Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece

Overview

Erotic sensibility pervaded the art, literature, and social mores of the ancient Greeks. Early religious figurines emphasize sexual features, and written documents confirm that the people worshiped deities with strong sexual characteristics. Out of this background came a distinctively Greek sexual culture -- guilt-free, graphically frank, and uninhibited by taboos that became entrenched in the Middle Ages.

Illustrated with art from the earliest agricultural periods as well as ...

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Overview

Erotic sensibility pervaded the art, literature, and social mores of the ancient Greeks. Early religious figurines emphasize sexual features, and written documents confirm that the people worshiped deities with strong sexual characteristics. Out of this background came a distinctively Greek sexual culture -- guilt-free, graphically frank, and uninhibited by taboos that became entrenched in the Middle Ages.

Illustrated with art from the earliest agricultural periods as well as from the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman eras, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece presents nine successive stages of Greek sexual culture. Daniel H. Garrison uses well-known passages from Biblical, Near Eastern, and Greek literature to show the centrality of sexual culture in the civilizations of the area, particularly as they reflect the traditions passed on to the Western world.

The only comprehensive overview of Greek sexual culture, this book is a valuable guide to the origins of our complex attitudes regarding marriage, the rights of women, homosexuality, and the role of eroticism in art, religion, ethics, and literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
"The erotic contains the least that repels the mind, and the most that inevitably attracts." So states the Indian sage Abhinavagupta in the headnote of the opening chapter of Garrison's book on the erotic as a force in the art, literature, and life of ancient Greece. It's a safe bet to state that after reading this rigorously argued book few readers will disagree with the sage—or with the life-loving tolerance of the ancient Greeks.Garrison, professor of classics at Northwestern University, demonstrates that most ancient civilizations saw sexual energy and expression as a pervasive natural force, not as a socially narrow mechanism for the necessary propagation of the race. Sex was openly represented in the lives of the goddesses and gods in the late Neolithic civilizations of the Fertile Crescent and ancient Anatolia. By contrast, in ancient Israel, sexual knowledge (sexual knowing) propelled humankind to a place far below its divine creator. Subsequently, Christianity energetically promoted the notion that sex, sexual knowledge, and the representation of sex in art and literature were to be strictly regulated. The author's treatment of his theme is refreshingly multidisciplinary and two elements in particular significantly help the nonspecialist reader. The first is the provision of numerous illustrations of sculpture from the Neolithic period through Augustan Rome (including a powerful array of Cycladic images), in which the lineaments of desire and sexuality and sexual behaviors are powerfully and economically expressed. Later work, including vase decoration incorporating subtle symbols and elegant draperies, clearly draws readers to carefree abandon. Garrison's second great strength is his extensive range of quotation from exuberant classical Greek authors to censorious Church Fathers. Almost no psychological or emotional beat is absent. Any reader regretting not having lived in a privately imagined golden age of irresponsible eroticism will learn that such golden ages never quite were. This is not to deny that a freer and more open sexual culture existed in the past rather than today. Garrison, however, makes it quite clear that at all times in the classical Greek period numerous forces—political, moral, economic and social—governed the mechanisms of sexual access and exchange. Sex then, like sex now, was intimately bound up with power because an important end product of sexual activity is knowledge. No brief general review can do justice to this scholarly book, which is the twenty-fourth volume in the Oklahoma Series in Classic Culture. It will delight all readers willing to analyze the inescapable force that drives, satisfies, and torments their lives.
From The Critics
Sexual Culture In Ancient Greece adds to the university's series in classical culture, but stands well alone as a college-level survey of early religious and sexual culture in ancient Greece. Art from the earliest periods accompanies a discussion of nine successive stages of Greek sexual culture, using passages from Biblical, Near Eastern and Greek literature to trace ideas of sexual culture in regional civilizations. The only comprehensive survey of Greek sexual culture.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Preface
Ch. 1 Sexual Religion: The Roots of Sexual Culture 3
Ch. 2 Coming-of-Age in the Ancient Near East: Two Sexual Myths of Cultural Initiation 47
Ch. 3 Hellenizing Greece: The Revision of Bronze Age Mythology 59
Ch. 4 Greek Patriarchy: The Severe Style 89
Ch. 5 Education of the Senses from Solon to Pericles 115
Ch. 6 Idealizing Love: Plato, Sex, and Philosophy 153
Ch. 7 Sexual Beauty: The Nude in Greek Art 176
Ch. 8 Erotic Friendship: Romantic Fictions 215
Ch. 9 Anerotic Religion: Greek Themes in Early Christianity 246
Abbreviations 271
Notes 273
Selected Bibliography 317
Index 333
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