American Journal of Philology 124:3: "Contrary to the view that "respectable" women dined seated until the Augustan era, I argue that a women (of any status) could always dine reclining alongside a man, and that this signifies a licit sexual connection. The sitting posture, seen mostly in sub-elite visual representations, introduces further complexities of practice and ideology. In general, postures attributed to women function more as indicators of sexual mores than as direct representations of social practice?."
"...To begin with the earliest Roman literature, several Plautine dramas (late third to early second century B.C.E.) contain convivial scenes in which high-status males dine and drink while reclining in one another's company and alongside courtesans. The convivium is thus a place where such males enjoy a nexus of pleasures: wine, food, companionship, and the prospect (at least) of sex. 8 These convivial pleasures persist in the late republic as well.
Cicero, early in his treatise on the ideal orator (De Or. 1.27), contrasts such pleasures with more serious activities and concerns (i.e., negotia). He relates that, when he was a young man, the senior senator and orator Cotta regaled him with a story from Cotta's own youth. Cotta said that he himself had participated one day in a gloomy and difficult discussion with certain eminences grises regarding the condition of the state. Following this discussion, however, when the party repaired to the dining couches, the host Crassus dispelled the prevailing gloom with his humanity, urbanity, and pleasantness. Cotta contrasts these moods as follows: "in the company of these men the day seemed to have been spent in the senate-house, while the dinner party seemed to have been spent at [a suburban villa in] Tusculum." 9 That is, the grave affairs of state (negotia), which filled the day's conversation, stereotypically occupied the curia at the political heart of the Roman republican forum, while the pleasurable, cheerful fellowship of the evening convivium (otium) better suited a country villa. Cicero himself, says Plutarch (Cic. 8.4), almost never reclined for dinner before sundown, pleading a bad stomach and also his ascholia (i.e., negotia) as keeping him away. Julius Caesar, a busy man, rather eccentrically combined business with pleasure: Plutarch remarks upon the fact that he regularly dealt with his correspondence while reclining at dinner. 10
Moving onward, Horace contrasts otium and negotium, though not necessarily in these terms, in some of his dinner-invitation poems (e.g., Carm. 2.11, 3.8, 3.29), for he dangles before his addressee?in each case, a magistrate busy with public affairs?the enticements of companionship, sex, and especially wine, requesting that he seize these pleasures and yield for the evening his anxious cares on behalf of the state. 11 Likewise, one declamation in the elder Seneca's collection (Cont. 9.2) posits that a provincial governor executed a criminal in the midst of a convivium at a prostitute's request. Many of the declaimers who handle this theme explore the shocking collapse of the otium/negotium distinction that this situation envisions. For judicial matters, such as punishing criminals, belong in the forum, not the dining room; they should be done by daylight, not at night, and so on. 12 The younger Seneca, in Ep. 71.21, contrasts "lying in a convivium" with "lying on the rack" (i.e., for torture). The former, he acknowledges, is pleasant while the latter is unpleasant, yet the two kinds of reclining are indifferent in regard to Stoic moral value. Finally, Martial (Epig. 14.135) gives voice to an outfit of dining-clothes (cenatoria), which primly defines its proper realm by contrast with "serious" business: "neither the forum nor going to bail are familiar to us: our job is to recline on embroidered couches." 13 These passages are purely illustrative, and by no means exhaustive; they merely show how elite Romans consistently slotted conviviality into the category of otium and regarded it as encompassing a variety of specific pleasures: wine, food, conversation, companionship, sex. They also show how such Romans distinguished conviviality broadly, and the reclining posture that symbolizes it, from activities they perceived as serious or mundane (i.e. negotia), or unpleasant."
"...The next body of evidence dates from the late republic. In this period, too, we find women of diverse social and sexual statuses reclining alongside elite males at convivia. Certainly women of low status figure among these. In his second Catilinarian oration (Cat. 2.10), delivered in 63 B.C.E., Cicero invokes the specter of a debauched convivium in which wine-soaked, gluttonous, perfume-drenched followers of Catiline, exhausted by their illicit sexual exertions, embrace "shameless women" as they recline, plotting murder and fiery destruction for the city. Similarly, in a letter of 46 B.C.E., Cicero describes a convivium at the house of Volumnius Eutrapelus in Rome, attended by a number of male aristocrats, in which the actress and courtesan Cytheris was also present and reclining to dine: infra Eutrapelum Cytheris accubuit. . . non me hercule suspicatus sum illam adfore (Fam. 9.26.2). Bradley (1998, 47) explains that Cytheris reclined because "[s]he was an actress, and for a woman of her profession, or that of a meretrix, the conventions of respectable society did not apply," where by "conventions of respectable society," he presumably means the "strict protocol" (mentioned in the same paragraph), whereby the dutiful, subordinate wife sat while her husband reclined. Cytheris was assuredly not married to Eutrapelus but was his freedwoman and was almost certainly his sexual partner at one time or another. 46<>Att. 5.1), Cicero describes the rudeness of Atticus' sister Pomponia to her husband Quintus Cicero, Marcus' brother, during a day the three spent together while traveling. First, Marcus reports, she harshly rejected Quintus' suggestion that the three collectively host a dinner. Then she refused to join the
Representations of women's conviviality become more plentiful in Augustan and imperial texts. These representations confirm that a woman's dining posture?at least in elite male company?expresses her sexuality, but they show considerable ambivalence about the consequences of such expression. Especially striking are several tableaux in Ovid's elegiac poetry where the male lover, reclining in a convivium, observes his beloved reclining on another couch with another man and plots to seduce her. In Amores 1.4, the woman in question is explicitly described as reclining alongside a man, the image of her "warm[ing] the breast of another, placed close below him" (alteriusque sinus apte subiecta fovebis? v. 5), and the other gestures of intimacy that the poet-lover observes or fears that the two may exchange (vv. 4-6, 15-16, 29-30, 33-44) suggest that readers would understand this couple as reclining in close physical contact, with the man at the head of the couch and the woman slightly toward the foot, her back against his chest. That is, he reclines above her (in the high position on the couch) and she below him (in the low position). Clearly, this positioning facilitates physical contact, among other things. 51The lover, for his part, proposes a set of signals that he and his beloved might exchange, across the distance that separates them, to signify their attraction and perhaps set up a tryst. A similar tableau in the Heroides (16.217-58) depicts a banquet in