Sunday, November 29, 2015


Rosario Moreno Soldevila, Juan Martos (ed.), Amor y sexo en la literatura latina. Suplementos de Exemplaria Classica, 4. Huelva: Universidad de Huelva, Servicio de Publicaciones, 2014. Pp. 267. ISBN 9788416061532. (pb).

Reviewed by James Jope (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Much has been done to improve our understanding of ancient sexuality in recent years, drawing upon material evidence (especially art) and select textual excerpts. Less has been done to analyze it in context, as a constituent of the full interpretation of literary texts. The present collection of papers by Spanish philologists who previously collaborated on a Diccionario de motivos amatorios en la literatura latina (ed. Rosario Moreno Soldevila, Huelva 2011) is exemplary of the latter type of work. The authors are literary scholars who blend both channels fruitfully in these essays.

Laguna examines courting with gifts in poetry from ancient Greece to modern Europe, including love elegy as well as pastoral. He uses a schematic system based on ancient rhetorical concepts to survey the development and reception of conventional themes associated with this topos. The author flirts with a surprising argument that this highly conventional toposessentially corresponds to human nature ("la psicología y cultura humanas"p.28): Men are attracted to women through vision, but women are aroused through hearing, and what they like to hear is evidence that the male will be a reliable provider, hence the gifts.1 Fortunately, he casts doubt on this view, which suits preindustrial societies at best and might even offend some readers, in his conclusion, by acknowledging that his own examples suggest that women are motivated by many factors (good looks, 'chemistry', etc.) and that the exclusive emphasis on the provider may be a patriarchal construct.

Librán is also concerned with the conventional vs. the natural, as she explores the role of avifauna (swans, pet sparrows, etc.) in love poetry and other genres, particularly epic, eliciting explanatory factors for the treatment of respective birds: the customary uses of each species in Roman society, the natural behaviour of different birds, and their mythology. This essay deepens the reader's understanding of the poems in question, especially if one lives outside Europe and is not locally acquainted with these birds.

López Gregoris synthesizes Roman conventional values and a modern understanding of Roman sexual mores to explore the tension between love and marriage in Roman comedy, with particular attention to the social implications of slavery. This and the following essay by Estévez both offer perceptive insights on the pervasive effects of this institution in Roman society. Gregoris shows how, for example, young men falling in love with the readily available prostitutes conflicted with the social obligation to marry and rear legitimate offspring. Estévez studies the motif casting the lover as the 'slave' of the beloved. Greek poets had cast the lover as defeated by Eros, or the beloved as unknowingly possessing the soul of the lover; but the Romans used terms from Roman law to drive home the metaphor not only for his enslavement to the beloved, but even his liberation when the affair was over.

Bellido explores manifestations in Latin literature of the diverse meanings of the Spanish word desamor, a broad concept embracing various love-negations, from vows of virginity (e.g., Vestals) to falling out of love. This chapter comprises a miscellany of short essays on these subjects..

Tello studies Juvenal's ninth satire, in which a client complains of being obliged to service both his patron and the patron's wife sexually, with regard to the nature and limits of a client's duties. He argues that the bond was not legal, but social, and that the client was not really obligated to bugger his patron.

Martos Fernández cites a range of Latin literature suggesting that forcing a woman into prostitution was used as a punishment, and such punishment was regarded as worse than death. Again, he shows keen awareness of the relevance of slavery. However, he may be too willing to accept some sources at their word: while this attitude was typical of Romans' pretentious moralizing, their behaviour was more ambivalent.

Fernández Valverde surveys the notorious history of expurgation of Martial — whom he has also translated-- from the first Spanish edition to the 1990s. Alongside of the usual ploys of omission, selection, euphemism, etc., some epigrams were systematically rewritten to change obscene references into attacks on other vices such as alcoholism, or even into devotional verses. Thus, Nulli, Thai, negas... te non pudet istud became Nulli, Christe, negas, et te non paenitet istud.He also notes distinctively Spanish factors such as the role of the Jesuits, who, as the leading educators, produced widely used expurgated versions which preserved only as much of the text as was useful for language lessons.The author's amusing exposure of the ironic results of this activity transforms what might have been a boring iconoclastic rant into an entertaining read.

Finally, Martos Montiel, who has long been at work on a Spanish translation of Forberg's Manual of Classical Erotology, explains why he regards other Spanish translations as inadequate and offers his own translation of the chapter on 'tribads' as a preview, with his additional notes. It would be inappropriate for an anglophone reviewer to compare the Spanish translations, but Martos Montiel's notes, which update Forberg's and add perspectives from relevant modern research, will certainly be useful for his readers.

The book includes a table of contents, bibliography, indexes, biographical notes on the authors and abstracts in English as well as Spanish. The volume is well made and I did not spot a single typographical error. This book can be highly recommended for anyone who is interested in sexual issues in Roman literature.

Authors and Titles

G. Laguna Mariscal, Regalos para enamorar (munera amoris): un tópico literario de ayer y de hoy
M. Librán Moreno, La avifauna en la poesia latina de amor
R. López Gregoris, "Por que lo llaman amor cuando quieren decir sexo?": Sexo y matrimonio en la comedia romana
J.A. Estévez Sola, La renuntiatio libertatis, un motivo dentro de un tópico
J.A. Bellido Díaz, "Cuando el amor se olvida, sabes tú adónde va?" El desamor en la literatura latina
J.C. Tello Lázaro, Omnia ferre, si potes et debes o los limites del officium de la clientela
J. Martos Fernández, Sexo y castigo: el motivo de la prostitución como condena
J. Fernández Valverde, Casto expurgo hispano de Marcial
J.F. Martos Montiel, "Sobre las tríbadas": una traducción anotada del capitulo VI del Manual de erotología clásica (De figuris Veneris) de F.-K. Forberg


1.   The sole source cited for this theory is D. Gilmore (1994) Hacerse hombre. Concepciones culturales de la masculinidad, Barcelona.

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