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Seneca (4 BCE- 65 CE): Natural Questions I, 16


[Loeb translation]

16. At this point I want to tell you a little story so that you may understand how lust scorns no instrument for rousing passion and how ingenious it is for inciting its own aberration.

There was a man named Hostius Quadra, whose obscene acts even became the subject of a theatrical performance. He was rich, greedy, a slave to his millions. The deified Augustus did not consider him worth being avenged when he was murdered by his slaves, and almost proclaimed that he seemed to have been murdered justly. He was vile in relation 2 not to one sex alone but lusted after men as well as women. He had mirrors made of the type I described (the ones that reflect images far larger) in which a finger exceeded the size and thickness of an arm. These, moreover, he so arranged that when he was offering himself to a man he might see in a mirror all the movements of his stallion behind him and then take delight in the false size of his partner's very member just as though it were really so big.

In all the public baths he would recruit favourites and chose men by their obvious size, but none the less his insatiable evil took delight in misrepresentations. Go on now and say that the mirror was invented for the sake of touching up one's looks ! The things that monster said and did (he ought to be torn apart by his own mouth) are detestable to talk about. Mirrors faced him on all sides in order that he might be a spectator of his own shame. Also, secret acts which press upon the conscience and which every man denies that he has done, he not only presented to his mouth but to his eyes as well. But, by Hercules, crimes avoid the sight of themselves! Even among those who are degenerate and inured to every disagree there is still some modesty, very tenuous, at what the eyes see. As though it were not enough to submit himself to unheard of-even unknown-acts he summoned his eyes to witness them. Not content to see how greatly he sinned he surrounded himself with mirrors by which he separated one by one and assembled his vices. And, because he could not watch so attentively when his head dipped in and clung to his partner's private parts, he displayed his own doings to himself through reflections. He used to look at that obscene lusting of his own mouth. He used to watch men admitted all alike to his person for all the doings. Sometimes shared between a man and a woman, and with his whole body spread in position for submitting to them, he used to watch the unspeakable acts. What did the foul creature leave for performance in darkness? He did not shrink from daylight but even showed himself monstrous coitions, and gave approval of them to himself. You would not suppose that he would not have been willing to have his portrait painted in such a position !

Even among prostitutes there exists some sort of modesty, and those bodies offered for public pleasure draw over some curtain by which their unhappy submission may be hidden. Thus, towards certain things even a brothel shows a sense of shame. But that monster had made a spectacle of his own obscenity and deliberately showed himself acts which no night is deep enough to conceal.

" At the same time," he said, " I submit to both a man and a woman. Nevertheless, also with that part of my body not occupied I perform the role of a male in the violation of another person. All my organs arc occupied in the lechery. Let my eyes, too, come into their share of the debauchery and be witnesses and supervisors of it. By means of a device let even those acts be seen which the position of our bodies removes from sight, so that no one may think I do not know what I do. Nature did poorly in providing such scanty accessories to human lust. She better arranged the coition of other animals. I will discover a way to deceive my sick wants and satisfy them. To what purpose my depravity if I sin only to the limit of nature? I will surround myself with mirrors, the type which renders the size of objects incredible. If it were possible, I would make those sizes real; because it is not possible, I will feast myself on the illusion. Let my lust see more than it consumes and marvel at what it undergoes."

Shameful behavior! Perhaps he was murdered quickly, even before he saw it; he ought to have been immolated in front of a mirror of his own.