Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Homosexual" relationships in antiquity

As I promised yesterday, I thought I'd write a post on same sex relationships in antiquity, so that this post on modern homosexual issues wouldn't seem so off-topic. I am not, however, writing an essay on it here. This is just free thought, but I should warn you that it does get a little R-rated.

So as many of you know, we generally know a lot more about male same sex relationships in antiquity than female. Same sex relationships, were generally more acceptable in ancient Greece than in ancient Rome (this is, of course, a gross generalization, as there are periods and cities in ancient Greece where it was not so acceptable, particularly among women).

In Greece, there is the commonly known pederastic relationship among men (an older and a younger male in a mentoring relationship), which seems to be mirrored (from our scanty evidence) for women as well. The Romans looked down on this, but they had their own version of it, which basically consisted of a male in power (i.e. a citizen) penetrating a non-citizen. Any male citizen being penetrated by anybody was, of course, strictly forbidden (and those who defied this were called molles mares)--a threat to the masculine identity (vir) and all.

From this attitude, you can begin to see why so many of the Roman authors just could not stand the idea of women playing a penetrative role at all (such a woman would be called a tribas), which is why pretty much the only time you ever see women in same sex relationships is to illustrate how horrible the idea is or to mock. The Romans (well, Martial in particular) also seemed to have the same disconnect that Victorian authors had when discussing Sappho and decided that her relationships were somehow chaste.

The Romans also, very amusingly, had sex so explicitly worked out that they had an intricate set of verbs for each act that is laid out in a wonderful little chart in the beginning of chapter 5 of Craig Williams' Roman Homosexuality. They amuse me such that I shall reproduce them here (without the chart, since I don't know how to do that on blogger):

Vaginal: futuere (insertive) and crisare (receptive)
Anal: pedicare (insertive) and cevere (receptive)
Oral: irrumare (insertive) and fellare (receptive)

You can see where we get a couple of our English words and, also, where we are clearly lacking in the English language. The Romans clearly understood precision in vocabulary!

I suppose I could write more, but if I go into much more detail, I'll end up writing another paper instead.

Now, the main focus of my writing has been with female relationships, and the sources I studied most closely for this were:
-Sappho's poems, particularly fragments 31 and 94 (and some other smaller fragments as well)
-lyrics of Alkman, contemporary to Sappho (I unfortunately don't have the standard fragment numbers on hand at the moment)
-Xenophon's Constitution of the Lacedaemonians
-Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus (these two writing about Spartans long after the fact and not in Sparta! So some grains of salt should go along with them)
-Ovid, particularly Heroides XV (basically having Sappho call female homoerotic relationships shameful) and also in the story of Iphis and Ianthe in his Metamophoses (in which he shows some sympathy but ultimately has Iphis magically changed into a boy).
-Phaedrus' poem 16 in Fabulae Aesopiae, which is just a hilarious story about Prometheus coming home drunk and mixing up genitals
-Martial's Epigrams 7.67 and 7.70, dealing with Philaenis, a tribas whom he makes explicitly distinct from Sappho

These are not exhaustive for female homoerotic relationships in antiquity, but it's a majority of the work at any rate (to my knowledge).

Also, great "secondary sources" to look at include:

-Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World, edited by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Lisa Auanger
-Roman Sexualities, edited by Judith P. Hallett and Marilyn B. Skinner
-Spartan Women, by Sarah B. Pomeroy
-Lesbian Desire in the Lyrics of Sappho, by Jane McIntosh Snyder
-Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity, by Craig A. Williams
-The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, by J.N. Adams

That, of course, is not an exhaustive list for same sex relationships in antiquity (and it's clearly leaning more towards female relationships), but it's a good start. I've also seen several interesting books pop up on Amazon, but I have yet to read them myself.

Hrm, so now I suppose I've given you all the keys to my pet project. I'd dig up my actual paper on it, but that might bore you all.

Oh, and if anyone gets this far, I do enjoy it when people comment and reply! I sometimes feel like I shooting messages off into space hoping that somebody might hear me . . .

Edited to add: I should probably include a disclaimer that this topic is far more complicated than I've indicated. Some of it I could explain with more time/space, but I'm sure some of it eludes me still. I also wasn't sure how much knowledge to assume, so I assumed quite a bit at times in order to get to the more interesting (mihi) parts.


Blogger Aine Bina said...

Nobody comments on my blog either. Nobody even reads it, I'm pretty sure. :-) Interesting, though more introductory to the research process than any of your conclusions. Still, Romans and their crazy sexism. Yet another reason why I hate them. Go scholarly objectivity. ;-)

1:38 AM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Yeah, I'm more interested in getting the information out there on this topic than making general conclusions anyway.

1:51 AM  
Anonymous Marcus said...

There's something 'bout the Internet that stimulates passiveness, maybe the same desire to keep reading and studying without ever writing anything up for the professors.

Speaking of passiveness, I'd like to point to a paper I've just read on 'Eros and the Roman Philosopher' by Shadi Bartsch. He points out that the supposed ideal of 'Socratic teaching' of young adult males by philosophers was, rightly, disbelieved by the Romans. These philosophers and their esoteric wisdom were hiding something!

Here's how Juvenal put it:

"One can't rely on men's faces: every street overflows with
Austere-visaged perverts. How can you reprove immorality,
most notorious man-hole among the Socratic pansy-boys?
Your hairy limbs and the stiff bristles on your arms
promise a stern soul, but the doctor has to mock you
as he cuts the swollen piles from your depilated anus."
(Satire 2.8-13)

Funny enough, 'though any serious charge would have led to the loss of reputation and citizenship both in Athens and Rome. The connection with the urge to philosophize is complex but not entirely spurious. At least a few philosophers of recent history (Nietzsche, Wittgenstein) spring to mind.

What is amazing is that a couple of pansy boys managed to launch Western Civ. Food for thought in the contemporary debates. ;)

The ref is: Bartsch, S., 2005 'Eros and the Roman philosopher.' pp. 59-83 in Bartsch, S. & Bartscherer, T. (eds.) Erotikon. Essays on eros, ancient and modern. University of Chicago Press, London.

5:08 AM  
Blogger J J Cohen said...

I read an enjoy your blog. Interesting post.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Estelle Chauvelin said...

Phaedrus' poem 16 in Fabulae Aesopiae, which is just a hilarious story about Prometheus coming home drunk and mixing up genitals

Do you think it would be too wrong for me to spend some time looking for that at work today?

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you put 'secondary' in quotes? Is there something questionable about their secondariness?

9:38 AM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Wow, I'm shocked that people actually responded.

Re: Marcus - hah! I have to agree that it probably is the same thing. And it *is* much easier to be passive. Athena knows sometimes I start looking at blogger and wonder what the hell I'm going to blog about and if I even feel like blogging on that day!

Also, that's a wonderfully hilarious point. I'm very glad you brought it up! Thanks!

Re: JJC - Thanks much! I enjoy reading your blog very much also!

Re: estelle chauvelin - It probably *would* be, but if you looked at it in Latin, who would know? :-D

Re: anonymous - I do this because a certain prof of mine gets very, very touchy when you refer to "secondary" sources by that name. He insists that anything that isn't written what we would call a "primary" source is not a source at all. It's a commentary. To some degree, I have to agree with this analysis, but we still use this commentary as some sort of source material. And frankly, it's just easier to say "secondary sources" because everyone knows what you mean!

12:03 PM  
Blogger keyser soze said...

The Phaedrus is missing it's book number. Thae a peek at Phaedrus 4.15 & 16.

And, estelle, you don't need to hunt. Just go to:
and scroll down to XV and XVI.

Thanks for a nice summary,
Glaukopis. I assume you've left off some of the other "secondaries" (e.g., Dover) because they pertain mainly to male/male relationships. True or false?


1:54 PM  
Blogger keyser soze said...

Oh, BTW, I'm sure you've already come across them, but in case you haven't:

In you're searchings of the primaries, don't overlook Herodas' Mimes and Lucian's Dialogues of the Hetairai.



2:01 PM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Re: keyser soze - Indeed I did forget a book number! My apologies! Good thing I wasn't turning this in as a paper (well, there would be other problems too heh).

And yeah, I did leave off quite a bit for male/male relationships. I was just gacking my bibliography from my paper on female/female. Partially, I did this because I think we tend to pick up a *lot* more about male/male relationships already just taking regular Classics courses (or maybe this has just been my experience? I assumed a lot of prior knowledge about male/male relationships when I was writing this entry). Also, I do think Williams' book is a great overview, since it does go into a good explanation about Greek pederastic relationships as well.

And yes, there are a number of things I didn't include in my list, so thanks for mentioning those!!

3:59 PM  
Blogger mikeyboy said...

Well I don't have much to add because you've all done such a good fact, I'm quite chastened (if that's the right word), because I'm supposedly including homosexuality as the "special topic" on the qualifying exam in history that I'm supposedly taking in August, and I've read barely any of this stuff yet, and I don't even have a great bibliography to work from (but your suggestions sure help), as I was saying, I don't have much to add, other than to say...notice how your posts about sexuality in the ancient world are the ones that get the most AND the most interesting comments? Should tell us classicists something.....

1:34 PM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

::laughs!:: I said the same thing, honestly. Whenever David Meadows links to my blog, I get a decent number of hits, but if it's about sexuality, the numbers skyrocket (well, comparatively).

And actually, the reason why you haven't seen most of these sources is because traditionally, the topic is about male "homosexuality." The female stuff is *much* more recent. I'm sure you've read some great sources on male/male relationships.

11:02 PM  
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8:36 PM  
Anonymous price per head said...

Wonderful post. If only I'd of come across something as wise and straightforward when I was starting out! See you at the reading!

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:13 PM  

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