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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Lesbian love

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Lesbian Visibility Day is celebrated on 26 Aprilo to demand equal rights for lesbians in many parts of the world. Without entering into moral, the text that is mentioned here, one of the Dialogues of the Heterae or Courtesans that Lucian of Samosata wrote, is a document that I consider interesting

Recently, some countries, such as Spain and many others, increasingly have advanced legislation very respectful of the reality of gender and sex of people, including transsexuals and transgenders.

Sadly, these issues generate intolerant attitudes with this reality in sectors of the western society very attached to the tradition, being the western society and culture the most permissive, in front of others like the openly belligerent Islamist. There are  many countries in which homosexuality and other behaviors other than the heterosexual norm are the cause of serious penalties and persecutions.

Well, there are certainly people who situate this reality exclusively in modern times without knowing the historical reality.

It is known how in antiquity, especially in Greece but also in the Roman Republic and in the Imperium, it is enjoyed  sex in general with a more playful and uninhibited attitude than in later times, in which among others components, a Judeo-Christian moral is imposed for which "sex" and its enjoyment is an element of sin and uncontrolled life.

The ancient Greek and Roman, in general, joyfully enjoys sex as an element of the natural life, without adjudging any sinful connotation. This allows them to have a much more open and tolerant attitude towards the various modalities in which humans relate carnally.

Thus it is known that the ancient Grec-Roman world accepted male homosexuality with great ease in certain circumstances that did not question the established social order. It is the case of the so-called Greek " Pederasty”  in which an adult welcomes a young man for his “civic” education  as citizen  until he finishes his adolescence or better, until it leaves in his body the "manly or pubic  hair".

Or the ease with which the Roman admits the active homosexuality of the citizen in front of the passive that is rejected as improper and immoral. The Roman sees in the sexual practice an instrument of domination and therefore perfectly admissible in the case in which the citizen submits sodomization to a slave and in general to a non-citizen.

On the other hand, female homosexuality, which is inexplicable and virtually invisible in a strongly paternalistic society, is not socially admissible; this  does not mean that it does not exist. Moreover, on occasions when it becomes visible, as in some writings of satirical authors such as Juvenal or Martial, the sexual behavior of one of the women is masculinized, trying to make this behavior understandable and not to question the established moral order.

All these are today widely studied questions that need a more extensive and deep treatment that I can not do on this occasion.

I now only want to reflect in a couple of articles (this is the first) the much more open, understanding and intelligent attitude of the ancients, who naturally observe the complex reality of sexuality and the behavior of human beings, which once admitted by reality, they try to explain and understand.

Some time ago I published in this respect an article entitled “Men, women, androgynous”: http://en.antiquitatem.com/homosexuality-lesbian-gay-andorogynous

Also some time ago I published something about the poetess Sappho, who can help us and report on these issues: http://en.antiquitatem.com/sappho-sapphic-lesbian-love-alcaeus

I would now like to comment on a text by Lucian of Samosata, of his Dialogue of the Hetairae, in which he clearly reveals the reality not only of female homosexuality or lesbianism, almost invisible in the ancient world and also in the modern world, but also the reality of a person whose experience of gender does not coincide with their sexual physical reality. The story deserves also a broad study that I will try in another moment. Today is enough with its reading.

Lucian of  Samosata (125-181) is a Syrian humorist who writes in Greek, or rather, a Greek born in Syria. The reading of his work, large and diverse, will surprise more than one reader today.

The text may be scandalous and inadequate for some people, but this is the historical reality and just as it does not seem appropriate to ignore or deny the reality of a diverse and complex human sexuality, it does not seem appropriate either to ignore the texts which, from ancient times, reflected and accepted this natural reality with a better willingness.

There are several editions in different languages in which the most striking and shocking dialogues with the morale of the moment, as this "fifth" which I now transcribe, was modestly removed from the edition.

In fact this translation I offer corresponds to the first complete version that was made in that language of the Dialogues of the Courtesans, a private translation of 250 copies made expressly in 1895 for the Athenian Society ( Athenian Society); it was made from the text edited by C. Jacobitz.

Perhaps we can think now that if the ancients tackled these issues with obvious naturalness, permissiveness and joviality, why should there be in our time intolerant, aggressive and even violent attitudes with the person considered different?

Although, to be more exact, we should also take into account that not all ancient authors have such a calm acceptance of female homosexuality as we can deduce from Lucian's text. Roman satirical writers such as Juvenal or Martial, for example, relate the decay of the ancient Roman fortress to the depravity of customs and the loss of the "mos maiorum", the morality of the ancients, produced since the victory in the Punic Wars, the conquest of Greece and the Orient and the arrival of great wealth to Rome. In the depravity of customs, they criticize with all hardness the sexual behaviors that question the established order in a society so patriarchal as Roman, and within that behavior they reject the passive homosexuality of the Roman citizen and the feminine homosexuality or feminine homoerotismus in a special way; In the case of Juvenal, is a fact to take into account its evident and declared misogyny.

Note: misogyny,  μισογυνία,  'hatred of women' or contempt to women;  from Greek μισόγυνος, misogynos,  and this from μισέω (miseo), "hate" , and γυνή (Gyne), "woman."

In reality, these satirical writers only express the social rejection of sexual behavior outside the heterosexual, which in no case reaches the qualification of the first Christian parents, for those who practice female homosexuality have to suffer eternal punishment in hell. The text presented below, participating in the background of this rejection, does not hide its reality; In the articles quoted it is even tried to explain the origin and its reality. That is what we can value positively the vision of the ancients: that even if they reject socially and morally these practices outside the normal, they do not hide it and even seek its explanation, even if it is mythical; We already know that one of the functions of the "myth" is to consolidate the existing social and cultural situation.

Lucian of Samosata: Dialogues of the Courtesans, V

CLONARIUM and LEAENA.

CLONARIUM. People are saying curious things about you, Leaena: that Megilla, the wealthy Lesbian, treats you like a man, and that you lie in bed doing I don’t like to say what. Don’t blush, but tell me if it is true.

LEAENA. Well, there is something in it; but I’m rather ashamed, for it’s very strange.

CLONARIUM. By the mother of Bacchus! What is it, then? What does the woman mean? What do you do when you’re in bed together? If you love me, tell me.

LEAENA. I do love you better tan anyone else. Well, if you must know, she is wonderfully like a man.

CLONARIUM. I suppose you mean she is one of those women who don’t care about men, but enjoy having women, as if they were men themselves, like the women of Lesbos?

LEAENA. That’s about it.

CLONARIUM. Well, but –tell me how she first tempted you, how she gained your consent, and what followed.

LEAENA. She arranged a drinking-bout with Demonassa the Corinthian, a wealthy woman of the same tastes as herself, and took me to sing and play to them. When I had finished singing, it was late, and time go to bed. Then, the ladies being heated with wine, Megilla said: “come, Leaena, it is time to go to bed; you shall sleep between us”.

CLONARIUM. What next? Did you sleep with them?

LEAENA. At firs they kissed me like men, not just putting their lips to mine, but panting with half-open mouths. Then they embraced me and began to play with me, put their hands on my titties, and Demonassa was so hot that she even bit me; I couldn’t make out what it meant, till at length Megilla, who was getting very warm, pulled off her false hair, which fitted tightly to her head. When you looked closely, you could see her skin was clean-shaven like a lusty athlete’s. This frightened me, but she said: “Did you ever see such a fine Young fellow, Leaena?” –“Where, Megilla?” said I. –“Don’t call me a woman,” she said. “My name is Megillus, and there is my wife” (pointing to Demonassa). –I laughed at this and said: “So, then, Mr. Megillus, you were a mana ll the time, and we didn’t know it, just like Achilles concealed amongst the maidens. And have you got a weapon like his? Can you do with Demonassa the same as a man? –“No,” she said. “But I don’t want one; if you like to try, you will find I have a much nicer way of my own.” –“Well,” said I, “perhaps you are a Hermaphrodite, and are doubly provided”; for you see, Clonarium, I didn’t understand as yet, -“No,” she answered: “I am a man altogether.” –“I once Heard Ismenodora, a Boeotian flute-player, say that there was a famous prophet of Thebes named Tiresias (I think), who had once been a woman: has anything like that happened to you?” –“Not at all; my parts are like other women’s, but my feelings and passions are those of a man.” –“Are you hot enough?” I asked. –“Just try me,” she said, “if you don’t believe me, and you’ll find I am just as good as a man; I have got something quite as nice as a man’s member. Come, try for yourself.” –At last I consented. Then she embraced me as if she had been a man, and kissed me and panted, and accomplished her desires and enjoyed herself greatly, and before I went away, she made me a present of a splendid bracelet and some beautiful chemises.

CLONARIUM. But how did she do it? That’s what I should like to know.

LEAENA. Now you want to know too much; it was rather disgusting.  No, by Venus”  I won’t tell you any more.
(Literally and completely translated for the first time from the Greek text of C.Jacobitz. Athens: Privately printed for the Athenian Society: MDCCCXCV)

   
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