The textual and visual material surviving from ancient Greece and Rome is informed by systems for categorizing and evaluating sexual desires and acts in which, rather than the question of whether partners are of the same or opposite sex, various gendered criteria are of fundamental importance. Masculinity is associated with the penetrative role, regardless of the sex of the partner; the penetrated role is coded as feminine; performing oral sex, whether with female or male partners, is seen as disreputable. The assumption that men, as a group, will naturally and normally experience desire for beautiful and preferentially young people of both sexes goes unquestioned. While a handful of philosophical texts urge that sexual acts be limited to the procreative, no surviving text condemns desire of male for male as such.
Specifically characteristic of Greek culture are pederastic relationships joining bearded men and younger, beardless males; allusions to other kinds of male-male relationship represent them as scandalous or exotic departures from a norm. A Roman code of sexual behaviour protecting the integrity of freeborn citizens means that pederastic relationships on the Greek model can be described as disgraceful, but this is not because they involved sexual desire or acts between males. Even in the quintessentially masculine sphere of the military, it was taken for granted that soldiers might experience and act on sexual desire for males as well as females, and Roman writers of the classical period assume that these understandings of masculine desire were shared by their venerated ancestors.
sexuality, textual representation of
Marilyn B. Skinner
Katharine T. von Stackelberg
Laurence Totelin and Helen King
The ancient body emerged as a topic of research in the 1980s, and the discipline has grown dramatically since then. It aims at studying the ways in which people in the ancient world experienced their bodies, and how those experiences might have differed from modern ones. The discipline examines constructions of sex and gender; concepts of beauty and ugliness; the constituent parts of the body, its fluids, its limits, and the role that clothing plays in setting those boundaries; and the senses. Specific attention is paid to bodies that do not conform to ancient ideals of beauty and wellness (such as disabled and ageing bodies) and to bodies that elicited fascination and concern in antiquity (such as non-binary and intersex bodies). In the ancient world, anxieties towards non-normative bodies were addressed by attempting to control the body from infancy onward. That control was exercised both at the level of the family and at that of the state, which established links between the body and political order.
Alan H. Griffiths, Christopher Burden-Strevens, and Aedan Weston
The female life-course in ancient Greece and Rome ideally followed a set path, a path which would look different depending on one’s rank, status, race, and geographical location. Women of the upper and middling classes in Athens and Rome, however, were supposed to progress through childhood and marry almost immediately after puberty, producing children in their turn, raising them, and perhaps becoming widowed before dying in what people today would consider the prime of life.
The female life cycle changed according to rank, status, race, and geographical location across the Mediterranean. Thus, an urban slave-woman’s life cycle would have looked significantly different from that of a married citizen woman, as would that of a lower-class woman, or a foreign woman living in Athens or Rome, which in turn may have been very dissimilar to (for instance) a woman living in a rural Roman province. What follows is what is known of the life stages of a middling-to-upper-class woman, since this is where literary and artistic sources pool.
art, funerary, Greek
Nathan T. Arrington
Art was an essential component of funeral practices in ancient Greece. From inexpensive vases deposited with the dead to monumental statues standing over tombs, graves are one of the most important sources of evidence for Greek material culture. These archaeological contexts provide data on the chronology and regional variation of Greek art. The funeral setting allows scholars to study the relation of art to its social, political, and cultural contexts. Literary sources, such as texts that describe burial rituals or attitudes toward the dead, complement this study. The picture, detailed as it is, remains selective. Some physical materials, such as textiles, do not survive well in the archaeological record, despite their ancient value, and poor or simple graves may remain invisible to excavators. The looting of archaeological sites and the absence of detailed publications from excavated sites preclude scholarly access to the full spectrum of material culture in funeral settings.
feminism and ancient literature
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.
the self in Latin literature
Although the Latin language has no single term equivalent to the English expression “the self,” Latin literature has been understood by scholars to rely upon and engage with various concepts of selfhood or personal identity. Inquiry into the Roman self or selves is a relatively recent phenomenon, with antecedents in social scientists’ longstanding concern with culturally specific models of identity.1 Despite such precedents, classical scholars have generally focused more on the possible resemblance of the Roman self to modern Euro-American concepts than on analyzing Roman notions of individual identity on their own terms.
Perhaps the best-represented type of self in Latin literature is a rhetorical self, that is, an identity projected to the public by means of speaking, writing, and other types of social performance. Elite Romans would have received training in personal image construction as part of their literary and rhetorical education, which was explicitly concerned with the practice of and selection among various possible projections of character.