The Original Virgin Suicides

Here’s an anecdote that is chilling and a bit upsetting. Warning: it contains misogyny as well as reference to suicide clusters. In general, this reminded me of the suicide clusters in Silicon Valley discussed widely a few years ago. But–and I think this is more important–it also points to groups of suicide as an attempt to wrest agency in response to desperation, a lack of agency, and marginalization.

Aulus Gellius, Varia Historia 15.10

“In his first of the books On the Soul, Plutarch included the following tale when he was commenting on maladies which afflict human minds. He said that there were maiden girls of Milesian families who at a certain time suddenly and without almost any clear reason made a plan to die and that many killed themselves by hanging.

When this became more common in following days and there was no treatment to be found for the spirits of those who were dedicated to dying, The Milesians decreed that all maidens who would die by hanging their bodies would be taken out to burial completely naked except for the rope by which they were hanged. After this was decreed, the maidens did not seek suicide only because they were frightened by the thought of so shameful a funeral.”

Plutarchus in librorum quos περὶ ψυχῆς inscripsit primo cum de morbis dissereret in animos hominum incidentibus, virgines dixit Milesii nominis, fere quot tum in ea civitate erant, repente sine ulla evidenti causa voluntatem cepisse obeundae mortis ac deinde plurimas vitam suspendio amississe. id cum accideret in dies crebrius neque animis earum mori perseverantium medicina adhiberi quiret, decrevisse Milesios ut virgines, quae corporibus suspensis demortuae forent, ut hae omnes nudae cum eodem laqueo quo essent praevinctae efferrentur. post id decretum virgines voluntariam mortem non petisse pudore solo deterritas tam inhonesti funeris.

Suicides of public figures cause disbelief because of our cultural misconceptions about depression and about the importance of material wealth and fame to our well-being. While some clusters of suicide can be understood as a reflex of the “threshold problem”, we fail to see the whole picture if we do not also see that human well-being is connected to a sense of agency and belonging. Galen, in writing about depression, notes that melancholy can make us desire that which we fear.

Galen, De Locis Affectis 8.190-191

“But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.”

ἄλλα τε μυρία τοιαῦτα φαντασιοῦνται. διαφέρονται δὲ ἀλλήλων οἱ μελαγχολικοὶ, τὸ μὲν φοβεῖσθαι καὶ δυσθυμεῖν καὶ μέμφεσθαι τῇ ζωῇ καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντες ἔχοντες, ἀποθανεῖν δ’ ἐπιθυμοῦντες οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ’ ἔστιν ἐνίοις αὐτῶν αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο κεφάλαιον τῆς μελαγχολίας, τὸ περὶ τοῦ θανάτου δέος· ἔνιοι δὲ ἀλλόκοτοί σοι δόξουσιν, ἅμα τε καὶ δεδιέναι τὸν θάνατον καὶ θανατᾷν.

In thinking about the impact of agency and belonging on our sense of well-being and relationship to death, I have been significantly influence by this book:

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. London: Allen Lane, 2015.

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Picture found here

If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Medicae: Women Doctors from the Roman Empire

Some more Non-Elite Latin from the tireless Brandon Conley

  1. AE 1937, 0017.
inscription for blog
(Image from EDH)

Hic iacet Sarman/na medica vixit / pl(us) m(inus) an(nos) LXX Pientius / Pientinus fili(us) et / Honorata norus / titolum posuerunt / in pace

“Here lies Sarmana the doctor. She lived around 70 years. Pientius, her son Pientinus, and daughter-in-law Honorata placed this monument. In peace.”

 

  1. AE 2001, 00263

C(aius) Naevius C(ai) l(ibertus) Phi[lippus] / medicus chirurg(us) / Naevia C(ai) l(iberta) Clara / medica philolog(a) / in fro(nte) ped(es) XI s(emis) / in agr(o) ped(es) XVI

“Gaius Naevius Philippus, freedman of Gaius, doctor and surgeon. Naevia Clara, freedwoman of Gaius, doctor and scholar. (Tomb size) 11.5 feet wide, 16 feet deep.”

 

  1. CIL 1.497
Arachne
(Image from Arachne)

D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum) / Iuliae Saturninae / ann(orum) XXXXV / uxori incompara/bili me[dic]ae optimae / mulieri sanctissimae / Cassius Philippus / maritus ob meritis / h(ic) s(ita) e(st) s(it) t(ibi) t(erra) l(evis)

“A sacred rite to the spirits of the dead. To Julia Saturnina, age 45, an incomparable wife, the best doctor, the most noble woman. Gaius Philippus, her husband, (made this) for her merits. She is buried here. May the earth be light on you.”

 

  1. CIL 6.09616

D(is) M(anibus) / Terentiae / Niceni Terentiae / Primaes medicas li/bertae fecerunt / Mussius Antiochus / et Mussia Dionysia / fil(ii) m(atri) b(ene) m(erenti)

“To the spirits of the dead. To Terentia of Nicaea, freedwoman of the doctor Terentia Prima. Mussius Antiochus and Mussia Dionysia, her children, made this for their well-deserving mother.”

  1. CIL 13.02019
EDCS
(Image from EDCS)

Metilia Donata medic[a] / de sua pecunia dedit / l(ocus) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum)

“Metilia Donata, a doctor, gave this with her own money. This spot was given by decree of the decurions.”

  1. CIL 11.06394

…xia viva fecit / Tutilia Cn(aei) Tutili leib(erta) / Menotia hoc moniment(um) / fecit Octavia[e] Auli l(ibertae) / Artimisiae medicae

…(?) “Tutilia Menotia, freedwoman of Gnaeus Tutilus, made this monument for the doctor Octavia Artemisia, freedwoman of Aulus.”

A Physician’s Notes on the Lives and Deaths of Women

Hippocrates, Epidemics 5.101

 “A woman in Abdera developed cancer on her chest, and bloody plasma leaked out through her nipple. Once the flowing stopped, she died.”

Γυναικί, ἐν Ἀβδήροισι καρκίνωμα ἐγένετο περὶ στῆθος, διὰ τῆς θηλῆς ἔρρει ἰχὼρ ὕφαιμος· ἐπιληφθείσης δὲ τῆς ῥύσιος ἔθανεν.

There is an earlier account of breast cancer in Herodotus:

Herodotus, 3.133

“A little while later following these events, some other things happened. Cyrus’ daughter and Dareios’ wife, Atossa, developed a swelling in her breast. It burst out and expanded. As long as it was rather small, she hid it and told no one because she was ashamed. But when it became worse, she summoned Democedes and showed him. He told her that he could make her  healthy again but had her swear to him that she would reward him with whatever he asked from her, but that he would request nothing which would bring shame on her.”

ἐν χρόνῳ δὲ ὀλίγῳ μετὰ ταῦτα τάδε ἄλλα συνήνεικε γενέσθαι. Ἀτόσσῃ τῇ Κύρου μὲν θυγατρὶ Δαρείου δὲ γυναικὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ μαστοῦ ἔφυ φῦμα, μετὰ δὲ ἐκραγὲν ἐνέμετο πρόσω. ὅσον μὲν δὴ χρόνον ἦν ἔλασσον, ἣ δὲ κρύπτουσα καὶ αἰσχυνομένη ἔφραζε οὐδενί: ἐπείτε δὲ ἐν κακῷ ἦν, μετεπέμψατο τὸν Δημοκήδεα καί οἱ ἐπέδεξε. ὁ δὲ φὰς ὑγιέα ποιήσειν ἐξορκοῖ μιν ἦ μέν οἱ ἀντυπουργήσειν ἐκείνην τοῦτο τὸ ἂν αὐτῆς δεηθῇ: δεήσεσθαι δὲ οὐδενὸς τῶν ὅσα ἐς αἰσχύνην ἐστὶ φέροντα.

This has been called the “earliest account of inflammatory mastitis

Hippocrates of Cos Epidemics 5.25

“In Larissa, Dyseris’ servant, when she was still young, experienced severe pain whenever she had intercourse. But she was without pain otherwise. She was never pregnant. When she was sixty, she started feeling pan at midday as if she were in severe labor pains. Before midday, she had eaten many leeks and when the pain overcame her and was the strongest of all, she rose up and felt something rough-edged near the entrance to her womb. Then, because she had already fainted, another woman inserted her hand and withdrew a stone which was as big as a spindle top and very rough. After that she was immediately healthy.”

Ἐν Λαρίσῃ ἀμφίπολος Δυσήριδος, νέη ἐοῦσα ὁκότε λαγνεύοιτο περιωδύνει ἰσχυρῶς, ἄλλως δὲ ἀνώδυνος ἦν. ἐκύησε δὲ οὐδέποτε. ἑξηκονταέτης γενομένη ὠδυνᾶτο ἀπὸ μέσου ἡμέρης, ὡς ὠδίνουσα ἰσχυρῶς· πρὸ δὲ μέσου ἡμέρης αὕτη πράσα τρώγουσα πολλά, ἐπειδὴ ὀδύνη αὐτὴν ἔλαβεν ἰσχυροτάτη τῶν πρόσθεν, ἀναστᾶσα ἐπέψαυσέ τινος τρηχέος ἐν τῷ στόματι τῆς μήτρης. ἔπειτα, ἤδη λειποψυχούσης αὐτῆς, ἑτέρη γυνὴ καθεῖσα τὴν χεῖρα ἐξεπίεσε λίθον ὅσον σπόνδυλον ἀτράκτου, τρηχύν· καὶ ὑγιὴς τότε αὐτίκα καὶ ἔπειτα ἦν.

5.50

“Nerios’ beautiful virgin daughter was twenty years old when she was struck on the forehead by a flat hand when she was playing with a young woman friend. When it happened, she became blind and out of breath; when she went home, a fever came over her right away. Her head hurt; she was flushed all over her face. By the seventh day, a bad-smelling pus flowed out of her right ear—it was red colored and there was more than a fifth of a cup of it. She seemed to feel better and was relieved. But she was stretched out again later because of a fever. She was feeling badly and was speechless. The right part of her face was contracted and she breathed with difficulty. She also had spasms of trembling. Her tongue stopped working. Her eye was affected. She died on the ninth day.”

Ἡ παρθένος ἡ καλὴ ἡ τοῦ Νερίου ἦν μὲν εἰκοσαέτης, ὑπὸ δὲ γυναίου φίλης παιζούσης πλατέῃ τῇ χειρὶ ἐπλήγη κατὰ τὸ βρέγμα. καὶ τότε μὲν ἐσκοτώθη καὶ ἄπνοος ἐγένετο, καὶ ὅτε ἐς οἶκον ἦλθεν αὐτίκα τὸ πῦρ εἶχε, καὶ ἤλγει τὴν κεφαλήν, καὶ ἔρευθος ἀμφὶ τὸ πρόσωπον ἦν. ἑβδόμῃ ἐούσῃ, ἀμφὶ τὸ οὖς τὸ δεξιὸν πύον ἐχώρησε δυσῶδες, ὑπέρυθρον, πλεῖον κυάθου, καὶ ἔδοξεν ἄμεινον ἔχειν, καὶ ἐκουφίσθη. πάλιν ἐπετείνετο τῷ πυρετῷ, καὶ κατεφέρετο, καὶ ἄναυδος ἦν, καὶ τοῦ προσώπου τὸ δεξιὸν μέρος εἵλκετο, καὶ δύσπνοος ἦν, καὶ σπασμὸς τρομώδης ἦν. καὶ γλῶσσα εἴχετο, ὀφθαλμὸς καταπλήξ· ἐνάτῃ ἔθανεν.

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Wellcome Library, London, MS 49, Apocalypse

Gassy After Sex and Consuming Souls

Two notes from Hippocrates’ Epidemics

 6.294

“There are those who get gassy when they have sex, like Damnagoras did. And others fart during sex.”

Ἔστιν οἷσιν ὅταν ἀφροδισιάζωσι φυσᾶται ἡ γαστήρ, ὡς Δαμναγόρᾳ, οἷσι δ᾿ ἐν τούτῳ ψόφος.

6.317

“A person’s soul keeps growing until death. When the soul grows feverish because of a sickness, it consumes the body.”

Ἀνθρώπου ψυχὴ φύεται μέχρι θανάτου· ἢν δὲ ἐκπυρωθῇ ἅμα τῇ νούσῳ καὶ ἡ ψυχή, τὸ σῶμα φέρβεται

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Image found on ResearchGate

The Key to a Long Life: Magic (Or Maybe Climate and Diet)

Lucian, Octogenarians 3-5

“Homer claims that Nestor, obviously, the wisest of the Achaians, lived more than three generations, a man the poet explains to us was best trained in both mind and body. And the prophet Teiresis, well tragedy has him living through six generations. It might be credible that a man dedicated to the gods and who followed a reverent diet might live as long as possible.

It is recorded that whole clans of people are very long-lived thanks to their way of life—for example, the people of the Egyptians called holy-authors, the exegetes of myth in Assyria and Arabia, and the people the Indians call Brahmans, men who pursue philosophy with precision. There are also the people called the magoi, that prophetic clan dedicated to the gods among the Persians, Parthians, Bactrians, Khoasmians, Arians, Sacae, Medes, and among many other barbarian people. The magoi are strong and live many years because they learn to use magic and eat with considerable discipline.

There are, in addition, entire peoples who are long-lived: for example, some people record that the Sêres live up to 300 years. According to some authors, this is because of the weather; others claim that it is their soul or their diet that is responsible for the length of their lives—for, they claim that the whole nation drinks only water. It is reported that the people of Athos live 130 years or that the Chaldeans live over a hundred and that they rely on barley bread as a medicine to keep their vision sharp.”

Νέστορα μὲν οὖν τὸν σοφώτατον τῶν Ἀχαιῶν ἐπὶ τρεῖς παρατεῖναι γενεὰς Ὅμηρος λέγει, ὃν συνίστησιν ἡμῖν γεγυμνασμένον ἄριστα καὶ ψυχῇ καὶ σώματι. καὶ Τειρεσίαν δὲ τὸν μάντιν ἡ τραγῳδία μέχρις ἓξ γενεῶν παρατεῖναι λέγει. πιθανὸν δ᾿ ἂν εἴη ἄνδρα θεοῖς ἀνακείμενον καθαρωτέρᾳ διαίτῃ χρώμενον ἐπὶ μήκιστον βιῶναι. καὶ γένη δὲ ὅλα μακρόβια ἱστορεῖται διὰ τὴν δίαιταν, ὥσπερ Αἰγυπτίων οἱ καλούμενοι ἱερογραμματεῖς, Ἀσσυρίων δὲ καὶ Ἀράβων οἱ ἐξηγηταὶ τῶν μύθων, Ἰνδῶν δὲ οἱ καλούμενοι Βραχμᾶνες, ἄνδρες ἀκριβῶς φιλοσοφίᾳ σχολάζοντες, καὶ οἱ καλούμενοι δὲ μάγοι, γένος τοῦτο μαντικὸν καὶ θεοῖς ἀνακείμενον παρά τε Πέρσαις καὶ Πάρθοις καὶ Βάκτροις καὶ Χωρασμίοις καὶ Ἀρείοις καὶ Σάκαις καὶ Μήδοις καὶ παρὰ πολλοῖς ἄλλοις βαρβάροις, ἐρρωμένοι τέ εἰσι καὶ πολυχρόνιοι διὰ τὸ μαγεύειν διαιτώμενοι καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀκριβέστερον. ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἔθνη ὅλα μακροβιώτατα, ὥσπερ Σῆρας μὲν ἱστοροῦσι μέχρι τριακοσίων ζῆν ἐτῶν, οἱ μὲν τῷ ἀέρι, οἱ δὲ τῇ γῇ τὴν αἰτίαν τοῦ μακροῦ γήρως προστιθέντες, οἱ δὲ καὶ τῇ διαίτῃ· ὑδροποτεῖν γάρ φασι τὸ ἔθνος τοῦτο σύμπαν. καὶ Ἀθῴτας δὲ μέχρι τριάκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν ἐτῶν βιοῦν ἱστορεῖται, καὶ τοὺς Χαλδαίους ὑπὲρ τὰ ἑκατὸν ἔτη βιοῦν λόγος, τούτους μὲν καὶ κριθίνῳ ἄρτῳ χρωμένους, ὡς ὀξυδορκίας τοῦτο φάρμακον·

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The Witch of Endor, by the Master of Otto van Moerdrecht, 15th century

The Best Love Poem Ever Written (Perhaps)

Sappho, fr. 16

Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
the one you love

It is altogether simple to make this understood
since she whose beauty outmatched all,
Helen, left her husband
a most noble man

And went sailing to Troy
Without a thought for her child and dear parents
[Love] made her completely insane
And led her astray

This reminds me of absent Anactoria

I would rather watch her lovely walk
and see the shining light of her face
than Lydian chariots followed by
infantrymen in arms

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ’· ἀ γὰρ πολὺ περσκέθοισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
τὸν πανάριστον
/ [κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον

καλλίποισ’ ἔβας ‘ς Τροίαν πλέοισα
/ ὂσ τὸ πὰν] σέβασ τροΐα[σ ὄ]λεσσ[ε,
κωὐδὲ παῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων τοκήων
πάμπαν ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγαγ’ αὔταν
οὐκ ἀέκοισαν
/ πῆλε φίλει]σαν

Κύπρις· εὔκαμπτον γὰρ ἔφυ βρότων κῆρ
] κούφως τ . . . οη . . . ν
κἄμε νῦν Ἀνακτορίας ὀνέμναι-
σ’ οὐ παρεοίσας

/ Ὠροσ. εὔκ]αμπτον γαρ [ἀεὶ τὸ θῆλυ]
αἴ κέ] τισ κούφωσ τ[ὸ πάρον ν]οήσῃ.
οὐ]δὲ νῦν, Ἀνακτορί[α, τ]ὺ μέμναι
δὴ] παρειοῖσασ,

τᾶς κε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοισι
πεσδομάχεντας.

Attested compounds from the LSJ 1902:

φιλαλεξάνδρος: philaleksandros, “Alexander-lover”

φιλαλήθης: philalêthês, “lover of truth”

φιλαναγνώστης: philanagnôstês, “love of reading”

φιλαμαρτήμων: philamartêmôn, “lover of sin”

φιλανθής: philanthês, “flower-lover”

φιλαπεχθημοσύνη: philapekhthêmosunê, “fond of making enemies”

φίλαυτος: philautos, “self-lover”

φιλέρημος: philerêmos, “lover of solitude”

φίλερις: phileris, “lover of conflict”

φιληδονία: philêdonia, “lover of pleasure”

φιλόβιβλιος: philobiblios, “book-lover”

φιλοβόρβορος: philoborboros, “lover of dirt”

φιλόγλυκυς: philoglukus, “sweet-lover”

φιλογύνης: philogunês, “woman-lover”

φιλοδένρος: philodendros, “tree-lover”

φιλόδροσος: philodrosos, “lover of dew”

φιλοζωία: philozôia, “lover of life”

φιλόθακος: philothakos, “lover of sitting”

φιλοιφής: philoiphês, “lover of sexual intercourse”

φιλόκενος: philokenos, “lover of emptiness”

φιλόκηπος: philokêpos, “lover of gardens”

φιλόκροτος: philokrotos, “lover of noise”

φιλοκύων: philokuôn, “lover of dogs”

φιλόλογος: philologos, “lover of words”

φιλόλουτρος: philoloutros, “lover of baths”

φιλομαθής: philomathês, “lover of learning”

φιλόμαστος: philomastos, “breast-loving”

φιλόμβρος: philombros, “rain-loving”

φιλόμηρος: philomêros, “Homer-loving”

φιλομήτωρ: philomêtôr, “mother-loving”

φιλονέος: philoneos, “youth-loving”

φιλομόχθηρος: philomokhthêros, “loving bad men”

φιλομύθος: philomuthos, “story-lover”; also “fond of talking”

φιλόξενος: philoksenos: “Stranger-lover”

φιλοπενθής: philopenthês, “grief-lover”

φιλοπλάκουντος: philoplakountos, “cake-lover”

φιλοπολύγελως: philopolugelôs, “lover of great laughter”

φιλοπόνος: philoponos, “work-lover”

φιλοπόρνος: philopornos, “lover of harlots”

φιλοπρεπής: philoprepês, “lover of propriety

φιλορρώθων: philorrôthôn, “nose-lover”

φιλορχηστής: philorkhêstês, “dance-lover”

Palaiophron posted this last year.

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“No lover can avoid the catalogue of the charms of his mistress. Petrarch is eloquent in sonnet and canzone on the subject of Laura’s eyes. Shall our mistress lack eyes? Again, your true lover is sublimely indifferent to the fact that the audience is utterly unacquainted with the object of his adoration, and so even after many years of close communion with Greek, I was capable in 1869 of holding forth ecstatically on its physical charms, for I am enough of a heathen to recognize in physical beauty the only true incentive of love. It is the physical beauty of Greek that constitutes its intimate attraction, that redeems, for instance, the tedious obviousnesses of the old man eloquent, and I could still rhapsodize, as I did forty years ago, on the sequences of vowels and the combinations of consonants, the concert of mute and liquid, the clear-cut outline of every word in Greek, clear and sharp as the sky-line of the mountains of Greece, as the effigies on Greek coins. I could still wax lyrical about the paradigm of the Greek verb. The Greek verb is, indeed, a marvel.

‘Flexible and exact, simple in its means, abundant in its applications, with varying tones for colorless statement, for eager wish, for purpose, for command, now despatching the past with impatient haste, now unrolling it in panoramic procession, but bringing forth its treasure of vowels and diphthongs to mark the striving of the will, the thought, the desire, toward the future,’ and so on and so on. Perhaps discourse like this might rouse the curiosity of the student and win here and there a friend for Greek. The teacher can never know whether shall prosper either this or that. I remember to have read in Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’ a eulogy of Russian that would have Inspired me, if I had been endowed with ample leisure, to attempt the acquisition of that difficult idiom. But I am not quite sure that this unverifiable laudation Is the right way to lend vitality to the study. ‘The king’s daughter is all glorious within.’ But he that is without remains cold as a rule. The love of a language from this point of view is a matter of individual experience, a business to be transacted under four eyes only, and as much of the physical beauty of a language depends on the pronunciation, it may be well to relegate the whole thing to the realm of ‘fancy,’ that admirable old word for love. I will, therefore, waive the whole subject of the perfection of the Greek language, both in Its form and Its function, the wealth of its vocabulary, and the flexibility of its syntax, and limit myself to a few remarks on the relation of Greek to our daily life.”

petrarch1

“Habit Just Like Nature”: Tawdry Tuesday, Confused Biology Edition

There is a lot in this that is interesting, challenging, and infuriating (both syntactically and semantically). Beyond a regressive albeit typically Aristotelian assumption that (1) there is an absolute category of “according to nature” and (2) the category of the natural is good, we find the objectionable and horrific positioning of non-heteronormative men and all women as monstrous. (In more canonical work, Aristotle clearly claims that women are a deformed human, less than male.)  But within all of this, we have a fascinating acknowledgement that human sexuality and desire is shaped by culture and habit.

Aristotle, Problems 4.26

“Why is it that some men enjoy being passive in sex and some also enjoy being active, while others do not? Is this because for each effluent there is a place into which it is received naturally and when effort is applied, it causes the force to swell as it exits and then it expels it? Examples of this include urine in the bladder, food which has been digested in the stomach, tears in the eyes, mucus in the nose, or blood in the veins.

It is the same way when it comes to semen in the testicles and penis. When people do not have the same natural passages, either because those which flow to the penis have been blocked up—as what happens with eunuchs and those like eunuchs or for some other reason—then the secretion flows instead into the anus. For this is the direction it goes. An indication of this is the spasming of that part of the body during sexual intercourse and the simultaneous weakening of the area around the anus. So, if someone is extreme in desire, then the material (semen) comes together there, with the result that, whenever desire develops, the place where desire is located yearns for friction.

Desire can arise from both nourishment and imagination. But whenever it is moved by anything, then the pneuma increases there and the effluent flows to the place where it is most natural. So, when the semen is light or full of pneuma, then upon its release the erections stop, as they often do with young children and old men, when no liquid is expelled or when the moisture has dried up.

But if someone has neither of these experiences, he feels desire until something happens. The more effeminate men are set up by nature in such a way that no semen—or very little—is kept in that place it is designated for by nature but instead into that area we mentioned above. The reason for this is because they are arranged against nature. For, even though they are male they are developed in such away that this part of their bodies is deformed. This deformity makes them either completely ruined or twisted. But it is not complete destruction, because then he would be a woman. For this reason it is necessary that things be distorted and the force of the expulsion of the semen should move through some other place.

This is why they cannot be pleased, like women. For there is little ejaculate and it is not compelled to exit, but instead it cools quickly. The desire to be passive develops in the men whose semen cools in the anus; those whose bodies cool semen in both places, desire to play both roles. Yet, they desire more to play the part based on where a greater preponderance of semen is cooling.

For some people this activity comes from habit. It turns out that people enjoy doing the things they do and ejaculate when they do. Therefore, they long to do the things which makes this happen and practice can become something more like nature. For this reason, whoever has not learned to submit passively to sex before puberty but instead start the practice at the time of puberty, desire the same thing, to be passive in sex. This is because of the memory they keep from the experience and the pleasure that comes with the memory and it is from the habit they develop, as if it were natural. Really, many other things and habit too develop as if they are natural. If one happens to be libidinous and soft, then each of these things happens with greater speed.”

 

Διὰ τί ἔνιοι ἀφροδισιαζόμενοι χαίρουσι, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἅμα δρῶντες, οἱ δ᾿ οὔ; ἢ ὅτι ἔστιν ἑκάστῃ περιττώσει τόπος ǁ εἰς ὃν πέφυκεν ἀποκρίνεσθαι κατὰ φύσιν, καὶ πόνου ἐγγινομένου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐξιὸν ἀνοιδεῖν ποιεῖ, καὶ συνεκκρίνει αὐτήν, οἷον τὸ μὲν οὖρον εἰς κύστιν, ἡ δ᾿ ἐξικμασμένη τροφὴ εἰς κοιλίαν, τὸ δὲ δάκρυον εἰς ὄμματα, μύξαι δ᾿ εἰς μυκτῆρας, | αἷμα δὲ εἰς φλέβας; ὁμοίως δὴ τούτοις καὶ ἡ γονὴ εἰς ὄρχεις καὶ αἰδοῖα. οἷς δὴ οἱ πόροι μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ἢ διὰ τὸ ἀποτυφλωθῆναι τοὺς εἰς τὸ αἰδοῖον, οἷον συμβαίνει τοῖς εὐνούχοις καὶ εὐνουχίαις, ἢ καὶ ἄλλως, εἰς τὴν ἕδραν συρρεῖ ἡ τοιαύτη ἰκμάς· καὶ γὰρ διεξέρχεται ταύτῃ. σημεῖον | δ᾿ ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ ἡ συναγωγὴ τοῦ τοιούτου τόπου καὶ ἡ σύντηξις τῶν περὶ τὴν ἕδραν. ἐὰν οὖν ὑπερβάλλῃ τις τῇ λαγνείᾳ, τούτοις ἐνταῦθα συνέρχεται, ὥστε ὅταν ἡ ἐπιθυμία γένηται, τοῦτ᾿ ἐπιθυμεῖ τῆς τρίψεως εἰς ὃ συλλέγεται. ἡ δ᾿ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ἀπὸ σιτίων καὶ ἀπὸ διανοίας γίνεται. ὅταν | γὰρ κινηθῇ ὑφ᾿ ὁτουοῦν, ἐνταῦθα τὸ πνεῦμα συντρέχει, καὶ τὸ τοιοῦτο περίττωμα συρρεῖ οὗ πέφυκεν. κἂν μὲν λεπτὸν ᾖ ἢ πνευματῶδες, τούτου ἐξελθόντος, ὥσπερ αἱ συντάσεις τοῖς παισὶ καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ ἐνίοτε, οὐθενὸς ὑγροῦ ἐκκριθέντος, παύονται, ὅταν τε κατασβεσθῇ τὸ ὑγρόν.

ἐὰν δὲ μηδέτερον | τούτων πάθῃ, ἐπιθυμεῖ ἕως ἄν τι τούτων συμβῇ. οἱ δὲ φύσει θηλυδρίαι οὕτω συνεστᾶσιν ὥστ᾿ ἐκεῖ μὲν μὴ ἐκκρίνεσθαι ἢ ὀλίγην, οὗπερ τοῖς ἔχουσι κατὰ φύσιν ἐκκρίνεται, εἰς δὲ τὸν τόπον τοῦτον. αἴτιον δὲ ὅτι παρὰ φύσιν συνεστᾶσιν· ἄρσενες γὰρ ὄντες οὕτω διάκεινται ὥστε ἀνάγκη τὸν τόπον | τοῦτον πεπηρῶσθαι αὐτῶν. πήρωσις δὲ ἡ μὲν ὅλως ποιεῖ φθόρον, ἡ δὲ διαστροφήν. ἐκείνη μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἔστιν· γυνὴ γὰρ ἂν ἐγένετο. ἀνάγκη ἄρα παρεστράφθαι καὶ ἄλλοθί που ὁρμᾶν τῆς γονικῆς ἐκκρίσεως. διὸ καὶ ἄπληστοι, ὥσπερ αἱ γυναῖκες· ὀλίγη γὰρ ἡ ἰκμάς, καὶ οὐ βιάζεται ἐξιέναι,  καὶ | καταψύχεται ταχύ. καὶ ὅσοις μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν ἕδραν, οὗτοι πάσχειν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν, ὅσοις δ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἀμφότερα, οὗτοι καὶ δρᾶν καὶ πάσχειν· ἐφ᾿ ὁπότερα δὲ πλεῖον, τούτου μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσιν. ἐνίοις δὲ γίνεται καὶ ἐξ ἔθους τὸ πάθος τοῦτο. ὅσα γὰρ ἂν ποιῶσι, συμβαίνει αὐτοῖς χαίρειν καὶ προΐεσθαι | τὴν γονὴν οὕτως. ἐπιθυμοῦσιν οὖν ποιεῖν οἷς ἂν ταῦτα γίνηται, καὶ μᾶλλον τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ φύσις γίνεται. διὰ τοῦτο ὅσοι ἂν μὴ πρὸ ἥβης ἀλλὰ περὶ ἥβην ἐθισθῶσιν ἀφροδισιάζεσθαι, δισιάζεσθαι, ǁ διὰ τὸ γίνεσθαι αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ χρείᾳ τὴν μνήμην, ἅμα δὲ τῇ μνήμῃ τὴν ἡδονήν, διὰ [δὲ] τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκότες ἐπιθυμοῦσι πάσχειν· τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται. ἐὰν δὲ τύχῃ λάγνος | ὢν καὶ μαλακός, καὶ θᾶττον ἕκαστα τούτων συμβαίνει.

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The assertion late in this segment, that “many things and habit too develop as if they are natural” τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται is the closest thing to the attributed “habit is second nature.” Given the genealogy and the implications of this belief, it is, well, complicated.