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The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0520079298 ISBN-10: 0520079299

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 477 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (April 27, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520079299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520079298
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #784,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"This book is well written and intended for a wide audience; both the professional scholar and the general reader will find it provocative and diverting."--Sarah B. Pomeroy, "Classical World

About the Author

Eva C. Keuls is Classics Professor at the University of Minnesota, the author of many scholarly articles, and a recognized authority on both Greek literature and vase painting. She is a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kinnison on August 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Scholars of the social and private life of antiquity face the difficult task of constructing a coherent narrative out of bits and pieces of information widely scattered through classical art, litterature, and archeaology, and Keuls does an excellent job of this. Her analysis of pictorial art and its various representations of men, women, boys, prostitutes, and sex acts is particularly illuminating. On the down side the book is not always very well organized, and the discussions of group ritual, including tragedy, as an examination of and cathartic release from the pressures of sexual antagonism offer some very interesting insights but could have been better developed.
My biggest problem is with the book's tendency, already noted by some reviewers, to overreach, to read certain historical and mythological complexities purely according to its own thesis. Thus, Keuls takes the prevalence of the Amazonomachia, the story of an Amazon assault on prehistoric Athens, as a sign of Athenian preoccupation with aggressive women and the battle of the sexes. But the Greeks are of course known for their artistic tendency to approach history through myth, and the myth of the oriental Amazons' assault on Athens almost perfectly mirrors the assault of the Persians in 490 and 480. These struggles were central not only to Athenian pride but also to their moral justification for empire, and it would surprising if Athenians _didn't_ reproduce them as often as possible, sexual politics aside.
I also don't think much of the book's biggest claim, that the women of Athens were responsible for the mutilation of the Herms in 415.
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50 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
If a book can be said to have a dual personality, Reign of the Phallus is it. The author, who has a vast knowledge of Greek pottery and who keenly analizes it, reveals interesting and penetrating aspects of classical Athens. She describes a society in which women are secluded wives or common prostitutes, with little in between. She describes men who are violent and dominating in their sexual relationships with both women and other men. She butresses her arguments with plentiful data and a massive number of pottery illustrations. However, she consistently reveals her biases as she presumes conclusions and then gathers evidence to support them. Several of her arguments are anachronistic -- sometimes by centuries! The author's greatest failing is to interpret images to fit her theses -- calling attention to many images and declaring them supportive, but dismissing images that are contrary to her theses. The text would be a good tool for a freshman college expository class, where it could be used to illustrate inconsistencies, unsupported assertations, and selective evidence. In spite of the author's political agenda, Reign of the Phallus can be rewarding for readers willing to sift through the assumptions and biases that structure the book. It provides a view into classical Athenian society revealed by the symbols and icons and stylized structure of its pottery. After finishing the book, I felt that the author gave me a look into classical Greeece, but who then went overboard in pushing her portrait of men who were opressive and violent in all their relationships, expecially sexual ones. The book was a lot of work.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Isabeau on October 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Keuls's controversial contention that she's solved the mystery of who smashed the herms of Athens has overshadowed the real strength of this book, which is the documentation. She has amassed a wealth of vase paintings, as well as references to women in Athenian legal documents, that paint a clear picture of the reality of women's lives in ancient Athens. By the end of the book, she's proved her case that women's lives in the world's first democracy weren't that much different from modern women's lives in Saudi Arabia - except the slaves in general, and the slave prostitutes in particular, certainly had it worse.
It's a must read for anyone who still believes all Athenian women were heroines like Antigone.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Davis on December 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
Keuls' provocative take on, as the subtitle states, "Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens", is well worth reading, despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information and graphics used to support her analysis. Dealing with the end of the Periclean age, specifically in and around 415 BCE, Keuls charts the 'phallocracy' underlying Athenian society. This phallocracy was responsible, in the author's mind, for the subjugation of women, institutionalized homosexuality (but only as a right of passage for young men, not as an adult lifestyle), the "detailed reinterpretation of Greek tragedy in this light" (13), the relationship between the private life of male Athenians and public affairs, and Keuls' idea of who mutilated the Hermes (phallic posts omnipresent in Athens) in 415 BCE. To support her points, Keuls uses vase painting (a lot of them) to literally illustrate the seemingly endless references to the phallus, rape, and sometimes graphic forms of sexuality in general, not to mention depicting the ideal image of 'good' women, constantly spinning thread or engaged in other respectable occupations. For me, this book reinforced other information I already knew, and provided another way to look at -- and teach -- this era in history. The volume of information is sometimes overwhelming, and I think it would take two readings to fully appreciate what the author has accomplished.
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