RUMP RANGERS IN ANCIENT ROME
A Rosy Future for Same-Sex "Marriage"?

June 2005By Leland D. Peterson

Leland D. Peterson is Emeritus Professor of English and Latin at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. His scholarly articles have appeared in such periodicals as Modern Philology, PMLA, and the Harvard Library Bulletin.

Ed. Note: This article contains sexually graphic content, which is unavoidable given the topic. This article may make you throw up, in which case YOU SHOULD NOT READ IT. If you do read it, don't send us any letter of complaint. You've been forewarned.

In an essay for the popular newsweekly Time magazine (July 26, 2004), Andrew Sullivan, an out-of-the-closet homosexual and self-proclaimed conservative, boldly attempts to refute the gloomy predictions of those such as James Dobson who see "a presaging [of] the fall of Western civilization" if marriage eventually includes the same-sex union of "gays" and lesbians. Sullivan argues that homosexual marriage is not merely licensed sodomy, but is really a "conservative measure," for recently married homosexuals in Massachusetts must now live up to the traditional standards in marriage of "fidelity, responsibility and commitment." Instead of destroying heterosexual marriage, homosexuals are really strengthening it, argues Sullivan, and those such as President Bush who politicize the issue by "turning a tiny minority into a lethal threat to civilization" serve to divide, not unite, American civilization.

Sullivan, a Catholic not much impressed by his Church's negative view of same-sex "marriage," holds advanced Ivy League degrees in the humane studies, but never seems to be concerned with precedents in the ancient world that would test his abstract notions of felicity in the future of "gay marriages." If he would choose to investigate, he could find out easily that "gay marriage" was a key element in the collapse of the Roman Empire. Something very much like the AIDS epidemic that has been the scourge of such "gay" meccas as San Francisco, and is now a worldwide epidemic, can be identified in the second century A.D.

Same-sex "marriage" was the invention of the Emperor Nero in the first-century A.D. In a comparatively long reign among the first-century Caesars (A.D. 54-68), he began as a talented and generous though youthful friend of the people, but degenerated in a mere 14 years to become the prototype of Lord Acton's axiom: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Paranoid in his last years, Nero lived in constant fear of assassination as he in turn ordered the assassinations of members of the Senate and nobility, or sent orders to others to commit suicide. Suetonius, a second-century Roman historian, began "to list his follies and crimes," which included at least three same-sex "marriages." Nero's first same-sex "marriage" was preceded by a transgendering operation on his intended bride that was thought to be successful:

Having trued to turn the boy Sporus into a girl by castration, he went through a wedding ceremony with him — dowry, bridal veil and all — which the whole Court attended; then brought him home, and treated him as a wife. He dressed Sporus in the fine clothes normally worn by an Empress and took him in his own litter not only to every Greek assize and fair, but actually through the Street of Images at Rome, kissing him amorously now and then.

Sullivan's assumption that "gay marriage" would require its partners "to live up to the standards of fidelity, responsibility and commitment never before asked of them" is certainly not true in the case of Nero. His infatuation with Sporus did not prevent him from pursuing an incestuous love with his mother, Agrippina; when Court politics moved to block him, he engaged a mistress who looked like his mother, but visual evidence suggested to the onlookers that he and Agrippina had intercourse "every time they rode in the same litter — the state of his clothes when he emerged proved it." Not even his mother was able to satisfy his passion for long; shortly after his "marriage" to Sporus, he "married" a freedman, Doryphyrus, but this time Nero played the bride, "and on the wedding night he imitated the screams and moans of a girl being deflowered." In time, Nero arranged the murders of his mother and his aunt, Domitia Lepida.

Long before his nuptials with Sporus and Doryphyrus, Nero had married his adoptive sister, Octavia, whom he divorced and later had executed as an adulteress. He then married Poppaea Sabina (who already had a husband) 12 days after his divorce from Octavia. Pregnant and not feeling well, she had the effrontery to complain when he came home late from the races, which prompted an early instance of wife abuse "when he kicked her to death." His second wife after Octavia, Statilia Messalina, was also previously married, and Nero "was obliged to murder her husband, a consul."


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