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  • Il Mostro e il sapiente: Studi sull'erotica greca
  • Eva Cantarella
Riccardo Vattuone. Il Mostro e il sapiente: Studi sull'erotica greca. Studi di Storia 11. Bologna: Pàtron, 2004. 345 pp. 15 black-and-white figs. Paper, €24.

"Il mostro e il sapiente" (the monster and the wise man), referred to in the title of Riccardo Vattuone's book, are, respectively, the loathed figure of the modern pedophile and an elected official who stands almost as a symbol of wisdom, the great Athenian legislator Solon. Each of them, as Vattuone observes in the introduction, "loves" boys. No one, however, has ever for this reason considered the wise man Solon to be a monster, as today's media tend to view the modern pedophile. Thus it is clear from the title and made explicit in the foreword (7–10) that Vattuone is not merely interested in the past. As he repeats several times, "It is the past that puts the most significant questions to the contemporary age, and not vice-versa" (9, and passim). In this case, the past that interrogates the present is the pederastic relationship, and the question that this has asked Vattuone is whether or not there is a relationship between so-called Greek love and modern pedophilia. According to Vattuone, from the nineteenth century on, the immense quantity of literature about the pederastic relationship oscillates between radical condemnation and attempts to defend the past by "distancing it" (8). Il Mostro e il sapiente, he declares, was written to get away from this "ideological hypocrisy" and to dispel, if possible, "the suspicion that behind the contemporary pedophile there lurk the worst vices, the most obvious repressions of Western culture . . . and that that person is a creation of the system, constructed as a scapegoat for the unspeakable Other" (9).

The following eight chapters are therefore dedicated to this objective. In the first, "Osservazioni preliminari: i crimini di Solone" (Preliminary Observations: the Crimes of Solon), Vattuone begins with an epigram of Straton (AP 12.246) to contest—in my opinion correctly—the reading of pederasty that he calls "anesthetic," according to which the pais would have experienced his relationship with the adult as a kind of social obligation, without feeling desire or pleasure. It is not only the adult that loves and desires, says Vattuone. Pederasty implies reciprocity of affection. On this point, as I observed years ago, I believe it very likely that Vattuone is approaching the truth. (See E. Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World [2d ed., Yale University Press, 2002], xii–xiii, and, at greater length, "A proposito di C. Calame, L'Amour en grece," Annales ESC 1999.)

The second chapter, "Pais kalos. Una bellezza incomparabile" (Pais Kalos. An Incomparable Beauty), argues, correctly, against the idea that the boy's attractions depend on his resemblance to a woman. The scarce contact that Greek [End Page 461] men had with women has nothing to do with the reasons for which the paides from the age of approximately twelve to seventeen years were irresistible to the Greek man. Though their face and gaze might be soft, their body structure and ethos were virile. Pederasty was a relationship between males, among other things allowed and culturally valued only within the age limits to which an ample and exhaustive part of the chapter is dedicated.

The third chapter, "Eros, un 'dovere' sociale?" (Eros, a Social "Duty?"), goes into the erotic aspect of the relationship, dedicating ample space to the problem of the so-called origins of pederasty. The Greeks considered that pederasty originated with a crime (the rape of Chrysippus), and modern scholars, according to Vattuone, have followed this line of thinking, concentrating their efforts on the attempt—this is a leitmotif of the book—to save the Greeks from accusations of immorality and perversion. A long section of criticism follows, attacking hypotheses of the historic-psychoanalytic type and those that link the social role of pederasty to "rites of passage," with the objective, according to Vattuone, of distancing it from us and the present world. I do not agree, however. As I have pointed out elsewhere, to connect a sexual relationship with a rite does not necessarily...


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