Friday, April 03, 2009

Ten Books That Illustrate Why Romans Were Great Lovers

While I was browsing new ancient-themed books on Amazon I saw this interesting list by Mary Beard of ten books that illustrate why Romans were great lovers. I definitely agree with item 9. When I visited the Museo Archaeologico in Naples a couple of years ago and ventured into the "Secret Room" I did not find the semi-erotic paintings particularly shocking, as did the first female Victorian visitors, but found the heaps of phallic-shaped votive offerings and explicit terracotta lamps a little unnerving. They still make me blush and I haven't gotten my nerve up enough to upload my photographs of them to Flickr even yet. When I do so I will flag them as "may offend" so they will be filtered. I don't want any teachers angry with me for including such graphic sexual images in collections I promote for classroom use.

1. Staying power
Roman lovers could keep going all night (at least if we take their word for it). Ovid – the first-century-BC’s man about town – claims that he could perform nine times in a single night. Read all about it in his ‘Love Poems” (Book 3, number 7). Read: Ovid, The Erotic Poems (Penguin Classics)
, translated by Peter Green.

2. Sweet talk
Roman men could make you feel so good. Mark Antony and Julius Caesar both talked their way into the heart of feisty Cleopatra. The chat-up lines of Rome’s founding father Aeneas drove Queen Dido senseless. Read: Virgil, The Aeneid (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
, translated by Robert Fagles. (Go straight to Book 4)

3. Body beautiful
There was no flab or beer belly on these six-pack hunks. All that gym and exercise kept Greeks and Romans bronzed and trim. Read: Nigel Spivey, The Ancient Olympics: A History

4. Inventiveness

Sexual positions became (literally) an art-form for the Romans--two-somes, three-somes and more. You’d better stay supple though, or those more testing acrobatics will be beyond you. Read: John Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C. - A.D. 250

5. Romantic agony
Roman men could do anguish better than any others. “I hate and I love . . . and it hurts” as the poet Catullus succinctly wrote to his fickle mistress. Don’t expect to escape a Roman affair without tears. Read: Catullus,The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition
, translated by Peter Green.

6. Great pick-up lines
Romans knew they had to work hard at the first impressions. Ovid, in a lover’s manual, gives the beginner plenty of advice on how to break the ice. Stand right next to her at a procession, and when some elaborate display goes past explain to her what it is. It doesn’t matter, says Ovid, if you don’t really know – make it sound plausible, to impress. Read: Ovid, Ovid: The Art of Love and Other Poems (Loeb Classical Library No. 232)
, translated by J. H. Mozley.

7. Open minds
Not many Romans were prudes. Most men were happy to contemplate sex with women, men, or if it came to it, animals – just so long as they were the active, not the passive partner. Read: Apuleius, The Golden Ass (Penguin Classics)
, translated by E. J. Kenney.

8. Rough-trade

Roman women went for the rough, tough sporting heroes of the ancient world. Successful gladiators became the heart-throbs of the Roman girls. Read: Catharine Edwards, The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome

9. In touch with their inner-selves
The anxiety of Roman men was one of their more endearing features. Images of the phallus were everywhere in Roman towns – but so too were images of castration and mutilation. The ancient man never took his prowess for granted. Carlin A. Barton,The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans

10. Not afraid to say 'I love you'

The walls of the buried city of Pompeii are covered with written messages from satisfied (and a few unsatisfied) men. ‘Oh Chloe, I had a wonderful time, twice over in this very spot, I love you. . . .’
Read: Antonio Varone, Eroticism in Pompeii
. And, in case you are looking for the woman’s point of view, try Marilyn B. Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture (Ancient Cultures)
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