Christian reaction to Roman social morality
If one wonders why certain practices were condemned, I agree with some scholars in that the most likely explanation is a Christian reaction to Roman morality on the subject of sex.
The Latin verb for “to penetrate anally, bugger” is pedicare. The object was usually but not always male. Pedicare was a blunt and non-euphemistic word, and can be used in a threatening manner, as notoriously by Catullus in Carmen 16, or in general to mean “fuck you.” The etymology of pedicare is unclear, but some have thought it derived from Greek paidika, having to do with pederasty. The basic word for “anus” was culus. Common metaphors are ficus, “fig,” and anus, “ring,” which was considered a decorous term and was standard in medical texts.
Men were said to “take it like a woman” (muliebria pati, “to undergo womanly things”) when they were anally penetrated, but when a man performed anal sex on a woman, she was thought of as playing the boy’s role. Martial, for instance, is emphatic that anal sex is better with boys than with women; when his wife objects that she provides him with anal sex in an effort to preserve his fidelity, he taunts her with the inferiority of her anus compared to a boy’s.
The figura veneris in which the woman crouches to lift her buttocks, called “the lioness”, may be intended for anal penetration, since boys in Greek art can be portrayed in the same position; with a female partner, it may be difficult to distinguish in art from a tergo (rear entry). Culibonia (“good anal”) was a humorous term for a prostitute with this speciality. Avoiding pregnancy may have been one motive for female prostitutes to offer anal intercourse, since literary sources indicate that boys were preferred.
Os impurum, “filthy mouth” or “impure mouth”, was a term of abuse especially for those who provided oral sex. “Oral turpitude” was a favorite form of invective for Catullus, Horace, and Martial. An accusation of having an os impurum is an “extreme obscenity,” so vile that Cicero reserved it for men of lower standing than himself, only implying that their debasement tainted their more powerful patrons who were his real targets.
Wall painting from Pompeii depicting cunnilingus
It was a convention of obscenely comic verse that oral sex caused bad breath that was nearly toxic. “Whores of the alleyways” are contaminated from giving oral sex; Catullus refers to “the foul saliva of a pissed-over whore.” The urinary function of the penis makes oral sex particularly repulsive to Catullus, who elsewhere reviles a Celtiberian for brushing his teeth in urine. Martial jokes that a fine perfume turned to garum, fish sauce, when it was sniffed by a man whose breath was putrid from oral sex. In another of Martial’s epigrams, a fellator breathes on a hot cake to cool it down and turns it to excrement. The bad breath and rotten teeth that are attributed to performing oral sex represent moral decay and a general corruption of the mouth’s positive functions as the organ of a citizen’s persuasive speech.
Because of the stigma attached to providing physical pleasure, a man who performed oral sex on a woman was subject to mockery. Cunnilingus typically appears in Roman art only as part of a reciprocal act, with the woman fellating her male partner in some variation of the “69” position. A wall painting from Pompeii, however, represents a virtually unique role reversal in the giving of oral sex. The woman who receives cunnilingus is tall and shapely, well-groomed, and brazenly nude except for jewelry. The male figure is relatively small, crouching subserviently, and fully clothed; he has an anxious or furtive look. The situation is so extreme that it was probably meant to be humorous as well as titillating; other paintings in this group show a series of sex acts, at least some of which could be seen as transgressive or parodic.
There is some evidence that women could hire male prostitutes to provide cunnilingus. Graffiti at Pompeii advertise the prices male prostitutes charged for cunnilingus, in the same price range as females performing fellatio; however, the graffiti could be intended as insults to the men named, and not as actual advertisements. One graffito is perhaps intended as political invective: “Vote Isidore for aedile; he’s the best at licking cunt!”
Woman fellating a man on an oil lamp
The Latin verb fellare is usually used for a woman performing oral sex on a man. Accusing a man of fellating another man was possibly the worst insult in all Roman invective. It was an act that might be requested from women who were infames, and not something a husband in a respectable household would have expected from his wife. Fellatio was seen as a “somewhat laughable” preference for older men who have trouble maintaining an erection, but graffiti show that the skills of a good fellatrix were enthusiastically utilized. Fellatio was a fairly uncommon subject in Roman art.
Irrumatio is a forced form of fellatio, almost always against another man. Forcing someone to be a receptacle for oral sex was proof of virility, something to boast about, as indicated by the Priapeia and the poems of Catullus and Martial. It was also threatened as a punishment, particularly for adulterers. Martial urges a wronged husband who has already cut off the adulterous man’s ears and nose to complete the humiliation by befouling his mouth with oral rape.Explore posts in the same categories: History