The wolves of Rome (and Venice)

I see from my calendar that Tuesday (4/21) was Wolf-Suckling Day, celebrated around the world: Romulus and Remus, their lupine foster mother, the founding of Rome, the year 753 (conventionally assigned to this event, and then sometimes used in reckoning dates: AUC ab urbe condita ‘from the founding of the city’), and the equally conventional date that is April 21st on the (Gregorian) calendar we currently use.

Then, right before the day itself, a stern warning from the World Wolf-Suckling Foundation site:

IMPORTANT BULLETIN: Because of COVID-19, all events for Wolf-Suckling Day must be virtual, NO EXCEPTIONS ALLOWED. There is a site matching up prospective wolves and suckling boys, but it’s run by the city government of Rome and is currently in some disorder. EXPECT LONG WAITS FOR SERVICE.

Meanwhile, could we suggest some excellent, well-produced WOLF-SUCKLING PORN sites, providing guides to satisfying wolf-suckling experiences in the privacy of your own homes.

Then, my mentioning this Italian wolf on Facebook naturally led Ned Deily to ask about Il Lupo di Venezia, the composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: what about his day? As it happens, I have not disregarded this native of Venice on this blog. Details below.

Finally, the WWSF bulletin above moved me to reflect some on the syntax of the verb suckle, which I’m putting off to the very end because my discussion is heavy with explicit references to sexual acts in very plain language; kids and the sexually modest should bow out of the posting at that point.

Roman R&R. From Wikipedia:

(#1) Romulus and Remus with their wolf foster mother, bronze sculpture, c.500–480 BC; in the Capitoline Museums, Rome

In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus [It. Romulo e Remo] are twin brothers whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom by Romulus. The killing of Remus by his brother, and other tales from their story, have inspired artists throughout the ages. Since ancient times, the image of the twins being suckled by a she-wolf has been a symbol of the city of Rome and the ancient Romans. Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC [753 became the conventional founding date], the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC.

(#2) A later take on the brothers and their wolf: Peter Paul Rubens, Romulus and Remus (1615-16)

From the Eclectic Light site on the Rubens:

Peter Paul Rubens shows Romulus and Remus being discovered by Faustulus, in his painting of 1615-16. Not only is the she-wolf taking care of the twins, but a family of woodpeckers are bringing worms and grubs to feed them, and there are empty shells and a little crab on the small beach as additional tasty tidbits. Rubens also provides a river god and water nymph as guardians.

The Venetian Wolf. Ned Deily asked, in reaction to all this attention on Romulus, “But what of Wolf-Ferrari Day??” I replied that I was not unaware of W-F Day, 1/12, Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari having been born on this day in 1876 (just three years before my Swiss grandfather). From Wikipedia: “Wolf-Ferrari … began transforming the wild and witty farces of the 18th-century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni into comic operas. The resulting works were musically eclectic, melodic, and utterly hilarious; every single one became an international success.” See my 7/15/15 posting “Morning names: The Secret of Susanna,The Jewels of the Madonna”.

The verb suckle and its relatives. (This section will quickly veer into highly sexual topics and language, so is not for kids or the sexually modest.) The act of suckling has two participants, one a woman providing a breast with milk, the other an infant feeding from that breast. Call these two roles in this act the I role (suggesting Insertive) and the R role (suggesting Receptive), respectively. What is immediately notable is that NPs denoting entities that can serve either of these roles can function as the grammatical subject (SU) of the verb suckle. Crudely, this verb can have an I SU or an R SU.

From NOAD:

verb suckle: [a] [with object] feed (a baby or young animal) from the breast or teat: a mother pig suckling a huge litter. [b] [no object] (of a baby or young animal) feed by sucking the breast or teat: the infant’s biological need to suckle.

OED2 has 1408 (Wyclif’s Bible) as its 1st cite for sense a (with I SU); for sense b (with R SU), a 1688 cite has it implied in the adj. suckling; then there’s a 1823 cite, but R SU is clearly later than I SU.

(Note: a conceptual object can be expressed with R-SU suckle, but it’s as an oblique object syntactically (suckle from/at the breast) rather than as a direct object (*suckle the breast).)

The development of R-SU suckle is quite natural, given the close association between SU-hood and agentivity, with motion and physical activity regular concomitants of agentive arguments of verbs. The crude point is that in suckling, it’s the infant that does the work

Note that fellatial suck works very differently from suckle. The motion and physical activity on the part of the fellator take precedence in deciding the syntax of the verb, which is firmly R-SU + I-DO: I sucked him; I sucked his cock. There’s no I-SU sense of suck, whether transitive or intransitive; there’s nothing like (intransitive) I sucked ‘I gave someone my cock for them to suck’ or (transitive) I sucked him ‘I gave him my cock to suck’. (In fact, there seems to be no simple I-SU fellatial verb. (There is the technical I-SU verb irrumate and the crude slang I-SU mouth-fuck and face-fuck, but these seem to have an additional component of force or aggression on the part of the insertive participant.)

The history of suckle does have something of an analogue in the development of sexual senses of fuck, for both vaginal and anal intercourse, and in the anal case, for both male-female and male-male intercourse. In older uses, semantic and syntactic features align in straightforward ways: the verb is transitive, with an I Agt [Agent] SU and an R Pat [Patient] DO (Tom fucked Harry (with his big cock)).

Eventually, examples begin to appear with what’s usually thought of as Pat-SU (also R-SU) fuck. All the way to male-male examples like Harry fucked Tom with his ass. Discussion in my 10/3/18 posting “Pat-SU fuck: new visions”, where I float the idea that such examples do indeed have R SUs, but these now exhibit a high degree of agentivity;  in Harry fucked Tom with his ass, Harry is seen as in control of the situation, in motion, in effect using Tom as a living dildo to provide himself with a satisfying sexual experience.

In any case, as with the newer sense of suckle, we get a R-SU with Agt characteristics.

2 Responses to “The wolves of Rome (and Venice)”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    If, like me, one has trouble remembering which twin killed the other, one might refer to the closing couplet of Ogden Nash’s poem in praise of simple vinaigrette:

    May they perish, as Remus was perished by Romulus,
    Who tinker with this, the most sacred of formulas.

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