Sex Polymorphous Perversity

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There are fascinating clues to the understanding of gender stereotypes in the astrologers. The figure of the cinaidos, or cinaedus, the effeminate man or passive homosexual, receives quite a lot of attention from the astrologers. Firmicus makes a distinction between the public cinaedus, whose status is made clear, and the man who is secretly a cinaedus, about whom nothing more is said. However, it seems that it was better to be a secret cinaedus, since positive astral influences hid the vice. Most configurations of public cinaedi refer to male prostitutes, who are described as suffering public disgrace. Similar sets of conditions apply to female prostitutes, suggesting that they were regarded as equivalent.27 But they are most associated with castrates and eunuchs. Cinaedi are equated with masculine, sterile women by mirror-image configurations (Mars and Venus in conjunction in a morning rising and a masculine sign for women, and in an evening rising in a feminine sign for men), though they tend to require the additional element of the influence of Saturn.28 From non-astrological texts we hear nothing positive about cinaedi. But we gather from Firmicus that they could be rich, famous for their charm and sophistication, or even court officials.29 There could be an association with the temples, where they might sing in the choir, or take on other duties, or they might play instruments in the worship of the Great Mother Cybele.30

All the astrologers, even Ptolemy who is less inclined to detail, offer this carefully arranged catalogue of sexual or gender deviancy: a passage will suffice to indicate the technical tone:

If Venus and Saturn are also in the common signs, that is, Capricorn or Libra, they portend sexual relations within the family. If the Moon is present with this aforesaid combination when it is at the Ascendant or Midheaven, she makes men have intercourse with their sons, their brother's sons, or their daughters' husbands. The Sun, particularly if the planets are setting, makes men have intercourse with their daughters, daughters' sisters, or sons' wives, and the women have intercourse with their fathers, fathers' brothers, or stepfathers. But if the aforesaid aspects do not happen to be composed of signs of the same gender, but are in feminine places, thus they produce lechers, ready for active and passive sex of every kind, and in some formations utterly obscene people, as for instance in the front and hind parts of Aries, the Hyades, and the Pitcher, and the hind parts of Leo, and the face of Capricorn. But if the configuration is angular, on the first two cardines, the eastern and the Midheaven, they make a complete display of their abnormalities, exhibiting them even in public places; on the last two, that is, the western and northern, they produce castrates and eunuchs or (? genitals) or sterile or impenetrable women; if Mars is present, men who have lost their genitals or lesbians.31

Firmicus spreads the net wider, and allows a little more colour into the picture:

Venus in Capricorn with Saturn in opposition makes the natives hated by their wives in every way. Their bodies in heavy sweat give off an unpleasant goat-like odour. They will be despised in sexual relations and always be objects of scandal for their vicious desires. Jupiter lessens these difficulties to a certain extent if he is in trine to Venus, and he somewhat cleanses the odour.

The Moon, Saturn and Venus in the seventh Place, that is, on the Descendant, make perverts with effeminate softness of body who dance on the stage and act in ancient fables, especially if Mars is in square aspect. For then he makes them addicted to all kinds of base vices; they also practise impure intercourse with their wives.32

Impure intercourse probably refers to oral sex; elsewhere Firmicus tells us that a rare configuration makes the native impure of mouth, which definitely refers to cunnilingus.33 Despite Firmicus' more colourful predictions, there is a formulaic aspect to all the astrologers' accounts: they are explicitly variations on themes, in which particular elements are combined in a number of different ways to produce accordingly varied effects.

A similar set of variations can be found in another techne, that of dream-interpretation. Here the sexual acts themselves are the predictors of other events. Artemidorus, the author of The Interpretation of Dreams, divides sexual acts up into those which are natural, legal and customary, and those which are illegal, and those which are unnatural. (These last include sexual activity with gods, animals, corpses, with oneself, or relations between two women.) If we take one category, the illegal, which is mainly the category of incest, it is divided up into incest between father and son or daughter, nearly always unfavourable, and between son and mother, nearly always favourable. There are a number of factors to be taken into account in the first set of cases: the age and normal home of the child, its marital status, the passivity or activity of the partners, and the relative financial situations of the pair. In the second group of cases, it is even more complicated:

The case of one's mother is both complex and manifold.The fact is that the mere act of intercourse by itself is not enough to show what is portended. Rather, the manner of the embraces and the various positions of the bodies indicate different outcomes. First, then, we will discuss face-to-face intercourse between a dreamer and his living mother, since a mother who is alive does not have the same meaning as a mother who is dead. Therefore, if anyone possesses his mother through faceto-face intercourse.. .if she is still alive and his father is in good health, it means that he and his father will become enemies. But if his father is sick, he will die.. .But it is lucky for every craftsman and labourer...It is also lucky for every demagogue and public figure. If the dreamer is estranged from his mother, they will become friends again. It is not good to possess a mother who is looking away from one. It is also unlucky to have intercourse with one's mother while she is standing. For men use this position only when they have neither bed nor mattress. It is also bad to have intercourse with one's mother while she is kneeling. For it signifies great poverty because of the mother's immobility. Possessing one's mother from underneath while she is in the 'rider' position is interpreted by some as signifying death to the dreamer. For a mother is like the earth. the earth lies above the dead only. But I have observed that those in good health spend the rest of their lives in great comfort...[since] in this position the male derives his pleasure without exerting himself.. .But it is not auspicious to use many different positions on one's mother. For it is not right to insult one's mother. In my experience, however, the worst dream by far is one in which the dreamer practices fellatio with his mother. For this signifies to the dreamer the death of children, the loss of property and grave illness. I know of a man, who, after this dream, lost his penis. For it was understandable that he was punished in the part of the body with which he had sinned.34

There is a minute, precise and technical examination of the issue in both astrologers and the dream-interpreter: clearly, this mode of dealing with the subject was seen as appropriate for the techne. However, the ways of dividing up possible acts may not offer an undistorting mirror to the moral views of antiquity; there are different categorisations in different technai, as we can see from these examples, and the rigour of the classification results from the demands of prediction. Whereas these examples, supported by other ancient testimony, reflect the negative attitude to oral sex, for instance, one certainly could not conclude from the predictions in Artemidorus that incest with the mother was regarded with more equanimity than incest with a child.

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