Women's Woes

"Wine ruins beauty, wine spoils youth, wine often causes a mistress to mistake her man." (Propertius, Elegies II.xxxiii)

Many literatary sources indicated clearly enough that men and women were held to a quite different moral standard in Roman society. A husband could obtain a divorce on various grounds—among them, a wife's infertility or adultery—whereas an official blind eye was turned on his indulgence in occasional sex with slaves or prostitutes. And a husband could roll home drunk any time he wished and even expect some sympathy for the following morning's headache; a wife would be shamed for drinking in public, and even in private she would be expected to show moderation. Respectability did allow, however, for women to take a modicum of raisin wine (passum).

The male Roman attitude towards women drinking created significant social tensions. Many Roman moralists felt that if men and women present drank on a par with one another, thoughts would inevitably turn to adultery. A Christian philosopher explained the chemistry of this process quite simply:

"The eating of meat and the drinking of wine and the fullness of the stomach is the seed plot of lust." (St. Jerome, Against Jovinianus II.7)