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Classical Era

This tag is used to indicate the eras dominated by Greek and Roman civilization. In regions where those cultures had no influence, consider it to indicate roughly 1000 BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era. If a more specific date in the Common Era is known, that will be used.

LHMP entry

Interpreting the meaning and context of Greek pottery art is far from straightforward. The modern framing as valuable “fine art” is to a large extent a by-product of the antiquities trade and it must be remembered that these vessels were originally created as a cheap imitation of fine metal utensils and, as such, might reasonably be viewed as “pop culture” works rather than the products of an artistic elite. These views make quite a difference in interpreting the depictions of women and their interrelationships with each other.

Although honoring the dead was a duty of Athenian citizens (i.e., men), the rituals of mourning and the work of tending to graves largely belonged to women. And an analysis of tombstones from the most important cemetery of 5-4th century Athens shows that women were more commonly featured on memorial carvings as well. Carved tomb markers frequently depict two or more figures: the deceased and persons who presumably were important in their life or who wished to be depicted as mourners.

Skinner examines the relationship between female poetic inspiration and the homoerotic implications of a female poet with a female muse. Although the article opens with a consideration of modern discussions of the concept of poetic muse and the implications of gendering this imagined relationship, the heart of her paper concerns the Greek poets Sappho and Nossis and the ways they portray their relationship to inspiration in the form of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and secondarily to the nine Muses.

Rehak works on reconstructing (or at least plausibly imagining) female-centered aspects of Cretan society based on a series of frescoes from one particular site on the island of Thera. Aegean art of this era (ca. 1700-1100 BCE) does not portray images of sexual intercourse or even displays of affection or intimacy (whether between members of the opposite or same sex).

Ovid's Iphis & Ianthe (in the Metamorphoses) raises questions about Roman views of female homoerotic relationships. Iphis, born female but raised male, falls in love with Ianthe and then is transformed into a male body in order to marry her.

This collection is somewhat unusual for its topic both in being interdisciplinary and in focusing exclusively on women’s relationships with other women. The introduction notes that with the exception of Brooten (1996) and the cottage industry of Sappho studies, there has been extremely little research published on female homoeroticism in antiquity, especially in contrast to the attention directed at male homoeroticism.

David M. Halperin -- Halperin focuses specifically on the social and historic context of varieties of sexual activity in ancient Greece and takes the position that Brooten fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Greek sexual hierarchies and of the institution of pederasty (in its ancient Greek sense).

This article looks at the disconnect between Roman literary considerations of female homosexuality and their everyday reality. The period covered is the 2nd century BCE through the 2nd century CE. Various mythic origins were attributed to homosexual desire. One example is the story of how a drunken Prometheus , when creating humans from clay, attached sexual organs to the “wrong” bodies, thus creating individuals whose internal preferences were counter to their external organs.

Haley looks at Lucian's Dialogues of the Courtesans, including his portrayal of women who sexually desired other women, from the context of queer theory and a consideration of male gaze versus representation. Given the more classically-oriented audience for this collection, she helpfully starts with an explanation of queer theory and the examination of sexual identity as a social and political construct. [I think this may be the first time I've encountered the use of "Pomosexual" in a non-ironic way.]

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