Sexual access to slave bodies was a pervasive dimension of ancient systems of slavery. Both female and male slaves were available for their owners' pleasure. In the Oneirocritica, Artemidorus writes, "If a man dreams that he is masturbating privately, he will possess either a male or female slave, because the hands that are embracing his penis are like attendants."58 Artemidorus's dream logic identifies slaves as sexual body doubles, surrogates relieving the slaveholder of the inconvenience of having to provide his own sexual pleasure. This oneiric reasoning depends on the widespread ancient recognition of slaves as benign sexual outlets for their owners.
In Petronius's Satyricon, the freedman Trimalchio famously boasts, "To do your master's bidding is nothing to be ashamed of. And I gave my mistress equal time!" He also notes, however, that when his master became aware that Trimalchio was sleeping with his wife, he banished the slave to his farm.59 Although some matrons exploited their male slaves sexually, constraints on the sexuality of freeborn women rendered this practice less acceptable than the sexual exploitation of male or female slaves by male slaveholders. The consequences of conception varied in these two sets of circumstances. A householder who impregnated a female slave increased his stock of slaves. A matron who gave birth to the child of a slave disrupted the household; the event would likely be the occasion for a divorce. The child, though freeborn, would be illegitimate.
In a petition for divorce submitted in the late first century B.C.E., a woman named Tryphaine alleges that her husband, Asklepiades, "abused me and insulted me, and laying his hands on me, he used me as if I were his bought slave."60 Tryphaine implies that as a wife she should be exempt from certain kinds of treatment, which female slaves were not in a position to protest. Although a husband might be able to overpower his wife to exact sexual favors, the terms of many marriage contracts gave women financial leverage over their husbands. Knowledge that his wife could initiate a divorce and block his access to her financial resources would curb the behavior of at least some men. Slaves, however, had no such leverage.61 In a letter speaking sympathetically of a free woman who divorced her husband, Jerome wrote that her husband "was a man of such heinous vices that even a prostitute or a common slave would not have put up with them."62 Jerome's words confirm the impression that slaveholders relied on slaves to provide sexual pleasures that freeborn women would find shameful. Leukippe, the heroine of Achilles Tatius's Leukippe and Clitophon, is a freeborn woman whose enslavement puts her at the mercy of Thersandros, who at first attempts to seduce her. When Leukippe resists his fantasy of seduction, Thersandros responds by calling attention to her vulnerability as a slave to his sexual desires: "But since you are unwilling to feel my passion as your lover, you shall feel my power as your lord!"63 Plutarch recommends that men demonstrate respect for their wives by relying on slaves to sate their erotic appetites.64 In this respect, a wife who wished to limit and control her sexual activities could rely on household slaves to serve as surrogate bodies available to satisfy her husband's particular appetites without endangering her own status or her children's position as heirs.
The Acts of Andrew, dating from the second or early third century, includes the story of a Christian woman named Maximilla, who uses her slave Euclia as an erotic body double. Maximilla was under the influence of the apostle Andrew, who decried all sexual activity as polluting. The proconsul Aegeates, Maximilla's husband, was not a Christian and was unhappy with her resistance to his sensual overtures. Seeking to preserve her own purity, Maximilla sends Euclia to assume her position in Aegeates' bed. By serving as surrogate body, Euclia pays the price for Maximilla's personal purity: "Just as a woman customarily adorns herself to look like her rival, Maximilla groomed Euclia in just such finery and put her forward to sleep with Aegeates in her stead. ... By so doing, Maximilla escaped detection for some time, and thereby got relief, rejoiced in the Lord, and never left Andrew."65 According to ancient mores, Euclia responds inappropriately to her relationship. She boasts of her position and demands from Maximilla payment that includes not only money and jewelry but also her freedom. Other slaves in the household grow increasingly bitter toward the favors Euclia receives. They eventually inform Aegeates of the deception. Again Euclia serves as a surrogate body for Maximilla as Aegeates directs his anger toward the freedwoman rather than the matron: "The proconsul, furious at her for boasting to her fellow slaves and for saying these things in order to defame her mistress—he wanted the matter hushed up since he was still affectionate for his spouse—cut out Euclia's tongue, mutilated her, and ordered her thrown outside. She stayed there without food for several days before she became food for the dogs. The rest of the slaves who had told their story to him—there were three of them— he crucified."66 The Acts of Andrew condemned Euclia's behavior but did not condemn the sexual use of slaves, at least if that practice permitted an elite Christian woman to remain unsullied by sexual contact. Rather, the Acts of Andrew condemned the hubris of a slave who overestimates the significance of a sexual relationship with her owner.
Andrew S. Jacobs argues that the denigration of marriage in the apocryphal acts is a rejection of upper-class ethics. The period of composition of the apocryphal acts roughly coincides with an era of increasing pressure throughout the Empire for elite men and women to marry and produce children. During this same period, Roman law increasingly codified restrictions against marriage between people of different social echelons.67 As support for his argument, Jacobs includes the story of Euclia. He writes, "The marriage bed is evidently a dangerous place for slaves." But in the Acts of Andrew, the danger for a slave is not sexual contamination but the possibility that she will forget her proper place, a conclusion that is hardly a protest against upper-class ethics.68 The Acts of Andrew seems to exempt Maximilla of any moral culpability in the subterfuge, implying that Euclia's actions are completely explicable in the context of her nature, depicted as both lascivious and greedy. Her own curves indict her. "She [Maximilla] summoned a shapely, exceedingly wanton servant girl [paidiske] named Euclia and told her what she delighted in and desired. 'You will have me as a benefactor of all your needs, providing you scheme with me and carry out what I advise.'"69 The Acts of Andrew does denigrate one version of upper-class sexual ethics, which posits procreative, conjugal sex as a civic duty. However, it promotes another version of upper-class sexual ethics, in which abstinence from polluting sexual activity is a distinctively elite prerogative. This latter ethical system served not only upper-class interests but also explicitly Christian interests.
We should not extrapolate from the Acts of Andrew that married women generally promoted sexual associations between their husbands and slaves nor that slaves univer sally understood such relationships as grounds for boasting. All evidence suggests that the sexual use of female and young male slaves was widespread. The typical range of reactions by slaves to their carnal duties is much harder to assess, as are the reactions of slaveholding women to their husbands' erotic dalliances with slaves. Ancient sources yield no insights into the actual reactions of slaves to their masters' sexual initiatives. Some slaves may have genuinely cared for their masters; others may have hoped that sexual liaisons with their masters would constitute a route to freedom; but regardless of slaves' affections, ambitions, or misgivings, they had no control over the master's decision to use them sexually.70
Tales of women who found respite in their husbands' sexual engagements with slaves are balanced by stories about women enraged at the slaves they perceive to have seduced their husbands. In An Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus, a woman finds out that her husband has acquired as a slave the novel's heroine, Anthia, with whom he is infatuated. The woman responds by accusing Anthia of scheming against her marriage and arranges the sale of Anthia.71 Valerius Maximus records the virtue of Tertia Aemilia, whose tolerance was so great that she ignored the sexual liaison between her husband, Scipio Africanus, and a household slave. Even after her husband's death, she resisted the urge for revenge, instead freeing the slave and arranging a marriage for her.72 In this anecdote, what is unusual is not the sexual relationship between a prominent Roman man and his slave—but that the man's wife does not attempt to make the slave's life miserable.
Roman cultic practices ritualized the division between slaveholding women and enslaved women. The Matralia, celebrated on June 11, was a holiday on which well-born matrons worshiped Mater Matuta. The myth of Ino associated with Mater Matuta's cult includes the story of a sexual relationship between Ino's husband and her female slave. Plutarch's account of the Matralia includes a curious detail. Although slave women were in general forbidden to take part in the festivities, during the course of the celebration one slave woman was escorted onto the premises. The matrons ritually beat the helpless slave.73 Ross Kraemer argues that the female slave served as a scapegoat. The matrons enacted the hostility and jealousy they felt toward their husbands' enslaved sexual partners by ritually abusing a token female slave.74 A variety of evidence thus suggests that many matrons viewed their husbands' reliance on slaves as carnal surrogates not as relief but as threat.
A matron's jealousy might extend not only to female slaves but also to male slaves her husband found beguiling. When Trimalchio begins to kiss a beautiful little slave boy (in Latin, puer) in Petronius's Satyricon, his wife responds immediately and violently.75 In a wedding song Catullus teases the young male slave who will no longer be the bridegroom's concubine, offering mock lamentation that the young slave has recently begun to shave his formerly whiskerless cheeks. Noting the bridegroom's weakness for "smooth-skinned boys," Catullus warns the bride that if she is reluctant to satisfy her husband's sexual desires he will readily turn elsewhere.76 Greco-Roman sexual and aesthetic norms celebrated the beauty of young males whose bodies had not gone through the changes of adolescence. While adult men would find the sons of elite households as sexually desirable as the enslaved children of these households, their access to freeborn males was considerably more restricted than their access to boyish slaves. Beautiful boys in Roman love poetry are usually slaves: descendants of Ganymedes pouring wine at dinner parties or vamps displaying boyish charms on the auction block.77 In an epigram Martial even personifies his penis as grief stricken and whining over his refusal to pay the high price demanded at a slave auction for a puer.78 An abundance of evidence suggests that slave dealers not only marketed attractive young boys on the basis of their physical charms but also produced the kinds of bodies that would realize high returns. Quintilian complains that the slave dealer "regards strength and muscle, and above all, the beard and other natural characteristics of manhood as blemishes, as at variance with grace, and softens down all that would be sturdy if allowed to grow, on the ground that it is harsh and hard."79 Castration was the ultimate somatic modification inflicted by slave dealers on their human merchandise, a modification intended to preserve the puerile traits of the slave by inhibiting the development of the physical attributes of a mature man.
Of course, the majority of enslaved boys were not castrated, and convention suggests that their sexual attractiveness to other men diminished as their bodies became hairy and muscular. Nonetheless, both Greek and Roman vocabularies continued to assimilate them to the status of boys.80 Regardless of whether his owner still desired him sexually, an adult slave remained vulnerable to his master's carnal whims and disciplinary practices. Jonathon Walters argues that in Latin, vir, "man," implies social status as much as gender identity. "Male slaves, too (and ex-slaves), even if adult, are not normally called viri. The preferred designation for them is homines (which is also used in elite literature for low-class and disreputable men), or pueri [boys]."81 In Greek the expression pais was entirely ambiguous: it could refer equally to a child or to a slave of any age.82
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