The Incestuous Feast: Fronto’s Religious Slander

While looking for nice and amusing anecdotes about feasting in the ancient world, I was reminded of the following. Enjoy.

Fronto Ex Octavio Minucii Felicis, ix. 8

This is known to us concerning the banquet; everyone is talking about this here and there. The speech of our countryman of Cirta attests to it too:

“They gather together for a meal each good day with all their children, sisters, mothers, and people of every sex and every age. Then, after much eating, when the meal has warmed and a fever of incestuous lust and drunkenness has taken fire, a dog which is tied to a candelabra is enticed by the toss of a little cake to rush and jump beyond the strain of the line to which its bound. Thus, when the light has been thrown down and put out, under shadows with no shame they turn to embraces of sick desire in chance meetings and everyone, if not by certainty, are still somewhat liable for incest since whatever can happen in the act of an individual is sought by universal desire.”

Et de convivio notum est: passim omnes loquuntur: id etiam Cirtensis nostri testatur oratio:—

“Ad epulas solemni die coeunt cum omnibus liberis sororibus matribus sexus omnis homines et omnis aetatis. Illic post multas epulas, ubi convivium caluit et incestae libidinis, ebrietatis fervor exarsit, canis qui candelabro nexus est, iactu offulae ultra spatium lineae, qua vinctus est, ad impetum et saltum provocatur: sic everso et extincto conscio lumine impudentibus tenebris nexus infandae cupiditatis involvunt per incertum sortis, et si non omnes opera, conscientia tamen pariter incesti, quoniam voto universorum adpetitur quidquid accidere potest in actu singulorum.”

Tertullian addresses this type of slander (Apology 7)

“We are said to be the most illicit people thanks to our rite of baby-killing and the baby-eating and the incest that follows the banquet where dogs overturn lamps like pimps of the shadows and purchase some respectability for our sinful lust. This is how we are always talked about. You don’t try at all to eradicate what has been said for so long. So, then, either expose the crime if you believe it, or stop believing it if you do not prove it.”

VII. Dicimur sceleratissimi de sacramento infanticidii et pabulo inde, et post convivium incesto, quod eversores luminum canes, lenones scilicet tenebrarum, libidinum impiarum in verecundiam procurent. Dicimur tamen semper, nec vos quod tam diu dicimur eruere curatis. Ergo aut eruite, si creditis, aut nolite credere, qui non eruistis.

Image result for Ancient Roman feast
Banquet Fresco from Herculaneum

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