by Catherine Nixey
Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. – African Proverb
To understand the impact of Christianity on the ancient world, this story would have to be told by the ancients themselves. Unfortunately, for us living today, the past is so much lost, thanks to the works of Christians of lore. It is this past that Catherine attempts to weave in her very readable book. And it is a sad, depressing past.
Christians are wont to say that their religion found a ready ground for conversion, that Rome had declined and all, but this is a tall tale. The Christians destroyed what was noble, what was beautiful and what was glorious and spread their religion through terror, rapine and violence.
For most people, the most famous name that points to the barbarity of Christian mobs is Hypatia of Alexandria. Ovid is lost to most of us, Catullus with his poems is lost to us, the temple of Serapis is lost to us and many more marvelous works in both East and west of the Roman empire.
In one place Catherine writes
Christians could, their preachers told them, wash for simple utility as long as they didn’t enjoy it too much. The good Christian should certainly not wallow in the sensual pleasures of the baths. Some defied such pious grubbiness: Augustine openly claimed bathing to be one of the pleasures of life. Others took a more robust approach to washing. Ascetics celebrated the ideal of being ‘alousia’ – unwashed. As one writer asked, what need did a Christian have to wash at all? Even if one’s skin becomes rough and scaly from lack of cleaning, he had no need, since ‘he that is once washed in Christ need not to wash again’.28 An intellectual change had taken place. Filth was moving from something that was found outside a man to something that stained his soul. A clean body was no longer one that was free from dirt: it was one that was unsoiled by sexual activity – and particularly by ‘deviant’ sexual activity – which started to be precisely defined then deplored in newly fierce and censorious terms.
Male homosexuality was denounced; and then outlawed. By the sixth century, those who were, as one chronicler put it, ‘afflicted with homosexual lust’ started to live in fear. And with good reason. When a bishop called Alexander was accused of having a homosexual relationship, he and his partner were ‘in accordance with a sacred ordinance . . . brought to Constantinople and were examined and condemned by Victor the city prefect, who punished them: he tortured Isaiah severely and exiled him and he amputated Alexander’s genitals and paraded him around on a litter. The emperor immediately decreed that those detected in pederasty should have their genitals amputated. At that time many homosexuals were arrested and died after having their genitals amputated. [emphasis mine]
what else happened? She notes further
Sex between a husband and wife was allowed but it should not, preachers said, be enjoyed. The old merry marriage ceremonies, in which people had eaten, drunk and sung profane songs about sex, were bluntly deplored as the Devil’s dungheap. Admiring stories of married couples who never slept with each other but spent their nights wearing hair shirts proliferated.
Go read this book, you will weep. But after you weep, I hope you find consolation in this poem and song.
First, Carmen 16 by Catallus
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,
bottom Aurelius and catamite Furius,
you who think, because my poems
are sensitive, that I have no shame.
For it’s proper for a devoted poet to be moral
himself, [but] in no way is it necessary for his poems.
In point of fact, these have wit and charm,
if they are sensitive and a little shameless,
and can arouse an itch,
and I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
who can’t get it up.
Because you’ve read my countless kisses,
you think less of me as a man?
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.
And then a song