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three pairs of lovers with space



Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138–78 BC) was a Roman dictator and general. The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch wrote a biography of him at the beginning of the second century AD, as one of his Parallel Lives. Here follow the only passages in it relating to pederasty.

The translation is by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classical Library volume LXXX (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1916).


II ii-iv

Nor is it out of place to mention such testimonies in the case of a man said to have been by nature so fond of raillery, that when he was still young and obscure he spent much time with actors and buffoons and shared their dissolute life; and when he had made himself supreme master, he would daily assemble the most reckless stage and theatre folk to drink and bandy jests with them, although men thought that he disgraced his years, and although he not only dishonoured his high office, but neglected much that required attention.[1] For when Sulla was once at table, he refused to be serious at all, but, although at other times he was a man of business and wore an austere look, he underwent a complete change as soon as lie betook himself to good-fellowship and drinking, so that comic singers and dancers found him anything but ferocious, and ready to listen and yield to every request. It was this laxity, as it seems, which produced in him a diseased propensity to amorous indulgence and an unrestrained voluptuousness, from which he did not refrain even in his old age, but continued his youthful love for Metrobius, an actor.[2] [ii] τοῖς δὲ τοιούτοις τῶν τεκμηρίων οὐκ ἄτοπόν ἐστι χρῆσθαι περὶ ἀνδρός, ὃν οὕτω φιλοσκώμμονα φύσει γεγονέναι λέγουσιν, ὥστε νέον μὲν ὄντα καὶ ἄδοξον ἔτι μετὰ μίμων καὶ γελωτοποιῶν διαιτᾶσθαι καὶ συνακολασταίνειν, ἐπεὶ δὲ κύριος ἁπάντων κατέστη, συναγαγόντα τῶν ἀπὸ σκηνῆς καὶ θεάτρου τοὺς ἰταμωτάτους ὁσημέραι πίνειν καὶ διαπληκτίζεσθαι τοῖς σκώμμασι, τοῦ τε γήρως ἀωρότερα πράττειν δοκοῦντα καὶ πρὸς τῷ καταισχύνειν τὸ ἀξίωμα τῆς ἀρχῆς πολλὰ τῶν δεομένων ἐπιμελείας προϊέμενον. [iii] οὐ γὰρ ἦν τῷ Σύλλᾳ περὶ δεῖπνον ὄντι χρήσασθαι σπουδαῖον οὐδέν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐνεργὸς ὢν καὶ σκυθρωπότερος παρὰ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον, ἀθρόαν ἐλάμβανε μεταβολὴν ὁπότε πρῶτον ἑαυτὸν εἰς συνουσίαν καταβάλοι καὶ πότον, ὥστε μιμῳδοῖς καὶ ὀρχησταῖς τιθασὸς εἶναι καὶ πρὸς πᾶσαν ἔντευξιν ὑποχείριος καὶ κατάντης. ταύτης δὲ τῆς ἀνέσεως ἔοικε γεγονέναι νόσημα καὶ ἡ πρὸς τοὺς ἔρωτας εὐχέρεια καὶ ῥύσις αὐτοῦ τῆς φιληδονίας, [iv] ἧς οὐδὲ γηράσας ἐπαύσατο, Μητροβίου δὲ τῶν ἀπὸ σκηνῆς τινος ἐρῶν διετέλεσεν ἔτι νέος ὤν.
Sulla denarius  aureus



36 i

However, even though he had such a wife at home, he consorted with actresses, harpists, and theatrical people, drinking with them on couches all day long. For these were the men who had most influence with him now: Roscius the comedian, Sorex the archmime, and Metrobius the impersonator of women[3], for whom, though past his prime, he continued[4] up to the last to be passionately fond, and made no denial of it.[5] Οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ ταύτην ἔχων ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκίας συνῆν μίμοις γυναιξὶ καὶ κιθαριστρίαις καὶ θυμελικοῖς ἀνθρώποις, ἐπὶ στιβάδων ἀφ᾿ ἡμέρας συμπίνων. οὗτοι γὰρ οἱ τότε παρ᾿ αὐτῷ δυνάμενοι μέγιστον ἦσαν, Ῥώσκιος ὁ κωμῳδὸς καὶ Σῶριξ ὁ ἀρχιμῖμος καὶ Μητρόβιος ὁ λυσιῳδός, οὗ καίπερ ἐξώρου γενομένου διετέλει μέχρι παντὸς ἐρᾶν οὐκ ἀρνούμενος.
Sulla. Three busts



[1] This sentence should make it clear the criticism of Sulla in both the extracts presented here was founded on not on his homosexual acts (even if by continuing them with males who had passed their prime, his good taste was doubtful, at least from Plutarch’s Greek point of view: see note 4), but on the result that he devoted himself so much to unworthy company. The Roman pederast was in a dilemma: for him to take a sexually active role with a freeborn Roman boy (who might have been considered his social equal and worthy of his time) was an outrage against the law and social custom; but if as a result he devoted too much time to those considered his social inferiors, he was open to criticism and ridicule.

[2] “The profession of actors was often assimilated to prostitution, the assumption apparently being that if someone takes money to entertain audiences by performing on stage, she or he might just as well engage in more private, but no less mercenary, forms of entertainment. This sexual availability was associated with actors of both sexes.” (Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 2nd edition, OUP, 2010, p. 43).

[3] The fact that Metrobius was an impersonator of women is important in that it would have reassured a Greek or Roman reader that, in sleeping with a male past his adolescence, Sulla had not become a cinaedus (invert).

[4] The “continued” here implies that he had already been passionately fond of Metrobius when he was still in his prime, ie. adolescent, and thus that their affair was, at least in origin, Greek love. It was, however, only its continuation that made it sufficiently to be worth mentioning.

[5] “Plutarch claims that Sulla loved the actor Metrobios even when the latter was fully adult (ἐξώρος), and that Sulla made no attempt to hide the fact—a comment that thinly veils the suggestion that perhaps he ought to have made the attempt.” (Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 2nd edition, OUP, 2010, p. 89).