WOMENSTD 380 - Special Topics
Section: 001 Ancient Greece/Modern Gay Sexuality
Term: WN 2008
Subject: Women's Studies (WOMENSTD)
Department: LSA Women's Studies
Class Misc Info:
This class satisfies the Pre-1600 requirement for English concentrators.
Advisory Prerequisites:
May be repeated for a maximum of 7 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:

Sexuality, we tend to think, has no history, any more than gravity or any natural force does. Attitudes to sexuality may change, or ways of classifying sexual behavior may vary from one society to another, but sexuality itself, or so we often assume, is always the same. In the last forty years, however, a growing body of scholarship and theory has argued the opposite—that sexuality is not natural but cultural, not biological but historical, not universal but tied to particular time-periods and societies. Sexual life itself varies; human desire differs across different social worlds. Some historians have even argued that sexuality itself is a recent phenomenon, which emerged in northwestern Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: before then, and outside that region, there was no sexuality.

Ancient Greece has provided a classic test case for this new and controversial approach to the history of sexuality. That is because social life in ancient Greece is sometimes astonishingly well documented, because the ancient Greeks were often quite forthright and explicit about their sexual attitudes, and because the two and a half millennia separating us from ancient Greece provide an opportunity to measure exactly how much or how little has changed in the interval. Also, as educated people have known for centuries, Greek sexual practices and attitudes were quite different from modern European and American middle-class ones in a particularly striking respect: namely, the routine acceptance of certain kinds of homosexual behavior.

For centuries, in fact, homosexually-inclined women and men have looked to ancient Greece for a prestigious example of a society that not only tolerated but even celebrated same-sex love and desire. For that reason ancient Greece, as well as ancient Greek authors such as Sappho and Plato, still function today as important sources of lesbian and gay pride. But what did such authors actually say, and what exactly did the Greek approval of homosexuality come down to? Was ancient Greece really a world without homophobia? What was the relation between the ancient Greek acceptance of some kinds of homoerotic behavior and other features of ancient Greek society, such as slavery or the subordination of women?

Does it matter how we answer those questions? Historians live in two worlds at once: the past, which they try to reconstruct as accurately as they can, and the present, which shapes their outlook and which they shape in turn through their research. The history of sexuality, and of homosexuality, has a divided loyalty, dedicated both to telling the truth about the past and to changing attitudes in the present. What are the political and theoretical stakes in different interpretations of ancient Greek sexual life? What does an understanding of ancient Greek sexual attitudes and practices teach us about the history of sexuality, the limits of human nature, our own sexual lives and psychologies? What does ancient Greece have to offer queer politics or queer culture today?

In an effort to answer these and other questions, we will read in modern English translation a wide selection of ancient Greek (and a few Roman) texts that deal with same-sex love, desire, sexual behavior, and gender dissidence. Some of these texts are classics, so to speak; others are almost unknown, even to experts. We will also read some recent historical scholarship on the topic. We’ll conclude by studying some modern writing by lesbian, gay, and bisexual authors that looks at ancient Greece and that indicates the range of possible re-uses of ancient Greek materials by contemporary queer culture.

Workload: three essays, one poetic exercise, one quiz, occasional pop quizzes.

Readings: selections from Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, Plato, Aeschines, Nossis, Strato, Ovid, and Seneca; also, James Merrill, Paul Verlaine, Olga Broumas, Mary Renault, Mark Merlis, Frank Bidart, Marguerite Yourcenar.

WOMENSTD 380 - Special Topics
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
MW 6:00PM - 7:30PM
Note: Meets with English 313-010
002 (DIS)
F 11:00AM - 12:00PM
Note: Meets with English 313-011
003 (DIS)
F 12:00PM - 1:00PM
Note: Meets with English 313-012
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

Click the button below to view historical syllabi for WOMENSTD 380 (UM login required)

View Historical Syllabi
The CourseProfile (ART) system, supported by the U-M Provost’s 3rd Century Initiative through a grant to the Office of Academic Innovation, provides additional information about: course enrollments; academic terms and instructors; student academic profiles (school/college, majors), and previous, concurrent, and subsequent course enrollments.

CourseProfile (ART)