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Roman Expert Beard on Ancient Sexuality


The Spanish daily newspaper El Pais meets with the celebrated professor of Roman History, Mary Beard, whose latest book is about the world of the Roman Emporers themselves.  She addresses several paradoxes about the role the Roman Empire plays in our own psyche to this day.  How for example, heterosexual male conservatives still believe that it was a great regimen which suppressed women's freedom.  On the other hand, Beard notes that there are lessons on gender and sexual diversity which are intriguing.  She notes " In Ancient Rome, gender roles were the basis of their political and social order, yet they also questioned them. Mythology has often explored this in stories about men transforming into women. Iconic statues of hermaphrodites depicting a woman with breasts and a penis can be found in various parts of the world. The Roman world can shed some light on our present-day discussions about non-binary sexuality and gender fluidity. ..... When I was a student, we used to think that the Roman Empire was a place of absolute freedom where anything goes, especially among the upper class. Over the past 50 years, we’ve come to understand that they did have sexual norms — they were just different from ours. Take, for instance, the relationship between Hadrian and Antinous, his Greek slave and boyfriend. It seems that an older man in a dominant relationship with a younger man wasn’t considered a problem. But Hadrian’s intense grief after Antinous’ death was severely criticized. He commemorated Antinous with numerous statues, deified him, and even named cities after him. The criticism stemmed from Hadrian’s reaction to Antinous’ death, not the relationship itself. In that ancient world, it was typically women who grieved and cried. People saw Hadrian behaving like a woman."   Mary Beard's new book, Emperor of Rome: Ruling the Ancient Roman World., is available now.  If you plan on getting a copy, perhaps for Christmas, then why not consider buying from an independent, queer, feminist, or radical bookstore that give money back to the communities in which they are based.  

Mary Beard
Roman Empire
Ancient History
Ancient Society
LGBTQIA Archaeology

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