Friday, July 22, 2016

Review of Masterson, Rabinowitz, and Robson (eds.), Sex in Antiquity

Mark Masterson, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, James Robson (ed.), Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World. Rewriting antiquity. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. xx, 567. ISBN 9780415519410. $205.00.

Reviewed by F. Mira Green, University of Washington (


[Before I begin, I would like to apologize for the lateness of this review.]

The topic of sex has been recently getting a lot of action (ahem) in scholarship about the ancient world. Since the 1990s, many have turned their attention to questions about sex and sexuality in antiquity; this year alone has had a least three studies (including the one under review) on sex or sexual labor.1 In the introduction to their edited volume, Mark Masterson, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, and James Robson observe that the study of gender and sex in the ancient world has entered a retrospective stage. They outline three major movements that mark the development of scholarship on the study of gender and sexuality in the past decades: the first movement (roughly 1978-1984) was a period when scholars began to recover historical women and engaged in feminist critique of male authors; the second phase (1990-1993) saw a joining of scholarship on gender and sexuality; and finally, the third (or current) one is often marked by the compiling, summarizing, and reflecting on past efforts of gender studies (4-6). The editors offer some caution about this trend and point to one of the main objectives of their volume: “Taking stock is always a good idea, but there is also a need for new work...We must always revisit and renegotiate our relationship with the past” (6-7). With this aim, the editors of and contributors to this volume offer insightful and sometimes unexpected conversations that take place between current and past scholarship, and provide opportunities to explore the trajectories that scholarship on sex, sexuality, and gender in antiquity might now take.