Basic questions of sexuality and gender in ancient Greece and Rome: What does it mean to be male or female? What can we discover about ourselves from the way(s) we have sex? How are all these things related to life, love, power?
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The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece
Perceptions of gender prevalent in ancient Greece reflect a society centered to a remarkable degree on the masculine. There was a constellation of values and customs which included patriarchy, pederasty and male homosexuality as a norm, glorification of war and male athleticism, public male nudity and public display of sculpted phalluses, along with the almost complete exclusion of women from the public sphere. One author refers to this society as a "phallocracy" - the reign of the phallus. (Keuls, 1-4) In the picture of Greek society that emerges, the phallus is seldom just a phallus, but rather a potent cosmogonic symbol - an about which the entire culture revolves. The phallus as displayed image stands as an exclamation point punctuating the various facets of male dominion in Greek society. Maleness is the ideal, and to this core adhere the primary Greek values - self-control, order, clarity, rationality, civilization, struggle against nature, heroic glory, dominance in war. These were the values of manliness in ancient Greece, and other values and qualities, to the extent that they deviate from the idealized norm were pushed to the periphery, to the dark and spinning edge of the world. All that is foreign, all that is feminine, all that is wild and unrestrained; all these are coalesced into an idea of Otherness that forms a dark sea of chaos into which one must strive continually not to fall.
Gender role in Ancient Greek Society - UK Essays
. K.J. Dover and Michel Foucault laid the foundations for this model in, respectively, Greek Homosexuality (London: Duckworth, 1978) and The History of Sexuality, vol. 2, The Use of Pleasure (1986) and vol. 3, The Care of the Self (1988). Others who came afterwards--most notably, David Halperin, John Winkler and David Cohen--formulated paradigms out of Dover and Foucault's seminal analyses: according to Skinner, it is Halperin's formulation that holds the most sway in current debates on sexuality in ancient Greece. See Halperin's One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Homosexuality (New York: Routledge, 1990); Winkler's The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece (New York: Routledge, 1990); and Cohen's Law, Sexuality and Society: The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). There is a useful survey of the development of this paradigm in James Davidson, "Dover, Foucault and Greek homosexuality: Penetration and the truth of sex", Past and Present, no. 170 (2001): pp. 3-51
Gender role in Ancient Greek Society