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“Homosexuality In Ancient Rome”
A world where homosexuality is accepted as natural, allowable, and moral—it’s something we dream about and strive for, one step at a time. The ancient world is often held up as an example of how much better things used to be, i.e. how did we backslide from the days of ancient Rome and ancient Greece when there was no homophobia about men sleeping with other men? But when I began researching for my novel “Lady of the Eternal City,” which features famous gay lovers Hadrian and Antinous as main characters, I found that the truth was a little more complex. Ancient Rome had its own very strict sexual standards, and homophobia was unfortunately still there to make life hell for the men who violated those rules.
In the Roman language, there were no words for identifying yourself as “gay” or “lesbian.” There were simply words describing different homosexual acts. The Romans didn’t define homosexual acts as immoral or anti-religious—what concerned them was who remained dominant within a relationship. Women and slaves of either sex automatically assumed the submissive role in any sexual act, with no shame attached because their social status placed them in that position to begin with. But a free Roman male faced a different set of rules. If he was a teenage boy, he got a certain amount of leniency if he slept with another man, and played the submissive role in that relationship—a tradition that came over from ancient Greece, where boys often became the eromenos (younger lover) of an erastes (mature man) whose job it was to initiate him both sexually and socially into the ways of manhood. But in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, such relationships had to end as soon as the eromenos became a mature adult. Any grown freeborn male in ancient Rome who still “played the woman’s role” in a homosexual relationship was scorned as less than a man. His lover would also be scorned, because it was seen as a nearly criminal act to debauch and shame a man of Rome.
It’s a problem my characters face in “Lady of the Eternal City.” Historically, it is recorded that Emperor Hadrian faced some disapproval for the fact that he preferred mature men as lovers rather than teenage boys. (Oh, the irony!) His most famous lover was the Bithynian Antinous, whose age isn’t recorded by history—he is often referred to as a “boy,” but his many statues depict a mature young man in his prime rather than a lanky teenager, and he might have faced considerable scorn from his peers for being the Emperor’s lover. It’s a little depressing to think that no matter what the historical era, human beings find ways to inflict condemnation and hatred on those with different sexuality.
Hadrian’s open passion for Antinous imposed a virtual scholarly blackout for centuries after his death. Historians tended to side-step Hadrian because no disussion of his reign could exclude his extremely-public passion for his male partner. (Some Victorian scholars tried to get around the issue by saying that Antinous was really Hadrian’s illegitimate son!) Fortunately, the rise of the LGBTQ movement in the last century has meant there is less scholarly stigma, and we’re seeing wonderful biographies and histories of Hadrian’s reign—and right in front where he should be is Antinous, the love of Hadrian’s life.
Progress. Slowly, but surely.
National bestselling author Kate Quinn returns with the long-awaited fourth volume in the Empress of Rome series, an unforgettable new tale of the politics, power, and passion that defined ancient Rome.
Elegant, secretive Sabina may be Empress of Rome, but she still stands poised on a knife’s edge. She must keep the peace between two deadly enemies: her husband Hadrian, Rome’s brilliant and sinister Emperor; and battered warrior Vix, who is her first love. But Sabina is guardian of a deadly secret: Vix’s beautiful son Antinous has become the Emperor’s latest obsession.
Empress and Emperor, father and son will spin in a deadly dance of passion, betrayal, conspiracy, and war. As tragedy sends Hadrian spiraling into madness, Vix and Sabina form a last desperate pact to save the Empire. But ultimately, the fate of Rome lies with an untried girl, a spirited redhead who may just be the next Lady of the Eternal City . . .
Buy LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages.
Kate has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with a small black dog named Caesar, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.