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Bibliography updated to reflect current research; keywords added.

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date: 21 January 2018


Achilles's father hoped he would become "a speaker of words and a doer of deeds" (Hom. Il. 9.443–444), and this amalgam—realized better by Odysseus—remained the ideal of masculinity throughout antiquity. But it was not open to all: boys, slaves, the poor (like Homer's Thersites), and foreigners could not be real men. (The Persians, who wore pantaloons rather than a virile cloak or tunic, were especially suspect.) Even the citizen elite found masculinity difficult to reach and maintain; it is perhaps indicative that the most common terms—Greek andreia, Roman virtus—are feminine in gender. Sexual performance made a difference: men took the active, penetrating role; passively permitting penetration rendered them effeminate. But, since self-control too was preeminent among masculine virtues, too much sexual activity or pleasure in penetration also likened them to women. (So did a fondness for soft living—fine clothes, warm baths—or undisciplined speech.) Only in times of social turmoil did unreckoning rashness earn the label of manliness (andreia) and moderation become a mask for its lack (Thuc. 3.82). Other attributes of masculinity varied over time. Weeping, once manly enough for Homer's heroes, became unmanly in classical Athens (where the friends of Socrates restrain their tears at his death-bed); litigation there became an acceptable substitute for physical force. Roman virtus, originally linked to physical endurance and prowess in war, took on connotations of moral excellence and beards later covered the clean-shaven chins of the late republic and early empire. But while elite intellectuals of the time tried to present rhetorical skill as more manly than athletics, it is unlikely that they reached (let alone persuaded) most of their contemporaries, and gladiators reflected rather than replaced the soldier as a type of manly courage. Greek festivals featured contests in manliness (euandria) until at least the 1st century bce. Perhaps oddly, fathering children does not seem to have been used as an index of virility in Athenian courtrooms. But then, it would have been hard to compete with the gods, whose every sexual act was productive. As will be seen from the bibliography, the focus on masculinity in ancient historical scholarship is relatively recent.

See Gender; Sexuality.


Bassi, Karen, Acting Like Men: Gender, Drama and Nostalgia in Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Foxhall, Lin. Studying Gender in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Foxhall, Lin and John Salmon eds. Thinking Men: Masculinity and its Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition. London and New York: Routledge, (1998).Find this resource:

Foxhall, Lin and John Salmon eds., When Men Were Men: Masculinity, Power and Identity in Classical Antiquity. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.Find this resource:

Gleason, Maud W. Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Hubbard, Thomas K., ed. A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Literature and Culture. Malden, Oxford, and Chichester: Wiley, 2014.Find this resource:

McDonnell, Myles. Roman Manliness: 'Virtus' and the Roman Republic. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Robson, James. Sex and Sexuality in Classical Athens. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Roisman, Joseph. The Rhetoric of Manhood: Masculinity in the Attic Orators. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.Find this resource:

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