In the papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt, we learn about a variety of festival entertainers, including flute players, singers, dancers, actresses, and so on. Usually, these entertainers pop up in contracts used for hiring purposes. But they also emerge in private letters. In a Ptolemaic papyrus letter discussed on this blog some time ago, Demophon hires an effeminate male dancer and places an order for various sorts of instruments and delicacies for a certain women’s festival. When dancers were hired for festivities, parties, or celebrations, they were front-and-center. Dominic Montserrat (Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt [Routledge, 1996]) has suggested that these dancers, donned in their glamorous dancing costumes, ornaments, jewelry, and perfume, would have likely provided sexual services as well. According to Montserrat, “it is not hard to imagine that the tinkling of the dancer’s jewellery, her movements and the music, would have provided a powerful erotic stimulus for some spectators” (176).
In one particular case, we learn that the attraction (of one sort or another) proved fatal. According to P.Oxy. 3.475, Leonides reports an accident in which an eight year old slave boy named Epaphroditus fell to his death while trying to watch dancing girls at a festival:
“To Hierax, strategus, from Leonides alias Serenus, whose mother is stated as Tauris, of Senepta. Late yesterday evening, namely 6th Hathyr, while a festival was taking place at Senepta and the castanet dancers were giving their usual performance at the house of my son-in-law Ploution son of Aristodemos, his slave Epaphroditus, about 8 years old, tried to lean out of an upper room of the said house to see the castanet dancers, fell, and was killed.”
Part of the document is a copy of an application to the strategus of Oxyrhynchus imploring him to order one of his assistants to give Epaphroditus a proper burial. We learn that the strategus did indeed order an assistant to view the dead body in the company of a public physician and to deliver it over for burial.
A very sad ending for little Epaphroditus.