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three pairs of lovers with space



This story from the Roman courtier Petronius’s Satyricon[1] was told to the young protagonist Encolpius by a gray-haired gentleman called Eumolpus.

K. F. C. Rose in his article "The Date of the Satyricon" in The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 1 (May, 1962), pp. 166-168, gives many reasons for concluding the Satyricon was written in AD 65. As the grey-haired narrator appears to be relating a story from his youth, we are probably supposed to imagine it as set a generation earlier.

The translation is that of Thomas Hubbard in his Homosexuality in Greece and Rome (University of California Press, 2003), pp. 414-6, except that the penultimate paragraph has been translated even more literally for discussion of the precise terms used.  The notes here are original to this website.


The Satyricon

When I went to Asia[2] to serve on the quaestor's staff, I was put up as a guest in Pergamon. I was happy to stay there, not only because my lodgings were elegant, but also because my host's son was truly beautiful. So I hatched a plan to insure that I would never be viewed with suspicion by the paterfamilias: whenever the conversation at dinner even hinted at the sexual attractions of beautiful boys, I would blush like a virgin and object in the severest tones that my ears were offended by such obscene talk. The mother came to regard me as a veritable philosopher! So I started taking the boy to the gym, I organized his studies; I was his teacher and warned him not to let any sexual predator into the house. …

Once we were lying around the dining room on a holiday when the long hours of play had made us too lazy to retire; around midnight I noticed that the boy was still awake and so, in the softest whisper, I said a prayer: “Venus, who art in heaven, if I can kiss this boy without his noticing, tomorrow I will give him a pair of doves.”

When he heard the price of pleasure, the boy started to snore. So I went over to the little faker and stole some kisses. Happy with this beginning I got up early the next morning and, as he expected, brought him a choice pair of doves, and so fulfilled my promise.

When the same opportunity arose the next night, I changed my prayer and said, “If I can caress this boy with my naughty hands without his feeling it, I will give him two ferocious fighting cocks for his patience.”

At this promise the boy came over to me on his own and, I think, he was even afraid that I had nodded off! I reassured him on this point and gorged myself on his entire body, stopping just short of the summit of pleasure. The next morning I gave him what I'd promised and he was elated.

When my moment came the third night, I whispered … in his ear as he pretended to sleep: “Immortal gods, if I could enjoy in full the complete satisfaction of my desires while the boy sleeps, in return for this bliss, tomorrow I will give him a choice Macedonian thoroughbred, so long as he has felt nothing!”

Never has a young man slept more soundly! So, first, I filled my hands with his milky breasts, then I inhaled kisses, and, finally, all my desires converged into one.

In the morning he sat in his room waiting for my usual visit. Well, you know very well how much easier it is to buy doves and cocks than a thoroughbred. Besides, I was afraid that so extravagant a gift would make my kind attentions look suspicious. So after wandering around a few hours I returned home and gave the boy nothing but a kiss. He hugged me round the neck as he looked about and said, “Please, sir, where is my thoroughbred?” …

Because of my broken promise the door I had opened was slammed shut, so I resorted again to wheedling. A few days later a similar occasion put us in the same lucky situation. Since I could hear his father snoring I started asking him to be friends again, to let me make it up to him, and all the other things a swollen libido inspires one to say. But he was obviously angry with me and only said, “Go to sleep or I'll tell my father.”

There's no obstacle a lack of scruples can't overcome. While he kept threatening “to wake up father,” I wormed my way around him and took my pleasure by force in spite of his half-hearted resistance. He was not entirely displeased by my ambush, and after he'd complained for some time that he'd been deceived, and then was laughed at and reviled by his fellow students (to whom he had boasted of my wealth!), he said, “But look, I'm not going to be like you, if you want to, do it again.”

So with my offence laid aside, I was back in favour with the boy and, having enjoyed his favours, I fell asleep. But the boy was ripe for pleasure and at the age that is eager to be submissive,[3] so he was not content with a mere repetition.  He therefore woke me up saying, “Well, don't you want something?” And clearly this task was not exactly burdensome. Such being so, somehow I panted, sweated and banged away until he had got what he wanted, then I fell asleep again, exhausted with pleasure. Less than an hour had passed when he started jostling me with his hand and said, “Why don't we do it?”

Then I was furious at being woken up so many times, so I retorted with his own words: “Go to sleep or I'll tell your father!"



[1]   C. Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon 85-90. 

[2] Asia was a province of the Roman Empire in present-day Turkey.  Pergamon was its second city and was Greek, so the boy in this story would have been much more amenable to seduction by a man than if he had been a freeborn Roman.

[3]  Latin patiendum, also used for females on heat, implying the boy was eager for Eumolpus to pedicate him. It is one of many Roman texts which decorously acknowledged that adolescent boys enjoyed being penetrated and that this was understandable, neither being true for men.  Caelius Aurelianus noted that “many people think boys are afflicted with this passion,” and explained their pleasure as being because the “masculine function” had not yet taken over their bodies (De morbis chronicis IV 9 cxxxvii).




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