Chios, 4th cent. B.C. (Theopompus, Histories 115 FGrHist F204 =Athenaeus 517d-518a. G)

Several features of the libertine conduct attributed by Theopompus to the Etruscans occur also in Plato’s ideal State (no. 73) and in Xenophon’s description of Sparta (no. 97). However inaccurate this account may be of Etruscan behaviour, it provides (by inversion) a guide to what a fourth-century Greek considered normal in his own culture. [31]

Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive.

The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name.

When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them.

They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Etruria are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies.


31. On Etruscan women, see Bonfante Warren, 1984. Cf. no. 166, the story of Lucretia, in which the Roman matron works virtuously at her wool while the Etruscan princesses enjoy a dinner party.