c. 303 | Sicca Veneria

Indecent Exposure

Displaying the parts that decency hides.

Once, they say, when Persephone, not yet a woman, was gathering purple flowers in the meadows of Sicily, the king of the shades sprang forth and seized her, pulling her into the bowels of the earth.

Ceres did not know what had happened to her daughter, so she set off to search for the lost one all over the world. She took up two torches lit at the fires of Etna and went on her quest. In her wanderings she reaches the confines of Eleusis. At that time these parts were inhabited by Dysaules, a keeper of goats, and his wife, Baubo.

Baubo hospitably receives Ceres, worn out with ills of many kinds, and hangs about her with pleasing attentions, beseeching her not to neglect to refresh her body. Baubo brings wine thickened with spelt, which the Greeks call cyceon, to quench her thirst. The goddess in her sorrow turns away from the kindly offer. Baubo begs and exhorts her not to despise her humanity; Ceres remains utterly immovable. But when this was done several times, and her fixed purpose could not be worn out by any attentions, Baubo changes her plans and determines to make merry by strange jests her whom she could not win by earnestness. That part of the body by which women both bear children and obtain the name of mothers, this she frees from long neglect. She makes it assume a purer appearance and become smooth like a child, not yet hard and rough with hair.

The Three Graces, by Raphael, c. 1504. © Musee Conde, Chantilly / Bridgeman Images.

In this way, she returns to the sorrowing goddess, and, while trying the common expedients by which it is usual to break the force of grief and moderate it, she uncovers herself and, baring her groins, displays all the parts that decency hides. The goddess fixes her eyes on these and is pleased with the strange form of consolation. Then becoming more cheerful after laughing, she takes and drinks off the draft spurned before, and the indecency of a shameless action forced that which Baubo’s modest conduct was unable to win.

Contributor

Arnobius the Elder

From Against the Pagans. Born in proconsular Africa during the reign of Diocletian, Arnobius was a pagan teacher of rhetoric and vitriolic attacker of Christianity until, in his sixties, he converted to the faith after having a dream telling him to do so. A bishop believed him insincere in his conversion; to prove himself, Arnobius composed the seven volumes of this apologia, seeking to refute those who argued that “ever since the Christians have been on earth, the world has gone to ruin.”