Another vocabulary question

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Another vocabulary question

Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Sun Aug 29, 2004 9:11 am

Salvete,

Another vocabulary question for the sodales of this Collegium : is it true, as I've once heard, that Latin has no word for "homosexual" or "bisexual" (which would, on the level of the history of ideas, mean that the Romans did not perceive them as different 'sexual categories') ?

Valete,

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Postby C.AeliusEricius on Mon Aug 30, 2004 3:57 am

I can not help you with the Latin, and I will not be helpful with the sources for the references I am going to make, but this is a subject that I spent some thougth on over the years. I'll start with my conculsion -- "homosexuality" as it is conceptualized in the present time was not an issue, and might not have existed. That last is heavily a matter of definition. Modern lables, especially here in California, being heavily politicized.

Julius Caesar has been called gay, not only the King of Bithynia [where nothing really happened =({[;-) ] but also the song his soldiers sang. Yet that song also calls him lecherous old man. I read in one biography that when he was young he played the flighty gay blade, wore perfume and long fringed sleeves. It was also a time when it was good for him to not seem a threat. My mind does not serve me in placing just when this was, maybe under Sulla.
In some other text I remember that when M. Antonius was young he was having a prolong torid affair with some other noble Roman male. They might even have played with the idea of having a wedding ceremony. The adults told them it was time to grow up. That comes to the point in sexuality and cultures, peoples. Whatever they do for fun the "tribe" dies if there are not chidren. One very course teacher of mine used a crude turn pf phrase to describe the Greek arrangement, "Women are for babies, boys are for fun."
M. Antonius had to stop playing house and take his part in furthering the survival and future of Rome. Caesar playing the fop would have been a good survival ploy because fops would not be considered players in the political game. Even in some modern families the same-gender oriented offspring is told to "do their duty by the family". There are numerous historical examples of people who were known to have same sex oreintation, for love as well as lust, and had children.
Where did the contemporary stigma for loving, and making love with, members o one's own sex come from? Was it imposed by some nut who came into power in the Dark Ages? Or is it all from interpretations of the Hebrew laws?

Enough of my amateur anthrologis rambles.

Bene valete.
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Tue Aug 31, 2004 1:30 pm

Salve Attice

The Romans used different terms for men and women, depending on the roles that they took in any relationship, heterosexual as well as homosexual. A male might be called femina but that does not refer to his sexual activities, where cinaedus, catamitus, pathicus were general terms used of male homosexuals, all derogatory, and there were more offensive terms, such as referring to a man as a cunnus, and a ceuulus referred to a male by the manner in which he would move like a woman during intercourse. There were a number of terms that referred to the parts of the body, used as euphanisms for the whole person, like calling a person an "ass" but implying more, as in using verpa rather than mentula in reference to a pedicator or irrumator. Different terms are found for one receiving as oposed to one giving any form of sexual activity, and whether accepting or forcing it upon someone. Women who took the role of a man were called tribades or a woman could be referred to as a landicosa, meaning a swollen and protruding clitoris, and that could just mean she was lustful rather than homosexual. While there were other terms for the woman who took the female role in a lesbian relationship, these took the male perspective of her as being loose or spent. The terms were used in grafitti, not often in texts, and it is a matter of guesswork as to what some of the terms mean or from what they are derived. You would have to get a special lexicon because some of the terms are technical and won't appear in most dictionaries, or would appear but without their sexual connotations explained.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Aug 31, 2004 7:41 pm

Salvete,

For laughs alone it would be cool if such dictionairies existed. The problem is, especially with the more ancient classic linguists, that many of them were conservative and/or religious. In our Horatius textbook, there was an ode which missed an entire paragraph because it referred to youths making out in the streets. Pretty dumb.

In fact, this claim of priests and co. on Antiquity has contributed to the schizophrenic manner in which it is represented: either as a depraved, fowl and brutal civilisation (those satanic pagans!) or as a dry, elevated and sexless period.

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Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Tue Aug 31, 2004 7:59 pm

Salve Draco,

For laughs alone it would be cool if such dictionairies existed.


Surprisingly they do. The classic in the field is : Adams J.N., The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London, 1982, 272 p.

Vale,

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latin for gay?

Postby Anonymous on Thu May 05, 2005 1:37 pm

Catullus seems to have endless ways to refer to homosexuality, much as we do today - some serious, some lighthearted and others downright derogatory. It appears to depend on whether he refers to himself or others, however!

I don't think it is correct to say the Romans had no word for homosexuality. There are many different terms as a reader above has shown. They did not quite mean what we do when these words are used would be more accurate. The Romans are not as accepting of same gender sexuality as the Greeks but they were fairly pragmatic about it as they were in many things. There is no real moral issue here until Christianity became a factor. of course. It would appear they tolerated sex play amongst boys as almost a right of passage, expected a certain amount of horseplay amongst soldiers and even turned a blind eye to older men and younger boys when the relationship was seen as that of a beneficial tutor- pupil in other ways.

But they definitely frowned upon a man allowing another to penetrate him as being unmanly - to be the one 'on top' so to speak was a different matter to them. They were also very amused by overtly effeminate behaviour and their jokes and comedies reflect this lack of tolerance widely. The comments about perverted old men and pederasts are seen often and the charge of indulginf in sex with men is thrown at many leading figures to 'ruin' the reputations as much as it is today. Ovid clearly mocks Narcissus in his poem and the subtext of the language there is that he is a very pretty and effeminate 'nancy' boy - although many translations do not reflect Ovid's witty parody of this Greek legend. Perhaps the problem comes from the English hybrid word homosexual which is a combination of Latin and Greek inplying they did not sue a word for this.
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Thu May 05, 2005 8:30 pm

Salvete Omnes,

I always thought that homosexual love was not much accepted in Rome, seen as something coming from the Oriental and Greek cultures which weaken the society. It might be only that rich people had slaves for their lust, no matter if it was a young girl or boy. But on the other hand I'm sure I read it somewhere that it wasn't allowed in the army to have homosexual relationship and that that would've been a reason to kick you out of the legions.

As for the words "homosexual" and "bisexual" I coldn't find them in my dictionary, but that is just a pocket dictionary I used back at school.
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gay behaviour in the army

Postby Anonymous on Fri May 06, 2005 8:22 am

What is allowed and what is tolerated are often different. You would be right about not finding an equivalent if you wanted a direct translation for those words, as they are modern indicators of our sexual mores, not theirs.

But that is not the same as saying male soldiers did not indulge in same sex activities - especially older with younger ones, that some men and women did not have sexual partners of both sexes and that because society frowns on something, it doesn't happen.

Actually our society can be very prudish if you judge by media reaction to famous people accused of sexual misbehaviour, rule and regulations in the military round the world pertaining to this subject etc., but it would not mean that behind the scenes we weren't all aware that these things are every day occurences.

We do know that legally and officially Roman women who committed adultery were in a very vulnerable position and entirely at their husband's disposal. And yet in practice it appears that it was often common for husbands to pay little heed to such things in arranged mariages where the heirs had been provided. An example of actual practice over the codes of held up as ideal behaviour.

But of course most dictionaires are very limited. I point to Catullus again. If you read the latin text you would find words that you simply never see in any dictionary for all body parts, sexual acts and types of behaviour. Older translations of course use very obtuse euphemisms which tend to cloak the menaing but the more dynamic translations today are extremely revealing and blow a hole through such perceived notions!

It's a bit like the fact that word pornography is a nineteenth century invention to describe the Classical flea-ridden writings and paintings in much the same way as graffiti has been applied to the walls of Pompeii almost as if they invented vandalism. The Romans did not really need a word for dirty books / paintings as they did not actively discriminate - many homes had wall paintings/ statues that we would shudder to allow children to see. Translation requires much more than matching words up - it requires a whole understanding of ethos and mores to try and render true meaning -and is easily misunderstood by a later age.
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Postby Q Valerius on Fri May 06, 2005 12:07 pm

Quintus Pomponius Atticus wrote:Salve Draco,

For laughs alone it would be cool if such dictionairies existed.


Surprisingly they do. The classic in the field is : Adams J.N., The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London, 1982, 272 p.

It's odd that someone posted in this topic again as just a week ago I got that book from the library. I must say it has been a very interesting read, and very comprehensive. I recommend it to anyone regardless of if they're interested in this specialization or not.

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