1st Edition

Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome

By Sandra Boehringer Copyright 2021
    424 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    424 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Continue Shopping

    This groundbreaking study, among the earliest syntheses on female homosexuality throughout Antiquity, explores the topic with careful reference to ancient concepts and views, drawing fully on the existing visual and written record including literary, philosophical, and scientific documents.

    Even today, ancient female homosexuals are still too often seen in terms of a mythical, ethereal Sapphic love, or stereotyped as "Amazons" or courtesans. Boehringer's scholarly book replaces these clichés with rigorous, precise analysis of iconography and texts by Sappho, Plato, Ovid, Juvenal, and many other lyric poets, satirists, and astrological writers, in search of the prevailing norms, constraints, and possibilities for erotic desire. The portrait emerges of an ancient society to which today's sexual categories do not apply—a society "before sexuality"—where female homosexuality looks very different, but is nonetheless very real.

    Now available in English for the first time, Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome includes a preface by David Halperin. This book will be of value to students and scholars of ancient sexuality and gender, and to anyone interested in histories and theories of sexuality.

    List of figures

    Note to the reader and translator's note

    Preface to the English Translation (2020), by Sandra Boehringer

    Preface to Sandra Boehringer, L’Homosexualité féminine dans l’Antiquité grecque et romaine, Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2007, by David Halperin




      1. Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse
        1. An Institutionalization of Homosexuality?
          1. Men
          2. Women

        2. Sung Loves
          1. Contemporaneous Fictions
          2. The Eros of Melic Poetry
          3. Alcman’s Partheneia
          4. Sappho’s Poems

        3. Anacreon and Playful Eroticism
          1. Anacreon’s Young Lesbian Girl
          2. A Brief Excursus on a False Cognate: lesbiazein
          3. Multiple Erotic Possibilities

        4. A Picture of a Love Scene
          1. Special Discursive Categories

      2. The Mythical Trace: the Goddess and the Young Girl
        1. The Myth of Kallisto: A Female Affair
          1. Textual and Iconographic Sources
          2. A Mythical Nucleus

        2. A Singular Variant: The Embrace between Artemis and Kallisto
          1. A Comedy by Amphis
          2. A Mythical Episode
          3. An Erotic Metamorphosis
          4. Kallisto Bathing


      1. Plato, Symposium: A Theoretical Category
        1. Aristophanes’ Speech: Eros and Sexuality
          1. The Status and Specificity of Aristophanes’ Speech
          2. Eros in Aristophanes: An Eros Beyond the Sexual

        2. The Categorization of Erotic Behaviors in Current Human Nature
          1. After the Split but Before the Relocation of Organs
          2. After the Split and the Relocation of Organs
            1. The Effects of Sexual Union
            2. Types of Erotic Behaviors and Types of Human Beings
            3. A Single Eros

        3. Erotic Relations Between Women
          1. The Halves Descended from the All-Female Being
          2. Plato and the Category of Women Descended from the All-Female Being


      2. Plato, Laws: Prohibition as Recognition
        1. Women’s Place in the Magnesian City
        2. The Prohibition of Homosexuality
          1. The Dangers of Intemperance?
          2. The Dangers of Passions?
          3. On the Techniques of Persuasion
          4. The Legislators’ Obsession with Demography

        3. Sex Between Women in the Laws
        4. To Prohibit is to State
        5. Taking all Scenarios into Account

      3. Representations and Silences during the Classical Period
        1. What The Images Show and What They Do Not
        2. A Brief Overview of Iconic Sexual Taboos
          1. Women, Men and Olisboi
          2. Women Among Themselves: Some Disputed Interpretations
            1. Bathing Scenes
            2. Courtesans Among Themselves?
            3. Women with Garlands

        3. The "Saids" and the "Unsaids" of the Texts
          1. The Silence of Comedy
          2. The Discourse and Silence of Philosophy
            1. Aristotle’s Silence and What He Says About Doves

   Observing Animals

   Eros and Philia According to Aristotle: The (Excluded) Case of Two Women

          3. Texts as Indirect Documents on Representations

      4. Play and Humor during the Hellenistic Period
        1. Asclepiades the Poet-Character and His Loves
          1. Epigram V. 207 and the Poetic Oeuvre of Asclepiades
          2. Asclepiades’ Hetairai
          3. Elegiac Fiction
          4. Portrait of Ego, an Amant Transi
          5. The Two Samian Women

        2. From the Poet’s Gaze to Collective Representations Neither Monsters Nor Prostitutes Neither Tribads Nor Viragos Norms and Their Limits

      2.4.3. Changes in Discourse (From the Third to the First Century BCE) Artemis and Kallisto: A Comic Adaptation by Amphis Meleager’s Garland: A Different Kind of Humor


      1. Poetic Discourse: Ovid and Mythical Transformation
        1. Sappho in the Heroides: The Birth of a Myth
          1. The Sapphic Paradox: An Overview of Reconstructions of Sappho from the Classical Greek Period Onwards
          2. Sappho’s Letter: Poetic Metamorphosis and the Metamorphosis of Love
            1. Writing Desire: From Sappho to Ovid
            2. Ovid and Sapphic Love

        2. Callisto in the Metamorphoses: The Hyper-Characterization of a Myth
          1. The Sex of Virgins
          2. Fluctuating Sex
          3. An Ephemeral Embrace Between Women and the Metamorphoses of Desire

        3. Iphis in the Metamorphoses: The Metamorphosis of the Myth
          1. From Leukippos to Iphis
            1. The Structure of the Narrative
            2. The Function of the Various Characters
            3. The Role of the Gods
            4. Textual Reminiscences and Mythical Echoes

          2. The Metamorphosis of a Metamorphosis
            1. A Girl
            2. Two Girls
            3. Two Girls and A Goddess
            4. A New Kind of Love
            5. Where the Metamorphosis Is Not That of Iphis

          3. A Roman Impossibility: The Etiology of a Disappearance
            1. The Dénouement: "And They Lived Happily Ever After"
            2. The Reasons for the Impossibility
            3. A Unique Category

      2. Sexual Satire
        1. The Emergence of the Tribad
          1. The Origin of Tribads, in Phaedrus’ Fables
            1. A Manufacturing Defect…and an Error of Interpretation
            2. A Table of Sexual Categories
            3. Who is the Butt of the Joke?

          2. A "Color" to be Avoided, in Seneca’s Controversiae
            1. A Complex Textbook Example
            2. The Silence of Roman Law: A Clear-Cut Position

          3. The Tribad and Astrologers (from the Second to the Fifth Century CE)

        2. The Construction of an Antonomastic Character: A Philaenis
          1. The Author of an Erotic Manual
            1. The Text
            2. The Indirect Sources
            3. The Philaenis Character: A Courtesan or a Pornographer?

          2. Philaenis and Female Homosexuality
            1. Philaenis in Martial’s Epigrams
              1. Epigrammatic Satire and Sexual Morality: The Obscene Body vs. the Eroticized Body
              2. Philaenis the Tribad
              3. A Female Character "Type"

            2. Philaenis in Lucian’s Erotes
              1. A Dialogue on a Dialogue on Love
              2. Sex Between Women in the Erotes
              3. Philaenis, the Extreme Tribad

            3. A Review: Philaenis in Two Tenth-Century Scholia

          3. The Construction of a Stock Character
            1. The Fictional Character of the Epigrams and the Persona of the Pornographic Author
            2. An Anti-Sappho

        3. Wives and Concubines
          1. Interrupted Kisses (Petronius, Satyricon)
          2. Bassa, the Anti-Lucretia According to Martial
          3. Debauchery and Lust Among Roman Matrons (Juvenal, Satires)
            1. Are Women Less Modest than Men?
            2. Are Women Less Modest than Men…or Vice-Versa?

      3. Scientific Discourse: Silences and Discordances
        1. The False Hypothesis of Physical Malformation
        2. The Interpretation of Dreams (Second Century CE)
        3. Physiognomy in the Fourth Century: Feminine Women
        4. Medicine in the Fifth Century CE: Masculine Women
        5. The Influence of Paradoxography: Recurrent Motifs


    Epilogue: Lucian or the Saturation of Signs


    Bibliography (2007)

    Index of Ancient Authors and Works

    Index of Contemporary Authors

    Index nominum et rerum


    Sandra Boehringer is Associate Professor of Greek History at the University of Strasbourg, France. She is the author of numerous articles on issues of gender and sexuality in the ancient world and the French translator of John Winkler and Maud Gleason. She has also co-edited several collective volumes, including Foucault, la sexualité, l’Antiquité, soon to be available in English from Routledge.