Male Dalliance

As we have seen, adultery committed by freeborn women was viewed as a horrific sign of the depravity of the accused woman, her family, and even her city. But what about the adulteries of men? In terms of Roman law, a man who had sexual intercourse with a freeborn youth, either male or female, was guilty of stuprum (D 48.5.35, Modestinus).186 Intercourse with a widow or a divorcée who retained her rank as a matron was also stuprum (D 48.5.9, 11). Married citizen women were off-limits, though the jurists spent much more time worrying about the adulteress than the citizen adulterer.187 In the Athenian case, a man could be charged with moicheia (adultery) if he had engaged in sexual acts with a respectable Athenian woman, whether or not she was married.188

Both men and women, therefore, could be charged with adultery (moicheia, adulterium) and fornication (porneia, stuprum), though for men such charges implied sexual activity with the women or youths prohibited to them, not extramarital sex. This double standard—elite women were expected to engage in sexual activity exclusively with their husbands while elite men could have relations with their slaves, with prostitutes, and with courtesans even while married—has often been noted.189 Wives were encouraged to accept this standard, even to consider it a benefit. As Plutarch put it, if a husband indulges in an affair, his wife ought not to be angry, she should be grateful that he chose to share his drunken behavior, licentiousness, and violence with another (Mor. 140b).190 Martial made a similar observation, urging wives to tolerate relations between their husbands and slave boys since such activity guarantees that they will be the only female sexual partner their husband enjoys (12.96).191 In this way, the norm that elite men must be the penetrator of women and of men of lesser status was further reinforced. A man was guilty of adultery or fornication only if he dared to cross status or gender lines, that is, if he engaged in sexual intercourse with a free, citizen woman or girl not his wife or assimilated himself to the passive, "female" role. Sex with noncitizen women or men, male or female prostitutes, and male or female slaves was acceptable, so long as the active, "masculine" role was assumed.192 In every instance, however, an adult citizen male who assumed the passive role was mocked as effeminate and perverse.

Though men were free to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, within certain limits, at least one second-century philosopher, Musonius Rufus, encouraged elite men to restrict their sexual activity to intercourse with their wives (12.5-45). Musonius was in the minority.193 Still, excessive sexual activity with slaves or prostitutes was taken as evidence for indolence and depravity. Furthermore, there are several examples in which adulteries, including those committed by men, indicated the debasement of a man or a city. Rome, a city seething with vice, "brings in adultery, greed, false testimony and the whole family of the pleasures" (Luc. Nigr. 16). Wicked sons, if they were not corrected, would certainly engage in adultery, together with other vices ([Plutarch] Mor. 5b-c). Among their many other crimes, Caligula and Nero were said to have forced freeborn women into adultery, acting as their procurers (Suet. Calig. 35, Nero 27).194 Their adulteries, therefore, were made more monstrous by their willingness to corrupt proper matrons, even selling the favors of these women to others. The infamous Clodius was accused not only of committing adultery, but of doing so with his own sister, the wife of Lucullus (Plut. Caes. 6).195

The charges "he corrupts freeborn women and girls" and "he corrupts freeborn boys" often accompanied a charge of treason. A man who would seek to penetrate these special, protected groups could not be trusted to fulfill his duties as a citizen, for he chose to seek his own pleasure at the expense of the very social fabric, spoiling "our" youths, matrons, and virgins.196 For example, the Athenian orator Dinarchus, in his speech against Philocles, stirred up the audience by reminding them that no one would dare trust their boys to Philocles; such a man must also take bribes, or so Dinarchus claimed (3.15—16).197 Aeschines made a similar argument in his prosecution of Timarchus. He (mis)quoted the law in question to imply that anyone who sought to hire an Athenian to "use as he pleases" should be liable to punishment (In Tim. 87-88).198 The term "hubris" and its cognates referred to a man with no control of his appetites who poses a threat to the "good" women, girls, and boys of the city.199 Such a man must never be entrusted with the city or its lesser, protected members.200 This sentiment was echoed several hundred years later by the Roman-era Stoic philosopher Epictetus; he argued that a man who commits adultery with the wife of another overthrows affection between neighbors, friendship, and even the city (Arr. Epict. diss. 2.4.3).

Character assassination by means of allusions to adultery were frequent in Roman-era invective; Antony, Pompey, Cicero, Caesar, Claudius, Titus, and Domitian were all accused of adulterous affairs.201 Adultery could signify the decline of Rome, as we have seen in Horace's complaint that Rome, prior to Augustus, was filled with adultery. A further example can be found in Livy's famous retelling of the rape of Lucretia. In this story, the decline of pre-republican, monarchical Rome was epitomized by the forced adultery of a chaste Roman matron. Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the king, set out to have the matron Lucretia at any cost. He conceived of a devious plot designed to force Lucretia to comply with his wishes. He surprised Lucretia in her bedroom, threatened to murder her in such a way that it would appear she was involved in an adulterous liaison with a slave, and, in this way, overcame her resistance. He satisfied himself and her honor was lost. The next day, she called her husband and father to her, exacted an oath from them that she would be avenged, and committed suicide. As a result of Sextus' horrific act, the royal family was banished and the republic was established (Livy 1.57-59).202

Still, some accusations of adultery could be ambiguous in their intent. For instance, Suetonius reported that Augustus engaged in adultery repeatedly, yet for the sake of political gain: "That he was given to adultery not even his friends deny, although it is true that they excuse it as committed not from passion but from policy, the more readily to get track of his adversaries' designs through the women of their households" (Aug. 69).203 Apparently, the motivation for the act was what distinguished the adulteries of Augustus from the adulteries of Caligula and Nero; Augustus sought political gain rather than sexual satisfaction, thereby maintaining his self-mastery, while Caligula and Nero allowed themselves to be overcome by their illicit, inextinguishable lust.204 Men who succeeded at their seductions could be envied as well as condemned, depending on the circumstances. Such a man may render himself suspect, but, so long as he was the seducer and penetrator, he has also demonstrated his virility.205 Moreover, as emperor, Augustus was in a superordinate position even to Roman senators. Hence, by sleeping with their wives, he was simply dramatizing his position as supreme actor, the most "male" man of all, to whom all were subordinate.

The problem with men who commit fornication and adultery, therefore, was that they allowed their passions to rule them to the detriment of their community. Suetonius's Augustus was the exception, or so Suetonius claimed, yet he pursued his adulterous liaisons rationally and for the sake of the political gain. Still, illicit intercourse with other men's wives threatened the "noble blood" of the "elite"206 while calling into question the mastery of the husband and father of the adulteress since, as we have seen, they were supposed to guard and protect "their" women. Sexual involvement with freeborn boys intended, upon maturity, to enter the ranks of citizen men was also condemned (though permissible in the Greek context within certain constraints). Moreover, a man accused of rapacious sexual appetites was often accused of seeking sexual penetration with as much enthusiasm as he sought to violate others;207 the immoderate man was described as both oversexed and effeminate since insatiable lust was commonly said to characterize women, not men. In this way, a man who could not control his passions was, by definition, "womanly."208 Charges of adultery and fornication against men played a similar function to those of extravagance and effeminacy; they labeled the intended target as unsuitable, indicating that he lacks the requisite virtues of moderation and self-discipline.

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