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Sexuality in the Ancient Greece and Rome

By Rosario Gómez
This entry contains a brief summary of some of the most widespread criteria in the aforementioned ancient cultures, in order to better understand the artistic illustrations that appear in these historical or historical periods. I write some texts that allow us to go deeper into the subject, one of them is a comparative anthropological treatise of diverse cultures in 5 continents, it is a very interesting pioneering work written in 1988 by Edgar Gregersen, Professor of Anthropology at Queens College, New York.
Other points of view of other authors and thematic exhibitions are also collected: Promiscuous, Cycladic Art Museum in Athens, director and commentator Nicholaos Stampolidis. Alfonso Cuatrecasas, doctor in classical philology and author of Love and sexuality in ancient Rome. Antonio Poveda professor of Ancient History at the University of Alicante and curator of the exhibition Sex and eroticism: Rome in Hispania, held at the Archaeological Museum of Murcia, Clarke. George Feurstein, Marion Woodman.


Jumping in time we reach the classical era; Greece and Rome (V century BC - II AD). They were times of cult to the body in which sex, religion and magic were closely linked. Through the objects of art we see that the subject of sex was approached with total normality.
The attitude toward pleasure that aesthetics has given us, describes very well the hedonistic character of the Mediterranean people, always willing to let themselves be carried away by the senses. Perhaps for this reason, in Homer's time, the Greek word for love designated not only the sexual desire but the appetite to eat and drink and it served to describe any impulse related to the pleasure of life (idoní). Such a temperament is typical of a sensual race that sings to life and especially to love. The philosopher Empedocles said that in the most remote times, humanity venerated the goddess of love and was so free of hypocrisy that the laws seemed to be made for the individual to enjoy life, not to embitter it. Also, Pindar, said that in the first place you have to look for happiness and then reputation.
In the exhibition of the year 2010 entitled Promiscuos in Athens, in the Art Museum of the Cyclades, it was suggested that eroticism was not only a decorative element, it also had a fetishistic character and was an integral part of civic life, both in the sphere private as in the public. "Our ancestors were very tolerant; his society was open. And sex was a unifying force of society ", explains the director of the Museum, says museum director Nicholaos Stampolidis.
The phallus represented and symbolized the mysterious creative and fecundating forces of the universe, the generative power of nature that protected life against forces that could threaten them. Hence, it will be part of the urban and domestic real estate.
Sexual habits in Rome are inherited in part from Greek culture, albeit with a few differences. The Greeks were equally uninhibited, but everything focused on a gender issue: man had the right to enjoy (with men, essentially), while women served for reproductive functions. In Rome, on the other hand, patterns of sexual behavior were organized according to social class. The elite had their hands free: "At that time, a free citizen could do practically everything in relation to sex" summarizes Alfonso Cuatrecasas, doctor in classical philology and author of Love and sexuality in ancient Rome.
However, despite the most common beliefs that present the Greek people as a promiscuous people and defender of homosexuality, there are other documentary sources that speak of Sexual tendencies oriented towards chastity and the rejection of homosexuality for the sake of pedophilia. Béatrice Bantman, journalist of Libération, tells us that there are numerous writings on the s. x BC who show disgust towards sexual excesses. In this century, elegance was chastity.

La mitología rebosa de amores heterosexuales de los dioses del Olimpo. Afrodita y Dionisios engendran a Príapo, un dios en perpetua erección. Hércules, además de sus famosos trabajos, desflora a más de cincuenta vírgenes durante una velada, Teseo sedujo a un sin fin de jóvenes, pero en la tierra, se alaban los méritos de Taranto, vencedor en Olimpia, que guardó el celibato a lo largo de su vida. Los teóricos de la época defienden que el derroche del semen te convierte en cobarde, sin fuerzas, torpe y estúpido. Predican la continencia Cristóbulo, Platón Jeofonte e Isócrates.

Towards the s. I dC, the wise begin to yield and no one denigrates the sexual act by nature, although its practice is recommended with much moderation, it is still spoken of its dangers but some advantages begin to be described as that it dissipates the fixed ideas, it softens the violent anger and it is a remedy against misanthropy and melancholy, reproductive sex is prioritized.

Respecto a la homosexualidad, es Foulcault quien nos dice que nada indica que en la sociedad griega la homosexualidad sea verdaderamente tolerada, aunque si, abiertamente practicada, por travestidos o con frecuencia prisioneros de guerra que habían sido vendidos como esclavos. Dada la idealización de la pederastia, se considera la homosexualidad una actividad despreciable. Solón en el siglo VI a. C pensaba que un hombre que vende su cuerpo es muy fácil que traicione a su patria.

La pederastia, considerada una relación homofílica, era considerada una institución, se daba entre adultos y efebos desde los 10 años, pero estas relaciones se consideraban edificantes en cuanto que transmitían valores civilizatorios. Había al menos dos mitos a alusivos, uno se refiere a Orfeo, quien comenzó a mantener relaciones amorosas con muchachos a causa del dolor que le infringió la pérdida de su esposa, Eurídice. El segundo asegura que la pederastia fue invención de Tamiris, hijo de Filemón y de la ninfa Argiope, que fue cautivado por el hermoso joven Jacinto.

In Rome, Venus, the goddess of pleasure and love, was the mother of Aeneas, founder of the Roman lineage, with what always enjoyed in Rome of special veneration. At the same time, the phallus represented and symbolized the mysterious creative and fecundating forces of the universe, the generative power of nature that protected life against the forces that could threaten them. Hence, it will be part of the urban and domestic real estate. Eroticism was not only a decorative element (its representation in sculptures and paintings served, among other things, to ward off bad luck) but an integral part of civic life, both in the private sphere and in the public sphere. They were very tolerant; his society was open and sex was a unifying force of society. "

A Roman citizen could quietly sleep with his wife in bed, with a man in the hot springs, with the prostitute in a brothel and with a slave in the patio of his house. For him there were two types of women: those who served to get married, in order to have a child, and those who served to enjoy. The first group belonged to Roman citizens. To the second group, slaves, foreigners, prostitutes. As Plautus writes, "while you abstain from married women, widows, virgins or little children of free birth, make love with whomever you please." Relations with another woman of her class were forbidden to the Roman citizenSometimes I could even suffer castration. At that time there were not many spaces for romantic couple since, as we have seen, the Romans did not bind, but fornicated. In Rome it was believed that love diminished the capacity for rational thought and was not well seen. The nubile age of the woman was twelve years and the age of man seventeen. The marriage union - only heterosexual - was a mere bureaucratic process with the sole purpose of procreating. Procuring satisfaction to the woman was not conceivable. Mutual satisfaction was not contemplated ", Ovidio was condemned to exile because in Ars Amandi he dared to express intolerable concepts for morality at that time. "I hate intercourse when the orgasm is not mutual", the woman in ancient Greece served only for procreation. The man was his legal guardian. Their subjugation, together with the fact that they got married at the age of ten, made their role in public life scarce. In contrast, the woman in Rome acquires a minimum of emancipation, was still sexually repressed in marriage, but had a social life, participated in dinners and conversations, "says Cuatrecasas, a doctor of classical languages ​​and a scholar of Roman antiquity. There was a certain difference between official doctrine and reality. "The woman who wanted to have sex could prostitute herself occasionally or frequented brothels to know the pleasure, they put on make-up, they changed their identity, it had to be disguised," Antonio Poveda, professor of Ancient History at the University of Alicante. The life of couple at that time was not based on mutual fidelity. The woman could go with another woman, it was not a problem, it was not an infidelity proper, like the man who went with another man. From the empire, bisexuality was accepted and adultery was normal."In Pompeii, some frescoes tell us about communal sex between 6 or 7 people, they are also observed prostitutes. In fact, Roman prostitutes come to complain about the competition of the latter, "says Poveda, a professor associated with the area of ​​Ancient History at the University of Alicante. Despite the Roman sexual liberality, also there were important taboos, highlighting that of fellatio, which was considered an outrage against art and the purity of oratory and passive anal sexuality, only practiced by inferior Beatrice Bantman comments, that in The Roman Empire was already known contraception and even stress. These two factors together with drinking, lead poisoning, and the abuse, according to some authors, of hot baths, which produce sterility in men, are according to some authors, the cause of the depopulation that made the fall of the Roman Empire possible. To alleviate this impotence, leather penises are made with olive oil and ground pepper, and to fight the decay, some people whip the underside and thighs with nettles or cook white onions and pine cones or eat pork marrow and right testicle of ass drenched in wine. Although in our eyes the Roman sexual habits may seem to us chaos or drift towards anarchy, the civilization of Rome lasted 1.229 years (in the West). This shows that these lax customs were not incompatible with governance. The citizens accepted them willingly and shied away from any form of repression or regulation. In fact, Christianity barely managed to make a dent in Rome and its influence at the beginning was minimal. For Cuatresasas, "Christianity was a problem for Rome: it defended the equality of customs, the same rights of men and women, and promoted a unique and anti-slavery god." He was subversive against Roman institutions and popular only among the humblest class. "In the background, some precepts of Christianity, such as abstinence outside of marriage, were the best way to liberate women from humiliation. It was a form of rebellion against the existing order, "says Poveda. The fall of the Empire caused that Christianity was able to impose its creed and little by little the promiscuity was left. Jesus spoke of love constantly, but two centuries later, sex became an obsession, St. Paul opted for celibacy and St. Jerome, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, after their bad love experiences, imposed the belief of that sex was outrageous lust and had to be condemned and repressed, except for reproductive purposes, but still with great conditioning. The fires began to ignite against homosexuals and promiscuous women, considered witches and heretics.

Bantman, Béatrice. Brief History of Sex. Ed. Paidós
Cuatrecasas, Alfonso. Love and sexuality in ancient Rome Ed. Diffused Lyrics
García Valdés, Alberto. History and present of homosexuality. Edc. Akal Gregersen,
Edgar. Sexual customs. How, where and when of a human sexuality.
Book club. 1988 Sex to the Old:
Garrido, Glory. Magazine MYSTERIES OF ARCHEOLOGY AND THE PAST Year 2 / No. 16, 1998


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