Laser-Quests
Unnoticed allusions to contraception in a poet and a princeps? [Footnotes]

Nick Fisher[1]

University of Wales
Cardiff

[1]I am happy to offer this speculative piece to this admirable new journal, in gratitude for the hospitality of all my new friends throughout the island of Ireland, and especially to the Editor; my thanks for their comments also to my colleagues in Cardiff, the readers of the Journal, and my daughter Kate Fisher, currently doing research on twentieth-century attitudes and practices towards contraception.

[2] See the well known story in Hdt. 4. 150ff.

[3] Call. Ep. 35, Cat. 65.16, 116.2, and cf. J.P. Elder, 'Notes on some conscious and unconscious elements in Catullus' poetry', HSCP 60 (1951) 101ff.

[4] Cf. the many later parallels in the poems between Juppiter and Catullus and/or Lesbia (e.g. 68.138ff., 70. 1-2, 72. 1-2); and also A.C. Moorhouse, 'Two adjectives in Catullus', AJP 84 (1963) 417-8.

[5]NH 19.38-46, 22.100-106.

[6]See e.g. Ps.Apic. 1.10, confirming both its pungency and high cost by its advice to make 'an ounce of laser last', by storing it in a jar with twenty pine-kernels and crushing the kernels as needed, and topping up with fresh kernels; 1.30, a specific recipe for a 'laser'-source; and about seventy other passages where a little laser is added to other ingredients to flavour meat, fish and so on.

[7] Kn. 893-901, a succession of farting-jokes: Pliny NH 22. 100 agrees that the root causes flatulence.

[8]Plin. NH 19.39, 22.100; see also Hippocr. On Diseases IV.34, Diosc. 3.80, with A. C. Andrews Isis 33 (1941) 232-6, R. Sallares Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (London, 1991) 32, 352 and n. 184, on attempts made to grow Cyenaic silphium elsewhere, including in the Peloponnese and Ionia, without much success. Other general treatments of the plant (e.g. the entry in PW by Steier, s.v. silphion, and U. Paoli, Rome, its People, Life and Customs (London, 1963) 200-1) list the various medicinal and culinary uses.

[9]H. Syndikus, Catull: ein Interpretation (Darmstadt, 1984) I 99-104.

[10]C.P.Segal, AJP 89 (1968) 284-301

[11] A.C Moorhouse 'Two adjectives in Catullus', AJP 84 (1963) 417-8; cf. also S. Commager 'Notes on some poems of Catullus', HSCP 70 (1965) 84-5, and more firmly J. Ferguson, Catullus (Greece & Rome Survey 20, 1988) 24.

[12]J.M. Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance (Cambridge MA, 1992); and also Past & Present 132 (1991) 3-32. His demographic conclusions are criticised by B. Frier 'Natural Fertility and Family Limitation', CP (1994) 318ff., and R.S. Bagnall and B. Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt (1994) 147-151, but they agree that the remedies were probably in wide use in the Roman Empire, and most of all among upper class women and those engaged in extra-marital sex.

[13]Cf. also other valuable studies on contraception in Greco-Roman Antiquity by K. Hopkins, 'Contraception in the Roman Empire', CSSH 8 (1965/5) 124-151, E. Euben, 'Family Planning in Antiquity', Anc. Soc. (1980/1) 5ff., J.T.Noonan Jr., Contraception: A History of its Treatment by Catholic Theologians and Canonists2 (Cambridge MA, 1986), A. McLaren, A History of Contraception from Antiquity to the Present Day (Oxford, 1990).

[14]Illustration in e.g. J. Boardman, The Greeks Overseas2 (London, 1980) 149.

[15]Arist. fr. 528 Rose

[16]On the debt crises, M.W. Frederiksen, 'Caesar, Cicero and the Problem of Debt', JRS 56 (1966) 128-41. On the sumptuary laws, Suet. Div.Jul. 42-3, Dio 43. 25. 2, Cic. Ad Fam. 7.26, 9. 26, Ad Att. 12. 35, 12.36, 13.6, 13.7, and cf. D. Daube, Roman Law:Linguistic, social and philosophical aspects (Edinburgh, 1969) 124-6, for whom sumptuary laws were designed primarily to protect elites from bankrupting themselves, and Z. Yavetz, Julius Caesar and his Public Image (London, 1983) 154, who suspects in Caesar's laws rather a concern to prevent any social or political challenge to his own pre-eminence. It would be frivolous to suggest a desire to control the supply of contraceptives for his mistresses or remedies for his baldness (Suet., Div.Jul. 45, 50-2)

[17]Gyn. 1.65

[18] 3. 80

[19]Incidentally Riddle seems unlikely to be right to see a reference to contraception in Ar. Peace 709-12, where Trygaeus is told by Hermes that if he drinks a drink of pennyroyal after a vigorous night with Opora, he will incur no harm, or at Lys. 95 in connection with the Boeotian woman.

[20]Cf. also 29.85, where he mentions an amulet used as a contraceptive, and Hopkins, art.cit. 130-1, Riddle, Contraception and Abortion 82-4. On Pliny's moral objection to such devices, and his pervasive hostility to many aspects of Roman luxury, especially imported from the Greek East, cf. A. Wallace-Hadrill, G & R 37 (1990) 80ff., and M. Beagon, Roman Nature: the Thought of Pliny the Elder (Oxford, 1992) 218f.).

[21]Pliny, NH 22.100

[22]Hopkins, art.cit; also S. Treggiari, Roman Marriage (Oxford, 1991) 406; this 'failure' to observe the distinction among women seeking to ensure or bring on menstruation can be observed well into this century: cf. e.g. P. Knight, 'Women and Abortion in Victorian and Edwardian England', History Workshop Journal 4 (1977) 57-69, B. Brookes, Abortion in England 1900-1967 (London, 1988) 2ff.

[23]E.g the debates in C. Deroux, ANRW I 3 (Berlin, 1973) 390ff., R.O.A.M. Lyne, The Latin Love Poets (Oxford, 1980) Ch. 1; P. Veyne, Roman Erotic Elegy: Love Poetry and the West (Chicago, 1988); Treggiari, Roman Marriage 299ff.; D. Kennedy, The Arts of Love (Cambridge, 1993), M. Wyke, PCPS 33 (1987) 153-78, and Helios 16 (1989) 25-47.

[24]Cf. e.g.Plut. Stichus 198f., and Cic. Ad Att.6.1.25, where Cicero concludes, after retailing a juicy piece of gossip about the luxurious, amorous and foppish P. Vedius, and the miniature portraits of five upper class ladies found in his luggage, 'after all we're both keen gossip-lovers (curiosi)'; cf. A. Richlin, The Garden of Priapus(Oxford, 1992, 2nd ed.) 84ff; on Vedius, almost certainly to be identified with Vedius Pollio the dubious friend of Augustus, notorious for luxury and feeding clumsy slaves to his fish, cf. R. Syme, Roman Papers II (Oxford,1979) 518-29.

[25] Cic., Pro Clu. 32-35, cf. also 125; their quotation by Quint. 8.4.11, Digest 48.19.34, and the discussion in E. Nardi, Procurato Aborto nel mondo Greco-Romano (Milan, 1971) 214ff.

[26]On the Augustan marriage and birthrate legislation, cf. esp. A. Wallace-Hadrill, 'Family and Inheritance in the Augustan Marriage Laws, PCPS 207 (1981) 58ff., Treggiari, Roman Marriage 277ff.

[27]Accepting the reading of K. Hopkins , CQ 15 (1965) 72-4.

[28]Mus. Ruf. XV Hense; text, translation and discussion of all the discourses in C. Lutz, YCS 10 (1947) 3ff.; see the discussions in Hopkins, CQ 15 (1965) 72-4 and CSSH 8 (1965-6) 136ff.

[29]On the authorship of the Nux, see e.g. J. Bramble, in Cambridge History of Classical Literature (Cambridge, 1982) II.3 179f.

[30] Cf. J.T. Davis, Dramatic Pairings in the Elegies of Propertius and Ovid (Stuttgart, 1979) 108-17, and especially the interesting, and I think largely persuasive, subversive, 'female reading', by M. Gamel, 'Non sine caede: Abortion politics and poetics in Ovid's Amores', Helios 16 (1989) 183-206. Others, e.g. Euben (art.cit.) attribute, more simplistically, a consistently hostile attitude towards abortion in the poet.

[31]Cf. F. Verducci, Ovid's Toyshop of the Heart (Princeton, 1985) 212-5, Gamel, art.cit. 184f.

[32] Cf. also Plut. Roman Questions 56, Mor. 278b, and the analysis of D. Porte, L'Etiologie religieuse dans les Fastes d'Ovide (Paris 1985) 378ff.

[33] Cf. Luck ad loc, and Nardi, loc.cit. 230f., on Eubius, who was surely more likely to have written erotic tales including abortions (like the more famous Aristeides of Miletus mentioned in the previous lines), rather than a verse manual on the subject.

[34] Cf. e.g. C. Edwards, Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome (Cambridge 1993) 50f., K. Hopkins, Death and Renewal (Cambridge 1983) 94-7.

[35] Edwards, Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome 83 n. 71, curiously calls this letter a 'verse'.

[36]On the text, see esp. R. Gelsomino, RM 101 (1958) 147-52

[37]Cf. Nisbet and Hubbard's note on Horace, Odes 1.1.1

[38]Cf. R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford, 1939) 341-2, Richlin, The Garden of Priapus 4-5, 88-92, 222; the fullest ancient treatment of Maecenas' dissoluteness of dress, morals, performance of public duty, and literary style is Seneca, Lett. 114. The anonymous verse elegy in his memory conventionally, if implausibly, defends his moral character, while acknowledging his loose clothes (Eleg. in Maec, esp. 21ff); Tacitus, Ann. 1.54 records his passion for the male actor Bathyllos. Cf. also in general on effeminates who are also vigorous adulterers, e.g. Juvenal 6.O 17-24, and Edwards, The Politics of Immorality, 83, 130.

[39] Cf also J. Griffin, Latin Poets and Roman Life (London, 1985) 13. The Elegy for Maecenas (17-20), just before defending Maecenas on the charge of mollitia, pointedly compares Maecenas pre-eminence in the arts to that of a beryl shining among the innumerable sands.

[40] On these themes in contemporary moralising, cf. e.g. Edwards, The Politics of Immorality , esp. Ch. 5.

[41]Suet. Aug. 69-7, 86, de poetis XXIV.35 (Rostagni)= ep. Aug 41 (Malcovati); Dio 54. 16-17, Griffin, Latin Poets and Roman Life 22-3.

[42]See above all Ovid, Tristia II. 497-518, Horace Sat. 1.2, Juv. 6.40ff, and the discussions by R.W. Reynolds, 'The Adultery Mime', CQ 40 (1946) 77-84, J. McKeown, 'Augustan elegy and mime', PCPS 25 (1979) 71-84, and E. Rawson, 'The Vulgarity of the Roman Mime', in Tria Lustra: Liverpool Classical Papers 3, presented to John Pinsent (Liverpool, 1993) 255-60, who emphasises both its raciness and its function in bringing aspects of Hellenistic culture to a popular audience.

[43]See P. Wiseman, Catullus and his World (Cambridge, 1985) Ch. VI; doubted by Rawson, art.cit..

[44]As Ovid pointed out, Tristia II. 509-14, and cf. Suet. Aug. 74 for various actors invited to perform at his dinner-parties; but cf. also, on the other side, Suet. Aug. 45 for some tough penalties imposed on comic or pantomime actors who travelled about with a married woman with cropped hair, or pointed out a hissing member of the audience with an obscene gesture. On the fascination of the stage for emperors and others of the Roman elite, cf. also Edwards, The Politics of Immorality 131ff.

[45]On the mime and Petronius, cf. now C. Panayotakis, Theatrical Elements in the Satyrica of Petronius (Leiden, 1995); he discusses this title on pp. 71f., but his suggestion for its comic possibility is merely the unpleasant smell of the plant (referring to Plaut., Rudens 629-30, and Sonnenschein ad loc.).

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