Most helpful positive review
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating introduction to Greek vases and Greek love
on June 4, 2008
Lear and Cantarella have produced a great cross-over volume. They make a serious contribution to the scholarship on gender and sexuality in the ancient world; at the same time, their book is accessible to the general reader curious about sex and gender or ancient Greek culture and art. The study of same-sex love in the ancient Greek world was fundamental to the birth of modern gender studies, and from the beginning scholars have acknowledged that artistic evidence is as important to this area as literary evidence; the scenes on painted vases have always been considered particularly important. Most scholarship in the area has, however, focused on literary sources (Plato, Aristophanes, etc.), and even when visual evidence has been used, it has generally been interpreted simplistically, as if art portrayed social reality directly. This richly illustrated volume is the first general introduction to scenes of same-sex love in vase-painting. It gathers all the different types of scenes and explains how this artistic genre portrays same-sex love through its own language of repeated elements. It argues (quietly) that vase-painting portrays pederasty (the erotic relations between adult men and adolescent youths that were customary in the Greek world) as a central part of the life of ideal elite males; other types of male-male love, when they appear, are portrayed, by contrast, as comic and ugly.
The book rarely engages explicitly in scholarly debate, though it does so occasionally, as when Lear briefly disproves the common idea that vase-painting portrays pederastic courtship, metaphorically, as a kind of hunt. Instead it responds to other scholars in a subtler way, for instance by focusing less on the relatively rare scenes of consummated sex that dominate scholarly discussion and more on the much more common scenes of courtship. The result is a book that provides the average, interested reader with a fascinating introduction both to Greek pederasty and to the interpretation of the scenes on the painted vases that fill the Classical rooms in every art museum. I have only a few complaints. Although scenes of female same-sex love are extremely rare in vase-painting, it might be nice if the authors at least discussed them briefly: the Greeks may not have seen any connection between female-female love and pederasty, but for a modern reader, they are part of the same phenomenon. Also, it will be a pity if this book does not come out in paperback. It could interest a large market, but at the hardcover price many of us will have to read it in the library.