Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Terrible Fate of Intersex Children in Rome: Livy, AUC XXVII.11

TRIGGER WARNING: During the crisis of Hannibal's invasion of Italy in the Second Punic War (218 - 201 BCE), the birth of an intersex child was seen as a bad omen. This is one of two passages from Livy's AUC Book XXVII. The second passage more explicitly describes the tragic fate of the child. 

[11] Prodigia quoque priusquam ab urbe consules proficiscerentur procurari placuit. in Albano monte tacta de caelo erant signum Iouis arborque templo propinqua, et Ostiae lacus, et Capuae murus Fortunaeque aedis, et Sinuessae murus portaque. haec de caelo tacta: cruentam etiam fluxisse aquam Albanam quidam auctores erant, et Romae intus in cella aedis Fortis Fortunae de capite signum quod in corona erat in manum sponte sua prolapsum. et Priuerni satis constabat bouem locutum uolturiumque frequenti foro in tabernam deuolasse, et Sinuessae natum ambiguo inter marem ac feminam sexu infantem, quos androgynos uolgus, ut pleraque, faciliore ad duplicanda uerba Graeco sermone appellat, et lacte pluuisse et cum elephanti capite puerum natum. ea prodigia hostiis maioribus procurata, et supplicatio circa omnia puluinaria, obsecratio in unum diem indicta.

--Livy, Ab Urbe Condita Libri XXVII.11


Before the consuls left the city, they decided to expiate certain omens.   For lightning had hit both the statue of Jupiter and the tree next to his temple on Mt. Alba, as well as the harbor of Ostia, the city walls and Temple of Fortuna in Capua, as well as both the city walls and gate of Sinuessa. Furthermore, some authors stated that the Alban river flowed red with blood, and in the temple of Fors Fortuna in Rome, a figure from the cult statue’s crown fell off of the statue’s head and into the statue’s hand by itself. It was generally agreed that in Privernum a cow spoke, a vulture flew into a shop in a busy forum, and in Sinuessa, a child was born of ambiguous sex (somewhere between a male and a female), which is commonly called “androgynous” (yet another Greek term, for it is easier to make compound words in the Greek language). It also rained milk and a boy was born with an elephant’s head. These bad omens were taken care of with additional sacrifices; a public sacrifice was held for all shrines, as well as a public prayer was held on a special day

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