The grammarian Nonius writing in the late 4th/early 5th century CE says of the cinaedi that in earlier times (apud veteres) they were said to be either dancers or pantomimes. Modern scholarship has most often focused on this noun's more pejorative meaning as effeminate gender deviant or passive homosexual whilst often considering the performative aspect of the cinaedus as somehow prior or secondary to that of deviant. This paper contends that not only do we have ample evidence of cinaedi as performers in the ancient world concurrent with the more derogatory uses of the word in Catullus, Martial, and Pompeian invective graffiti, but further that such evidence can sharpen our understanding of what kinds of venues 'cinaedic' performance could be encountered at and what such performances entailed.
Although mentioned in the comedies of Plautus, the cinaedi are actually most often described as being non-theatrical performers. In ancient sources they appear at banquets, schools, and in public spaces more generally. The evidence also suggests that the cinaedi's performance had a number of functions within ancient society. Beyond being solely a spectacular entertainment, 'cinaedic' performance had both educational and devotional functions: cinaedi are described as dancing instructors in both the republican and imperial periods (Macrobius Sat. 3.14; Juvenal 6 O 19-20) and are associated with foreign female goddesses by Apuleius (Met. 8.24), Suetonius (Aug. 68), and the Appendix Vergiliana (Cat. 13).
Whereas Nonius predominantly considered the cinaedi to be dancers, the extant evidence suggests that the cinaedi were producers of sonic as well as kinetic texts - whether spoken, sung, or in the form of musical percussive accompaniment. Indeed Nonius alludes to such 'cinaedic' poetics more than once in his discussion: first in his quotation from the Stichus (cantionem aliquam occupito cinaedicam), and second in a quotation from Varro which contrasts epic hexameter with 'cinaedic' verse (Ἀχιλλέως ἡρωικός, ἰωνικὸς κιναίδου). This second quotation directly connects 'cinaedic' performance with the well documented tradition, purpotedly initiated by the Hellenistic poet Sotades, of rearranging lines of epic hexameter into obscene Sotadean verses.
This paper argues that our traditional understanding of cinaedi as dancers privileges their kinetic over their verbal performance and that such a reading lessens the impact of 'cinaedic' performance on more traditional Latin poetics. The privileging of the somatic qualities of the cinaedus' performance style over the verbal leads to a flattening of our understanding of the cinaedi. If we put aside the generic separation between dance and speech and focus instead on rhythm as the unifying factor in both movement and utterance then the cinaedus becomes a prime agent for the unification of both dance and poetics in Roman performance culture.
Roman Dance Cultures in Context