Sexuality and Humor in Ancient Rome: Rethinking and New Variations

Keywords: Ancient Rome, sexuality, humor, daily life, gender


Sexual humor has always been one of the most important subjects of philosophical, aesthetic and historical studying. Its forms and interaction with a wide range of problems have been raised by researchers and artists of different times. Ancient Romans were not an exception, and paid special attention to erotic jokes, giving them a specific colouring.

The goal of this paper is to define comprehensively the role and place of sexual humor in the life of Ancient Rome. To achieve the mentioned goal, the author applies the analysis of written and visual Roman humor from pun to various forms of public entertainment. The features of the storyline and the personalities of Ancient Roman sexual humor are analyzed; the central functions of obscene Roman jokes are revealed; the attitude of the Romans to laughter and its influence on the formation of public opinion is cleared up; the location of humorous sexual images in ancient Rome is retraced. The source base shows that most comic plots included marginal images and actions: ugly and perverted creatures (hermaphrodite, pygmy, fool, black-skinned, slaves) and deviant sexual acts (woman with a woman, active women, and passive men). It is worth noting that particularly popular were the «inverted sexual stories», where a woman changed roles with a man. The Roman people laughed at the femininity of men and the masculine features of women. With the help of gained materials, it is possible to retrace how that art form became a «hidden key» in regulating of moral and ethical norms established in the society of Ancient Rome. One of the questions determining the social role of the Roman was: «What are you laughing at?» A Roman citizen, recognizing actions in the image as deviant, had to laugh at them, concluding that such behavior was taboo.

A detailed analysis of the problems of gender stereotypes refuting in Ancient Roman comic plots is also conducted. This opens up a new reading of the matter and helps to find out the interaction between gender identity and social status.


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