wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Peter Brown

The Body and Society

In the Roman world, the physical appearance and the reputed character of eunuchs acted as constant reminders that the male body was a fearsomely plastic thing. As Galen suggested, in his treatise On the Seed, lack of heat from childhood on could cause the male body to collapse back into a state of primary undifferentiation. No normal man might actually become a woman; but each man trembled forever on the brink of becoming 'womanish.' His flickering heat was an uncertain force. If it was to remain effective, its momentum had to be consciously maintained. It was never enough to be male: a man had to strive to remain 'virile.' He had to learn to exclude from his character and from the poise and temper of his body all telltale traces of 'softness' that might betray in him, the half-formed state of a woman. The small-town notables of the second century watched each other with hard, clear eyes. They noted a man’s walk. They reacted to the rhythms of his speech. They listened attentively to the telltale resonance of his voice. Any of these might betray the ominous loss of a hot, high-spirited momentum, a flagging of the clear-cut self-restraint, and a relaxing of the taut elegance of voice and gesture that made a man a man, the unruffled master of a subject world.

The maintenance of exacting codes of deportment was no trivial issue for the men of the second century. Entrusted by the formidable Roman government with the task of controlling their own cities, the elites of the Greek world (for whom and by whom the bulk of our evidence was written) learned rapidly and well how to bring upon their peers and their inferiors the 'gentle violence' of a studiously self-controlled and benevolent style of rule: 'avoidance of discord, gentle but firm control of the populace' were their principal political and social aims. They praised in each other qualities of gentleness, accessibility, self-control, and compassionate feeling. They expected to be treated in this courteous manner by the Emperor and by his representatives, and they were prepared to extend these gentle virtues to their loyal dependents: a man was to be 'fair-minded and humane' to his slaves, 'a father' to his household servants, and, always, 'at his ease' with his fellow-townsmen. Even their wetnurses must have such qualities: they must swaddle the little men meticulously, 'as Grecian women do,' so that they already learned to hold themselves correctly at the age of one.