Ancient Romans lived in a cultural environment in which married men could enjoy sexual relations with their male slaves without fear of criticism from their peers; in which adultery generally aroused more concern than pederasty; in which men notorious for their womanizing might be called effeminate, while a man whose masculinity had been impugned could cite as proof of his manhood the fact that he had engaged in sexual relations with his accuser's sons; in which men who sought to be sexually penetrated by other men were subjected to teasing and ridicule, but were also thought quite capable of being adulterers. These scenarios highlight some obvious differences between ancient and modem ideologies of masculine sexual behavior, and one of the central aims of this study is to explore those differences.
But how can we make such claims concerning an ancient culture, or indeed any culture? What precisely is the nature of these claims? What was the relationship between the ideological environment just outlined and the realities of living as a man in ancient Rome? What are the implications for us today of perceiving differences rather than continuities? These are basic questions implicated in any discussion of gender and sexuality in ancient cultures, and in this introduction I attempt to provide some preliminary responses to them, at the same time defining my terms and describing the conceptual framework within which I am working, and pointing to some of the problems involved in this kind of a study. Here I lay the foundations for the book as a whole, in which I will flesh out the cartoon figures of Roman men just sketched.