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12 - Wit, Conventional Wisdom and Wilful Blindness: Intersections between Sex and Gender in Recent Receptions of the Fifth of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Allison Surtees
Affiliation:
University of Winnipeg, Canada
Jennifer Dyer
Affiliation:
Memorial University of Newfoundland
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Summary

LIVING AT A CROSSROADS: INTERSECTIONAL THEORY AND LUCIAN's DIAL. MERET.

The interdisciplinary field of gender studies continually challenges socially conditioned gender norms, across cultural variations and adjusting for the assumptions that any researchers will bring from their own culture. That is, it is possible to formulate a historical approach that considers how contemporary norms vary from earlier ones, but that also considers a basis for their potential similarities. Of course, the later norms that frame the discussion are themselves culturally dependent and sometimes contested. For example, J. Halberstam observes of female homosexuality that ‘what we do not know for sure today about the relationship between masculinity and lesbianism, we cannot know for sure about historical relations between same-sex desire and female masculinities‘ (1998: 54, quoted in Rupp 2009: 5). A classical example can illustrate the temptation and difficulties of loosely applying modern terms to ancient evidence, while hopefully clarifying the significance of the latter (Halperin 2002: 14). This chapter focuses on the representation of sex and gender in Lucian‘s Dialogues of the Courtesans, a second-century ad collection of short satiric dialogues modelled on the Platonic but concentrating on the lives and relationships of courtesans and their clients instead of philosophy. I hold that a close reading of the fifth Dialogue of the Courtesans reveals, in the assigned-female Megillos‘ claim to masculinity, a greater challenge to ancient gender norms on their own rather than on modern terms. Indeed, the text's humour hinges on the disjunction between physical and putative mental markers of masculinity.

This disjunction might gradually have become more legible to ancient authors in the wake of the restructuring of Roman imperial power in the first couple of centuries of rule under emperors (the Principate), as gender positionalities were included in the negotiations of ‘the imposition of authority, the shifts of status of individuals, the logic of accommodation and assimilation’ (Goldhill 2001: 14–15) under the new regime. The linguistic reflex of these negotiations took the form of a pointedly, manneredly classicising Greek, modelled on usage in Athens during its heyday some six or seven centuries previously, deployed in a competitive culture of increasing(ly) rhetorical display as the range of practical political activity open to local male elites narrowed.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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