12 Caesars

The old lady said that in polite company three things were never discussed: religion, politics, and sex.  I guess we had an extremely polite family because none of these things were ever discussed; sex especially was not discussed.  I assume the old lady knew her four sons came equipped with penises.  But I don’t remember the word penis ever used.

12 caesarsBack in SC lacking bathroom facilities, we had a bath once a week whether we needed it or not.  In the summers, I remember we were lined up and one after another would step naked into a big wash tub and the old lady would more or less hose us down.  I can’t remember if she washed our male members; I am sort of glad I can’t.

When I arrived at the age of growing sexual interest, I knew I believe accurately how babies were made but that was about it.  And at that time, magazines and books on sexual subjects were remarkably absent.  “Playboy” magazine started coming out in the 50s, but it was kept in a special place in the drugstore and was covered with a plain brown paper wrapping.  Additionally, practicing safe sex could be awkward for a shy boy since condoms were not displayed out in the open but were locked up somewhere in the back and one had to ask the druggist for them explicitly and openly.

Being literarily inclined, I did more or less by accident lay my hands on Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, even though both were banned at the time for obsenity.  The latter was hard going, sort of murky, and hard to find the good parts.  Also there was stuff about sticking flowers in pubic hairs and the male figure had a number of names for this penis.  The book seemed a bit artsy-fartsy.  Personally, I have never named my penis.  Cancer was considerably better, clearer, more vivid and direct and I even liked reading some of the parts around the good parts.

But mostly I got my sex Ed. I think from taking Roman.  I mean Latin, but I like to call it Roman because learning Latin led me to learning about Rome.  You can learn a lot by learning Roman.  I came across Grave’s I, Cladius in the high school library; I read that and found it remotely titillating.  Unfortunately, the old lady who refused to recognize we had any right to privacy happened to pick up the book, read a bit of it, and got it banned from the school library because largely of its mention of Spanish Fly.

 This pissed me off.  In my edition of Claudius, Graves mentioned some of the sources for his book, so I went down to the public library and checked out a copy of Suetonius’ “Lives of the 12 Caesars.”  It had Latin on one page and English on the other, so my mother thought I was studying Roman.  Extra credit, I said. 

I get the feeling Suetonius’ was sort of an early gossip columnist and spared no smut or filthy details in his biographical treatments.  Nero, for example, was a pig of the first water.  He killed his mother I think.  He raped women regularly and married boys.  He liked to dress up at night in the skin of a bear, prowl alleys, and commit sadistic acts of sexual violence upon both sexes.  This might not seem very arousing, but then lines like “he fondled and kissed her breasts” could send me to fantasy land.  And I learned a hell of a lot about other stuff from Suetonius about politics, and just plain murder.

I think in the Bible somebody says nothing is new under the sun.  The Romans ruled by panem et circenses.   The same as today, I think.  We’ve got so much bread people are getting bloated, and as for circuses there’s no end of them.

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