Checking in on Andrew’s Dissertation

By Andrew Rimby

Just before he takes a few well deserved days off, Andrew gives us a peek into what’s been going on with his research…

Alice Blake Art

This week, I reached a homoerotic creative “threshold of revelation” (that phrase is borrowed from Angels in America) when adding a few paragraphs to my Whitman dissertation chapter. I had just turned my attention away from Whitman’s fanboy love of Epicurean philosophy to his newfound affection for Homer’s epic verse. It isn’t a light undertaking beginning my queer analysis of Whitman’s 1855 “Song of Myself,” where nude male swimmers run amuck and male lovers are found tangled in the sheets (okay that’s a Hollywood film pitch), and you may ask why does Homer’s Iliad hold such power over Whitman’s poetics? Enter the love story of Achilles and Patroclus…

As soon as I discovered James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love (from 2007), I knew I had found ancient Greek homoerotic gold. He argues, in a chapter focusing on Achilles and Patroclus, that “Clearly the love of Achilles and Patroclus is central to the plot of the Iliad” (315). And later goes on to explain that “The relationship [between Achilles and Patroclus] is by far the most emotionally intense in the poem, and the climax of the Iliad is engineered around it” (315). As I’m questioning why Whitman compared his 1855 Leaves of Grass to Homer’s Iliad, my hunch has been that the erotic energy found among the Greek warriors really spoke to Whitman. But, Davidson’s analysis (which I’m still working my way through and will write about next Sunday) was only the beginning for arguing how, without Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship the emotional intensity may not exist in the Iliad

One of Davidson’s endnotes points to a foundational 1978 essay by W.M. Clarke called “Achilles and Patroclus in Love.” As I work my way through Clarke’s essay, I’m overcome with classicist envy when reading Clarke’s question like “Were Achilles and Patroclus lovers? It is notorious that much of antiquity thought so, and so represented them— often in very unambiguous language” (380).  I am not fluent in Latin or Greek (traditionally required for classics scholars) but have such an appreciation for these languages when poring over Clarke and Davidson’s analyses. For Clarke, Plato’s Symposium is key to understanding how the ancient Greeks understood male same-sex desire (Clarke uses the term “homosexual,” an anachronistic move), but how does Davidson approach Plato’s philosophical reflection on love and eros? 

To be continued…

What happens when Andrew finishes Davidson’s book and begins reading Kirk Ormand and Ruby Blondell’s “One Hundred and Twenty-Five Years of Homosexuality?” (found in Ancient Sex (2015) and they discuss the genealogy of approaching sexuality in ancient Greece going from Foucault’s The History of Sexuality (1976), K.J. Dover’s Greek Homosexuality (1978), and David Halperin’s One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (1990)). 

(Ancient Sex, edited by Ruby Blondell and Kirk Ormand (2015); The Greeks and Greek Love, written by James Davidson (2008))

2 thoughts on “Checking in on Andrew’s Dissertation

  1. Question to those who read my writing check in:

    Do you think I should incorporate Madeline Miller’s “Song of Achilles” queer fantasizing of Achilles and Patroclus?

  2. I don’t see why not. I would caution against thinking you have to include EVERYTHING.

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