October 12, 2011 1 Comment
You have to hand it to the Greeks when it comes to word play.
Just the other day — after a series of duck walks and a short bunny hop across the worldwide web — I came across an article about a certain ancient Greek Empress, Theodora.
History remembers Theodora as the wife and co-ruler of the great Justinian I, the most lauded ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire.
According to the article, Theodora wasn’t born an Empress. When her father died, she, her mother and her two sisters were left penniless. Desperate for money, Theodora’s mother sent her three daughters off to “work in the theater”, which in olden times, includes, apart from playing bit roles, selling snacks in between plays and delivering messages to randy young noblemen. Most historians seem to agree that the girls often ended up delivering more than “refreshments”.
Anyway, Theodora took to harlotry like a duck takes to water. She couldn’t sing nor dance nor play an instrument so, to make up for it, she became the most promiscuous courtesan Constantinople (now Istanbul) had ever seen.
Prostitution was neither illegal, or frowned upon in Grecian society. Both men and women could be whores, although men had to quit when they became adults. In Athens, especially, they’d only bust you if your clients weren’t pedophiles.
So, what was the article I found? It was a work by the historian Procopius called Secret History. This is what Wikipedia has to say about the book:
“The famous Secret History (Lat. Historia Arcana) was discovered centuries later in the Vatican Library and published by Niccolò Alamanni in 1623 at Lyons. Its existence was already known from the Suda, which referred to it as the Anekdota (Greek: Ἀνέκδοτα, Latin Anecdota, “unpublished writings”). The Secret History covers roughly the same years as the first seven books of the History of Justinian’s Wars and appears to have been written after they were published. Current consensus generally dates it to 550 or 558, or maybe even as late as 562.
The Secret History reveals an author who had become deeply disillusioned with the emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora, as well as Belisarius, his former commander and patron, and Antonina, Belisarius’ wife. The anecdotes claim to expose the secret springs of their public actions, as well as the private lives of the emperor, his wife and their entourage. Justinian is raked over the coals as cruel, venal, prodigal and incompetent; as for Theodora, the reader is treated to the most detailed and titillating portrayals of vulgarity and insatiable lust combined with shrewish and calculating mean-spiritedness.”
What caught my attention reading the excerpts was the way the writer crafted the sentences. It was a great example of literary erotica! I love how Procopius’ titillating account of Theodora’s ‘acting’ accomplishments:
Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.
The historian further revealed how Theodora “gave her youth to anyone she met, in utter abandonment“, which is basically a fancy way to say she got ridden more than the town bicycle! Hahahaha!
Procopius elaborated on the subject with:
Often she would go picnicking with 10 young men or more, in the flower of their strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through. When they wearied of the sport, she would approach their servants, perhaps 30 in number, and fight a duel with each of these; and even thus found no allayment of her craving.
Translation: She made love to 10 virile men until they passed out, then she played crotch-grab with all 30 of their slaves.
Once, visiting the house of an illustrious gentleman, they say she mounted the projecting corner of her dining couch, pulled up the front of her dress, without a blush, and thus carelessly showed her wantonness.
Translation: Real people got tired too easily, so she played pelvic acrobatics with the couch instead.
And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked the straits of her bosom, that she might there have contrived a further welcome to his emissaries.
Translation: Three holes just aren’t enough.