Effects Of The Mulier Equitans

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Sexual imagery is pervasive throughout Pompeii and the ancient world in general, both in public and private contexts. As has been shown in scholarship over the last few decades, this imagery had effects and purposes quite different from our modern expectations. Sexual imagery from antiquity is often displayed in a manner far divorced from its original context, making it difficult for modern audiences to understand how an ancient viewer may have regarded such images in antiquity. This paper examines images of the mulier equitans (the “woman astride” position) in Roman art, specifically Pompeii, in order to shed light on its effect on the male viewer in antiquity. Overall, images of the mulier equitans provide more than simply a joke or humerous…show more content…
The anxieties that Roman men felt over their potential loss of masculinity are reflected in the ways Roman viewers saw these sexual images as both humorous and relieving, reinforcing societal standards of hierarchy and gender norms. Because the male viewer has the privileged position of observer rather than participant, he is safely removed from the taboo sexual act in the painting, and thus he is separated from the emasculation of the male figure. This allows the male viewer to see the man in the painting as a satirized “other,” which distances him from the role reversal and potential loss of agency that the man in the painting experiences. In laughing at the man’s passivity and by finding the woman’s active control in the act of intercourse absurd, the male viewer safely places himself at a distance from the sort of characters who might participate in such emasculating activity, thus reinforcing his own…show more content…
The portrayal of taboo sexual acts (male penetration, irrumare, cunnilingus, female homosexual intercourse, and sexual threesomes and foursomes) is a common comedic device. Much of this humor revolves around misbehaving or emasculated men who seem to have lost their masculine status through prohibited sexual acts. Elite Roman men are allowed and even expected to penetrate any available orifice of those with inferior status, such as slaves and non-elite women, but to be penetrated or worse, to enjoy it, is tantamount to social suicide. This type of man is known as a cinaedus, and various examples from literary sources and material culture evince the pejorative nature of this slur. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples comes from Catullus 16, in which he threatens (somewhat humorously) to penetrate two men: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi... (“I will fuck you in the face and ass, ass-fucked Aurelius and cinaedus Furius.”) As mentioned above, while conceptions of masculinity and femininity were carefully defined in antiquity, the boundaries between them were easily crossed. Furthermore, these conceptions were not limited to taking an active (masculine) or passive (feminine) part in sexual acts, but also encompassed one’s

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