Sex and Sensuality in the Ancient World

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In this important book Giulia Sissa looks at sensuality and sexual desire in the Greek, Roman and early Christian worlds, demonstrating how modern concepts of sexuality emerge from the practices and theories of the ancient world. In contrast to other recent scholars, Sissa emphasizes the centrality of heterosexual desire and passion in the classical period, arguing that the importance of homosexuality has been over-emphasized.Drawing widely on the literature and philosophy of the time, Sissa examines each culture in turn and challenges many of our assumptions. In particular, she draws a distinction between pleasure and desire in the ancient world, and analyses in detail the different ways in which men and women were seen to experience erotic feeling, looking closely at the portrayal of transgressive women such as Medea, Clytemnestra and Jocasta. Fresh, thoughtful and often provocative, this is a striking new analysis of the sexual attitudes that lay at the heart of the classical and post-classical world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this study of ancient myth, tragedy and philosophy, Sissa (Greek Virginity) traces the evolution of desire from Homer to St. Augustine. In the ancient world, sex was recognized as capable of fomenting all sorts of havoc (or, in the case of Oedipus and his mother, "genealogical chaos"), but desire was considered a distraction, with pleasure an enjoyable byproduct. In the early Christian world, however, the author demonstrates how desire and pleasure became problematic-marriage was a "second choice when compared with chastity." According to the author, women's demonization was the one constant: artists portrayed women as motivated by vanity and neediness, with a complicated and often twisted sexuality. Sissa draws on ancient texts for her evidence, but this book is no mere romp through ancient literature; the author's argument is informed by her mastery of the subject and scholarly rigor and daring-she takes on Foucault's seminal work on the subject. Although the book will be of greatest interest to scholars, enthusiasts for the great books may also find it an illuminating complement to their reading. (Nov.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300108804
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/21/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Giulia Sissa is professor of classics at UCLA. Her other books include Greek Virginity, The Daily Life of the Greek Gods (with Marcel Detienne), Le Plaisir et le Mal: Philosophie de la drogue, and L'Ame Est un Corps de Femme. She divides her time among Los Angeles, Paris, and Venice.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Pt. 1 Eros the Tyrant 13

1 Desire 15

2 Pleasure 50

3 Bodies 72

4 Relationships 89

Pt. 2 Mollis Amor - Unmanly Love 131

Pt. 3 Perversa Voluntas - Deviant Inclination 165

Conclusion - Indefinite desire 192

Bibliography 207

Index 215

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