three pairs of lovers with space

CASSIUS DIO’S ROMAN HISTORY: AD 81-98

 

Cassius Dio, a Greek who was twice Roman consul, wrote the eighty books of his Roman History down to the year 229 in the years down to that date and after 22 years of research.  On this page is presented the Greek love content of Books LXVII to LXVIII 4, covering the period from the accession of the emperor Domitian in AD 81 to the death of Nerva in 98.

The translations are by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster in the Loeb Classical Library volume 126 (Harvard, 1925) with one amendment explained in a footnote.

 

LXVII 2 iii

Describing the hostility of the new emperor Domitian, who succeeded his brother Titus in AD 81, to the honour in which his father and brother were held:

Accordingly, though he himself entertained a passion for a eunuch named Earinus,[1] nevertheless, since Titus also had shown a great fondness for eunuchs, in order to insult his memory, he forbade that any person in the Roman Empire should thereafter be castrated.[2]  καὶ διὰ τοῦτο, καίπερ καὶ αὐτὸς Ἐαρίνου τινὸς εὐνούχου ἐρῶν, ὅμως, ἐπειδὴ καὶ ὁ Τίτος ἰσχυρῶς περὶ τοὺς ἐκτομίας ἐσπουδάκει, ἀπηγόρευσεν ἐπὶ ἐκείνου ὕβρει μηδένα ἔτι ἐν τῇ τῶν Ῥωμαίων ἀρχῇ ἐκτέμνεσθαι. 

 

LXVII 6 iv

Explaining why Domitian did not take any active part in the war against the Dacians in AD 85:

Instead, he remained in one of the cities of Moesia, indulging in riotous living, as was his wont. For he was not only indolent of body and timorous of spirit, but also most profligate and lewd towards women and boys alike. He therefore sent others to conduct the war and for the most part got the worst of it.
Aureus of Domitian, ca. 93
ἀλλ᾿ ἐν πόλει τινὶ Μυσίας ὑπομείνας ὕβριζεν ὥσπερ εἰώθει· οὐ γὰρ ὅτι τό τε σῶμα ἄπονος καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἄτολμος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀσωτότατος καὶ ἀσελγέστατος καὶ πρὸς γυναῖκας καὶ πρὸς μειράκια ἦν. ἄλλους δὲ πέμπων ἐς τὸν πόλεμον στρατηγοὺς τὰ πλείω κακῶς ἀπήλλασσεν.
Domitian (Musei Capitolini, Rome)

 

LXVII 9 i-v

Describing the celebrations Domitian held in Rome following the truthfully unsatisfactory end of his war with the Dacians in 98:

At this time, then, he feasted the populace as described; and on another occasion he entertained the foremost men among the senators and knights in the following fashion. He prepared a room that was pitch black on every side, ceiling, walls and floor, and had made ready bare couches of the same colour resting on the uncovered floor; then he invited in his guests alone at night without their attendants.

And first he set beside each of them a slab shaped like a gravestone, bearing the guest’s name and also a small lamp, such as hang in tombs. Next comely naked boys, likewise painted black, entered like phantoms, and after encircling the guests in an awe-inspiring dance took up their stations at their feet.

After this all the things that are commonly offered at the sacrifices to departed spirits were likewise set before the guests, all of them black and in dishes of a similar colour. Consequently, every single one of the guests feared and trembled and was kept in constant expectation of having his throat cut the next moment, the more so as on the part of everybody but Domitian there was dead silence, as if they were already in the realms of the dead, and the emperor himself conversed only upon topics relating to death and slaughter.

Finally he dismissed them; but he had first removed their slaves, who had stood in the vestibule, and now gave his guests in charge of other slaves, whom they did not know, to be conveyed either in carriages or litters, and by this procedure he filled them with far greater fear. And scarcely had each guest reached his home and was beginning to get his breath again, as one might say, when word was brought him that a messenger from the Augustus had come.

While they were accordingly expecting to perish this time in any case, one person brought in the slab, which was of silver, and then others in turn brought in various articles, including the dishes that had been set before them at the dinner, which were constructed of very costly material; and last of all [came] that particular boy who had been each guest’s familiar spirit, now washed and adorned. Thus, after having passed the entire night in terror, they received the gifts.[3]

[i] Τὸ μὲν οὖν πλῆθος οὕτως τότε ἐδείπνισεν, αὖθις δὲ τοὺς πρώτους τῆς γερουσίας καὶ τῶν ἱππέων τόνδε τὸν τρόπον. οἶκον μελάντατον ἁπανταχόθεν ἔκ τε τῆς ὀροφῆς καὶ ἐκ τῶν τοίχων τοῦ τ᾿ ἐδάφους παρασκευάσας, καὶ κλισίας ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τοῦ δαπέδου γυμνὰς ὁμοίας ἑτοιμάσας, ἐσεκάλεσεν  αὐτοὺς μόνους νυκτὸς ἄνευ τῶν ἀκολούθων.

[ii] καὶ πρῶτον μὲν στήλην ταφοειδῆ ἑκάστῳ σφῶν παρέστησε, τό τε ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἔχουσαν καὶ λυχνοῦχον μικρόν, οἷος ἐν τοῖς μνημείοις κρεμάννυται· ἔπειτα παῖδες εὐπρεπεῖς γυμνοί, μέλανι καὶ αὐτοὶ κεχρισμένοι, ἐσῆλθον ὥσπερ εἴδωλα, καὶ περιελθόντες αὐτοὺς μετ᾿ ὀρχήσεώς τινος φοβερᾶς πρὸ ποδῶν ἱδρύθησαν·

[iii] καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο πάνθ᾿ ὅσαπερ ἐν τοῖς ἐναγίσμασι καθαγίζεται, καὶ ἐκείνοις μέλανα ἐν σκεύεσιν ὁμοίοις προσηνέχθη, ὥστε καὶ φοβεῖσθαι καὶ τρέμειν καθ᾿ ἕκαστον αὐτῶν πάντας, ἀεί τε ὅσον οὐκ ἤδη σφαγήσεσθαι προσδέχεσθαι, ἄλλως τε καὶ ὅτι παρά τε τῶν ἄλλων σιωπὴ πολλὴ ὥσπερ ἐν τεθνηκόσιν ἤδη ἦν, καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ Δομιτιανὸς πάντα ἔς τε θανάτους καὶ ἐς σφαγὰς φέροντα διελάλει.

[iv] τέλος δὲ ἀφῆκε μὲν αὐτούς, προαπαλλάξας δὲ δὴ τοὺς οἰκέτας σφῶν τοὺς ἐν τοῖς προθύροις ἑστηκότας, δι᾿ ἑτέρων τινῶν ἀγνώστων τοὺς μὲν ὀχήμασι τοὺς δὲ φορείοις παραδοὺς πολὺ πλέον δέος αὐτοῖς ἐνέβαλε. ἄρτι δὲ ἕκαστός σφων οἴκαδε ἐσεληλύθει καὶ τρόπον τινὰ ἀναπνεῖν ἤρχετο, καὶ αὐτῷ ἐσηγγέλθη ὅτι παρὰ τοῦ Αὐγούστου τις ἥκοι.

[v] προσδοκώντων τε ἐκ τούτου τότε δὴ πάντως ἀπολεῖσθαι, ἐσεκόμισέ τις τὴν στήλην ἀργυρᾶν οὖσαν, εἶτ᾿ ἄλλος ἄλλο τι καὶ ἕτερος ἕτερον τῶν σκευῶν τῶν ἐν τῷ δείπνῳ παρατεθέντων, πολυτελεστάτου τινὸς γένους πεποιημένα· καὶ τέλος ὁ παῖς ἐκεῖνος, τὸ δαιμόνιον ἑκάστῳ, λελουμένος τε καὶ κεκοσμημένος . . . καὶ οὕτω διὰ πάσης τῆς νυκτὸς φοβούμενοι τὰ δῶρα ἔλαβον.

 

The triclinium (dining-room) of Domitian's palace on the Palatine Hill, by French archaeologist Jean-Claude Golvin

LXVII 11 iv

Following the unsuccessful rebellion of Lucius Antonius Saturninus, the governor of Upper Germany, in 89, numerous people were put to death by Domitian on suspicion of involvement in it. …

One young man[4], Julius Calvaster, who had served as military tribune as a stepping-stone to the senate, was saved in a most extraordinary way. When it was being shown that he had had frequent meetings alone with Antonius, and he had no other way to free himself from the charge of conspiracy, he declared that he had met him for amorous intercourse; and in fact he was of an appearance to inspire passion. Thus he was acquitted.[5] Εἷς δ᾿ οὖν τις νεανίσκος Ἰούλιος Κάλουαστρος, κεχιλιαρχηκὼς ἐς βουλείας ἐλπίδα, παραδοξότατα ἐσώθη. ἐπειδὴ γὰρ πολλάκις κατὰ μόνας συμμεμιχὼς ἠλέγχετο, καὶ οὐκ εἶχεν ὅπως ἄλλως τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς συνωμοσίας ἀπολύσηται, ἔφη κατ᾿ ἐρωτικὴν χρείαν αὐτῷ συγγεγονέναι· καὶ γὰρ ἦν οἷος ἐρᾶσθαι δύνασθαι. καὶ ὁ μὲν οὕτως ἀφείθη, 

 

LXVII 15 iii-iv

Explaining how,  once a conspiracy to murder Domitian had been formed by various court officials with the knowledge of his wife Domitia, the plotters were goaded into action in September 96:

For my part, I have heard also the following account—that Domitian, having become suspicious of these persons, conceived the desire to kill them all at the same time, and wrote their names on a two-leaved tablet of linden-wood, which he placed under his pillow on the couch on which he was wont to take his rest; and one of the naked “whispering” boys filched it away while the emperor was asleep in the day-time and kept it without knowing what it contained.

Domitia then chanced upon it, and reading what was written, gave information of the matter to those concerned. Accordingly they hastened the plot which they already were forming;[6]

Aureus of Domitia Augusta, AD 82-3

 

[iii] ἤκουσα δὲ ἔγωγε καὶ ἐκεῖνο, ὅτι πάντας ἅμα αὐτοὺς ὁ Δομιτιανὸς ὑποπτεύσας ἀποκτεῖναι ἠθέλησε, καί σφων τὰ ὀνόματα ἐς σανίδιον φιλύρινον δίθυρον ἐσγράψας ὑπὸ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον ἐν τῇ κλίνῃ ἐν ᾗ ἀνεπαύετο ὑπέθηκε, καὶ αὐτὸ παιδίον τι τῶν γυμνῶν τῶν ψιθύρων καθεύδοντος αὐτοῦ μεθ᾿ ἡμέραν ἀφελόμενον εἶχεν, οὐκ εἰδὸς ὅ τι φέροι,

[iv] προστυχοῦσα δὲ αὐτῷ ἡ Δομιτία τά τε γεγραμμένα ἀνέγνω καὶ ἐμήνυσε καὶ ἐκείνοις, κἀκ τούτου καὶ ἄλλως διανοούμενοι συνετάχυναν τὴν ἐπιβουλήν.

Aureus of Nerva, AD 97
 

 

LXVIII 2 iv

On the acts of the aged emperor Nerva, who reigned briefly from 96 to 98:

Among his various laws were those prohibiting the castration of anyone,[7] ἐνομοθέτησε δὲ ἄλλα τε καὶ περὶ τοῦ μὴ εὐνουχίζεσθαί τινα

 

[1] As emerges from a long poem composed at his own request by Papinius Statius (Silvae III 4), Earinus was a boy found in the Greek city of Pergamon in Asia and destined at once by his exceptional beauty for Domitian, who was evidently already emperor. He was castrated on arrival in Rome.

[2] Dio relentlessly attributes dark motives to everything Domitian did, but here there are grounds for doubting him. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars XII 7 I, while sharing Dio’s general judgement of Domitian, lists his edict against castration as unequivocally one of his good deeds. It was issued while he was Censor (Statius, Silvae IV 3 xiii ff.), which he began to be in 85. H. Henriksén, “An Imperial Eunuch in the Light of the Poems of Martial and Statius” in Mnemosyne, 4th Series, Fasc. 3 (June 1997) pp. 281-94  argues convincingly that Earinus must have become a eunuch in Rome in the first two years of Domitian’s reign, as the type of operation Statius implies was performed on him was only done to infants, and yet Statius also implies he was at least sixteen in 94, when he was writing. Hence he had already been Domitian’s for a few years when the edict was issued.  A fairer explanation of Domitian’s motives for the edict might be that he had already grown to love and sympathise with Earinus, as suggested by J.P. Sullivan in Martial the unexpected classic (Cambridge 1991), 39.

[3] This episode formed the basis for a good erotic short story by classical scholar J. Darling, “The Black Symposium”, in Panthology One edited by Frank Torey (Amsterdam, 1981) pp. 48-56.

[4] The translators’ “young man” has been allowed to stand, but the Greek νεανίσκος is a diminutive of νεανίας, a young man, and suggests someone particularly young, nearly as young as the sixteen at which age military service began. Military tribune was a typical first appointment for a youth of senatorial class.

[5] To make full sense of this and understand its implications, one needs to consider an allusion to the same incident by Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars XII 10 v): “only two were pardoned, a tribune of senatorial rank and a centurion who, the more clearly to prove their freedom from guilt, showed that they were impudicos (in this case, males who had lost their sexual integrity by taking the passive sexual role) and could therefore have had no influence with the general or with the soldiers.” The fact that the ever-suspicious Domitian believed Calvaster is a measure of the profound contempt in which a male Roman passive was held, in this case by his own lover as well as others.

[6] This story is suspiciously similar to Herodian’s account of how the emperor Commodus’s courtiers were driven to murder him in 192 (History of the Empire I 17 ii-iv, qv.).  Of the two accounts, Herodian’s is contemporaneous with the events described and much less sensationalist. A further reason for doubting Dio here is that Domitia appears to have remained loyal to her husband's memory long after he was dead and disgraced.

[7] The translators have here invented a noun, using “any man” instead of “anyone”, which is not only bad translation, but extremely misleading. The castration that is known to have become fashionable, and which Nerva’s predecessor Domitian had also prohibited (evidently in vain) was of boys and was done to prevent their becoming men and losing their prepubertal beauty, as is made clear by Papinius Statius’s poem (Silvae III 4) written for and about Domitian’s eunuch loved-boy, Earinus. It is precisely because of these pederastic implications of castration that this passage is relevant here.