Saturday, June 25, 2022

Gendered Curses: Aulus Gellius, Att. Noct. 11.6

Quod mulieres Romae per Herculem non iuraverint neque viri per Castorem.

In veteribus scriptis neque mulieres Romanae per Herculem deiurant neque viri per Castorem.  Sed cur illae non iuraverint Herculem non obscurum est, nam Herculaneo sacrificio abstinent. Cur autem viri Castorem iurantes non appellaverint non facile dictu est. Nusquam igitur scriptum invenire est, apud idoneos quidem scriptores, aut “me hercle” feminam dicere aut “me castor” virum;“edepol” autem, quod iusiurandum per Pollucem est, et viro et feminae commune est. Sed M. Varro adseverat antiquissimos viros neque per Castorem neque per Pollucem deiurare solitos, sed id iusiurandum fuisse tantum feminarum, ex initiis Eleusinis acceptum; paulatim tamen inscitia antiquitatis viros dicere “edepol” coepisse factumque esse ita dicendi morem, sed “me castor” a viro dici in nullo vetere scripto inveniri.


--Aulus Gellius, Noct. Att. 11.6


That Roman Women Never Swear to Hercules, and that Roman Men Never Swear to Castor*

In ancient texts, Roman women never swear to Hercules, and Roman men never swear to Castor. It’s not surprising that women never swear to Hercules, for they are forbidden to sacrifice to him. It’s not as easy to figure out why men do not swear to Castor. But it’s found nowhere in literature where a woman says “By Hercules!” or a man says, “By Castor!”  Edepol” (swearing by Pollux’s name) is common among men and women. But M. Varro asserts that ancient men used to use neither Castor nor Pollux’s name in vain, but that it was just used by women (and used in the Eleusinian mysteries). Over time, that gender role was forgotten, and men began to say edepol, and so the custom changed. But “By Castor!” is still never found said by a man in any ancient text.

* Castor and Pollux / Polydeuces were twin demigod sons of Zeus and Leda, and siblings of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. They are memorialized in the Zodiac constellation Gemini



Name:  Aulus Gellius

Date:  2nd. c. CE

Works:  Attic Nights



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Aulus Gellius lived during the 2nd century CE. His work, the Attic Nights, are a collection of anecdotes about literature, history, and grammar.  From internal evidence, we can deduce that he was in the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ social circle, having close friendships with Herodes Atticus and Fronto.



Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE



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