The Lambda Classical Caucus Panel at the American Philological Association Meeting in Chicago was on Sunday, January 5, at the decidedly early hour of 8:00 AM. Bruce Frier (University of Michigan) and Mark Masterson (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand), the organizers of the panel of five, were in attendance. Frier ran the session and Masterson made 15 minutes of introductory remarks to prime the audience. The panellists then addressed the topic of informal modes of stifling sexual activity in the ancient world (as opposed to formal means like laws, e.g., the Leges Iuliae). One of the most interesting things about the work of the panellists, though surely not the only thing, was the way in which each of them approached the topic and their evidence, with the fifth panellist even “going meta” on the call for papers.
Lily Panoussi (College of William & Mary) was up first with “Stupra et Caedes: Homosexuality, Women’s Rituals, and the State in Livy’s Bacchanalian Narrative.” She identified a rift in Roman society in the matter of sex between males: evidently not all felt it was the worst thing ever. The lack of stifling then called forth an overwhelming response from the Roman state. Livy’s narrative surely casts an interesting light on Augustan Rome.
“Mature Praeceptor Amoris Seeks Tops (Discreet): Desire and Deniability in Tibullus 1.4” by Robert Matera (University of Southern California) was next. This paper teased out the way the poetic voice in the elegy engages in double-speak. In language that is ambiguous at one particular moment in the poem, the poet apparently offers his services as praeceptor and/or his anus for penetration. Matera suggested that the fact that the meaning is double means that there is plausible deniability, and this deniability is evidence both of the regime dedicated to stifling passive male sexuality and of a position contesting this regime at the same time.
In the third paper, “The Art of Not Loving,” E. Del Chrol (Marshall University) looked at the activities of a praeceptor who could hardly be more different from Tibullus. Perceiving in Ovid’s advice to would-be amatores both anxiety about the power of love to attenuate masculine mastery and a belief that true love is a veritable disease, Chrol suggested that there is a strong undercurrent of discouragement of love and desire in Ovid. Chrol substantiated his observations by a resort to the association of erotic passion with illness in poetry, the novels, and curse tablets. Ovid on Chrol’s reading wants to stifle all sexuality.
In “Sex and Homosexuality in Suetonius’ Caesares,” Molly M. Pryzwansky (North Carolina State University) proposed that the hostility to sex between males that scholars have been liable to see in Suetonius’ lives of the rulers of Rome has been overplayed. Suetonius was more concerned about the abuse of subordinates, or about a lack of concern for hierarchy in and through sex, than he was about the kind of sex emperors were having. Taking on Pryzwansky’s arguments, we see evidence of a lack of investment in the stifling that we are often told was of such great importance to the ancients; another rift was revealed in her paper. (This paper was read by Brett M. Rogers [University of Puget Sound], as Pryzwansky was not able to attend due to the weather.)
H. Christian Blood (Yonsei University, South Korea) “went meta” on the call for papers in his offering for the panel: “Stifling ‘Scare Figures.’” Looking at the sweep of antiquity in his broad position paper, Blood suggested that in looking at the kinaidos/cinaedus we should not focus exclusively on the notion of a man cross-dressing and allowing penetration. Blood counselled starting (at least some of the time) from an idea of the kinaidos/cinaedus as a person who in the first place considers herself a woman, even though she possesses male genitalia. This paper was a strong recommendation that Classicists engage more with current theoretical investigations of transgenderism to envision a “trans-antiquity.” The paper’s title was playful, and this is where the “meta” part was abundantly showcased. Referring to John Winkler’s influential idea of the kinaidos as a “scare figure,” Blood proposed that Winkler’s idea has been stifling and delaying an engagement with transgender theory, that sexuality as a concept has been doing the same thing, and, finally, that it might be time to stifle this scare figure itself.
The audience was engaged and there were good questions from them and from the panellists. There were more questions and comments out there than could be accommodated. Discussion surely could have gone on for an hour.
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand