Sexuality and Humor in Ancient Rome: Rethinking and New Variations

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

Abstract

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.

References

Bailey, D. (1988). A catalogue of the lamps in the British Museum Roman provincial lamps. London: British Museum.

Beard, M. (2014). Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press.

Brenk, F. (1999). The Kai Su Stele in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 126, 169-174 [in German].

Chauveau, М. (1998). Cléopâtre au-delà du mythe. Paris: Liana Levi [in French].

Clarke, J. (2007). Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression in Roman Visual Culture, 100 B.C. – A.D. 250. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Corbeill, A. (1996). Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Famin, C. (1836). Musée Royal de Naples: Peintures, bronzes et statues érotiques du Cabinet Secret, avec leur explication. Paris [in French].

Halperin, D., Winkler, J., & Zeitlin, F. (1990). Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Impelluso, L. (2004). A Guide to Imagery: Nature and Its Symbols. J. Paul Getty Museum.

Laurent, M., Versluys, J., & Meyboom, P. (2006). Nile into Tiber. Egypt in the Roman World. Leiden: Brill.

Levi, D. (1941). The Evil Eye and the Lucky Hunchback. In Antioch-on-the-Orontes, vol. III (pp. 220-232) Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Mols, S., & Moormann, E. (1993-94). Ex parvo crevit: Proposta per una lettura iconografica della Tomba di Vestorius Priscus fuori Porta Vesuvio a Pompei. Rivista di Studi Pompeiani, 6, 15-52 [in Italian].

Richlin, A. (1992). The Garden of Priap sexuality and aggression in roman humor. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richter, G. (1913). Grotesques and the Mime. American Journal of Archaeology, 17, 149-56.

Stevenson, R., & Hall, J. (2005). Human Malformations and Related Anomalies. Oxford University Press.

Thompson, L. (1989). Romans and Blacks. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Trentin, L. (2015). Hunchback in Hellenistic and Roman Art. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Versluys, M. (2002). Aegyptiaca Romana: Nilotic Scenes and the Roman Views оf Egypt. Leiden: Brill.

Williams, C. (1999). Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Published
05.10.2019
Section
World History and International Relations