Since not all of us decided to tell our parents we'd be moving back home in four years by majoring in classics, much of what we know about ancient Greece and Rome tends to come from films and TV -- meaning that much of what we "know" originated with some Hollywood producer saying, "Yes, but can we make the togas sexier?"
For example, you probably think that ...
5The Romans Were Orgy-Crazed
Quick, let's do a word association. When we say "Roman," you say "orgy!" Some of you might have said "empire." That's also correct, but for the purposes of this introduction, you said "orgy," goddammit, because we all know the Romans were like human rabbits -- all humping, all the time, and also they had abnormally long ears and pooped little round pellets.
Geography Pictures / UIV / Getty / Hemera Technologies / PhotoObjects.ne
"Veni vidi vhat's up, doc?"
Here's why you should never get your history lessons from a film produced by Penthouse : It appears the stories of Roman sex festivals were mostly the result of nasty rumors made up after the fact. Or awesome rumors, depends on where you're coming from. The reality is the ancient Romans actually went to insane lengths to have the exact opposite of orgies. We're talking prudery to the highest degree -- couples had sex at night, in complete darkness, and with most of their clothes on. Sure, wealthy Romans had sex in front of their servants, but to them house servants were like furniture that could bring you stuff.
"... and this one won't giggle while he fetches the anal lube."
As it turns out, the Romans had trouble even imagining an orgy. In one of our favorite Hercules myths, our refractory-period-free hero deflowers all 50 daughters of a Greek king in a single night. In keeping with the times, though, the king sent one daughter in at a time. One in, one out, just like a nightclub ... where your father's the doorman, and also the guy who pimps you out to get all inseminated up with a half-god's "li'l heroes."
But if the movie Caligula isn't as accurate as we'd hoped, who invented the Roman orgy? Early Christians, that's who. Christian proselytizers knew their audience, and nothing stirs up the blood of an entire culture of super-prudes like the idea that somewhere, someone is having sex differently from everybody else. So, to promote their nascent religion to the Roman masses, early Christian writers crafted lurid tales of debauchery that were "Hey, no kidding, totally happening -- but only at those rich guys' houses." In a culture that celebrated solemnity and virtue, nothing defamed the traditional religion of the day like being associated with well-lit nudity and sex parties.
This was painted in 1470.
The Christian marketing pitch essentially boiled down to: "See those pagans with their orgies, and their different positions -- they take their clothes off for sex! Gross, right? Now, let me tell you all about Jesus ..." And something tells us it totally worked. (That something being the four Christian churches we can see from where we're sitting right now.)