Manchester, Opinion

A Shropshire Lad in Ancient Rome: A. E. Housman and Ancient ‘Homosexuality’

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By Pruthvi Khilosia
Photography: Pruthvi Khilosia

The RAH! 2018 programme continued this week with A Shropshire Lad in Ancient Rome: A. E. Housman and Ancient ‘Homosexuality’.

Led by Professor Jennifer Ingleheart, the talk examined the importance of Roman sexualities to modern LGBT and queer identities.

Co-hosted with the Manchester Classical Association, the event focused on Professor Ingleheart’s research of the reception and translation of Latin poetry in its political and social contexts, and in the history of how later cultures have responded to ‘Roman homosexuality’.

Professor Ingleheart opened up ancient Rome to the audience as she expressed her views on the Latin language as a “private, masculine and homoerotic language” that isn’t explored much today. Audience members were also presented with a handout featuring erotic and ‘taboo’ text passages in Latin from the work of A. E. Housman.

In ancient Rome, Latin was considered a liberating language for homosexuals, especially for the ‘queer’ subculture at the time. Ingleheart’s exploration of the 19th century Latin literature showed ambiguous vocabulary, expressing sexual knowledge.

Ingleheart revealed that it was important not to doubt that homosexuality wasn’t fully accepted in ancient Rome, as it still is today. The terms contra-naturam and naturam (not by nature and natural) were atributed to aspects of homosexuality, being considered against nature and an unaccepted male (masculine) code.

Research presented revealed that sex was a punishment for young boys for small acts including stealing an apple from a garden. Sex was even exchanged for knowledge among young boys and elder ones.

This concept of sexuality and homosexuality then becomes a binary to the ‘norm’ when kept in secret. It is either frowned upon in the open, or becomes the ‘norm’ in secrecy. A conflict of decision whether to be a homosexuality and fantasies or not.

Ingleheart said, “I’ve always talked about erotic poetry to students. I think young people are naturally, interestingly erotic and especially useful for young people to see that the attitudes of today are attitudes that have always existed.” She added, “I talked about how Rome was liberating for people and it’s useful to think that about our own practices.”

Not only did the Romans find their language to be elite, the people who were in secrecy and yet to explore from the far lands around Rome used it to liberate themselves.

As the event drew to a close, it became clear that the audience had been introduced to a new history of Rome.

As assured by Ingleheart herself, there really isn’t a reason to hide away in the darkness, especially today. There is more than one human in the world, so why not more than one sexuality?

For more information about Manchester Met’s RAH! programme, visit the RAH! events page.

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