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feminism and ancient literature  

Helen Morales

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.


Pamphila, of Epidaurus  

M. T. Griffin

Pamphila of *Epidaurus, a scholar and anecdotal historian under *Nero. Her chief work, Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα, ‘Historical Notes’, of which *Diogenes (6) Laertius and Aulus *Gellius preserve ten fragments from the original thirty-three books, was a varia historia, according to *Photius. It may have been summarized by *Favorinus.



Richard Seaford

Phallus, an image of the penis, often as erect, to be found in various contexts, in particular (a) in certain rituals associated with fertility, notably Dionysiac *processions (see dionysus): see e.g. Ar. Ach.243 on the Attic rural Dionysia (see attic cults and myths), *Semos in Ath. 622b-c on groups of ‘ithyphallics’ and ‘phallus-bearers’, *Varro in Aug. Civ. 7. 21 ‘for the success of seeds’ at the Liberalia (see liber pater);(b) as a sacred object revealed in the Dionysiac *mysteries, as in the Villa of the Mysteries fresco at *Pompeii; *Iamblichus (2) (Myst. 1. 11) mentions it as a symbol of secret doctrine;(c) in the costume of comedy (see comedy (greek), old), *satyric drama, and various low theatrical genres; *Aristotle (Poet. 1449a11) says that comedy originated in phallic songs;(d) on permanent display, often as part of a statue such as those of *Priapus or the *herms identified with *Hermes;(e) as apotropaic: e.



Lindsay Watson

Priape(i)a are poems about the phallic god *Priapus, addressed to him, spoken by him, or invoking him. The genre is well represented in Hellenistic and later *epigram, but the range of topics is limited. It was enriched and developed by the Romans, whose Priap (i)a are distinguished from Greek exemplars by their focus on the god's aggressive, anally-fixated, sexuality, by the absence of any discernible religious sentiment, and by the almost invariable treatment of Priapus as a figure of fun. There are notable specimens by *Horace (Sat. 1. 8), *Tibullus (1. 4), and *Martial, and in the *Appendix Vergiliana. The main Latin material is assembled in the corpus of eighty poems known as the Carmina Priapea or Corpus Priapeorum, believed by most recent authorities to be the work of one poet, who has been dated to the Augustan period, to ce 100, and various points in between. The collection is distinguished by its extreme obscenity, genuine wit, fierce mockery of the ridiculous or grotesque, clever use of verbal borrowings and *parody, amusing tension between the sophistication of the literary form and the crudity of the subject-matter, and elegant variations on a number of recurrent themes.


Proba, Faltonia Betitia  

Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed

Faltonia Betitia Proba (fl. late 4th century) was a Roman poet, writer of a Christian cento (Lat. for patchwork), which circulated in the Eastern and Western Empire toward the end of the 4th century. The work consists of 694 verses culled from Virgil’s Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid, narrating episodes from Genesis, Exodus, and the four Gospels. The narrative sections are interspersed with proems, interludes, and epilogues pervaded by a confessional and devotional theme. The declared intention of the poet is to relate the “mysteries of Virgil” (arcana . . . vatis, v.12) and to show that Virgil “sang about the pious feats of Christ” (Vergilium cecinisse . . . pia munera Christi v. 23). This makes Proba one of the first Roman poets to have actively appropriated Virgil as a Christian prophet.There are over a hundred manuscripts containing Proba’s cento, the oldest of which date back to the 8th century, and a large number of early modern editions. Thanks to Giovanni Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris (1374), Proba became important in the querelle des femmes as an example of an educated woman.


Quinctius Atta, Titus  

Peter G. M. Brown

(d. 77 bce, according to Jerome), author of fabulae togatae (some 25 lines and twelve titles survive) and epigrams (one hexameter survives). Praised in antiquity for his character-drawing and reproduction of female speech.

See togata.


sexuality, textual representation of  

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.


Sulpicia (1), elegiac poet  

Laurel Fulkerson

Sulpicia (1), daughter or perhaps granddaughter of Servius Sulpicius Rufus, niece and ward of M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus. Her six short elegies, 3.13–18 (= 4.7–12) in the Tibullan collection (see tibullus, albius), are probably the only extant poems by a Roman woman in the Classical era (see Sulpicia II for another potential example). They record her love affair with a young man whom she calls by the Greek pseudonym Cerinthus. Her poems are fairly explicit about her desires—more explicit than most other elegiac poems—and she firmly assumes the “male” subject position, implicitly feminizing Cerinthus. Even if the affair was a prelude to marriage, as some think (connecting Cerinthus, via a bilingual pun, to the Cornutus of Tib. 2.2 and 2.3), the public display of sexual independence on the part of an unmarried female aristocrat runs counter to conventional morality. The disjunction between author and material is so unusual, in fact, that some believe “Sulpicia” to be a pseudonym for one or more male authors of the Augustan period exploring a female viewpoint along the lines of Catullus or Ovid in the Heroides, or they even posit that she is a much later invention.