Cover image for Bisexuality in the ancient world
Bisexuality in the ancient world
Cantarella, Eva.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Secondo natura. English
Second edition.
Publication Information:
New Haven ; London : Yale Nota Bene, [2002]

Physical Description:
xx, 286 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
Previous ed.: 1992.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ76.2.R6 C3613 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In this readable and thought-provoking history of bisexuality in the classical age, Eva Cantarella draws on the full range of sources--from legal texts, inscriptions, and medical documents to poetry and philosophical literature--to reconstruct and compare the bisexual cultures of Athens and Rome.
Reviews of the earlier edition:
"Cantarella presents the ancient evidence in a straightforward fashion, draws insightful comparisons between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and elucidates the larger cultural context of erotic experience. With its wide scope the book speaks to the classicist, the layman with an interest in antiquity, the student of sexuality, and even to the unabashed seeker of piquant anecdotes."
--John F. Makowski, Classical Journal
"An important study that is destined to take its place next to the classic works of Foucault and Pomeroy."--Alan Mendelson, History: Reviews of New Books
"Offers a valuable, close-in reassessment of intricate evidence, freshly researched, readable, and open-minded."--Alan Sinfield, Gay Times
"This is a book I recommend for all students of sexology."--Milton Diamond, Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality
"Easily the best book on the topic."--John Buckler, Historian

Author Notes

Eva Cantarella is professor in the Institute of Roman Law at the University of Milan. Cormac O'Cuilleanain is lecturer in Italian at Trinity College, Dublin.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Studies of ancient sexuality move with the times, and that is one of the problems of such studies. Cantarella, a law professor, is well read but inexorably trendy. She is fond of generalizations, e.g., the Roman male's "sexual morality. . .was that of an aggressive dominator," though her text is littered with interesting exceptions from Caesar to Heliogabalus. She makes improbable claims, e.g., that there is a subtext of implied homosexuality to be found in Homer. The sensible and the silly jostle one another in these pages, backed by evidence juxtaposed from widely separated ages and places. No one would deny that Greek and Roman sexual mores were dominated by men and the masculine ethic; but to assert that women were seen solely as the target of male chauvinism is to ignore a body of evidence from the Odyssey, to Plutarch, to endless loving marital epitaphs pointing in a quite different direction. Literary portrayals of sexual attitudes are notoriously difficult to interpret, and Cantarella is not overly sophisticated in her handling of them. The visual arts, a rich source, are for the most part ignored. The original Italian text and notes have been updated, but the translator has trouble anglicizing the Italian versions of Greek names. This is a stimulating essay but one to be used with the greatest caution. General; graduate; faculty. P. M. Green; University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Editionp. vii
Prefacep. xv
Part 1 Greece
1 The Beginnings, the Greek Dark Age and the Archaic Periodp. 3
The Problem of Origins and Pederasty as a Form of Initiationp. 3
The Homeric Poemsp. 8
The Age of Lyric Poetry: Solon, Alcaeus, Anacreon, Theognis, Ibycus and Pindarp. 12
2 The Classical Agep. 17
The Etiquette of Love. How to Conquer a Boy: The Social Rules of Courtshipp. 17
How to Love a Boy: Erotic Manifestations in the Pederastic Relationshipp. 22
The Laws on Pederasty. Two Stages, Two Cities: Athens and Beroeap. 27
The Age for Loving and the Age for Being Lovedp. 36
Breaking the Rules on Age: Custom and Lawp. 42
Male Prostitution: The Oration of Aeschines Against Timarchusp. 48
3 Homosexuality and Heterosexuality Compared in Philosophy and Literaturep. 54
Socratesp. 54
Platop. 58
Xenophonep. 63
Aristotlep. 65
Plutarchp. 70
The Greek Anthology, Achilles Tatius and Pseudo-Lucianp. 73
4 Women and Homosexualityp. 78
Love Between Womenp. 78
Women and Male Homosexualityp. 88
Female Homosexuality Seen by Menp. 91
Part 2 Rome
5 The Archaic Period and the Republicp. 97
The Indigenous Features of Roman Homosexualityp. 97
Legitimate Forms of Love: Subjecting One's Own Slave, Paying a Prostitutep. 101
Prohibited Loves: Subjecting a Romanp. 104
The Lex Scatiniap. 106
The edict De adtemptata pudicitiap. 115
6 The Late Republic and the Principatep. 120
The poets: Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, Ovidp. 120
The Lex Iulia de adulteriis coercendisp. 142
Tradition and Innovation: The Carmina Priapea, graffiti, satirep. 145
7 The Empirep. 155
Practicesp. 155
The Sexual Behaviour of the Powerful: Excuse or Example?p. 156
Women and Homosexualityp. 164
The Law: Constantius and Constans, Theodosius I, the Theodosian Code and the Corpus Iuris Civilisp. 173
8 The Metamorphoses of Sexual Ethics in the Ancient Worldp. 187
Metamorphoses Within Pagan Beliefp. 187
The Judaeo-Christian Traditionp. 191
Conclusionsp. 211
Notesp. 223
Abbreviationsp. 269
Select Bibliographyp. 273
Indexp. 277