Roman Charity  

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"Idem praedicatum de pietate Perus existimetur, quae patrem suum Mycona consimili fortuna adfectum parique custodiae traditum iam ultimae senectutis uelut infantem pectori suo admotum aluit. haerent ac stupent hominum oculi, cum huius facti pictam imaginem uident…"

English:

"The same consideration should apply to the dutiful actions of Pero. Her father, Mycon, when he was a very old man, suffered the same misfortune [ sentenced to death by starvation] and was likewise sent to jail. Pero took his head to her breast and nursed him, as if he were a baby. When people look at a painting of this deed, they are amazed and cannot take their eyes away…"

--Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX (1st century AD) by Valerius Maximus, English tr. by Henry John Walker, 2004


"Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. 'You got to,' she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. 'There!' she said. 'There.' Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously." --The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck


"In 2008, Jahsonic discovered Roman Charity by French painter Jean-Jacques Bachelier. It depicts the story of a daughter, Pero, who secretly breastfeeds her father, Cimon, after he is incarcerated and sentenced to death by starvation. She is found out by a jailer, but her act of selflessness impresses officials and wins her father's release."--Sholem Stein


"Cimon nourished from the breast of his daughter Pero (a favourite subject with modern artists, known as 'Caritas Romana')".--Italy: Handbook for Travellers (1880) by Karl Baedeker

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Roman Charity (or Carità Romana) is the story of a daughter, Pero, who secretly breastfeeds her father, Cimon, after he is incarcerated and sentenced to death by starvation. She is found out by a jailer, but her act of selflessness impresses officials and wins her father's release.

The story is recorded in Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings by the ancient Roman historian Valerius Maximus, and was presented as a great act of filial piety and Roman honor. In about AD 1362 the story was retold by the famous writer Giovanni Boccaccio.

Primarily, the story tells of a conflict. An existing taboo (implied incest and adult breastfeeding of a woman's milk) or saving a life by breaking the taboo. In this aspect there is no erotic focus to the story.

Valerius Maximus tells two stories, not one only. There's first a long elaborated story with a woman breastfeeding her mother, which is followed by a very short story with a woman breastfeeding her father. The second father-daughter story in fact consists of one sentence only. 1500 years later Boccaccio retells the (first) mother-daughter story only and doesn't mention the father-daughter story. Nevertheless nearly all "caritas romana" oil paintings and drawings show the father-daughter story only. This fact changes the original background into an erotic direction and we can very clearly see the (erotic) fascination of the adult suckling situation for the artists, who created all the paintings.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many famous European artists depicted the scene. Hundreds or possibly thousands of paintings were created, which tell the story. Most outstandingly, Peter Paul Rubens[1] had several versions. Baroque artist Caravaggio also featured the deed (among others) in his work from 1606, The Seven Works of Mercy. Neoclassical depictions tended to be more subdued.

In Jan Vermeer's famous painting The Music Lesson, in the back can be seen a painting of the Roman Charity, consistent with his habit of putting paintings within paintings.

Modern cultural influence

In the 20th century, a fictional account of Roman Charity was presented in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939). At the end of the novel, Rosasharn (Rose of Sharon) nurses a sick and starving man in the corner of a barn. The 1969 painting Partisan Ballad by Mai Dantsig also echoes Roman Charity. The 1973 surrealist film O Lucky Man! also contains a scene of Roman Charity when the protagonist is starving and a vicar's wife nurses him rather than let him plunder the food gathered for an offering.

Linking in as of 2022

Belfry of Ghent, Bernardino Ludovisi, Charles Mellin, Cimon and Pero (Rubens), Columna Lactaria, Daniel Soreau, De Mulieribus Claris, Erotic lactation, Jacques-Antoine Beaufort, Jan Janssens, Joseph Saunders (engraver), Khalili Collection of Enamels of the World, Lactation, Lobkowicz Palace, Montaigne's tower, Partisan Ballad, Pietas, Rembrandt Peale, Roman Charity (Rubens), Sexuality in ancient Rome, The Book of the City of Ladies, The Seven Works of Mercy (Caravaggio), Virtue, Wet nurse

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Roman Charity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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