- From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom ed. by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, Fiona McHardy
Rabinowitz and McHardy have assembled an international group of scholars for this volume, which arose from the fifth Feminism and Classics conference at the [End Page 571] University of Michigan in 2008. The ancient sources raise sensitive issues—slavery, infanticide, abortion, rape, pederasty, domestic violence, death, and sexuality. It is important to teach the ancient texts that raise these issues and not avoid them. One objective of this volume is to combat arguments that the classics are elitist and irrelevant. Another is to show how Greco-Roman culture and history can open otherwise difficult discussions about homophobia and racism. Space prohibits treating all fifteen chapters in this review. The general standard of all the chapters is high, but—at the risk of being highly selective—six stand out.
In chapter 7, “Too Sexy for South Africa: Teaching Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in the Land of the Rainbow Nation,” Suzanne Sharland shares her experiences as a white South African female teaching mostly black students. Her students in South Africa have been largely influenced in their language, culture, and religion by the very conservative “Afrikaner” minority. This chapter also invites discussions about race.
In chapter 10, “Talking Rape in the Classics Classroom: Further Thoughts,” Sharon James discusses teaching rape texts, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Teaching rape is not limited to classics; the subject also comes up in art history, world literature, and film. James advises alerting students early on that they will be reading and studying disturbing materials. The chapter concludes with recommended readings on talking about rape in the classroom.
In chapter 12, “Teaching Ancient Comedy: Joking about Race, Ethnicity, and Slavery,” Barbara Gold reports that she has taught about the treatment of women and rape by such ancient authors as Aristophanes, Menander, Plautus, and Terence. She has had students act out funny scenes and read their own scripts in class. She advises giving more historical background on who slaves were in ancient Rome and comparing Roman to American slavery.
In chapter 13, “Difficult Dialogues about a Difficult Dialogue: Plato’s Symposium and Its Gay Tradition,” Nikolai Endres holds that, to American students, the Symposium (and partly the Phaedrus) presents erotic choices (such as Platonic love) that are controversial. The controversy, stemming from (classical) pederasty (erastes and eromenos), reaches beyond the classroom. Petronius’ Satyricon presents an attachment between Encolpius and Ascyltus and features a traditional account of Greek pederasty. Endres includes Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, about the educational corruption of an impressionable youth by an older man, and Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner, about the physical relationship between a coach and one of his openly gay runners—seminal texts that can invite discussion.
In chapter 14, “A World Away from Ours: Homoeroticism in the Classics Classroom,” Walter Duvall Penrose, Jr., shares his experience of teaching innercity students about homophobia. To begin with, one must teach terminology. One of the first terms in question is ancient pederasty and its relationship to politics in ancient Greece. Next is distinguishing pederasty from pedophilia. Homoeroticism, masculinity, and the ancient Greek military come next, followed by Sappho and “Lesbianism.” There is a stark difference between twenty-first century American attitudes towards sexuality and those of the ancient Greeks.
Finally, in chapter 15, “Queering Catullus in the Classroom: The Ethics of Teaching Poem 63,” Maxine Lewis relates how the poem confronts both instructor and student with gender identity in crisis, and with grammatical and political problems. Is Attis a man, or a woman? Poem 63 is tricky—the problem is accentuated in English via the gendered third-person pronouns he, she, and [End Page 572] it. Giving students verbal and iconographic alternatives to the gendered English pronouns he and she encourages them to move beyond the limitations of the gendered language of English.
Rabinowitz and McHardy have produced an impressive volume as a...