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Gender in Antiquity: Anxieties, Transgressions, and Legacies - 01/04/2017, Charlottesville (VA, USA)





Transgression of gender roles in Greek and Roman sources is abundant and various. While the ancient Greeks and Romans did not conceptualize “gender” as a cultural phenomenon distinct from sex, modern applications of gender theory have revealed the many ways in which cultural expectations affected men and women in antiquity. This research has been fruitful not only in tracing the culturally constructed borders that delineated the sexes but also in revealing how frequently those boundaries could be crossed or unsettled. In the divine sphere, Dionysus the effeminate conqueror and Athena the warrior goddess both appropriate gender characteristics of the opposite sex. For mortals, by contrast, such gender reversals can have deadly consequences: Euripides’ Medea and Livy’s Tullia, for instance, represent cultural anxieties about ambitious women through their assumption of masculine traits. Accusations of gender transgression were also a perennial weapon in the arsenal of iambic poets and orators, whether emasculating male rivals or ascribing sexual misconduct to targets of either sex. At the same time, more playful modes of gender inversion were also present, as Aristophanes’ farces of women in power and the Augustan poets’ celebration of their “soft” verses attest. Even the borders of biological sex were not conceived of as fixed: in addition to the sexual transformations of mythology, ancient medical writers describe the body’s natural sex as disturbingly unstable.




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: Department of Classics, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA, USA)


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