credulity may often be discovered among
the profane sceptics who impiously doubt or deny the existence of a
CHAPTER 116. "They either take in or else they are taken in."
"Captare" may be defined as to get the upper hand of someone; and
"captari" means to be the dupe of someone, to be the object of interested
flattery; "captator" means a succession of successful undertakings of the
sort referred to above. Martial, lib. VI, 63, addresses the following
verses to a certain Marianus, whose inheritance had excited the avarice
of one of the intriguers:
"You know you're being influenced,
You know the miser's mind;
You know the miser, and you sensed
His purpose; still, you're blind."
Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, lib. XIV, chap. i, writes in
scathing terms against the infamous practice of paying assiduous court
to old people for the purpose of obtaining a legacy under their wills.
"Later, childlessness conferred advantages in the shape of the greatest
authority and Lower; undue influence became very insidious in its quest
of wealth, and in grasping the joyous things alone, debasing the true
rewards of life; and all the liberal arts operating for the greatest good
were turned to the opposite purpose, and commenced to profit by
sycophantic subservience alone."
And Ammianus Marcellinus, lib. XVIII, chap. 4, remarks: "Some there are
that grovel before rich men, old men or young, childless or unmarried, or
even wives and children, for the purpose of so influencing their wishes
and them by deft and dextrous finesse."
That this profession of legacy hunting is not one of the lost arts is
apparent even in our day, for the term "undue influence" is as common in
our courts as Ambrose Bierce's definition of "husband," or refined
cruelty, or "injunctions" restraining husbands from disposing of
property, or separate maintenance, or even "heart balm" and the
consequent breach of promise.
CHAPTER 119. The rite of the Persians:
Castration has been practiced from remote antiquity, and is a feature of
the harem life of the Levant to the present day. Semiramis is accused of
having been the first to order the emasculation of a troupe of her boy
"Whether the first false likeness of men came to the Assyrians through
the ingenuity of Semiramis; for these wanton wretches with high timbered
voices could not have produced themselves, those smooth cheeks could not
reproduce themselves; she gathered their like about her: or, Parthian
luxury forbade with its knife, the shadow of down to appear, and fostered
long that boyish bloom, compelling art-retarded youth to sink to Venus'
calling," Claudianus, Eutrop. i, 339 seq.
"And last of all, the multitude of eunuchs, ranging in age, from old men
to boys, pale and hideous from the twisted deformity of their features;
so that, go where one will, seeing groups of mutilated men, he will
detest the memory of Semiramis, that ancient queen who was the first to
emasculate young men of tender age; thwarting the intent of Nature, and
forcing her from her course." Ammianus Marcellinus, book xiv, chap. vi.
The Old Testament proves that the Hebrew authorities of the time were no
strangers to the abomination, but no mention of eunuchs in Judea itself
is to be found prior to the time of Josiah. Castration was forbidden the
Jews, Deuteronomy, xxiii, 1, but as this book was probably unknown before
the time of Josiah, we can only conjecture as to the attitude of the
patriarchs in regard to this subject; we are safe, however, in inferring
that it was hostile. "Periander, son of Cypselus, had sent three hundred
youths of the noblest young men of the Corcyraeans to Alyattes, at
Sardis; for the purpose of emasculation." Herodotus, iii, chapter 48.
"Hermotimus, then, was sprung from these Pedasians; and, of all men we
know, revenged himself in the severest manner for an injury he had
received; for, having been captured by an enemy and sold, he was
purchased by one Panionius, a Chian, who gained a livelihood by the most
infamous practices; for whenever he purchased boys remarkable for their
beauty, having castrated them, he used to take them to Sardis and Ephesus
and sell them for large sums; for with the barbarians, eunuchs are more
valued than others, on account of their perfect fidelity. Panionius,
therefore, had castrated many others, as he made his livelihood by this
means, and among them, this man.
"Hermotimus, however, was not in every respect unfortunate, for he went
to Sardis, along with other presents for the king, and in process of time
was the most esteemed by Xerxes of all his eunuchs.
"When the king was preparing to march his Persian army against Athens,
Hermotimus was at Sardis, having gone down at that time, upon some
business or other, to the Mysian territory which the Chians possess, and
is called Atarneus, he there met with Panionius. Having recognized him,
he addressed many friendly words to him, first recounting the many
advantages he had acquired by this means, and secondly, promising him how
many favors he would confer upon him in requital, if he would bring his
family and settle there; so that Panionius joyfully accepted the proposal
and brought his wife and children. But when Hermotimus got him with his
whole family into his power, he addressed him as follows:
"'O thou, who, of all mankind, hast gained thy living by the most
infamous acts, what harm had either I, or any of mine, done to thee,
or any of thine, that of a man thou hast made me nothing?
"'Thou didst imagine, surely, that thy machinations would pass unnoticed
by the Gods, who, following righteous laws, have enticed thee, who hath
committed unholy deeds, into my hands, so that thou canst not complain of
the punishment I shall inflict upon thee.'
"When he had thus upbraided him, his sons being brought into his
presence, Panionius was compelled to castrate his own sons, who were four
in number; and, being compelled, he did it; and after he had finished it,
his sons, being compelled, castrated him. Thus did vengeance and
Hermotimus overtake Panionius." Herodotus, viii, ch. 105-6.
Mention of the Galli, the emasculated priests of Cybebe should be made.
Emasculation was a necessary first condition of service in her worship.
(Catullus, Attys.) The Latin literature of the silver and bronze ages
contains many references to castration. Juvenal and Martial have
lavished bitter scorn upon this form of degradation, and Suetonius and
Statius inform us that Domitian prohibited the practice, but it is in the
"Amoures" attributed to Lucian that we find a passage so closely akin to
the one forming a basis of this note, that it is inserted in extenso:
"Some pushed their cruelty so far as to outrage Nature with the
sacrilegious knife, and, after depriving men of their virility, found in
them the height of pleasure. These miserable and unhappy creatures, that
they may the longer serve the purposes of boys, are stunted in their
manhood, and remain a doubtful riddle of a double sex, neither preserving
that boyhood in which they were born, nor possessing that manhood which
should be theirs. The bloom of their youth withers away in a premature
old age: while yet boys, they suddenly become old, without any interval
of manhood. For impure sensuality, the mistress of every vice, devising
one shameless pleasure after another, insensibly plunges into
unmentionable debauchery, experienced in every form of brutal lust." The
jealous Roman husband's furious desire to prevent the consequences of his
wife's incontinence was by no means well served by the use of such
agents; on the contrary, the women themselves profited by the
arrangement. By means of these eunuchs, they edited the morals of their
maids and hampered the sodomitical hankerings, active or otherwise, of
their husbands: Martial, xii, 54: but when the passions and suspicions of
both heads of the family were mutually aroused, the eunuchs fanned them
into flame and gained the ascendancy in the home. They even went so far
as to marry: Martial, xi, 82, and Juvenal, i, 22.
In the third century a certain Valesius formed a sect which, following
the example set by Origen, acted literally upon the text of Matthew, v,
28, 30, and Matthew, xix, 12. Of this sect, Augustine, De Heres. chap.
37, said: "the Valesians castrate themselves and those who partake of
their hospitality, thinking that after this manner, they ought to serve
God." That injustice was done upon the wrong member is very evident, yet
in an age so dark, so dominated by austere asceticism, this clean cut
perception of the best interests of suffering humanity, is only to be
rivalled by the French physician in the time of the black plague. He had
observed that sthenic patients, when bled, died: the superstition and
medical usage of the age prescribed bleeding, and when the fat abbots
came to be bled, he bled them freely and with satisfaction. Justinian
decreed that anyone guilty of performing the operation which deprived an
individual of virility should be subjected to a similar operation, and
this crime was later punished with death. In the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries we encounter another and even viler reason for this
practice: that "the voice of such a person" (one castrated in boyhood)
"after arriving at adult age, combines the high range and sweetness of
the female with the power of the male voice," had long been known, and
Italian singing masters were not slow in putting this hint to practical
use. The poor sometimes sold their children for this purpose, and the
castrati and soprani are terms well known to the musical historian.
These artificial voices disgraced the Italian stage until literally
driven from it by public hostility, and the punishment of death was the
reward of the individual bold enough to perform such an operation. The
papal authority excommunicated those guilty of the crime and those upon
whom such an operation had been performed, but received artificial
voices, which were the result of accident, into the Sistine choir.
This pretext served the church well and, until the year 1878, when
the disgrace was wiped out by Pope Leo XIII, the Sistine choir was an
eloquent commentary upon the attitude of an institution placed, as it
were, "between love and duty." It should be recorded that this choir, in
its recent visit to the United States, had but one artificial voice, and
its owner was the oldest member of the choir.
Young home-born slaves were bought up by the dealers, castrated, because
of the increased price they brought when in this condition, and sold for
huge sums: Seneca, Controv. x, chap. 4; and kidnapping was frequently
resorted to, just as it is in Africa today.
In Russia there is a sect called the "skoptzi," whose tenets, in this
respect, are indicated by their name. This sect is first mentioned in
the person of a certain Adrian, a monk, who came to Russia about the
year 1001. In 1041, l090 to 1096, 1138 to 1147, 1326, they are noticed,
and in 1721 to 1724 they are prominent. They call themselves "white
doves" and are divided into smaller congregations which, in their
allegorical terminology, they call "ships"; the leader of each
congregation is called the "pilot" and the female leader, the "pilot's
mate." Their tenets provide for two degrees of emasculation: complete
and incomplete, and, in the case of the former, he who submitted to the
operation had the "royal seal" affixed to him, this being their name for
complete emasculation: in the case of the latter, the neophyte had
reached the "Second Degree of Purity." The operation was performed with
a red-hot knife or a hot iron, and this was known as the "baptism by
In the case of female converts, the breasts were amputated, either with a
red-hot knife or a pair of red-hot shears (Kudrin trial, Moscow, 1871;
testimony of physicians and examination of the accused) which served the
double purpose of checking haemorrhage, as would a thermo-cautery, and
avoiding infection. Another method consisted in searing the orifice of
the vagina so that the scar tissue would contract it in such a manner as
to effectually prevent the entrance of the male.
A peculiar attribute of this sect is the character of many of its
members: bankers, civil service officials, navy officers, army officers
and others of the finest professions. Leroy-Beaulieu, in discussing
their methods of obtaining converts says: "they prefer boys and youths,
whom they strive to convince of the necessity of 'killing the flesh.'
They sometimes succeed so well, that cases are known of boys of fifteen
or so resorting to self-mutilation, to save themselves from the
temptations of early manhood. These apostles of purity do not always
scruple to have recourse to violence or deceit. They ensnare their
victims by equivocal forms of speech, and having thus obtained their
consent virtually upon false pretences, they reveal to the confiding
dupes the real meaning of the engagement they have entered into only at
the last moment, when it is too late for them to escape the murderous
knife. One evening, two men, one of them young and blooming, the other
old, with sallow and unnaturally smooth face, were conversing, while
sipping their tea, in a house in Moscow. 'Virgins will alone stand
before the throne of the Most High,' said the elder man. 'He who looks
on a woman with desire commits adultery in his heart, and adulterers
shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.' 'What then should we sinners
doe' asked the young man. 'Knowest thou not,' replied the elder, 'the
word of the Lord? If thy right eye leadeth thee into temptation, pluck
it out and cast it from thee; if thy right hand leadeth thee into
temptation, cut it off and cast it from thee. What ye must do is to kill
the flesh. Ye must become like unto the disembodied angels, and that may
be attained only, through being made white as snow.' 'And how can we be
made thus white?' further inquired the young man. 'Come and see,' said
the old man. 'He took his companion down many stairs, into a cellar
resplendent with lights. Some fifteen white robed men and women were
gathered there. In a corner was a stove, in which blazed a fire. After
some prayers and dances, very like those in use among the Flagellants,
the old man announced to his companion: 'now shalt thou learn how sinners
are made white as snow.' And the young man, before he had time to ask a
single question, was seized and gagged, his eyes were bandaged, he was
stretched out on the ground, and the apostle, with a red-hot knife,
stamped him with the 'seal of purity.' This happened to a peasant,
Saltykov by name, and certainly not to him alone. He fainted away under
the operation, and when he came to himself, he heard the voices of his
chaste sponsors give him the choice between secrecy and death."
Catherine II signed the first edict against this sect in 1772, but
agitation was more or less constant until the Imperial government began
vigorous prosecutions in 1871, and many were sentenced to hard labor in
Siberia. When prosecutions were instituted, large numbers emigrated to
Roumania and there took the name of "Lipovans." Women, especially one of
the name of Anna Romanovna, have had a great share in the invention and
diffusion of the doctrine. Not infrequently it is the women who, with
their own hands, transform the men to angels.
In 1871 their number was estimated to be about 3000, in 1874 they
numbered 5444, including 1465 women, and in 1847, 515 men and 240 women
were transported to Siberia. The sect still holds its own in Russia.
They are millennarians and the messiah will not come for them until their
sect numbers 144,000.
Antiquity knew three varieties of eunuch:
Castrati: Scrotum and testicles were amputated.
Spadones: Testicles were torn out.
Thlibiae: Testicles were destroyed by crushing.
CHAPTER 127. "Such sweetness permeated her voice as she said this, so
entrancing was the sound upon the listening air that you would have
believed the Sirens' harmonies were floating in the breeze."
Many scholars have drawn attention to the ethereal beauty of this
passage. Probably the finest parallel is to be found in Horace's ode to
Calliope. After the invocation to the muse he thinks he hears her
"Hark! Or is this but frenzy's pleasing dream?
Through groves I seem to stray
Of consecrated bay,
Where voices mingle with the babbling stream,
And whispering breezes play."
Sir Theodore Martin's version.
Another exquisite and illuminating passage occurs in Catullus, 51, given
in Marchena's fourth note.
CHAPTER 131. "Then she kneaded dust and spittle and, dipping her middle
finger into the mixture, she crossed my forehead with it."
Since the Fairy Tale Era of the human race, sputum has been employed to
give potency to charms and to curses. It was anciently used as anathema
and that use is still in force to this day. Let the incredulous critic
spit in some one's face if he doubts my word.
But sputum had also a place in the Greek and Roman rituals. Trimalchio
spits and throws wine under the table when he hears a cock crowing
unseasonably. This, in the first century. Any Jew in Jerusalem hearing
the name of Titus mentioned, spits: this in 1903. In the ceremony of
naming Roman children spittle had its part to play: it was customary for
the nurse to touch the lips and forehead of the child with spittle. The
Catholic priest's ritual, which prescribes that the ears and nostrils of
the infant or neophyte, as the case may be, shall be touched with
spittle, comes, in all probability from Mark, vii, 33, 34, viii, 23, and
John, ix, 6, which, in turn are probably derived from a classical
original. It should be added that fishermen spit upon their bait before
casting in their hooks.
CHAPTER 131. Medio sustulit digito:
There is more than a suggestion in the choice of the middle finger, in
this instance. Among the Romans, the middle finger was known as the
Infami digito et lustralibus ante salivis
Expiat, urentes oculos inhibere perita.
Persius, Sat. ii
See also Dio Chrysostom, xxxiii. "Neither," says Lampridius, Life of
Heliogabalus, "was he given to demand infamies in words when he could
indicate shamelessness with his fingers," Chapter 10. "With tears in his
eyes, Cestos often complains to me, Mamurianus, of being touched by your
finger. You need not use your finger, merely: take Cestos all to
yourself, if nothing else is wanting in your establishment,"
Martial, i, 93
To touch the posteriors lewdly with the finger, that is, the middle
finger put forth and the two adjoining fingers bent down, so that the
hand might form a sort of Priapus, was an obscene sign to attract
catamites. That this position of the fingers was an indecent symbol is
attested by numerous passages in the classical writers. "He would extend
his hand, bent into an obscene posture, for them to kiss," Suetonius,
Caligula, 56. It may be added that one of that emperor's officers
assassinated him for insulting him in that manner. When this finger was
thus applied it signified that the person was ready to sodomise him whom
he touched. The symbol is still used by the lower orders.
"We are informed by our younger companions that gentlemen given to
sodomitical practices are in the habit of frequenting some public place,
such as the Pillars of the County Fire Office, Regent St., and placing
their hands behind them, raising their fingers in a suggestive manner
similar to that mentioned by our epigrammatist. Should any gentleman
place himself near enough to have his person touched by the playful
fingers of the pleasure-seeker, and evince no repugnance, the latter
turns around and, after a short conversation, the bargain is struck. In
this epigram, however, Martial threatens the eye and not the anus." The
Romans used to point out sodomites and catamites by thus holding out the
middle finger, and so it was used as well in ridicule (or chaff, as we
say) as to denote infamy in the persons who were given to these
"If anyone calls you a catamite, Sextillus," says Martial, ii, 28,
"return the compliment and hold out your middle finger to him."
According to Ramiresius, this custom was still common in the Spain of his
day (1600), and it still persists in Spanish and Italian countries, as
well as in their colonies. This position of the fingers was supposed to
represent the buttocks with a priapus inserted up the fundament; it was
called "Iliga," by the Spaniards. From this comes the ancient custom of
suspending little priapi from boys' necks to avert the evil eye.
Aristophanes, in the "Clouds," says:
SOCRATES: First they will help you to be pleasant in company, and to
know what is meant by OEnoplian rhythm and what by the Dactylic.
STREPSIADES: Of the Dactyl (finger)? I know that quite well.
SOCRATES: What is it then?
STREPSIADES: Why, 'tis this finger; formerly, when a child, I used this
(Daktulos means, of course, both Dactyl (name of a metrical foot) and
finger. Strepsiades presents his middle finger with the other fingers
and thumb bent under in an indecent gesture meant to suggest the penis
and testicles. It was for this reason that the Romans called this finger
the "unseemly finger.")
SOCRATES: You are as low minded as you are stupid.
[See also Suetonius: Tiberius, chapter 68.]
CHAPTER 138. "OEnothea brought out a leathern dildo."
This instrument, made from glass, wax, leather, or other suitable
material such as ivory or the precious metals (Ezekiel xvi, 17), has been
known from primitive times; and the spread of the cult of Priapus was a
potent factor in making the instrument more common in the western world.
Numerous Greek authors make mention of it: Aristophanes, Lucian,
Herondas, Suidas and others. That it was only too familiar to the Romans
is shown by their many references to it: Catullus, Martial, the apostle
Paul, Tertullian, and others.
Aristophanes, Lysistrata: (Lysistrata speaking) "And not so much as
the shadow of a lover! Since the day the Milesians betrayed us, I have
never once caught sight of an eight-inch-long dildo even, to be a
leathern consolation to us poor widows." Her complaint is based upon the
fact that all the men were constantly absent upon military duty and the
force of the play lies in her strategic control of a commodity in great
demand among the male members of society. Quoting again from the same
play: Calonice: "And why do you summon us, Lysistrata dear? What is it
all about?" Lysistrata: "About a big affair." Calonice: "And is it
thick, too'?" Lysistrata: "Indeed it is, great and big too." Calonice:
"And we are not all on the spot!" Lysistrata: "Oh! If it were what you
have in mind, there would never be an absentee. No, no, it concerns a
thing I have turned about and about, this way and that, for many
sleepless nights." When the plot has been explained, viz.: that the
women refuse intercourse to their husbands until after peace has been
declared--Calonice: "But suppose our poor devils of husbands go away and
leave us"' Lysistrata: "Then, as Pherecrates says, 'we must flay a
skinned dog,' that's all."
Lucian, Arnoures, says: "but, if it is becoming for men to have
intercourse with men, for the future let women have intercourse with
women. Come, O new generation, inventor of strange pleasures! as you
have devised new methods to satisfy male lust, grant the same privilege
to women; let them have intercourse with one another like men, girding
themselves with the infamous instruments of lust, an unholy imitation of
a fruitless union."
Herondas, Mime vi:
KORITTO | Two women friends
A Female Domestic.
Time, about 300 B. C.
Scene, Koritto's sitting room.
KORITTO: (Metro has just come to call) Take a seat, Metro; (to the slave
girl) Get up and get the lady a chair; I have to tell you to do
everything; you're such a fool you never do a thing of your own accord.
You're only a stone in the house, you're not a bit like a slave except
when you count up your daily allowance of bread: you count the crumbs
when you do that, though, and whenever the tiniest bit happens to fall
upon the floor, the very walls get tired of listening to your grumbling
and boiling over with temper, as you do all day long--now, when we want
to use that chair you've found time to dust it off and rub up the polish
--you may thank the lady that I don't give you a taste of my hand.
METRO: You have as hard a time as I do, Koritto, dear--day and night
these low servants make me gnash my teeth and bark like a dog, just like
they do you.--But I came to see you about--(to the slave girl) get out of
here, get out of my sight, you trouble maker, you're all ears and tongue
and nothing else, all you do is to sit around Koritto--dear, now please
don't tell me a fib, who stitched that red dildo of yours?
KORITTO: Metro, where did you see that?
METRO: Why Nossis, the daughter of Erinna, had it three days ago. Oh but
it was a beauty!
KORITTO: So Nossis had it, did she? Where did she get it, I wonder?
METRO: I'm afraid you'll say something if I tell you.
KORITTO: My dear Metro, if anybody hears anything you tell me, from
Koritto's mouth, I hope I go blind.
METRO: It was given to her by Eubole of Bitas, and she cautioned her not
to let a soul hear of it.
KORITTO: That woman will be my undoing, one of these days; I yielded to
her importunity and gave it to her before I had used it myself, Metro
dear, but to her it was a godsend--, now she takes it and gives it to
some one who ought not to have it. I bid a long farewell to such a
friend as she; let her look out for another friend instead of me. As for
Nossis, Adrasteia forgive me. I don't want to talk bigger than a lady
should--I wouldn't give her even a rotten dildo; no, not even if I had a
METRO: Please don't flare up so quickly when you hear something
unpleasant. A good woman must put up with everything. It's all my fault
for gossiping. My tongue ought to be cut out; honestly it should: but to
get back to the question I asked you a moment ago: who stitched the
dildo? Tell me if you love me! What makes you laugh when you look at
me? What does your coyness mean? Have you never set eyes on me before?
Don't fib to me now, Koritto, I beg of you.
KORITTO: Why do you press me so? Kerdon stitched it.
METRO: Which Kerdon? Tell me, because there are two Kerdons, one is that
blue-eyed fellow, the neighbor of Myrtaline the daughter of Kylaithis;
but he couldn't even stitch a plectron to a lyre--the other one, who
lives near the house of Hermodorus, after you have left the street, was
pretty good once, but he's too old, now; the late lamented Kylaithis--may
her kinsfolk never forget her--used to patronize him.
KORITTO: He's neither of those you've mentioned, Metro; this fellow is
bald headed and short, he comes from Chios or Erythrai, I think--you
would mistake him for another Prexinos, one fig could not look more like
another, but just hear him talk, and you'll know that he is Kerdon and
not Prexinos. He does business at home, selling his wares on the sly
because everyone is afraid of the tax gatherers. My dear! He does do
such beautiful work! You would think that what you see is the handiwork
of Athena and not that of Kerdon! Do you know that he had two of them
when he came here! And when I got a look at them my eyes nearly burst
from their sockets through desire. Men never get--I hope we are alone
--their tools so stiff; and not only that, but their smoothness was as
sweet as sleep and their little straps were as soft as wool. If you went
looking for one you would never find another ladies' cobbler cleverer
METRO: Why didn't you buy the other one, too?
KORITTO: What didn't I do, Metro dear'? And what didn't I do to persuade
him'? I kissed him, I patted his bald head, I poured out some sweet wine
for him to drink, I fondled him, the only thing I didn't do was to give
him my body.
METRO: But you should have given him that too, if he asked it.
KORITTO: Yes, and I would have, but Bitas slave girl commenced grinding
in the court, just at the wrong moment; she has reduced our hand mill
nearly to powder by grinding day and night for fear she might have four
obols to pay for having her own sharpened.
METRO: But how did he happen to come to your house, Koritto dear? You'll
tell me the truth won't you, now?
KORITTO: Artemis the daughter of Kandas directed him to me by pointing
out the roof of the tanner's house as a landmark.
METRO: That Artemis is always discovering something new to help her make
capital out of her skill as a go-between. But anyhow, when you couldn't
buy them both you should have asked who ordered the other one.
KORITTO: I begged him to tell me but he swore he wouldn't, that's how
much he thought of me, Metro dear.
METRO: You mean that I must go and find Artemis now to learn who the
Kerdon is--good-bye KORITTO. He (my husband) is hungry by now, so it's
time I was going.
KORITTO: (To the slave girl) Close the doors, there, chicken keeper, and
count the chickens to see if they're all there; throw them some grain,
too, for the chicken thieves will steal them out of one's very lap.
A lascivious dance of the old Greek comedy. Any person who performed
this dance except upon the stage was considered drunk or dissolute.
That the dance underwent changes for the worse is manifest from the
representation of it found on a marble tazza in the Vatican (Visconti,
Mus. Pio-Clem. iv, 29), where it is performed by ten figures, five
Finns and five Bacchanals, but their movements, though extremely lively
and energetic, are not marked by any particular indelicacy. Many ancient
authors and scholiasts have commented upon the looseness and sex appeal
of this dance. Meursius, Orchest., article Kordax, has collected the
majority of passages in the classical writers, bearing upon this subject,
but from this disorderly collection it is impossible to arrive at any
definite description of the cordax. The article in Coelius Rhodiginus.
Var. Lect. lib. iv, is conventional. The cordax was probably not
unlike the French "chalhut," danced in the wayside inns, and it has been
preserved in the Spanish "bolero" and the Neapolitan "tarantella." When
the Romans adopted the Greek customs, they did not neglect the dances
and it is very likely that the Roman Nuptial Dance, which portrayed the
most secret actions of marriage had its origin in the Greek cordax. The
craze for dancing became so menacing under Tiberius that the Senate was
compelled to run the dancers and dancing masters out of Rome but the evil
had become so deep rooted that the very precautions by which society was
to be safeguarded served to inflame the passion for the dance and
indulgence became so general and so public that great scandal resulted.
Domitian, who was by no means straight laced, found it necessary to expel
from the Senate those members who danced in public. The people imitated
the nobles, and, as fast as the dancers were expelled, others from the
highest and lowest ranks of society took their places, and there soon
came to be no distinction, in this matter, between the noblest names of
the patricians and the vilest rabble from the Suburra. There is no
comparison between the age of Cicero and that of Domitian. "One could do
a man no graver injury than to call him a dancer," says Cicero, Pro
Murena, and adds: "a man cannot dance unless he is drunk or insane."
Probably the most realistic description of the cordax, conventional, of
course, is to be found in Merejkovski's "Death of the Gods." The passage
occurs in chapter vi. I have permitted myself the liberty of supplying
the omissions and euphemisms in Trench's otherwise excellent and spirited
version of the novel. "At this moment hoarse sounds like the roarings of
some subterranean monster came from the market square. They were the
notes, now plaintive, now lively, of a hydraulic organ. At the entrance
to a showman's travelling booth, a blind Christian slave, for four obols
a day, was pumping up the water which produced this extraordinary
harmony. Agamemnon dragged his companions into the booth, a great tent
with blue awnings sprinkled with silver stars. A lantern lighted a
black-board on which the order of the program was chalked up in Syriac
and Greek. It was stifling within, redolent of garlic and lamp oil soot.
In addition to the organ, there struck up the wailing of two harsh
flutes, and an Ethopian, rolling the whites of his eyes, thrummed upon an
Arab drum. A dancer was skipping and throwing somersaults on a
tightrope, clapping his hands to the time of the music, and singing a
Hue, huc, convenite nunc
"This starveling snub-nosed dancer was old, repulsive, and nastily gay.
Drops of sweat mixed with paint were trickling from his shaven forehead;
his wrinkles, plastered with white lead, looked like the cracks in some
wall when rain has washed away the lime. The flutes and organ ceased
when he withdrew, and a fifteen-year-old girl ran out upon the stage.
She was to perform the celebrated cordax, so passionately adored by the
mob. The Fathers of the Church called down anathema upon it, the Roman
laws prohibited it, but all in vain. The cordax was danced everywhere,
by rich and poor, by senators' wives and by street dancers, just as it
had been before.
"'What a beautiful girl,' whispered Agamemnon enthusiastically. Thanks
to the fists of his companions, he had reached a place in the front rank
of spectators. The slender bronze body of the Nubian was draped only
about the hips with an almost airy colorless scarf. Her hair was wound
on the top of her head, in close fine curls like those of Nubian woven.
Her face was of the severest Egyptian type, recalling that of the Sphinx.
"She began to dance languidly, carelessly, as if already weary. Above
her head she swung copper bells, castanets or 'crotals,'--swung them
lazily, so that they tinkled very faintly. Gradually her movements
became more emphatic, and suddenly under their long lashes, yellow eyes
shone out, clear and bright as the eyes of a leopardess. She drew her
body up to her full height and the copper castanets began to tinkle with
such challenge in their piercing sound that the whole crowd trembled with
emotion. Vivid, slender, supple as a serpent, the damsel whirled
rapidly, her nostrils dilated, and a strange cry came crooning from her
throat. With each impetuous movement, two dark little breasts held tight
by a green silk net, trembled like two ripe fruits in the wind, and their
sharp, thickly painted nipples were like rubies, as they protruded from
"The crowd was beside itself with passion. Agamemnon, nearly mad, was
held back by his companions. Suddenly the girl stopped as if exhausted.
A slight shudder ran through her, from her head down the dark limbs to
her feet. Deep silence prevailed. The head of the Nubian was thrown
back as if in a rigid swoon but above it the crotals still tinkled with
an extraordinary languor, a dying vibration, quick and soft as the wing
flutterings of a captured butterfly. Her eyes grew dim but in their
inner depths glittered two sparks; the face remained severe, impersonal,
but upon the sensuous red lips of that sphinx-like mouth a smile
trembled, faint as the dying sound of the crotals."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Double capacity of masseurs and prostitutes
Empress Theodora belonged to this class
High fortune may rather master us, than we master it
Legislation has never proved a success in repressing vice
One could do a man no graver injury than to call him a dancer
Russia there is a sect called the skoptzi
She is chaste whom no man has solicited--Ovid
Tax on bachelors
While we live, let us live
THE SATYRICON OF
Complete and unexpurgated translation by W. C. Firebaugh,
in which are incorporated the forgeries of Nodot and Marchena,
and the readings introduced into the text by De Salas.
SIX NOTES BY MARCHENA.
TO THE ARMY OF THE RHINE.
The conquests of the French have resulted, during this war, in a boon to
knowledge and to letters. Egypt has furnished us with monuments of its
aboriginal inhabitants, which the ignorance and superstition of the Copts
and Mussulmans kept concealed from civilized countries. The libraries of
the convents of the various countries have been ransacked by savants and
precious manuscripts have been brought to light.
By no means the least interesting of the acquisitions is a fragment of
Petronius, which we offer to the public, taken from an ancient manuscript
which our soldiers, in conquering St. Gall, have sent to us for
examination. We have made an important discovery in reading a parchment
which contains the work of St. Gennadius on the Duties of Priests, and
which, judging from the form of the letters employed, we should say was
written in the eleventh century. A most careful examination led us to
perceive that the work by this saint had been written on pages containing
written letters, which had been almost effaced. We know that in the dark
ages it was customary to write ecclesiastical works on the manuscripts
containing the best authors of Latinity.
At a cost of much labor we have been able to decipher a morsel which we
give to the public: and of the authenticity of which there can be no
doubt. We render homage to the brave French army to which we owe this
It is easy to notice that there is a lacuna in that passage of Petronius
in which Encolpius is left with Quartilla, looking through a chink in the
door, at the actions of Giton and little Pannychis. A few lines below,
it relates, in effect, that he was fatigued by the voluptuous enjoyment
of Quartilla, and in that which remains to us, there is no mention of the
preliminaries to this enjoyment. The style of the Latin so closely
resembles the original of Petronius that it is impossible to believe that
the fragment was forged.
For the benefit of those who have not read the author, it is well to
state that this Quartilla was a priestess of Priapus, at whose house they
celebrated the mysteries of that god. Pannychis is a young girl of seven
years who had been handed over to Giton to be deflowered. This Giton is
the "good friend" of Encolpius, who is supposed to relate the scene.
Encolpius, who had drunk an aphrodisiacal beverage, is occupied with
Quartilla in peeping through the door to see in what manner Giton was
acquitting himself in his role. At that moment a soldier enters the
Finally an old woman, about whom there is some question in the fragment,
is the same as the one who had unexpectedly conducted Encolpius to the
house of the public women and of whom mention is made in the beginning of
Ipsa Venus magico religatum brachia nodo
Perdocuit, multis non sine verberibus.
Tibullus viii, 5.
Vous verrez que vous avez affaire a un homme.
You will learn that you have to deal with a man.
Fighting men have in all times been distinguished on account of the
beauty of their women. The charming fable of the loves of Venus and
Mars, described by the most ancient of poets, expresses allegorically,
this truth. All the demi-gods had their amorous adventures; the most
valiant were always the most passionate and the happiest. Hercules took
the maidenheads of fifty girls, in a single night. Thesus loved a
thousand beauties, and slept with them. Jason abandoned Hypsipyle for
Medea, and her, for Creusa. Achilles, the swift of foot, forgot the
tender Deidamia in the arms of his Briseis.
It has been remarked that the lovers did not have very scrupulous tastes
in their methods of attaining satisfaction from the women they loved.
The most common method was abduction and the women always submitted to
this without a murmur of any sort. Helen was carried off by Theseus,
after having also been abducted by Paris. The wife of Atreus was
abducted by Thyestus, and from that arose the implacable hatred between
the two families. Rape was no less common. Goddesses themselves and the
favorites of the Gods were at the risk of falling prey to strong mortals.
Pirithous, aided by Theseus, even attempted to snatch Proserpina from the
God of the under-world. Juno herself was compelled to painful submission
to the pursuit of Ixion, and Thetis succumbed despite herself, to the
assaults of Peleus. The gift of foretelling the future, with which
Apollo endowed Cassandra, did not insure her against the brutal caresses
of Ajax, son of Oileus.
In the infancy of society, there was never known any other distinction
except between the weak and the strong: the strong commanded and the weak
obeyed. For that reason, women were regarded in the light of beings
destined by nature, to serve the pleasures and even the caprices of men.
Never did her suitors express a tender thought for Penelope, and, instead
of making love to her, they squandered her property, slept with her
slaves, and took charge of things in her house.
Circe gave herself to Ulysses who desired to slay her, and Calypso, full
blown goddess as she was, was obliged to make his advances for him. The
fine sentiments that Virgil puts into the mouth of the shade of Creusa,
content with having died while serving against the Greeks, "she was a
Trojan, and she wedded the son of Venus"; the confession with which
Andromache, confronted by the murderer of her first husband, responds to
the question of AEneas; these ideas, I say, and these sentiments,
appertained to the polished century of Augustus and not to the epoch or,
scene of the Trojan War. Virgil, in his AEneid, had never subscribed to
the precepts of Horace, and of common sense:
Aut famam sequere, aut sibi convenientia finge
Horace Ars Poet. 119.
From this manner of dealing with women arose another reason for the
possession of beauty by the valiant. One coveted a woman much as one
would covet a fine flock of sheep, and, in the absence of laws, the one
in possession of either the one or the other of these desirable objects
would soon be dispossessed of them if he was not courageous enough to
guard them against theft. Wars were as much enterprises for ravishing
women as they were for taking other property, and one should remember
that Agamemnon promised to retire from before Troy if the Trojans would
restore Helen and his riches to Menelaus; things which Paris had
despoiled him of.
Also, there was never any of that thing we call "conjugal honor" among
the Greeks; that idea was far too refined; it was a matter too complex
ever to have entered the heads of these semi-barbarous people. This is
exemplified in the fact that, after the taking of Troy, Helen, who had,
of her own free will, belonged successively to Paris, and to Deiphobus,
afterwards returned to Menelaus, who never offered her any reproach.
That conduct of Menelaus was so natural that Telemachus, who, in his trip
to Sparta found Helen again with Menelaus, just as she was before her
abduction, did not show the least astonishment.
The books which bear the most remarkable resemblance to each other are
the Bible and Homer, because the people they describe and the men about
whom they speak are forerunners of civilization in pretty much the same
degree. Sarah was twice snatched from the bosom of Abraham and he was
never displeased with his wife and continued to live on good terms with
her. David, a newcomer on the throne, hastened to have Michol brought to
him although she had already married another man.
The best proof that, during the time of the Romans the women preferred
soldiers to other men is in the claims to successful enterprises by the
bragging soldier of Plautus. Pyrgopolinices thought it was only
necessary to pose as a great warrior, to have all the women chasing after
him; therefore, his parasite and his slave spoke of nothing but the
passions be inspired in women. Tradition has it that among the Samnites,
the bravest men had the choice of the fairest women, and to this custom
is attributed one of the reasons these people were so warlike.
In the times of chivalry the greatest exploits were achieved for the
pleasure of one's Lady-Love, and there were even such valiant knights, as
Don Quixote, who went about the world proving by force of arms that their
ladies had no peer. The poverty-stricken troubadours singing
harmoniously about their beautiful women found them flying away in the
arms of knights who had broken lances at tournaments, or had performed
the greatest feats of arms. In fine, all the peoples of the world have
said with Dryden:
"None but the brave deserves the fair."
Ses camarades se saisissent de moi et de Quartilla.
His comrades seized hold of Quartilla and me.
The profession of Quartilla corresponded to that which is followed by
our ladies of the Palace Royal. This Palace Royal is a sort of Babylon,
with this difference; that the former prostitute themselves all the year
round, and that they are not quite so attractive as the Chaldean
beauties. For the rest, one of the incontestable facts of ancient
history is this prostitution of the women of Babylon in honor of Venus,
and I cannot understand why Voltaire refused to believe it, since
religions have always been responsible for the most abominable actions,
and because religious wars, the horrors of intolerance, the impostures of
priests, the despotism of kings, the degradation and stupidity of the
people, have been the direct fatal effects of religions; and seeing that
the blind fanaticism of martyrs and the brutal cruelty of tyrants is a
hundred times more deplorable than a sacrifice equally agreeable to the
victim and to the one who officiates at the sacrifice; and seeing that
the enjoyment and giving of life is no less holy than the maceration and
caging of innocent animals.
The origin of courtesans is lost in the deepest antiquity. It appears
that it was one of the patriarchal customs to enjoy them, for Judah slept
with Thamar, widow of his two sons, and who, to seduce him, disguised
herself as a courtesan. Another courtesan, Rahab, played a great role in
the first wars of the people of the Lord: it was this same Rahab who
married Solomon, father of Boaz, fourth forefather of David, and
thirty-second forefather of Jesus Christ, our divine Savior. Yet the
eternal sagacity of man has failed to take notice of this profession and
to resent the injustice done it by the scorn of men. The elected kings
of the people, the man who adopts the word father according to the
flesh, are descendants of a courtesan.
For the rest, it must be admitted that many who follow this noble
profession are unworthy of it and only too well justify the ignominy
which is levelled against the entire class. You see these miserable
creatures with livid complexions and haggard eyes, with voices of
Stentor, breathing out at the same time the poisons which circulate in
their veins and the liquors with which they are intoxicated; you see on
their blemished and emaciated bodies, the marks of beings more hideous
than they (twenty come to satisfy their brutal passions for every one of
them); you listen to their vile language, you hear their oaths and
revolting expressions: to go to these Megeres is often to encounter
brigands and assassins: what a spectacle! It is the deformity of vice
in the rags of indigence.
Ah! But these are not courtesans, they are the dregs of cities. A
courtesan worthy of the name is a beautiful woman, gracious and amiable,
at whose home gather men of letters and men of the world; the first
magistrates, the greatest captains: and who keeps men of all professions
in a happy state of mind because she is pleasing to them, she inspires in
them a desire for reciprocal pleasure: such an one was Aspasia who, after
having charmed the cultured people of Athens was for a long time the good
companion of Pericles, and contributed much, perhaps, towards making his
century what it was, the age of taste in arts and letters. Such an
one also was Phryne, Lais, Glycera, and their names will always be
celebrated; such, also, was Ninon d'Enclos, one of the ornaments of
the century of Louis XIV, and Clairon, the first who realized all the
grandeur of her art; such an one art thou, C-----, French Thalia, who
commands attentions, I do not say this by way of apology but to share the
opinion of Alceste.
A courtesan such as I have in mind may have all the public and private
virtues. One knows the severe probity of Ninon, her generosity, her
taste for the arts, her attachment to her friends. Epicharis, the soul
of the conspiracy of Piso against the execrable Nero, was a courtesan,
and the severe Tacitus, who cannot be taxed with a partiality for
gallantry, has borne witness to the constancy with which she resisted the
most seductive promises and endured the most terrible tortures, without
revealing any of the details of the conspiracy or any of the names of the
These facts should be recognized above that ascetic moral idea which
consists of the sovereign virtue of abstinence in defiance of nature's
commands and which places weakness in these matters along with the most
odious crimes. Can one see without indignation Suetonius' reproach of
Caesar for his gallantries with Servilia, with Tertia, and other Roman
ladies, as a thing equal to his extortions and his measureless ambitions,
and praising his warlike ardor against peoples who had never furnished
room for complaint to Rome? The source of these errors was the theory of
emanations. The first dreamers, who were called philosophers imagined
that matter and light were co-eternal; they supposed that was all one
unformed and tenebrous mass; and from the former they established the
principle of evil and of all imperfection, while they regarded the latter
as sovereign perfection. Creation, or, one might better say
co-ordination, was only the emanation of light which penetrated chaos, but
the mixture of light and matter was the cause of all the inevitable
imperfections of the universe. The soul of man was part and parcel of
divinity or of increased light; it would never attain happiness until it
was re-united to the source of all light; but for it, we would be free
from all things we call gross and material, and we would be taken into
the ethereal regions by contemplation and by abstinence from the
pleasures of the flesh. When these absurdities were adopted for the
regulation of conduct, they necessarily resulted in a fierce morality,
inimical to all the pleasures of life, such, in a word, as that of the
Gymnosophists or, in a lesser measure, of the Trappists.
But despite the gloomy nonsense of certain atrabilious dreamers, the
wonderful era of the Greeks was that of the reign of the courtesans.
It was about the houses of these that revolved the sands of Pactolus,
their fame exceeded that of the first men of Greece. The rich offerings
that decorated the temples of the Gods were the gifts of these women,
and it must be remembered that most of them were foreigners, originating,
for the most part, in Asia Minor. It happened that an Athenian
financier, who resembled the rest of his tribe as much as two drops of
water, proposed once to levy an impost upon the courtesans. As he spoke
eloquently of the incalculable advantages which would accrue to the
Government by this tax, a certain person asked him by whom the courtesans
were paid. "By the Athenians," replied our orator, after deliberation.
"Then it would be the Athenians who would pay the impost," replied the
questioner, and the people of Athens, who had a little more sense than
certain legislative assemblies, hooted the orator down, and there was
never any more question about a tax upon courtesans.
Corinth was famous for the number and beauty of its courtesans, from
which comes the proverb: "It is not given to every man to go to Corinth";
there they ran the risk of losing their money and ruining their health.
The cause of this great vogue of courtesans in Greece was not the
supposed ugliness of the sex, as the savant Paw imagined, and
contradicted by the unanimous evidence of ancient authors and of modern
travellers; but rather, the retired and solitary life which the women of
the country led. They lived in separate apartments and never had any
communication with the streets or with the residences of men "the inner
part of the house which was called the women's apartments," said
Cornelius Nepos (preface). Strangers never visited them; they rarely
visited their nearest relations. This was why marriage between brothers
and sisters was authorized by law and encouraged by usage; the sisters
were exposed to the attacks of their brothers because they lived
separated from them.
With the Romans, as with us, the virtuous women corrupted somewhat the
profession of the courtesans. The absolute seclusion of women was never
the fashion at Rome and the stories we have on the authority of Valerius
Maximus on the chastity and modesty of the first Roman matrons merit the
same degree of belief as the legend of Romulus and Remus being brought up
by a wolf, the rape of Lucretia or the tragic death of Virginia. On the
contrary, in Livy, a great admirer of the customs of the early days of
Rome, we find that in those times a great number of Roman women of the
noblest families were convicted of having poisoned their husbands and
condemned to death for this hideous crime: that, by no means shows a very
exquisite and tender conjugal sentiment. During the period of the second
Punic War with what energy they went about the city seeking the repeal of
the law which took out of their hands the custody of jewels and precious
stones! A repeal which they obtained despite the opposition of Cato the
Censor. It appears that the profession of the courtesan was generally
practised by the freed-women; their manner necessarily showed the results
of their education. But the young sparks of Rome never paid much
attention to them, they preferred to have love affairs with the wives of
their friends. For one Sallust who ruined himself with freedwomen, there
were five Cupienniuses; "Cupiennius, that admirer of the pudenda garbed
in white," Hor. Sat. I, ii, 36. Delia, Lesbia, Ipsythillia, Corinna,
Nemesis, Neeria, Cynthia, Sulpitia, Lycimnia, and almost all the women to
whom, under real or assumed names, Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid,
Horace, and others, addressed their erotic compositions, were Roman
married women. Horace is the only one who celebrated a freedwoman in
some of his odes. This is due, however, to his taste for variety and
perhaps also, to his birth, for he himself was the son of a freedwoman.
Ovid's Art of Love and the Satires of Juvenal reveal the extent to which
gallantry was the fashion at Rome and Cato would never have praised the
conduct of that young man who had recourse to a public house if that had
been an ordinary course of procedure.
In Europe of the middle ages, the priests and abbots helped to some
extent in reviving the profession of the courtesans. Long before, Saint
Paul had stated in his Epistles that it was permitted to the apostles
of the Lord to take with them everywhere a sister for charity. The
deaconesses date from the first century of the church. But the celibacy
of the clergy was not universally and solidly established until about the
eleventh century, under the pontificate of Gregory VII. During the
preceding century, the celebrated Marozie and Theodore had put their
lovers successively upon the chair of St. Peter, and their sons and
grandsons, as well. But after the priests had submitted to celibacy they
ostensibly took the concubines of which, alas! our housekeepers of today
are but feeble vestiges. The Spanish codes of the middle ages were often
concerned with the rights of the concubines of priests (mancebas de los
clerigos) and these chosen ones of the chosen ones of the Lord invariably
appeared worthy of envy. Finally the courtesans appeared in all their
magnificence in the Holy City, and modern Rome atoned for the rebuffs and
indignities these women had been compelled to endure in ancient Rome.
The princes of the church showered them with gifts, they threw at their
feet the price of redemption from sin, paid by the faithful, and the age
of Leo X was for Rome a wonderful epoch of fine arts, belles lettres, and
beautiful women. But a fanatical monk from Lower Germany fell upon this
calm of the church and this happy era of the harlots; since then the
revenues of the sacred college have continued to decrease, the beautiful
courtesans have abandoned the capital of the Christian world, and their
pleasures have fled with them. And can anyone longer believe in the
perfection of the human race, since the best, the most holy of human
institutions has so visibly degenerated!
Le Soldat ordonne a embasicetas de m'accabler de ses impurs baisers.
The soldier ordered the catamite to beslaver me with his stinking
One of the reasons which caused the learned and paradoxical Hardouin to
assert that all the works which have been attributed to the ancients,
with the exception of the Georgics and the Natural History of Pliny, were
the compositions of monks, was doubtless the very frequent repetition of
scenes of love for boys, which one notices in most of these writings:
this savant was a Jesuit. But this taste is not peculiar to convents; it
is to be found among all peoples and in all climates; its origin is lost
in the night of the centuries; it is common in the most polished nations
and it is common among savage tribes. Profound philosophers have argued
in favor of it; poets have sung the objects of this sort of love in their
tender and passionate compositions, and these compositions have always
been the delight of posterity. What stupid or unfeeling reader can read
without emotion that beautiful eclogue of Virgil where Corydon sighs his
hopeless love for the beautiful Alexis? The most passionate ode of
Horace is that one in which he complains of the harshness of Ligurinus.
The tender Tibullus, deceived by his Marathus, brings tears to all who
have hearts. The delicate Anacreon, praising his Bathylle, and the
valiant Alceus giving himself up after his labors in war to sing of the
dark eyes and black hair of Lycus . . . "with dark eyes and black hair
beautiful." It is not to over-civilized refinements of society which,
according to certain misanthropists, degrade nature and corrupt it, that
this taste is due; it is found among the south sea islanders, and the
evidence of the first Spaniards attests that it was common among the
hordes of American Indians before the discovery of the new world. Paw
had attempted to explain this as resulting from defects in the formation
of the organs of pleasure among the natives; but a peculiar cause is not
sufficient explanation for a universal effect.
At the time of the Patriarchs, Greek love was so general that in the four
cities, Sodom, Gomorrah, Adama, and Seboim, it was impossible to find ten
men exempt from the contagion; that number would have sufficed, said the
Lord, to withhold the punishment which he inflicted upon those cities.
It should be noted here that most of the assertions about the morals of
the Israelites which are to be found in the Erotica Biblon of Mirabeau
are either false or pure guesswork. It is a bizarre method of judging
the morals of a people, that of taking their legal code and inferring
that the people were accustomed to break all the laws which are forbidden
by that code. Nevertheless, that is the method which the author of the
Erotica Biblon adopts for portraying the morals of the Jewish people.
Again, he has not even understood this code; he has believed that the law
against giving one's seed to the idol Moloch meant giving the human
semen; and he is ignorant of the fact that this seed, as spoken of in the
Bible, means the children and descendants. Thus it is that the land of
Canaan is promised to the seed of Abraham, and the perpetuity of the
reign on Sion to that of David. Moloch was a Phoenician deity, the same
one to which, in Carthage, they sacrificed children; the Romans believed
him to be a reincarnation of their Saturn, but Saturn was an Etruscan
divinity who could never have had any connection with the Gods of
Phoenicia. He (Mirabeau) has translated "those who polluted the temple"
as meaning those who were guilty of some obscenity in the temple; and he
does not know that the temple was "polluted" by a thousand acts, declared
impure by law, and which were not obscene. The entrance of a woman into
a sacred place, less than forty days after her accouchement, or the
entrance of a man who had touched an impure animal, constituted a
pollution of the House of the Lord. When one wishes to make a parade of
erudition he should make some attempt to understand the things which he
pretends to make clear to others. Or is it that this Mirabeau was merely
The love of boys was so thoroughly the fashion in Greece that we have
today given it the name "Greek Love." Orestes was regarded as the "good
friend" of Pylades and Patroclus as the lover of Achilles. In this
taste, the Gods set the example for mortals, and the abduction of
Ganymede for the service of the master of thunder, was not the least
cause for annoyance given the chaste but over-prudish Juno. Lastly,
Hercules was not content with the loves of Omphale and Dejanira, he also
loved the beautiful Hylas, who was brought up by the nymphs.
The Greeks boasted, without blushing, of this love, which they considered
the only passion worthy of men, and they did blush at loving a woman,
intimacy with whom, they said, only rendered her adorers soft and
effeminate. In the Dialogue of Plato, entitled "The Banquet," which is
concerned entirely with discussions of the various forms of love, they
dismiss love for women as unworthy of occupying the attention of sensible
men. One of the speakers, I believe it was Aristophanes, explaining the
cause of this fire which we kindle in the bosoms of our loved ones,
affirms that the first men were doubles which multiplied their force and
their power. This, they abused and, as punishment, Jupiter struck them
with lightning and separated them. By their love for each other they
came together again to regain their primitive state. But the effeminates
sought out only the women because they were only half men, half women;
while those whose tastes were masculine and courageous wanted to become
double men again.
Phedre has put into the mouth of AEsop an explanation of that love which
would certainly not have been relished by the Greeks. He says that while
Prometheus was occupied with modelling his man and woman, he was invited
to a feast given by Jupiter, to the Gods; he came back intoxicated and,
by mistake, applied the sexual parts of one to the body of the other.
For the rest, the Greeks were all in accord in their profound contempt
for women. The theatrical writers, especially, who studied more
particularly the general opinions and catered to them in order to obtain
the applause of the public, were distinguished by their bitterness
against the sex. Euripides maintained that Prometheus deserved to be
chained to Mount Caucasus with the vulture gnawing at his entrails,
because he had fashioned a being so pernicious and hateful as woman. The
shade of Agamemnon, in the Odyssey advised Ulysses not to put any faith
in Penelope and did not stop talking until he had enumerated the entire
list of the vices of the sex. The first Latin authors imitated the
Greeks in their invectives against women; the comedies of Plautus,
especially, teem with virulent attacks upon them.
At Rome, however, the great freedom permitted to women, soon brought
about other opinions in regard to them; they often played an important
role in public and private affairs, and the men convinced themselves
that, like men, women were capable of the greatest crimes and of the most
heroic virtues. The noble stoicism of Arria is not the only example of
courageous virtue displayed by the Roman women at a time when crowned
monsters governed the empire. The young Paulina opened her veins with
her husband, the philosopher, Seneca; Mallonia preferred to die in
torments rather than give herself up to the odious he-goat of Capri.
Who does not admire the noble independence, the conjugal love, and the
matronly virtues of Agrippina, the wife of Germanicus?
Moreover, men began to avow their love for women, and we have here
occasion to observe the rapid progress of gallantry among the Romans.
However, the love for boys was no less universally in vogue in Rome, and
Cicero charges, in his letters to Atticus, that the judges who had so
scandalously white-washed Clodius of the accusation of having profaned
the mysteries of the "Good Goddess," had been publicly promised the
favors of the most illustrious women and the finest young men of the
first families. Caesar himself, in his early youth had yielded to the
embraces of Nicomedes, King of Bithynia; moreover, after his triumph over
the Gauls, on the solemn occasion when it was customary to twit the
victor with all his faults, the soldiers sang: "Caesar subdued the Gauls,
Nicomedes subdued Caesar. But Caesar who subdued the Gauls, triumphed,
and Nicomedes, who subdued Caesar did not." Cato said of him that he was
loved by the King, in his youth and that, when he was older, he loved the
queen and, one day, in the senate, while he was dwelling on I know not
what request of the daughter of Nicomedes, and recounting the benefits
which Rome owed to that monarch, Cicero silenced him by replying: "We
know very well what he has given, and what thou hast given him!" At
last, during the time when the first triumvirate divided all the power,
a bad joker remarked to Pompey: "I salute thee, O King," and, addressing
Caesar, "I salute thee, O Queen!" His enemies maintained that he was the
husband of all the women and the wife of all the husbands. Catullus, who
detested him, always called him "the bald catamite," in his epigrams: he
set forth that his friendship with Mamurra was not at all honorable; he
called this Mamurra "pathicus," a name which they bestowed upon those who
looked for favors among mature men or among men who had passed the stage
The masters of the empire never showed any hesitancy in trying and even
in overdoing the pleasures which all their subjects permitted themselves.
Alas! A crown is such a weighty burden! The road of domination is
strewn with so many briars that one would never be able to pass down it
if he did not take care that they were pressed down under the roses. The
Roman emperors adopted that plan; they longed for pleasures and they took
the pleasures which offered themselves without delay and in a spirit of
competition. Caligula was so little accustomed to waiting that, while
occupied in offering a sacrifice to the Gods, and the figure of a priest
having pleased him, he did not take time to finish the sacred ceremonies
before taking his pleasure of him.
A remarkable thing is that among almost all peoples, the baths are the
places where the prostitution of men by their own sex is the most common.
We see in Catullus that the "cinaedi" (catamites), a noun which my chaste
pen refuses to translate into French, haunted the baths incessantly to
carry out their practices. Among the Orientals, of all modern peoples
who have retained this taste most generally, this same fact holds good.
It was at the bath that Tiberius, impotent through old age and
debauchery, was made young again by the touch little children applied to
his breasts; these children he called "'little fishes," they sucked his
withered breasts, his infected mouth, his livid lips, and finally his
virile parts. Hideous spectacle of a tyrant disgraced by nature and
struggling against her maledictions! But in vain did he invent new
pleasures, in vain did he take part in these scenes in which groups of
young men by threes and fours assumed all sorts of lascivious postures,
and were at the same time active and passive; the sight of these
indulgences of the "sprintriae" (for that is the name which was given
there) did not enable him to resuscitate his vigor any more than the
glamor of the throne or the servile submission of the senate served to
mitigate his remorse.
But of all the emperors, the ones who carried their taste for young boys
to the greatest lengths were, Nero, Domitian and Hadrian. The first
publicly wedded the young eunuch Sporus, whom he had had operated upon so
that he might serve him like a young woman. He paid court to the boy as
he would to a woman and another of his favorites dressed himself up in a
veil and imitated the lamentations which women were accustomed to utter
on nuptial nights. The second consecrated the month of September to his
favorite and the third loved Antinous passionately and caused him to be
deified after death.
The most ample proof of the universality of the taste for young boys
among the Romans is found in the Epithalamium of Manilius and Julia, by
Catullus, and it might be cause for surprise that this has escaped all
the philologists, were it not a constant thing that men frequently
reading about these centuries fail to perceive the most palpable facts
in their authors, just as they pass over the most striking phenomena of
nature without observing them. It appears, from this epithalamium, that
young men, before their marriage, had a favorite selected from among
their slaves and that this favorite was charged with the distribution of
nuts among his comrades, on the day, they in turn, treated him with
contempt and hooted him. Here follows an exact translation of this
curious bit. The favorite could not refuse the nuts to the slaves when
by giving them it appeared that he owned that his master had put away his
love for hire.
"Lest longer mute tongue stays that
In festal jest, from Fescennine,
Nor yet deny their nuts to boys,
He-Concubine! who learns in fine
His lordling's love is fled.
Throw nuts to boys thou idle all
He-Concubine! wast fain full long
With nuts to play: now pleased as thrall
Be thou to swell Talasios' throng
He-Concubine throw nuts.
Wont thou as peasant-girls to jape
He-whore! Thy Lord's delight the while:
Now shall hair-curling chattel scrape
Thy cheeks: poor wretch, ah' poor and vile:--
He-Concubine, throw nuts."
and further on, addressing the husband:
"'Tis said from smooth-faced ingle train
(Anointed bridegroom!) hardly fain
Hast e'er refrained; now do refrain!
O Hymen Hymenaeus io,
O Hymen Hymenaeus!
We know that naught save licit rites
Be known to thee, but wedded wights
No more deem lawful such delights.
O Hymen Hymenaeus io,
O Hymen Hymenaeus."
(LXI. Burton, tr.)
The Christian religion strongly prohibits this love; the theologians put
it among the sins which directly offend against the Holy Ghost. I have
not the honor of knowing just why this thing arouses his anger so much
more than anything else; doubtless there are reasons. But the wrath of
this honest person has not prevented the Christians from having their
"pathici," just as they have in countries where they are authorized by
the reigning deities. We have even noticed that they are the priests of
the Lord and especially the monks who practice this profession most
generally amongst us. The children of Loyola have acquired well-merited
renown in this matter: when they painted "Pleasure" they never failed to
represent him wearing trousers. Those disciples of Joseph Calasanz who
took their places in the education of children, followed their footsteps
with zeal and fervor. Lastly, the cardinals, who have a close
acquaintance with the Holy Ghost, are so prejudiced in favor of Greek
love that they have made it the fashion in the Holy City of Rome; this
leads me to wonder whether the Holy Ghost has changed His mind in regard
to this matter and is no longer shocked by it; or whether the theologians
were not mistaken in assuming an aversion against sodomy which He never
had. The cardinals who are on such familiar terms with him would know
better than to give all their days over to this pleasure if He really
objected to it.
I shall terminate this over-long note with an extract from a violent
diatribe against this love which Lucian puts into the mouth of Charicles.
He is addressing Callicratidas, a passionate lover of young boys, with
whom he had gone to visit the temple of Venus at Cnidus.
"O Venus, my queen! to thee I call; lend me your aid while I plead your
cause. For everything over which you deign to shed, be it ever so
little, the persuasion of your charms, reaches absolute perfection, above
all, erotic discourses need your presence, for you are their lawful
mother. In your womanhood, defend the cause of woman, and grant to men
to remain men as they have been born. At the beginning of my discourse,
I call as witness to the truth of my arguments the first mother of all
created things, the source of all generation, the holy Nature of this
universe, who, gathering into one and uniting the elements of the
world--earth, air, fire and water--and mingling them together, gave life
to everything that breathes. Knowing that we are a compound of
perishable matter, and that the span of life assigned to each of us was
short, she contrived that the death of one should be the birth of
another, and meted out to the dying, by way of compensation, the coming
into being of others, that by mutual succession we might live forever.
But, as it was impossible for anything to be born from a single thing
alone, she created two different sexes, and bestowed upon the male the
power of emitting semen, making the female the receptacle of generation.
Having inspired both with mutual desires, she joined them together,
ordaining, as a sacred law of necessity, that each sex should remain
faithful to its own nature--that the female should not play the male
unnaturally, nor the male degrade himself by usurping the functions of
the female. Thus intercourse of men with women has preserved the human
race by never-ending succession: no man can boast of having been created
by man alone; two venerable names are held in equal honor, and men
revere their mother equally with their father. At first, when men were
filled with heroic thoughts, they reverenced those virtues which bring
us nearer to the Gods, obeyed the laws of Nature, and, united to women
of suitable age, became the sires of noble offspring. But, by degrees,
human life, degenerating from that nobility of sentiment, sank to the
lowest depths of pleasure, and began to carve out strange and corrupt
ways in the search after enjoyment. Then sensuality, daring all,
violated the laws of Nature herself. Who was it who first looked upon
the male as female, violating him by force or villainous persuasion?
One sex entered one bed, and men had the shamelessness to look at one
another without a blush for what they did or for what they submitted to,
and, sowing seed, as it were, upon barren rocks, they enjoyed a
short-lived pleasure at the cost of undying shame.
"Some pushed their cruelty so far as to outrage Nature with the
sacrilegious knife, and, after depriving men of their virility, found in
them the height of pleasure. These miserable and unhappy creatures, that
they may the longer serve the purposes of boys, are stunted in their
manhood, and remain a doubtful riddle of a double sex, neither preserving
that boyhood in which they were born, nor possessing that manhood which
should be theirs. The bloom of their youth withers away in a premature
old age: while yet boys they suddenly become old, without any interval of
manhood. For impure sensuality, the mistress of every vice, devising one
shameless pleasure after another, insensibly plunges into unmentionable
debauchery, experienced in every form of brutal lust. "Whereas, if each
would abide by the laws prescribed by Providence, we should be satisfied
with intercourse with women, and our lives would be undefiled by shameful
practices. Consider the animals, which cannot corrupt by innate
viciousness, how they observe the law of Nature in all its purity.
He-lions do not lust after he-lions, but, in due season, passion excites
them towards the females of their species: the bull that rules the herd
mounts cows, and the ram fills the whole flock of ewes with the seed of
generation. Again, boars mate with sows, he-wolves with shewolves,
neither the birds that fly through the air, nor the fish that inhabit the
deep, or any living creatures upon earth desire male intercourse, but
amongst them the laws of Nature remain unbroken. But you men, who boast
idly of your wisdom, but are in reality worthless brutes, what strange
disease provokes you to outrage one another unnaturally? What blind
folly fills your minds, that you commit the two-fold error of avoiding
what you should pursue, and pursuing what you should avoid? If each and
all were to pursue such evil courses, the race of human beings would
become extinct on earth. And here comes in that wonderful Socratic
argument, whereby the minds of boys, as yet unable to reason clearly, are
deceived, for a ripe intellect could not be misled. These followers of
Socrates pretend to love the soul alone, and, being ashamed to profess
love for the person, call themselves lovers of virtue, whereat I have
often been moved to laughter. How comes it, O grave philosophers, that
you hold in such slight regard a man who, during a long life, has given
proofs of merit, and of that virtue which old age and white hairs become?
How is it that the affections of the philosophers are all in a flutter
after the young; who cannot yet make up their minds which path of life to
take? Is there a law, then, that all ugliness is to be condemned as
vice, and that everything that is beautiful is to be extolled without
further examination? But, according to Homer, the great interpreter of
truth--'One man is meaner than another in looks, but God crowns his words
with beauty, and his hearers gaze upon him with delight, while he speaks
unfalteringly with winning modesty, and is conspicuous amongst the
assembled folk, who look upon him as a God when he walks through the
city.' And again he says: 'Your beauteous form is destitute of
intelligence; the wise Ulysses is praised more highly than the handsome
Nireus.' How then comes it that the love of wisdom, justice, and the
other virtues, which are the heritage of the full-grown man, possess no
attraction for you, while the beauty of boys excites the most vehement
passion! What! should one love Phoedrus, remembering Lysias, whom he
betrayed? Could one love the beauty of Alcibiades, who mutilated the
statues of the Gods, and, in the midst of a debauch, betrayed the
mysteries of the rites of Eleusis? Who would venture to declare himself
his admirer, after Athens was abandoned, and Decelea fortified by the
enemy--the admirer of one whose sole aim in life was tyranny? But, as
the divine Plato says, as long as his chin was beardless, he was beloved
by all; but, when he passed from boyhood to manhood, when his imperfect
intelligence had reached its maturity, he was hated by all. Why, then,
giving modest names to immodest sentiments, do men call personal beauty
virtue, being in reality lovers of youth rather than lovers of wisdom?
However, it is not my intention to speak evil of distinguished men. But,
to descend from graver topics to the mere question of enjoyment, I will
prove that connection with women is far more enjoyable than connection
with boys. In the first place, the longer enjoyment lasts, the more
delight it affords; too rapid pleasure passes quickly away, and it is
over before it is thoroughly appreciated; but, if it lasts, it is thereby
enhanced. Would to heaven that grudging Destiny had allotted us a longer
lease of life, and that we could enjoy perpetual health without any
sorrow to spoil our pleasure; then would our life be one continual feast.
But, since jealous Fortune has grudged us greater blessings, those
enjoyments that last the longest are the sweetest. Again, a woman, from
puberty to middle age, until the last wrinkles furrow her face, is worth
embracing and fit for intercourse; and, even though the prime of her
beauty be past, her experience can speak more eloquently than the love of
"I should consider anyone who attempted to have intercourse with a youth
of twenty years to be the slave of unnatural lust. The limbs of such,
like those of a man, are hard and coarse; their chins, formerly so
smooth, are rough and bristly, and their well-grown thighs are disfigured
with hairs. As for their other parts, I leave those of you who have
experience to decide. On the other hand, a woman's charms are always
enhanced by an attractive complexion, flowing locks, dark as hyacinths,
stream down her back and adorn her shoulders, or fall over her ears and
temples, more luxuriant than the parsley in the fields. The rest of her
person, without a hair upon it, shines more brilliantly than amber or
Sidonian crystal. Why should we not pursue those pleasures which are
mutual, which cause equal enjoyment to those who receive and to those who
afford them? For we are not, like animals, fond of solitary lives, but,
united in social relations, we consider these pleasures sweeter, and
those pains easier to bear, which we share with others. Hence, a common
table was instituted, the mediator of friendship. When we minister to
the wants of the belly, we do not drink Thasian wine, or consume costly
food by ourselves alone, but in company: for our pleasures and enjoyments
are increased when shared with others. In like manner, the intercourse
of men with women causes enjoyment to each in turn, and both are alike
delighted; unless we accept the judgment of Tiresias, who declared that
the woman's pleasure was twice as great as the man's. I think that those
who are not selfish should not consider how they may best secure the
whole enjoyment for themselves, but should share what they have with
others. Now, in the case of boys, no one would be mad enough to assert
that this is the case; for, while he who enjoys their person reaches the
height of pleasure--at least, according to his way of thinking--the
object of his passion at first feels pain, even to tears, but when, by
repetition, the pain becomes less keen, while he no longer hurts him, he
will feel no pleasure himself. To mention something still more curious
--as is fitting within the precincts of Venus--you may make the same use
of a woman as of a boy, and thereby open a double avenue to enjoyment;
but the male can never afford the same enjoyment as the female.
"Therefore, if you are convinced by my arguments, let us, men and women,
keep ourselves apart, as if a wall divided us; but, if it is becoming for
men to have intercourse with men, for the future let women have
intercourse with women. Come, O new generation, inventor of strange
pleasures! As you have devised new methods to satisfy male lust, grant
the same privilege to women; let them have intercourse with one another
like men, girding themselves with the infamous instruments of lust, an
unholy imitation of a fruitless union; in a word, let our wanton Tribads
reign unchecked, and let our women's chambers be disgraced by
hermaphrodites. Far better that a woman, in the madness of her lust,
should usurp the nature of a man, than that man's noble nature should be
so degraded as to play the woman!"
Embasicetas fut bientot au comble de ses voeux.
The Catamite soon reached the height of his passion.
The theologians class this species of lascivious feeling with pollution
which is complete when it produces a result. The Holy Scripture tells us
of Onan, son of Judas, grandson of Jacob, and husband of Thamar, who was
slain by the Lord because he spilled his semen, "he poured his semen upon
the ground." We may be reproached, perhaps, for citing the Holy Bible
too frequently, but that book contains the knowledge of salvation, and
those who wish to be saved should not fail to study it with assiduity.
That this study has occupied a good part of our life, we admit, and we
have always found that study profitable. To vigorous minds that
admission may seem ridiculous, but we are writing only for pious souls,
and they will willingly applaud this courageous profession of our piety.
The theologians have also classified onanism and pollution among the sins
against the Holy Ghost, and this being the case, there is no being in the
world who has been sinned against so often. A medium indulgence in this
sin furnished the pleasure of a queen, the severity of one Lucretia does
not repel a thousand Tarquins. Men with vivid imaginations create for
themselves a paradise peopled with the most beautiful houris, more
seductive than those of Mahomet; Lycoris had a beautiful body but it was