Bestial Sexual Morality. Or, How A Camel is Superior to Oedipus

Aelian, History of Animals 4.47

“For the sake of Zeus, allow me to interrogate the tragedians and the storytellers who came before them as to what they had in mind when they pour so great an ignorance on Laios’ son who joined that terrible journey with his mother and on Telephos who, although he did not pursue sex, also laid next to the one who bore him and would have done the same things if a serpent had not interrupted him by divine command. How can these things happen when nature even allows the mindless animals to recognize the nature of this union from simple touch—they do not need special signs or anything from the man who exposed Oedipus on Mt. Cithairon.

The camel, indeed, would certainly never have sex with its own mother. There was a herdsman, who tried to force this, and, by covering up a female as much as possible and hiding all of her except for her genitals, drove the child to its mother. The ignorant animal, thanks to its excitement for sex, did the deed and then understood it. While biting and trampling the man who was responsible for this unnatural union, it killed him terribly by kneeling on top of him. Then it threw him off a cliff.

In this, Oedipus was ignorant in failing to kill himself and just putting out is eyes: for, he did not know that it was possible to escape his troubles by getting rid of himself and not curing his home and family, and as such to try to cure evils which had passed with an incurable evil.”

47. Δότε μοι τοὺς τραγῳδοὺς πρὸς τοῦ πατρῴου Διὸς καὶ πρό γε ἐκείνων τοὺς μυθοποιοὺς ἐρέσθαι τί βουλόμενοι τοσαύτην ἄγνοιαν τοῦ παιδὸς τοῦ Λαΐου καταχέουσι τοῦ συνελθόντος τῇ μητρὶ τὴν δυστυχῆ σύνοδον, καὶ τοῦ Τηλέφου τοῦ μὴ πειραθέντος μὲν τῆς ὁμιλίας, συγκατακλινέντος δὲ τῇ γειναμένῃ καὶ πράξαντος ἂν τὰ αὐτά, εἰ μὴ θείᾳ πομπῇ διεῖρξεν ὁ δράκων· εἴ γε ἡ φύσις τοῖς ἀλόγοις ζῴοις τὴν τοιαύτην μίξιν καὶ ἐκ τοῦ χρωτὸς δίδωσι κατανοῆσαι, καὶ οὐ δεῖται γνωρισμάτων οὐδὲ τοῦ ἐκθέντος ἐς τὸν Κιθαιρῶνα. οὐκ ἂν γοῦν ποτε τῇ τεκούσῃ ὁμιλήσειε κάμηλος. ὁ δέ τοι νομεὺς τῆς ἀγέλης κατακαλύψας τὸν θῆλυν ὡς οἷόν τε ἦν καὶ ἀποκρύψας πάντα πλὴν τῶν ἄρθρων, τὸν παῖδα ἐπάγει τῇ μητρί, καὶ ἐκεῖνος λάθριος ὑπὸ ὁρμῆς τῆς πρὸς μίξιν ἔδρασε τὸ ἔργον καὶ συνῆκε. καὶ τὸν μὲν αἴτιον τῆς ὁμιλίας οἱ τῆς ἐκθέσμου δάκνων καὶ πατῶν καὶ τοῖς γόνασι παίων ἀπέκτεινεν ἀλγεινότατα, ἑαυτὸν δὲ κατεκρήμνισεν. ἀμαθὴς δὲ καὶ κατὰ τοῦτο Οἰδίπους, οὐκ ἀποκτείνας, ἀλλὰ πηρώσας τὴν ὄψιν, καὶ τὴν τῶν κακῶν λύσιν μὴ γνοὺς ἐξὸν ἀπηλλάχθαι καὶ μὴ τῷ οἴκῳ καὶ τῷ γένει καταρώμενον εἶτα μέντοι κακῷ ἀνηκέστῳ ἰᾶσθαι κακὰ τὰ ἤδη παρελθόντα.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 15v

Like Father, Like Son? A Taboo Love and a Wasting Sickness

Valerius Maximus, 5.7 ext. 1

“Let’s turn to somethings more pleasant to think about. Antiochus, the son of king Seleucus, was overcome with endless love for his stepmother Stratonice. Because he knew he was burning with taboo passions, he was hiding the wound of his wicked heart with dutiful dissimulation.

These warring emotions which were shut up in the same organs—the most pressing desire and the deepest shame—tortured him, causing his body to waste away. He used to stretch out in bed like a dying man and his close friends were lamenting. His father, laid out by grief, was thinking of the death of his only son and his own terrible loss. The whole house was funereal instead of royal.

But the wisdom of Leptines the Astrologer or Erisastratos the physician as some claim dispelled the cloud of sorrow. While sitting next to Antiochus, he noticed that the boy’s complexion grew ruddy and his breath hastened when Stratonice entered. And he got to the truth itself with a more investigative observation. While Stratonice was entering and the exciting again, he quietly grasped the young man’s arm and figured out what kind of sickness this was by the increase or decrease of his pulse.

He told Seleucus right away and Seleucus wasted no time in giving his wife who was most dear to him over to his son. For he believed that Fate caused his son to fall in love but that honor had prepared him to hide that love to death itself. Think for yourself of that old king, a lover. For it will soon be clear how many difficult troubles came when a father’s indulgence reigned supreme.”

Ceterum ut ad iucundiora cognitu veniamus, Seleuci regis filius Antiochus, novercae Stratonices infinito amore correptus, memor quam improbis facibus arderet, impium pectoris vulnus pia dissimulatione contegebat. itaque diversi adfectus iisdem visceribus ac medullis inclusi, summa cupiditas et maxima verecundia, ad ultimam tabem corpus eius redegerunt. iacebat ipse in lectulo moribundo similis, lamentabantur necessarii, pater maerore prostratus de obitu unici filii deque sua miserrima orbitate cogitabat, totius domus funebris magis quam regius erat vultus.

sed hanc tristitiae nubem Leptinis mathematici vel, ut quidam tradunt, Erasistrati medici providentia discussit: iuxta enim Antiochum sedens, ut eum ad introitum Stratonices rubore perfundi et spiritu increbrescere, eaque egrediente pallescere et excitatiorem anhelitum subinde recuperare animadvertit, curiosiore observatione ad ipsam veritatem penetravit: intrante enim Stratonice et rursus abeunte bracchium adulescentis dissimulanter apprehendendo modo vegetiore, modo languidiore pulsu venarum comperit cuius morbi aeger esset, protinusque id Seleuco exposuit. qui carissima sibi coniuge filio cedere non dubitavit, quod in amorem incidisset Fortunae acceptum referens, quod dissimulare eum ad mortem usque paratus esset ipsius pudori imputans. subiciatur animis senex rex amans: iam patebit quam multa quamque difficilia paterni adfectus indulgentia superavit.

Stratonice, a Macedonian noble and granddaughter of Antipater (who held Macedonia as regent when Alexander went on his campaign in 331 BCE) was married to Seleucus in 300 BCE at age 17 and then his son Antiochus in 294 BCE. Her daughter with Seleucus (Phila) went on to marry Antigonus II Gonatas, who ruled Macedonia. One son with Antiochus, a second Seleucus, was executed. But her other son, Antiochus II Theos, ruled the Seleucid empire after the first Antiochus. Another daughter, Apama II, married Magas of Cyrene and was mother of Berenice II.

There should be a miniseries about Stratonice.

David-Antiochus et Stratonice.jpg
Antiochus and Stratonice by Jacques-Louis David, 1774

Sexual Relativity with Sextus Empiricus: Masturbation! Mothers and Sons!

From Sextus Empiricus Pyrrhonian Hypotyposes, 3.206-207

“Similarly, this seems shameful to one of the sages but not to another. For us it is wrong to marry your own mother or sister. But the Persians, especially those of them who seem to pursue wisdom, the Magi, marry their mothers just as the Egyptians marry their sisters. The poet also says: “Zeus addressed Hera, his wife and sister…”

Zeno of Citium even says that it is not strange to rub your mother’s genitals with your own, just as no one would claim it is wrong to rub any other part of her body with your hand. Chrysippus approves in his Republic of a father getting children from his daughter, a mother from her son, and a brother from his sister. Plato insisted generally that wives should be held in common. Zeno also does not disapprove of masturbation, which is shameful in our culture. We have also learned that others practice this wicked habit as if it were a good thing.”


οὕτω καὶ τῶν σοφῶν ᾧ μὲν οὐκ αἰσχρόν, ᾧ δὲ αἰσχρὸν ἐδόκει τοῦτο εἶναι. ἄθεσμον τέ ἐστι παρ’ ἡμῖν μητέρα ἢ ἀδελφὴν ἰδίαν γαμεῖν· Πέρσαι δέ, καὶ μάλιστα αὐτῶν οἱ σοφίαν ἀσκεῖν δοκοῦντες, οἱ Μάγοι, γαμοῦσι τὰς μητέρας, καὶ Αἰγύπτιοι τὰς ἀδελφὰς ἄγονται πρὸς γάμον, καὶ ὡς ὁ ποιητής φησιν,

Ζεὺς ῞Ηρην προσέειπε κασιγνήτην ἄλοχόν τε.

ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ Κιτιεὺς Ζήνων φησὶ μὴ ἄτοπον εἶναι τὸ μόριον τῆς μητρὸς τῷ ἑαυτοῦ μορίῳ τρῖψαι, καθάπερ οὐδὲ ἄλλο τι μέρος τοῦ σώματος αὐτῆς τῇ χειρὶ τρῖψαι φαῦλον ἂν εἴποι τις εἶναι. καὶ ὁ Χρύσιππος δὲ ἐν τῇ πολιτείᾳ δογματίζει τόν τε πατέρα ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς παιδοποιεῖσθαι καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἐκ τοῦ παιδὸς καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐκ τῆς ἀδελφῆς. Πλάτων δὲ καὶ καθολικώτερον κοινὰς εἶναι τὰς γυναῖκας δεῖν ἀπεφήνατο. τό τε αἰσχρουργεῖν ἐπάρατον ὂν παρ’ ἡμῖν ὁ Ζήνων οὐκ ἀποδοκιμάζει· καὶ ἄλλους δὲ ὡς ἀγαθῷ τινι τούτῳ χρῆσθαι τῷ κακῷ πυνθανόμεθα.

Catullus, 91: Untrustworthy Gellius Fails to Surprise

“I was hoping that you would be true to me, Gellius
in my misery, in this love of sure destruction,
not because I know you well and think you are dependable,
or because you are able of restraining your mind from foul crime,
but because I grasped that she is not your mother or sister,
this girl whose great love has been consuming me.
Yet, even though I was joined with you by much familiarity,
I did not believe that this was enough to attract you.
But you, you thought it enough: you find so much joy
In any fault, in anything with even the smallest part of sin.”

Non ideo, Gelli, sperabam te mihi fidum
in misero hoc nostro, hoc perdito amore fore,
quod te cognossem bene constantemve putarem
aut posse a turpi mentem inhibere probro;
sed neque quod matrem nec germanam esse videbam
hanc tibi, cuius me magnus edebat amor.
et quamvis tecum multo coniungerer usu,
non satis id causae credideram esse tibi.
tu satis id duxti: tantum tibi gaudium in omni
culpa est, in quacumque est aliquid sceleris.

Gellius is one of the recurring addressees in Catullus’ poems. He is infamous across the centuries for his (alleged) incestuous relationships with his mother and his (alleged) novel ‘lip balm’ (to name a few of Catullus’ more ribald jests….)