Glossary, Selected Bibliography, Index
Naked truths are truths that are sometimes uncomfortably presented, stripped of artifice or ornament, to be accepted at face value. Truths concerning such fundamental aspects of human interrelations as gender identity, desire, and power are far from transparent and natural, even in their denuded and dismantled incarnations. This is especially so in the instance of artistic creations and representations that serve the larger educational goals of social and political ideology. Contemporary feminist approaches that accentuate the centrality of gender and sexuality as core constructs in the interpretation of past and present cultures have been voiced in academic disciplines over the last several decades. Only recently, however, have these critical methodologies been applied to the visual arts and material culture of the classical Mediterranean world. While social and cultural anthropologists have utilized feminist perspectives quite aggressively in the economic and socio-political realms of their work, the potential usefulness of looking inclusively and relationally at women and men as they are represented in classical iconography, art, literary texts, and inscriptions has just begun to be explored.
The articles in this book are unified by an investigation of how gendered bodies and sexual difference are communicated visually and symbolically in the art and artifacts of what is broadly referred to as Graeco-Roman civilization. Representations of women and men in ancient wall-painting, sculpture, figured ceramics, and coroplastic production -- whether clothed, partially disrobed, or completely naked -- are reconsidered from fresh perspectives. What constitutes the sexuality of these images? What symbolic meanings and social inferences are embedded in the iconographical attributes of dress, body ornament, and personal possessions? What is the role of the viewer in constructions of gender in art, and what are the components of a ``gendered" archaeology or ancient art history? The inspiration for this anthology originated in two panels presented at consecutive annual meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association. The first panel, sponsored by the Women's Classical Caucus, was held at the APA meeting in Washington, DC, in 1993. It offered a broad survey of current approaches to questioning the material remains of antiquity for evidence of the expectations and roles under which women operated. The second session took place at the 1994 meeting of the AIA in Atlanta, Georgia.
These papers looked more closely at depictions of female and male bodies in order to decode the social meanings attached to nudity and dress as indicators of sexual status. Within the context of the primary professional organizations concerned with the archaeology, literature, and history of the classical world, these two sessions were among the first to explore methodologies and applications of representing sexuality and gender in the visual arts of prehistoric and classical societies in Greece and Italy. Based on a selection of the original panel papers and the addition of several complementary studies, this volume represents a cross-section of recent work by archaeologists and art historians engaged in re-assessing representations of the human figure in diverse cultures of the past. These studies apply various theoretical frameworks, ranging from anthropological perspectives on gender differentiation and structuralist iconographic analysis to overtly feminist criticism.
Because classical works of art have traditionally served as paradigms of Western European values, tastes, and styles in the visual arts, the task of revealing the iconographic messages that naturalize gender and sexual roles is an important one. Such artworks and artifacts were not only primary vehicles of communication in their own time, but continued to have a profound impact for centuries after and still have the power to shape how we see the past and relate it to the present. It is therefore ironic that students of classical art have not been inclined to engage in a more pointed interrogation of the "monuments" that constitute the substance of traditional research and teaching in the field. Despite a long-term interest in the mythological and psychological origins of the abundant imagery of fertility, eros, and the rituals that mark the passage through life-stages, relatively little attention has been paid to uncovering the visual mechanisms that regulate and reinforce gendered roles. The reasons for the lack of theoretical acuity in classical archaeology have been alluded to elsewhere: the focus on specific, localized data-sets with the aim of placing finds into narrowly defined chronological and stylistic categories; and the privileging of major monuments, fine art, and prestige trade-goods in an exclusive discourse of connoisseurship. Consideration of how gender can be used to interpret material remains has often been remedial and descriptive, rather than interpretive, and the criticism that women are often merely used as added ingredients in otherwise standard recipes is not without grounds.
This problem is explored by Shelby Brown in the introductory article,"'Ways of Seeing' Women in Antiquity: An Introduction to Feminism in Classical Archaeology and Ancient Art History." Why have classical archaeologists, by contrast with many New World and prehistoric archaeologists, been slow to adopt theoretical frameworks that explicitly acknowledge gender as a fundamental construct in interpreting the material remains of the past? She suggests that classical archaeologists have tended to assume that female and male are fixed concepts, and as a result they present a simplistic and dichotomized view of the female lot in life. Brown offers a valuable survey of the application of feminist and post-structuralist research strategies to art and artifacts over the past twenty years, and critiques the disciplinary stance of classical archaeology, long preoccupied with "high" art and inclined to apply positivist, unproblematized readings to texts, images, and material culture. In the work of John Berger and Laura Mulvey, for example, the canonical and pleasing forms of the female nude became the subject of the male gaze, "posed, objectified, dehumanized, and idealized as an erotic sight for male pleasure."
Since then, a greater interest in the complexities of social context spurred by processual versus postprocessual debates has encouraged classical archaeologists to consider the dynamics of gender more prominently in their research, resulting in a wealth of new thought and the dismantling of false disciplinary barriers. The recent acknowledgement of the mediating role of gender has largely been expressed in a rapidly expanding body of theoretical writing and in the interpretation of specific sites. Most frequently, it has been applied to funerary contexts, where indications of biological sex, age, and pathology provide vital demographic documentation that can be extended to the analysis of associated grave goods and questions of social hierarchy. Domestic contexts, likewise, can be approached from the perspectives of division of labor and the gendering of space. These approaches are critical for the understanding of specific local assemblages of material, but tend to reconfirm dichotomies that bring us only to a preliminary level of understanding. Theoretical work over the last decade has demonstrated the validity of critiquing androcentric research strategies and has proposed various ways of looking at gender formation, but runs the risk of not always being applicable to the practical requirements of confronting the material at hand.
If anything, progress in this field to date has shown that no one formula or theoretical position can account for the infinite complexities of staging social identity. Because the construction of gender shifts depending on status, class, ethnicity, culture, and other factors, it is revealing to look at the evidence from the viewpoint of audience reception. Here the visual arts may be particularly useful, not only because of their narrative/didactic intent, but also because how they are seen and interpreted by different audiences reveals much about the underlying message. In this way, gender can be viewed as a performance that is re-enacted or manipulated according to the needs of individuals and communities. The symbolism of clothing and jewelry, whether employed to conceal, accent, or expose the body beneath, carried clear and immediately legible messages for the viewer concerning not only the reproductive and erotic availability of the wearer, but also her or his position within community, social, and family hierarchies. Through the displacement of attributes, styles of dress, gesture, and "body language," artists are able to signal disapproval and the consequences of transgressing social boundaries.
The studies collected here treat monuments of fine art and architecture displaying gendered messages in civic and religious contexts, the so-called "minor arts" whose imagery was reflective of commonly shared understandings and values, and the mundane artifacts of daily life that express private acts and attitudes. Chronologically, our investigation takes its point of departure from the rich evidence for how femaleness/maleness were defined in prehistoric and protohistoric Italian mainland cultures. In the particular case studies of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman artworks that follow, specific examples from the Archaic to the Imperial periods illuminate the more subtle nuances of representing gender and sexuality in situations and contexts as varied as the private residence, the cult sanctuary, the public monument, and the grave. How messages and meta-narratives are differently received by viewers and how they function to implicate diverse audiences in collective notions of appropriate behavior and established value systems is a question that bears closer scrutiny.
Although the primary focus of the book is on the configurations of female identity and sexuality in antiquity, the iconography of male identity and sexuality plays no minor role and, indeed, is a fundamental source of visual cues as to what women are, become, should be, and cannot be. Implicit in a number of the papers is an acknowledgement that much work remains to be done on the processes of defining and maintaining norms of masculinity, which we cannot assume to have been any more of a crosscultural given in the past than femininity was. The themes of heterosexual desire and beauty, procreative potency, homosexual relationships, alternative sexual identities, transgendering, and violence are communicated in the many modes of depicting the human body. Framed by opening and closing papers that diagnose the lack of attention paid to these central issues by historians of ancient art and prescribe future tools for sophisticated readings of the material and figural evidence, the essays lay the groundwork for establishing the historical and epistemological value of a critical consideration of gender in classical art.
John Robb ("Female Beauty and Male Violence in Early Italian Society") reveals asymmetries in the symbolic expressions of male and female identity in Italic prehistory, where clothing, jewelry, weaponry, and weaving implements are the idioms utilized to define and legitimize gender and class distinctions. Based on a survey of skeletal biology, mortuary rites, and artistic representations of anatomically marked figures from the Neolithic to the beginning of the historical period, he proposes a social and symbolic interpretation of gender roles among "honor-shame" societies of Iron-Age Italy. The association of weaponry and masculinity merges the concepts of legitimate violence, self-assertion, domination, prestige, and male potency. Female attributes, including personal ornaments and the utensils of cloth-work, emphasize feminine sexual desirability and have strong class overtones. Although at root such gender ideologies assist in enlisting individuals into a common hegemonic system of political and economic action, Robb acknowledges that ambiguity and disruption are inherent vulnerabilities in a system in which female sexuality and male potency are central. Such societies can never be simply unilateral, "top-down" systems. Female resistance in the form of "counter-hegemonies" may easily have been expressed in such archaeologically invisible practices and activities as folklore, humor, cuckoldry, and individual autonomy within the domestic or community spheres. The structural oppositions contained in the formulation of male-violence-power and female-beauty-dependency have strong echoes in the art of the classical period. On various levels this formulation, visible in numerous instances of classical iconography, may locate Iron-Age Italy as a precursor of Mediterranean patriarchy. Several papers take up representations of naked female bodies in Greek sculpture, vase painting, and coroplastic art.
The fundamental concern for fertility and a healthy female body is discussed by Joan Reilly in a reconsideration of the figures of female torsos held by young girls on Athenian grave monuments. Reilly's contribution, "Naked and Limbless: Learning About the Feminine Body in Ancient Athens," suggests that such images, and their actual terracotta and marble counterparts, are not "dolls" or toys, but rather anatomical votives intended to assure that the dedicant attain a mature female body capable of producing and nourishing children. Reilly examines ancient Greek medical texts that recommended early intercourse as an antidote to the supposed reluctance of young girls to marry, a reluctance that was believed to risk maladies of the uterus and the girls' vulnerability to madness. The prophylactic properties of the truncated figurines helped to address cultural anxieties and expectations regarding the premenarchal girl's transition to womanhood, and to teach her the appropriate attitudes to her life as bride, wife, and mother.
Larissa Bonfante, in "Nursing Mothers in Classical Art," surveys the divergent iconography of the suckling mother in Greek and Etruscan cultures. The infrequency with which this "natural first act of the mother" was illustrated in Greek iconography is surprising to contemporary eyes accustomed to the ubiquitous image of the Christian Virgin Mary. The lack of nursing scenes furthermore appears to contradict the evidence of female cult sanctuaries cited by Reilly (and physical necessity) that women desired healthy bodies capable of childbirth and nursing. In Greek art, nursing infants are more regularly handed over to kourotrophoi, nurses and tutors, both human and animal, suggesting that social status plays a part in what were considered appropriate representations of motherhood. The images of mythological women such as Eriphyle and Andromache who give the breast to their offspring carry a disturbing subtext: the vicious death that the viewer realizes will soon befall Andromache's (good mother) son Astyanax, and the matricide of Eriphyle (bad mother) by her son Alcmaeon. The reasons for the Greek aversion to the naked breast are classoriented and aesthetic, and may involve social taboos against the display of an icon that has the magical potency to protect or destroy. If the bared breast connotes all the anxieties of a world of danger in Greek mythology, the Italic conception of nursing accentuates its nutritive aspects. The act is represented with much greater frequency in cult, votive, and funerary contexts throughout Etruria, Latium, and Magna Graecia. The iconography of the life-sized statue from Megara Hyblaea of a female suckling two babies at the slits of a garment purposefully designed to facilitate nursing, the votive statues of women holding numerous swaddled babies common in Latium and Campania, the engraved Etruscan mirrors showing Hera-Uni offering her breast to the young but mature HeraklesHercle, even the Capitoline She-wolf, are but a few well-known examples of this imagery. The quantity and iconographic range of such representations suggest strong connections to local Italic and Etruscan cults of birth and motherhood. In Roman art deriving from Greek figural traditions, nursing scenes are infrequent and tend to allude once again to violence and the primitive nature of the barbarian "other."
In "Divesting the Female Breast of Clothes in Classical Sculpture," Beth Cohen further analyzes the disruptive and violent contexts in which one or both naked breasts are exposed in Greek art and proposes a new reading of the motif on a statue of a reclining female known as the "Barberini Suppliant." Beside the practical, intentional, or accidental exposure of the breast, as in the case of female athletes and Amazons, divine lovemaking or rape, prostitution, and frenzied Bacchic dancing (all extra-ordinary events, outside of the norm), the primary locus of the divested breast is in scenes presenting female victims of violence, such as the Lapith women attacked by Centaurs at the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodameia, the slaughter of Niobe's daughters and sons, and many other episodes. The dazed figure of the "Barberini Suppliant," missing one sandal and unsuccessful in her pathetic attempt to hitch up her chiton and cover her naked bosom, is here interpreted as an image of the defenseless and wounded Cassandra in the moments following her rape by Ajax near the Temple of Athena in the citadel of Troy. Cassandra is a tragic figure who is disbelieved, violated, taken as a spoil of war, and eventually murdered. Her character is a topos for female victimization, yet the sentimental pathos of the Barberini sculpture masks her true situation and invites the spectator to participate vicariously in her humiliation, which appears to be an unfortunate but not unusual fate for a woman who is both foreign and of lower status.
Assuming a more critical position in the political issues surrounding female and male nudity as sites where power relationships and social difference are played out, Nanette Salomon offers a feminist reading of Praxiteles' Knidian Aphrodite in "Making a World of Difference: Gender, Asymmetry, and the Greek Nude." As the first monumental statue of a nude female, the Knidia heads a long Western artistic tradition of representing women who make the pudica gesture of fear or shame in one form or another. Unlike the nude male statue, already an exemplar of idealized humanity for several centuries before the female nude was introduced, sculptural representations of women (korai) stress the decorative, exterior treatment of drapery and hair rather than the organic, rational interior unity of their nude male companions (kouroi). This representational schema is linked to the homoerotic pleasure inherent in the physique of the youthful male, whose sexual attractiveness is determined by the overall grace, symmetry, and coherence of his form and is not confined only to his genitals. The focus on the buttocks of the Knidian Aphrodite and the teasing hand held before her pubis, however, constitute a paradigm of the female nude that is relished in terms of her sexual availability. The fetishistic quality of the sculpture is captured by Pliny and the pseudo-Lucian in the anecdote about a man, overcome with desire, whose semen stained the marble flesh after he spent a night in the temple. In this story, Aphrodite's status as the goddess of love is confounded and diminished in a discourse of mortal lust. Her statue becomes a political and social construction of the male gaze which functioned both to encourage heterosexual desire and to regulate female eroticism in the service of the male-dominated city-state. Other instances of classical painting and sculpture reveal conflicting images of women that reflect society's preoccupations with the proper female role and the consequences that await transgressive, "unfemale" women.
Francine Viret Bernal ("When Painters Execute a Murderess: The Representation of Clytemnestra on Attic Vases") studies images of the murderous Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus on Attic vases from the Archaic to the Classical period in order to disclose the double-entendres and metaphors that ancient vase painters employed as freely as writers. The figure of Clytemnestra embodied every form of danger to the social order. She appropriates masculine prerogatives by choosing her lover and by participating in the brutal assassination of her husband, Agamemnon, whose throne is usurped by Aegisthus. Her weapon, the double-edged axe (pelekus), belongs properly in the realm of male priests who preside over sacrificial rites. On the famous Oresteia krater in Boston, Agamemnon struggles in a deadly woven net, a subversion of female craftwork that reduces him to the level of a snared beast in a perverted and cowardly sacrifice. Aegisthus is effeminized pictorially by the elegance of his hair and beard, his long garment, and the barbitos he holds -- an instrument of seduction and poetry alluding also perhaps to eastern luxury and tyranny. Dressed in the outfit of a young warrior and democratic hero, Clytemnestra's son Orestes is presented in stark relief, a paragon of manly virtue and civic responsibility. In the visual representations of this myth, clothing and scenic props are used as semiophores for transgendering as an act of transgression and for the disruption of civic and religious order.
Four Attic figured vases illustrating the Greek lyric poet Sappho are the only extant depictions of her, except for profile heads on a small number of coins minted on Lesbos and a single Roman mosaic. Verified by the inscription of her name that is present on each of the vases, these Sappho portrayals (rather than portraits) are examined by Jane Snyder in "Sappho in Attic Vase Painting." Snyder contrasts the surviving representations with the stronger character of the Sappho persona as represented in the fragments of Sappho's own poetry, and finds that the iconography reproduces the "appropriate" model of female behavior, one that is reticent, passive, and uncharacteristically muted. On the earliest vase, a black-figured hydria of c. 500 BCE now in Warsaw, Sappho plays the barbitos but does not sing; in later scenes she either listens to Alcaeus' recitation, sits reading a book roll, or dances, but does not engage in the actual musical or oral performance of her poetry. The hypothesis that "men act and women appear" is confirmed in a comparison of her persona with that of male singers shown on Greek vases, such as Orpheus or Thamyris, whose mouths are open in song. The scene of Sappho in the company of other women situates the poet in the ordinary and secluded space of the gynaikeion, the women's quarters, and gives little indication of the historical figure so well known for her emotive intensity as a poet and intellectual dynamism as a teacher. Despite the paucity of representations, we might also ask whether there is a shift in artistic conventions such that the earlier, more active Sappho portrayal is replaced by a restrictive iconography of the mid fifth century that tones down female character and female action to conform with the predominant expectations of Athenian society. On an architectural monument such as the Parthenon, constructed to epitomize ideal values central to the Athenian polis through its splendid decorative program, ideas about proper human relationships and behavior, piety, and civic and religious responsibilities are made concrete using the visual cues of body image.
John Younger's "Gender and Sexuality in the Parthenon Frieze" proposes a new reading of several figures shown in the relief frieze above the east entrance to the temple, an enigmatic episode that has been subject to divergent interpretations and lively debate. Here, a bearded man, a matron, a maiden, a girl, and a child appear to form a family unit concerned with components of the Panathenaic procession, stool and peplos. In addition to the multi-layering of religious and mythological meanings inherent in the scene, the particular activities, physical gestures, and grouping of the characters illustrate how male and female culture were transmitted to the next generation. Younger interprets the child figure holding the peplos as that of a young boy, paired with the older man in what would have been understood as a legitimate homoerotic relationship with strong undertones of socio-political inequality. The matron--maiden pair may likewise be seen as a corollary association through which older women share their experience to assist adolescent girls' passage through the social and physical transitions from girlhood to womanhood. The youngest girl stands apart from the "family," a pre-gendered child whose sexuality has not yet been constructed and who, unlike the boy-child, has no clear role. Younger assesses the complex sexual personae of the Olympian deities seated nearby, seeing in them role models (in the judgement of adult male Athenian citizens) for the sexual comportment of human individuals who occupy unequal positions in terms of their age group, gender identity, and political enfranchisement.
The sexual ambiguities insinuated by the subtle renderings of body and dress in the figures of Clytemnestra, Sappho, and the Parthenon's Olympian goddesses are manifested in very unambiguous terms in the case of the Hermaphrodite, an intriguing personage endowed with female breasts and male genitals. In "The Only Happy Couple: Hermaphrodites and Gender," Aileen Ajootian considers the voyeuristic interactions of the alluring sculpture of a reposing hermaphrodite, whose feminine backside attracts and exploits the gaze of viewers unsuspecting of its bisexuality, only obvious once a frontal view is gained. What may have been reduced to a titillating and prurient jest in the context of Hellenistic genre sculpture actually has an earlier role in religious imagery, where figurines of hermaphrodites deliberately expose their penises by lifting their dresses. Descriptions of bisexual or androgynous beings in early Greek cosmological and philosophical texts indicate that it was considered not an aberration but a powerful synthesis of male and female that emerged as a transcendent "third" gender. Later, the sexual duality came to share a dangerous quality of portent with apotropaic powers such as Bonfante suggests were attributed to the naked female breast.
The architectural design and painted decor of Roman houses created a symbolic stage where the performance of social rituals intersected with private activities. Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow argues in "Violent Stages in Two Pompeian Houses: Imperial Taste, Aristocratic Response, and Messages of Male Control" that the paintings and architecture of these houses give clear illustrations of a passion for theatrical themes, which may actually reflect imperial taste for the theater in the time of Nero and its influence on the popular culture of his day. The mythological repertoire of the wall decorations of the Casa del Menandro and Casa degli Amorini dorati in Pompeii, when read along with architectural spaces which "stage" specific social functions, communicate messages of control, domination, and the violence of power. Koloski-Ostrow applies modern feminist theory on visual pleasure in order to reinforce her assertion that many mythological scenes -- the rape of Cassandra (whom we observe in the moments after the crime in Cohen's study), the abduction and return of Helen, Agamemnon receiving Briseis from Achilles -- function to reinforce the authority of the patronus as much as the architectural layout of the house.
The concluding essay entitled "Epilogue: Gender and Desire," contributed by Natalie Boymel Kampen, takes up the thematic commonalities of
the essays assembled in this volume. The complexities of the procedure
of marking gender and constructing identity are underscored and heightened by the real challenge of assimilating ancient visual narratives with
actual social practice. One becomes cognizant of otherwise elusive attitudes and behaviors in the ways that artistic representations reconfigure
and naturalize social institutions. Kampen proposes that the concepts of
"desire" and "desirability" can be used to develop more nuanced paths of
inquiry into the issues surrounding sexuality and gender. Because it allows
for relational and fluid interactions between individuals (singular and
collective) acting in different contexts, desire offers an advantageous
theoretical framework. One can imagine both women and men as the
objects of erotic and aesthetic pleasure, and both submitting to domination or control albeit under varying circumstances and with different
goals and outcomes. By examining how desire is manifested in different
cultures and times, we can begin to arrive at a clearer notion of the
interplay of beauty and eros, sex and gender, and power and violence in
1 "Feminist Approaches to Classical Art and Archaeology" (A. O. Koloski-Ostrow and C. L. Lyons, co-organizers). The abstracts of the seven panel papers were published in American Philological Association, Abstracts of the One Hundred Twenty-fifth Annual Meeting, 27--30 December 1993, Washington, DC, pp. 167-73.
2 "Body Image and Gender Symbolism: Women, Dress, and Undress" (organized by Shelby Brown on behalf of the AIA's Subcommittee on Women in Archaeology). For the abstracts of the six papers presented in this session, see American Journal of Archaeology, 1995, vol. 99, pp. 303-4.
3 S. Brown, infra, pp. 15-17.