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Latin Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 March 2016


Among a wealth of excellent studies and translations of individual Latin authors (Plautus, Catullus, Lucretius, Cicero, Ovid, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Martial, Juvenal, and Statius), I was delighted also to find packed into my crate of review books the latest work by Anthony Corbeill, Sexing the World. With the innovative sociological-cum-philological approach familiar from his previous works, which belongs to cultural history as much as to literary and linguistic studies, Corbeill here tackles the question of how grammatical gender in ancient Latin language maps on to, and influences, a Roman cultural worldview that is binary and ‘heterosexual’, where grammatical gender is identified with biological gender. His study argues for the material implications of apparently ‘innocent’ grammatical categories. As a case study focusing on the Latin language and its relation to Roman culture and thought, it also makes a contribution to wider debates about how language shapes human perception of the world. Corbeill's main focus is on the Romans’ own narratives about the origins of their binary gender categories in a time of primordial fluidity, a ‘mystical lost time’ (134), that is reflected in the story told in each chapter, where transgressing gender boundaries is a source of power for gods and poets alike. In Chapter 1 the narrative in question is formed by the etymologizing accounts of the very grammatical term genus as fundamentally associated with procreation, and in Chapter 2 by Latin explanations for non-standard gender of nouns, with Chapter 3 being a demonstration of how Latin poets tap into the supposedly fluid origins of grammatical gender, to access their mystical power. In Chapter 4 the story is of how the androgynous gods of old became more rigidly assigned to one gender or another over time, while in Chapter 5 the shift is from the numinous duality of intersex people to the more mundane concern that they should be categorized in legal terms as either male or female. Each chapter, as Corbeill says, represents a self-contained treatment of a particular aspect of Latin gender categories; in sequence each can also be seen to trace a similar trajectory, from flux to binary certainty. In every case, it seems, early gender fluidity is represented by the Romans as gradually hardening into a clear binary differentiation between male and female. Corbeill is less interested in the reality of these narratives than in what they themselves tells us about Roman attitudes towards sex and gender, with their essentializing message about a heterosexual gender framework. With its wide-ranging erudition, clear and compelling prose, and fascinating insights of broad relevance, this is a thought-provoking study, even though it leaves many questions unanswered, especially in relation to the role of the neuter (‘neither’) gender and its interplay with the compound ‘both-ness’ of hermaphrodites.

Subject Reviews
Copyright © The Classical Association 2016 

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1 Sexing the World. Grammatical Gender and Biological Sex in Ancient Rome. By Anthony Corbeill. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2015. Pp. ix + 204. 1 table. Hardback £30.95, ISBN: 978-0-691-16322-2.

2 Laughing Awry. Plautus and Tragicomedy. By Erik Gunderson. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. x + 283. Hardback £60, ISBN: 978-0-19-872930-3.

3 Women in Roman Republican Drama. Edited by Dorota Dutsch, Sharon L. James, and David Konstan. Madison, WI, University of Wisconsin Press, 2015. Pp. viii + 260. Paperback £48.50, ISBN: 978-0-299303143.

4 Translation as Muse. Poetic Translation in Catullus’ Rome. By Elizabeth Marie Young. Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 2015. Pp. viii + 259. Hardback £35, ISBN: 978-0-226-27991-6.

5 The Poems of Catullus. An Annotated Translation. Translated by Jeannine Diddle Uzzi and Jeffrey Thomson, with Introduction and Notes by Jeannine Diddle Uzzi. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. viii + 224. Hardback £39.95, ISBN: 978-1-107-02855-5; paperback £14.99, ISBN: 978-1-107-68213-9.

6 The Language of Atoms. Performativity and Politics in Lucretius’ De rerum natura. By W. H. Shearin. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 210. Hardback £51, ISBN: 978-0-19-020242-2.

7 Cicero's De provinciis consularibus oratio. Introduction and commentary by Luca Grillo. American Philological Association Texts and Commentaries. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxii + 345. Hardback £64, ISBN: 978-0-19-022458-5; paperback £20.49, ISBN: 978-0-19-022459-2.

8 Pliny the Elder. The Natural History Book VII (with Book VIII 1–34). Edited by Tyler T. Travillian. Bloomsbury Latin Texts. London, Bloomsbury, 2015. Pp. vii + 360. Paperback £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-4725-3566-5.

9 Martial Epigrams. With Parallel Latin Text. A New Selection. Translated by Gideon Nisbet. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxxvi + 290. Paperback £9.99, ISBN: 978-0-19-964545-9.

10 Martial. By Lindsay C. Watson and Patricia Watson. Understanding Classics. London and New York, I. B. Tauris, 2015. Pp. xi + 174. Hardback £39.50, ISBN: 978-1-78076-636-2; paperback £12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78076-637-9.

11 Statius. Achilleid. Translated by Stanley Lombardo. Introduction by Peter Heslin. Indianapolis, IN, and Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2015. Pp. xxxviii + 53. Hardback £22.50, ISBN: 978-1-62466-407-6; paperback £10, ISBN: 978-1-62466-406-9.

12 Juvenal and the Satiric Emotions. By Catherine Keane. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. ix + 251. Hardback £51, ISBN: 978-0-19-998189-2.

13 Pliny the Book-Maker. Betting on Posterity in the Epistles. Edited by Ilaria Marchesi. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. ix + 278. Hardback £60, ISBN: 978-0-19-872946-4.

14 The Oxford Handbook of Neo-Latin. Edited by Sarah Knight and Stefan Tilg. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xvii + 614. Hardback £97, ISBN: 978-0-19-994817-8.