Response by Phillip Mitsis to Glen Bowersock's Review "Men and Boys"

From William A. Percy
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This letter is a brilliant, concise and witty put down and much better than what I've written - William Percy

See also my article: A critique of today's classicists in four parts - newer version


In response to Glen Bowersock in the NYRB 9/24/09:

Readers of Professor Bowersock’s review can be grateful for his learned tour of older, esp. 19th century German, scholarship on Greek pederasty, but it was unclear to me that he lavished the same kind of attention on the two books actually under review, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient World
 by James Davidson and
 Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty: Boys Were Their Gods
 by Andrew Lear and Eva Cantarella. For instance, he highlights the fact that we modern Westerners would class Greek pederasty as child abuse (with the now inevitable digs at Catholic priests). That is undoubtedly true, but one of Davidson's principal arguments is that the eromenos in Greek pederastic relations was supposed to be at least 18. I have doubts about this claim, but it seems to me misleading in
 a review of Davidson's book to fail to mention this fact, since it leaves the impression that Davidson’s argument against viewing Greek pederasty as child abuse is unseemly in a way clearly not intended by the author. By the same token, Bowersock makes the dismissive claim that Lear’s and Cantarella’s principal contribution is merely to publish what they found in Keith DeVries' list and he then chides them for limiting their discussion to Archaic and Classical vase-painting. But, of course, not all of his readers will be in a position to know that De Vries’ list concerns only Archaic and Classical; and this complaint also squares rather poorly with his praise, earlier in the review, of Sir Kenneth Dover’s Greek Homosexuality which also only considers Archaic and Classical material. Bowersock then makes rather heavy weather of his complaint against Lear and Cantarella that they fail to consider a large amount of later material. It is true, of course, that there is much later textual material, but it is simply untrue that there is a large quantity of later Greek visual evidence. John Clarke in Looking
 at Lovemaking lists THREE Hellenistic works, one of which he argues may have been made at Rome for a Roman patron by a Greek artist. The material Bowersock refers to later in his review also derives from Roman
 contexts (although again probably made by Greek artists). In his penultimate paragraph, he mentions the fact that Greek and Roman attitudes toward pederasty (or practices of man-boy relations) were different, but he oddly considers it a great flaw in a book about Greek pederasty that Cantarella and Lear do not include Roman material. So, for example, on the Warren cup, a slave is watching one of the sex scenes. The presence of slaves was typical of Roman lovemaking, but
 as far as we know, not of Greek. Finally, in a review that
 concentrates so heavily on the Warren cup, it would seem appropriate to mention the fact that many scholars (such as Caroline Vout, in Power
 and Eroticism in Imperial Rome) consider it a fake. I don't happen to agree, but why should Cantarella and Lear muddy the waters in a book about Greek pederasty by discussing a possibly fake Atticizing work from Augustan Rome? Moreover, Bowersock spends most of his time complaining about the fact that they focus exclusively on Archaic/Classical Athenian vase-painting. One might think they did so for good reason, however, as there are over 1000 vases from this time and place to consider and very little material from elsewhere. Of course, it is perhaps a plausible criticism that their title implies that they will examine evidence beyond this. To spend the bulk of his actual discussion of their book on this secondary point, however, while making absolutely no effort to judge whether they competently choose, describe, explain etc.
the 113 vase-paintings they actually do discuss suggests to me that Professor Bowersock’s attention must somehow have been distracted from the actual job at hand, reviewing the books.


Phillip Mitsis
A.S. Onassis Professor of
Hellenic Culture and Civilization
New York University

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