Solon, wisdom, and men’s sexual welfare

The ancient Athenian legislator Solon (no relation to Solomon) is famous for his wisdom. Solon broadened political representation in Athens, provided debt relief for the enslaved poor, and limited the political power of women’s wailing.[1] Those are important democratic initiatives, particularly the third. But none of those initiatives are as important as addressing sexual inequality and promoting men’s sexual welfare. The crown jewel in Solon’s reputation for wisdom is his credit for founding public brothels serving all men at a fixed, affordable price.

ancient Greek legislator Solon studying book

Free sexual market competition produces enormous sexual welfare inequalities. An experiment on an online dating site showed that women received roughly a hundred times more messages than men did. Across five women and five men with profiles active for four months, the least attractive woman received about the same or more messages than all but one man. The two most attractive women each were sent roughly fifty times more messages than the most attractive man received.[2] Three men received in total only three messages from women across four months. In short, the free sexual market generates large sexual inequality, greatly disadvantages men relative to women, and leaves a large share of men sexually impoverished.

Solon reportedly was the first public official to establish publicly owned and operated brothels. A Greek poet writing probably early in the third century BGC praised Solon’s action:

You invented something for the use of all men, Solon. Because they say you were the first person to see this — a thing democratic and salutary, Zeus is my witness. Yes, it is fitting that I should say this, Solon. Seeing our city full of young men, seeing too that they had urges that couldn’t be controlled and that they went their erring way in a direction that they should not, you purchased and stationed women in various quarters, and got them ready and gave everyone access to them.

{ σὺ δ᾿ εἰς ἅπαντας εὗρες ἀνθρώπους, Σόλων·
σὲ γὰρ λέγουσιν τοῦτ᾿ ἰδεῖν πρῶτον, μόνον
δημοτικόν, ὦ Ζεῦ, πρᾶγμα καὶ σωτήριον
(καί μοι λέγειν τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἁρμοστόν, Σόλων),
μεστὴν ὁρῶντα τὴν πόλιν νεωτέρων
τούτους τ᾿ ἔχοντας τὴν ἀναγκαίαν φύσιν
ἁμαρτάνοντάς τ᾿ εἰς ὃ μὴ προσῆκον ἦν,
στῆσαι πριάμενόν τοι γυναῖκας κατὰ τόπους
κοινὰς ἅπασι καὶ κατεσκευασμένας. }[3]

Some men foolishly impoverished themselves by giving private-enterprising women expensive gifts in the vain hope that the women would then have sex with them. One man in ancient Athens complained about Phryne:

But unlucky me — I
I fell in love with Phryne when she living thriftily,
and didn’t own as much property as she does now,
and even though I spent enormous amounts,
whenever I visited, her door was locked.

{ ἀλλ᾿ ἔγωγ᾿ ὁ δυστυχὴς
Φρύνης ἐρασθείς, ἡνίκ᾿ ἔτι τὴν κάππαριν
συνέλεγεν οὔπω τ᾿ εἶχεν ὅσαπερ νῦν ἔχει,
πάμπολλ᾿ ἀναλίσκων ἐφ᾿ ἑκάστῳ τῆς θύρας
ἀπεκλειόμην. }[4]

Acting to mitigate such hardships, Solon established affordable, tariffed rates for the public prostitutes: one obol per session. The public sex workers worked with the efficiency and dedication that characterizes many public servants:

There’s no
prudishness or nonsense, nor does she snatch herself away,
but straight to it, as you wish and in whatever way you wish.

{ οὐκ ἔστ᾿ οὐδὲ εἷς
ἀκκισμός, οὐδὲ λῆρος, οὐδ᾿ ὑφήρπασεν,
ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἣν βούλει σὺ χὢν βούλει τρόπον. }[5]

Public provision of goods and services tends to be associated with lack of options and inconvenience. That, however, wasn’t the case for prostitutes in ancient Athens:

A man can pick whichever one he likes —
thin, fat, round, tall, withered up,
young, old, middle-aged, ancient —
without setting up a ladder and entering the house secretly,
or getting in through a peep-hole beneath the roof,
or being carried in sneakily in a heap of bran.

{ ὧν ἔστιν ἐκλεξάμενον ᾗ τις ἥδεται,
λεπτῇ, παχείᾳ, στρογγύλῃ, μακρᾷ, ῥικνῇ,
νέᾳ, παλαιᾷ, μεσοκόπῳ, πεπαιτέρᾳ,
μὴ κλίμακα στησάμενον εἰσβῆναι λάθρᾳ
μηδὲ δι᾿ ὀπῆς κάτωθεν εἰσδῦναι στέγης
μηδ᾿ ἐν ἀχύροισιν εἰσενεχθῆναι τέχνῃ. }[6]

Public sex services in Athens were more convenient than private alternatives. Honoring and celebrating the great benefits of the public prostitution service to Athens, Solon established a temple of Aphrodite Pandemos – the goddess of love belonging to all the people.[7]

Cato the Elder, a proponent of social justice in hiring elementary school teachers, rightly recognized the merit of Solon’s social welfare initiative. Cato thought through early cost-benefit analysis:

When from a brothel a man he knew was coming forth, “A blessing
be with your manliness,” said Cato in his revered utterance,
“for when loathsome lust has similarly swelled the veins,
it’s right that young men come down here, rather than
grind through other men’s wives.”

{ quidam notus homo cum exiret fornice, “macte
virtute esto” inquit sententia dia Catonis:
“nam simul ac venas inflavit taetra libido,
huc iuvenes aequum est descendere, non alienas
permolere uxores.” }[8]

Men committing adultery endured the risk of castration and other serious punishment. Well-regulated public brothels serve the public good more effectively than harsh punishment of men for adultery.

Free sexual market competition generates large sexual welfare inequalities. Almost all men are sexually disadvantaged relative to women. Today’s democracies should recognize the wisdom of the ancient Athenian legislator Solon by establishing public prostitution services. Sex is too important to be left to free market competition. Public provision of prostitution can ensure that sex is available to all equitably and affordably. In a truly just and democratic society, such policy would be a worthy complement to compensating men for their erection labor.[9]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Plutarch wrote a detailed biography of Solon about the year 100 GC. Here’s a modern biography of Solon.

[2] The figures above refer to results after four months of activity. In computing the sex ratios, one must recognized that the top two women’s figures are greatly under-reported:

The two most attractive women probably would have received several thousand more if their inboxes hadn’t have reached maximum capacity.

See Jon Millward’s post. That suggests that the top two women were sent about four thousand messages in four months. The top man in the period received only 38 messages.

[3] Philemon, Brothers, fragment quoted in Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters 13.569d, Greek text and English translation (modified) from Olson (2010) p. 301 and Rosenzweig (2004) p. 17. The original Greek text was in verse.

[4] Timocles, Neaera, quoted in Athenaeus 13.567e, trans. Olson (2010) pp. 289, 291. Anaxilas states in Neottis:

And isn’t Phryne behaving just like Charybdis,
by grabbing the ship-owner and gulping him down, boat and all?

{ ἡ δὲ Φρύνη τὴν Χάρυβδιν οὐχὶ πόρρω που ποεῖ,
τόν τε ναύκληρον λαβοῦσα καταπέπωκ᾿ αὐτῷ
σκάφει }

Athenaeus 13.558c, trans. id. p. 239.

[5] Philemon, Brothers, fragment quoted in Athenaeus, 13.569d trans. Rosenzweig (2004) p. 17. The courtesan Clepsydra reportedly regulated her sessions meticulously:

she had sex with a water-clock (klepsudra) running, and stopped once it was empty

{ ἐπειδὴ πρὸς κλεψύδραν συνουσίαζεν ἕως κενωθῇ }

Athenaeus 13.567d, citing Asclepiades, son of Areius, in On Demetrius of Phaleron. From Greek trans. Olson (2010) p. 289. Publicly provided brothels probably provided similarly well-regulated service.

[6] Xenarchus, The Pentathlete, quoted in Athenaeus, 13.569b, from Greek trans. Olson (2010) p. 299.

[7] Athenaeus 13.569d states that Nicander of Colophon in History of Colophon, Book 3, provides the information about Solon’s founding of the temple of Aphrodite Pandemos.

[8] Horace, Satires 1.2.31-6, Latin text from Fairclough (1926), my English translation. Augustine of Hippo valued men’s sexuality against the Galli servants of Cybele, “the Great Mother {Magna Mater}.” He also recognized the merits of Solon’s proposal in the context of Roman values:

Let there be an abundance of public prostitutes, whether for anyone who would have the pleasure, or chiefly for those who are not able to have one and are deprived.

{ Abundent publica scorta uel propter omnes, quibus frui placuerit, uel propter eos maxime, qui habere priuata non possunt. }

Augustine, City of God {De civitate dei} 2.20, Latin text from the Latin Library, my English translation. The De civitate dei translation of Dods (1881) is readily available online.

[9] Lacking appreciation for law and comedy, a learned scholar declared in a scholarly article:

May we finally declare Solon innocent of founding public brothels in Athens? This charge was stated as fact by a distinguished historian a quarter-century ago. The hoary old canard has just been repeated in a Greek history textbook written by the same author and three additional well-known scholars and therefore has the potential to mislead a whole generation of young students who consider Oxford University Press publications authoritative. In fact, almost the only reference to Solon and public brothels in all extant ancient literature is a passage in Philemon’s Adelphoi. Philemon was a famous playwright of New Comedy. … He might indeed have died from laughing too hard had he known serious scholars were going to base a Solonian law on his play.

Frost (2002) p. 34. Frost argues against Solon founding public brothels with little more than an earnest claim of improbability:

As improbable as laws regulating male sexual activity may be, so much more incredible would be Solonian laws about prostitutes in the early sixth century

Id. p. 41. Consider some factual legal farces today: men are forced to pay “child support” to women who raped them and bore a child from that crime. Men’s sexual activity is severely regulating, and has long been severely regulated. Today men aren’t permitted to have consensual sex of reproductive type for pleasure, free of ensuing legal obligations, even if they sign a contract to that effect. Men in U.S. colleges and universities today face draconian sex regulations far beyond anything Draco would have imagined. Based on fact-based understanding of law and comedy, Solon founding public brothels is not improbable.

[image] Solon reading a book. Woodcut print from Liber Chronicarum (Book of Chronicles / Nuremberg Chronicles), printed in Nuremberg in 1493. Detail from folio 59r in University of Cambridge Library, classmark Inc.0.A.7.2[888]. Thanks to University of Cambridge Digital Library.


Fairclough, H. Rushton, trans. 1926. Horace. Satires. Epistles. The Art of Poetry. Loeb Classical Library 194. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Frost, Frank. 2002. “Solon Pornoboskos and Aphrodite Pandemos.” Syllecta Classica. 13 (1): 34-46.

Olson, S. Douglas, ed. and trans. 2010. Athenaeus VI, the learned banqueters. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Rosenzweig, Rachel. 2004. Worshipping Aphrodite: art and cult in classical Athens. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

advances in philology: punctuation saves lives

Greek and Latin texts about two millennia ago were commonly written in all capital letters, without any spaces between words and without punctuation. Scholars call that textual form scriptio continua. Ancient readers, taught through recitation and oral instruction, learned how to read such texts correctly.

Grandmother and two daughters eating

Recently in a shopping mall parking lot, I saw a bumper sticker that challenged the complexity and obscurity of scriptio continua. The bumper sticker declared:

Let’s eat grandma!
Let’s eat, grandma!
Punctuation saves lives.

That’s a compelling claim about the importance of advances in philology. Here are seventeen additional examples of the lifesaving importance of punctuating texts.

Philology now tends to be associated with cranky old men academics. Old men have made many contributions to human welfare. Disparagement and harassment of philologists should be condemned.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


While riding my bike one day, I pulled up at a stoplight to a guy on a Harley. On his helmet were two stickers. One said, “Loud pipes save lives.” The other said, “Dip me in honey and throw me to the lesbians.” The scholarly field of sticker studies offers rich potential for extensive research.

[image] At grandmother’s house. Oil painting. Adolph Artz, 1883. Held in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

Athenaeus Deipnosophists intertextual with Eve & Adam

Written about 200 GC, Athenaeus’s sprawling work Deipnosophists (The Learned Banqueters) has been in modern scholarship mainly a source for literary grazing. The literary design of Deipnosophists, however, is beginning to be recognized. Athenaeus created a subtle, complex matrix for intratextual, intertexual, and creative intertexual readings.[1] The brilliance of Athenaeus’s work is exemplified in its deft relations with the story of Eve and Adam.

Erato, Muse of Athenaeus

Athenaeus begins “my account of our discussion of matters relating to love” with a wry reference to offering his report to experts. Athenaeus notes that “our noble host” Larensius, a learned man with a large library, has been praising married women.[2] Popular literature has always tended toward praiseful gynocentrism. Athenaeus invokes the muse Erato. She is the muse of lyrical poetry. She is associated with carnal desire. There is nothing bitter about her. Athenaeus prays that she will tell him about love. That’s a literary move like Jerome’s creation of Theophrastus’s Golden Book on Marriage.

After Larensius favorably compares “our married women” to cosmetic-caked women and rapacious courtesans, a dinner guest speaks more bluntly about the position of married men. The very term “married women” is misleading. The guest quotes verses from Alexis’s Seers:

Miserable us! … We’ve sold
our right to speak freely in our day-to-day life and to have a good time,
and we live as women’s slaves instead of free men!
So do we claim we’ve been awarded a dowry, and not a penalty?
Yes — a bitter one full of female gall! [3]

He further explains by quoting Philetaerus’s The Whore-Monger:

It’s no wonder there are temples of the Courtesan everywhere,
but not a single one dedicated to the Married Woman anyplace in Greece.

The temple of Aphrodite Courtesan was probably that of Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite the Public Whore). She was celebrated along with Solon’s fine wisdom.

The Hebrew Book of Genesis tells of the fall of the first man Adam after the serpent tricked Eve. According Eubulus in Chrysilla as quoted by a deipnosophist, Adam shouldn’t be blamed:

I hope
the bastard who was the second man to get married gets
what he deserves! Because I won’t say anything bad about the first guy —
since he lacked experience of the trouble he was getting into, I think,
whereas the second one had heard what sort of problem a wife was. [4]

As is common among men considering sexed protest, Eubulus was reluctant to  criticize women:

Oh much-honoured Zeus! Then am I ever going to say
anything nasty about women? By Zeus, I hope I die if I do;
they’re the best possession there is! If Medea
was a bad woman, Penelope was
something great. Someone’ll say Clytemenstra was bad;
I counter her with the excellent Alcestis. Maybe someone’ll
speak badly of Phaedra; but, by Zeus,
there’s the marvelous … Who was there? Who? Oh, miserable me —
I ran out of good women right away,
and I still have lots of lousy ones to mention!

But for less foolish men coming after Adam, the deipnosophist immediately offers Genesis learning again, this time quoted from Aristophon in Callonides:

I hope the bastard who was the second person to marry gets
what he deserves! The first guy wasn’t doing anything wrong,
since he didn’t know what kind of problem a wife was
when he got married. But the next one to do it
knew, and threw himself in obvious danger.

Do you get it now? Are you incapable of learning from literature? Or is it that you have contempt for Jewish belief, just as Galen rejected Moses’s knowledge of God? Ok, you know Menander. He is the most revered ancient Athenian comic playwright. Learn then from Menander’s The Girl Who Was Set on Fire:

Damn to hell whoever
the first guy was who got married — and then the second one,
and the third, and the fourth one, and whoever came after him!

Whether following Jewish scripture’s account of Eve and Adam, or the traditional Greek authority of Menander, these literary quotes concern woman, man, and marriage at their origins. The tragic author Carcinus in Semele tragically wrote:

O Zeus, why do I need to say that women are trouble?
It would be enough, if you simply said “a woman.”

Those who understand the origins of woman, man, and marriage don’t take multiple wives.

Modern readers have largely failed to read Athenaeus’s Deipnosophists as imaginative literature. Part of the problem seems to be that readers tend to approach Athenaeus from the literary perspective of earlier Greek and Roman literature. Athenaeus is best appreciated with study of medieval Latin literature.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Paulas (2012). That is a leading scholarly work on reading Deipnosophists as literature.

[2] All the quotes in this post, unless otherwise noted, are from Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 13.555a-9f, from Greek trans. Olson (2010) pp. 223-47.

[3] Athenaeus’s citations should be interpreted as part of his literary significations. The word seers is revealing in context.

[4] Chrysilla was a well-known name for a courtesan.

[image] The muse Erato. Marble statue from Monte Calvo, Italy, 2nd century GC.  Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark, Item number IN 1566. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Olson, S. Douglas, ed. and trans. 2010. Athenaeus VI, the learned banqueters. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Paulas, John. 2012. “How to Read Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists.” American Journal of Philology. 133 (3): 403-439.

Hippolytus described narrow vagina as heaven’s gateway

narrow path is heaven's gateway

The eminent, early third-century Christian theologian Hippolytus of Rome described a narrow, tight vagina as the path of greater mysteries and heaven’s gateway. Yet many women and men today think that the Christian concept of mercy has little relevance to them. That’s a mistake. Whatever your trauma, whatever your condition of brokenness, despite your sense of the impossible, mercy is for everyone.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Christian men should seek to enter a narrow gate. The Gospel text contrasts a narrow, scarcely trodden gate with a wide, popular gate:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. [1]

Hippolytus interpreted that text with the help of ancient Greek poetry. To a “wide and spacious road” associated with death Hippolytus contrasted another road as described by an (ancient Greek) poet:

But below it there is a rugged path,
enclosed and muddy, which is the best one for leading
to the delightful grove of greatly honored Aphrodite. [2]

Within this literary figure, “the delightful grove of greatly honored Aphrodite” indicates a vagina. The narrow, rugged path is a tight vagina. The larger sense of Hippolytus’s figure is ventral-dorsal heterosexual sex of reproductive type. Hippolytus explained:

For those who have obtained their “deaths” in that place, he says, “obtain greater destinies.” This, he says, is “heaven’s gateway,” and this is the “house of God,” where only the good God dwells. [3]

Gynocentric scholarship, always seeking to increase solicitousness toward women, has made well-known Tertullian’s rhetorical invocation of the “devil’s gateway.” Mercy and salvation for men deserves more attention.

An epic Greek poem, probably from the seventh or sixth century BGC, shows compassion for a man having difficulty finding that way. In this poem, Margites, apparently confused or perhaps desperate, thrust his penis into a pot. His penis got caught in the pot. He couldn’t get it out. After having to piss into the pot, he ran outside, picked up a stone, and smashed the pot to liberate his member. That was probably a scarring experience.[4]

Apparently subsequently marrying, Margites was reluctant to have sex with his wife. The twelfth-century Greek Archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica, a church leader who wrote an important commentary on Homer, reported on Margites’s marital situation:

when he married he did not fall upon his bride until she, at her mother’s instigation, pretended to have suffered a wound in her lower parts, and said that no remedy would be of any help except for a male member being fitted to the place: so it was that he made love to her, for therapeutic purposes. [5]

Most husbands will do anything to please their wives. Do you think Margites’s wife understood how much his life experience had traumatized him? Do you think she realized how much he was suffering for her? Women in all circumstances should show appreciation for men’s efforts.

Pope Francis has declared the year 2016 a jubilee of mercy. Men and women should ask for mercy (confidently, not with courtly self-contempt) and should be merciful. Calabre, a woman physician in fourteenth-century Paris, promoted corporal works of mercy by making vaginas small again and perking up breasts. Persons today can bring enlightenment to our benighted age by vigorously practicing life-giving acts of mercy.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Matthew 7:13-4. In medieval Latin literature of men’s sexed protest, the wide gate and easy road is associated with publica janua (“a public doorway”) and portus publicus (“a public port”).

[2] Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 5.8.43, quoting an anonymous poet, from Greek trans. West (2008) p. 371, with “greatly honored Aphrodite” (Litwa (2016) p. 257) replacing “much-esteemed Aphrodite.” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, provides an earlier English translation of Refutation of All Heresies by Rev. J. H. MacMahon. In that edition, the relevant text is in Book 5, Ch. 3 (search for “Highly-honoured Aphrodite’s lovely grove”). These poetic lines use similar figuration to the marital consummation section of Ausonius’s Cento Nuptialis (ll. 110–19). West (2008), pp. 372-3. Id. doesn’t recognize the larger figure described above.

According to West, “The anonymous hexameter fragment clearly describes the vagina.” West (2008) p. 371, drawing upon, among other textual evidence, a comparison with Ausonius’s Cento Nuptialis, 110-19. The fragment might also be describing the anus. In context, I think the vagina is more probable.

[3] Hippolytus, Refutation 5.8.44, from Greek trans. Litwa (2016) p. 257. In the translation, I’ve replace “the gate of heaven” with “heaven’s gateway. ” The focus is a path, not a barrier.

[4] Described in Oxyrhynchus papyrus (first century BGC or GC) P.Oxy. 2309, from Greek trans. West (2003) p. 251. Here’s an image of a related papyrus. West classifies the poem about Margites as being Homeric apocrypha from the late sixth-century BGC. Gostoli (2007) suggests earlier. The Smithsonian Magazine in 2011 ranked “Homer’s Margites” as one of the “Top 10 Books Lost to Time.”

[5] Eustathius, Commentary on Odyssey 10.552, from Greek trans. West (2003) p. 249. Hesychius of Alexandria, a Greek grammarian from the fifth or sixth century GC, declared that Margites “did not know about copulation”:

His wife encouraged him by saying that a scorpion had bitten her and that she had to be healed by means of intercourse.

Hesychius, Lexicon μ 267 (supplemented from Cyril’s Lexicon), from Greek trans. West (2003) p. 247, 249.

[image] Narrow path, Rea’s Wood, Antrim, UK. Thanks to Albert Bridge and Wikimedia Commons.


Gostoli, Antonietta, ed. and trans. (Italian). 2007. Homer. Margite. Pisa: F. Serra. (Chad Matthew Schroeder’s review in English).

Litwa, M. David, ed. and trans. 2016. Refutation of All Heresies. SBL Press: Atlanta.

West, Martin L. 2003. Homeric hymns, Homeric apocrypha, lives of Homer. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

West, Martin L. 2008. “A Vagina in Search of an Author.” The Classical Quarterly. 58 (1): 370-375.