Saturday 8 September 2012

On a Vestal Virgin's Fallopian Tubes

Rhea Silvia, 'Date-Rape-Drug' Victim
It was only last Monday’s strange dream about Romulus and Remus which got me over my reluctance even to address US Republican Congressman Todd Akin’s view that women don’t get pregnant as a result of rape. The reason he may not hear much about such pregnancies is obvious to any woman. If the two individuals I know personally to whom this has happened are anything to go by, women who are pregnant as a result of rape get themselves unpregnant fast. 

The source of Akin and his fellow idiots’ information seems to be a 1985 article by one Dr. John C. Willke. According to the website of the ‘Life Issues Institute’, this fantasist is an ‘expert in human sexuality’. His theory is that in a woman who is raped, sperm can’t traverse the fallopian tubes because the tubes go ‘spastic’.

What Does it Look Like 'in spasm'?
Now the ancient Greeks and Romans were hardly advanced on either gynaecology or rape. Indeed, with many sexual encounters in classical mythology, there are variant versions which show how much it was disputed whether e.g. Helen was forced into sex by Paris or seduced by him. Men have always liked to imagine that women are enjoying sex which is forced upon them. There isn’t even a word in ancient Greek or Latin which corresponds to the modern term ‘rape’, the emphasis being laid more on abduction of another man’s property than penetration of an actual person’s body. 

Yet I am just relieved that madmen like Willke and Akin were not in control of policing ancient literature, since if their idea had been given any credence in antiquity, Classics would not exist. The Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia was certainly ‘raped’ in the modern sense by Mars, since she was asleep when he had sex with her. He had used a ‘date rape drug’, the ancient equivalent of Rohypnol. Her tubes did not go spastic, and she produced Romulus and Remus. If you can’t get pregnant through rape, we would therefore never have had ancient Rome AT ALL.
Was it Consensual Because She Laid an Egg?

I’m afraid it’s the same with Greek myth and literature, at least with all of the works dealing with the Trojan War. Helen of Troy may have actively agreed to embark on an affair with Paris, but it’s not at all clear that either of the mothers the ancients proposed for her–Leda, Nemesis—wasn’t forcibly inseminated by whatever means male swans use. Without Helen there is no Trojan War. 

If rape victims’ tubes had been believed to go spastic, the entire genre of New Comedy—Menander, Plautus and Terence—would never have happened because so many of its plots unedifyingly begin with a baby resulting from the rape of a freeborn female teenager. 

And one of the most astonishing texts in the ancient repertoire would have to be completely rewritten: in Euripides’ tragedy Ion, the Athenian queen Creusa remembers when she was raped as a defenceless adolescent by the lustful Apollo, despite her heartrending, ‘desperate screams for help from mummy’. 

'Expert in Human Sexuality'
The rape resulted in her pregnancy with the boy Ion: like countless rape victims before and since, she recalls how she concealed the pregnancy out of shame, gave birth alone, terrified, and in secret, before trying to get rid of the baby. Euripides makes his spectators face the longterm psychological damage these experiences caused Creusa. They continue to haunt her in middle age. 

Akin and Willke urgently require a remedial course in human biology. But I would be happy to supplement it with a course on rape in antiquity.  It just might make the tubes connecting their gonads to their brains a little bit less spastic.

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