Nomos Vs. Phusis in the Bedroom

Yesterday, Erik posted that famous passage from Herodotus where Peisistratos runs afoul of the tyrant of Megara, Megacles, when “because he did not want to have children by his new wife, he was having sex with her not in the customary manner” οὐ βουλόμενός οἱ γενέσθαι ἐκ τῆς νεογάμου γυναικὸς τέκνα ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

As you can probably imagine, there have been many discussions about what his means (e.g. should the negator go with the verb and not the prepositional phrase and mean “he did not have sex with her, as is customary” rather than “he did not have sex with her in the customary fashion?”) A passage from  Diodorus Siculus which Cassie Garrison brought to my attention made me think about this again.

When Kallion, who seems to have been intersex, reaches adulthood, their sexual origins present a particular challenge (D. S. 32.11)

When she reached maturity, she was married to a certain citizen. For two years she lived with her husband, and since she could not endure feminine intercourse, she was forced to submit to unnatural embraces.

εἰς δὲ τὴν ἀκμὴν τῆς ἡλικίας παραγενομένη συνῳκίσθη τινὶ τῶν πολιτῶν. διετῆ μὲν οὖν χρόνον συνεβίωσε τἀνδρί, τὴν μὲν γυναικείαν ἐπιπλοκὴν οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένη, τὴν δὲ παρὰ φύσιν ὁμιλίαν ὑπομένειν ἀναγκαζομένη.

Here, we have an interesting comparison. The passage from Diodorus is clearly interpreted as referring to anal sex whereas there is debate about the Herodotean reference. One act being referred to as “against nature” (phusis) may make us rethink what it means for the other to merely be against custom (nomos), although I expect what both are really about is that intercourse with women was expected to be procreative. the assertion that something is “by nature” is  rhetorical and based on cultural perspectives. What is considered natural is often so in order to affirm what is customary.

In the Herodotean passage, the marriage is an arrangement between noble families from different cities and children were an expectation of this type of arrangement. Hence, engaging in intentionally non-procreative activity would be against custom. In the second passage, Diodorus Siculus is emphasizing the fact that Kallion is not a woman, who, by nature should be able to produce children through sex (from Diodorus’ perspective).

This does not of course mean that we are positive about Peisistratos’ marital activities. We could still be talking intercrural sex vel. sim….

Image result for pisistratus

Unnatural or uncustomary?

The Best Time For Sex? A Holiday Dinner Conversation Prompt

Plutarch, Moralia 653: Table-Talk—Book 3, Question 8: Concerning the Right Time for Sex

“Some young men who had not spent much time in classical literature were criticizing Epicurus, that it was not noble or necessary that he included a discussion about the right time for sex in his Symposium. For, they claimed that it was the worst kind of impropriety for an older man to talk about sexual matters during dinner when youths were present and to work through whether it was better after dinner or before dinner.

To this, some guests added that Xenophon used to take his dinner companions home after dinner not by foot but by horse to have sex with their wives. Zopyros the doctor—a man very familiar with Epicurus’ arguments, said that they has not read Epicurus’ Symposium very carefully. For, he did not put forth the problem as one based on a certain rule or established practice,  and then provide his arguments in its favor. Instead, he roused the youths after dinner for a walk and talked for the reason of instruction, to curb them from their desires, because sex is always a matter which might bring harm and which afflicts those worst who engage after food and drink.

He said, “If, indeed, this discussion were earnestly about sex, would it seem right not to examine the better opportunity and hour for doing these kinds of things? Would it be otherwise right for him to look look for another moment more opportune except at the symposium and the dinner table?”

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Symposium Sex vase

Περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας

Νεανίσκοι τινὲς οὐ πάλαι τοῖς παλαιοῖς λόγοις προσπεφοιτηκότες ἐσπάραττον τὸν Ἐπίκουρον, ὡς οὐ καλὸν οὐδ᾿ ἀναγκαῖον ἐμβεβληκότα λόγον περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας εἰς τὸ Συμπόσιον· μιμνήσκεσθαι γὰρ ἀφροδισίων ἄνδρα πρεσβύτερον ἐν δείπνῳ μειρακίων παρόντων καὶ διαπορεῖν, πότερον μετὰ δεῖπνον ἢ πρὸ δείπνου χρηστέον, ἐσχάτης ἀκολασίας εἶναι. πρὸς ταῦθ᾿ οἱ μὲν τὸν Ξενοφῶντα παρέλαβον ὡς ἀπάγοντα τοὺς συμπότας μετὰ δεῖπνον οὐχὶ βάδην ἀλλ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἵππων ἐπὶ συνουσίας πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας. Ζώπυρος δ᾿ ὁ ἰατρός, εὖ μάλα τοῖς Ἐπικούρου λόγοις ἐνωμιληχώς, οὐκ ἔφη προσέχοντας αὐτοὺς ἀνεγνωκέναι τὸ Ἐπικούρου Συμπόσιον· οὐ γὰρ ὥσπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς τινος καὶ καταστάσεως τοῦτο πρόβλημα ποιησάμενον εἶτα λόγους ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ περαίνειν, ἀλλὰ τοὺς νέους ἀνιστάντα μετὰ δεῖπνον εἰς περίπατον ἐπὶ σωφρονισμῷ διαλέγεσθαι καὶ ἀνακρούειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, ὡς ἀεὶ μὲν ἐπισφαλοῦς εἰς βλάβην τοῦ πράγματος ὄντος, κάκιστα δὲ τοὺς περὶ πότον καὶ ἐδωδὴν χρωμένους αὐτῷ διατιθέντος. “εἰ δὲ δὴ καὶ προηγουμένως,” εἶπεν, “ἐζητεῖτο περὶ τούτου, πότερον οὐδ᾿ ὅλως ἐσκέφθαι καλῶς εἶχε τὸν βέλτιον μὲν ἐν καιρῷ καὶ μετὰ λογισμοῦ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράττειν, τὸν δὲ καιρὸν ἄλλως μὲν ἐπισκοπεῖν οὐκ ἄωρον ἐν δὲ συμποσίῳ καὶ περὶ τράπεζαν αἰσχρόν;

Wine: A Family Planning Secret

Plutarch, Table-Talk 3.5 (652 D)

“Men who drink a lot of wine are rather sluggish at intercourse and they ejaculate semen not at all strong or good for fertilization; instead their attempts at sex with women are cursory and incomplete because of the weakness and frigidity of their seed.

Indeed, however much men suffer because of the cold occurs to them when they are drunk: tremors, heaviness, paleness, sudden jumps in the limbs, senseless speech, a lack of feeling in the joints and extremities. For most men, being drunk results in paralysis, whenever the wine totally expels and defeats the heat.”

οἱ δὲ πίνοντες πολὺν ἄκρατον ἀμβλύτεροι πρὸς τὰς συνουσίας εἰσὶν καὶ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲν εἰς γένεσιν ἰσχυρὸν οὐδὲ κεκρατημένον, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξίτηλοι καὶ ἀτελεῖς εἰσιν αἱ πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας ὁμιλίαι αὐτῶν διὰ φαυλότητα καὶ κατάψυξιν τοῦ σπέρματος. καὶ μὴν ὅσα πάσχουσιν ἄνθρωποι ὑπὸ κρύους, πάντα συμβαίνει τοῖς μεθυσκομένοις, τρόμοι, βαρύτητες, ὠχριάσεις, σάλοι τοῦ περὶ τὰ γυῖα πνεύματος, ἀσάφεια γλώττης, ἔντασις τῶν Eπερὶ τοῖς ἄκροις νεύρων καὶ ἀπονάρκησις· τοῖς δὲ πλείστοις εἰς πάρεσιν αἱ μέθαι τελευτῶσιν, ὅταν ἐκπλήξῃ παντάπασιν καὶ κατασβέσῃ τὸ θερμὸν ὁ ἄκρατος.

A Wish To be Invulnerable: The Rape and Sex-Change of Kaineus

When I presented a selection of intersex stories from Phlegon of Tralles earlier this week, I left out what I find to be the most disturbing story, a rape followed by a sex-change. Ovid tells a version of this tale.

Phlegon, On Amazing Things 5

5 “Others tell the story that in the land of the Lapiths the king Elatos had a daughter whose name was Kainis. After Poseidon had sex with her he promised to make her into whatever she wanted. She said she wanted to be changed into a man who was invulnerable. When Poseidon did this—as was right—he changed her name to Kaineus.”

Οἱ αὐτοὶ ἱστοροῦσιν κατὰ τὴν Λαπίθων χώραν γενέσθαι ᾿Ελάτῳ τῷ βασιλεῖ θυγατέρα ὀνομαζομένην Καινίδα.

ταύτῃ δὲ Ποσειδῶνα μιγέντα ἐπαγγείλασθαι ποιήσειν αὐτῇ ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ, τὴν δὲ ἀξιῶσαι μεταλλάξαι αὐτὴν εἰς ἄνδρα ποιῆσαί τε ἄτρωτον. τοῦ δὲ Ποσειδῶνος κατὰ τὸ ἀξιωθὲν ποιήσαντος μετονομασθῆναι Καινέα.

This story is older than Ovid and Phlegon. It is detailed in the fragments of Akousilaus, perhaps alluded to in Homer, definitely indicated by Apollonius Rhodes, and present even in Plato. While the sex-change narrative remains an important element, the main feature of Kaineus’ tale is his hubris–because of his invulnerability he asks to be made into a god.

Akousilaus FGrH 2 fr. 22 [=P.Oxy. 13, 1611, fr. 1, col. 2, 38-96]

“Poseidon has sex with Kainê of Elatos. Then—for it was not right for him [sic] to have children with him nor anyone else—Poseidon turned him into an invulnerable man, who had the greatest strength of the men at that time. Whenever anyone tried to strike him with iron or bronze, [the attacker] was completely defeated.

Then [Kaineus] became king of the Lapiths and was warring with the Centaurs. After he set up his javelin in the agora he was asking to be included in the number of the gods. This was not pleasing to the gods. And when Zeus saw him doing this, he threatened him and raised the Centaurs against him. They struck him straight down into the earth and placed a stone above as assign. Then he died.”

«Καινῆιδὲ τῆι ᾽Ελάτου μίσγεται ΙΙοσειδῶν. ἔπειτα – οὐ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῶι ἱερὸν παῖδας τεκέν οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἐκείνου οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἄλλου οὐδενός – ποιεῖ αὐτὸν Ποσειδέων ἄνδρα ἄτρωτον, ἰσχὺν ἔχοντα μεγίστην τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τότε, καὶ ὅτε τις αὐτὸν κεντοίη σιδήρωι ἢ χαλκῶι, ἡλίσκετο μάλιστα χρημάτων. καὶ γίγνεται βασιλεὺς οὗτος Λαπιθέων καὶ τοῖς Κενταύροις πολεμέεσκε. ἔπειτα στήσας ἀκόν[τιον ἐν ἀγορᾶι θεὸν ἐκέλευεν ἀριθμεῖν. θεοῖ]σι δ᾽ οὐκ ἦεν [ἀρεστόν, καὶ] Ζεὺς ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ταῦτα ποιοῦντα ἀπειλεῖ καὶ ἐφορμᾶι τοὺς Κενταύρους, κἀκεῖνοι αὐτὸν κατακόπτουσιν ὄρθιον κατὰ γῆς καὶ ἄνωθεν πέτρην ἐπιτιθεῖσιν σῆμα, καὶ ἀποθνήσκει.»

In this account, Poseidon seems to be changing Kaineus because of his inability to have children. This makes it rather clear what women are good for from this cultural perspective. In addition, it is interesting that Kaineus as an intersex figure is involved in the war between the Lapiths and Centaurs, a conflict which has its origins in a rapes at a wedding and is often seen as a reflection of the civilized Lapiths struggling against the primitive and violent urges of the Centaurs.

But, as can be seen from the relief below which dates to the early Archaic period, the punishment of Kaineus is a primary motif of the story tradition. In a way, if the sex-change and rape were equally ancient, this is a tale about a women who is raped ultimately being punished for surviving and thriving and exacting retribution for her suffering.

D Scholia ad Il. 264

“Kaineus was a son of Elatos and king of the Lapiths. He was a very beautiful virgin girl before. But after Poseidon had sex with her, she asked to be changed from a young woman into a man. And he became invulnerable, and the most excellent of those alive at the time. And after he stuck his javelin into the middle of the agora, he demanded to be entered into the number of the gods for this reason.

Zeus was annoyed by this request and he arranged the following type of payback from him for impiety. For, even though he was invincible, he made him less while he was fighting the Centaurs. For they were hurling and striking him with pines and oak trees and they drove him into the ground. Apollonius recalls this in the Argonautica saying this, “For the singers used to report the fame that Kaineus was killed by Centaurs, when he alone from the rest of the best drove them, they surged back. They were not strong enough to repel him nor to kill him, but he went under the earth, unbroken, unbent, pummeled by the striking force of powerful pines.”

Καινέα τε. Καὶ τὸν Καινέα. ὁ δὲ Και-
νεὺς ᾿Ελάτου μὲν παῖς, Λαπίθων δὲ βα-
σιλεὺς, πρότερον ἦν παρθένος εὐπρεπής.
μιγέντος δὲ αὐτῇ Ποσειδῶνος, αἰτησα-
μένη μεταβαλεῖν εἰς ἄνδρα ἡ νεᾶνις, ἄ-
τρωτος γίγνεται, γενναιότατος τῶν καθ’
αὑτὸν ὑπάρξας· καὶ δή ποτε πήξας ἀ-
κόντιον ἐν τῷ μεσαιτάτῳ τῆς ἀγορὰς,
θεοῖς τοῦτο προσέταξεν ἀριθμεῖν. δι’ ἣν
αἰτίαν ἀγανακτήσας ὁ Ζεὺς, τιμωρίαν
τῆς ἀσεβείας παρ’ αὐτοῦ εἰσεπράξατο.
μαχόμενον γὰρ αὐτὸν τοῖς Κενταύροις
καὶ ἄτρωτον ὄντα ὑποχείριον ἐποίησε.
βάλλοντες γὰρ αὐτὸν οἱ προειρημένοι δρυ-
σί τε καὶ ἐλάταις, ἤρεισαν εἰς γῆν.
μέμνηται δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾿Απολλώνιος ἐν
τοῖς ᾿Αργοναυτικοῖς λέγων οὕτως· Καινέα
γὰρ τὸν πρόσθεν ἐπικλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ Κεν-
ταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ’
ἄλλων ῎Ηλασ’ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ’ ἔμπαλιν
ὁρμηθέντες, Οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω
σθένον, οὔτε δαΐξαι· ᾿Αλλ’ ἄῤῥηκτος,
ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσσατο νειόθι γαίης, Θεινό-
μενος στιβαρῆσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν.

This story is held up as a wistful impossibility by Plato in the laws. This passage is, well, upsetting.

Plato’s Laws 944d-c

“What then would be the right punishment for someone who has thrown away this kind of a power of a defensive weapon for the opposite? For it is not possible for a person to do the opposite of what they say the god did when he changed the Thessalian Kaineus from a women into a man. For one who throws away his shield, the opposite of this transformation, changing from a man into a women, in some way would be the best of all punishments for this.”

ζημία δὴ τῷ τὴν τοιαύτην ἀμυντηρίων ὅπλων εἰς τοὐναντίον ἀφέντι δύναμιν τίς ἄρα γίγνοιτ᾿ ἂν πρόσφορος; οὐ γὰρ δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ δρᾷν τοὐναντίον <ἢ> ὥς2 ποτε θεόν φασι δρᾶσαι, Καινέα τὸν Θετταλὸν ἐκ γυναικὸς μεταβαλόντα εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν ἦν γὰρ ἂν ἀνδρὶ ῥιψάσπιδι τρόπον τινὰ πρέπουσα πασῶν Εμάλιστα ἡ ᾿κείνῃ τῇ γενέσει ἐναντία γένεσις, εἰς γυναῖκα ἐξ ἀνδρὸς μεταβαλοῦσα, τιμωρία τούτῳ γενομένη.

Weary Wednesday: Two Scenes of Post-Coital Remorse

Ovid, Remedia Amoris, 413–424

“But as soon as pleasure, spent, comes to its goal
And bodies lie thoroughly exhausted with the mind
When it gets annoying and you prefer to have touched no girl
And you seem unlikely to touch one again for a while,
Then gather in your mind whatever faults are in her flesh
And hold each of her imperfections in your eyes.
Perhaps someone else will consider them small—as they are,
But what is no advantage alone aids in numbers.
A viper slays a giant bull will a small bite;
A boar is often held by a hound of no great size.
Make sure you fight with such a number: collect your judgments,
A mountain will grow from so much sand.”

At simul ad metas venit finita voluptas,
Lassaque cum tota corpora mente iacent,
Dum piget, et malis nullam tetigisse puellam,
Tacturusque tibi non videare diu,
Tunc animo signa, quaecumque in corpore menda est,
Luminaque in vitiis illius usque tene.
Forsitan haec aliquis (nam sunt quoque) parva vocabit,
Sed, quae non prosunt singula, multa iuvant.
Parva necat morsu spatiosum vipera taurum:
A cane non magno saepe tenetur aper.
Tu tantum numero pugna, praeceptaque in unum
Contrahe: de multis grandis acervus erit.

Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 168–176

“But when the shepherds gather back to the fold
Their cattle and strong sheep from the blooming meadows,
Then over Anchises she was pouring sweet sleep
Gently and she wrapped her shining cloths around her.
Once clothed well over her entire body, the shining goddess
Stood near the bed, and her head touched the well-made roof,
And the immortal beauty shone from her cheeks
As it does from well-crowned Kytherea.
And she woke him from sleep and spoke his name:
“Get up, Dardanian. Why do you still stretch out in deep sleep?…”

῏Ημος δ’ ἂψ εἰς αὖλιν ἀποκλίνουσι νομῆες
βοῦς τε καὶ ἴφια μῆλα νομῶν ἐξ ἀνθεμοέντων,
τῆμος ἄρ’ ᾿Αγχίσῃ μὲν ἐπὶ γλυκὺν ὕπνον ἔχευε
νήδυμον, αὐτὴ δὲ χροῒ ἕννυτο εἵματα καλά.
ἑσσαμένη δ’ εὖ πάντα περὶ χροῒ δῖα θεάων
ἔστη ἄρα κλισίῃ, εὐποιήτοιο μελάθρου
κῦρε κάρη, κάλλος δὲ παρειάων ἀπέλαμπεν
ἄμβροτον, οἷόν τ’ ἐστὶν ἐϋστεφάνου Κυθερείης.
ἐξ ὕπνου τ’ ἀνέγειρεν, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζεν·
῎Ορσεο Δαρδανίδη· τί νυ νήγρετον ὕπνον ἰαύεις;

Aeneas Bearing Anchises from Troy, by Carle van Loo, 1729 (Louvre).

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

 

The Abbreviated Plans of Humans and Gods: A Fragment for Valentine’s Day

Sophocles, fr. 941 [=Stobaeus 4, 20.6]

“Children, the Cyprian is certainly not only the Cyprian
But she is a being of many names.
She is Hades. She is immortal life.
She is mad insanity. She is desire undiluted.
She is lamentation. In her is everything
Earnest, peaceful, all that leads to violence
She seeps into the organs of everything
In which life resides. Who is ever sated by the goddess?
She enters into the fishes’ swimming race,
She is in the four-limbed tribe on the land
And guides her wing among the birds.

Among beasts, mortals, among the gods above.
Whom of the gods has she not thrown three times?
If it is right for me—if it is right to speak the truth,
She rules Zeus’ chest without a spear or iron
The Cyprian certainly cuts short
All the best plans of humans and gods.”

ὦ παῖδες, ἥ τοι Κύπρις οὐ Κύπρις μόνον,
ἀλλ᾿ ἐστὶ πολλῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπώνυμος.
ἔστιν μὲν Ἅιδης, ἔστι δ᾿ ἄφθιτος βίος,
ἔστιν δὲ λύσσα μανιάς, ἔστι δ᾿ ἵμερος
ἄκρατος, ἔστ᾿ οἰμωγμός. ἐν κείνῃ τὸ πᾶν
σπουδαῖον, ἡσυχαῖον, ἐς βίαν ἄγον.
ἐντήκεται γάρ †πλευμόνων† ὅσοις ἔνι
ψυχή· τίς οὐχὶ τῆσδε τῆς θεοῦ βορός;
εἰσέρχεται μὲν ἰχθύων πλωτῷ γένει,
χέρσου δ᾿ ἔνεστιν ἐν τετρασκελεῖ γονῇ,
νωμᾷ δ᾿ ἐν οἰωνοῖσι τοὐκείνης πτερόν.
* * *
ἐν θηρσίν, ἐν βροτοῖσιν, ἐν θεοῖς ἄνω.
τίν᾿ οὐ παλαίουσ᾿ ἐς τρὶς ἐκβάλλει θεῶν;
εἴ μοι θέμις—θέμις δὲ—τἀληθῆ λέγειν,
Διὸς τυραννεῖ πλευμόνων ἄνευ δορός,
ἄνευ σιδήρου· πάντα τοι συντέμνεται
Κύπρις τὰ θνητῶν καὶ θεῶν βουλεύματα.

Image result for Ancient Greek Aphrodite vase

Birth of Aphrodite, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dinner Conversation Not Awkward Enough? Why Not Have a Reasoned Discussion about the Best Time For Sex?

Plutarch, Moralia 653: Table-Talk—Book 3, Question 8: Concerning the Right Time for Sex

“Some young men who had not spent much time in classical literature were criticizing Epicurus, that it was not noble or necessary that he included a discussion about the right time for sex in his Symposium. For, they claimed that it was the worst kind of impropriety for an older man to talk about sexual matters during dinner when youths were present and to work through whether it was better after dinner or before dinner.

To this, some guests added that Xenophon used to take his dinner companions home after dinner not by foot but by horse to have sex with their wives. Zopyros the doctor—a man very familiar with Epicurus’ arguments, said that they has not read Epicurus’ Symposium very carefully. For, he did not put forth the problem as one based on a certain rule or established practice,  and then provide his arguments in its favor. Instead, he roused the youths after dinner for a walk and talked for the reason of instruction, to curb them from their desires, because sex is always a matter which might bring harm and which afflicts those worst who engage after food and drink.

He said, “If, indeed, this discussion were earnestly about sex, would it seem right not to examine the better opportunity and hour for doing these kinds of things? Would it be otherwise right for him to look look for another moment more opportune except at the symposium and the dinner table?”

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Symposium Sex vase

Περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας

Νεανίσκοι τινὲς οὐ πάλαι τοῖς παλαιοῖς λόγοις προσπεφοιτηκότες ἐσπάραττον τὸν Ἐπίκουρον, ὡς οὐ καλὸν οὐδ᾿ ἀναγκαῖον ἐμβεβληκότα λόγον περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας εἰς τὸ Συμπόσιον· μιμνήσκεσθαι γὰρ ἀφροδισίων ἄνδρα πρεσβύτερον ἐν δείπνῳ μειρακίων παρόντων καὶ διαπορεῖν, πότερον μετὰ δεῖπνον ἢ πρὸ δείπνου χρηστέον, ἐσχάτης ἀκολασίας εἶναι. πρὸς ταῦθ᾿ οἱ μὲν τὸν Ξενοφῶντα παρέλαβον ὡς ἀπάγοντα τοὺς συμπότας μετὰ δεῖπνον οὐχὶ βάδην ἀλλ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἵππων ἐπὶ συνουσίας πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας. Ζώπυρος δ᾿ ὁ ἰατρός, εὖ μάλα τοῖς Ἐπικούρου λόγοις ἐνωμιληχώς, οὐκ ἔφη προσέχοντας αὐτοὺς ἀνεγνωκέναι τὸ Ἐπικούρου Συμπόσιον· οὐ γὰρ ὥσπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς τινος καὶ καταστάσεως τοῦτο πρόβλημα ποιησάμενον εἶτα λόγους ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ περαίνειν, ἀλλὰ τοὺς νέους ἀνιστάντα μετὰ δεῖπνον εἰς περίπατον ἐπὶ σωφρονισμῷ διαλέγεσθαι καὶ ἀνακρούειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, ὡς ἀεὶ μὲν ἐπισφαλοῦς εἰς βλάβην τοῦ πράγματος ὄντος, κάκιστα δὲ τοὺς περὶ πότον καὶ ἐδωδὴν χρωμένους αὐτῷ διατιθέντος. “εἰ δὲ δὴ καὶ προηγουμένως,” εἶπεν, “ἐζητεῖτο περὶ τούτου, πότερον οὐδ᾿ ὅλως ἐσκέφθαι καλῶς εἶχε τὸν βέλτιον μὲν ἐν καιρῷ καὶ μετὰ λογισμοῦ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράττειν, τὸν δὲ καιρὸν ἄλλως μὲν ἐπισκοπεῖν οὐκ ἄωρον ἐν δὲ συμποσίῳ καὶ περὶ τράπεζαν αἰσχρόν;

A Disturbing (?) Passage from Modern Scholarship on Ancient Sexuality

I have been weighing the sense and import of the pages below for a few weeks now. Typically, I don’t teach too much about sexuality and I research it even less as a Homerist. I suspect that this is partly disciplinary (Homer is happy to indicate the power and fact of sexual acts with little specification; this is largely a generic characteristic) but part is nurture: my parents were both Lutherans of mid-Western Scandinavian persuasion: sex is fine, as long as no one talks about it.

But I do mention misogyny quite a bit in classes and on the blog and I have long been worried about the ways in which an uncritical presentation of the material in Homer and myth merely recapitulates and strengthens structural biases about gender and power. When it comes to human sexuality, I get a little squeamish with posts on this site: I like to post material that surprises people with the dirtiness of the Ancient world (you know, farting, shitting, middle fingers) and which disabuses people of the notion that what we have from the Ancient Greek and Romans is largely philosophy and Galen. But in a time when people misuse the ancient world for many things–most execrably to support racists and white supremacist views erroneously--I do fear that some postings might appear exploitative or be misused in some way.

This is one reason, for example although I put up a post about masturbation in ancient Greek, I did not follow it up, as requested with one about female masturbation. For one, there is only a small amount of evidence (and the evidence is extremely problematic because it comes from men and is mostly negative). For another, I don’t think there is any way for a male author to post information about female masturbation online without seeming in some way salacious, creepy, or just, well, gross.

(Again, this is where both my nature and my nurture may be causing me problems. Oh, and this: not talking about female masturbation reinforces taboos about female sexuality and agency.)

Another area in which we have posted very little is on topics that pertain to homosexuality, same-sex acts, or non-heteronormative (in a modern sense) eroticism. People respond all too well to lists of words for feces, but descriptions of sexuality that fall under the earlier categories get some strange responses. This is not enough to stop us alone. My worry is akin to my concern in the last paragraph, but more. I fear that some readers will use such material negatively (doing harm to ancient and modern communities); I also feel we run the risk of getting cheap entertainment through the exploitative expropriation of someone else’s sexuality.

But I have been struggling with the line of thought in the passage I am about to cite. The work of the book The Maculate Muse is really groundbreaking (and it is a work to which I have referred for many years), but the comments on comparing modern and ancient ‘homosexuality’ seem skewed in a damaging way. I am posting them not with the intention of shaming the scholar, but instead with the hope that someone will tell me I have read this all wrong.

J. Henderson. The Maculate Muse, 1991 (2nd edition; first 1975): 207

Henderson page 207

The Maculate Muse, 1991: 208

Henderson page 208

I am troubled by a few things here. The bit about “perversion” and “not without reason” seems particularly problematic, especially since it is unexplained. The additional language of compulsion is also borderline for me. Although the second edition is now nearly 30 years old (and the original is closer to 50!), I would have thought that it would be more sensitive in its treatment of sexual categories and notions of sexual activity, sexual identity, gender and sex.

My suspicions about this passage and its implicit definitions of sexuality (and identities) have led me to read a lot of what Henderson says about “pathics”, effeminacy, and the insults which may or may not pertain to these categories with much greater caution.

Update: an important note of context. The comments cited above were not updated from the 1975 edition of the book. The following note precedes the discussion.

A scholar familiar with the development of this book from dissertation to publication and revision was kind enough to share some context. It was dangerous for a career to write this book in the 1970s. Classics has not always been in the social and cultural vanguard.

So, this passage can serve particularly well as a lesson for how our scholarship is shaped by cultural constrainta both in its articulation and ita reception over time.

Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

 

I received the first passage this morning as a gift from one of my students. I am so very proud.

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

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