Sex in Antiquity [book]

Mark Masterson
2018
As Creusa finds the courage to reveal her long-concealed union with Apollo, Euripides aligns the powerful narrative at the heart of his Ion with the disclosure of a sexual secret. Such disclosures make good stories, interesting in part for their sexual content, but even more, I suggest, for the circumstances that lead to their telling. As Peter Brooks argues in Reading for the Plot, narratives engage us in the desires of their characters, which we follow through a trajectory of frustration and
more » ... of frustration and fulfillment, propelled by a corresponding passion for knowledge. Among the strongest of those desires, more powerful even than erotic longing or material ambition, is the wish to tell one's own story, "the more nearly absolute desire to be heard, recognized, listened to" (Brooks 1984: 53), so that narratives often include an account of their own origin in a character's quest for recognition. But a story like Creusa's can only be told after a difficult struggle with fear and shame, which have to be overcome before one party in a sexual encounter breaks the bond of silence to reveal what had been a shared and exclusive secret. Disciplines Arts and Humanities | Classics This book chapter is available at ScholarlyCommonsSheila Murnaghañ ω , ψυχά, πω ς σιγάσω; πως δὲσκοτίας α , ναφήνω ευ , νάς, αι , δου ς δ' α , πολειφθω ; My soul, how can I stay silent? But how can I cast off shame and reveal a hidden union? (Euripides, Ion 859-61) As Creusa finds the courage to reveal her long-concealed union with Apollo, Euripides aligns the powerful narrative at the heart of his Ion with the disclosure of a sexual secret. Such disclosures make good stories, interesting in part for their sexual content, but even more, I suggest, for the circumstances that lead to their telling. As Peter Brooks argues in Reading for the Plot, narratives engage us in the desires of their characters, which we follow through a trajectory of frustration and fulfillment, propelled by a corresponding passion for knowledge. Among the strongest of those desires, more powerful even than erotic longing or material ambition, is the wish to tell one's own story, "the more nearly absolute desire to be heard, recognized, listened to" (Brooks 1984: 53), so that narratives often include an account of their own origin in a character's quest for recognition. But a story like Creusa's can only be told after a difficult struggle with fear and shame, which have to be overcome before one party in a sexual encounter breaks the bond of silence to reveal what had been a shared and exclusive secret. This discussion concerns accounts of heterosexual encounters across a range of genres in archaic and classical Greek literature, from hymn, to tragedy, to historiography, in which the exposure of a sexual secret underlies and enables the narrative, explaining its genesis and defining its motivation. These accounts bring out the tricky power dynamics of heterosexual relationships, in which gendered differences are subsumed in a delicate equilibrium. As scholars of ancient Greek sexuality have stressed, such relationships were always by definition asymmetrical, with the male as the dominant partner. 2 But the fact that they were also privateas much so when sanctioned and open as when illicit and clandestineitself indicates an element of mutuality: an equal investment in silence that betokens tacit acquiescence in the balance of power between male and female. 260
doi:10.4324/9781315747910 fatcat:5yryhc5arrfbnovsaojtx7tx5e