Classically Inclined

August 7, 2012

The sex lives of Homeric heroines

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:31 am
Tags: , , , ,

The subject of this post is an offshoot from the paper I gave at Feminism and Classics VI. Some of you may remember the translation of poem 68 in the Priapea that I posted just before I left for the conference. This poem really jumped out at me for a number of reasons, but the main one was that the last few lines dedicate a lot of space to praising Penelope, the heroine of the Odyssey, best known for her fidelity to her absent husband – and also express Priapus’ conviction that he would have been able to “please” her if he had existed when she was around.

This passage highlights a bit of a trend I’ve been noticing in Latin poetry of the Augustan period and later, which is a mild obsession with the sex lives of Homeric heroines. When I was teaching the Ars Amatoria last term, I found some of the imagery very striking, particularly in book three, where the praeceptor/teacher-narrator of the poem addresses his female readers. The final section of the book explicitly addresses sexual positions, and advises that each woman should pick the position which shows off her best physical attributes. In describing the woman-on-top position, the praeceptor says that women who are tall should not attempt it; as a supporting proof, he comments that Andromache was so tall that she never sat astride her ‘horse’.

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