Before Queerness?

Visions of a homoerotic heaven in ancient Greco-Italic tomb paintings

Authored by: Walter Duvall Penrose

Sex in Antiquity

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415519410
eBook ISBN: 9781315747910
Adobe ISBN: 9781317602774


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The paintings decorating the walls and ceiling of the early fifth-century BCE Tomb of the Diver in the ancient Greek colony of Poseidonia (modern-day Paestum, Italy) have achieved much acclaim since their 1968 discovery. One of the five paintings portrays an expression of homoerotic desire which has gained widespread notoriety, becoming an icon of male “homosexuality” (Figure 8.1). Not only did the painting appear as evidence in the landmark work Greek Homosexuality by K. J. Dover (1978 [1989]), it went on to grace the cover of Bisexuality in the Ancient World by Eva Cantarella and more recently the covers of both the Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature: Readings from Western Antiquity to the Present Day and James Saslow’s Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in Visual Arts. 1 Yet, based on our understanding of the ancient Greek past, this depiction is neither a representation of homosexuality nor of gayness unless we are to speak in an anachronistic, essentialist way.

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