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Literary Same-Sex Love

This group covers literary examples of romantic love between women that is presented as the equivalent of a heterosexual bond, or that clearly has an erotic component. The dividing line between this group and "Romantic Friendship" is fuzzy, but characters are more likely to be classified as Same-Sex Love if they share living arrangements, present themselves as a bonded couple, actively avoid marriage or relationships with men, or had a clear or strongly implied physical relationship.

LHMP entry

Frangos looks at representations of female same-sex desire in Delarivier Manley’s “New Cabal” in the satire The New Atalantis, specifically focusing on female masculinity (to use Halberstam’s terminology). [Note: I’m afraid this article got off on the wrong foot for me because it stakes a claim that desire for “the representation of men in women” is the primary form that desire takes in this depiction, but leans heavily on one passage that I believe Frangos has drastically misinterpreted.]

Ballaster uses the lens of Delarivier Manley’s The New Atalantis, and especially its “New Cabal” as a lens for exploring knowledge of, and attitudes toward, female same-sex eroticism in 17th and 18th century England. (Manley’s book was published in 1709 and so speaks to both centuries.)

This paper looks at the evolution of how the word “lesbian”, originally simply a geographic/ethnic identifier meaning “person from the island of Lesbos” came to pick up a separate meaning of “female homosexual.”

Gilhuly begins with a (very brief) discussion of the abstract uses of locational and geographic language, how geographic signifiers very often acquire secondary meanings rooted in some association with the place (e.g., “Spartan accommodations”), and how classical Greek writers were highly prone to developing these sorts of metonymic geographic shorthands.

Those familiar with the corpus of classical references to sex between women may have noticed a gap in the material covered up to this point. In a chapter labeled “Epilogue: Lucian and the saturation of signs” Boehringer tackles Lucian’s Dialogue 5 from Dialogues of the Courtesans, in which the narrator describes her sexual interactions with a female** couple who present themselves as “married”.

Ovid also composed one of the longest texts dealing with love between women from the Roman period—the story of Iphis, also from the Metamorphoses. In brief, a poor man of Crete tells his wife they can’t afford to raise their expected child if it’s a girl. So a girl child would be killed. The child being a girl, at the recommendation of the goddess Isis, the mother conceals its biological sex and raises it as a boy. The name Iphis is given and noted as being a name that might be borne by either gender.

This section of the chapter looks at patterns of reference and silence across various types of media to try to interpret the absences of representations of f/f sex. Different genres had different implicit rules about what could or could not be depicted. For example, visual arts that depicted m/m sex invariably stuck to the “ideal” of a desiring older man and a passive youth. Human men were not depicted in scenes with deprecated sexual practices, such as performing oral sex, but such scenes might show a satyr performing the male role, “standing in” for the human man.

The second topic in this chapter is another work of Plato, and once again a deep context is needed to interpret what the mention of f/f sex actually means for Greek realities. The Laws takes the form of a conversation between three men about what laws are needed for the governance of the ideal city. This is a different take than the one Plate put forth in the Republic. The Republic was more of an idealized thought experiment. The Laws is more of an exhaustive, practical plan of action (but still a purely hypothetical document).

One of the more intriguing classical Greek texts that includes f/f erotics is the mythological narrative included in Plato’s Symposium about divided beings and eros being “seeking one’s other half.” Following Boehriner’s standard approach, she begins by examining the historic and literary context of the work and discussing what the purpose of the passage is within that larger context.

Introduction: Scope

I forgot to include this last bit of the introductory material. The author discusses the scope of the work and the nature of the evidence. The late cut off is to exclude Christian texts. But the types of data vary across the scope and this corresponds to different attitudes towards f/f sex. So the analysis can’t entirely be a comparison across eras or a clear picture of development over time.

Chapter 1: Myth and Archaic Lyric Poetry

This chapter looks at the symbolic function of facial hair as a definitive sign of maleness and the ways a successful courtship of a woman can substitute for the lack of a beard. The “smooth beardless face” is noted in narratives as a giveaway. But beards were not fashionable in the 18th century. And the subject’s “feminine” features might be cited as being an attractive feature to women.


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