03 March 2007
Julian Laws, Shmulian Laws!
Caesar Augustus, not long after his rise to power in Rome, instituted a series of laws that
monitored and restricted the sexual activities of married and non-married couples within the
These Julian Laws were especially harsh on cases of adultery and barren marriages;
their aim was to promote childbearing within marriages so that families could raise children to
serve Rome as soldiers, officials, and other such necessary duties.
This utopian dream for and
view of Rome was completely unrealistic, as can be seen in the love poems of Ovid.
to his many affairs with adulterous mistresses, in particular Corinna, show that the act of sex for
pure pleasure was thriving, and that the threat of the Julian Laws did not deter everyone, or
perhaps not even most.
Although it is not clear whether Ovid was speaking from experience,
desires, or pure imagination, or whether he purposely challenged Augustus’ laws instead of, as
he claimed, simply writing within his genre, his poetry proves that what the Julian Laws
regarded as sexual misconduct is, perhaps, simply human nature.
It also provides evidence that
the Julian Laws may not have been upheld as strongly as Augustus would have liked.
The Julian Laws dictated that adultery be punishable by exile or the seizure of property,
but that did not seem to phase the speaker in Ovid’s poems.
In poem 4 of Book I of the Amores,
he gives instructions to his lover in order for her to hide their affair from her husband at a dinner
party while still flirting and communicating through it.
He says, “Stealthily touch my foot, and
look at me, watching my nods, my eyes, my face’s language; catch and return my signals