Above: Léon Davent (mid-16th c. CE), Woman Being Carried to a Libidinous Satyr (ca. 1540-1546). Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Background: Source: Unsplash. Creator: Pawel Czerwinski. License: Unsplash license.
Articles from the
Oxford Classical Dictionary
gender | sexuality | adultery | eunuchs | friendship | hetairai | heterosexuality | homosexuality | incest | kinship | love and friendship in Greek philosophy | masculinity | pollution | pornography | secular prostitution | purification | ritual transvestism | slavery | symposium | women
"Greek drama demands a story of origins," writes Karen Bassi. Abandoning the search for ritual and native origins of Greek drama, Bassi argues for a more secular and less formalist approach to the emergence of theater in ancient Greece. Bassi takes a broad view of Greek drama as a cultural phenomenon, and she discusses a wide variety of texts and artifacts that include epic poetry, historical narrative, philosophical treatises, visual media, and the dramatic texts themselves. In her discussion of theaterlike practices and experiences, Bassi proposes new conceptual categories for understanding Greek drama as a cultural institution, viewing theatrical performance as part of what Foucault has called a discursive formation. Bassi also provides an important new analysis of gender in Greek culture at large and in Athenian civic ideology in particular, where spectatorship at the civic theater was a distinguishing feature of citizenship, and where citizenship was denied women. The work includes detailed discussions of message-sending as a form of scripted speech in the Iliad, of disguise and the theatrical body of Odysseus in the Odyssey, of tyranny as a theaterlike phenomenon in the narratives of Herodotus, and of Dionysus as the tyrannical and effeminate god of the theater in Euripides' Bacchae and Aristophanes' Frogs. Bassi concludes that the validity of an idealized masculine identity in Greek and Athenian culture is highly contested in the theater, where—in principle—citizens become passive spectators. Thereafter the author considers Athenian theater and Athenian democracy as mutually reinforcing mimetic regimes.
TransAntiquity: Cross-Dressing and Transgender Dynamics in the Ancient World
Domitilla Campanile, Filippo Carlà-Uhink and Margherita Facella, 2017
This collection of essays explores transgender practices, in particular cross-dressing, and their literary and figurative representations in antiquity. It offers a ground-breaking study of cross-dressing, both the social practice and its conceptualization, and its interaction with normative prescriptions on gender and sexuality in the ancient Mediterranean world. Special attention is paid to the reactions of the societies of the time, the impact transgender practices had on individuals’ symbolic and social capital, as well as the reactions of institutionalized power and the juridical systems. The variety of subjects and approaches demonstrates just how complex and widespread "transgender dynamics" were in antiquity.
Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens
A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians’ consuming passions for food, wine and sex. This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights – especially fish – fine wine and pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, great fortunes were squandered and politicians’ careers ruined through ritual drinking at the symposium, or the wooing of highly-coveted, costly prostitutes. James Davidson brings an incisive eye and an urbane wit to this refreshingly accessible and different history of the people who invented Europe, democracy and art.
Below: Symposium scene in a wall painting from the Tomb of the Diver in Paestum, Italy, 470 BCE.
Source: Flickr. Creator: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup. License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Rape in Antiquity: Sexual Violence in the Greek and Roman Worlds
ed. Susan Deacy & Karen F. Pierce, 1997
How did Greeks and Romans perceive rape? How seriously was it taken, and who were seen as its main victims? The studies in this volume look at the social and legal realities of rape in the ancient world, and also at the numerous myths of rape which themselves may reflect real behaviour and attitudes. Modern readers, used to a discourse which focuses on the question of a woman's (or man's) consent to sexual activity and treats an unwilling partner as a victim worthy of sympathy, may find in ancient attitudes much that is disturbing.
This collection of essays explores the implications of sex-for-pay across a broad span of time, from ancient Mesopotamia to the early Christian period. In ancient times, although they were socially marginal, prostitutes connected with almost every aspect of daily life. They sat in brothels and walked the streets; they paid taxes and set up dedications in religious sanctuaries; they appeared as characters - sometimes admirable, sometimes despicable - on the comic stage and in the law courts; they lived lavishly, consorting with famous poets and politicians; and they participated in otherwise all-male banquets and drinking parties, where they aroused jealousy among their anxious lovers. The chapters in this volume examine a wide variety of genres and sources, from legal and religious tracts to the genres of lyric poetry, love elegy, and comic drama to the graffiti scrawled on the walls of ancient Pompeii. These essays reflect the variety and vitality of the debates engendered by the last three decades of research by confronting the ambiguous terms for prostitution in ancient languages, the difficulty of distinguishing the prostitute from the woman who is merely promiscuous or adulterous, the question of whether sacred or temple prostitution actually existed in the ancient Near East and Greece, and the political and social implications of literary representations of prostitutes and courtesans.
Thinking Men: Masculinity and Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition
ed. Lin Foxhall & John Salmon, 1998
This collection explores artistic and intellectual expression in the classical world as the self representation of man. It starts from the premise that the history of classical antiquity as the ancients tell it is a history of men. However, the focus of this volume is the creation, re-creation and iteration of that male self as presented in language, poetry, drama, philosophical and scientific thought and art: man constructing himself as subject in classical antiquity and beyond. This beautifully illustrated volume, which contains a preface by Nathalie Kampen, provides a thought-provoking and stimulating insight into the representations of men in Classical culture.
Left: Attic red-figure kylix (drinking cup) with flirtation scene; attributed to the Briseis Painter, ca. 480 BCE. Source/creator: The J. Paul Getty Museum. License: Public domain.
A Cultural History of Sexuality, Volume I: In the Classical World
ed. Mark Golden & Peter Toohey, 2011
Though many of the sexual practices of the Ancient Greeks and Romans are known and accepted today, the meanings the Ancients associated with these acts were often utterly different from our own. Both idea and practice also varied within antiquity, shaped by locale, history, social class, age, legal status, and gender. Focusing on the cultures of the Mediterranean from 800 BCE to 350 CE, this book covers sexual practices, feelings, and ideas from the time of Homer to the transformation of the Roman Empire. The work presents an overview of the period with essays on heterosexuality, homosexuality, sexual variations, religious and legal issues, health concerns, popular beliefs about sexuality, prostitution and erotica.
The pervasive and unrestrained use of obscenity has long been acknowledged as a major feature of fifth-century Attic Comedy; no other Western art form relies so heavily on the sexual and scatological dimensions of language. This acclaimed book, now in a new edition, offers both a comprehensive discussion of the dynamics of Greek obscenity and a detailed commentary on the terminology itself. After contrasting the peculiar characteristics of the Greek notion of obscenity to modern-day ideas, Henderson discusses obscenity's role in the development of Attic Comedy, its historical origins, varieties, and dramatic function. His analysis of obscene terminology sheds new light on Greek culture, and his discussion of Greek homosexuality offers a refreshing corrective to the idealized Platonic view. He also looks in detail at the part obscenity plays in each of Aristophanes' eleven surviving plays. The latter part of the book identifies all the obscene terminology found in the extant examples of Attic Comedy, both complete plays and fragments. Although these terminological entries are arranged in numbered paragraphs resembling a glossary, they can also be read as independent essays on the various aspects of comic obscenity. Terms are explained as they occur in each individual context and in relation to typologically similar terminology. With newly corrected and updated philological material, this second edition of Maculate Muse will serve as an invaluable reference work for the study of Greek drama.
The most important primary texts on homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome are translated into modern, explicit English and collected together for the first time in this comprehensive sourcebook. Covering an extensive period―from the earliest Greek texts in the late seventh century b.c.e. to Greco-Roman texts of the third and fourth centuries c.e.―the volume includes well-known writings by Plato, Sappho, Aeschines, Catullus, and Juvenal, as well as less well known but highly relevant and intriguing texts such as graffiti, comic fragments, magical papyri, medical treatises, and selected artistic evidence. These fluently translated texts, together with Thomas K. Hubbard's valuable introductions, clearly show that there was in fact no more consensus about homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome than there is today. The material is organized by period and by genre, allowing readers to consider chronological developments in both Greece and Rome. Individual texts each are presented with a short introduction contextualizing them by date and, where necessary, discussing their place within a larger work. Chapter introductions discuss questions of genre and the ideological significance of the texts, while Hubbard's general introduction to the volume addresses issues such as sexual orientation in antiquity, moral judgments, class and ideology, and lesbianism. With its broad, unexpurgated, and thoroughly informed presentation, this unique anthology gives an essential perspective on homosexuality in classical antiquity.
Right: Terracotta kylix (drinking cup) showing two nude women holding folded garments; attributed to Douris, ca. 470 BCE. Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Sexuality in Greek and Roman Literature and Society: A Sourcebook
ed. Marguerite Johnson & Terry Ryan, 2005
This Sourcebook contains numerous original translations of ancient poetry, inscriptions and documents, all of which illuminate the multifaceted nature of sexuality in antiquity. The detailed introduction provides full social and historical context for the sources, and guides students on how to use the material most effectively. Themes such as marriage, prostitution and same-sex attraction are presented comparatively, with material from the Greek and Roman worlds shown side by side. This approach allows readers to interpret the written records with a full awareness of the different context of these separate but related societies. Commentaries are provided throughout, focusing on vocabulary and social and historical context. This is the first major sourcebook on ancient sexuality; it will be of particular use on related courses in classics, ancient history and gender studies.
Rethinking Sexuality: Foucault and Classical Antiquity
ed. David H.J. Larmour, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter, 1998
In this collection of provocative essays, historians and literary theorists assess the influence of Michel Foucault, particularly his History of Sexuality, on the study of classics. Foucault's famous work presents a bold theory of sexuality for both ancient and modern times, and yet until now it has remained under-explored and insufficiently analyzed. By bringing together the historical knowledge, philological skills, and theoretical perspectives of a wide range of scholars, this collection enables the reader to explore Foucault's model of Greek culture and see how well his interpretation accounts for the full range of evidence from Greece and Rome. Not only do the essays bring to light the assumptions, ideas, and practices that constituted the intimate lives of men and women in the ancient Mediterranean world, but they also demonstrate the importance of the History of Sexuality for fields as diverse as Greco-Roman antiquity, women's history, cultural studies, philosophy, and modern sexuality.
Licht's work provides a fascinating account of ancient Greek society with a focus on sexuality. Exploring many different aspects of daily life from marriage customs and clothing to festivals and beauty contests, it offers a fantastic overview of Greek society and ideals not to be missed by those with an interest in the subject. Contents include: "Greek Ideals of Life", "Marriage and the Life of Women", "The Greek Woman", "Marriage Customs", "Additions and Supplementary Information", "The Human Figure", "Clothing", "Nakedness", "Gymnastics", "Beauty Contests and Further Remarks on Nakedness", "Bathing", "Festivals", etc. Many vintage books such as this are increasingly scarce and expensive. It is with this in mind that we are republishing this volume now in an affordable, modern, high-quality edition complete with a specially-commissioned new introduction on Greek mythology.
Left: Attic red-figure kylix (drinking cup) depicting the rape of Ganymede by Zeus; attributed to the Penthesilea Painter, ca. 475-425 BCE. Source: Flickr. Creator: Egisto Sani. License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Deianeira sends her husband Herakles a poisoned robe. Eriphyle trades the life of her husband Amphiaraos for a golden necklace. Atreus’s wife Aerope gives away the token of his sovereignty, a lamb with a golden fleece, to his brother Thyestes, who has seduced her. Gifts and exchanges always involve a certain risk in any culture, but in the ancient Greek imagination, women and gifts appear to be a particularly deadly combination. This book explores the role of gender in exchange as represented in ancient Greek culture, including Homeric epic and tragedy, non-literary texts, and iconographic and historical evidence of various kinds. Using extensive insights from anthropological work on marriage, kinship, and exchange, as well as ethnographic parallels from other traditional societies, Deborah Lyons probes the gendered division of labor among both gods and mortals, the role of marriage (and its failure) in transforming women from objects to agents of exchange, the equivocal nature of women as exchange-partners, and the importance of the sister-brother bond in understanding the economic and social place of women in ancient Greece. Her findings not only enlarge our understanding of social attitudes and practices in Greek antiquity but also demonstrate the applicability of ethnographic techniques and anthropological theory to the study of ancient societies.
Pederasty and Pedagogy
in Archaic Greece
William Armstrong Percy III, 1996
Combining impeccable scholarship with accessible, straightforward prose, this work argues that institutionalized pederasty began after 650 B.C., far later than previous authors have thought, and was initiated as a means of stemming overpopulation in the upper class. William Armstrong Percy III maintains that Cretan sages established a system under which a young warrior in his early twenties took a teenager of his own aristocratic background as a beloved until the age of thirty, when service to the state required the older partner to marry. The practice spread with significant variants to other Greek-speaking areas. In some places it emphasized development of the athletic, warrior individual, while in others both intellectual and civic achievement were its goals. In Athens it became a vehicle of cultural transmission, so that the best of each older cohort selected, loved, and trained the best of the younger. Pederasty was from the beginning both physical and emotional, the highest and most intense type of male bonding. These pederastic bonds, Percy believes, were responsible for the rise of Hellas and the "Greek miracle": in two centuries the population of Attica, a mere 45,000 adult males in six generations, produced an astounding number of great men who laid the enduring foundations of Western thought and civilization.
Women’s and men’s worlds were largely separate in ancient Mediterranean societies, and, in consequence, many women’s deepest personal relationships were with other women. Yet relatively little scholarly or popular attention has focused on women’s relationships in antiquity, in contrast to recent interest in the relationships between men in ancient Greece and Rome. The essays in this book seek to close this gap by exploring a wide variety of textual and archaeological evidence for women’s homosocial and homoerotic relationships from prehistoric Greece to fifth-century CE Egypt. Drawing on developments in feminist theory, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory, as well as traditional textual and art historical methods, the contributors to this volume examine representations of women’s lives with other women, their friendships, and sexual subjectivity. They present new interpretations of the evidence offered by the literary works of Sappho, Ovid, and Lucian; Bronze Age frescoes and Greek vase painting, funerary reliefs, and other artistic representations; and Egyptian legal documents.
Terracotta group depicting a nuptial banquet taking place on a reclining couch with two child Erotes in attendance; ca. 3rd-2nd c. BCE.
Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
The concept of manhood was immensely important in ancient Athens, shaping its political, social, legal, and ethical systems. This book, a groundbreaking study of manhood in fourth-century Athens, is the first to provide a comprehensive examination of notions about masculinity found in the Attic orators, who represent one of the most important sources for understanding the social history of this period. While previous studies have assumed a uniform ideology about manhood, Joseph Roisman finds that Athenians had quite varied opinions about what constituted manly values and conduct. He situates the evidence for ideas about manhood found in the Attic orators in its historical, ideological, and theoretical contexts to explore various manifestations of Athenian masculinity as well as the rhetoric that both articulated and questioned it. Roisman focuses on topics such as the nexus between manhood and age; on Athenian men in their roles as family members, friends, and lovers; on the concept of masculine shame; on relations between social and economic status and manhood; on manhood in the military and politics; on the manly virtue of self-control; and on what men feared.
Vase Painting, Gender, and Social Identity in Archaic Athens
Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell, 2006
This study explores the phenomenon of spectators in the Classical world through a database built from a census of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, which reveals that spectator figures flourished in Athenian vase painting during the last two-thirds of the sixth century BCE. Using models developed from psychoanalysis and the theory of the gaze, ritual studies, and gender studies, Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell demonstrates how these "spectators" emerge as models for social and gender identification in the archaic city, encoding in their gestures and behavior archaic attitudes about gender and status.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about sex. Phallic imagery, sex scenes, and the lively activities of their promiscuous gods adorned many objects, buildings, and sculptures. Drinking cups, oil-lamps, and walls were decorated with scenes of seduction; statues of erect penises served as boundary-stones and signposts; and marble satyrs and nymphs grappled in gardens. Vout examines the abundance of sexual imagery in Greek and Roman culture. Were these images intended to be shocking, humorous, or exciting? Are they about sex or love? How are we to know whether our responses to them are akin to those of the ancients? The answers to these questions provide fascinating insights into ancient attitudes toward religion, politics, sex, gender, and the body. They also reveal how the ancients saw themselves and their world, and how subsequent centuries have seen them. Beautifully illustrated throughout, this lively and thought-provoking book not only addresses theories of sexual practice and social history, it is also a visual history of what it meant and still means to stare sex in the face.
The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece
For centuries, classical scholars have intensely debated the "position of women" in classical Athens. Did women have a vast but informal power, or were they little better than slaves? Using methods developed from feminist anthropology, Winkler steps back from this narrowly framed question and puts it in the larger context of how sex and gender in ancient Greece were culturally constructed. His innovative approach uncovers the very real possibilities for female autonomy that existed in Greek society.
Below: Wall painting depicting a banquet from the Macedonian tomb of Agios Athanasios in modern Thessaloniki; ca. 350 BCE. Source/creator: Wikiart.org. License: Public domain.