Did the Romans and Greeks really love orgies?

In the modern world, the term “orgy” conjures up images of wild and uninhibited sexual debauchery. Thanks to popular movies and literature depicting lecherous emperors and their extravagant parties, we often associate the term with ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. However, what were orgies like in reality? Let’s dive into the history of the origins of orgies and uncover the truth about these mysterious and scandalous gatherings.

From orgies to orgiasticism: Uncovering ancient rituals

The word “orgy” comes from the Greek orgia, which referred to religious rituals performed in honor of gods such as Dionysus. These orgiastic rituals were part of secret cults to which only initiates who took an oath of secrecy had access. The very term “orgiastic rituals” evokes passion and excitement, as orgiastic rituals involved ecstatic and sometimes violent displays aimed at achieving a state of collective ecstasy.

French literature and modern interpretation

It was not until the nineteenth century, especially in French literature, that the term “orgy” acquired the modern meaning of a group sexual practice accompanied by excessive consumption of alcohol and food. In Gustave Flaubert’s story Smaragd, written in 1839, an orgy is described as “a nocturnal celebration, an orgy full of naked women as beautiful as Venus.” This description cemented the modern view of the orgy as a celebration of carnal pleasures.

Forbidden pleasures and ancient banquets

Contrary to popular belief, orgies were not a modern invention. Classical texts contain accounts of banquets at which gastronomic meals were combined with erotic pleasures. In the 4th century BC, the Greek orator Aeschines accused his rival Timarchus of indulging in “the most shameful vices” and engaging in activities that an aristocrat should avoid.

Such forbidden pleasures included inviting flute players and other disreputable women to dinner. It is important to note, however, that these flutistas were not chosen simply for their musical talents, but as young prostitutes specifically chosen to satisfy the sexual desires of the guests.

Sophisticated Indulgence: Expensive Fish and Prostitution

Among the various indulgences at ancient banquets, orators of the 4th century BCE emphasized the consumption of expensive fish. Demosthenes, in his oratorio The False Embassy, linked the debauchery of soliciting courtesans to the extravagant eating of expensive fish.

In 346 BC Athens sent ambassadors to the Macedonian king Philip II, who posed a threat to Greece. However, some of these ambassadors were corrupted by the ruler, leading them to support his imperial ambitions. Demosthenes accused one such envoy of squandering his ill-gotten gains on “prostitutes and fish,” thus emphasizing the intertwined gluttony of flesh and taste.

These historical facts shed light on the true nature of orgies, emphasizing their religious and spiritual significance, not just their sexual aspects. Orgies were part of mystery cults aimed at celebrating the rebirth of nature.

Orgiastic rites were not just pleasure, but a way for initiates to transcend their everyday existence and connect with the divine. This view refutes the common view of orgies as purely hedonistic gatherings and invites us to reflect on their deeper meaning in ancient societies.

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