Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tom Holland's "No sex please, we're Roman"

The BBC has a new epic Rome coming next month (warning: whoever did the BBC website can't spell Mark Antony's name). I had the following article from the Sunday Times, in relation to this series, brought to my attention:


Holland makes some interesting points about the way in which Roman attitudes to sex have been distorted and taken out of context, to make them seem more sexually amoral than they actually were. However, I think he rather over-reacts, and ends up painting an equally unrealistic picture of Roman mores. First century Rome may well not have been a society where people shagged at the drop of a hat, but equally it is not true that everyone observed the morality espoused by the aristocratic writers of the senatorial order, any more than all inhabitants of the British Isles in the nineteenth century adhered to what are now encapsulated as Victorian values. For a start, there's the 'no smoke without fire' point, that the fact that senatorial writers were railing against sexual immorality shows that some people were indulging in it, regardless of public disapproval. There may not have been as much bed-hopping as the senatorial writers say - like Daily Mail leader writers, they tend to exaggerate. And some of those professing the 'proper' Roman morality would have been the ones disregarding it in private - sexual double standards were as common then as now.

But other people had a more free-thinking attitude to sexuality, and this is to be found, for instance, in the works of Ovid. I have to say I find it odd that Holland writes about Roman sexual mores without mentioning Ovid. It means he is as guilty as the producers of Rome of not presenting the whole picture.

I'm sure the series will be sufficiently bonkers.

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