This survey of charges of sexual depravity demonstrates that accusations of sexual licentiousness were important to a variety of ancient discourses. These charges depended upon and reinforced cultural codes about the characteristics appropriate to "the elite." "The elite" were here defined as those who are virtuous, and the nonelite as those deficient in virtue. The categories "man" and "woman" were constituted, in part, by these discourses. For elite men, virtue meant mastery of others (penetration, controlling the household, displaying military courage) but also self-mastery. The man who could not or did not control his passions was untrustworthy: if he could not master himself, how could he master others? He was depicted as enslaved to pleasure and unfit for his position. The man who reveled in luxuries—especially with prostitutes, courtesans, and expensive male slaves—corrupted both himself and his community. For elite women, virtue, by and large, meant chastity. Women who did not stay at home, who failed to remain loyal to their husbands, and who adorned themselves with luxurious clothing, cosmetics, or perfumes brought shame upon themselves, their families, and their community. According to this logic, when female sophrosyne and pudicitia flee the city falters. When matrons, citizens, senators, or emperors fall prey to their lusts, they enslave themselves and the city. A man could be charged with being "like a woman"; citizens were accused of behaving "like slaves"; chaste matrons were represented as whores; and a nation could be evaluated in terms of the relative sexual virtue or vice displayed by its inhabitants. When hierarchical status and gender were overturned by illicit sex, the society crumbles and order falls away.209
This chapter has offered representative examples in sources stretching across several centuries, from fourth-century Athens to imperial Rome. By offering such disparate examples, I have sought to demonstrate the importance of sexualized invective across genres, eras, and regions while also establishing the prevalence of sexual slander as an ancient rhetorical strategy.210 Certainly, fourth-century Athens and late-republican or early-imperial Rome were not "the same." What was specifically at stake when Aeschines accused Timarchus of prostituting himself or when Cicero accused Catiline of corrupting the youth of Rome was undoubtedly very different.211 Yet both Aeschines and Cicero chose to disparage their targets by representing them as sexual deviants.
Perhaps the fact that Aeschines, Cicero, Plutarch, Suetonius and others attacked their opponents by accusing them of sexual vice could have been predicted, given the rhetorical tradition we noted earlier. Generations of Greek and, later, Roman schoolboys were trained in the repertoire of categories appropriate for praise or blame. Still, there is something larger than a stereotypical rehearsal of categories going on here. Both Aeschines and Cicero, not to mention Demosthenes, Plutarch, Seneca, and Suetonius, relied upon a legal and philosophical tradition that defined and defended privilege in terms of virtue. Aristotle suggested that slaves were (ideally) deficient "by nature" and, therefore, are better off being slaves.212 Four hundred years later, Seneca raised the question again when he deliberated whether or not slaves could, in fact, cultivate virtue (Ep. 47). Furthermore, both Aeschines and Cicero, and many of the other authors cited above, understood "virtue" (apexh, virtus) in gender-specific terms. A man is virtuous when he is in control of himself and his household, when he is courageous in battle, and when he is wise in his dealings with his subordinates. A woman is virtuous when she guards her chastity. Her courage lies in maintaining and displaying chastity in face of extraordinary threats. Thus, violations of virtue were equally gender specific. For a woman, any form sexual activity outside of marriage was improper and subject to censure. For a man, sexual acts with freeborn subordinates (boys, girls, women) were largely forbidden,213 yet men were not expected to limit their sexual activity to their wives, though some philosophers may have encouraged them to do so. Since masculinity was defined as activity and dominance, voluntary renunciation of these prerogatives was considered to be depraved, a true indication of a man's corruption.
Behind these discussions of virtue and vice lay the further assumption that a man's character ought to be subject to scrutiny. "When a man went to court he threw his whole life, his family, and his friends into the balance against his opponent." He also did everything he could to vilify the family, friends, and person of his adversary.214 Orators were expected to make this argument. Indeed, rousing the emotions of the jury, especially indignation or pity, was a key task of forensic oratory (Arist. Rh 1419b; Cic. De or. 1.12.53). Forensic orators could argue from the general behavior of a target to the particular instance. If a man corrupts boys, he would certainly not hesitate to take bribes (e.g., Cic. Cat. 2.10). If a man cannot be trusted to keep his women in line, then he should not be trusted with the well-being of the state (Plut. Mor. 144c). This logic extended beyond forensic oratory to all sorts of discourse. The Persians are slavish; they participate in every vice, but especially luxury. The Greeks are corrupt; they have no control over their passions. The sexual impropriety of a man, a nation, an emperor, and the women associated with them indicated social and political corruption, the degradation of the entire community.
In this discursive context, sexual slander could be a particularly compelling rhetorical strategy. Rival elites could use arguments about incapacity, effeminacy, luxury, and licentiousness to undermine one another's political aspirations. A satirist like Juvenal could mock the pretensions of his city by describing the decadence of effeminate senators and insatiable matrons. Humorists like Lucian could turn the tables on Rome, representing Rome not as a bastion of morality but as a vice-ridden den of orgiastic pleasure. Historians and moralists could evaluate infamous men almost entirely in terms of character, describing their sexual exploits in lurid detail. Representations of Octavian and Antony, Livia and Cleopatra served as a shorthand capable of summing up everything that was wrong or right with the early empire.
I have offered this selective survey in order to demonstrate the breadth and significance of vituperation in ancient discourses. In the process, I have broadened the rhetorical category "blame" (psogost vituperatio): ancient rhetorical commonplaces pervaded all sorts of discourses and were not limited to the formal practice of epideictic or forensic speech. Rather, the commonplaces of "blame"—slave ancestry, foreign origin, sexual misbehavior, improper appearance, and the like—were key to the telling of history, to the writing of law, to the promotion of the morality of the empire, and to the discrediting of other nations. In later chapters, I explore the participation of early Christians in this long-standing rhetorical technique. Christian arguments relied upon, critiqued, and appropriated aspects of the Greek and Roman sex- and gender-status discourse I have been exploring, as well as upon a rhetorical and philosophical training they shared with their neighbors, at least to some degree. They did so within the context of the empire.215 What difference did the emperor make? How did he rule? What were the particular manifestations of his auctoritas?216 Most of these questions are beyond the scope of my project. Nevertheless, I suggest that the emperor did make a difference to the particularities of virtue and vice during the era corresponding to the development of Christian discourse. Christians knew about and worked with traditions about the virtue (or vice) of the emperor.217 Christians highlighted their own virtue against the vices of others, including Roman emperors, Roman citizens, and Roman governors. Rome was represented as an insatiable whore (Rev 17-19). "The world" was described as utterly corrupt, and sexual depravity was offered as proof (1 Thess 4:2-8; Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:17-23, 5:3-5; 1 Jn 2:15-17). If "the elite" were supposedly "those who are virtuous," then Christian arguments about their own virtue, against the vice of everyone else, can be read as a direct challenge to the legitimacy of "the elite," including Rome and "her" emperor. This is the topic of the next two chapters.
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