You and Me Baby Ain’t Nothing But Diocletian’s Subjects

February 12, 2013 by Keyser Söze | Filed under Ancient Rome, Art Appreciation, Keyser, Keyser is an Idiot, Keyser's Weird Fantasies, Politics, The Law is A Idiot, World Culture, YouTube.

Diocletian

Many moons ago, cheap Keyser was teaching a course here at Igloo U. about the social history of the ancient world and the topic of Diocletian’s edict on incest came up. The general discussion doesn’t matter, online but towards the end of the topic we considered Diocletian’s attitude towards those who marriage customs he was disparaging. Basically, thumb Diocletian says that anybody in the Roman empire who didn’t adhere to his notions of traditional Roman marriage should just cut it out. (This was less than a century after Caracalla had granted pretty much all subjects of the Empire Roman citizenship. For most people, the change was nominal and they went on leading their lives as their cultures had dictated since time immemorial.)

The substance of the edict is as follows:

In this edict of ours we have drawn up a list of the persons among the relations by blood and marriage with whom it is not lawful for a marriage to be contracted: a daughter, granddaughter or great granddaughter, and a mother, grandmother or great grandmother; collateral relations: an aunt or great aunt, sister, sister’s daughter or her daughter; relations by marriage: a stepdaughter, stepmother, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law and the others that are prohibited by ancient law. We wish everyone to leave all these relations alone. For our laws preserve nothing but what is holy and venerable, and the majesty of Rome reach such greatness through the favor of the divinities by firmly attaching all its laws to wise taboos and the observance of shame.

You might wonder to yourself, “why in the fuck would any self-respecting man want to marry his own grandmother?” Good question. And (as Robert Heinlein can tell you) the answer to any question that begins “why in the fuck…?” is money. For instance, the emperor Claudius needed special dispensation to marry his own niece (for dynastic reasons, which is a fancy version of “money”), but in Athens it was obligatory that if your brother died leaving only a daughter as his heir, you had to divorce your wife and marry your niece to keep the money in the family (otherwise, it would wind up with the family of the man she would marry). So all these marriages that struck Diocletian as being incestuous were probably rooted in attempts to prevent property from leaving the patriarchal family.

And Diocletian thought this stuff was totally disgusting:

Since to our pious and religious minds it seems that those things that have been established in chaste and holy manner by Roman law are especially venerable and ought to be preserved with eternal taboos, we think that it is not fitting to pretend that the acts that certain people sinfully and unchastely committed in the past do not exist. Acordingly, since these things should be repressed or punished, the discipline of our times urges us to rise up in action. For there is no doubt that the immortal gods themselves will continue to be, as they have always been, propitious promoters of the Roman name if they see that everyone in our Empire pursues a pious and religious repose, living a life that is chaste in all regards according to ancestral custom. In this matter we have decided that it is especially necessary to make provision that once marriages have been contracted religiously and lawfully according to the discipline of ancient law, there should be a start to looking after both the respectability of those who pursue the union of marriage and the progeny who will afterwards be born with religious taboos preserved, so that through the respectability of its birth posterity too will be purified. For it is the especial resolve of our piety that the holy terms for personal relationships should retain in their feelings of love the pious and religious fondness that is right of blood relationship. For it is a sin to uphold those acts that are agreed to have been committed in the past by many people, when in the promiscuous fashion of domestic and wild beasts they rushed after illegal marriages at the instigation of abominable lust, disregarding a pious sense of shame.

Without thinking much about it, I turned to the class and said, “So, how does Diocletian characterize those who enter into marriage relations?” Silence. “Well, what does he think about them?” Someone timorously said, “He doesn’t like them much.”

“Yes, that’s true. What does he compare them to?” Silence. “What sort of image does he want you as the reader to get of them?” Silence. “Well, he thinks talks as if they’re animals, doesn’t he?”

I then said, “It’s like that video I saw on the television when I was awake in the middle of the night and there was nothing to watch so I turned on videos out of boredom. There was this one with bad tempered mice that don’t like mimes and French women. I gotta agree with ’em about mimes, but I’m not sure why they don’t like French women.”

More silence.

“What was that lyric? ‘You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel’.”

Laughter. At least it’s better than silence.

One girl then objected that they weren’t mice. They were monkeys. Keyser said, “But they’d buy big grey ears and tails.” She stuck to her interpretation, and it would seem that she’s right. Turned out they were brown. (That’s what comes of watching videos in the middle of the night!) I’m still not sure why monkeys are caging women in Paris and running over mimes, but at least there are now fewer mimes in the world.

Anyway, that’s how Diocletian felt about his subjects who married their female relatives. They’re no better than promiscuously copulating beasts on the Rivus Inventorius, and they’d better cut it out. Or else!


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