We will never know what pushed the brave general and prudent historian Procopius of Caesarea to betray, in his Anecdota (The Secret History, cca. 550 A.D.) the dark secrets of the Byzantine court and of empress Theodora‘s sexual mores. The fact is that this female saint in the Orthodox church (sanctified together with her husband, emperor Justinian) comes out from Procopius‘s pages rather as a champion of the sexual liberation avant la lettre :
“Though she worked with all her three holes (ἡ δε κακ τριῶν τρυπεμάτων ἐργαζομένη) she nevertheless complained of Nature for not having made the holes of her nipples wider, that she might thus practice a new form of coition in that part of her person also.
“Often, on stage, she stripped before the eyes of all the people, and stood naked in their midst. In this attitude she would throw herself down on the floor, and lie on her back. Slaves, whose duty it was, would pour grains of barley upon the calyx of her passion flower, which trained geese would then pick up with their beaks one by one and eat.
“So shamelessly was she abusing her body, that she seemed to have her pudenda (the vagina, την αιδῶ) in her mouth (εν τῶ προσώπω), and not where other women have it.”
This anticipation of Deep Throat has so embarrassed the translators that they thought they misunderstood the text. Thus Richard Atwater’s 1927 translation:
“So perverse was her wantonness that she should have hid not only the customary part of her person, as other women do, but her face as well. ” (Huh?!!! the man was badly twisting the Greek grammar)…
Mihãescu’s otherwise very good Romanian translation is also misleading here, because it says: “pãrea cã are mãdularul rusinii în gurã”, mãdularul in Romanian being male-only, when applied to the pudenda… whereas in byzantine Greek ta αιδοῖα was specialised in the Homeric sense of “parties honteuses” for both sexes.
So Theodora had her vulva in her face, en to prosopo (εν τῶ προσώπω). How appropriate then is the fact that the Greek prosopon, the face, has become in Romanian the word for a towel used for the face: prosop, something that Theodora didn’t seem to need.
Oh, and my interest in Theodora is purely personal. My middle name is : Theodor… a little known fact.
A vulva cannot harm my virtue !…
In prosopul lui Hristos…