The Ancient Greek Symposium: Just an Excuse for Debauchery?

The Ancient Greek Symposium: Just an Excuse for Debauchery?



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It’s no secret that the ancient Greeks loved to have parties, dance and drink for every occasion. Indeed, in many cases no specific purpose was required for them to celebrate. These parties and celebrations, however, shouldn’t be confused with the symposium (or symposion), a very significant aspect of ancient Greek life that usually took place in private homes. At a symposium, Greek males gathered for more than just drinking, eating, and having fun, as many falsely believe today.

The significance of a symposium within ancient Greek society

The social and cultural importance of a symposium can be inferred by the fact that it is mentioned in major literary works, such as Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium , and it is mentioned in a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara. The most famous symposium in history is, undoubtedly, the homonymous philosophical text by Plato from around 385 –370 BC. In the Symposium, love is discussed and examined by a bunch of men – including Socrates and Alcibiades – attending a symposium. The event takes place at the house of the tragedian Agathon in Athens and is best remembered for the famous speech of Socrates, where the famous philosopher declares that the highest purpose of love is to become a philosopher or, literally, a lover of wisdom.

Plato´s Symposium painting by Anselm Feuerbach, 1869. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Widely considered as one of Plato's finest works, the dialogue has been used as a credible source by contemporary historians in order to understand life better in ancient Athens, particularly the views of the ancient Athenians on human sexuality and the symposium as a social institution. More importantly, many contemporary scholars believe that the Symposium concerns itself at one level with the genesis, purpose and nature of love, and is the origin of what we know as Platonic love.

What actually happened during a symposium?

To begin with, the symposium was permitted only to Greek males of the highest social class. The only women who could participate were the hetairai, described as gorgeous, highly educated and elegant prostitutes that were particularly trained in dance and music. Each guest would be given a garland to wear on his head and would recline in a room designed to hold seven to fifteen couches with cushions and low tables. Many such rooms have been identified archaeologically in domestic settings, although the best representation is perhaps the painted Tomb of the Diver at Paestum . In this aristocratic, choreographed social gathering, men drank together, conversed, engaged in jokes and games, and recited poetry while listening to music, all in a joyful atmosphere.

The party would usually start at dusk, although preparations such as choosing the wine, hiring the musicians, dancers and hetairai, would have been in progress during the previous days. The event launched with food since the ancient Greeks were not known for drinking with their meal.

The ancient Greek courtesan Phryne, by Jose Frappa, 1904. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The master of ceremonies for the evening, called the symposiarch, was the one who decided how much wine would be drunk. Ancient Greeks diluted their wine with water, a practice that they believed set them apart from “barbarians,” which was a term they used to refer to all non-Greeks. The symposiarch would also determine the proportion of water to wine, and servants would mix the liquids in a vessel called a krater, from which he would later serve the guests. Interestingly, by the late sixth century BC there was wide variety of symposium vessels that included wine coolers, jugs, and various drinking cups and mixing vessels, most of which were painted depicting drinking parties and orgies of, who else? Dionysos and his followers!

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Ancient Greek jug design depicting social scene.

No one left a symposium entirely sober

As host in charge of drinking, responsible symposiarch would try his best to avoid the intoxication of his visitors, since a lot of drunk men in the same place usually meant fighting and would earn him a bad reputation. At the same time, if even one man were to leave a symposium entirely sober, that wasn’t considered a good thing either. Fundamentally, the golden rule for how a great symposium should be, is amusingly described in a fragment from a play by Greek poet Euboulos:

"For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth krater is not mine any more - it belongs to bad behavior; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness."

Top Image: Phryne on the Poseidon's celebration in Eleusis by Nikolay Pavlenko, 1894 ( Wikimedia Commons )


    A Thirst for Art: the Ancient Greek symposium

    D rinking has been one of the driving forces of culture for millennia, influencing artists – and their work – throughout history.

    In this new Telegraph video series, ‘A Thirst for Art’, the critic, author and broadcaster Alastair Sooke examines eight masterpieces that span the full scope of Western art and that each take drinking as their principal subject or theme.

    The first episode looks at the debate (and debauchery) of an Ancient Greek symposium.

    I n the video above, Alastair meets Dr Alexandra Sofroniew, a lecturer in Classical Archaeology at St John’s College, Oxford, at the Ashmolean Museum to examine artefacts from a symposium.

    “Initially it seems like participants were reading poetry and enjoying music and even talking about philosophy, but as the night wore on they were drinking more and more,” says Dr Sofroniew.

    “You just see a lot of playfulness and fun and jokes in these vessels.”

    Future episodes in the series will cover works such as Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian and Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs.


    A Thirst for Art: the Ancient Greek symposium

    D rinking has been one of the driving forces of culture for millennia, influencing artists – and their work – throughout history.

    In this new Telegraph video series, ‘A Thirst for Art’, the critic, author and broadcaster Alastair Sooke examines eight masterpieces that span the full scope of Western art and that each take drinking as their principal subject or theme.

    The first episode looks at the debate (and debauchery) of an Ancient Greek symposium.

    I n the video above, Alastair meets Dr Alexandra Sofroniew, a lecturer in Classical Archaeology at St John’s College, Oxford, at the Ashmolean Museum to examine artefacts from a symposium.

    “Initially it seems like participants were reading poetry and enjoying music and even talking about philosophy, but as the night wore on they were drinking more and more,” says Dr Sofroniew.

    “You just see a lot of playfulness and fun and jokes in these vessels.”

    Future episodes in the series will cover works such as Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian and Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs.


    4 The London Gang That Mutilated Faces For Fun

    The early 18th century in London was a very good time to be a douchebag, especially if you were an aristocrat, and especially if you were one whose sole desire in life was to wreck all the shit you had ready access to. In 1710, gangs of aristocrats were rife. They were heavily themed on specific types of mischief, and had names straight out of The Warriors. There were The Blasters, who flashed women The Sweaters, who surrounded random guys from every direction then stabbed them in the ass with their swords for "turning their back on a gentleman" and The She-Romps Club, who kidnapped girls into their clubhouse and made them walk on their hands so their skirts would fall over their heads.

    Still, it wasn't all fun and stabbing: The most feared of these groups was a gang of young men called The Mohocks (or Mohawks, after the Native American tribe). They gained their notoriety because of their willingness to assault men and women alike with their special move of choice: a gruesome attack they referred to as "tipping the lion," wherein a passerby's nose was smashed in and then their eyes gouged out. There were reports of victims with their hands and ears sliced off and of old women stuffed in barrels and rolled down a hill. Some say The Mohocks carried a specially constructed iron instrument to rip open the victims' mouths. Other sources (such as Hunter S. Thompson, a man who knew his debauchery) insist there was a second mutilation gang called The Man-Killers and the two clubs were caught in a game of keeping up with the Joneses (murder sprees).

    In 1712, Queen Anne grew sick of the hysteria The Mohocks were whipping up and promised a hefty-for-the-day reward of 100 pounds for every Mohock brought to justice. Realizing their jig was up, these upper-class gangbangers faded away to . uh, rule the country consequence-free, probably.

    Related: 6 Fun Activities That Were Horrifying Throughout History


    Contents

    The Greek word paiderastia ( παιδεραστία ) is an abstract noun. It is formed from paiderastês, which in turn is a compound of pais ("child", plural paides) and erastês (see below). [12] Although the word pais can refer to a child of either sex, paiderastia is defined by Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon as "the love of boys", and the verb paiderasteuein as "to be a lover of boys". [13]

    Since the publication of Kenneth Dover's work Greek Homosexuality, the terms erastês and erômenos have been standard for the two pederastic roles. [14] Both words derive from the Greek verb erô, erân, "to love" see also eros. In Dover's strict dichotomy, the erastês ( ἐραστής , plural erastai) is the older sexual actor, seen as the active or dominant participant, [15] with the suffix -tês (- τής ) denoting agency. [16] Erastês should be distinguished from Greek paiderastês, which meant "lover of boys" usually with a negative connotation. [17] The erastês himself might only be in his early twenties, [18] and thus the age difference between the two males who engage in sexual activity might be negligible. [19]

    The word erômenos, or "beloved" (ἐρώμενος, plural eromenoi), is the masculine form of the present passive participle from erô, viewed by Dover as the passive or subordinate sexual participant. An erômenos can also be called pais, "child". [20] The pais was regarded as a future citizen, not an "inferior object of sexual gratification", and was portrayed with respect in art. [21] The word can be understood as an endearment such as a parent might use, found also in the poetry of Sappho [22] and a designation of only relative age. Both art and other literary references show that the erômenos was at least a teen, with modern age estimates ranging from 13 to 20, or in some cases up to 30. Most evidence indicates that to be an eligible erômenos, a youth would be of an age when an aristocrat began his formal military training, [23] that is, from fifteen to seventeen. [24] As an indication of physical maturity, the erômenos was sometimes as tall as or taller than the older erastês, and may have his first facial hair. [25] Another word used by the Greeks for the younger sexual participant was paidika, a neuter plural adjective ("things having to do with children") treated syntactically as masculine singular. [20]

    In poetry and philosophical literature, the erômenos is often an embodiment of idealized youth a related ideal depiction of youth in Archaic culture was the kouros, the long-haired male statuary nude. [26] In The Fragility of Goodness, Martha Nussbaum, following Dover, defines the ideal erômenos as

    a beautiful creature without pressing needs of his own. He is aware of his attractiveness, but self-absorbed in his relationship with those who desire him. He will smile sweetly at the admiring lover he will show appreciation for the other's friendship, advice, and assistance. He will allow the lover to greet him by touching, affectionately, his genitals and his face, while he looks, himself, demurely at the ground. … The inner experience of an erômenos would be characterized, we may imagine, by a feeling of proud self-sufficiency. Though the object of importunate solicitation, he is himself not in need of anything beyond himself. He is unwilling to let himself be explored by the other's needy curiosity, and he has, himself, little curiosity about the other. He is something like a god, or the statue of a god. [27]

    Dover insisted that the active role of the erastês and the passivity of the erômenos is a distinction "of the highest importance", [20] but subsequent scholars have tried to present a more varied picture of the behaviors and values associated with paiderastia. Although ancient Greek writers use erastês and erômenos in a pederastic context, the words are not technical terms for social roles, and can refer to the "lover" and "beloved" in other hetero- and homosexual couples. [28]

    The Greek practice of pederasty came suddenly into prominence at the end of the Archaic period of Greek history there is a brass plaque from Crete, about 650–625 BCE, which is the oldest surviving representation of pederastic custom. Such representations appear from all over Greece in the next century literary sources show it as being established custom in many cities by the 5th century BCE. [29]

    Cretan pederasty as a social institution seems to have been grounded in an initiation which involved abduction. A man (Ancient Greek: φιλήτωρ – philetor, "lover") selected a youth, enlisted the chosen one's friends to help him, and carried off the object of his affections to his andreion, a sort of men's club or meeting hall. The youth received gifts, and the philetor along with the friends went away with him for two months into the countryside, where they hunted and feasted. At the end of this time, the philetor presented the youth with three contractually required gifts: military attire, an ox, and a drinking cup. Other costly gifts followed. Upon their return to the city, the youth sacrificed the ox to Zeus, and his friends joined him at the feast. He received special clothing that in adult life marked him as kleinos, "famous, renowned". The initiate was called a parastatheis, "he who stands beside", perhaps because, like Ganymede the cup-bearer of Zeus, he stood at the side of the philetor during meals in the andreion and served him from the cup that had been ceremonially presented. In this interpretation, the formal custom reflects myth and ritual. [30]

    The erastes-eromenos relationship played a role in the Classical Greek social and educational system, had its own complex social-sexual etiquette and was an important social institution among the upper classes. [31] Pederasty has been understood as educative, [32] and Greek authors from Aristophanes to Pindar felt it naturally present in the context of aristocratic education (paideia). [33] In general, pederasty as described in the Greek literary sources is an institution reserved for free citizens, perhaps to be regarded as a dyadic mentorship: "pederasty was widely accepted in Greece as part of a male's coming-of-age, even if its function is still widely debated." [34]

    In Crete, in order for the suitor to carry out the ritual abduction, the father had to approve him as worthy of the honor. Among the Athenians, as Socrates claims in Xenophon's Symposium, "Nothing [of what concerns the boy] is kept hidden from the father, by an ideal [35] lover." [36] In order to protect their sons from inappropriate attempts at seduction, fathers appointed slaves called pedagogues to watch over their sons. However, according to Aeschines, Athenian fathers would pray that their sons would be handsome and attractive, with the full knowledge that they would then attract the attention of men and "be the objects of fights because of erotic passions". [37]

    The age-range when boys entered into such relationships was consonant with that of Greek girls given in marriage, often to adult husbands many years their senior. Boys, however, usually had to be courted and were free to choose their mate, while marriages for girls were arranged for economic and political advantage at the discretion of father and suitor. [38] These connections were also an advantage for a youth and his family, as the relationship with an influential older man resulted in an expanded social network. [ citation needed ] Thus, some considered it desirable to have had many admirers or mentors, if not necessarily lovers per se, in one's younger years. [ citation needed ] Typically, after their sexual relationship had ended and the young man had married, the older man and his protégé would remain on close terms throughout their life. For those males who continued their sexual activities after their younger counterparts had matured, the Greeks made allowances, saying, "You can lift up a bull, if you carried the calf." [39]

    In parts of Greece, pederasty was an acceptable form of homoeroticism that had other, less socially accepted manifestations, such as the sexual use of slaves or being a pornos (prostitute) or hetairos (the male equivalent of a hetaira). [40] Male prostitution was treated as a perfectly routine matter and visiting prostitutes of either sex was considered completely acceptable for a male citizen. [41] However, adolescent citizens of free status who prostituted themselves were sometimes ridiculed, and were permanently prohibited by Attic law from performing some seven official functions [nb 1] [43] [44] because it was believed that since they had sold their own body for the pleasure of others ( ἐφ' ὕβρει eph' hybrei), they would not hesitate to sell the interests of the community as a whole. [44] If they, or an adult citizen of free status who had prostituted himself, performed any of the official functions prohibited to them by law (in later life), they were liable to prosecution and punishment. However, if they did not perform those specific functions, did not present themselves for the allocation of those functions and declared themselves ineligible if they were somehow mistakenly elected to perform those specific functions, they were safe from prosecution and punishment. As non-citizens visiting or residing in a city-state could not perform official functions in any case whatsoever, they could prostitute themselves as much as they wanted. [45]

    Political expression Edit

    Transgressions of the customs pertaining to the proper expression of homosexuality within the bounds of pederaistia could be used to damage the reputation of a public figure. In his speech Against Timarchus in 346 BCE, the Athenian politician Aeschines argues against further allowing Timarchus, an experienced middle-aged politician, certain political rights as Attic law prohibited anyone who had prostituted himself from exercising those rights [46] and Timarchus was known to have spent his adolescence as the sexual partner of a series of wealthy men in order to obtain money. [47] Such a law existed because it was believed that anyone who had sold their own body would not hesitate to sell the interests of the city-state. [44] Aeschines won his case, and Timarchus was sentenced to atimia (disenfranchisement and civic disempowerment). Aeschines acknowledges his own dalliances with beautiful boys, the erotic poems he dedicated to these youths, and the scrapes he has gotten into as a result of his affairs, but emphasizes that none of these were mediated by money. A financial motive thus was viewed as threatening a man's status as free. [ citation needed ]

    By contrast, as expressed in Pausanias' speech in Plato's Symposium, pederastic love was said to be favorable to democracy and feared by tyrants, because the bond between the erastes and eromenos was stronger than that of obedience to a despotic ruler. [48] [49] Athenaeus states that "Hieronymus the Aristotelian says that love with boys was fashionable because several tyrannies had been overturned by young men in their prime, joined together as comrades in mutual sympathy." He gives as examples of such pederastic couples the Athenians Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who were credited (perhaps symbolically) with the overthrow of the tyrant Hippias and the establishment of the democracy, and also Chariton and Melanippus. [50] Others, such as Aristotle, claimed that the Cretan lawgivers encouraged pederasty as a means of population control, by directing love and sexual desire into non-procreative channels:

    and the lawgiver has devised many wise measures to secure the benefit of moderation at table, and the segregation of the women in order that they may not bear many children, for which purpose he instituted association with the male sex. [51]

    Philosophical expression Edit

    Socrates remarks in the dialogue Phaedrus that sexual pederasty is driven by the appetital part of the soul, but can be balanced by self-control and reason. He likens wanton lust for a boy to allowing a disobedient horse to control a chariot, but remarks that sexual desire for a boy if combined with a love for their other qualities is acceptable. [ citation needed ]

    Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium remarks:

    For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning in life than a virtuous lover, or to a lover than a beloved youth. For the principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honor and dishonor, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work… And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor and emulating one another in honor and it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. [52]

    In Laws, Plato takes a much more austere stance to homosexuality than in previous works, stating:

    . one certainly should not fail to observe that when male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female, and that those first guilty of such enormities [the Cretans] were impelled by their slavery to pleasure. And we all accuse the Cretans of concocting the story about Ganymede.

    Plato states here that "we all", possibly referring to society as a whole or simply his social group, believe the story of Ganymede's homosexuality to have been fabricated by the Cretans to justify immoral behaviours.

    The Athenian stranger in Plato's Laws blames pederasty for promoting civil strife and driving many to their wits' end, and recommends the prohibition of sexual intercourse with youths, laying out a path whereby this may be accomplished. [53]

    In myth and religion Edit

    The myth of Ganymede's abduction by Zeus was invoked as a precedent for the pederastic relationship, as Theognis asserts to a friend:

    There is some pleasure in loving a boy (paidophilein), since once in fact even the son of Cronus (that is, Zeus), king of immortals, fell in love with Ganymede, seized him, carried him off to Olympus, and made him divine, keeping the lovely bloom of boyhood (paideia). So, don't be astonished, Simonides, that I too have been revealed as captivated by love for a handsome boy. [54]

    The myth of Ganymede's abduction, however, was not taken seriously by some in Athenian society, and deemed to be a Cretan fabrication designed to justify their homoeroticism. [55]

    The scholar Joseph Pequigney states:

    Neither Homer nor Hesiod ever explicitly ascribes homosexual experiences to the gods or to heroes.

    The 5th century BCE poet Pindar constructed the story of a sexual pederastic relationship between Poseidon and Pelops, intended to replace an earlier story of cannibalism that Pindar deemed an unsavoury representation of the Gods. [56] The story tells of Poseidon's love for a mortal boy, Pelops, who wins a chariot race with help from his admirer Poseidon.

    Though examples of such a custom exist in earlier Greek works, myths providing examples of young men who were the lovers of gods began to emerge in classical literature, around the 6th century BCE. In these later tales, pederastic love is ascribed to Zeus (with Ganymede), Poseidon (with Pelops), Apollo (with Cyparissus, Hyacinthus and Admetus), Orpheus, Heracles, Dionysus, Hermes, and Pan. All the Olympian gods except Ares are purported to have had these relationships, which some scholars argue demonstrates that the specific customs of paiderastia originated in initiatory rituals. [57] [58]

    Myths attributed to the homosexuality of Dionysus are very late and often post-pagan additions. [59] [ circular reference ] The tale of Dionysus and Ampelos was written by the Egyptian poet Nonnus some time between the 4th and 5th centuries AD, making it unreliable. Likewise, the tale of Dionysus and Polymnus, which tells that the former anally masturbated with a fig branch over the latter's grave, was written by Christians, whose aim was to discredit pagan mythology. [60]

    Dover, however, believed that these myths are only literary versions expressing or explaining the "overt" homosexuality of Greek archaic culture, the distinctiveness of which he contrasted to attitudes in other ancient societies such as Egypt and Israel. [61]

    Creative expression Edit

    Visual arts Edit

    Greek vase painting is a major source for scholars seeking to understand attitudes and practices associated with paiderastia. [62] Hundreds of pederastic scenes are depicted on Attic black-figure vases. [63] In the early 20th century, John Beazley classified pederastic vases into three types:

    • The erastês and erômenos stand facing each other the erastês, knees bent, reaches with one hand for the beloved's chin and with the other for his genitals.
    • The erastês presents the erômenos with a small gift, sometimes an animal.
    • The standing lovers engage in intercrural sex. [64]

    Certain gifts traditionally given by the eromenos become symbols that contribute to interpreting a given scene as pederastic. Animal gifts—most commonly hares and roosters, but also deer and felines—point toward hunting as an aristocratic pastime and as a metaphor for sexual pursuit. [65] These animal gifts were commonly given to boys whereas women often received money as a gift for sex. This difference in gifts furthered the closeness of pederastic relations. Women received money as a product of the sexual exchange and boys were given culturally significant gifts. Gifts given to boys is commonly depicted in ancient Greek art, but money given to women for sex is not. [66]

    The explicit nature of some images has led in particular to discussions of whether the eromenos took active pleasure in the sex act. The youthful beloved is never pictured with an erection his penis "remains flaccid even in circumstances to which one would expect the penis of any healthy adolescent to respond willy-nilly". [67] Fondling the youth's genitals was one of the most common images of pederastic courtship on vases, a gesture indicated also in Aristophanes' comedy Birds (line 142). Some vases do show the younger partner as sexually responsive, prompting one scholar to wonder, "What can the point of this act have been unless lovers in fact derived some pleasure from feeling and watching the boy's developing organ wake up and respond to their manual stimulation?" [68]

    Chronological study of the vase paintings also reveals a changing aesthetic in the depiction of the erômenos. In the 6th century BCE, he is a young beardless man with long hair, of adult height and physique, usually nude. As the 5th century begins, he has become smaller and slighter, "barely pubescent", and often draped as a girl would be. No inferences about social customs should be based on this element of the courtship scene alone. [69]

    Poetry Edit

    There are many pederastic references among the works of the Megaran poet Theognis addressed to Cyrnus (Greek Kyrnos). Some portions of the Theognidean corpus are probably not by the individual from Megara, but rather represent "several generations of wisdom poetry". The poems are "social, political, or ethical precepts transmitted to Cyrnus as part of his formation into an adult Megarian aristocrat in Theognis' own image". [70]

    The relationship between Theognis and Kyrnos eludes categorization. Although it was assumed in antiquity that Kyrnos was the poet's eromenos, the poems that are most explicitly erotic are not addressed to him the poetry [71] on "the joys and sorrows" of pederasty seem more apt for sharing with a fellow erastes, perhaps in the setting of the symposium: "the relationship, in any case, is left vague." [72] In general, Theognis (and the tradition that appears under his name) treats the pederastic relationship as heavily pedagogical. [73]

    The poetic traditions of Ionia and Aeolia featured poets such as Anacreon, Mimnermus and Alcaeus, who composed many of the sympotic skolia that were to become later part of the mainland tradition. Ibycus came from Rhegium in the Greek west and entertained the court of Polycrates in Samos with pederastic verses. By contrast with Theognis, these poets portray a version of pederasty that is non-pedagogical, focused exclusively on love and seduction. Theocritus, a Hellenistic poet, describes a kissing contest for youths that took place at the tomb of a certain Diocles, renowned for friendship he notes that invoking Ganymede was proper to the occasion. [74]

    Vase paintings and references to the eromenos's thighs in poetry [76] indicate that when the pederastic couple engaged in sex acts, the preferred form was intercrural. [77] To preserve his dignity and honor, the erômenos limits the man who desires him to penetration between closed thighs. [78]

    There are no known visual depictions of anal sex between pederastic couples. Some vase paintings, which Percy considers a fourth type of pederastic scene in addition to Beazley's three, show the erastês seated with an erection and the erômenos either approaching or climbing into his lap. The composition of these scenes is the same as that for depictions of women mounting men who are seated and aroused for intercourse. [79] As a cultural norm considered apart from personal preference, anal penetration was most often seen as dishonorable to the one penetrated, or shameful, [80] because of "its potential appearance of being turned into a woman" and because it was feared that it may distract the erômenos from playing the active, penetrative role later in life. [81] A fable attributed to Aesop tells how Aeschyne (Shame) consented to enter the human body from behind only as long as Eros did not follow the same path, and would fly away at once if he did. A man who acted as the receiver during anal intercourse may have been the recipient of the insult "kinaidos", meaning effeminate. [82] No shame was associated with intercrural penetration or any other act that did not involve anal penetration. [83] Oral sex is likewise not depicted, [84] or directly suggested anal or oral penetration seems to have been reserved for prostitutes or slaves. [85]

    Dover maintained that the erômenos was ideally not supposed to feel "unmanly" desire for the erastês. [86] Nussbaum argues that the depiction of the erômenos as deriving no sexual pleasure from sex with the erastês "may well be a cultural norm that conceals a more complicated reality", as the erômenos is known to have frequently felt intense affection for his erastês and there is evidence that he experienced sexual arousal with him as well. [87] In Plato's Phaedrus, it is related that, with time, the erômenos develops a "passionate longing" for his erastês and a "reciprocal love" (anteros) for him that is a replica of the erastês’ love. The erômenos is also said to have a desire "similar to the erastes', albeit weaker, to see, to touch, to kiss and to lie with him". [88]

    Athens Edit

    Much of the practices described above concern first of all Athens, while Attic pottery is a major source for modern scholars attempting to understand the institution of pederasty. [89] In Athens, as elsewhere, pederastia appears to have been a characteristic of the aristocracy. The age of youth depicted has been estimated variously from 12 to 18. [90] A number of Athenian laws addressed the pederastic relationship.

    The Greek East Edit

    Unlike the Dorians, where an older male would usually have only one erômenos (younger boy), in the east a man might have several erômenoi over the course of his life. From the poems of Alcaeus we learn that the older male would customarily invite his erômenos to dine with him. [91]

    Crete Edit

    Greek pederasty was seemingly already institutionalized in Crete at the time of Thaletas, which included a "Dance of Naked Youths". [92] It has been suggested both Crete and Sparta influenced Athenian pederasty. [92]

    Sparta Edit

    The nature of this relationship is in dispute among ancient sources and modern historians. Some think Spartan views on pederasty and homoeroticism were more chaste than those of other parts of Greece, while others find no significant difference from those. [93]

    According to Xenophon, a relationship ("association") between a man and a boy could be tolerated, but only if it was based around friendship and love and not solely around physical, sexual attraction, in which case it was considered "an abomination" tantamount to incest. [94] Conversely, Plutarch states that, when Spartan boys reached puberty, they became available for sexual relationships with older males. [95] Aelian talks about the responsibilities of an older Spartan citizen to younger less sexually experienced males. [96]

    Thomas F. Scanlon believes Sparta, during its Dorian polis time, is thought to be the first city to practice athletic nudity, and one of the first to formalize pederasty. [97] Sparta also imported Thaletas' songs from Crete. [92]

    In Sparta, the erastes was regarded as a guardian of the eromenos and was held responsible for any wrongdoings of the latter. [98] Researchers of the Spartan civilization, such as Paul Cartledge, remain uncertain about the sexual aspect of the institution. Cartledge underscores that the terms "εισπνήλας" and "αΐτας" have a moralistic and pedagogic content, indicating a relationship with a paternalistic character, but argues that sexual relations were possible in some or most cases. The nature of these possible sexual relations remains, however, disputed and lost to history. [99]

    Megara Edit

    Megara cultivated good relations with Sparta, and may have been culturally attracted to emulate Spartan practices in the 7th century, when pederasty is postulated to have first been formalized in Dorian cities. [100] One of the first cities after Sparta to be associated with the custom of athletic nudity, Megara was home to the runner Orsippus who was famed as the first to run the footrace naked at the Olympic Games and "first of all Greeks to be crowned victor naked". [101] [102] In one poem, the Megaran poet Theognis saw athletic nudity as a prelude to pederasty: "Happy is the lover who works out naked / And then goes home to sleep all day with a beautiful boy." [103]

    Boeotia Edit

    In Thebes, the main polis in Boeotia, renowned for its practice of pederasty, the tradition was enshrined in the founding myth of the city. [ citation needed ] In this instance the story was meant to teach by counterexample: it depicts Laius, one of the mythical ancestors of the Thebans, in the role of a lover who betrays the father and rapes the son. Other Boeotian pederastic myths are the stories of Narcissus and of Heracles and Iolaus. [ citation needed ]

    According to Plutarch, Theban pederasty was instituted as an educational device for boys in order to "soften, while they were young, their natural fierceness, and to "temper the manners and characters of the youth". [104] According to a tradition, The Sacred Band of Thebes comprised pederastic couples. [105]

    Boeotian pottery, in contrast to that of Athens, does not exhibit the three types of pederastic scenes identified by Beazley. The limited survival and cataloguing of pottery that can be proven to have been made in Boeotia diminishes the value of this evidence in distinguishing a specifically local tradition of paiderastia. [106]

    The ethical views held in ancient societies, such as Athens, Thebes, Crete, Sparta, Elis and others, on the practice of pederasty have been explored by scholars only since the end of the 19th century. One of the first to do so was John Addington Symonds, who wrote his seminal work A Problem in Greek Ethics in 1873, but after a private edition of 10 copies (1883) only in 1901 could the work really be published, in revised form. [107] Edward Carpenter expanded the scope of the study, with his 1914 work, Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk. The text examines homoerotic practices of all types, not only pederastic ones, and ranges over cultures spanning the whole globe. [108] In Germany the work was continued by classicist Paul Brandt writing under the pseudonym Hans Licht, who published his Sexual Life in Ancient Greece in 1932.

    K. J. Dover's work triggered a number of debates which still continue. Sociologist of the 20th century Michel Foucault declared that pederasty was "problematized" in Greek culture, that it was "the object of a special—and especially intense—moral preoccupation", which was "subjected to an interplay of positive and negative interplays so complex as to make the ethics that governed it difficult to decipher", [109] A modern line of thought leading from Dover to Foucault to David M. Halperin holds that the erômenos did not reciprocate the love and desire of the erastes, and that the relationship was factored on a sexual domination of the younger by the older, a politics of penetration held to be true of all adult male Athenians' relations with their social inferiors—boys, women and slaves—a theory propounded also by Eva Keuls. [110]

    Similarly, Enid Bloch argues that many Greek boys in these relationships may have been traumatized by knowing that they were violating social customs, since the "most shameful thing that could happen to any Greek male was penetration by another male." She further argues that vases showing "a boy standing perfectly still as a man reaches out for his genitals" indicate the boy may have been "psychologically immobilized, unable to move or run away." [111] From this and the previous perspectives, the relationships are characterized and factored on a power differential between the participants, and as essentially asymmetrical. [ citation needed ]

    Other scholars point to more artwork on vases, poetry and philosophical works such as the Platonic discussion of anteros, "love returned", all of which show tenderness and desire and love on the part of the eromenos matching and responding to that of the erastes. [112] Critics of the posture defended by Dover, Bloch and their followers also point out that they ignore all material which argued against their "overly theoretical" interpretation of a human and emotional relationship [113] and counter that "Clearly, a mutual, consensual bond was formed", [114] and that it is "a modern fairy tale that the younger eromenos was never aroused". [115]

    Halperin's position has been also criticized as a "persistently negative and judgmental rhetoric implying exploitation and domination as the fundamental characteristics of pre-modern sexual models" and challenged as a polemic of "mainstream assimilationist gay apologists" and an attempt to "demonize and purge from the movement" all non-orthodox male sexualities, especially that involving adults and adolescents. [116]

    As classical historian Robin Osborne has pointed out, historical discussion of paiderastia is complicated by 21st-century moral standards:

    It is the historian's job to draw attention to the personal, social, political and indeed moral issues behind the literary and artistic representations of the Greek world. The historian's job is to present pederasty and all, to make sure that … we come face to face with the way the glory that was Greece was part of a world in which many of our own core values find themselves challenged rather than reinforced. [117]


    4 Ancient Rome Was Lily White

    If we asked you to picture a coliseum full of ancient Romans, chances are you'd picture a sea of red mohawk helmets. And beneath those helmets? Scads of white, European-looking fellows in togas.

    It's not that you're racist. It's that almost every filmmaker in cinematic history has made that same assumption about the ancient Romans, with logic along the lines of: "Rome's in Europe. Europe's white-ish, so ancient Romans were white-ish." What difference could 2,000 years possibly make?"

    Here's a picture of the Roman Empire. Notice that a goodly chunk of the empire is in what some might refer to as "Africa" or "the Middle East."

    Based on that alone, it should be pretty obvious that Romans would've been a bit tanner than we tend to imagine. The Roman Empire would have been a pretty colorful place, considering it was a mix of North African, Semitic, West Asian, Latin, and Greek peoples -- although you'd never know it from modern cinema.

    But despite Hollywood's near-complete refusal to acknowledge it, ancient Rome was the original melting pot. See, back then, color and prejudice weren't linked -- unlike racism and stupidity today. Rome even had at least two African emperors, Severus and Macrinus. Rome was unique in the ancient world for its inclusive citizenship. In the past, a city-state like Sparta might have conquered a people and enslaved or slaughtered them all. Rome, on the other hand, blew ancient people's minds by assimilating or even naturalizing the conquered. The ancient Romans didn't even force conquered peoples to give up their own languages or customs.

    The important thing for the Romans was that people followed the law, paid taxes, and, oh yeah, fought in the Roman army. The Romans were no dummies: Little old Rome was never going to be able to populate the world it conquered, let alone defend it, so absorbing other peoples like a giant legionary sponge was the only way to keep enough bodies in the military and on its farms. Rome enrolled northwest Africans, Moors, Gauls, Celts, Jews -- pretty much anyone who could swing a sword or throw a spear -- which is how an Ethiopian soldier could find himself fighting in Britain (maybe that's why every film Roman speaks with a British accent).

    There are no exact numbers on ancient Roman diversity, but given Rome's constant contact with Africa and the Near East, the coliseum we asked you to imagine earlier should look more like Ellis Island and less like a Dave Matthews Band concert.

    Related: 6 Reasons Everyday Life In Ancient Rome Was Totally Insane


    Symposiums in ancient Greece (THE DRINKING PARTIES)

    AS we know from Plato and other writers, ancient Greeks much loved to have drinking parties or symposiums – and most any excuse could be used to party: a birth, marriage, or death, the arrival or departure of a loved one from abroad, a feast day or merely a change in the seasons. Actually in most cases, however, no purpose was required. The ancient Greeks loved to party. The drinking party or symposium was not however the ancient equivalent to a few guys getting together to pass the breeze and down a few drinks. On the contrary, it was a highly ritualized institution with its own precise and time-hallowed rules. Plutarch described the drinking party as “a passing of time over wine, which guided by gracious behavior, ends in friendship.”

    It was customary for the host to inscribe the names of his guests on a wax tablet, together with the day and hour appointed for the symposium and then hand the tablet to a slave who would make the rounds of the guest’s houses. The usual hour for convening was the ninth. Generally, the ideal number of guest was nine, including the host. In Athens in the fourth century B.C., however, the symposia grew so large that it became necessary to appoint a commission to insure that the number of guests did not exceed the legal limit. Since wives and daughters were not permitted to attend the symposia, the only females present were hired companions known as hetairai.

    The growing importance of the symposium was such that, from the fourth century B.C. onward, well-appointed houses possessed a special room for reclining and drinking known as an andron or men’s quarters. An andron can be identified in the archaeological record by its off-center doorway, so located in order to enable the room to accommodate the couches, which were arranged alongside each other and set against the walls. The basic andron held four couches, though some were considerably larger. The couches were made of either wood or stone. In front of each was three-legged table on which food was laid out and the drinkers placed their cups. As private houses became more elegant, androns acquired mosaic floors and their walls wee hung with tapestries.

    There were strict rules to which the participants were required to adhere. The enforcement of these rules was in the hands of the symposiarch, or master of drinking. The ideal symposiarch, according to Plutarch, had to be the “quintessence of conviviality,” neither inclined to drunkenness nor averse to drinking. He had to be aware how each of his fellow symposiasts was affected by wine in order to determine what was conductive to the promotion of good cheer. He should be cordial and friendly, and objectionable to no one. Election to this office was made by a throw of dice, which meant it generally fell to one of the guests. The symposiarch had the authority to inflict a penalty in any drinker who infringed on the rules. In exceptional circumstances he could even order a guest to depart. As the Greeks did not drink undiluted wine, his inaugural duty was to determine the proportion of parts of wine to water – an important decision that would affect the tone of the whole evening. In addition, he decreed how many cups should be drunk, since only on rare occasions symposiasts permitted to drink as much or as little as they wished. The purpose behind this rule was to ensure that everyone attained approximately the same degree of inebriation. Finally the symposiarch arranged the entertainment and fixed penalties for those who failed to distinguish themselves in the games and competitions.

    Despite these precautions, however, much no doubt happened that was not in accordance with the rules. A popular Greek saying, “I hate a drinker with a good memory,” suggests that whatever was said or done by a symposiast when under the influence of alcohol was not to be held against him when he sobered up.

    For every day use, the Greeks drank out of glazed undecorated mugs. The well-to-do, however possessed a special set of drinking cups and wine containers, which the reserved for use at a symposium.

    Basic drinking equipment included a dozen or so kylikes or drinking mugs, a krater or mixing bowl, a psychter or wine cooler. An oinochoe or jug for pouring wine a hydria or jug for pouring water. The pottery was frequently decorated with figured scenes, often of a very refined draughtmanship. These scenes provide a major source of information about conduct at these gatherings.

    Finally, as Plato advises us, though the Greeks just loved a party, the drinking and entertainment, the symposium basically had a serious purpose. The purpose was serious conversation. In the midst of all the drinking philosophical questions were examined: What was the purpose of life? What is justice and truth? Can we live under unconditional loyalty? Are the gods to be trusted? Are women really inferior? Is drinking the answer? Many of Plato’s dialogues including the Symposium were first conceived in a drinking party when any questions asked and the tongue freed by wine would speak.

    As the conclusion of a symposium, or when moving from one symposium to another, it was customary for drinkers to kazein, or to roam about the streets in a gang. It was just such a gang of komastai, as Plato writes in The Symposium “Order went out of the window and they compelled everyone to drink huge quantities of wine.” Assaults by drunken komastai were not uncommon. It became a stock joke that the worst behaved guests at a symposium were the philosophers! This amused Socrates though he, himself, was not a serious drinker and was always the center of the philosophical discussions.

    For more information, my friend Robert Garland’s excellent book “Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks” is an interesting and authoritative source on the subject.


    Hedonism in Herculaneum – a guide to good living in a luxurious Roman villa

    A r ound the middle of the first century BC, as the Roman Republic teetered on the brink of collapse, a magnificent villa was constructed on the north-eastern coast of the Bay of Naples. Covering an area of more than 6,000 square metres, and incorporating a swimming pool, two peristyle gardens with fountains, and a circular belvedere with views across the bay, it was a bolthole that would have made even Berlusconi jealous. Among its luxurious delights, or deliciae as the Romans called them, were trompe l&rsquooeil wall paintings, some 90 bronze and marble statues, polychrome mosaics and an extensive library. The identity of the villa&rsquos original owner is disputed, but he must have been a Roman of high social standing, sophisticated tastes and abundant means.

    Unfortunately for its last occupants, but fortunately for the historical record, the villa was on the edge of Herculaneum. When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the town was buried by volcanic debris, which also accumulated along the coast, pushing the shoreline farther out. Today the Villa dei Papiri, as it is known, is a partially excavated site, the remainder of which lies hidden beneath the modern town of Ercolano. To experience something of how it might have been in the first century BC, you have to go to the Getty Villa near Malibu, a 20th-century reconstruction by a man of comparable wealth and influence to the owner of the original. This summer, the Getty Villa will be the fitting site of an exhibition of the original villa&rsquos treasures, including both works of art and papyrus rolls. &lsquoBuried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri&rsquo (26 June&ndash28 October) will explore what connections there may be between the villa&rsquos decorative scheme and the contents of its library &ndash which were rather unexpected.

    The Villa dei Papiri was rediscovered by well diggers in 1750, a few years after the ancient site of Herculaneum. A team of military engineers sponsored by Charles VII, King of the Two Sicilies, bored tunnels down through 27 metres of solidified rubble to rooms where they discovered a hoard of antiques. These were as much a status symbol in the 18th century as they had been in the first century BC. The workers dug up their finds, in pieces if necessary, and carted them away to the Royal Herculaneum Museum, a new wing of the king&rsquos summer palace in nearby Portici. The discoveries included heaps of shattered statues, their limbs never to be reassembled, frescoes cut from their walls and, remarkably, more than a thousand papyrus rolls containing Greek and Latin texts.

    Three carbonised scrolls (2nd century BC&ndash1st century AD), recovered from the Villa dei Papiri, Herculaneum, between 1752&ndash54. Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli. All Rights Reserved. All other use prohibited. Su concessione del Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

    The rolls, which had been carbonised by superheated gas and rubble, were at first mistaken for logs and used as firewood, or chopped up and reburied. This stopped when one was broken open and writing discovered on the inside. Together, these papyri constitute the only literary library to have survived from the ancient world. Great was the disappointment of the cultured classes of Europe, however, when fragments of the papyri were read, revealing not the lost works of Pindar or Aristotle, but the professional library of an obscure Greek poet and Epicurean philosopher called Philodemus, who died around 40 BC. The texts deciphered so far include Philodemus&rsquos writings on ethics and logic, and Epicurus&rsquos own magnum opus: a theory of natural philosophy in 37 tortuous volumes.

    How did the library of a minor Greek philosopher come to be located in the holiday home of a Roman aristocrat? Theories abound much of the villa remains unexcavated, and there are many gaps in the evidence. A small but arguably important clue, however, lies in the dedication of one of Philodemus&rsquos treatises to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Piso, who was probably Philodemus&rsquos patron, was one of the grandees of the late Republic, and father-in-law to Julius Caesar. We learn from Cicero that Philodemus was constantly at Piso&rsquos side, and instructed him in Epicureanism. He may even have lived for some time at Piso&rsquos home, perhaps in Herculaneum. A tame philosopher could be as much of a symbol of cultural refinement as an art collection, and Piso was not the only Roman nobleman to have one in his entourage Cicero had a similar arrangement with Diodotus, a Stoic.

    The discovery of Philodemus&rsquos library, and the dedication to Piso, suggests that the latter may have been the owner of the Villa dei Papiri. If Piso fits the bill, and if he studied Epicureanism at the villa, this raises an intriguing question: were the villa&rsquos artworks intended to reflect their owner&rsquos Epicurean beliefs &ndash and how far were those beliefs compatible with the lifestyle of a wealthy Roman statesman?

    That lifestyle would certainly have been luxurious. The villa is a particularly splendid example of the type of &lsquopseudo-urban&rsquo mansion in which the sophisticated Roman elite spent their otium, or leisure time, when they wanted to have a break from politics and business in the city. From the first century BC until the eruption of Vesuvius, a string of such mansions was built along the Bay of Naples, an area of sunlit glamour which Cicero called &lsquothat voluptuous mixing-bowl&rsquo.

    The art collection at the villa testifies to the strong Greek influence on the Roman dolce vita. After they sacked Corinth in 146 BC, the Romans became the dominant force in mainland Greece. From this time onwards, Greek culture, as Horace put it, captivated its captor, and &lsquointroduced the arts to uncultivated Latium&rsquo. Greek artworks, purchased or plundered, moved steadily into Roman homes, while the taste for &lsquoAsiatic luxury&rsquo was imported from the Hellenistic rulers of Egypt. The villa&rsquos collection of statues, frescoes and other furnishings includes both original Greek artworks and Greek and Roman reproductions of Greek originals. They testify to the thriving trade in art across the Mediterranean at the time when the villa was built.

    The study of philosophy, like the collecting of sculpture, was a valued aspect of Roman otium, and one imported from Greece. Even the association between free time and study was a Greek import: the concept of the philosophical &lsquoschool&rsquo derives from scholê &ndash the Greek for &lsquoleisure&rsquo. Philodemus, one of many Greek philosophers to emigrate to Italy, was conscious of catering to a demand in the cultural market. In one of his treatises, he claims that the best way of earning a living is by &lsquoreceiving thankful gifts in return for philosophical discourses with men capable of understanding them&rsquo &ndash such as Piso.

    Bust of Epicurus (1st century BC&ndash1st century AD), Roman. Photo: Giorgio Albano courtesy Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

    The villa&rsquos owner clearly spent part of his otium engaged in study of Epicurean philosophy &ndash or at least wanted to convey that impression. Multiple copies of bronze busts of Epicurus and his colleague Hermarchus have been discovered, at least two of them in rooms with papyrus rolls. The Epicureans were well known for surrounding themselves with images of their founder, in pictures and on cups and rings by contemplating his serene countenance, they hoped to bring their state of mind closer to his. In their new Roman context, the busts would also have celebrated the intellectual life of their owner.

    Epicurus had founded his school in Athens in around 300 BC. He had argued that the universe consists of nothing but indivisible particles (&lsquoatoms&rsquo) and empty space. Happiness, and the proper goal of human life, consists in pleasure, by which he meant the tranquillity (ataraxia) of mind and body which arises when our mental and physical wants are satisfied. He stressed that the highest pleasures are friendship and philosophical contemplation, but is also recorded as saying that &lsquothe beginning and root of all good is the pleasure of the stomach&rsquo.

    Based on uncharitable interpretations of remarks like these, the Epicureans, both Greek and Roman, were often accused of being nothing more than hedonists, devoted to the transient pleasures of the flesh &ndash in particular, to gluttony. This charge was still being repeated long after the eruption of Vesuvius: at the turn of the second century, Plutarch accused Epicurus of obsessively recalling his &lsquosumptuous dinners&rsquo, while Athenaeus, in his third-century narrative Scholars at the Dinner Table, describes how an Epicurean character wolfs down an eel before anyone else can touch it.

    The ease with which the Epicurean pursuit of tranquillity could be elided with the hedonistic indulgence of the senses was exploited by Cicero in a speech against Piso, his personal enemy. Cicero accuses Piso of adopting Epicureanism simply because he has &lsquoheard pleasure praised by a philosopher&rsquo, and seizes on it as an excuse for debauchery. Cicero contrasts Piso unfavourably with his &lsquoGreekling&rsquo, Philodemus, who he concedes is cultivated and writes witty verses. Philodemus&rsquos learned accomplishments, Cicero observes sarcastically, distinguish him from most Epicureans. In addition to gluttony, the school had a reputation for boorishness, which derived from another notorious maxim of Epicurus: &lsquoHoist sail and steer clear of all culture.&rsquo

    Drawing on the Epicureans&rsquo reputation for gluttony and boorishness, Cicero attacks Piso for living in a way which, although it is extravagant, does not conform to the cultural standards of a man of his high station &ndash the sort of man who lived at the Villa dei Papiri. Piso allegedly prefers the &lsquopleasures of the stomach&rsquo to those of the eyes and ears. He has no embossed silver, but only &lsquoenormous drinking cups&rsquo instead of shellfish (another delicacy), he serves half-rancid meat and his wine comes from the common barrel rather than from a private cellar. In other words, Piso has the sensual appetites of an Epicurean, unrefined by the tastes of an aristocrat. These tastes were both exotic and expensive &ndash as will be shown this summer in an exhibition devoted to the Romans&rsquo eating habits, at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (&lsquoLast Supper in Pompeii&rsquo, until 12 January 2020).

    Fresco with ducks and deer (c. 40 BC), Roman. Photo: Giorgio Albano courtesy Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

    The artworks discovered at the villa certainly do not suggest that their owner was an unsophisticated glutton. Nevertheless, some of them may contain Epicurean &ndash or hedonistic &ndash overtones. One example is a fresco, dating to around 40 BC, of ducks and deer ready to be killed and eaten. The ducks dangle from the ceiling, one with its head drooping despondently one of the deer rests its head on the floor, its legs pathetically trussed. The fresco is an example of a Greek genre called xenia (&lsquohospitality&rsquo) paintings: still lifes representing exotic displays of food, which were used to emphasise the host&rsquos munificence. However, this painting, in addition to its generic function, may also &ndash viewed in an Epicurean light &ndash refer to the tranquillity which can come from the satisfaction of hunger. Or perhaps it is simply hedonistic.

    In fact, some Roman students of Epicurus may not have been too interested in subtle distinctions between pleasure as a means and as an end. This is suggested by the discovery, in a corner of the villa&rsquos larger peristyle garden, of a small bronze statue of a one-month-old female piglet. Despite not being the usual subject of an objet d&rsquoart, the piglet is elegantly cast, her front hooves raised, her ears flattened back along her head and her tail coiled up playfully. This statue may be a self-deprecating, or even self-indulgent, allusion to the Epicureans, whom their opponents regularly compared to pigs, the animals most naturally associated with gluttonous eating. (Cicero calls Piso an &lsquoEpicurus from the pigsty&rsquo.)

    This interpretation of the piglet is further supported by a pair of silver cups unearthed nearby at Boscoreale. These depict skeletons at a symposium, each representing a Greek philosopher or poet. One skeleton, labelled &lsquoZeno&rsquo (founder of Stoicism), leans on a staff as he disputes with another skeleton labelled &lsquoEpicurus&rsquo, who takes some food from a table. At his feet, a pig raises its snout up towards the food. Above the table is the inscription &lsquopleasure is the goal of life&rsquo. Once again, Epicurus&rsquos lofty ideas about tranquillity are ignored: pleasure is about food and drink.

    Portable sundial in the shape of a ham (1st century BC&ndash1st century AD), Roman. Photo: Luigi Spina courtesy Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

    If the piglet at the Villa dei Papiri, like the Boscoreale cups, symbolises Epicureanism, it may also, like them, equate the philosophy with simple hedonism. Another object that may refer playfully to this tradition is a curious piece of technology also found at the villa: a portable bronze sundial &ndash the earliest known in the Roman world &ndash in the shape of a ham. This may reiterate the connection between the passing of time and sensual enjoyment, and allude again to the Epicurean &lsquopig&rsquo. Since the sundial can be dated to 8 BC or later, if it does carry Epicurean associations, these would have to be with an owner after the elder Piso&rsquos death. The most obvious candidate would be his son, Piso Pontifex, who was an Epicurean like his father, as well as a (far from boorish) patron of poets, and close adviser to the emperors Augustus and Tiberius. The sundial would thus bear witness to an ongoing tradition in which Epicureans both celebrated and gently mocked their own love of eating.

    Bust of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus Pontifex (15 BC&ndash33 AD), Roman. Photo: Giorgio Albano courtesy Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

    In one of his epigrams, Philodemus invites Piso to a feast at his humble &lsquocottage&rsquo in honour of Epicurus&rsquos birthday. He delicately contrasts the luxury of Piso&rsquos table, with its &lsquosow&rsquos udders and toasts of Chian wine&rsquo, with the simplicity of his own. At the same time, he flatters his patron&rsquos intellect by alluding to the Odyssey and suggesting that Piso will appreciate the learned conversation of the Greek Epicurean community. This epigram, like the villa&rsquos wall paintings, implies that wealthy Romans such as Piso, who studied Epicureanism in their leisure time, incorporated it into their own lives in a less thoroughgoing way than those observed by their poorer tutors from Greece, for whom philosophy was both a profession and a way of life.

    Another sign that the villa&rsquos owner was a less than fully committed Epicurean is the presence, among the villa&rsquos statues, of more than a dozen herm busts of kings and queens from the eastern Mediterranean of the Hellenistic period, such as, for example, that of Demetrios Poliorketes, king of Macedon, which was found in the larger peristyle garden. They may have been intended to function as models of the proper (and improper) behaviour of the Greek ruling class. The villa&rsquos owner could reflect on their successes and failures before returning to his political career in Rome. As a symbol of the glory and responsibility of ruling, the busts are inconsistent with Epicurus&rsquos command to &lsquokeep out of politics&rsquo. However, Piso and other Roman Epicureans seem simply to have ignored this rule, which did not fit with their public careers. Philodemus went along with his patron: the treatise he dedicated to Piso is an un-Epicurean &lsquomirror for princes&rsquo, in which Demetrios Poliorketes and other rulers are compared negatively with Homeric ideals of kingship. We can imagine Philodemus and Piso strolling through the colonnades, pondering the excesses and downfalls of the monarchs before them, and tactfully avoiding comparisons with Piso&rsquos son-in-law.

    Bust of Demetrios Poliorketes (1st century BC&ndash1st century AD), Roman. Photo: Luigi Spina courtesy Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

    The Roman poet Lucretius, also an Epicurean, was a much sterner critic of his aristocratic patron Memmius than Philodemus was of Piso. Lucretius uses Epicureanism to satirise Roman society, which he perceived as corrupted by a feverish obsession with extravagance and political power. The fact that Lucretius could have such a different interpretation of Epicureanism from Piso, his contemporary, demonstrates that Greek thought, like Greek art, was not simply imported wholesale into Roman culture. Instead, individuals could pick and choose from it according to their needs.

    But Lucretius would surely have approved of some aspects of the Villa dei Papiri &ndash in particular, the belvedere. &lsquoIt is pleasant,&rsquo he says, &lsquowhen the winds are stirring up the waves of the great sea, to watch a shipwreck from the safety of the land.&rsquo The villa would have been an ideal spot for philosophical contemplation &ndash even if its owner, summoned back to business in Rome, would not always have been there to enjoy it.

    &lsquoBuried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri&rsquo is at the Getty Villa, Pacific Palisades, CA, until 28 October.

    From the June 2019 issue of Apollo. Preview the current issue and subscribe here.


    Debauchery

    Some people come to find debauchery through the Bible, in a manner of speaking.

    In a number of modern versions the word may be found in Ephesians 5:18, as in The New International Version's translation: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. ” The Greek word that is translated here as debauchery may be interpreted in many different ways: the King James Version uses excess, whereas the American Standard Version uses riot.

    Debauchery always involves behavior—especially sexual behavior or behavior involving alcohol or drugs—that some find morally objectionable. In biblical and spiritual contexts, the word debauchery is deadly serious, but in other situations the word often has a playful connotation, as when a group of friends goes out for a "night of debauchery."

    Debauchery began to be used in English in the beginning of the 17th century, and is formed from the earlier word debauch. As a verb debauch initially had the meaning of "to lead astray," especially when referring to leading someone away from another person to whom he or she has an allegiance or duty. In its earliest use as a noun debauch was often used to refer to an instance of eating or drinking too much.


    5) A long day of drama

    Theatre of Dionysos reconstruction

    Likely everyone knows that drama – most notably tragedies and comedies performed on stage – originated in Ancient Greece, specifically in Athens.

    I didn’t know, however, that the Greeks invented theatre festivals – the ancient equivalent to modern fringe festivals – as well.

    The City of Dionysia was a four-day festival held in March…. Because the City Dionysia coincided with the beginning of the sailing season, many foreigners and tourists would have been able to attend, including Athens’s allies. (p. 271)

    The festival took place at the Theatre of Dionysos in Athens, which could accommodate some 20,000 spectators.

    Garland is quick to warn, however, that,

    Going to the theatre was hardly a relaxing experience in the modern sense of the word, because the audience was expected to sit through four plays a day at least, or five if the tragic plays performed in the morning were followed by a comedy in the afternoon. That amounts to about ten hours of uninterrupted performance a day. There were no intervals, except between plays. Not surprisingly, audiences became extremely restless if they were bored or displeased. (p. 274)

    Such boredom, Garland adds, at times led the crowd to bombard the performers with stones and fruit.

    Now a modern-day comedic media trope for expressing derision toward a public performance, the throwing of fruit in particular is in reality both an artefact of history and as old as the act of public performance itself.

    Do you know any surprising or little-known facts about the ancient world, from either Ancient Greece or elsewhere? Let me know in the comments.


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