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LHMP #124 Dover 1978 Greek Homosexuality

Full citation: 

Dover, K. J. 1978. Greek Homosexuality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-674-36261-6


To quote the author, “That female homosexuality and the attitude of women to male homosexuality can both be discussed within one part of one chapter reflects the paucity of women writers and artists in the Greek world and the virtual silence of male writers and artists on those topics.” Some of this paucity may be due to the types of evidence that Dover is considering, for other writers seem to have found a bit more. (I have in queue Hubbard’s Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, which casts a wider net. But it’s definitely the case that in a field such as classical Greek homoeroticism, where male themes, male writers, and male researchers are so dominant, a work that covers the topic as a whole will give the appearance of slighting female topics, even if the writer has a genuine interest in covering them. (Which is not always the case.) I expect that Hubbard will cover all the same material in more detail, but I’m not ready to tackle that one yet.

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It makes most sense simply to list the bits of evidence that Dover discusses. He is largely providing a catalog, with very detailed citations of sources, but without the in-depth discussion of context and interpretation that we say, for example, in Lardinois 1989 with respect to Sappho.

  • Plato’s Symposium - Discussion of the origin of sexual desire, using a myth about how people were originally “double beings”, some both male, some both female, some one of each. After being separated, each always longs to be reunited with their “other half”. The female pairs are called “hetairistriai”, a word occurring nowhere else, but which suggests a woman who consorts with hetairas (courtesans).
  • Asklepiades, epigram - A vague accusation that two Samian women “desert Aphrodite for other things which are not seemly” and are “fugitives from the couch in her domain.”
  • Plutarch Lycurgus - A comment that, in Sparta, “women of good repute” participated in a female equivalent of the male erastes/eromenos relationship.
  • A plate from Thera shows two women interacting with the symbolism of courtship (one is touching the other’s face and they both hold garlands).
  • An Attic red-figured vase shows two nude women, one kneeling before the other and touching her genital region.
  • Sappho - Extensive discussion of the content of her poetry and both contemporary and later references to her life and reputation. (10 of the 13 pages of the article are concerned with the material on Sappho.)
  • A brief discussion on how classical authors (Greek and Roman) associated “Lesbian women” (i.e., women from Lesbos) with sexual aggressiveness and transgressive sexuality, but not necessarily specifically with homoeroticism. Several references from Greek satiric drama are mentioned. Also Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans.
  • Anakreon poem - Reference to a girl from Lesbos who “gapes after another” where the word “another” is grammatically femninine, but whether it refers to a woman or to some other grammatically feminine antecedent in the sentence is unclear.
Time period: 

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