COMPLIT 374 - Literature and the Body
Section: 010 Ancient Greek/Modern Gay Sexuality
Term: WN 2010
Subject: Comparative Literature (COMPLIT)
Department: LSA Comparative Literature
Requirements & Distribution:
Class Misc Info:

This course satisfies the Pre-1830 and New Traditions requirement for English Concentrators.

May be repeated for a maximum of 6 credit(s).
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.

COMPLIT 374 - Literature and the Body
Schedule Listing
010 (LEC)
TuTh 6:00PM - 7:30PM
011 (DIS)
F 10:00AM - 11:00AM
012 (DIS)
F 10:00AM - 11:00AM
013 (DIS)
F 11:00AM - 12:00PM
014 (DIS)
F 11:00AM - 12:00PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 9780226469409
The Iliad of Homer, Author: Homer., Publisher: University of Chicago Press 1961
ISBN: 9780375724510
If not, winter : fragments of Sappho, Author: Sappho., Publisher: Vintage Books 2003
ISBN: 9780195136579
Philoctetes, Author: Sophocles., Publisher: Oxford University Press 2003
ISBN: 0375726810
The last of the wine, Author: Mary Renault., Publisher: Vintage Books 2nd Vintag 2001
ISBN: 0312242883
An arrow's flight, Author: Mark Merlis., Publisher: St. Martin's Press 1st Stonew 1999
ISBN: 0415901235
The constraints of desire : the anthropology of sex and gender in ancient Greece, Author: by John J. Winkler., Publisher: Routledge 1990
ISBN: 0520234308
Homosexuality in Greece and Rome : a sourcebook of basic documents, Author: edited by Thomas K. Hubbard., Publisher: University of California Press 2003
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