- Man to Man: Desire, Homosociality, and Authority in Late-Roman Manhood by Mark Masterson
Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2014. Pp. xi + 222. ISBN 978–0-8142–1268–4.
This modestly-sized book provides an intensely rich read and packs a muscular punch. In essence, in three chapters and 178 pages of main text, the author sets out “to reveal the ways in which same-sex desire and pleasure were visible within elite late-Roman manhood” (176). As Masterson emphasises, this is a topic that has been neglected by late Roman scholars, though he acknowledges debts to the work of Maud Gleason, Virginia Burrus, and Mathew Kuefler in particular, whilst [End Page 438] also inevitably referencing Michel Foucault and John Boswell. A key aspect of Masterson’s book is that he approaches his chosen topic through the prism of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s term “homosocial”, which proves fruitful but also sensibly avoids the problematic terms “gay” and “homosexuality.” Also central to Masterson’s book is the “startling dissonance” (3) apparent in late Roman attitudes towards same-sex relations. It is often noted that imperial legislation of the period—Masterson takes as his starting and end points the death of Constantine I in 337 and the reigns of Theodosius II (408–450) and Valentinian III (423– 455)—witnesses an increasingly hostile tone towards same-sex relationships, seen in the cases of Theodosius I’s condemnation of male prostitutes in Rome in the 390s (Mosaicarum et Romanarum Legum Collatio 5.3.1–2) and a law of Constantius II and Constans in the 340s seemingly targeting marriage between men (Theodosian Code 9.7.3, a highly topical subject today). Yet in the same period “same-sex desire was a conspicuous vehicle for expressing friendship, patronage, solidarity, and other important relationships between elite men” (2). Thus this book addresses a significant paradox in late Roman attitudes towards men (a paradox also seen, for example, in late Roman attitudes towards eunuchs, who can be both reviled and idolised). More than this, however, it is a heady exploration of the literature and culture of the period, including a notable focus on the engagement of authors with the classical culture of the past, philosophy in particular; Plato has a big part to play.
Each of the three main chapters takes a particular case study, examining a male author’s treatment of a specific man or men. Chapter One is titled “Emperor Julian’s Marcus Aurelius” (41–89); Chapter Two “Athanasius’ Antony” (90–137); and Chapter Three, “Ammianus’ Emperors” (138–69). Masterson thus organises his case studies by different types of texts (orations, hagiography, historiography), but also by contrasting attitudes towards manhood and same-sex relations. The three case studies allow for the examination of “various responses” to “same sex desire and unease over possible masculine interest in being penetrated” (6). These responses range, in sequence, from positivity to negativity and on to ambivalence. Chapter 1 focuses on Julian’s Caesars (of course) but also his Against Heraclius (dwelling on Julian’s myth of his own life), and suggests (in part) “how evocation of the forbidden could consolidate rather than dissipate masculine auctoritas” (84). Chapter 2 primarily analyses Athanasius’ Life of Antony, argues that same-sex desire can be read in it, and emphasises how Athanasius constructs Antony along “the contours of elite Roman manhood” (104). Memorably Masterson discusses how Antony metaphorically fucks the Devil as if the latter were taking the role of a younger sexual partner (120). Chapter 3, on Ammianus Marcellinus’ treatment of emperors (or rather Constantius II and Julian specifically) in his history, is “dedicated to investigating the connections between same-sex desire, homosociality, and the making of imperial authority” (139).
The three case studies pursued by Masterson are nestled between an extensive Introduction (1–40) and a more concise Conclusion (170–78). These provide the opportunity to supply other striking case studies “for an investigation of elite manhood’s relationship to same-sex desire, homosociality, and the [End Page 439] making of authority” (6). The Introduction sets the scene with the example...