Sexual Ambivalence

Sexual Ambivalence : Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity

By (author) Luc Brisson , Translated by Janet Lloyd

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This fascinating book collects and translates most of the extant written Graeco-Roman material on human beings, divinities, animals, and other creatures who were said to have been both female and male. Luc Brisson provides a commentary that situates this rich source material within its historical and intellectual contexts. These selections--from mythological, philosophical, historical, and anecdotal sources--describe cases of either simultaneous dual sexuality, as in androgyny and in hermaphroditism, or successive dual sexuality, as in the case of Tiresias (the blind Theban prophet), which are found through the whole span of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Sexual Ambivalence is an invaluable sourcebook that gathers this suggestive, yet hard to find, material in one convenient place. This book presents some very obscure but wonderfully strange material. There is the ghost story about a father who returns from the dead to devour his dual-sexed son in the public square, leaving behind only the head, which proceeds to deliver a prophecy from its position on the ground. In addition to including such familiar sources as the myths of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus as told in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Aristophanes' myth of the origins of the sexes and sexuality in Plato's Symposium, Brisson also discusses cosmogonic mythology in Hesiodic poetry, the Orphic Rhapsodies, Gnosticism, the Hermetic Corpus, and the so-called Chaldean Oracles. He presents the manifold variants of the myth of Tiresias, as well as many other sources. Brisson quotes this material at length and discusses its significance in Graeco-Roman myth and philosophy. These ancient stories open a window onto a world without the sexual oppositions of male and female, a paradise of unity and self-containment, as well as onto the peculiar world of go-betweens like the prophet Tiresias. They deepen our awareness of the extent to which the polarity of sexuality colors our entire perception of the world, as it did in antiquity, and as it does for us now. This provocative material is profoundly relevant to our thinking today.

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  • Paperback | 209 pages
  • 140.2 x 208.8 x 14.2mm | 249.48g
  • 28 Mar 2002
  • University of California Press
  • Berkerley
  • English
  • 2 line illustrations, 1 table
  • 0520223918
  • 9780520223912
  • 878,960

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Author Information

Luc Brisson is Researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research and is the author of many books on Greek philosophy and religion, including Plato the Myth Maker, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Gerard Naddaf (1999).

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Back cover copy

"Sexual ambivalence in antiquity was both deeply threatening to the social order and profoundly attractive. Especially in a culture in which gender roles seemed so fundamental, hermaphroditism was monstrous, a portent of disorder. But in the myths and the philosophy of that world it also represented the promise of fusion, the hoped-for reward of love and the ground from which civilization sprang. Everyone who studies sexuality, whether in the ancient world or in the present, owes Brisson a great debt for bringing together such a wide range of texts on so important and moving an issue."--Thomas W. Laqueur, author of "Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud

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Flap copy

"Sexual ambivalence in antiquity was both deeply threatening to the social order and profoundly attractive. Especially in a culture in which gender roles seemed so fundamental, hermaphroditism was monstrous, a portent of disorder. But in the myths and the philosophy of that world it also represented the promise of fusion, the hoped-for reward of love and the ground from which civilization sprang. Everyone who studies sexuality, whether in the ancient world or in the present, owes Brisson a great debt for bringing together such a wide range of texts on so important and moving an issue."Thomas W. Laqueur, author of "Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud""

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