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Article

Sophia Connell

Women were involved in both practical and theoretical aspects of scientific endeavour in the ancient world. Although the evidence is scant, it is clear that women innovated techniques in textile manufacture, metallurgy, and medical sciences. The most extensive engagement of women in science was in medicine, including obstetrics, gynaecology, pharmacology, and dermatology. The evidence for this often comes from male medical writers. Women were also involved in the manufacture of gold alloys, which interested later alchemists. Maria of Alexandria innovated equipment and techniques while also theorizing about chemical change. Many of the works ascribed to women in antiquity were not written by women. However, they do indicate what sorts of sciences were taken to be the province of women.

Scientific achievements are not the result of individual genius. Science has been a collective endeavour, involving the whole structure of society. The ancient world is no exception to this. Indeed, what is known about the desire for knowledge and control of the physical world indicates that the ways in which Greeks and Romans pursued it were various and diverse, and included the thoughts and activities of many women.

Article

Patricia Watson

Stepmothers in the ancient world had a bad reputation, especially in Rome, where the stereotype of the cruel stepmother (saeva noverca) was so prevalent that the historian Tacitus could employ it to cast aspersions on historical figures such as Livia and Agrippina the Younger. In contrast to stepfathers and the younger generation of step-relatives, stepmothers bore the blame for all stepfamily conflicts, a phenomenon that continues to this day. The image of the stepmother—jealous, scheming, malevolent, lacking in self-control—is a notable example of a misogynistic tendency to view women in stereotypical terms, the stepmother encapsulating all the negative traits which were believed to be inherent in the female sex (cf. Arist. Hist. an. 9.1).Malignity was assumed to be an inevitable consequence of the stepmotherly role. This is seen, for example, in the common metaphorical use of the Greek and Latin terms for stepmother (μητρυιά and noverca respectively) in a metaphorical sense; for example, at Aesch.

Article

Marilyn B. Skinner

Volumnia Cytheris, a freedwoman of P. Volumnius Eutrapelus, was a celebrated mime actress (see mime, roman), notorious during the 40s bce for her affairs with prominent political figures. Her lovers included Mark Antony and C. Cornelius Gallus, the inventor of Roman love elegy, who celebrated her under the pseudonym “Lycoris” in four books of amatory verse (Serv. ad Verg. Ecl. 10.1 and 6). According to a late source (De vir. ill. 82.2) she was also the paramour of the tyrannicide M. Iunius Brutus (2). All three men were, like Eutrapelus, at one time adherents of C. Iulius Caesar (2), and her association with them may have furthered her former owner’s ambitions.1 While the name “Cytheris,” alluding to Venus’s birthplace, sexualizes its possessor and is thus a suitable appellation for a stage performer, “Lycoris,” reminiscent of a cult title of Apollo, transports her into the realm of literature.

Article

Katharine T. von Stackelberg

A physical condition whereby a living organism has both male and female reproductive parts, hermaphroditism is a well-established phenomenon in the ancient world. In Greek and Roman literature and art, hermaphroditism in humans had cultural significance as divine portent, erotic subject, mediating or transgressive condition, and symbol of marital union. The most significant literary accounts of human hermaphroditism are found in Plato’s Symposium and Ovid’s Metamorphoses; the greatest concentration of visual evidence is to be found in the environs of Pompeii and Herculaneum.Hermaphroditism is not acknowledged in Greek texts before the 4th century bce, when it is identified in three distinct ways: as a mythical and philosophical concept in Plato’s Symposium (189d–190c); as a natural phenomenon in Aristotle’s Generation of Animals (770b, 30–35); and as an eponymous figure in the title of a lost play by Posidippus of Pella. The earliest physical evidence also dates from the same period as an Athenian terracotta figurine, probably a cult votive, raising the hem of hir skirt in a ritual gesture (see .

Article

stola  

Kelly Olson

The stola was a long, sleeveless overdress or slip-like garment suspended from shoulder straps that is claimed by literary sources to be the distinguishing garment of the Roman matrona. The stola was worn over the tunic and belted with a cord (see Figure 1). It was a sign that the wearer (perhaps freeborn) was married in a iustum matrimonium. The term is not mentioned by Terence, Cato, or Plautus, and so the garment may not have been commonplace before about 50 bce. It is by no means referred to by all authors even after this date: often the garment of the married woman is referred to in general terms as longa vestis (e.g., Ov. Fast. 4.134), which may refer to her long enveloping tunic, and not the stola at all. It is uncertain whether or not freedwomen wore the stola (see ILLRP 977; = CLE 56; Macr. Sat.

Article

rape  

Sharon James

Only the rape of citizens was taken seriously by law. Sexual assaults on non-citizens were lesser matters. Rape of enslaved persons, a daily reality, was a crime only if committed by someone other than their owner. Rape of citizen males damaged their reputations; rape of citizen females could render them ineligible for marriage. Ancient myth features almost countless stories of rape, usually of human females by divine males. These tales were common subjects in ancient art and literature. Overwhelmingly, the victims are unmarried girls, who may suffer brutal treatment afterward and frequently bear miraculous offspring, some of whom establish cities (e.g., Romulus and Remus). Rape by human men is rarer in myth; rape of a wife causes massive militarized response (e.g., Helen of Troy, Lucretia). War-rape and post-war rape were standard practice around the Mediterranean.

Rape in antiquity was a matter of social and civic class. As a crime, it was understood as happening only to citizens: sexual assault of non-citizens was not a concern of law. The law took rape of citizens very seriously. Rape of citizen girls and women was a violation against the men who were responsible for them—father, husband, brother, guardian—but female victims would have experienced it as a personal violation first, rather than damage to their guardian’s ownership of their sexuality.

Article

Fanny Dolansky

March 1 was the date of the Matronalia festival, which ancient sources generally refer to as either the Kalends of March or the Women’s Kalends. Juno Lucina, goddess of light and childbirth, and Mars, in his more pacific aspects, were the primary recipients of the rites. At Juno Lucina’s temple on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, and presumably at cult sites in other locales, matronae (married freeborn women) offered flowers and prayers to the goddess. The domestic components of the festival involved husbands’ prayers, either for the preservation of their wives or their marriages; a gift exchange; and the feasting of household slaves by their mistresses (dominae). Primarily because of these latter two elements, the Matronalia was regarded by some ancient sources as the female equivalent of the Saturnalia festival, which was observed in December. The Matronalia had a long-recorded history in Italy, and there is evidence that it was celebrated in some provincial locations, including at Carthage and Burdigala (modern Bordeaux).

Article

Feminism does not refer to one coherent theory, doctrine, or political movement. The range of movements and ideologies that thrive under the term feminism, however, are all committed to political and social change. Feminism recognises that we live in a patriarchal world, that is to say a world in which women are, and have historically been, oppressed by and unequal to men. It opposes this, and strives to change existing power structures so that people of all genders and races have control over their own bodies, have equal opportunities and value, can participate fully in community life, and are allowed to live with dignity and freedom.

What has this to do with ancient literature? There are several significant ways in which feminism and ancient literature interact. Ancient literature, particularly ancient Greek tragedy and myth, has played a formative role in shaping feminist theory. Feminism encourages scholars to uncover and reevaluate a tradition of women’s writing. Feminism has provided the tools for us better to understand how ancient literature functioned to promote, and sometimes to challenge, the misogynist practices of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Scholars have detected feminism, or proto-feminism, in ancient writing. Queer theory and feminism join forces to mine ancient literature for alternatives to hetero, cisgender, and gender binary models of identity. Feminism has changed the field of ancient literary studies by valuing authors and genres that are sensitive to the perspectives of women of all ethnicities and statuses. Finally, ancient literature is used to serve contemporary activism: Greek and Latin texts are used by modern feminist authors who rewrite and creatively adapt ancient literature, and classicists resist the use of ancient literature to promote misogyny and white supremacy.

Article

Marilyn B. Skinner

The basic dominance-submission model of sexual relations, involving a hierarchical distinction between the active and passive roles, was the same in Greek and Roman cultures and remained unchanged throughout classical antiquity. However, we find subtle modifications reflected in the literary tradition from the Homeric age to imperial Rome. In Homer and Hesiod, heterosexual relations are the only recognized form of sexual congress, and consensual sex is mutually pleasurable. Forced sex, in the form of abduction and rape, also occurs in epic narrative. Pederasty became a literary theme in Greek lyric poetry of the archaic age. In classical Athens, discourses of sexuality were tied to political ideology, because self-control was a civic virtue enabling the free adult male householder to manage his estate correctly and serve the city-state in war and peace. Tragedy illustrates the dire impact of unbridled erōs, while comedy mocks those who trespass against moderation or violate gender norms, and forensic oratory seeks to disqualify such offenders from participating in government. Philosophical schools disagreed over the proper place of erōs in a virtuous life.

Article

Jeffrey Henderson

Anal sex with males and females, amply attested in Greece and Rome, was subject, especially for free males, to distinct normative and legal constraints that varied from place to place, changed over time, and did not always align with real-life behaviour but had basic elements in common. Since sexual attraction to both genders was considered normal, the main divisions concerned age, social status, and role: females and smooth males (boys 12–18) were desirable objects, hairy males (men) undesirable; the active partner was penetrative and thus masculine, the passive partner penetrated and thus female or effeminate, so that it was shameful and improper, slavish, and arguably unnatural for free males of any age to play the passive role whether for a price or voluntarily except in certain initiatory or military contexts institutionalized in some communities. No comparable sanctions applied to the active partner.

Anal sex with both males and females, amply attested in Greece and Rome, was subject, especially for free males, to normative and legal constraints that varied from place to place, changed over time, and did not always align with real-life behaviour but had basic elements in common.