being cuckolded is impotent husbands’ best hope for future

London cuckold

Current, official paternity establishment procedures institutionalize the cuckolding of men. Men have been completely impotent in addressing that social injustice and many other social injustices against men. Moreover, despite impassioned admonishments not to marry, many men still get married. What is impotent husbands’ best hope for the future?

An impotent husband in sixth-century Vandal north Africa shows how men can make the best of their circumstances. Whether as a result of a sexless marriage, being castrated, or some other difficulty, the husband Proconius was unable to sire children. Most women in the ancient world, including in ancient Athens, worked outside the home.[1] Women probably enjoyed such work no more than men do. Proconius offered his wife an opportunity to work within the home as a prostitute. She accepted, as would many men would if they had equally good opportunities to work as home-based prostitutes. By having his wife work as a prostitute, Proconius not only increased family income, but also increased the probability of having children in his family.

The Latin poet Luxorius ironically condemned the impotent husband’s pragmatic, multi-pronged strategy for increasing family income and having children. Luxorius wrote:

About he who made his wife a prostitute in order to have children

Unable to perpetuate your father’s lineage,
you hear yourself called father. Pious adulterer,
you damn your wife’s chaste loins
to bear for you bastard sons,
herself not knowing from which seed they have arisen.
Perhaps that detestable arrangement might have been
bearable for awhile, Proconius,
if yours could ever as an adult know
that his mother could say …

{De eo qui uxorem suam prostare faciebat pro filiis habendis

Stirpe negata patrium nomen
non pater audis. Castus adulter
coiugis castae viscera damnas,
pariat spurios ut tibi natos,
inscia quo sint semine creti.
Fuerant forsan ista ferenda
foeda, Proconi, vota parumper,
scire vel ipsam si tuus umquam
posset adultus dicere matrem …} [2]

The concluding incompleteness poetically emphasizes the burden of the unspeakable. How could the mother explain to her son that she doesn’t even know who his true biological father is? How could she say what her husband wanted and what she did? Gynocentric society not only makes men impotent, but also makes unspeakable men’s interests with respect to reproductive rights and custody of children. That unspeakability extends even to a man’s mother. Only a great poet like Luxorius can challenge the silencing of men’s interests.

Husbands tolerant of cuckolding can benefit greatly from their wives’ strong, independent sexuality. Cuckolded men have commonly been ridiculed. But a husband like Cinna, a Roman figure from about 2000 years ago, had many blessings:

By Marulla, you Cinna, have become the father of seven
non-freeborn children; for none of them is yours,
and none is the son of a friend or neighbor,
but, as they were conceived on couches and mats,
they reveal their mother’s adulteries by their heads.
This one, who struts around with curly hair like a Moor,
confesses himself the offspring of Santra the cook.
That one, with flat nostrils and blubber lips,
is the very image of Pannychus the wrestling coach.
Who is ignorant that the third is the pastry-cook’s,
when he knows and sees bleary-eyed Dama?
The fourth, with the brow and pale complexion of a passive homosexual,
was born for you from your concubine Lygdus;
Sodomize your son, if you like; it’s no sin.
Ah yes, this one with the pointed head and long ears
that move like a donkey’s typically do,
who could deny that he’s the son of Cyrta the amusing idiot?
Two sisters, one black, the other red,
are Crotus the flautist’s and Carpus the bailiff’s.
You’d now have a brood as numerous as Niobe’s,
if Coresus and Dindymus hadn’t been eunuchs.

{Pater ex Marulla, Cinna, factus es septem
non liberorum: namque nec tuus quisquam
nec est amici filiusve vicini,
sed in grabatis tegetibusque concepti
materna produnt capitibus suis furta.
Hic qui retorto crine Maurus incedit
subolem fatetur esse se coci Santrae.
At ille sima nare, turgidis labris
ipsa est imago Pannychi palaestritae.
Pistoris esse tertium quis ignorat,
quicumque lippum novit et videt Damam?
Quartus cinaeda fronte, candido vultu
ex concubino natus est tibi Lygdo;
percide, si vis, filium: nefas non est.
Hunc vero acuto capite et auribus longis,
quae sic moventur ut solent asellorum,
quis morionis filium negat Cyrtae?
Duae sorores, illa nigra et haec rufa,
Croti choraulae vilicique sunt Carpi.
Iam Niobidarum grex tibi foret plenus
si spado Coresus Dindymusque non esset.} [3]

Men throughout history have received much joy from having physical custody of children and providing loving child support. Moreover, in the ancient world, children were economic and social assets. With his large, diverse family, Cinna had a rich position as a father.

If men today are unwilling to fight for social justice and challenge castration culture, they should at least recognize their impotence. Being impotent, men can marry without fear of sexless marriage. Wanting to be fathers, they can live in the audacity of hoping to be cuckolded.

*  *  *  *  *

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Notes:

[1] Many scholars continue to believe absurd claims that women in ancient Athens and in other non-modern societies were confined within the home. Cohen (1991), Ch. 6, underscores the ridiculousness of such belief.

[2] Anthologia Latina 317 (R322), from Latin my translation, with help from Rosenblum (1961) p. 36 (poem 36). The Latin text is from Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982) p. 257, with my minor adaptations to the editorial presentation. Rosenblum has a nearly identical Latin text. In the penultimate line, I’ve followed the primary manuscript reading scire vel (which Rosenblum follows), rather than Shackleton Bailey’s emendation ille vel.

The reading and interpretation of the last two lines have raised considerable scholarly debate. Rosenblum (1961), pp. 203-4, reviews various readings and interpretations. Rosenblum favors the reading above for the last two lines. He translates them as “if ever your son when grown-up could say that his mother herself knew.” He glosses those lines as:

You adopted this shameful way of being a father, Proconius. However, you are not the boy’s father, and what is more, the boy can never say who is his real father because even his mother cannot tell. This makes your detestable desire intolerable.

Id. pp. 133, 204. As Rosenblum himself observes, in this reading “the element of surprise is lacking.” The mother’s uncertainty about her son’s biological father is already clear from line 5. Luxorius’s poetry shows great sensitivity to men’s lived experiences and men’s interests. My translation and interpretation are consistent with Luxorius’s overall style and concerns.

[3] Martial, Epigrams 6.39, Latin text from Shackleton Bailey (1993) p. 28, my translation, with help from Shackleton Bailey’s translation, id. p. 29, and those of Tom Gardner and Mark Brustman.

[image] An Answer to the London Cuckold. Published about 1685-8. EBBA ID: 21787,  Pepys Library, Magdalene College – Pepys 4.123. Both images thanks to University of California, Santa Barbara, English Broadside Ballad Archive.

References:

Cohen, David. 1991. Law, sexuality, and society: the enforcement of morals in classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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 95, 480. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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