rome journal

cultrix-deorum  asked:

Question time. I am reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and in the first book he condemns "homosexuality." The Meditations were originally written in Greek, I know, but I'm not sure if ancient Roman concepts of male-male relationships translates easily into modern English. Unfortunately the translator/editor does not make any useful notes on this passage. Can you shed some light on male-male relationships in Roman antiquity?

SO. Despite being queer, this is something I read less about than I should, because it is kind of a minefield of exhaustion. To begin, you need to be constantly aware of the huge gaping discourse pits that plague ancient sexuality studies, especially when it comes to male-male relationships:

1. Labeling issues.
Modern sexualities do not map to ancient ones. This should be kind of obvious as they are separated by 2000+ years of history, but you would be surprised how badly this works out in practice. The problem here is that after being violently written out of history for basically forever, anything that vaguely sounds like “gay people didn’t exist back then” is obviously inflammatory. (And some gross academics have indeed argued just that.) The basic idea is that there is no neat 1-to-1 translation system of our current sexuality spectrum to the ancient spectrum, and our modern day realities can’t be imported backwards. However, this leads us to…

2. Language issues.
We don’t really have specific terms for much of the ancient spectrum, so we have to use modern words, which results in people applying their current conceptions. But wait, there’s more! We’ve got textual/linguistic issues where there is no differentiation between words for homosexuality (interest-only-in-men), homosexual behavior (acts-with-men), and pederasty.  Then you have hundreds of years of bigoted translators conflating homosexuality and pederasty. And then you’ve got today, where pederasty itself doesn’t neatly map to modern CSA but is understandably not something victims want distant academics philosophizing about!! Everyone is trapped navigating between Abuse Apologism and the Predatory Gays stereotype, which are both a helluva lot more harmful than Scylla and Charybdis ever were.

3. Reception issues.
With modern lgbtqia+ movements and queer theory rising in academia, we’ve seen a lot more perceptions and interpretations of classical works. There’s a tendency for any academic questioning of these minority narratives to be taken as an attack (and sometimes it IS, like with the hyper-focus on Sappho). A lot of “Western” sexuality movements also owe a huge debt and inspiration to their own imaginings of the classics, and while they aren’t invalidated by those imaginings being disproved, it can sure feel like that’s the goal sometimes. Murky waters.

4. Agency issues.
A lot of lgbtqia+ people have really bad experiences with being labeled rather than choosing labels. Since we can’t talk to ancient Romans and have them self-define, we’re either stuck discussing trends rather than people (which is impersonal), or deciding that because they do X, they must be Z. This results in sweeping generalizations: “well technically they’re all bi” or “if they ever had male/male sex they must be gay” and so on. But that kind of black/white labeling doesn’t manage to describe reality today either.0

5. (Bonus issue: Academia can’t keep up with our terminology which results in anything older than about 5-7 years being cringe-worthy and if I read one more article talking about a two-sexed image being bisexual I’m gonna friggin lose it)

Meanwhile, there are the ancient biases that one has to take into account:

1. We mostly know about ELITE male/male customs, as systemized in unbalanced arrangements and/or pederasty. There is considerably less data on the other 99% of Romans.

2. Active/Submissive. Labels were based on role during intercourse, not interest/attraction as our spectrum generally works today. The stereotypes surrounding men taking an active role (dick go in thing) were completely different than those about men taking a submissive role (thing dick go in). This also aligned ‘submissive’ roles with women, who performed the same function, and so doubled the implication of unmanliness.

3. Propaganda. If you hate an emperor/politician, make him seen unmanly. If you want to make him seem unmanly, say he’s submissive to other men and does other “womanly” things. It was a pretty simple equation. This does not mean everything is hands down a lie, but this is a bias that has to be accounted for when we delve into questions about the Galli, Elgabalus, and basically any secondhand report.

It’s kind of like if you had to write a history of modern sexual identities, but all you had were some 00s top/bottom stereotypes, homophobic diatribes, some philosophical meta on RPF, vague mentions of rainbow parades, and a handful of closeted love letters. In another language. Missing 90% of its context.

All of that said, there is constant work being done in the area, though more (and more varied) work is always needed. Here is a small chronological sampling across a few disciplines, with a caveat that I have not read most of these yet myself – apologies if they willingly hurl themselves into a discourse hellscape.

And to circle all the way back to Marcus Aurelius, I give you:


Surprise-surprise, I’m in Starbucks again. Thank god for this on-campus Starbucks.
I’m starting to settle into a schedule, which is helping a lot with dealing with the stress of classes. Just seven weeks until spring break for me! If I can make it, so can you!

Back to uni-life!

9th March 2015 | 22.38

Last weekend I was sick. Well, actually I was sick the entire last week. Therefore, I went back home, and it felt so good to be looked after by parents and relatives. (I had missed my mum so bad! Distance makes me realize how much I love her.) - It’s my inner child that is speaking.

On Sunday evening I came back to Rome, and uni-life absorbed all my attention right away. Today I have been out for the whole day, from 8am to 8pm. Happy little things #1: at university, they gave all women a small vase of flowers for International Women’s day, sweet!

However, I made some changes in my room, and I am happy with how it turned out. I moved my desk next to my bed so that I can actually use it to study, rather than to put random stuff on it. Plus, there’s enough space to even walk in my room now - how great! It’s really starting to feel like home.

Happy little things #2: I’ve just found out that I got 97 out of 100 on my Media midterm. I am feeling proud of myself! Let’s keep going!