From the walls of his banqueting room breathed paintings, in stucco as on canvas, most sexually suggestive. Diana, and her wood nymphs, hunting; Amphitrite, and her Oceanides, sailing in rose-tinted sea-shells; Iris; the amorphous, or polymorphous Jupiter, in the form of a golden shower, entering the sleeping chamber of Dans; Àpollo, pursuing Daphne; Calypso, entertaining Ulysses ; Venus, receiving the prize from Paris; Phryne, before the Judges; the stage dancer, Theodora (afterwards empress of Justinian), in the great theatre of Constantinople; Zenobia, of Palmyra, after she had proclaimed herself Queen of the East; Greek singers and Nautch dancing-girls; and these all nude, or semi-nude, languishing in most voluptuous attitudes, or firing the passions with the bewitching glamour of their amorous glances. Everything breathed of love. And not only the inanimate, but the animate. As the young voluptuary lay on his velvety divan, inhaling the smoke of his Turkish cigarette, or quaffing his Chianti, visions of surpassing loveliness surrounded him. Beautiful girls, in diaphanous drapery of Coan-gauze—"woven wind," venlus textilit, as Petronius called it—lay about him on rose-colored ottomans, like fairies in their bowers; resembling these also in the texture and scantiness of their attire. Their rounded limbs and bare, swelling bosoms, their artfully assumed attitudes of mute invitation, the light of passion slumbering under their long-fringed lids, is it any wonder that even the pallid and jaded sensualist should be lashed into love, passion and desire? Is it any wonder his ears should become intoxicated with music, his eyes with beauty, his soul with imagination and his senses with the touch, as his charming temptress—that most beautiful and seductive of all living creatures, a perfect woman—stretches herself by his side, and twining within his arms, ravishes him with the hot rapture of her kisses?
Is it any wonder that the man fell—that society fell—that Rome fell?1 Is it any wonder that young Romans ceased to marry? How could any pure, self-respecting woman, with the demure modesty of refined wifehood, hope to satisfy a man reared amid such scenes?
As in drinking, so in sexual indulgence, an artificial appetite is created, which ordinary sexual indulgence, unaccompanied by the highly erotic surroundings which appeal to, and stimulate, the imagination rather than the senses, becomes incapable of satisfying; and the Romans certainly understood the art of sexual stimulation as well, possibly, as any people who have ever lived.
With their world-wide empire, they fell heir to every vice of antiquity, but chiefly those of Persia and Egypt. In all Oriental courts a physician was maintained, whose duty it was, not so much to heal injuries caused by wounds and disease, as to "recognize what was not visible to the eye." 1 This latter consisted, largely, of those neuro-psyehological manifestations which constitute, even to-day, a special department of medicine; but which under the Caliphs of Bagdad, the Pharaohs, and in the Greek schools of Damascus and Alexandria, comprised chiefly, if not entirely, the so-called science of sexual psychology.
Avicenna, Galen, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Averroes of Cordova, Oribasius, and other legitimists, rescued medicine, to some extent, from the hands of the early sexual psychologists; those priests of Asclepius, who have their parallels in modern times; and who were, perhaps, fairly represented by the famous quack, Nostradamus, for whom Catherine de Medici sent posthaste to see if he could get her in the family way, in order to save her from threatened divorce at the hands of her husband.
Indeed it was very early shown in the history of Rome in what regard marriage and the rearing of children were held, by those Gracehan agrarian laws which placed premiums upon both;3 while subsequently, but with little apparent result, the Lex Julia ei Papia Poppaia imposed various penalties upon those who elected to live in a state of celibacy.'
According to Caesar, the Germans considered it scandalous to have intercourse with the opposite sex before the twentieth year;1 but at a later time, it seems probable that earlier marriages were encouraged, and that celibacy was almost unknown, except in the cases of women who had lost their virtue, or those whom lack of beauty, or of riches, debarred from procuring husbands.1
In this country the causes tending to celibacy are various and complex. Among the most prominent, however, may be mentioned the industrial independence of women, the laxity of sexual relations, and the increasing cost of supporting wives and families in modern society. The absence of uniform marriage laws, and of ecclesiastical courts to regulate both marriage and divorce—both the latter evils being involved in our system of government—has brought about many difficulties and abuses which, it is to be hoped, future national legislation will remedy; but while the per verba de presenti continues to constitute marriage in one State, and the per verba de futuro cum copula, the same institution in another, and while the courts of one State pass judgments dissolving marriage, which the laws of another State deliberately ignore, or contravene, these difficulties and abuses must continue to exist.
1 Vid. the .Ethiopia of Archinua, quoted by Welcker and Haeser. The duties of Machaon and Podttlirus, the two eons of yEsculapius, were not precisely the same. One, the former, treated external injuries, and the other recognized what was not visible to the eye, and tending to what could not be healed. Vid. Ency. Brit., Art. "Medicine."
That the cost of maintaining a wife, however, is the chief factor in preventing marriage, in these days of social extravagance, is readily proven by comparing the statistics of marriage, in times of commercial crises and industrial depression, with those of comparative abundance, celibacy being shown to increase in exact ratio with the difficulty of earning a livelihood.
In those countries where our own precocious civilization has not yet obtained, the reverse condition will be found to prevail. There the wife, far from being a burden to her husband, is really a means of assistance, being a co-laborer with, and sometimes even supporter of the latter. So with children. They become, instead of, as in this country, recipients of fashionable dress and expensive education, sources of income, and add their mite to the weekly earnings of the household.
Even in our great cities, it is by no means among the poorest classes that celibacy is most common. The well-to-do man must have an income sufficient to surround his wife with all the luxuries her social position, and his own, demand; and after he marries her, unless she bring him a fortune as her dowry, she usually contributes little or nothing to the support of his household. This is unfortunate from every standpoint, but chiefly so from the woman's. She either has to remain single—a manifest reversal of female instinct, as well as of divine purpose—or, if she succeed in finding a husband, if she be a woman of honest purpose and lofty ideals, she must derive little pleasure from the reflection that she has thrown herself as a burden upon one who, in moments of sober reflection, may be led to contrast her actual with her self-appraised value.
It has been very ingeniously pointed out by a recent writer1 that the ruder a people are, and the more exclusively woman is valued as an object of desire, or as a slave, the earlier in life is she generally chosen. This would go to explain the comparative lateness of most American marriages, since here an advanced degree of intelligence has made the basis of marriage one of mind and compatibility, rather than of sexual desire or mercenary profit.
1 "Why is Single Life Becoming More General?" The Nation, vr, 190.