Author: Petronius Arbiter


Giton venait de la deflorer, et de remporter une victoire sanglante.
Giton the victor had won a not bloodless victory.

All people have regarded virginity as something sacred, and God has so honored it that he willed that his son be born of a virgin, fecundated, however, by the Holy Ghost. Still, it appears problematical whether the Virgin Mary, complete virgin that she was, did not have the same pleasure as those who are not virgins, when she received the divine annunciation. Father Sanchez has discussed the question very fully "whether the Virgin Mary ’spent’ in copulation with the Holy-Ghost," unhappily, he decided in the negative, and I have too much veneration for Father Sanchez not to submit to his decision; but because of it, I am vexed with the Virgin Mary and the Holy Ghost.

Notwithstanding this, the daughters of the people of the Lord were not content to remain virgins; a state of being which, at bottom has not much to recommend it. The daughter of Jephtha before being immolated for the sake of the Lord, demanded of her father a reprieve of two months in which to weep for her virginity upon the mountains of Gelboe; it seems it should not have taken so long had she had nothing to regret. Ruth had recourse to the quickest method when she wished to cease being a virgin; she simply went and lay down upon the bed with Boaz. The spirit of God has deemed it worth while to transmit this story to us, for the instruction of virgins from century to century.

The pagan Gods thought highly of maidenheads, they often took them and always, they set aside the virgins for themselves. The Phtyian, from whose organ Apollo was foreordained to come, proved to be only a virgin; the spirit of God did not communicate itself to anyone who had ever been sullied by contact with a mortal. It was to virgins that the sacred fires of Vesta were entrusted, and the violation of their virginity was a capital crime which all Rome regarded as a scourge from wrathful heaven.

The Sybils lived and died virgins; in addressing the Cumaean Sybil, AEneas never failed to bestow that title upon her.

Most of the immortals have preserved their virginity, Diana, Minerva, et cet. But what is the most astonishing is that the companions of Venus and Amor, the most lovable of all divinities, the Graces, were also virgins. Juno became a virgin again every year, by bathing in the waters of a magic fountain; that must have rendered Jupiter’s duties rather onerous.

There are some reasons for this passion of mankind for maidenheads. It is so wonderful to give the first lessons of voluptuousness to a pure and innocent heart, to feel under one’s hand the first palpitations of the virginal breasts which arouses unknown delights, to dry the first tears of tenderness, to inspire that first mixture of fear and hope, of vague desires and expectant inquietude; whoever has never had that satisfaction has missed the most pleasurable of all the delights of love. But taken in that sense, virginity is rather a moral inclination, as Buffon says, than a physical matter, and nothing can justify the barbarous precautions against amorous theft which were taken by unnatural fathers and jealous husbands.

In those unhappy countries which are bent under oppression, in those countries where heaven shows its heat in the beauty of the sex, and where beauty is only an object of speculation for avid parents; in such countries, I say, they resort to the most odious methods for preserving the virginity of the young and beautiful daughters who are destined to be sold like common cattle. They put a lock over the organ of pleasure and never permit it to be opened except when it is strictly necessary for carrying out those animal functions for which nature destined them.

The locks of chastity were long known in Europe; the Italians are accused with this terrible invention. Nevertheless, it is certain that they were used upon men, at least, in the time of the first Roman emperors. Juvenal, in his satire against women, VI, says: "If the singers please them there is no need for locks of chastity for those who have sold their voices to the praetors, who keep them."

Si gaudet cantu, nullius fibula durat
Vocem vendentis praetoribus.
Sat. VI, 379.

If pleased by the song of the singer employed by the praetor
No fibula long will hold out, free, the actor will greet her.

Christianity, most spiritual, most mystical of ancient religions, attempts to make out a great case for celibacy. Its founder never married, although the Pharisees reproached him for frequenting gay women, and had, perhaps, some reason for so doing. Jesus showed a particular affection for Mary Magdalen, to the point of exciting the jealousy of Martha, who complained that her sister passed her time in conversation with Jesus and left her with all the housework to do. "Mary has chosen the better part," said the Savior. A good Christian must not doubt that the colloquies were always spiritual.

St. Paul counseled virginity and most of the apostolic fathers practiced it. Among others, St. Jerome lived his whole life among women and never lost his purity. He answered his enemies who reproached him with his very great intimacy with the Saintly Sisters, that the irrefutable proof of his chastity was that he stank. That stinking of St. Jerome, which is not a veritable article of faith in the Church, is, however, an object of pious belief; and my readers will very gladly assent to it.

When the Christian clergy wishes to form a body of doctrines to be submitted to by all the common people it thinks that by separating its interests and those of the common people as far as possible it must tighten those ropes by which it binds its fellow citizens. Also the Pope who was the most jealous of ecclesiastical power and the one who abused it most, Hildebrand, rigorously prohibited the marriage of priests and enunciated the most terrible warnings against those who did not retain their celibacy. However, although neither priests nor monks were permitted to marry, the epithet "virgins" cannot be justly applied to all priests and all monks without exception. Nor shall I repeat here the naughty pleasantries of Erasmus, of Boccaccio, and all the others, against the monks; without doubt maliciousness has developed more "satyrical" traits that they have brought out; beyond that, I have nothing to say.


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Chicago: Petronius Arbiter, "V. Virginity," Satyricon, trans. W. C. Firebaugh in Satyricon (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922), Original Sources, accessed June 4, 2023,

MLA: Arbiter, Petronius. "V. Virginity." Satyricon, translted by W. C. Firebaugh, in Satyricon, New York, Boni and Liveright, 1922, Original Sources. 4 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Arbiter, P, 'V. Virginity' in Satyricon, trans. . cited in 1922, Satyricon, Boni and Liveright, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 June 2023, from