Classically Inclined

September 19, 2011

The eroticization of knowledge in the Priapea – a preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:10 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I seem to be having a good run with abstracts at the moment – first I was accepted for the Animating Antiquity conference (for which, incidentally, booking is now open), and now I’ve heard that I’ve had my paper accepted for Feminism and Classics VI in May! This is brilliant news for two reasons. First, it means I get to go back to North America and check in with some of my friends and colleagues from my six years in the US – you know, reassure them I haven’t grown an extra head, that sort of thing. Second, it finally gives me a chance to road-test an idea I’ve been sitting on since 2007 and that I’ve wanted the opportunity to come back to.

Every year, the Rutgers classics department participates in something called Latinfest, or the Latin Day Colloquium if you want to be more formal about it, along with Columbia, NYU, Penn and Princeton. The idea is to take a relatively unfamiliar Latin text which hasn’t had a great deal of scholarship done on it, and to put it at the centre of a day’s conference/seminar/discussion. Each of the five schools takes a section of the text, and graduates from each school give a short presentation on various relevant topics before opening up to more general discussion on each segment. It’s a great way of presenting in a friendly atmosphere and exploring an unfamiliar text, and I’m actually quite keen to import it to the UK. (I think one of Penn’s graduates has already taken the idea successfully to Germany, so there is precedent.)

The first year I took part in Latinfest, the assigned text was the Priapea. The Priapea, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a collection of poems in honour of the god Priapus. Yes, that Priapus. The god best known for having a big willy. A lot of the poems are, shall we say, a bit preoccupied with this bit of biology. That said, it’s also an interesting group of compositions which includes praise poetry, more learned allusive poetry, brief epigrammatic wit – a lot of really interesting stuff aside from the smut. Not to say that the smut is not in itself interesting, but you know what I mean.

What I got interested in, and what I will continue to explore in the paper I give at Feminism and Classics VI (which, I’m afraid, I always shorten to FemCon), is about the role of women in the poem. Women do appear, but not always in the best of lights and some of the poems are quite misogynistic. However, I want to argue that there’s a difference between male and female types of erotic knowledge. The god Priapus, symbolizing the male here, has three favourite verbs for sexual activity (futuere, irrumare and pedicare), and that’s as far as he goes in terms of sexual sophistication. I’d argue that there’s another side to sex that gets articulated through the goddess Athena and some other women, and that these women set up a competing model of what eroticism looks like.

I think this idea has got some real potential, and I’m really looking forward to having the chance to air it at FemCon – where there will be plenty of attendees who have worked on the Priapea themselves and will be able to, hopefully, give me some good suggestions about how I might take this idea further and turn it into a more formal piece of writing. But before I can turn my attention to that, I have to finish the article on the Ad Polybium

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1 Comment »

  1. [...] Twitter know, my recent research project has involved translating some poems from the Priapea for the paper I’m giving at Feminism and Classics VI. As I’ve had to write these translations for my handout, I thought I’d post some [...]

    Pingback by Some Selected Penis Poetry « Classically Inclined — May 18, 2012 @ 9:31 am | Reply


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