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Roman Literature  
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For the most part, classical Latin poetry on homosexual themes closely follows Greek models. Nevertheless, the cultures held sharply differing attitudes toward male love.

In ancient Greece, the mentorship associated with was intended to prepare youths for active citizenship; consequently, love affairs with male slaves were disparaged as inappropriate and undignified.

Rome reversed this pattern. A nation of conquerors, the Romans condoned sex with captured or purchased slaves of either sex. Since slaves formed a large part of the population in late republican and imperial times, young male bedmates were available in abundance and freely enjoyed without censure. Cato the Censor complained about 200 B.C.E. that a handsome slave boy cost as much as a farm.

On the other hand, because of the association of homosexuality with slavery, relations with freeborn youth were frowned on as compromising the boy's manhood and civic status. It was the generally accepted view that submission to another male was a "necessity for a slave" and a "disgrace for a freeborn boy."

For this reason, a common assumption among modern literary historians is that the boys about whom Latin poets write poems were slaves; but this assumption is often open to question. A typical pattern in Catullus, Tibullus, Virgil, and Horace, is a courtship followed by rejection: Neither of these suggests a master-slave relation where the power of the owner was absolute.

Because the records are fragmentary and confusing, there has been much debate about whether sex with freeborn youth was against the law; the scope and nature of the Lex Scantinia, presumed to punish the seduction of boys under seventeen, is much in doubt. Quite possibly, it corresponds to a law mentioned by Quintilian that imposed a substantial fine, but this is not certain. Whatever the law, it seems to have been all but totally ignored.

The Roman Attitude toward Love

More significant from a literary perspective is the negative view Romans of the classical age generally took toward love as a form of human experience. Though five substantial Greek dialogues extolling the value of love have survived and we have records of about a dozen books now lost, the only significant treatment of the subject in Latin philosophy is to be found in Cicero's Tusculan Disputations.

Books 32 to 35, which fill barely four or five pages, treat of love under the heading of undesirable perturbations of the soul. Derisively dismissive of Platonic idealizations, and ignoring the traditions of Zeno and the early Stoics that condoned boy-love as morally blameless, Cicero follows Epicurus in denouncing love for either gender as a disturbing emotion to be avoided at all costs.

The Greeks' cult of love, he thinks, sprang from the shameless nudity of the Greek gymnasium. Cicero deplores the love poetry of Anacreon and Ibycus, and is shocked that Alcaeus, whom he otherwise admires, should have devoted lines to the subject. He does not distinguish between the love of women and the love of youths; both are equally dangerous.

In taking this stand, Cicero comes close to the view of the greatest of Latin philosophical poets. In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius warns against the wounding shafts of Venus whether they proceed from a woman or from "a boy with womanish limbs." He urges the afflicted man to plunge into promiscuity as a remedy for love; Cicero, on the contrary, affects a disdain for all forms of sexual experience.

Homosexuality in Latin Political Oratory

Given this cultural bias, it is not surprising that homosexuality in Latin political oratory is always treated unfavorably. Especially damaging was any hint that a man had taken a passive role in male relations or entered into them for the purpose of mercenary or political gain.

Rhetorical accusations of this kind abounded in the politic arena in late republican times. Cataline, Pompey, Caesar, Clodius, Antony, and Octavius were all subject to them. Cicero himself develops attacks along this line unsparingly in his orations against Verres, Gabinius, Cataline, and most notably, Mark Antony.

For example, Antony is accused of having played the to Curio as a teenager for venial reasons in an affair Cicero claims first-hand knowledge of. This is taken to establish Antony's inherent slavishness and to explain psychologically his willingness to submit to the political tyranny of Caesar.

Homoerotic Poetry

Yet in spite of this cultural prejudice, poems are part of the repertory of nearly all the major Latin love poets. This schizophrenia is undoubtedly due to the influence of Greek culture. Rome's attitude to Greece was profoundly ambivalent.

Triumphing over the Greeks militarily, the Romans were nevertheless quickly forced to recognize their superiority in art, philosophy, and literature. Greece was on the one hand the land of luxury and decadence, but it was also the fountainhead of all that was highest in intellectual and aesthetic culture.

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Cicero expressed widely held Roman attitudes that condemned all forms of love.
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