three pairs of lovers with space

ROMAN BOYS’ NAUGHTY GAMES, CA. 82 BC

 

The following excerpt is from the Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch’s Life of Cato, written at the beginning of the second century AD, as one of his Parallel Lives.

Marcus Porcius Cato (95-46 BC), known as “the Younger” to distinguish him from his famous great-grandfather of the same names, was an austere and inflexible Roman senator and Stoic, and this is one of a series of anecdotes illustrating how severe and upright he was, even as a boy.

It is not spelt out that Greek love was at play here, but it is strongly suggested by two things: the otherwise superfluous mention of the “comely looks” of the imprisoned younger boy, and that the puritanical Cato got into “a passion” about his abduction into a chamber by the older boy.[1]

The translation is by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classical Library volume C (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1919).

Boys play at chariot-racing using birds, a Roman mosaic

 

Plutarch’s Life of Cato 2 v-vi

At another time a relation of his who was celebrating a birthday, invited Cato and other boys to supper, and the company were diverting themselves at play in a separate part of the house, older and younger together, their play being actions at law, accusations, and the conducting of the condemned persons to prison.

Accordingly, one of those thus condemned, a boy of comely looks, was led off by an older boy and shut into a chamber, where he called upon Cato for help. Then Cato, when he understood what was going on, quickly came to the door, pushed aside the boys who stood before it and tried to stop him, led forth the prisoner, and went off home with him in a passion, followed by other boys also.

[v] Πάλιν δὲ συγγενοῦς τινος ἐν γενεθλίοις καλέσαντος ἐπὶ δεῖπνον ἄλλους τε παῖδας καὶ τοὺς περὶ Κάτωνα, σχολὴν ἄγοντες ἔν τινι μέρει τῆς οἰκίας ἔπαιζον αὐτοὶ καθ᾿ ἑαυτοὺς ἀναμεμιγμένοι νεώτεροι καὶ πρεσβύτεροι, τὸ δὲ παιζόμενον ἦν δίκαι καὶ κατηγορίαι καὶ ἀγωγαὶ τῶν ἁλισκομένων.

[vi] εἷς οὖν τῶν ἑαλωκότων παίδων εὐπρεπὴς τὴν ὄψιν ὑπὸ πρεσβυτέρου παιδὸς ἀχθεὶς εἴς τι δωμάτιον καὶ εἱρχθεὶς ἐπεκαλεῖτο τὸν Κάτωνα. ταχὺ δὴ τὸ γινόμενον συνεὶς ἧκεν ἐπὶ τὰς θύρας ὁ Κάτων, καὶ διωσάμενος τοὺς προεστῶτας καὶ διακωλύοντας ἐξήγαγε τὸν παῖδα· καὶ μετ᾿ ὀργῆς ἔχων ἀπῆλθεν οἴκαδε, καὶ παῖδες ἕτεροι συνηκολούθησαν.

 

 

[1] The outrage that a boy with a well-developed sense of proper Roman values would feel derives from the likelihood that the older boy was hoping to pedicate the younger boy (such being the expected means of pederastic consummation), which for a freeborn Roman male would be a violation of his pudicitia (sexual integrity).