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Ancient Rome and the Construction of Modern Homosexual Identities$
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Jennifer Ingleheart

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199689729

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689729.001.0001

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Sex and the City

Sex and the City

Petronius’ Satyrica and Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar

Chapter:
(p.161) 8 Sex and the City
Source:
Ancient Rome and the Construction of Modern Homosexual Identities
Author(s):

Nikolai Endres

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689729.003.0009

Throughout his long career, Gore Vidal was keenly interested in queering Roman antiquity. In his The City and the Pillar, usually considered the first gay American novel, Jim Willard, the protagonist, is in search of ‘his other half’; he wants ‘an ideal brother, a twin’ and longs for ‘a sense of identity, of twins, complementing one another’. While critics have traced this quest back to Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, this chapter suggests that Vidal’s novel and its exploration of masculinity, identity, and desire appropriates the Satyrica. This chapter argues that Vidal took from Petronius’ Encolpius and Ascyltus an erotic model that is more valued in the modern gay world than Greek παιδεραστία‎ (paiderastia), insofar as it offers a paradigm of erotic reciprocity that transcends the categories of ἐραστής‎ (erastes) and ἐρώμενος‎ (eromenos), tantalizes with the possibility of a long-term relationship, and unabashedly celebrates sex in all its complexities.

Keywords:   Gore Vidal, Petronius, Satyrica, Plato, Symposium, erastes, eromenos, erotic reciprocity, sex

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