2013 Inquiry Seminars

Behind Closed Doors: Gender & Sexuality in the Ancient World

Heather Gruber

The cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans are the very foundations of Western civilization. We know a great deal about their history, their mythology, and their philosophy - which is to say, their public lives. Behind Closed Doors investigates the private lives of ancient people. What was life like for women in fifth century BCE Athens, or in imperial Rome? What defined masculinity? What determined a person’s sexual identity?

Studying the private lives of ancient people presents a problem of sources. It is estimated that only about 10% of ancient Greek literature and about a third of Latin literature survives; virtually none of it was written by women. The readings from this class come from a variety of ancient genres, from hymns to popular songs, from plays to philosophical treatises, from law codes to archaeological inscriptions. Understanding how gender roles, marriage, and sexuality were defined in the ancient world helps us better understand them in the modern one. OC