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Kelly L. Wrenhaven

In ancient Greece and Rome, masturbation was viewed with good-humored disdain. Although it was not apparently subject to the same kinds of scathing attacks that Greek comedy makes on male same-sex activity, it was certainly connected with a lack of sophistication. In line with sexual subjects in general, references are found primarily in Greek comedy and sympotic art of the Archaic and Classical periods, where it is typically associated with barbarians, slaves, and satyrs, all of whom fall into the category of the “Other,” or the anti-ideal. All were deemed lacking in sophrosyne (“moderation”) and enkratia (“self-control”) and were associated with uncivilized behavior. The Greeks had a varied terminology for masturbation. The most commonly found verb is dephesthai (“to soften”), but several other words and euphemisms were used (e.g. cheirourgon, “self-stimulation”).1The comedies of Aristophanes (1) provide the majority of references to masturbation and largely associate it with slaves. The lengthiest reference is a joke that occurs near the beginning of Knights, when Slave B tells Slave A to masturbate in order to give himself courage.