Humanitarian / Literature Essay

Sexuality and Gender in Ancient Greek and Roman Literature

Nearly all societies across the world include the subject of sex, sexuality, and gender in their daily activities; nevertheless, most individuals remain confused with the right words used to describe sexual expression and relationships, often using such terms interchangeably. Although sex refers to the process of sexual activity, sexuality talks about how individuals express themselves and their sexual natures. Gender refers to male or female-related cultural or social differences. Also, other variables such as perceptions, social expectations, behaviors, ideas, and beliefs influence sexuality.

Sexuality has been around since the beginning of time. Sexuality, sex, and gender are inextricably linked to the Greek and roman mythologizers with the birth of the universe, the cosmos, and the underworld. Greek literature was an expression of incest, killing, slavery, and intermarriage under which eroticism and reproduction were central. From the beginning, they showed the vital reproductive role of women in protecting the world, multiplying humankind and maintaining the fecundity of existence.

At the same time, Zeus, the premier god, did not waste time claiming his superiority over other gods (whether male or female). His cavalier behavior toward female sexual relations, as reflected in seduction and serial rape (raping Leda, king Thestius daughter, of the Aetolian, in the shape of a swan; Danae, the goddess of Argos, depicted as rain, and Ganymede, which was a male human) set the precedent for hundreds of years of male dominance and female submission. The portrayal of Hera [Zeus' wife and the ancient Greek queen] as a distracting, deceptive and duplicitous woman unlocked the door for generations of male insecurity about women.

The first evidence of ancient Greek sexual relations began among the Minoans (about 3650-1400 BC). Females were partly clothed during this period–the key clothing items consisted of short-sleeved garments with long, flowing skirts; they were exposed until the navel, rendering the breasts bare. Females were also known for wearing bodices that were strapless and fitted; it became recognized to literature as the first designed clothing.

Usually, females were depicted as having tiny waists, large breasts, full hair, and wide hips: this may be enticing and sexually charged to our eyes or ears, but perhaps not so to a Minoan. The voluptuous model, on the opposite, was perhaps a medium through which females and the artists communicated their identity and prestige instead of just male artists idealizing women's sexuality for their pleasure, feeding prurient masculine voyeurism. It seems that the women who lived in Minoan Crete had been able to enjoy their femininity.

The body structure depicted above also became popular in the early to late 1800s, during which women put on tight corsets to keep their waists slim while wearing hoops beneath their skirts to accentuate their lower body proportions.

Art, literature, and engravings are used to express sexual behaviors in early Rome, and even to a lower degree through archeological remains like erotic relics and architecture. Sometimes it was presumed that the defining feature of early Rome was “unrestricted sexual license.” Some writers believe that such a viewpoint was merely a Religious interpretation: “Since the emergence of Christianity, the sexual behavior of ancient Rome never had good publicity throughout the West. It is associated with a sexual permit and abuse in public perception and culture.”

But, as touching the traditional and social norms that affect general, personal, and military existence, sexuality is not excluded. Modesty was a governing force of conduct, as well as legal restrictions in both Republican and the Imperial times concerning sexual transgressions. The censors, who were public officials that determined individual social ranks, had the power to eject citizens on the grounds of sexual misconduct from the senate or the equestrian order, and sometimes did so. Michel Foucault, the theorist of sexuality in the mid-20th century, considered sex to be governed by prudence and also an art of controlling sexual pleasure across the Greco-Roman nation.

Roman culture was hierarchical (see paterfamilias), and dominance was focused on the ability to govern oneself and many others with lower status, not during war or politics only, but as well as in sexual relationships. (Virtus), "virtue," had been an active male self-disciplinary ideal, related to "vir", a Latin word meaning "man". A woman's equivalent ideal was pudicitia, also interpreted as sexual purity or modesty, however a more optimistic and productive personal attribute which displayed her attractiveness as well as her self-control.

It was assumed that upper-class Roman women were well-educated, of good character, and involved in upholding the position of their families in society. But with very few examples, extant Latin literature still retains the opinions on the issue of sexuality of skilled male Romans. Abstract art was produced by those in the lower social class and race but was geared to the preferences and inclinations of all those rich enough to buy it, like former slaves during the period of Imperialism.

In old Roman culture, several sexual behavior and attitudes differ significantly from those practiced in later Western societies. Roman culture encouraged sexuality as an element of the state's wealth, and citizens might resort to a personal religious activity or "craft" to enhance their intimate lives or sexual health. Prostitution was legitimate, common and popular.

Among many of the artworks in honorable upper-class families, "Pornographic" drawings were displayed. It was considered normal and unexciting for people to be physically attracted to underage adolescents of either gender, and pederasty was accepted so long as the young male companion was not freeborn of roman descent.

The predominant dichotomy in Roman thought on sexuality was not defined by "homosexual" or "heterosexual" behavior, and there are no Latin terms for these concepts. No social repression was aimed against the man who performed sexual acts either with women or men of inferior rank, so long as his actions did not reveal any shortcomings or excesses, nor infringed his patriarchal peers' privileges and prerogatives.

Although alleged effeminacy was condemned, particularly through political rhetoric, if the male partner took the effective and not the responsive part, moderated sex with underage boys or male slaves was not deemed to be unacceptable to masculinity.

Nevertheless, in both males and females alike, hypersexuality was rejected socially and practically. Women had been held to a more stringent moral code, and same-sex relationships among females are poorly recorded, but women's sexuality is celebrated in Latin literature in various ways. Ancient Romans typically had far more inclusive gender categories when compared to their Greek counterparts.

The validity of the term "sexuality" in ancient Roman society has also been debatedSexuality and Gender in Ancient Greek and Roman Literature, but the phrase has continued to be utilized due to lack of other tags meaning "the social understanding of the sexual activity."

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