Scortum, scorteus, scortatus in Petronius’ Satyrica and Apuleius’ Metamorphoses - Donald Lateiner (Ohio)
An insulting term, but not vulgar or “poetic”. Meretrix (“courtesan”) is less vituperative, not even derogatory in some mouths. Adams found over fifty Latin terms for prostitute, but cf. Hallett (Eugesta 3). Plautus, Terence, Cicero, Varro, and Catullus produce “deserved” and undeserved abuse of inappropriately empowered individuals. More insulting terms : pellicula (Var. LL 7.84, on Atellan farces), proseda, circulator, figurative lupatria (Sat. 37 ; cf. lupanar, 7 ; Apul. Met. 3.22, 5.11) and miluus (Sat. 75.6) ; secutuleia ( ? : Sat. 81.5) or biblical Latin fornicatrix, etc. Diminutives—such as scortillum (Catul. 10.3), meretricula (Cic. Verr. 3.30), and muliercula (14x, Plautus)—provide derogatory dismissals, not positive hypocorisms (nicknames). Both males and females may be scorta : Philip, male escort of L. Flamininus (scortum nobile, Liv. 39.42). Cicero describes select opponents as scorta (e.g., Phil. 2.44).
Pre-Christian—as well as Christian (including St. Augustine, de ordine 2.12) and post-Christian communities—recognize scorta’s ineradicability. The sexual use of scortum perhaps derives from an original “hide, leather” (Varro. LL 7.84). Usage extended it to frequently employed “skin,” genitals, and, by slangy synecdoche, to disreputable (famosae, impudicae) sex workers. The abusive “market” word demotes both sexes (e.g., Plaut. Curc. 473, Adams 322). Encolpius views everyone as willing to sell his or her body, hence as scorta.
Scortum therefore devalues people as sexual commercial merchandise, lower than meretrix. Clueless Encolpius wanders into a brothel near the novel’s preserved beginning. A male stranger there, having already rented a bed for an hour, propositions Encolpius’ louche companion (7-8 : video [Encolpius] quosdam inter titulos nudasque meretrices furtim spatiantes. Tarde, immo iam sero intellexi me in fornicem esse deductum.... [Ascyltus] : prolatoque peculio coepit [aliquis] rogare stuprum. iam pro cella meretrix assem exegerat).
Petr. Sat. 9 : Encolpius delivers a savage invective against Ascyltus, calling him a [male] whore, but worse ( ?), one ready for a [woman] whore’s sexual work (gendered insult, cf. Lateiner), for seducing pathic Giton : quid dicis, muliebris patientiae scortum, ....
Petr. 88.6 : Eumolpus declaims hypocritically, abusing his current age in which “we” are mired in wine and whores : At nos vino scortisque demersi....
Petr. 113 : Tryphaena’s handmaid ( ?) addresses Encolpius ( ?) in condemnation : “if you had free blood, you would think him a whore. If you are a man, you will not chase a male slut.” ...non pluris illum facies quam scortum [mss. sportum]. Si uir fueris, non ibis ad spintriam. Petr. 119 v25 : Eumolpus’ daring epic Civil War efforts (impetus) denounce the Roman taste for boy sex : “They emasculate young men at puberty, ... they delight in catamite whores ... everything unmanly.” Omnibus ergo/ scorta placent... Cf. this poet’s experience with the Pergamene boy, a lad entirely willing to sell sexual services to the censorious sensualist.
Scorteum : Petr. 138 : scorteum fascinum, “leathery/ whorish amulet/ dildo.” The word’s Indo-European root describes leather hide (see corium ; cf. Apuleius infra), here a stuffed leather dildo (cf. 92 : fascinum can designate a real or imitation penis). A bibulous old witch (anicula ... soluta mero ac libidine...) anally penetrates Encolpius : profert Oenothea scorteum fascinum... paulatim coepit inserere ano meo...) Oenothea intends either to restore his lapsed virility or ritually punish him (or both). The tool provides Priapic expiation or therapeutic cure for impotence. Scorteum’s sound associations with sex workers remain audible.
Apuleius’ Lucius inhabits a sexually depraved, hypocritical world. Wives and husbands deceive, denounce, and poison their spouses to benefit neighborly sexual partners. They never need commercial scorta. As with Petronius, the word scortum provides insults rather than denominating someone’s profession—pejorative ‘whore’ rather than ‘prostitute’.
Met. 1.8.3 (Aristomenes describes Meroë to Socrates) : qui uoluptatem Veneriam et scortum scorteum (hapax in Apul.) Lari et liberis praetulisti. “You preferred sexual pleasure and a horny-skinned whore to home and children.” Note etymological banter as well as alliteration, frequent in Apuleian sarcastic obloquy. Meroë is an old and leathery whore—doubly damned for Socrates who has abandoned ancestral hearth, wife, and home.
Met. 8.1.15 (A slave narrator condemns an aristocrat’s life-style) : luxuriae popinalis scortisque et diurnis potationibus exercitatus : Thrasyllus was “wallowing in barroom pleasures, and whores, and daily drinking bouts.”
Cf. Apul. Apology 98 : At ille puellae meretricis blandimentis et lenonis patris illectamentis captus.... cum adulescentulis postremissumis inter scorta et pocula puer hoc aeui conuiuium agitat. Apuleius rejects charges of magic, observing with hendiadys how Pudens degenerated from chaste stepson to wastrel and fornicator. This development began with his prosecutors, a pimping uncle Aemilianus and Rufinus’ whoring wife and daughter (cf. 75-6, “again a virgin” : uirgo rursum post recens repudium, nomen potius adferens puellae quam integritatem).
Scortari : Met. 7.11.20 (hapax) : “consort with whores” or “play the whore.” In the bandits’ hideaway, ass Lucius internally voices an invective against women (uituperatio totius sexus). Haemus had deceptively proposed to market Charite (uenundandam) to a pimp for greater profit (quosdam lenones pridem cognitos, ... lupinar... fornix). Captive Charite’s smiles prompt him to renewed misogyny. He silently expostulates in antithetical splendor (uirgo/puella and scortari) : “I say, have you forgotten your wedding... virginal maid, ... and does conscience not prick you ? Or do you trample on affection and like to play the whore ?” (Hem, oblita es nuptiarum... puella uirgo... nec te conscientia stimulat, sed adfectione calcata scortari tibi libet ?).
Scortatus : Met. 5.28.10 (supine hapax) describes Cupid’s alleged “association with whores.” A bird describes to sex-goddess Venus her absent son Cupid’s bad reputation for irregular sexual liaisons) : per cunctorum ora popularum.... familiam Veneris male audire, quod ille (Cupido) montano scortatu [secesserit]. “The household of Venus suffers bad repute everywhere because that boy has gone off whoring in the hills.”
See D. Lateiner, “Gendered and Gendering Insults and Compliments in the Latin Novels,” in Eugesta 3. (> article pdf)
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Scortum, scorteus, scortatus in Petronius Satyrica and Apuleius Metamorphoses - Donald Lateiner (Ohio), EuGeStA Lexicon, 15 May 2014