Sexual Roles and Identities
What sorts of identities were possible for Roman men as sexual subjects, and how were those identities related to specific sexual practices? An obvious but crucial point needs perhaps to be stressed once more: the Priapic paradigm, centered around the man as penetrator and noticeably unconcerned with the sex of his partner, necessarily implies that the fundamental antithesis informing Roman representations of men as sexual subjects was the opposition between the insertive role in penetrative acts, which was normative for men, and the receptive role in penetrative acts, which was not, rather than the opposition between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. A. E. Housman suggested as much in an article published in 1931 in the decent obscurity of Latin, and more recently scholars have reiterated and refined the point in plain English, French, and Italian. 1 But while the importance of the insertive/receptive dichotomy has been recognized, I wish to insist on its utter centrality. The question "Who penetrated whom?" lies behind practically every surviving ancient allusion to a sexual encounter, even between women. 2
This chapter thus argues that, rather than being endowed with a deeply entrenched sexual identity as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, based on the sex of the sexual partners to which he was oriented, a Roman man was normally assigned to one of two identities, "man" (vir) or "non-man"; and that when these identities were embodied in specific sexual practices, the sex of the man's partner was irrelevant to his own status. In this chapter I first discuss the ancient evidence
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Publication information: Book title: Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity. Contributors: Craig A. Williams - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 160.
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