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Suetonius: Tiberius' Sex Life


Bust of Tiberius. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Tiberius (British Museum)
In his Life of Tiberius, section 43-45, Suetonius offers a description of the sexual habits of a man who is powerful enough to go 'beyond good and evil'. (In the famous Loeb-collection of translations, the following lines, here offered in the translation by J.C. Rolfe, are left untranslated.) 

On retiring to Capri he devised a pleasance for his secret orgies: teams of wantons of both sexes, selected as experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analists, copulated before him in triple unions to excite his flagging passions. Its bedrooms were furnished with the most salacious paintings and sculptures, as well as with an erotic library, in case a performer should need an illustration of what was required. Then in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this "the old goat's garden," punning on the island's name.[1]


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Capri. Photo Jona Lendering.
Capri Tiberius' villa was to the left (©**)

He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe. For example, he trained little boys (whom he termed tiddlers[2]) to crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles. Unweaned babies he would put to his organ as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction. Left a painting of Parrhasius' depicting Atalanta pleasuring Meleager with her lips [3] on condition that if the theme displeased him he was to have a million sesterces instead, he chose to keep it and actually hung it in his bedroom. The story is also told that once at a sacrifice, attracted by the acolyte's beauty, he lost control of himself and, hardly waiting for the ceremony to end, rushed him off and debauched him and his brother, the flute-player, too. Subsequently, when they complained of the assault, he had their legs broken. 
Fresco of a brothel scene. Pompeii, Italy. Photo Jona Lendering.
Scene in a brothel (Pompeii)

How grossly he was in the habit of abusing women even of high birth is very clearly shown by the death of a certain Mallonia. When she was brought to his bed and refused most vigorously to submit to his lust, he turned her over to the informers, and even when she was on trial he did not cease to call out and ask her "whether she was sorry"; so that finally she left the court and went home, where she stabbed herself, openly upbraiding the ugly old man for his obscenity. Hence a stigma put upon him at the next plays in an Atellan farce was received with great applause and became current, that "the old goat was licking the does." 
Note 1:
Capri / caprine / goat.

Note 2:
The Latin word, pisces, means 'fishes'.

Note 3:
Parrhasius of Ephesus (c.440-c.380) was one of the most famous Greek painters. In Greek legends, Atalanta was a heroine, who met Meleager during the Calydonian hunt.

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