Twink Talk

What’s all this about Roman towel boys?

Last week, the Internet was left with its jaw hanging all the way open after we learned that Josh Brolin—Dune 2 actor and stepson of one Barbra Streisand—penned an unexpectedly homoerotic poem to his Dune 2 costar Timothée Chalamet.

Now if you’re getting strong horny vibes from this, you’re not alone. In fact, the meme has taken off so swiftly that it has us launching into the age-old Roman towel boy memes again. Because there’s never a wrong time to learn about the Roman Empire.

Wait a minute, you’re asking…what Roman towel boy memes? Well, it’s like this: back in Ancient Rome, when every man worth his salt was gay and f*cking, it was common practice to have not only a wife, but a catamite, a young male lover or, in some cases, a servant who provides sexual pleasure among his other duties. This boy’s job was essentially just “towel.” And sex.

And for some reason, straight people started fondly recalling the era of the Roman towel boy last year, when they all randomly decided that (female) Italian model Gio Scotti looked the way a Roman catamite may have looked.

Which brings us to today, and Josh Brolin.

Did Brolin mean to thirst after Chalamet, or are we meant to read this as him thirsting after his own lost youth? Did Roman towel boys really look like Timothee Chalamet? And perhaps most importantly, how did the Romans accomplish so much if they were having this much sex?

There are certain things we cannot know. Much like Brolin’s poem, there’s an air of mystery surrounding the Roman adoption of the Greek trend of older men pursuing—and having sexual relationships with—younger pubescent men. While the Romans did shamelessly steal from the Greeks, they definitely went out of their way to make it their own. According to an article on The Collector, “Romans would pursue sexual relationships with younger men, but these relationships were only seen as forgivable if the older man was a freeborn Roman and he was having sex with a younger slave or prostitute who wasn’t of Roman origin.”

So there had to be a built-in power imbalance, which is definitely a lot less wholesome than the Greek version. And while some accounts stress that sex between soldiers in Rome was seen as something of a team-building exercise, other accounts explain that sex between two “freeborn” Romans—meaning people who weren’t enslaved—was strictly verboten.

So the tl;dr is basically: yes, Romans did have sex with young men. No, it wasn’t under the best possible circumstances. And yes, the memory of that sex—somehow—lives on in the minds of modern gays who spend their time thinking about how great it would be to have their job be “towel.”

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