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Roman Literature  
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Juvenal begins by attacking men who appear and act masculine, and assume airs of moral superiority, but are secretly cinaedi. He professes to prefer open effeminacy but immediately afterward ridicules men who wear see-through robes in public, or necklaces, or ribbons, or "bright blue checks."

He singles out, as an alarming development of his times, the appearance of effeminate homosexuality in ancient Roman families who at one time exemplified the city's masculine military might, as in the case of a Gracchus who had appeared as a bride at a homosexual wedding.

On the basis of Juvenal's loud vituperations, one might be tempted simply to classify him as a rabid . But this would be to overlook the difference between Roman perceptions in such matters and our own.

For example, in his sixth satire, Juvenal attacks women, in one of the most vehemently misogynist works of all time, as moral monsters no sane man would think of marrying. He then advocates that a man, to spare himself the trials of heterosexual marriage, should prefer as a bedfellow some undemanding boy who will not nag or quarrel or try to wheedle gifts.

This may seem contradictory to modern readers who recollect the vitriol of Juvenal's second satire, but in Rome it was not felt as inconsistent to denounce one kind of homosexuality while condoning another. The crucial point was not the gender of a man's sexual companion but the role he played; so long as a man was the active partner his masculinity went unimpugned.

Apparently Juvenal's proposal in satire six was more than a mere rhetorical gambit. There is other evidence that he had a sexual preference for males. A poem by Martial inviting Juvenal to his country home recommends a young huntsman with whom, he says, Juvenal will enjoy consorting "in some secret woods."

Since some of the fiercest literary attacks on cinaedi come from writers who themselves show marked homosexual or bisexual interests, one may speculate that they were inspired by an anxiety to establish that their liking for male partners was of the "right" sort.

Plutarch and Suetonius

When we look at the treatment of homosexuality in Latin biography, we are struck by the contrast with comparable works in Greek. Suetonius was a younger contemporary of Plutarch; the date of the Lives of the Caesars (ca 140 C.E.) is not much later than the Parallel Lives, but the way in which male love enters the picture is strikingly different.

Plutarch regards it as natural and even honorific that a ruler like Pisistratus might have an erastes like Solon. Agesilaus, whom Plutarch presents as the most admirable of Sparta's kings, is identified as the eromenos, or beloved, of Lysander and as a fatherly and benign patron of young men who are lovers.

Alexander's love for the beautiful Persian youth Bagoas is portrayed sympathetically. Epaminondas' male loves are cited as examples of heroic devotion, and the Theban approval of same-sex ties that made possible the victories of the city's Sacred Band is extolled as wise civic policy.

In contrast, although Suetonius ascribes homosexual relations to all but two of the twelve emperors he writes of, there is not a single instance in which these references are not used to impute something shameful about the ruler's character.

Caesar was Nicomedes' passive partner, Tiberius exploited children, Caligula allowed himself to be mounted, Nero castrated his lover Sporus and played the shrinking virgin in the arms of another man, and so on. Clearly Suetonius is continuing in his imperial biographies the same tradition we find in the speeches of Cicero and other republican orators; male relations are a part of Latin political discourse only when the leader whose life is under scrutiny is indicted as a cinaedus or a seducer of freeborn boys.

Claudius and Vespasian are the only emperors to escape such accusations in Suetonius. In Roman biography, it is hard to find any reference to a distinguished citizen's male affairs that is even neutral in tone, let alone laudatory.

The life of Virgil by Donatus (or Suetonius) would be one rare example. Another would be Dio Cassius' comments on the emperor Trajan. Trajan was a successful, humane, and popular prince for whom the Senate voted the title "Optimus," the "best" of rulers. Dio remarks that Trajan had a passion for boys and wine, but that he was never anything but sober, and "in his relation with boys he harmed no one."

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