Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality

Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality

Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality

Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality

Synopsis

Bruce Thornton's sweeping and comprehensive account of ancient sexuality is refreshingly free of currently fashionable jargon. He challenges the distortions of much recent scholarship on Greek sexuality and their attitudes to family, love and sex.

Excerpt

The little we know about everyday life and behavior in ancient Greece is dwarfed by how much we don't know. We simply lack the evidence, and what evidence we do have is fragmentary. The spectacular excellence of those few surviving monuments--the Iliad, the Oresteia, Plato's Dialogues--often obscures for us the magnitude of the loss. But a few examples can remind us just how much has disappeared. Of the approximately 1,000 tragedies that were produced in Athens during a little more than a century, thirty-three have survived. The rest exist, if at all, as titles or authors or snippets of texts culled by ancient grammarians and pedants. Or take the case of Sappho, Byron's "sage blue-stocking," Plato's tenth muse. Out of her nine papyrus-roll books of poetry attested by the ancients, only one complete poem survives. Imagine what our estimation of Shakespeare's poetry, let alone his life, would be if only one play--and that not necessarily his best--had survived.

But finding out what the Greeks may have thought about sex in their day-today lives is difficult not just because of the dearth of evidence. What literary evidence we do have is virtually all "public" speech: that is, writing subject to the conventions and formal strictures of various genres--poetical, oratorical, or historical. We do not have from ancient Greece the journals, diaries, and private letters, not to mention a genre like the novel of social and psychological realism, that open a window into the private lives of more recent societies. And even the more "objective" prose writers, Thucydides, say, or Aristotle, whom we might expect to provide us with more "factual" information, are limited by their choice of subject matter--the public political, diplomatic, or military activities of an elite--or by their own conservative points of view. How representative of the "average Greek" can we assume are Aristotle's misogynistic fulminations? And who is the "average Greek"? Athenian? Dorian? Theban oligarch? A Euboean hardscrabble farmer? From what polis does he come, what social class, what tribe, what linguistic group, what moment from the several hundred years of Greek history? And, of course, when the writing is literary, the problem of the voice's wider representativeness is compounded. Even the lyric "I" can't be uncritically taken as evidence of the poet's own life. Sometimes Greek poets say what they say because the conventions of the tradition in which they are working require them to. The most passionate . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.