Marina, love goddess as well as saint, is true heroine to men

Venus Anadyomene

Probably first known from the fifth century GC, Saint Marina the Monk is a saint for men falsely accused of rape. But the demonization and criminalization of men goes beyond rape-hate culture and castration culture to broad lack of appreciation for men’s genitals and men’s sexual labor. The sixth-century Vandal poet Luxorius almost surely knew of Saint Marina. Expanding poetic understanding of Marina, Luxorius figured her as the traditional Greco-Roman love goddess Aphrodite in a brilliant poem that honored and celebrated men’s sexuality.

About a wife called Marina

A certain man fucked Marina like a raging hot concubine.
The adultery is making salty waves.
Not with blame, but rather with praise is this to be reported;
it commemorates Venus, who was born in the sea.

{ De muliere Marina vocabulo

Quidam concubitu futuit fervente Marinam.
fluctibus in salsis fecit adulterium.
non hic culpandus, potius sed laude ferendus,
qui memor est Veneris, quod mare nata foret. }[1]

In the ancient world, husbands not sexually satisfied with their wives might take concubines. Such an affair wouldn’t count as a violation of the marital bond (adultery) in Greco-Roman understanding. In this poem, the wife (mulier) Marina seems not to have been sexually satisfied. Perhaps her husband wasn’t sufficiently chivalrous. In any case, she took up the position of a passionate concubine to another man.[2] That poetic configuration challenges the typical practice of blaming men for adultery.

The sea figures in multiple ways within this poem. The name Marina comes from the feminine form of the Latin word marinus, which means “of the sea.”[3] The poem metaphorically associates passionate, sweaty sex with the pounding, salt-water waves of the sea. Moreover, Venus Anadyomene (Venus Rising from the Sea) is an iconic representation of the birth of Venus from Uranus’s castrated genitals that fell into the sea. This birth of Venus was the subject of a much admired painting that the Greek artist Apelles made in the fourth century BGC. Luxorius’s concluding reference to “Venus, who was born in the sea” associates Marina with Venus Anadyomene.

Like Bernardus Silvestris with his Cosmographia, Luxorius with his Marina poem completely rejects castration culture. Venus, born from castration, Luxorius recalls through vigorous sex with Marina in the sea. Saint Marina might intercede on behalf of Christians today who castigate Luxorius’s poem for immorality. Given her experience, Marina, saint and goddess, surely appreciated Luxorius’s poetic work and sought to welcome him into heaven.

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[1] Luxorius, Quidam concubitu futuit, Anthologia Latina 363, Latin text from Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982) p. 282, my translation with help from Rosenblum (1961) p. 161 (poem 82) and Beck (2012) p. 181. The title may not be Luxorious’s.

[2] An earlier epigram of Martial on a water affair makes clear Luxorius’s greater concern for men. Leaving both the husband and the narrator sexually unsatisfied, Martial evokes the gynocentric orthodoxy of innocent woman and predatory man:

Cleopatra, new to the marriage bed and not yet reconciled to her husband, had plunged into a gleaming pool, fleeing embraces. But the water betrayed her hiding place; covered by all of it, she still shone. So lilies enclosed in clear glass are counted, so thin crystal does not let roses hide. I leapt and plunged into the pond and snatched reluctant kisses. The pellucid waters forbade more.

{ Primos passa toros et adhuc placanda marito
merserat in nitidos se Cleopatra lacus,
dum fugit amplexus. sed prodidit unda latentem;
lucebat, totis cum tegeretur aquis:
condita sic puro numerantur lilia vitro,
sic prohibet tenuis gemma latere rosas.
insilui mersusque vadis luctantia carpsi
basia: perspicuae plus vetuistis aquae. }

Martial, Epigrams 4.22, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Shackleton Bailey (1993) vol. 1, pp. 276-7. Id. ft. 31 notes that the husband is “presumably the poet (cf. v. 7) for the purpose of this epigram.” In the context of Martial’s poetry, such a presumption isn’t warranted. More generally, Martial’s poem positions the man to be guilty of a sex offense. Luxorius plausibly was challenging that culturally entrenched anti-men bias.

Another of Martial’s epigram’s on a water affair depicts the man as an obtuse, insensate brute. After describing Lydia’s unusually wide vagina, the poetic “I” declares:

I am said to have fucked her in a marine fishpond.
I don’t know. I think I fucked the fishpond.

{ hanc in piscina dicor futuisse marina.
nescio; piscinam me futuisse puto. }

Martial, Epigrams 11.21,11-2, from Latin trans. Shackleton Bailey (1993) vol. 2, p. 21. Here’s the full Latin text and an English translation. In context, the play between Martial’s use of the Latin word marina and Luxorius’s Marina suggests intertextuality. More significantly, Martial’s epigram bestializes the man’s sexuality, while Luxorius’s epigram celebrates it. Luxorius may have been drawing on a Christian sense of the importance of incarnation. That Christian understanding probably wasn’t available to Martial, who wrote his epigrams between 86 and 103 GC. Saint Marina, of course, lived centuries after Martial’s time.

[3] Some time between the fifth and ninth centuries, Mary, the mother of Jesus, acquired the title Our Lady, Star of the Sea {Stella Maris}. Perhaps Luxorius also drew upon this Christian link of incarnation to the sea in associating Marina with the goddess Aphrodite. Luxorius lived in an early sixth-century north African culture in which traditional Greco-Roman beliefs and Christianity both were culturally vibrant.

[image] Venus Anadyomene. Fresco from Pompei, Casa di Venus, 1st century GC. Thanks to Stephen Haynes and Wikimedia Commons.


Beck, Art, trans. 2012. Luxorius. Opera omnia or, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone. Los Angeles: Otis Books | Seismicity Editions.

Riese, Alexander, and David R. Shackleton Bailey. 1982. Anthologia latina: sive poesis latinae supplementum. Pars. 1. Carmina in codicibus scripta. Fasc. 1. Libri Salmasiani aliorumque carmina. Stutgardiae: In aedibus Teubneri. Online prior edition Riese (1894).

Rosenblum, Morris. 1961. Luxorius: a Latin poet among the Vandals; together with a text of the poems and an English translation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Shackleton Bailey, D.R., trans. 1993. Martial. Epigrams. Loeb Classical Library 94, 480. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.