From Incest to Athletics – It’s All Undignified in Rome

Cornelius Nepos, Lives (Preface):

But there will probably be those who, having no knowledge of Greek literature, will think that nothing is right unless it accords with their own customs. If they learn that the same things do not seem either right or wrong to all people, but that all things are judged by the precedent of one’s ancestors, they will not wonder that we have followed Greek customs in explaining Greek virtues. For it was not reckoned shameful for Cimon, a man of the highest reputation among the Athenians, to have married his very own sister, especially since many of his fellow citizens did the same thing. But indeed, that is considered unspeakably bad according to our ways.

In Crete, it is considered high praise for a young man to have as many lovers as possible. There is no widow in Sparta so noble that she would not take a fee and go to the mistress of the bawdy house. In all of Greece, it was a great honor to be named the victor in Olympia; at the same time, they considered it no shame to get onto the stage and become a spectacle for all. But among us, all of these things are in some way disreputable, in some way undignified, and removed entirely from nobility.

Sed hi erunt fere, qui expertes litterarum Graecarum nihil rectum, nisi quod ipsorum moribus conveniat, putabunt. Hi si didicerint non eadem omnibus esse honesta atque turpia, sed omnia maiorum institutis iudicari, non admirabuntur nos in Graiorum virtutibus exponendis mores eorum secutos. Neque enim Cimoni fuit turpe, Atheniensium summo viro, sororem germanam habere in matrimonio, quippe cum cives eius eodem uterentur instituto. At id quidem nostris moribus nefas habetur. Laudi in Creta ducitur adulescentulis quam plurimos habuisse amatores. Nulla Lacedaemoni vidua tam est nobilis, quae non ad lenam eat mercede conducta. Magnis in laudibus tota fere fuit Graecia victorem Olympiae citari; in scaenam vero prodire ac populo esse spectaculo nemini in eisdem gentibus fuit turpitudini. Quae omnia apud nos partim infamia, partim humilia atque ab honestate remota ponuntur.

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