Friday, November 18, 2011

Clearly, ancient Rome needed its own DOMA.

It was once the custom for senators to enter the senate-chamber with their sons dressed in their praetextae [a kind of toga worn by, among others, boys who had not yet come of age]. When some business of greater than usual importance was being discussed and it had to be put over until the following day, the senate resolved no one was to report the matter under discussion before a decree had been passed. The mother of young Papirius, who had been in the chamber with his father, asked her son what business the senate fathers had transacted. the boy replied that he had to keep silent and wasn't allowed to speak of it. The woman became yet more eager to hear: the matter's concealment and the boy's silence goaded her to press her inquiry, and so she asked with greater urgency and force. Pressed by his mother, the boy conceived a witty and playful lie: he said the senate was considering whether it would be judged more expedient and in the public interest for one man to have two wives or for one woman to be married to two men. Hearing this, his mother became panic-stricken, left the house all atremble, and brought the report to all the other married women: next day saw large contingents of matrons streaming to the senate. In tearful supplication they begged that one woman be married to two men rather than vice versa.

Macrobius, Saturnalia
Translation by Robert A. Kaster, from the excellent Loeb Classical Library edition.

This must be why the Empire fell. First this, then before they knew it the senate was debating a patrician's right to marry a clepsydra.

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