GREEK HOMOSEXUALITY

Kenneth Dover (Forewords by Stephen Halliwell, Mark Masterson and James Robson)

Bloomsbury (3rd edn., 2016) p/b 246pp (105 ills.) £23.95 (ISBN 978474257152)

This book is a welcome republication of the second edition (1989) of the late Kenneth Dover’s ‘landmark’ study and includes the Postscript in which he addressed criticisms of the first edition (1978). Two relatively brief Forewords discuss ‘The Book and its Author’ (Halliwell, 8 pages), and ‘The Book and its Influence’ (Masterson and Robson, 13 pages including bibliography). Reprinting is rightly justified by the ‘technical mastery’ and ‘imaginative broad-mindedness’ of ‘a great work of historical scholarship’; also by the continuing influence of the book on subsequent research on its subject. This last, as a nowadays-thriving field of classics scholarship, Dover more or less single-handedly founded. He went about his task determined to avoid ‘moral evaluation’. This was then, and in some ways remains, a bold position. He was, finally, forensic in his dispassionate detailing of the evidence for practice, giving us, for instance, ‘intercrural’ sex.

To recap, the book itself focuses on the period from the 8th to the 2nd centuries BC. Its lengthiest section (90 pages), the second, is an extended commentary on Aeschines’ speech Against Timarchus (now available in Nick Fisher’s 2001 translation with commentary). Section I reviews the nature of the ancient evidence in general, emphasising Greek art and including Dover’s claim to have looked at ‘most of the published photographs of Greek vases’, as well as the other literary highlights (for his subject) provided by the Theognidea, Attic comedy and Plato. Section III, a chunky 73 pages, covers what Dover calls ‘Special Aspects and Developments’, including an illuminating discussion of ‘Comic Exploitation’, and, briefly (but only from lack of evidence), ‘Women and Homosexuality’. In the concluding paragraph of Section IV, ‘Changes’, Dover sagely notes the likely liberating effect of the absence among ancient Greeks of a divinely-sanctioned code of sexual behaviour. ISIS, take note.

In discussing the main subsequent debates, Masterson and Robson map reactions to what Peter Green has described as Dover’s ‘obsession with buggery’. Foucault, Halperin and Winkler subsequently developed the idea that the ancient Greeks chiefly defined sexual acts in terms of who penetrated whom. More recently, James Davidson in The Greeks and Greek Love has argued against this scholarly trajectory and its implicit playing down of same-sex ‘love’. On the subject of anal eroticism, a glance at what comes up if you Google ‘prostate orgasm’ suggests that the last word on Dover’s ‘obsession’ has yet to be had. The debate will continue, just as it does about the nature of homosexuality today.

Antony Spawforth

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