In 1966, a Slutty Roman Emperor Did It All




WHILE sorting a box of donated books for a prison class I was teaching, I noticed that the cover art on a decades-old book was the work of famed fantasy and science fiction artist Frank Frazetta. The cover featured nearly naked muscular men in a variety of poses that suggested—to my “homoerotic mind”—homoerotism. The back cover gave a short synopsis of the novel.

         Child of the Suntells the story of the youth Varius Avitus Bassianus, destined to become emperor of the Roman empire. Varius spurned woman. His erotic longings led to a very different kind of love. Anyone he fancied was quickly offered to him. And no man, whether solder or citizen, dared to refuse him. As his perverted passions grew more and more bizarre, even the voluptuaries of Rome recoiled in horror. I glanced at the copyright page and saw that the book was originally published in 1966. I decided to read the novel and was prepared to be offended by the portrayal of the gay characters. What I found was a book that could have been written today without apology.

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