Extravagant Excess

Extravagant spending on pleasure was roundly condemned by many ancient authors. For example, in his Lives, Plutarch characteristically related the relative extravagance (tpufh or noluxéleia) of his subjects and judged them accordingly: Crassus spent too much money on dinner parties (Niciae cum Crasso comparatio, 1.4). Lucullus was to be criticized for his luxurious style of living; he wasted his money on ostentatious building projects and costly dining (Luc. 39-41) and was "extravagant and like a Persian satrap" (Niciae cum Crasso comparatio, 1.5-6).85 Plutarch offered Lysander as a contrast to these negative exemplars: Lysander rejected the lavish clothing and jewelry sent to his daughters since such extravagant presents would disgrace both his daughters and his family (Lys. 2; compare Mor. i5id). Here, Plutarch echoed the earlier opinion of Aeschines that extravagant dinner parties, flute-girls, courtesans (èxaipeia), and gambling ought to be avoided by honorable men (In Tim. 1.42). In his moral essays, Plutarch repeatedly recommended moderation (oœfpooûvh) over extravagance (tpufh). For instance, husbands were warned to avoid "gilded drinking-cups, pictured walls, trappings for mules, and showy neckbands for horses," since their extravagant behavior may be imitated by their wives (Mor. 145b).86 A husband who indulged in luxury, a father who attended wild banquets set a poor example for his wife and children.87

Setting tryphe (extravagance, luxuriousness) as an antithesis to sophro-syne (moderation, temperance), Plutarch participated in an argument he shared with several Cynic and Stoic philosophers: moderation counteracts extravagance (tryphe), luxuriousness (polyteleia), and licentiousness (akolasia).88 The Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus stated it this way: "Gluttony, drunkenness, and other related vices, which are vices of excess and bring disgrace on those who cherish them, show that moderation is necessary for every person, male or female, for the only way to escape licentiousness is moderation; there is no other" (Muson. 4.20).89 According to these moralists, extravagance frequently included overindulgence in sexual pleasure, especially with prostitutes or courtesans. Musonius advised those trained in philosophy, honorable men who pursue moderation, to avoid courtesans (hetairai) altogether, as well as intercourse with their female slaves. Still, Musonius recognized that his was the minority view (12.10-45).90 Visits to brothels (to a porne, male or female, or a chamaitupe_),91 the presence of courtesans92 at dinner parties, or a man's sexual involvement with his own slaves were not condemned—brothels were legal and taxed, as were procurers and individual prostitutes;93 that slaves were the sexual property of their owners was assumed94—yet overexpenditure on such luxuries was often frowned upon. Quoting Diogenes, pseudo-Plutarch summed it up: "Go into any brothel [porneion] to learn that there is no difference between what costs money and what costs nothing" ([Plutarch] Mor. 5c).95 Corrupted sons squander their inheritance on excessive visits to brothels, expensive courtesans, or buying the freedom of the slaves they enjoy.96

Interestingly, some Roman authors claimed that wasting money on prostitutes and wild drinking parties was a Greek trait, a characteristic of "Greek leisure" (otium), something that had unfortunately infected Rome.97 It is therefore striking that Plutarch usually condemned the Roman exemplar in his parallel Lives for indulgence in extravagant excesses. Furthermore, in the example from Lucian above, it was Rome that was described as rank with luxuries and therefore also with vice. Nevertheless, from the Roman point of view, luxury was a foreign vice98 For example, Sallust condemned Sulla for allowing his soldiers to indulge in "luxury and license foreign to the ways of our ancestors" (Sail. Cat. 11.5).99 The Roman version of a "Greek life of pleasure" involved "imported wine and perfume, leisure, feasting, love, and literature." This was a " 'soft' life, mollis ... a life which was defined, at least partly, in opposition to the more authentically 'Roman' life of frugality and military virtue."100

A paradigmatic example of the connection between luxury, sexual indulgence, prostitutes, and supposed foreign influence can be found in representations, preserved in historiography and biography, of the infamous emperor Gaius Caligula. According to Suetonius, Gaius outdid all others in his reckless extravagance—baths in oil, unusual foods, extensive feasting, expensive perfume, drinks of pearls dissolved in vinegar, meals of loaves and meats of gold, lazy trips in huge boats adorned with jewels, villas of tremendous size—he squandered over 2,700,000,000 sesterces in less than a year (Suet. Calig. 37).101 This same Caligula was frequently remembered as associating himself with prostitutes (Suet. Calig. 41.1; Cass. Dio 59.28.9; Tac. Ann. 15.71). He instituted a new tax on prostitutes (Suet. Calig, 40; Cass. Dio 59.28.8),102 he treated freeborn, Roman matrons as if they were prostitutes (Calig 36), and he opened a brothel in his palace, which he apportioned lavishly (Calig. 41).103 Caligula followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Marc Antony, by seeking to introduce Eastern ways to Rome and by displaying a troubling interest in Egyptian religious cults, or so his critics alleged.104 Nero, emperor from 54 through 68 c.E., was described along similar lines. According to Suetonius, Nero's defects first became apparent when, at an early age, he played pranks on unsuspecting old men and women under the cover of darkness (Suet. Ner. 26.1-2).105 He soon graduated to long revels that lasted nearly all day, accompanied by prostitutes and dancing girls. Like Caligula, he recruited noble women to act like prostitutes and squandered his riches. He sought to emulate his uncle's extravagance for "nothing so excited his envy and admiration as the fact that he [Caligula] had in so short a time run through the vast wealth that Tiberius had left him" (Suet. Ner. 27.2-3; 30.1-2).106 Gaius Caligula and Nero were accused of other depraved habits, to be discussed in more detail below.

Thus lavish expenditure on sexual pleasure was repeatedly condemned by both Greek and Roman authors. Prostitution was legal and taxed, the presence of courtesans at the dinner parties of well-heeled gentlemen was expected, and slaves were required to comply with their masters' wishes, sexual and otherwise. Still, a man could be accused of "slavish" extravagance were he to overindulge in such delights. Such a man had no self-control; he could not be trusted since he was insatiable and immoderate. Building on this tradition, elites accused their rivals of lavish sexual self-indulgence,107 and Roman historians judged emperors on the basis of the relative extravagance each ruler displayed.108 During the imperial period, authors who identified as "Greek" and authors who identified as "Roman" both attributed the vice of extravagance to one another and to others they sought to distinguish from themselves—the Romans characterizing luxury and indolence as "Greek," the Greeks suggesting that it was Rome and the Romans who wallow in lasciviousness and luxury. Persia and "the East" continued to signify sumptuary excess, with Plutarch comparing Lucul-lus to a Persian satrap,109 Octavian implying that Antony was under the influence of "the East" (Cass. Dio 48.301), and Caligula remembered for his devotion to Oriental ways. Clearly, this complex of charges—extrava gance, "foreignness," excessive indulgence in sex with prostitutes, lack of moderation—could work to denigrate a variety of opponents, be they a single individual in a law court or even an entire nation of people.

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