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Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past$
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Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199660513

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.001.0001

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Literary Criticism and/as Gender Reassignment

Literary Criticism and/as Gender Reassignment

Reading the Classics with Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

(p.200) 9 Literary Criticism and/as Gender Reassignment
Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past

Sebastian Matzner

Oxford University Press

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ writings profoundly shaped the development of sexology in nineteenth-century Germany, and modern theories of sexuality in general. His influential theory of homosexuality as sexual hermaphroditism with its concomitant taxonomy of sexual types extensively draws on ancient texts, but Ulrichs also (re-)reads these same texts from the perspective of his new theory, and even develops a hypothesis to explain why classical ‘Uranian’ (homosexual) authors (Virgil, Theocritus, etc.) proved so popular with the ‘Dionian’ (heterosexual) majority across the ages. This chapter explores Ulrichs’ ‘sexological literary criticism’ by focusing on how ‘gender reassignment’ features as both a topic and a critical practice in Ulrichs’ assessment of classical literature. It traces how Ulrichs establishes a taxonomy of genders and sexual types; presents ancient texts, retrospectively, as loci classici of his new typology of sexual identities; and re-evaluates both their authors and readers in the light of his theory.

Keywords:   Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, gender reassignment, sexology, hermaphrodite, homosexuality, third sex, sexual identity, classical reception

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