If gender, as Judith Butler (1993) has persuasively argued, is a performance played out with and through the body, the study of gender in the ancient world is, in important respects, dependent upon the bodies that have left their traces in the historical record. That this record is partial, biased and prone to the erasure of non-normative forms should come as no surprise. Nevertheless, the broad diversity of ancient bodies to which we still have access is, as the contributions to this volume make clear, something to celebrate. The specific form of celebration that I pursue here does not seek to retrieve previously disregarded figures from the margins of our historical record, but rather to recover, and reflect on, the often-unacknowledged corporeal diversity of ancient representations of Pandora, the ‘first woman’ whose body has shaped our modern notions of ancient gender for over a century. The complicated picture of Pandora that emerges serves not only as a prompt to revisit other apparent exemplars of ‘traditional’ ancient gender structures, but also as a bridge between the diversity of ancient gendered bodies and those we construct in our own contemporary societies.
First, a brief explanation of my approach. Building on the insights of her earlier work (Holmes 2012) on the fertile intersection of ancient and modern in twentieth-and twenty-first-century gender studies, Brooke Holmes has recently called on classicists, particularly those interested in questions of sex and gender, to be more explicit about the contemporary concerns that motivate our engagement with ancient models of (what we call) gender and sexuality (Holmes 2019). Such a foregrounding of scholarly motivations helps to more overtly situate our engagement with the past in the concerns of the present, a gesture that has been something of a taboo amongst classicists for some time – even if the influence of contemporary society is no less powerful a force in academic endeavour now than it was a century ago, when scholars unabashedly viewed ancient texts through the filter of modern society. The interpretive spirit that I follow here is, quite emphatically and I believe productively, motivated by concerns of contemporary society, specifically by the increasing prominence of trans studies, and the transgender movement more broadly, in political and intellectual debates, particularly in the United States.