Lin Foxhall and John Salmon (edd.) Thinking Men: Masculinity and its Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. Pp. xii + 217, incl. 14 black-and- white plates. ISBN 0-415-14635-6. UK£55.00.
St. John's College, Cambridge.
Studies of ancient gender and sexuality have been reinvigorated by a massive dose of sophistication and self-consciousness: not for the nineties an earlier generation's positivist pondering over such intractables as the degree of seclusion of Athenian women. Although in fact much is still being done (and much remains to be done) in terms of exploring the gendering of the material and institutional contexts of ancient men and women, a collection like this, focusing almost exclusively upon the way in which the abstract 'constructs' of female and male were 'thought' in the ancient world, is very much of its time. Thinking Men and its twin, Foxhall and Salmon's When Men were Men,[] promise a thoroughly modern point of entry into a highly energised field of debate.
Similarly modish is the focus upon masculinity, the pole of the gender equation treated in ancient times, and in some modern scholarship, as 'unmarked' (i.e. 'natural' and unproblematic). To an extent, the trail has already been blazed: in particular, Jack Winkler and Maud Gleason have opened up new routes for scholarship on ancient masculinity;[] while Foucault's volumes on the ancient world in his Histoire de la sexualité also focus (somewhat more disingenuously) almost exclusively upon the male desiring subject.[] As Natalie Kampen notes in her introduction (p. xi), we owe this shift of perspective primarily to the realisation that gender is a taxonomic cultural system, and that it makes little sense to consider only one element in this system. Aware of this, the essays in this volume do not simply relocate attention from 'female' to 'male' (as though the latter were simply an unnoticed exhibit in a museum case), but explore the dynamic relationship between the two.
Thinking Men is not only about the way that men are 'thought', but also about the way they 'think'. Patriarchal, hegemonic antiquity speaks to us through the master's voice. Clever punning with gerundive/participial ambivalence makes for a good title, but it also raises the question of whether, in a sociological as well as a grammatical sense, 'men' are the subjects or the objects of thought. If we accept that ancient societies (like all societies) repressed women, does this mean that men were freer, or merely differently repressed by social convention? In the first essay in the volume, 'The Constrained Man' (pp. 6-22), Matthew Fox explores the degree of the social 'constraint' operating upon the male desiring subject. Deftly mixing an eclectic theoretical brew, he argues that the familiar 'discursive' approaches which focus primarily upon society's control of the individual (Foucault, Winkler) occlude 'what the historian of gender is after: the sense of a self driven to expressing itself' (p. 18). We need to be aware of the (unknowable) 'economy of individual desire', and not simply focus upon the monolithic idea of 'society' (p. 19). In Fox's view, we have been misled as to the degree of flexibility and freedom within ancient constructions of manhood. Not every reader will find this model absolutely convincing (particularly since he seems in his final pages to shift his focus away from the 'individual' back onto 'Athens', pp. 20-21), but the questions raised here provide a sophisticated point of entry into the issues.
This is the sort of theoretical point which sorely needs to be debated, especially since the success of a volume such as this is staked to such an extent upon its methodological currency. Unfortunately, a collection of brief essays rarely offers the scope for self-conscious meditation upon what it is we do when we 'think men'. This is not, however (as will become clear), to deny that some of the contributions open up important and interesting new areas of debate. Though the risk of excessive reification looms, let us consider three primary directions in which this volume prods gender scholarship.
Firstly, it becomes clear throughout the course of Thinking Men that sexual binarism permeates many more aspects of ancient thought than might be supposed. Emma Stafford's essay on the gender of abstract nouns, 'Masculine Values, Feminine Forms: on the Gender of Personified Abstractions' (pp. 43-56), poses important questions about the degree to which the 'meaning' of nouns resides in their grammatical gender. Although she is inconclusive about how precisely such issues impact upon (or are produced by) social ideology (p. 46), she requires her readers to rethink the traditional disjunction in modern classics between 'language' and 'culture' (territory also covered by Teresa Morgan's excellent recent monograph).[] Lin Foxhall's fascinating and erudite study of the gendering of plants, 'Natural Sex: the Attribution of Sex and Gender to Plants in Ancient Greece' (pp. 57-70), meanwhile, also opens up new (for most of us) subject matter. Theophrastus' History of Plants may not be high on everyone's bedtime reading list, but Foxhall makes a strong case for botanology as an interesting and arresting site of gender exploration. Secondly, it becomes clear that the representation of gender is extremely sensitive to historical and social change. Robin Osborne, 'Sculpted Men of Athens: Masculinity and Power in the Field of Vision' (pp 23-42), and Richard Hawley, 'The Male Body as Spectacle in Attic Drama' (pp. 83-99), both discuss the transformation (in sculpture and theatre respectively) of the aesthetics of the male form in response to the exigencies of historical change. Osborne's rich and subtle discussion focuses upon the formative influence of democratic ideology upon (primarily funereal) sculpture. The sculpture of Classical Athens, he argues, both raises with an unforeseen intensity the question of what it is to be a man and sites men in a new, collectivist context. Hawley employs the psychoanalytic notion of the 'gaze', borrowed from the film criticism of Laura Mulvey et al.,[] to explore these new aesthetics of manhood in the Athenian theatre: this approach is surprisingly successful (he certainly seems surprised: p. 97), although I was less convinced by the notion that the body is not 'spectacularised' to the same extent in Homer (p. 94: see contra e.g. Il. 18.203-14; 19.365- 91 etc.).
The archaic/classical divide is not the only point of historical rupture covered here. The ancient section of the volume is capped by two sharp essays on Christian manhood, one by Mary Harlow, 'In the Name of the Father: Procreation, Paternity and Patriarchy' (pp. 155-69), and one by Gillian Clark, 'The Old Adam: the Fathers and the Unmaking of Masculinity' (pp. 170-82). Setting patristic pronouncement against the normative of doctrines of pagan society, Harlow shows both how maternity became an object of intense interest in late antiquity and how Christian asceticism did not so much abolish as recoup and refashion earlier ideas of sexual difference. Clark's subtle analysis of patristic gender discourse shows how Christian ideals problematise masculinity in a different, and to an extent more discomfiting, way from femininity. Despite the rhetoric of sexual equality, she shows, patristic writers regularly assume that the male is the norm, and are palpably more disturbed by the feminisation of men than by the masculinisation of women. The collection is completed by an essay by Felicity Rosslyn, 'The Hero of Our Time: Classic Heroes and Post-classical Drama' (pp. 183-96), on the representation of masculinity in classicising modern theatre. Modern theatre, she shows, recast ancient dramatic tropes in psychoanalytic terms. The insights yielded are, however, rather spoilt by the unconvincing attempt to retroject psychoanalytic categories back into Greek tragedy (pp. 195f.), and by the corresponding suggestion of the transhistorical immanence of such ideas.
The third major approach limned by this volume focuses upon the relationship between literary representation and social practice: included are a piece on Anacreon from Margaret Williamson, 'Eros the Blacksmith: Performing Masculinity in Anakreon's Love Lyrics' (pp. 71-82), three essays on Menander and New Comedy (by Alan Sommerstein, 'Rape and Young Manhood in Athenian Comedy' [pp. 100-14]; Angela Heap, 'Understanding the Men in Menander' [pp. 115-29]; and Karen Pierce, 'Ideals of Masculinity in New Comedy' [pp. 130-47]); and one on Juvenal (by Jonathan Walters, 'Juvenal Satire 2: Putting Male Sexual Deviants on Show' [pp. 148-54]). Those who know Williamson's work will not be disappointed here: sensitive, sophisticated readings of poems are coupled with subtle observations upon a culture that places a high premium upon hierarchical status in both sexual and social relations. Of the three essays on New Comedy, Sommerstein and Heap point to the importance of the historical background to Menander, while Pierce sub-categorises masculine ideals in Menander, Plautus and Terence into different, idealised types. It was not, however, always clear to my mind how we are to envisage comedy as a form of social praxis: the point is well made in all three essays that the texts intersect with and diverge from 'real life' in important ways, but what accounts for this, and how (beyond fantasy) does theatrical experience of this kind affect communities? Jonathan Walters' study of Juvenal 2, meanwhile, represents (unfortunately) the only contribution that focuses on pagan Rome. Within his brief compass (five pages of main text), Walters ranges far, flitting elegantly from textual analysis of the 'closeting' of male sexual deviancy in the poem to institutional parallels in the Roman spectacles (with their constructions of social norms through the abjection of deviants).
Thinking Men is a bold project which poses big, important questions. Several of the contributions will greatly enrich the debate over gender-construction in the ancient world. There are, it must be said, major problems arising from the ambitious aims and scope of a collection which can only ever be the sum of its disparate parts. What is most needed at this juncture, perhaps, is a coherent, systematic approach to the topic: too many of the issues are too complex to be handled in a volume such as this. While the author of that work ruminates, however, Thinking Men provides plenty of cud to chew upon, some of it of high quality.
[] Lin Foxhall & John Salmon (edd.), When Men were Men: Masculinity, Power and Identity in Classical Antiquity (London 1998).
[] Jack Winkler, The Constraints of Desire (New York 1990); Maud Gleason, Making Men: Sophists and Self-representation in Ancient Rome (Princeton, New Jersey 1995).
[] Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité: v. 1 La volonté de savoir (Paris 1976); v. 2 L'usage des plaisirs (Paris 1985); v. 3 Le souci de soi (Paris 1986).
[] Teresa Morgan, Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds (New York 1998).
[] L. Mulvey, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', Screen 16.3 (1975) 6-18, reprinted in L. Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (Basingstoke 1989) 14-26 and in C. Penley (ed.), Feminism and Film Theory (New York & London 1988) 57-68.