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Beyond Tribadism: Alternate Discourses on Female Homoeroticism in Greek and Latin Literature

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:28 authored by Oliver, Jennifer Helen

Scholarly accounts of sexuality in the ancient world have placed much emphasis on the normative dichotomy of activity and passivity. In the case of female homoeroticism, scholars have focussed largely on the figure of the so-called tribas, a masculinised, aggressively penetrative female who takes the active role in sexual relations with women. My thesis seeks to set out a wider conceptualisation of female homoeroticism that encompasses erotic sensuality between conventionally feminine women. The first chapter surveys previous scholarship on ancient sexuality and gender and on female homoeroticism in particular, examining the difficulties in terminology and methodology inherent in such a project. The second chapter turns to the Callisto episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, beginning with the kiss between the huntress Callisto and Jupiter, who is disguised as Callisto’s patron goddess Diana. The Callisto episode contains hints of previous intimacy between Callisto and Diana, and the kiss scene can be read as an erotic interaction between the two, both of whom are portrayed as conventionally feminine rather than tribadic. The third chapter examines several Greek intertexts for the Callisto episode: Callimachus’ hymns to Athena and Artemis, and the story of Leucippus as narrated by Parthenius and Pausanias. These narratives exhibit a similar dynamic to the Callisto episode, in that they eroticise the relationships both between Diana and her companions and amongst those companions. An educated reader of Ovid’s Metamorphoses would plausibly have had these Greek texts in mind, and would thus have been more likely to read the relationship between Diana and Callisto as homoerotic. Finally, the fourth chapter approaches Statius’ Achilleid from the perspective of female homoeroticism, a move without precedent in past scholarship. The relationship between Deidameia and the cross-dressed Achilles engages intertextually with the Callisto episode, presenting another exclusively female-homosocial environment in which homoerotic desires can flourish.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Masterson, Mark