One of my favorite works of antiquity is also one of the strangest, the Satyricon, a risqué novel written by Nero’s courtier, Gaius Petronius, Arbiter, an aficionado of all things fashionable (for which he earned the Latin appellation arbiter elegantiae – which I would roughly translate ‘the judge of style’.) It is strange because it is so disjointed, in part because it comes down to us in fragments, which makes it all the more tantalizing and irresistible for us Classical scholars to reconstruct and about which to conjecture as to its missing portions. Its content is, to put it euphemistically, earthy: scenes in baths, scenes in brothels, descriptions of sexual peccadillos, sexual deviancy, scenes that focus on eating and food, low conversation and gossip, scenes that are akin to modern bathroom humor. Think South Park a la AD 65, complete with wonderful social, literary, and historical satire. As I used to tell my students, the novel is important in its more general cultural terms if for no other reason than it contains our quintessential depiction of, 1. a Roman orgy, and 2. a Roman banquet. It’s great stuff.
The orgy scene merits some discussion and background. It appears that the anti-hero of the tale, Encolpius, at one point violated the sacred mystery rites of the god Priapus, a deity whose most prominent quality was an enormous phallus whose function was what we call “apotropaic” (from the Greek meaning “to turn away”); the deity’s prominent organ was intended to shock, hence ward off any evil spirits from one’s house, one’s business, and most particularly, one’s garden. He is fairly common in the literary and archaeological record. In the novel, in his anger at having his rites violated, he renders Encolpius impotent. The orgy is intended to expiate the deity so that Encolpius is no longer impotent, and the priestess of Priapus, whose name is Quartilla, goes to great lengths to help him get back his virility. The evening of debauchery concludes with the mock marriage of a young virgin girl named Panuchis (a name playfully chosen by Petronius which means “All-nighter”) to Encolpius’ “boy-toy”, the young Giton, and in the final culmination of debauchery Quartilla and Encolpius peer through a key-hole as Giton deflowers the young girl.
And you thought Roman literature was all just Caesar’s legions, flowery Ciceronian oratory, and grand Vergilian epic! In fact, I’d venture to say most of it is suitable for mature audiences only, and I’ve often wondered how it could have ever been taught in more repressed societies, but I digress.
Summit mounted Leah three times in about as many minutes as Kristina Harlow and I attempt to play matchmakers for the couple.
The word Earthy is certainly the best way to describe the novel, and it was brought to my mind today, particularly that last scene, as I took our most glamorous and in many respects dainty goat, Miss Leah, for her date with our diabolic and Priapic little buddy Mr. Summit. For our past two visits I had taken the pics while Lori held the leash and the goats mated. But this time Lori insisted I hold on to the goat while she photographed the event. Leah, however, didn’t really want to stand for Summit, so she had to be held while Summit mounted, mated and dismounted. He does this (as does any buck) faster than you can read those words.
Summit chats up Leah before he starts in once more. Some courting goes on, but boy not much!
Does do not appear to really like to be mated. They “stand” for the buck if you are lucky, but in general we always had to hold our girls in place each time they were bred. They do not look lovingly into the eyes of their would-be assailant as this piece of fantasy from an ancient Roman villa in Pompeii would have you believe.
A piece of erotic art from one of Pompey’s elegant houses. Boy, what were they thinking?!?!? Clearly a piece of work by some city slicker who never saw goats in action!
Two out of the three times this happened in the rain, which seems to intensify the smell of the buck on the doe. The need for restraint of the animal means one is very close to the act, indeed, uncomfortably so. In fact, I must confess, it made me feel as though I were doing something vaguely illegal, especially once the money swapped hands. When you go to get your does bred there is a stud fee. That’s right, Mr. Summit is just a gigolo, and Leah was his Jane – we pay for his pleasure. But because we ultimately get something out of the deal, milk, and hopefully profit, I guess that still makes us guilty of what the Romans would call lenocinium, pandering, or its more modern term, pimping.
“I’m not a pimp!” – “Oh, okay, maybe I am!”
In Seinfeld at least the hapless Kramer could deny he was a pimp. My Petronian afternoon with the Priapic Mr. Summit and our little Miss Leah concluded with the praetor’s stern hand on my shoulder, hauling me off to the Forum on a charge under the lex Julia de caprorum lenocinio (“the Julian law concerning the pimping of goats”).