Sexual Peculiarities of the Ancient Greeks and Romans

Sexual Peculiarities of the Ancient Greeks and Romans

John Younger

Sexuality in the Classical World, edited by Mark Golden and Peter Toohey (Oxford: Berg Publishing 2011)

Abstract: This study looks at ancient Greek and Roman sexual practices from the point of view of their (implied) differences from modern western practices. There are eight major themes: sex and status, the ubiquity of sex, the body, body modification, violence and pain, having sex, viewing sex, and transgressions.

Introduction: Most of the sexual practices and attitudes of the ancient Greeks and Romans have parallels in modern life. There are differences, of course, but it is difficult to categorize them, mainly because what seems normal to one person may seem perverted to another. The US Supreme Court, after all, leaves the definition of pornography to the local community. What follows here is a broad discussion arranged around eight major sexual themes – I leave it to the reader to identify the peculiar.

Both societies were slave-owning, which, coupled with the general attitude that women were second-class citizens, meant that the men had sexual access to those who were lesser in status: unchaperoned proper women, as well as slave, foreign, resident-alien, and noncitizen women and men. The Augustan orator Haterius may have been exaggerating when he stated, “Debasement” [ie being raped] is a crime [stuprum] for the freeborn, a necessity for the slave, and a duty for the freedman.”

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