Keynote lecture

Professor Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, Hamilton College

Intersectional analysis in Classics: defining rape and race in Aeschylus’ Suppliants

Professor of Comparative Literature Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz will explore the usefulness of intersectionality as a concept with which to approach antiquity and will demonstrate what work on the ancient world might contribute to the method. Professor Rabinowitz will use Aeschylus’ Suppliants as an example of how the theory might work to change our perspective on the play. Professor Rabinowitz will also discuss Charles Mee’s Big Love, a recent adaptation of the Aeschylus, and the political efficacy of staging it now. To conclude, Professor Rabinowitz will consider what she takes to be the big importance of intersectionality: its origins in engaged scholarship.

Intersectionality now

Zoë Henry and Marcia Leenen-Young – University of Auckland

Intersectionality on the ground: Maori and Pacific Islander student experiences in Classics and Ancient History.

We are female, Māori, Pacific, educated and study Classics and Ancient History. Our identities are defined in part by these aspects of ourselves, but they have also contributed to experiences of isolation and marginalisation at Uni, at home, by our peers, and by our community. Our panel discussion will focus on the intersectionality of these facets of ourselves and how our experiences of University and academia are largely defined by them. We will discuss our personal experiences, both positive and negative, and ultimately discuss how our gender and our diverse whakapapa motivated us to push harder and aim higher. Of significance to our experiences, the cultural model of Tuākana-Teina (older sibling-younger sibling) continues to contribute to our ability to emphasise these aspects of ourselves and use them in a positive way to navigate our way through higher education.

Carisa Showden – University of Auckland

A brief disquisition on Intersectionality: how it developed, where it is now, and why it’s good for you.

With its origins in African-American feminist and critical race theories, intersectionality has developed into a multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted epistemological framework for interrogating the interactive effects of social power in the production of social identities. In these remarks, I situate the current uses of and future possibilities for intersectionality in the context of its originating moments and current—sometimes conflictual—uses and contestations. I offer a defense of intersectionality as a valuable inter- and cross-disciplinary mode of inquiry, notwithstanding recent efforts to supplant it with queer and/or assemblage theories. My argument is not that intersectionality is more useful than other frameworks, but that it is still useful in ways both different from and complementary to other, newer theoretical approaches to the study of social and political life, both current and past.

Intersectionality in antiquity

Rowan Emily Ash – University of Western Ontario

Wit, conventional wisdom, and wilful blindness: intersections between sex, gender, class, and ethnicity in the fifth of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans

In this presentation, I argue that an intersectional model is the most useful by which to approach the ambiguities in Lucian’s Dial. meret. 5, in which both sex and gender norms are disrupted by the assigned-female character Megillos’ claim to masculinity, and further complicated by their implications in the largely unspecified social classes of the dialogue’s characters, and the more specific ethnic identities of two of them, as individuals of Lesbian and Corinthian extraction. In particular, I contrast the arguments for a reading of Megillos as a transgender man with Bissa’s recent (2013) treatment of the dialogue in terms of female homosexuality to demonstrate how much of one’s interpretation depends on one’s reading of emphatic particles, syntax, and plot motifs that on first reading might appear to serve primarily for vividness, but that also indicate the range of discourses implicit in any discussion of gender. For example, I discuss the implications of setting sexed, biologising language (ἄρρην, θῆλυς) against emphatically performative language such as the idea of behaving ‘ὥσπερ ἄνδρα (even as a man)’ (5.1), and how being a courtesan, or from Lesbos, might affect what was considered ‘proper’ for a woman.

I further discuss the position of Dial. meret. 5 within the larger collection of the Dialogues of the Courtesans to explore the importance of comedy to Lucian’s project. Starting from Gilhuly’s (2002) suggestion that Dial. meret. 5 functions as a parody of philosophical dialogues and ideals, especially the discussion of love in Plato’s Symposium, I argue that while sustained comic incongruity opens up space for an implicit analogue to modern models of intersectionality to examine the experiences of people whom discrimination places in a variety of marginalized subject positions, Lucian’s non-committal stance makes it difficult to argue that the possibility resulted in a perceptible challenge to prevailing norms, as opposed to a reinforcement of norms by considering the almost unthinkable consequences of defying them. Lucian’s text may explicitly confront readers with the assumptions that underlie their ideas about the relationship between sex and gender, but not between those and class and ethnicity.

Caroline Brumbridge – University of Auckland

A hidden agenda? Gender, individuality and the veracity of the female ‘voice’ in the ancient Egyptian Love Songs.

This presentation will address the gendering of the human body and the ‘voice’ which emanates from it in the ancient Egyptian Love Songs (dating to the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties).  Particular attention will be paid to both physical descriptions of the lovers as well as to their emotional condition that in many cases impacts on the corporeal body as well as on their mental state. Judith Butler’s notion of gender performativity plays an important role in this analysis, in particular the normative account of gender; basically, ‘which expressions of gender are acceptable, and which are not’ in a given culture. These expressions of gender depend upon, as well as informing how we perceive, the anatomy of a person in addition to how we respond to their presentation, actions and emotions. I will examine how the ‘ideal’ lover, both male and female, is created by the Love Songs’ gendering of the sexed body, and what differentiation results from this, in particular in regard to how the individual lover ‘speaks’ about their desires and experiences. As the scribes who wrote down these texts were almost certainly all male, I will first question whether the Love Songs do little more than place the female as an objectified Other, whose ‘voice’ is requisitioned and subjugated, only used to further entrench the privileged heteronormative male construction of the perfect woman.  Second, utilising the concept of intersectionality, I will explore how the texts omit the experiences of individuals who would not fit into the stereotype of the ‘ideal’ lover, specifically those whose age and sexual orientation prohibit their inclusion.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 2nd ed., London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Matthew Chaldekas – University of Southern California

Lost at the Intersection: the Erasure of Egyptian Women in Theocritus’ Adonaizusae

In the foundational article about intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw employs the metaphor of a traffic intersection: one street represents racial discrimination, the other, gender discrimination. A black woman is at risk of injury from automobiles traveling along both routes. Theocritus’ Adonaizusae, in which two Greek women traverse the streets of Alexandria en route to a public festival, presents its own intersectional issue. The scholarship on this poem commonly identifies the female characters, Gorgo and Praxinoa, as caricatures of dim-witted housewives. More recent scholarship (Burton, Skinner) has read the women in a more sympathetic light. One might frame this debate as an attempt to answer the question: is this poem sexist? A problem arises at the intersection. Praxinoa makes a disparaging remark about Egyptians, which one recent reader has identified as racist (McCoskey). If we read the women unsympathetically, this remark may be another sign of their ignorance. If we read the women more sympathetically, however, then this racist remark may be more authoritative. If the poem is more sexist then it is less racist, but if it is less sexist then it is more racist. The intersection of the poem’s depiction of race and gender resembles a zero-sum game. But this zero-sum game creates a paradox: what about the Egyptian women? Egyptian women, who would analogise to the black women at Crenshaw’s metaphorical intersection, are noticeably absent from both the poem and its scholarship. In order to uncover the elided native women, I suggest that we turn to Herodotus’ famous description of Egyptian gender (2.35-36), which enjoyed broad circulation and was cited by Greek authors through the time of Theocritus. Striking likenesses between Herodotus’ account and Theocritus’ poem highlight the deliberate erasure of Egyptian women in Theocritus’ text.

Burton, Joan B. Theocritus’ Urban Mimes: Mobility, Gender, Patronage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.’ University of Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989): 139-67.
McCoskey, Denise Eileen. ‘Race before “Whiteness”: Studying Identity in Ptolemaic Egypt.’ Critical Sociology 22 (2002): 13-39.
Skinner, Marilyn B. ‘Ladies’ Day at the Art Institute: Theocritus, Herodas and the Gendered Gaze.’ In André Lardinois and Laura McClure (edd.), Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society. Princeton, Princeton University Press (2001): 201-222.

Caroline Chong – University of Melbourne

A modified approach to intersectionality: Cicero’s use of gender, age, and ethnicity in the Pro Scauro

Intersectionality has no one specific framework or methodology. Broadly speaking, it ‘…refers to the interaction between gender, race, and other categories of difference in individual lives, social practices, institutional arrangements, and cultural ideologies and the outcomes of these interactions in terms of power’ (Davis 2008, 68). The extant late-Republican literary constructions of most women, and in particular, women of non-Roman ethnicity, came from elite, Roman men. As a result, the use of such sources as evidence for how non-Roman women were affected by discrimination on the basis of their gender and ethnicity is problematic. However, investigating the representations of these women can elucidate the ways in which those at the centre of Roman power appropriated the identity of these women, and manipulated Roman cultural ideology for their own purposes. Thus, for Intersectionality to be applicable, it must be modified. Framing Intersectionality as an aspect of invective in Roman forensic oratory, allows an investigation of whether Roman orators conjointly used multiple, marginalized identities in a derogatory manner to their rhetorical advantage.

Using his portrayal of ista Sarda in the Pro Scauro as a case study, this paper will demonstrate how Cicero, as an upper class, Roman man, conjointly used ista Sarda‘s gender, age, and ethnicity in order to present her as an individual who falls outside the scope of honourable (and thus Roman) ideology and behaviour. This case study indicates that the elite Romans, in a forensic context, freely manipulated the depiction of a person’s gender, age, and ethnicity to their advantage. This is not to suggest, however, that all women of non-Roman ethnicity were treated in the same manner. Nor is Roman forensic oratory the only platform upon which elite, Roman men engaged in such discriminatory representations. Rather, it demonstrates that some of the discourses concerning non-Roman women can be placed within a modified compass of intersectionality.

Davis, Kathy. ‘Intersectionality as Buzzword: A Sociology of Science Perspective on what makes a Feminist Theory Successful.’ Feminist Theory 9.1 (2008): 67-85.

Elizabeth Eltze – University of Auckland

Gods’ Wives, Mothers, and Matriarchs: The Development of Black Feminine Power in Ancient North Africa and the Rise of the Meroitic Queens.

This presentation aims to show how the theory of intersectionality is not an appropriate lens through which to view the black royal women of Meroë and their predecessors in ancient Egypt. These influential queens and priestesses were black women- an intersection of identities which should, in our modern hypotheses of social theory, have put these women at a severe disadvantage. However, in ancient Egypt, issues of race as we understand them did not apply. Skin colour or ethnicity was of little consequence. The primary factors in creations of ‘us’ and ‘the other’ within self-identification were geographic location and significant cultural associations. The Meroitic culture developed from a heritage of these ancient Egyptian cultural influences and methods of self-identification. Neither defamation of certain groups due to skin colour nor degradation of females was prevalent in either culture. Certain elite women possessed significant power in their societies.

The cult of the state god, Amun, reached its height in the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom (circa 1550- 1080 BCE). Certain priestesses within this cult, known as the ‘God’s Wife of Amun,’ rose to previously unheard-of positions of power and influence in their society. These women went on to be virtually unique in the context of sustained feminine power in the ancient world. Their identities as significant women in a religious hierarchy allowed them to accumulate prestige and authority. The influence of the Egyptian New Kingdom and its mores on their geographical neighbours in ancient Nubia, including the impact on Nubian society of the position of the ‘God’s Wife of Amun’, was substantial. This was manifested most notably in the ancient black Nubian culture of Meroë (at its height, circa 300 BCE- 300 CE), where royal women, especially the Queen Mothers, held significant societal positions, wielding sustained jurisdiction over the royal succession, religion, and international affairs.

After introducing the audience to the position of the ‘God’s Wife of Amun’ and its attendant influence on ancient Egyptian society and politics from the New Kingdom onwards, this paper aims to provide an understanding of the queens of Meroë as women who were products of their heritage, and of the context of their position of power relative to their wider contemporary world (ancient Greece and Rome). Finally, this presentation will address that an examination of these women as elite black women of power within their society (as well as their identities of self) indicates to us that there is no evidence for the manifestation of intersectionality in this ancient African civilisation. This complicates our contemporary model of intersectionality.

Peter Keegan – Macquarie University

Intersectionality at the margins of Roman society

Is it possible to discern the spectrum of complementary relationships and divisive clashes facing women and men in Roman antiquity? To what extent can we trace how they negotiated those facets of race, gender and class that comprised their social and political lives? At first glance, the frame for drawing together these three axes of identity and difference, of association and opposition, offers distinct methodological and explanatory challenges. As a result of the practical and theoretical instability inherent to establishing a comparative historical view along (and across) race-, class-, or gender-lines, this paper will explore the analytical usefulness of the concept of intersectionality as encountered in the outworking of systemic patriarchal oppression in Rome of the late republican and early imperial period. To this end, a select corpus of private Latin inscriptions will be interrogated with a view to asking what conclusions can be drawn about the identity, social condition and cultural activity of women and men participating in the process of epigraphic commemoration and dedication. It is hoped that this study of female and male participation in the epigraphic environment of Roman Italy will foreground the dynamic and regularly gendered relationship between ideological and idealised social hierarchies and social action, with a view to reinterpreting the symbolic grammar of material and contextual representation through which regulation and negotiation of social activity intersect and are mediated in the Roman world.

Alessandro Maranesi – University of Nijmegen

‘Corrupted by his fortune, abandoned to the pleasures with fury’: the Emperor Elagabalus’ intersectional anti-propaganda.

During his brief life, the Emperor Elagabalus (203-222 AD) was represented by his contemporaries as a depraved mix of sexual disorders, cruelties, oriental splendors, religious and moral scandals. The trio of Cassius Dio, Herodian, and the Historia Augusta portrayed the emperor in a negative light and, in particular, rumors and stories on his sexual life became an instrument of political delegitimising. They built a narrative character and remodeled the young ruler, using him as a vehicle to present their notions on depravity and immorality. In this perspective, gender, ‘oriental’ cultural identity and ethnicity have to be considered as part of an intersectional political fight.

Senatorial and military anti-propaganda created a ridiculous characterization of the ruler, in which not only the morality and cultural identity of Elagabalus were criticized, but also his belonging to the human species. In particular, the analysis of the assassination of Elagabalus narrated by Cassius Dio (Roman History LXXX.20) displays a sort of cruel rituality.  Elagabalus’ death was more than the plastic representation of an oriental and luxurious ‘not-male’; it represented the damnatio memoriae of a ‘not-human-being’ (in fact his head was cut off and the unrecognisable body dragged all over Rome).

But according to epigraphic evidence (recently studied by Martijn Icks), the reign of the young ruler was not so disruptive; economic expenses remained under control, the fiscal system was characterized by stability and the majority of public officials had served already under Septimius Severus.

What I intend to demonstrate in my paper is that the novel self-definition of emperor operated by Elagabalus and his anti-traditional religious politics (i.e. during his reign the ‘personal’ god Elagabal became the chief deity in the Roman Pantheon, he married a Vestal, etc) was considered an offense to Rome and to the Senate. A composite and intersectional narration of insults and prejudices was a powerful cultural instrument used by Senate to legitimize his cruel damnatio memoriae. In this sense, intersectionality appears useful to explain how cultural and ethnic identities and homosexual and/or transgender behaviors (in accord with Cassius Dio’s narration) were used by senatorial and military propaganda to destroy Elagabalus’ reputation.

Mark Masterson – Victoria University of Wellington

Some intersectionalities in elite men’s culture in Byzantium (circa 1000)

In this paper, I discuss some discourses of religion, homosociality, brotherhood, and ‘sexuality’ operative in the works of Nikephoros Ouranos and Symeon the New Theologian. Nikephoros was a successful general for emperor Basil II who left a corpus of fifty letters, a saint’s life, and poetry. Symeon led a monastery after having to retire from politics and he wrote many works of theology. Both of these men were bachelors and the language of homoerotic eros is to be found in their works. This eroticism, frequently engineered through intertextuality with much earlier Greek literature and therefore also evidence of paideia, is revelatory of the often-seen warmth in Byzantine men’s friendships and of knowledge about the possibilities of sex between men. At the same time, too, this eroticism exists alongside religion and often is used as a metaphor to explain the ecstasies of religious devotion (especially in Symeon). Elite male identity in Byzantium at this time features intersectionalities that the usual binaries (especially the one that sees Christianity and sensuality as utter strangers to one another) will not capture. The scholar must hold things that are not supposed to go together, well, together. Byzantium was stranger than we are often told it was.

Elizabeth Smith – Macquarie University

Aphrodite’s Tortoise and the post-colonial feminist approach to female head covering practices: the value of an intersectional response.

This paper will explore the value of an intersectional approach to analysing ancient female head covering practices. A review of previous approaches will be presented, focusing on Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones’ Aphrodite’s tortoise: The veiled woman of ancient Greece, and post-colonial feminist scholars who have contributed to the debate about oppression and agency vis-à-vis female head covering customs. The advantages of Llewellyn-Jones’ approach, such as his contention that Islamophobia might explain the absence of studies on ancient female head covering, will be contrasted with the disadvantages, in that he does not contest Western presumptions behind Islamophobia itself. Similarly, the achievements and limitations of post-colonial feminism, a field that has sometimes complicated Western discourses on female head-covering practices, will be discussed. In consideration of the approaches of both Llewellyn-Jones and post-colonial feminism, this paper will contend that an intersectional analysis might offer a basis for compromise between the two. Intersectionality enables us to identify gaps in understanding through the examination of assumptions that underpin paradigms of identity, which are affected by things such as ethnicity, class, gender and social status. As intersectionality is still largely in its formative stages as an analytical tool, an overview of misconceptions concerning intersectional analyses will be provided and reconciled. By charting the progress of intersectionality in other disciplines this overview will show that intersectionality as a ‘work-in-progress’ model might be successfully adapted as a framework for study of the ancient world, which in turn, will encourage a more nuanced approach to ancient female head-covering practices. This adaptation of intersectionality into the discipline of ancient history will also contribute to a broader understanding of intersectionality’s theoretical boundaries beyond the discipline of sociology, to support the notion that intersectionality is a concept motivated by social change imperatives.

Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd. Aphrodite’s Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece.   Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2003.

Susan Thorpe – University of Auckland

‘Write to the woman Tey saying if she approaches me I will strike her…’

Prompted by a person’s need to communicate in writing to a recipient at a distance, over the years private letters have been an important source of social and historical information.  The personal correspondence from ancient Egypt can be seen to exemplify the extra insight such letters can provide. It has been especially valuable in providing knowledge regarding the role and status of women in ancient Egyptian society. This paper will look at letters providing information on this topic in the context of the possible presence of the concepts of modern intersectional thinking – the interplay of gender, race, sexual orientation, class – and if present to identify any oppression, discrimination or privilege that resulted. The selection of correspondence addressed in this way will cover such aspects as a woman’s authority and active participation within both the familial and religious sphere, the responsibilities of a married woman with regard to matrimonial property, the appearance of women in the letters as the reason, or part of the reason, for writing. Also discussed will be the societal status of women that is indicated in the correspondence and their role, title and occupation as writer or recipient. By analysing this selection of personal correspondence conclusions can be drawn as to whether intersectionality is a model that can be applied to women in ancient Egyptian society, or whether evidence is insufficient for its use.

Lawrence Xu – University of Auckland

Evidence of intersectionality during late Hellenistic Egypt – A case study with Pathyris and the archive of Horos.

Interaction between Egyptians and foreigners in ancient Egypt is a common occurrence during the entire span of ancient Egypt, but never more so than in late Hellenistic and early Roman Egypt (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE). Indeed, this period produced some of the largest corpora of documentary texts within the chronology of ancient Egypt, and the interaction between race and ethnicity with other social categories has been hinted in works such as J. Johnson’s edition Life in a Multi-cultural Society (1992) and K. Vandorpe and S. Waebens’s work Reconstructing Pathyris’ Archives: A Multicultural Community in Hellenistic Egypt (2009), but never fully explored.

This paper is aimed to use the intersectionality model to provide more structure towards the analysis of multiculturalism during this period, and will be using the archives of Horos as a case study. The archive consists of 58 papyri, in both Demotic and Greek, dated between 134 to 89 BCE pertaining to Horos, an Egyptian mercenary stationed in the military settlement of Pathyris (modern day Gebelein), near Thebes in Upper Egypt. The texts are mainly documentary in nature, and consists of sale, loan, lease, and marriage contracts. The archive is currently housed in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection in Copenhagen.