Chapter 2 Masculinities in the Ancient Greco-Roman World

In: Jesus and Other Men
Susanna Asikainen
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In this chapter, I study the masculinities of the ancient Greco-Roman world. My aim is not to provide a comprehensive analysis, but to offer guidelines that will help to compare the ideal masculinities in the Synoptic Gospels with the ideals existing in the ancient Greco-Roman world. In the previous chapter, I suggested that there may be several ideals competing for the hegemonic position in any given culture. What were the hegemonic masculinities like in the ancient Greco-Roman world?

This chapter employs a diachronic approach. I use a wide range of sources, ranging over several centuries,1 to show the prevalence of some ideals and change in others, as well as the enduring competition between different ideals. Nevertheless, most of the information comes from writings by the elite, especially philosophical texts. We cannot be sure if the masculinities presented in these writings were the hegemonic masculinities. For example, the philosophical ideals were not necessarily hegemonic or widespread. Philosophers in general were not the normative voice of the culture.2 In any case, I suggest that the ideals presented in this chapter were at least competing for the hegemonic position. The philosophical texts also offer the most material on the ethics and ideals of the ancient Greco-Roman people. One of the philosophical schools to which I often refer in this chapter is the Stoic school, which was the dominant philosophical movement of the first two centuries ce.3 It was thus contemporary with the writing of the Synoptic Gospels.

My main thesis in this chapter is that there were at least two competing ideals of masculinity in the ancient Greco-Roman world, one emphasizing control over others and the other emphasizing self-control. I will also argue that being born a man was not enough to make a man masculine in the ancient Greco-Roman world. It was possible for a man to be labeled effeminate, and I will examine the reasons that made a man effeminate. To end the chapter, I will briefly study early Jewish masculinities as examples of marginalized masculinities. This analysis further complicates the picture of the ideal masculinities in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Biological Sex in the Ancient Greco-Roman World

In Chapter 1, it was noted that being born male is not enough to make one masculine. Was this also the case in the ancient Greco-Roman world? The ancient Greco-Roman understanding of biological sex was vastly different from the modern one. In the Greco-Roman medical and philosophical texts, the female and male reproductive organs were thought to be essentially the same. Males and females had the same sexual organs, but they were in different places. The male body was seen as the normative, standard, and perfect human body. The female body was thought to lack the vital heat that made the male body perfect. This is why the female reproductive organs were an inverted—and hence, imperfect—version of the normative male genitals.4 This view was held, for example, by Galen and Soranus of Ephesus.5 Galen argues:

All the parts, then, that men have, woman have too, the difference between them lying in only one thing, which must be kept in mind throughout the discussion, namely, that in women the parts are within [the body], whereas in men they are outside, in the region called the perineum.6

Thomas Laqueur calls this the one-sex model. He points out that there were not two distinct sexes that were considered the opposite of each other, but rather “delicate, difficult-to-read shadings of one sex.”7 Females and males were not considered opposite sexes, but more perfect or less perfect versions of the male body. Sex, in other words, was considered a sliding scale or a continuum with the perfect male on one end and the imperfect female on the other. Males were the fetuses who had reached their full potential.8 It was believed that the sex of the fetus was determined either by its place in the uterus, by the temperature of the womb, or by the strength of the seed.9 Since sex was determined by such vague and indefinite factors, biological sex was problematic: there was always the danger of a confusion of sexes. What made the sex even more problematic was its instability. Even after birth, the sex was not immutable. Reports of sex changes are common in ancient Greco-Roman literature.10 Pliny the Elder, after talking about hermaphrodites,11 discusses women who have changed into men. He even mentions himself seeing a person whose sex had changed.

Women changing into men is no fantasy. We find in the Annals that during the consulship of P. Licinius Crassus and C. Cassius Longinus a girl living with her parents in Casinum changed into a boy and was transported to a barren island at the command of the soothsayers. Licinius Mucianus has recorded that he actually saw at Argos a man called Arescon who had been given the name Arescusa at birth and had even married a husband, but then grew a beard, developed male attributes, and took a wife. He also records seeing a boy at Smyrna who had experienced the same sex change. I myself saw in Africa one L. Consitius, a citizen of Thysdrus who had turned into a man on his wedding day [and who was still alive at the time of writing].12

The sex changes mentioned by ancient writers are usually from female to male. Since the female reproductive organs were believed to be an inverted version of male genitals, they could protrude from the body if the body became more male-like; in other words, if body heat increased. The female sex was also seen as less stable. Since nature tended toward more perfect—that is, male—the sex changes were female to male.13 The change needed not be as drastic as an actual sex change. There were stories of men who had become physically effeminate. A man could also lose his heat, making him more effeminate.14 A Hippocratian treatise claims that Scythian men’s inactive lifestyles made them more like women.15 Thus, there could be masculine women and effeminate men. In order to be masculine, a man had to actively strive to extirpate traces of softness.16

As we have seen, it was possible to be somewhere in between the male and female poles of the sex continuum and to change one’s sex. Considering the fluidity of biological sex, it was no wonder that masculinity could be called into question as well. Being born with male genitalia was not enough to prove that one was masculine. Still other aspects of the body could betray a lack of masculinity. Signs of the body were deciphered with the help of physiognomy.17 Physiognomists believed that physical characteristics could be used as signs of behavioral characteristics and vice versa.18 For example, Pseudo-Aristotle claims that males are braver and more honest, whereas females have a more evil disposition and are less courageous and honest.19 Bodily signs were used not only to differentiate between men and women, but also (and more importantly) between manly “real men” and effeminate men, the cinaedi.20

Ancient Greco-Roman Gender Stereotypes

Since a man was the standard, virtues were considered masculine characteristics. Mathew Kuefler notes that “it is impossible to separate Roman definitions of masculinity from more general notions of ideal human behavior.”21 Men and women were stereotypically portrayed in ancient Greco-Roman literature as being at the opposite ends of the gender hierarchy, with men epitomizing the virtues and women the vices. Men were depicted as strong, brave, magnanimous, and rational. They could control themselves. Women, on the other hand, were depicted as weak, vindictive, irrational, and self-indulgent.22 Women lacked courage.23 They were credulous and superstitious.24 Arrogance, deception, ambition, and lust for power were also especially feminine vices.25 All of these vices resulted from women’s lack of masculine reason and self-control. The women’s lack of control was based on biology. According to the Hippocratic theory, women had a moister constitution. As emotions were considered to be moist, women were more susceptible to those.26 In addition, women were believed to desire and enjoy sexual intercourse more than men.27 Women also lacked self-control in relation to food and wine. They were gluttonous and inebriate.28 Their lack of control was shown in avarice and desire for luxury as well.29 The hierarchy between men and women was thus explained as based upon nature.30 Biologically, males were perfect; therefore, men should be perfect (that is, masculine) in other ways as well. However, as we will see, this was not always the case.

It is essential to note that these stereotypical masculine and feminine characteristics did not necessarily correspond to anatomical sex.31 Stereotypes only show how men and women were expected to behave, not how they actually behaved. Not all women behaved as was stereotypically expected of them. The ancient Greco-Roman writers themselves acknowledged that there were ideal women who could occasionally exemplify “masculine” virtues.32 For instance, Laudatio Turiae and Plutarch mention ideal women who display masculine qualities. Nevertheless, these women offered no challenge to men and thus did not threaten their masculinity. The masculine behavior of a woman became transgressive when it exceeded the role of the ideal woman and threatened her husband.33 In sum, the vices were stereotypically feminine aspects, but this did not mean that vices were necessarily aspects of all women. It was possible for a woman to have masculine qualities. In the same way, it was possible to label some men as effeminate if they did not adhere to the masculine ideal.

There were several opinions in the philosophical literature concerning the virtuous woman. Greco-Roman philosophers disagreed over whether the virtues of men and women were the same or different. Several philosophers argued that the virtues of men and women are different. The man’s virtue is to rule and the woman’s virtue is to obey.34 In Plato’s Meno, this idea is presented by the titular character. Even though Socrates disagrees with this opinion and argues that the virtues are the same for men and women, Meriel Jones notes that “Meno is more likely to be representative of the popular view.”35 Aristotle also argued that “good men and good women are not good in the same way.”36 In this view, which emphasized the difference of the virtues of men and women, a masculine woman presented a greater threat to the masculinity of men. Plato and the Stoics, on the other hand, argued that men and women had the same virtues: wisdom (φρόνησις), courage (ἀνδρεία), justice (δικαιοσύνη), and temperance (σωφροσύνη).37 The virtues were still conceptualized as masculine. According to the Stoics, therefore, the virtuous woman was to some extent masculine. These two ideals, which continued to co-exist throughout antiquity, affected the ideal masculinity as well. Before moving on to the ideal qualities and virtues of men, we need to investigate who could be hegemonically masculine men. Not all men had the opportunity to be hegemonically masculine.

Who is a Real, Hegemonically Masculine Man?

The ancient Greeks and Romans did not consider masculinity to be a permanent state that one could achieve irrefutably, but something that was always under construction and open to the scrutiny of other men. According to Maud Gleason, masculinity was an achieved state, independent of anatomical sex.38 Other men could grant or deny the masculinity of a man. Evaluating the masculinity of other men was common in the ancient Greco-Roman world and invectives were readily used against deviants.39 Thus, masculinity was not an inherent part of every man. There were biological men who were not considered “real” men.

The ancient Greco-Roman gender system formed a hierarchical scale.40 Peter-Ben Smit notes that the hierarchy of masculinity was not so much a gender hierarchy as a hierarchy of degrees of humanity.41 The hierarchy also took on cosmic proportions, since masculinity was considered more divine.42 At the top of the hierarchy were the exemplars of hegemonic masculinity: free, elite, adult male citizens. Below them were others, who could be categorized under the common term “unmen.” These included not only women, but also boys, slaves, effeminate males, eunuchs, and “barbarians.”43 Discussed above was the women’s lower position in the hierarchy, and above we have also seen how ethnicity affects masculinity: Scythian men were considered effeminate. The Greeks considered non-Greeks to be effeminate, but they themselves were regarded as effeminate by the Romans. Cicero, for instance, constructs Roman men as morally superior to and more masculine than the Greeks.44 Lower-class men and slaves were also disqualified from being fully masculine.45 Masculinity was connected not only with status, but also age. Both young boys and older men were generally thought to be lacking in proper masculinity. Real men were men in their prime.46 One’s place in the hierarchy was not stable, but could change. Boys and adolescent males moved up the ladder as they matured. Free, adult, elite men, on the other hand, could fall down the hierarchy and become effeminate if they did not fulfill the ideals of masculinity.

This gender hierarchy is also evident in the terms used. In Latin, there are two words for ‘man,’ homo and vir. Homo and mulier were the generic terms for ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ and these were used of the lower classes, including slaves and freedmen or freedwomen. Vir and femina, on the other hand, were used of the upper classes.47 The Latin vir was a real, manly man.48 The same was true in Greek. While ἄνθρωπος denoted the general man, ἀνήρ was used for the “real” man.49 The “real” men were those who fulfilled the ideals of hegemonic masculinity.

What, then, were the real men like? According to Craig Williams, control and dominion were the prime directives of Roman masculinity. A man had to constantly defend his masculinity by controlling not only those under his jurisdiction, but also himself and his desires and emotions. Control was connected with power (potestas), meaning both power over others and independence of the power of others.50 The unmanly status of groups lower in the gender hierarchy mentioned above was a result of their inability to control others or even themselves. Men who were adults, free, and members of the elite were considered the most able to control themselves and, accordingly, also others.51 Nevertheless, elite men were not secure in their masculinity either. As we have seen, it was a common belief that a man could control himself much better than a woman, so inability to exercise control made a man effeminate. Effeminate men constituted a negative paradigm to the masculine ideal: they were what real men were not, and real men were what effeminate men were not.52

In the first century ce, following the influence of Stoic teaching, the emphasis shifted increasingly from control of others to self-control.53 The philosophers argued that control over oneself was the basis for the control of other people.54 Self-control demonstrated that a man was worthy to govern others.55 Control of others and self-control can be thus seen in a causal way. Self-control is a prerequisite for control of others. Liew argues, however, that the relationship between these competing ideologies is less straightforward. The competing ideologies simply coexisted, and they could become mixed together.56 It is important to note that there was no one single hegemonic masculinity, but several ideals of masculinity competing for the hegemonic position.57 Different ideals competing for the hegemonic position can be seen, for example, in discussions about whether control of others or self-control is more important in terms of self-defense and sexual behavior.

The discussion of whether a man should retaliate against wrongs he has suffered or whether he should be self-controlled and seek compensation in court demonstrates the existence of competing, co-existing ideals of masculinity. This discussion will be important later when I study Jesus’ behavior in the passion narratives.58 The idea that the real man was able to revenge wrongs was common. According to Aristotle, it is disgraceful not to be able to defend oneself.59 In Plato’s Gorgias, Callicles argues that “endurance of wrong done is not a man’s part at all, but a poor slave’s.”60 According to this view, a real man does not submit to wrongs, but is able to defend himself and his own. Socrates, on the contrary, argues that doing wrong is worse than suffering it.61 Angela Hobbs notes that Plato presents two alternative concepts of masculinity, the Achillean version of masculinity as violence and control and Socrates’ version of masculinity as self-control and endurance. Plato problematizes the heroic masculinity of Achilles and advocates self-control as the ideal masculinity: real men must control themselves.62 In Stoic writings as well, the ideal of self-control was seen as more important than avenging wrongs.63 In sum, there seems to have been at least two competing ideals. It is possible that the ideal of masculinity as control over others, which Callicles and Aristotle favored, was the more common and widespread ideal. Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics favored the ideal of self-controlled masculinity, which may have been the ideal for only a minority of men.

The orators used both of these ideals for their own ends.64 For example, Demosthenes argues in Against Meidias that when he did not retaliate after an assault, he had behaved with self-restraint (σωφρόνως).65 Demosthenes maintains that a man should not resort to self-defense, but he should instead seek redress from the law.66 Based on this, Gabriel Herman argues that “the Athenian code prescribed that upon being provoked, offended, or injured a citizen should not retaliate, but should exercise self-restraint, avoid violence, reconsider, or renegotiate the case; in brief, compromise.”67 In another speech, however, Demosthenes presents an opposite ideal and implies that a man who did not hit back resembled a slave.68 David Cohen sees this speech as more representative of Demosthenes’ thinking. According to Cohen, the court did not serve to terminate conflicts; on the contrary, Demosthenes’ speech was a sign of the agonistic nature of the Athenian society.69 However, instead of emphasizing the importance of either ideal, I suggest that these two ideals, the ideal of non-retaliatory response and the ideal of defending oneself, simply coexisted.70 Thus, there appears to have been two ideals competing for the hegemonic position. Demosthenes used both for his own ends, depending on his needs. He did not attempt to resolve the conflict between these different ideals.

Ideal Characteristics of Masculine Men

As mentioned above, virtues in general were considered masculine. This did not mean that women could not be virtuous; women were only expected to behave in a stereotypically “feminine” way. Virtuous behavior was discussed in philosophical writings. Plato mentions wisdom (φρόνησις), temperance (σωφροσύνη), courage (ἀνδρεία), and justice (δικαιοσύνη) as the components of virtue.71 Aristotle adds magnanimity (µεγαλοψυχία), magnificence (µεγαλοπρέπεια), liberality (ἐλευθεριότης), and gentleness (πραότης).72 The ideal man in the ancient Greco-Roman world was on one hand a good leader: loyal, just, helpful to his community, and courageous in war. He was also self-controlled in his use of power and not overly ambitious or power-hungry. On the other hand, in his private life the ideal man fulfilled his familial duties as a good son and leader of the household, and he was self-controlled and guided by reason. Pietas or εὐσέβεια, which meant both piety toward the gods and obedience toward parents, was also an ideal quality for a man.73

The quintessential masculine virtue was ἀνδρεία or virtus. Both the Greek word ἀνδρεία and the Latin word virtus derive from the gender-specific term for ‘man’ (ἀνήρ and vir, respectively), and they can thus be translated as “manliness” or “manly behavior.” Both words characterize the ideal behavior of a man.74 Cicero, for example, argues that men should be virtuous, since “it is from the word for ‘man’ (vir) that the word virtue (virtus) is derived.”75 Since etymologically ἀνδρεία and virtus meant ‘manliness,’ attributing the quality to a woman was automatically paradoxical.76 For example, Herodotus expresses wonder when Artemisia, the queen of Halicarnassus, displays ἀνδρεία.77 Seneca presents women’s vices (muliebria vitia) as antithetical to virtus, but he also argues that being a woman is no excuse for lacking virtus.78 Musonius Rufus maintains as well that a woman should have ἀνδρεία.79 For the Stoic philosophers, male sex was not the prerequisite for ἀνδρεία or virtus. Still, it was considered unusual for a woman to display ἀνδρεία.

The term ἀνδρεία was used in martial contexts and is usually translated as ‘courage.’ The Latin virtus, on the other hand, had wider connotations than ἀνδρεία. The word was used to translate both ἀνδρεία and ἀρετή. Initially, virtus meant courage demonstrated in war, but over time the concept was intellectualized and came to mean resisting (moral) evil.80 There was thus a connection between morality and masculinity. The traditional definition of ἀνδρεία as martial courage and steadfastness in battle can be seen in Plato’s dialogue Laches, where the initial definition of ἀνδρεῖος is “anyone who is willing to stay at his post and face the enemy.”81 Socrates, however, notes that ἀνδρεία can be expressed outside the battlefield as well. For Socrates, ἀνδρεία means steadfastness in enduring the pain of disease, poverty, or dishonor. It was also possible to show ἀνδρεία by not fearing death.82 For Plato, ἀνδρεία entailed self-controlled (σώφρων) and moderate (µέτριος) endurance.83 Thus, ἀνδρεία appears close to another important virtue, self-control (σωφροσύνη), in Plato’s texts.84

Plato was not the only one to see σωφροσύνη as a masculine virtue. His innovation lay in connecting the traditionally martial idea of ἀνδρεία with the more moral quality of σωφροσύνη. Originally σωφροσύνη meant prudence, but later the word gained moral connotations of self-control, controlling emotions and passions.85 The manly nature of σωφροσύνη is revealed in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, when the choir says to Clytemnestra: “you speak as wisely as a prudent man (κατ᾽ ἄνδρα σώφρονα).”86 Self-control was a masculine virtue. Women could be self-controlled, but for them it was also masculine.87

Effeminacy and Lack of Self-Control

The importance of self-control as a masculine virtue can also be seen in how all vices were considered examples of a lack of self-control (incontinentia, ἀκολασία).88 Placing excessive attention on appearance, seeking to be dominated and to pleasure others, and yielding to passions were examples of lack of control, which emasculated a man.89 Lack of control epitomized the subordinated masculinities of the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Above I suggested that there were two different ideals concerning retaliation for wrongs: control over others and self-control. These two ideals can be found in texts concerning sexual behavior as well. Some writers emphasized the importance of control over others. Williams suggests that the dominant paradigm of masculinity in the ancient Rome was what he calls “priapic masculinity.” In this paradigm, the man asserted his masculinity by dominating others.90 Other writers emphasized the importance of self-control.91 Self-control meant being restrained and moderate. Sex was only for procreation. Common to both of these ideals was the idea that the man had an active role in sex. Passivity was a sign of lack of control, which made a man effeminate.

Connell mentions that in the modern Western world, homosexuality is the most important subordinated masculinity. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, on the contrary, effeminacy was not necessarily connected with same-sex sexual behavior.92 Instead of exclusive sexual orientation, the ancient Greeks and Romans made a distinction between the active, penetrative role and the passive, receptive role.93 The hegemonically masculine “real” man was to have an active role regardless of the gender of the person he had sex with. It was the free adult man who wanted to be penetrated who was labeled as effeminate—that is, as an example of subordinated masculinity. The most common word used for a man who sought to be penetrated was κίναιδος or cinaedus.94 This word is not found in the Synoptic Gospels. However, eunuchs were another group that was considered effeminate, and they are mentioned in Matthew 19:12.95

Playing the passive role in sex was not the only way to acquire the label of a “sexual deviant.” According to Craig Williams, a man who played the active role could still be accused of effeminacy.96 For example, Catullus accuses Julius Caesar and Mamurra both of being cinaedi and of seducing women and girls.97 Even though an adulterer played an active role, his passivity in regard to pleasures made him effeminate.98 Effeminate men were excessively active with both sexes. Even being too fond of one’s wife could result in a man being accused of effeminacy, as happened to Pompey the Great.99 Effeminacy was the result of not just passivity, but insatiability and lack of control. This was also the case in other matters than sex.100

Thus, seeking to be penetrated was only one symptom of effeminacy. Other symptoms were softness and moral decadence.101 Excess in any area of life (such as food and drink, physical appearance, and clothing) might lead to a man being labeled as effeminate. Sex and eating were often connected in the ancient literature.102 Sex, food, and drink were necessities, but they needed to be enjoyed in moderation. As mentioned above, women were stereotypically depicted as gluttonous and inebriate. A man who could not control his appetites was effeminate.103 Excessive concern for one’s appearance—such as soft and depilated skin, using perfume, and feminine dress—betrayed a man’s effeminacy. Effeminacy was also evident in feminine gestures and the way of walking.104 Moreover, behavior that was considered luxurious, hedonistic, self-indulgent, or avaricious was labeled as effeminate.105 This behavior indicated lack of control over one’s desires. Gluttony and luxury reflected the Eastern way of life, and this association with the barbarians made the man effeminate.106

Another example of effeminacy was the abuse of power evident in tyranny. Ambition and lust for power were seen as feminine vices. Tyranny did not imply hypermasculinity or the dominance of others, but the inability to control oneself.107 The ideal leader in the ancient Greco-Roman world, as mentioned above, was self-controlled in his use of power. Tyrants were accused of several vices connected with a lack of self-control: vis (violence), superbia (arrogance, pride), libido (lust), and crudelitas (cruelty).108 For example, Cicero accused C. Verres, L. Calpurnius Piso, and Mark Antony of lust, arrogance, and cruelty.109 He also accused P. Clodius of unbridled lust, cruelty, and impiety. These qualities not only made Clodius tyrannical, but also effeminate (homo effeminatus).110 Even though tyrants were high in the power hierarchy, according to ancient writers they were not masculine. Tyrants were more likely to act like women and barbarians.111 One reason for this depiction of tyrants as effeminate is that the Roman sources were republican. One way of disputing the legitimacy of the rule of the tyrants was to label them as effeminate.

Marginalized Masculinities in the Ancient Greco-Roman World

Next we will look at some marginalized masculinities in the ancient Greco-Roman world. What strategies did they employ in relation to the hegemonic masculinities? As the examples of marginalized masculinities in the ancient Greco-Roman world, I have chosen the masculinity of gladiators and the masculinities in early Judaism.112 I consider early Jewish masculinities as marginal for the same reasons as the early Christian masculinities. Both groups were minor religious groups that did not occupy the hegemonic position in the ancient Greco-Roman world. The difference between early Judaism and early Christianity is that early Judaism was tolerated for its long history and thus more likely to be somewhat authorized by the hegemonic groups.113

The masculinity of the gladiators was marginalized, since the majority of the gladiators were slaves or condemned prisoners. The general attitude toward gladiators was ambivalent. On one hand, they were despised as providers of public entertainment.114 On the other hand, they were admired in the philosophical writings, since the gladiator’s oath transformed involuntary death into a voluntary one. Philosophers lauded gladiators as examples of endurance and the acceptance of death.115 They were the ultimate models of self-control. While this did not make them fully masculine, they could be used as examples for those who subscribed to the self-controlled, philosophic ideal of masculinity. Gladiators can thus be seen as an ancient example of marginalized masculinity that was nonetheless relatively authorized by the hegemonic masculinities.

Ideal masculinities found in early Jewish texts form closer examples to the early Christian masculinities. Early Judaism was a similarly marginalized religious group as early Christianity. Although the Hebrew Bible is an important background for the entire New Testament, I concentrate on the Jewish writers that were approximately contemporary with the New Testament writers.116 How did they relate to the hegemonic masculinities of the ancient Greco-Roman world? As suggested in Chapter 1, there were several possible strategies (for example, acceptance or resistance). On closer investigation, a more complex picture emerges. The attitude of Judaism to the surrounding culture was not necessarily either acceptance or resistance, but can be characterized as a mixture of both acceptance and resistance.

A certain acceptance of Greco-Roman ideals can be seen in the knowledge and use of philosophical concepts. Philo, for example, shows knowledge of and uses the concepts of Hellenistic philosophy. Several early Jewish writings present similar ideals of masculinity as the Greco-Roman masculinities. Self-control, for example, was the masculine ideal in several early Jewish texts.117 As we will see, Josephus has an apologetic aim of showing to the opponents of Judaism that the biblical characters were ideal men. In Joseph and Aseneth, Joseph is called “a man powerful (δυνατός) in wisdom and experience.” He is also described as self-controlled, meek, and merciful; in other words, he is an ideal man.118 Ben Sira argues that the man should exercise control over his speech, associates, sexual behavior, and household.119

Some early Jewish texts reflect a negative attitude toward Rome. For example, in Sibylline Oracles 5.162–173, Rome is called an “effeminate (θηλυγενὴς) and unjust, evil city.” The rabbis also had a more ambivalent attitude toward Rome.120 I suggest that the writers who had a negative attitude toward Rome were more likely to be voluntarily marginalized, and thus their masculinity would be less complicit with the hegemonic ideals. I expect Philo and Josephus, who were members of the Jewish elite, although not the Roman elite, to be more complicit with the hegemonic ideals of masculinity. In the following, the aim is not to offer a comprehensive account of early Jewish masculinities, but to present some examples of how masculinity can be seen in some early Jewish writers and texts, namely Philo, Josephus, 4 Maccabees, and the rabbinical writings. These texts show a variety of strategies that the early Jews adopted vis-à-vis Greco-Roman culture.


Philo belonged to the Jewish elite. He was also probably a Roman citizen. Philo wrote predominantly for an elite Jewish audience, but some texts also explicitly take into account the Roman audience. Nevertheless, his texts are not apologetics to Greeks or Romans. Rather, the texts which are occasionally interpreted as having an apologetic aim, such as On the Embassy to Gaius and Against Flaccus, were in fact intended for fellow Jews as a way of defending Philo’s pro-Roman policy.121 In any case, even if Philo was a member of the Jewish elite, this does not mean that he was in the hegemonic position. His marginal position in relation to the Roman elite can be seen from his deferent posture in On the Embassy to Gaius.

Sharon Lea Mattila argues that Philo’s thought is influenced by a gender gradient, with positive (male) and negative (female) poles.122 This gradient also has cosmic dimensions: beyond the peak of the positive “male” pole lies God, while below the negative “female” pole lies unformed matter.123 The soul of a human being has a higher part and a lower part. The higher, rational part of the soul is masculine and likened to God. The irrational part is feminine and identified with the senses and passions.124

Philo shares several ideas with the Greco-Roman world. He regards activity, strength, and rationality as masculine, whereas passivity, weakness, and irrationality are feminine.125 Furthermore, the male is more complete and superior to the female; a female is nothing but an imperfect male.126 The masculine mind must control the feminine senses.127 As in the Greco-Roman writings, these are stereotypes, not depictions of real men and women. Women can acquire rational, manly virtues, but this is exceptional.128 Philo also notes the possibility for a man to become effeminate if the “male” mind descends to the “female” pole of the gradient, being under the influence of passions and the sense perception.129

Philo also shares the ideals of masculinity with the ancient Greco-Roman writers. For example, ἀνδρεία is an important virtue for Philo. Philo defines ἀνδρεία as “not the warlike fury that the multitudes take it for, which uses anger as its guide, but courage as knowledge (ἐπιστήµην).”130 Philo is thus closer to the philosophical ideal of courage as an intellectual rather than a military virtue. He presents the biblical characters as exemplifying the ideals of the Greco-Roman world. Moses combines the qualities of the king, philosopher, law-giver, priest, and prophet, and thus he exemplifies the virtuous life.131 Philo’s Moses is self-controlled, avoids luxury, and is persuasive in speech.132 Joseph is an example of how a man needs first to become a good manager of the household before becoming a statesman.133 In the incident with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph epitomizes masculine self-control while Potiphar’s wife exemplifies unrestrained femininity.134 In Pentateuchal legislation, self-control (ἐγκράτεια) is presented as the Jewish ideal.135

So far, Philo’s ideal masculinity seems similar to the philosophical ideal of self-controlled masculinity competing for the hegemonic position. He shares the same stereotypes and the same ideals for men. Philo can thus be seen as complicit with the philosophical ideal of masculinity. At the same time, he aims to present Judaism as meeting and even exceeding the Greco-Roman ideals.136 Philo argues that the Jewish religion offers superior methods for achieving the same virtues.137 While being complicit with the philosophical ideals of masculinity, he also shows resistance to the attempts to marginalize Judaism, arguing that the Jews are actually better able to achieve the masculine virtues. This makes Philo’s relationship to the hegemonic masculinities more complex and shows a strategy of mixed acceptance and resistance that a marginal group can adopt in relation to the hegemonic groups.


Josephus’ primary audience was non-Jews.138 As a result, Josephus’ works have an apologetic bent. He strove to answer the accusations of the opponents of Judaism and show that the biblical characters were virtuous. In ancient Greco-Roman literature, the Jews were labeled as lazy, superstitious, credulous, and zealous for missionary activity. They were accused of cowardice, misanthropy (hating non-Jews), and impiety.139 Apion also claims that there were no wise men among the Jews.140 Some of these qualities, such as superstition, credulity, and cowardice, were considered stereotypically feminine. Even though the Jews are not explicitly called effeminate in the Greco-Roman literature, they were accused of a lack of the qualities considered to be masculine. Josephus’ aim is to counter these claims and show that the biblical characters possessed all of the masculine virtues.

Louis Feldman has studied the characterization of several biblical characters in Josephus’ writings. His studies do not have a gender perspective, but the ideal qualities that Feldman mentions are the same as the ideals of the hegemonic Greco-Roman masculinities, especially the philosophical ideals. For example, Josephus argues that the biblical characters epitomized the masculine virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and piety. Josephus also changes the biblical narrative by adding details or omitting embarrassing events.141 This suggests that the non-Jewish audience would potentially have found the characters unmasculine and that Josephus is trying to counter this interpretation.

In contrast to the claims that there were no wise men among the Jews, Josephus emphasizes the wisdom of biblical characters. He portrays Abraham as the ideal statesman and compares Moses with other legislators.142 Abraham, Moses, and Joshua also showcase the important masculine quality of being able to persuade people.143 Against the accusation that the Jews were cowards, Josephus highlights the courage and military achievements of biblical figures. Joshua, Saul, and David are presented as courageous (ἀνδρεῖος).144 Moses, Gideon, Saul, David, and Solomon are praised for their modesty and self-control (ἐγκράτεια, σωφροσύνη).145 Josephus also notes the justice (δικαιοσύνη) of Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and Josiah.146 Josephus answers the accusations that Jews were impious by highlighting the piety of Jacob, Joshua, and Solomon.147 Against the accusation that Jews hate people, Josephus emphasizes the humanity (φιλανθρωπία) of Joseph and David.148

In Josephus’ texts, the marginality of Judaism in relation to the dominant Greco-Roman world can be seen in his apologetic interest. Sharing the same virtues as the ideal makes Josephus complicit with the philosophical ideal of self-controlled masculinity. John Barclay, however, maintains that there are “hints of cultural defiance” when Josephus insists on the antiquity of Judaism and the originality of Moses’ commandments.149 Thus, Josephus’ relationship to the hegemonic masculinities—like Philo’s relationship—is more complex than straightforward complicity. Josephus also wants to argue that Judaism is superior to Greco-Roman culture.

4 Maccabees

4 Maccabees was written between the 1st century bce and the 1st century ce. It is thus roughly contemporary with the Synoptic Gospels. According to Stephen D. Moore and Janice C. Anderson, masculinity is shown in 4 Maccabees as self-control and the endurance of suffering.150 Eleazar, an aged man, endures suffering and says: “I am not so old and cowardly (ἄνανδρος) as not to be young in reason on behalf of piety.”151 The seven brothers also show endurance (4 Macc 8–12). As mentioned above, men in their prime were seen as the most likely candidates for masculinity, whereas young boys and old men were not considered sufficiently masculine. By not submitting to King Antiochus, Eleazar and the seven brothers make a fool out of him. Antiochus is exposed as an impious and cruel tyrant, not an exemplary masculine figure.152 Eleazar and the seven brothers appear more masculine than the king. The most masculine character in the book, however, is the mother of the boys. Her sufferings are said to be greater than even those of Daniel in the cave of lions. Still, she remains steadfast in her commitment to God. For the author, this ability represents her ἀνδρεία.153 The ideal woman is masculine in her self-control and endurance.

The martyrs show their ἀνδρεία in their ability to endure torture. This idea of ἀνδρεία is closer to the philosophical ideal than the military ideal. Piety (εὐσέβεια) is another masculine virtue that plays an important role in the depiction of the martyrs as exemplary.154 4 Maccabees is close to Stoicism in its view of the passions and their control. In his speech to Antiochus, Eleazar argues that the Law “teaches us self-control (σωφροσύνη), so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage (ἀνδρεία), so that we endure any suffering willingly.” The Law also teaches justice (δικαιοσύνη) and piety (εὐσέβεια).155 4 Maccabees shares the same virtues with the wider Greco-Roman world.156 While this makes the text complicit with the hegemonic philosophical ideals, at the same time the text attempts to argue that the Jewish community excels in moral and religious matters.157 4 Maccabees maintains that the Jewish religion offers a superior method for self-control: even though the virtues are the same as in the wider Greco-Roman culture, the Jews have a better method of achieving them. Even unexpected groups, like boys and women, can become virtuous by observing the Law. 4 Maccabees, like Philo and Josephus, thus shows a mixture of acceptance and resistance. These texts exemplify the idea that resistance and complicity can be mixed. Ostensible acceptance of the ideals of the dominant culture can still mean subversion of those ideals in some way.158 This subversion is evident when these texts argue that the early Jews have a better means of achieving the ideals than the members of the dominant culture.

Rabbinic Judaism

The rabbis were active later than the Gospel writers, from the second to the sixth centuries ce in Palestine and Babylonia. During this time, Jewish culture in Roman Palestine was colonized and marginalized.159 Although the rabbis were not contemporary with the Synoptic Gospels, they form an analogy to the Synoptic Gospel writers, since they can be seen as an example of a marginalized group in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

In comparison to the Jewish texts studied above, a very different picture emerges from the rabbinic writings. The rabbinic texts can be seen as less complicit with hegemonic masculinities and as voluntarily marginalized. This is not the whole picture, however, since rabbinic Judaism was not unified. The rabbis argued with each other and shared different interpretations and attitudes. For example, the attitude of the rabbis toward Rome was ambivalent. On one hand, the rabbis noted the military strength and power of Rome. On the other hand, they called Rome wicked and morally decadent.160 In the following, I present one of the attitudes that the rabbinic writings showed toward Roman masculinity.

Daniel Boyarin argues that in the Babylonian Talmud the rabbis produced a stereotype of Roman masculinity as a violent and cruel hypermasculinity, thus presenting a countertype against which Jewish society could define itself.161 The rabbis opposed this representation of masculinity as activity and dominance. The ideal man of the Babylonian Talmud was nonaggressive and not physically active.162 The Talmud introduces the study of the Torah as the alternative to the aggressive ideal of masculinity.163 Boyarin argues that “the Rabbis, who exclusively devoted themselves to study, were feminized vis-à-vis the larger cultural world.”164 Another feature of the Jewish culture that feminized men was circumcision. This was also interpreted positively by the rabbis. Since Israel is female in relation to God, circumcision—although effeminizing—made it possible for the male Israelite to enter into communion with a male deity.165 The rabbis thus accepted the stereotype of themselves as feminized, but understood this feminization as a positive aspect of their identity.166 This feminization was in contrast with the ideals of the hegemonic masculinities of the Greco-Roman world. Boyarin underlines that this was not the only representation of an ideal masculinity in the rabbinic writings. There was contestation and conflict over different models for ideal masculine behavior.167 Nevertheless, it can be said that at least some of the rabbinic writings seem to have advocated masculinity that was voluntarily marginalized. This shows that at least some marginalized groups did not showcase complicit and accommodating attitudes toward the dominant group.


In this chapter, I have argued that there were two ideals of masculinity in the Greco-Roman world competing for the hegemonic position. The first of these emphasized control over others. This masculinity advocated self-assertive behavior, such as retaliating against wrongs and the “priapic masculinity” of having an active role in sexual behavior. The other emphasized the importance of self-control. This was more of a philosophical ideal, advocated especially by Plato and the Stoics. One has to note that not all ancient Greco-Roman writers necessarily agreed with all facets of the ideal. They could advocate self-control in some issues and assertiveness in others, or they could pick and choose from the ideals the ones that suited their purposes at the moment.

In Jewish texts, we have seen complex relations of acceptance and resistance toward the hegemonic ideals. Writings by members of the Jewish elite such as Philo and Josephus seem to have had the aim of showing that the Jews could not only achieve the philosophical ideal of self-controlled masculinity competing for the hegemonic position, but also exceed the virtues of the Greeks and Romans. This same idea can be found in 4 Maccabees. At least some of the rabbinic writings, on the other hand, seem to accept feminization as a positive part of their identity. This alternative ideal of masculinity made the rabbinic masculinity voluntarily marginalized. Can these different strategies of complicity, mixed acceptance and resistance, and voluntary marginality be found in the Synoptic Gospels?

In the following chapters, I move on to study the ideal masculinities in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the word ἀνήρ is most commonly found in Luke, whereas Mark and Matthew do not seem to share the same interest in masculinity.168 It is interesting that the word ἀνδρεία is not used in the New Testament at all.169 The term σωφροσύνη or σώφρων is not used to describe Jesus either. Jesus is never explicitly said to be manly or self-controlled, or to have any other masculine attributes or virtues. The lack of explicit use of these terms does not mean that Jesus cannot be portrayed as behaving in ways that present these masculine ideals. What are the ideals of masculinity in the Synoptic Gospels and how do they relate to the ideals mentioned in this chapter? Do the Synoptic Gospels evince complicity or resistance or a mixture of both vis-à-vis the hegemonic ideals of either self-assertive or self-controlled masculinity?


Most of these sources are philosophical treatises, although I do refer to drama and poetry, for example. The reason is that philosophical writings explicitly discuss what masculinity is and how ideal men are supposed to behave. In terms of genre, narrative texts such as ancient novels are closer to the Synoptic Gospels, but they are also too similar in a way, since neither explicitly discusses masculinity. Comparing ancient novels with the Synoptic Gospels would require the external perspective provided by the Greco-Roman philosophical writings.


See, e.g., Plato, Resp. 489a, where Socrates mentions the marginalization of the philosophers in Athens. See also Winkler 1990, 172; Hobbs 2000, 202; Langlands 2006, 13.


Russell 2001, 63; George 2009, 81.


Laqueur 1990, 4–6.


Soranus, Gynecology 1.9; 1.16; 1.33. Laqueur 1990, 10, 26, 62. Aristotle argues that the womb is peculiar to the female and the penis is distinctive of the male. Aristotle, Hist. an. 493a25–27. Nevertheless, in Hist. an. 493b, Aristotle says: “The privy part of the female is opposite in structure to that of the male: the part below the pubes is receding, and does not protrude as in the male.” Transl. A. L. Peck. Aristotle also uses the same word, αἰδοῖον, to describe the male and female genitalia.


Galen, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body 14.6–7, in Lefkowitz & Fant (ed.) 2005, 243–246. Transl. M. T. May.


Laqueur 1990, 52.


Brown 1988, 9–10.


For example, Parmenides argued that females develop on the left side of the womb and males on the right. Empedocles maintained that males need a hot womb to develop, while a cold womb produces females. In Hippocratic writings, it is argued that the strength and quantity of sperm determines the sex. If both partners produce strong sperm, a male is born, but weak sperm results in a female. If one partner produces strong and the other weak sperm, the sex of the fetus is determined by the quantity of the sperm. See Laqueur 1990, 39; Allen 1985, 25–35.


For examples, see Ovid, Metam. 3.316–338 (Tiresias); 4.279–280 (Sithon); 4.285–388 (Hermaphroditus); 8.843–878 (Mestra); 9.666–797 (Iphis); 12.169–209 (Cainis). See also Brisson 2002, 35–44.


Pliny the Elder, Nat. 7.3.34: “People are also born participating in both sexes at once. We call them hermaphrodites, and, though they were once called androgyni and regarded as portents, they are now regarded as pets.” Transl. Beagon 2005, 66.


Pliny the Elder, Nat. 7.4.36. Transl. Beagon 2005, 66–67.


Beagon 2005, 173, 176.


Brown 1988, 10–11.


Hippocrates, Aër. 20–22. See also Allen 1985, 48; Dean-Jones 2003, 191.


Brown 1988, 11; Laqueur 1990, 7, 52.


Gleason 1995; Parsons 2006. The ancient sources include, for example, pseudo-Aristotle, Physiogn.; Polemo, Physiognomonica; Adamantius, De Physiognomica; Hippocrates, Epid. 2.6.1; 2.5.1; 2.5.16; 2.6.14, 19; 6.4.19; Aër. 24.1–40. Aristotle, Part. an. 648a; Hist. an. 491b; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 17.71; Aulus Gellius, Noct. att. 1.9. On the other hand, some ancient writers expressed doubt about the possibility that one’s character could be known from one’s body. See, e.g., Pliny the Elder, Nat. 11.273–74; Euripides, Med. 516–519; Plutarch, Cato the Elder 7.2. See also Parsons 2006, 34–36.


Gleason 1995, 29, 58.


Pseudo-Aristotle, Physiogn. 809a–810a. See also Pseudo-Aristotle, Physiogn. 814a: “The male sex has been shown to be juster, braver, and speaking generally, superior to the female.” Transl. W. S. Hett.


Gleason (1990, 412) notes that physiognomy “purported to characterize the gulf between men and women, but actually served to divide the male sex to legitimate and illegitimate members.” For example, Pseudo-Aristotle, Physiogn. 807a–808a presents the differences in the bodies of a masculine man and an effeminate man: “The characteristics of the brave man are stiff hair, an erect carriage of body, bones, sides and extremities of the body strong and large, broad and flat belly; shoulder-blades broad and far apart, neither very tightly knit nor altogether slack: a strong neck but not very fleshy; a chest fleshy and broad, thigh flat, calves of the legs broad below; a bright eye, neither too wide opened nor half closed; the skin on the body is inclined to be dry; the forehead sharp, straight, not large, and lean, neither very smooth nor very wrinkled. […] The morbid character (κίναιδος) is shown by being weak-eyed and knock-kneed; his head is inclined to the right; and he carries his hands palm upward and slack, and he has two gaits—he either waggles his hips or holds them stiffly; he casts his eyes around him like Dionysius the sophist.” Transl. W. S. Hett.


Kuefler 2001, 19.


Just 1989, 153–154. For instance, in the poem of Semonides of Amorgos, a wide range of negative qualities of women are mentioned: women are dirty, nosy, inconstant, thievish, vain, extravagant, greedy, lazy, and sexually insatiable. See also Plato, Leg. 781a.


E.g., Sophocles, Trach. 898–899; Tacitus, Ann. 3.33.


E.g., Plutarch, Advice to the Bride and Groom 19; Tacitus, Ann. 14.4.


For feminine schemes, see, e.g., Tacitus, Ann. 1.3–6; 11.3; 12.57–68; Livy 1.41; 1.48. For lust for power and ambition, see, e.g., Tacitus, Ann. 3.33; 12.7. Rutland 1978, 15–29; Smethurst 1950, 81–82.


Especially in Stoic philosophy, emotions were considered to be irrational and thus a sign of a lack of self-control. More on women and emotions is found in Chapter 6.


E.g., Aristophanes, Eccl., passim; Lys., passim; Aristotle, Probl. 879a33–34; Pol. 1335a; Plutarch, The Eating of Flesh 997B. See also Carson 1999, 81; Nortwick 2008, 51; Dover 1974, 101.


E.g., Aristophanes, Thesm. 630–632, 730–738; Eccl. 130–145; Hesiod, Works and Days 703; Phaedrus 3.1. Cf. also Xenophon, Oec. 7.6, where Ischomachus commends his wife for having learned how to control her appetite. Just 1989, 153–166, 186; Lieu 2004, 184.


E.g., Livy 34.4.15–16; Sallust, Bell. Cat. 11; Plutarch, Advice to the Bride and Groom 12, 26, 48.


Brown 1988, 9.


Gleason 1995, 58.


See more on the ideal women in Chapter 5.


See, e.g., Aeschylus, Agamemnon; Juvenal, Sat. 6.


Plato, Meno 71e.


Jones 2012, 106.


Aristotle, Pol. 1260a20. Transl. H. Rackham. See also Pol. 1277b20–23; Rhet. 1361a; 1367a20. This view of different virtues was supported also by Pythagoras, Democritus, Protagoras, and Gorgias; see Allen 1985, 22–43. See also Seneca, Const. 1.


Plato, Meno 71e–73c; Resp. 451d–452a, 455d–e; Antisthenes according to Diogenes Laertius 6.12; Musonius Rufus, That Women Too Should Study Philosophy. On the four cardinal virtues, see Plato, Resp. 435b; Cicero, Inv. 2.53.


Gleason 1995, xxii, 59, 96, 159; quotation from p. 59.


Gleason 1995, 27.


Anderson & Moore 2003, 68; see Mattila 1996.


Smit 2006, 31.6.


See, e.g., Aristotle, Gen. an. 732a7–9; Philo, Flight 51.


Moore 2001, 135–136; Anderson & Moore 2003, 69.


Cicero, Tusc. 1.1.2; Rep. 5. See also Edwards 1993, 20, 95; Frilingos 2003, 307.


Kuefler 2001, 8; Glancy 2002, 24–25. One must note, however, that anatomy was not the only signifying element: elite women were higher on the hierarchy than male slaves or lower-class men. This perspective of intersectionality complicates the picture.


Aristotle, Rhet. 1390b. See also Horace, Ars 35–37. On “masculinity of youth” and “masculinity of matrimony” in New Comedy, see Pierce 1998.


Santoro L’Hoir 1992, 1–2. Santoro L’Hoir (1992, 2) notes: “while every man, by definition, is a homo, and every woman, a mulier, not every man or woman is a vir or a femina, respectively.” This usage can be seen in Cicero and Livy; see Santoro L’Hoir 1992.


Gunderson 2000, 7; Alston 1998, 206. Santoro L’Hoir (1992, 2) notes that vir and femina came to be identified with the virtues of Rome. In contrast, homo and mulier came to represent foreign vices.


Schmidt 1967–1969, 385–387; Oepke 1964a, 360–363; Santoro L’Hoir 1992, 27. The words for sexual differentiation in Greek were ἄρσην and θῆλυς. The gender-specific word for woman was γυνή; see Schmidt 1967–1969, 401–404; Oepke 1964b, 776.


The importance of control is also evident in the use of such terms as imperium, auctoritas, and ἐξουσία. It was argued that a true man was never servile. See, e.g., Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 6.35.2. Alston 1998, 206–207; Smit 2006, 31.6; Williams 1999, 133, 138.


Nortwick 2008, 25.


Williams 1999, 126–127, 141.


Anderson & Moore 2003, 69.


E.g., Plato, Gorg. 491d–e; Plutarch, Sayings of Spartans 233D.


See, e.g., Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 1.13; Xenophon, Ages. 6; Plato, Symp. 217a–219e.


Liew 2003, 109.


See Chapter 1.


See more in Chapter 7.


Aristotle, Rhet. 1355a–b. See also Aristophanes, Vesp. 1297–1298.


Plato, Gorg. 483a–b. Transl. W. R. M. Lamb. Hobbs 2000, 138–140.


Plato, Gorg. 474b. See also Plato, Gorg. 522e: “No man fears the mere act of dying, except he be utterly irrational and unmanly (ἄνανδρος); doing wrong is what one fears.” Transl. W. R. M. Lamb. See also Plato, Crito 49a–b.


Hobbs 2000.


For example, Cicero argues in Tusc. 2.14–15 that disgrace is a greater evil than pain. He calls the view of Aristippus the Socratic and Epicurus, who maintained that pain was the chief evil, a “backboneless, effeminate view” (enervatam muliebremque sententiam). Transl. J. E. King.


Roismann 2002, 129.


Demosthenes, Against Meidias 21.74. See also Demosthenes, Against Conon 54.13; Lysias, For the Soldier 9.4–5.


Herman 1996, 14–15, 21–22.


Herman 1994, 107 (emphasis original); Herman 1993, 418.


Demosthenes, Against Timocrates 24.167. Cf. Demosthenes, Against Meidias 21.180. In Against Meidias 21.72, Demosthenes notes that it is understandable if one wants to defend himself. See also Lysias, Against Simon.


Cohen 1995.


See also Roismann 2002, 136–137; Dover 1974, 3.


Plato, Prot. 349b. See also Cicero, Tusc. 3.36–37.


Aristotle, Rhet. 1366b.


Roisman 2005, 7; Smethurst 1950, 86; D’Angelo 2007, 66–71.


McDonnell 2006, 2. According to McDonnell, the Roman ideal of virtus originally meant courage in battle. Influenced by Hellenism and the Greek ideal of ἀρετή, the ideal of masculinity changed and virtus began to have a more ethical meaning. McDonnell 2006, 9, 105, 112. Virtus was also “a quintessentially public value that was displayed, tested, won, or lost in the delimited context of service to the Republic.” McDonnell 2006, xiii.


Cicero, Tusc. 2.43. Transl. J. E. King.


Just 1989, 157.


Herodotus, Hist. 7.99.1. See also Harrell 2002, 77.


Seneca, Helv. 16.2–5. Williams 1999, 133.


Musonius Rufus, Whether Daughters and Sons Should Receive the Same Education: “Someone may perhaps say that manliness (ἀνδρεία) is a quality only of men. Not so! For a woman too must be manly and the best women at least must have no strain of cowardice, so that she is bowed down neither by labour nor by fear. If this is not so, how will a woman be chaste, if someone by causing her fear or imposing labour could force her to suffer some outrage.” Transl. Cora E. Lutz. See also Goldhill 1995, 137; Nussbaum 2002, 287.


For virtus as a military value, see, e.g., Livy 23.15.12; Horace, Carm. 3.2; Plutarch, Marcius Coriolanus 1.4: “in those days Rome held in highest honour that phase of virtue which concerns itself with warlike and military achievements, and evidence of this may be found in the only Latin word for virtue (ἀρετή), which signifies really manly valour (ἀνδρεία); they made valour, a specific form of virtue, stand for virtue in general.” Transl. Bernadotte Perrin. See also Sarsila 1982, esp. p. 90.


Plato, Lach. 190e. Transl. W. R. M. Lamb. For Aristotle, ἀνδρεία was a mean between cowardice and rashness; Eth. nic. 1104a25: “The man who runs away from everything in fear and never endures anything becomes a coward (δειλός); the man who fears nothing whatsoever but encounters everything becomes rash (θρασύς).” Transl. H. Rackham. See also Eth. nic. 1107b.


Plato, Lach. 191d–e; Resp. 386a; Leg. 633c–d. See also Hobbs 2000; Schmid 1992.


Plato, Resp. 399a–d.


Plato, Phaed. 68c–d. See also Hobbs 2000, 231.


Another important term for self-control was ἐγκράτεια.


Aeschylus, Agamemnon 351.


Foucault 1990, 63–77, 83. This was especially the case in Stoic philosophy, where the virtues of men and women were the same. If the virtues of men and women were considered to be different, σωφροσύνη meant different things for men and women. For men, it was a civic virtue, whereas for women it specifically meant the feminine virtues of chastity, modesty, and obedience. See North 1966; 1977.


Edwards 1993, 5; Foucault 1990, 63–77.


Williams 1999, 141; also Glancy 2003, 242; Gleason 1995, 65; Roisman 2005, 89.


Williams 1999, 18, 51, 153.


In medical texts, moderation was the ideal. Celsus (De Medicina 1.1.4) argued that sexual intercourse should be neither feared nor desired too much. Soranus (Gynecology 1.7.30–32) considered permanent virginity to be healthful. Philosophers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius maintained that men should strive not to desire sex. Epictetus, Diatr. 1.18.15; 4.9.3; Marcus Aurelius, Med. 2.10; 9.40. Epictetus admits that not everyone shared his ideal; on the contrary, there were some men who admired those who “can cajole and corrupt most women”; Diatr. 4.9. Transl. Whitney J. Oates. Epicurus thought that sexual intercourse was never beneficial; see Diogenes Laertius 10.118.


Williams 1999, 7. Whether the word ‘homosexual’ can be used in the context of antiquity has raised a heated debate. See, e.g., Richlin 1993; Williams 1999; Halperin 1990; 2002a; 2002b; Parker 2001.


Williams (1999, 16–17) maintains that the Romans did not condemn homosexual behavior per se. He argues that it was specifically the Greek practice of pederasty, engaging in sexual relationships with freeborn adolescent males, that was disgraceful and illicit behavior (stuprum). Williams 1999, 62–63.


Williams 1999, 7. The cinaedus was a common scare-figure in the Greco-Roman texts. E.g., Plato, Phaedr. 239c–d; Epictetus, Diatr. 3.1. Long (1996, 71–74) offers examples of sexual accusations and effeminacy.


See more in Chapter 4.


Williams 1999, 125.


Catullus 57.


Davidson 1997, 176–177.


Plutarch, Pompey 48.5–7. See also Chariton, Chaereas and Callirhoe 5.2: “Barbarians are naturally passionately fond of women.” Transl. Bryan P. Reardon.


See also Davidson, who notes that the connection between effeminacy and sex did not lie in passivity but in insatiability. Davidson argues that Foucault’s power-penetration theory focuses too much on penetration. The passive partner was not inactive: he or she was not the object of someone else’s enjoyment, but a too-willing participant, “opening up too readily to pleasure.” Davidson 1997, 177–178.


Williams 1999, 175. The word mollis (soft) and its synonyms were common pejoratives for an effeminate man. E.g., Catullus 25.1; Horace, Epod. 1.9–10; Martial, Epigr. 5.37.2; Juvenal, Sat. 8.15; Cicero, Cat. 2.22–23. Plato also associates softness with the unmanly mode of life; Phaedr. 239c. Edwards (1993, 68) notes that mollitia was used as an accusation in a whole range of discourses that had nothing to do with sexual behavior.


Aeschines, Against Timarchus 1; Suetonius, Claud. 33; Galb. 22; Valerius Maximus 2.5.6; Plato, Leg. 781d; Sallustius, Bell. Cat. 13; Xenophon, Mem. 2.1.1–4; Plutarch, The Eating of Flesh 997 2B–C. Eating in moderation is recommended in Musonius Rufus, On Food; Pseudo-Phocylides 69. See also Henry 1992, 251–255; Swancutt 2003, 211–212; Glancy 2003, 245; Bailey 2007.


Seneca the Elder, Contr.; Horace, Sat. 2.2. Edwards 1993, 81–82. Jones (2012, 209) argues: “Food, drink, and sex were all thought to require moderation; consequently, over-indulgence in any or all of these areas had the power to label the agent an effeminate, and if a man is gluttonous towards food and drink, it is safe to assume that he may also be sexually voracious, and indiscriminately so.”


Depilation: Martial, Epigr. 2.36.6, 2.62, 9.27.5, 9.57; Juvenal, Sat. 2.12, 8.13–18, 9.95. Use of makeup: Juvenal, Sat. 2.93–95, 6.O.21–O.22. Clothing: Martial, Epigr. 1.96.9, 3.82.5; Juvenal, Sat. 2.97; Cicero, Verr. 2.5.31; Cat. 2.22–23; Phil. 2.76. Gestures: Juvenal, Sat. 6.O.24, 9.133; Plutarch, Pompey 48.7. Walk: Seneca, Ep. 52.12, 114.4–6; Phaedrus, App. 8; Macrobius, Sat. 2.3.16. For effeminate gestures and ways of walking, see also Pseudo-Aristotle, Physiogn. 807a–808a quoted above. See also Edwards 1993, 68–69; Herter 1959, 629–636; Richlin 1992, 221 n. 3; Swancutt 2007, 30; Williams 1999, 130, 226–227. Herter (1959, 642–650) notes that the early Christian writers also considered these features as signs of effeminacy.


Cicero, Verr. 2.1.62; Sallust, Bell. Cat. 11; Aulus Gellius, Noct. att. 3.1. Plutarch argues that gluttony leads to cruelty and lawlessness. Plutarch, The Eating of Flesh 997B.


Polybius 31.25.2–5; Sallust, Bell. Cat. 11–12. Julius Caesar suggests that the Belgae are the bravest (fortissimi) of the Gauls because they did not have imported luxury products that effeminate the mind; Bell. gall. 1.1. See also Corbeill 1997, 99–103; Edwards 1993, 80; Richlin 2003, 218.


Langlands 2006, 292.


Dunkle 1967, 151; Starr 1949.


Cicero, Verr. 2.1.82; 2.5.81; Prov. cons. 6, 8; Pis. 66; Phil. 3.28–29: “What is there in Antonius save lust, cruelty, insolence, audacity? He is wholly compacted of these vices. No trace in him of gentlemanly feeling, none of moderation, none of self-respect, none of modesty.” Transl. D. R. Shackleton Bailey. See also Dunkle 1967, 164.


Cicero, Mil. 89; Dom. 109–110. See also Dunkle 1967, 163.


Bassi 1998, 145–146.


Early Judaism is usually dated to the periods of Persian and Roman rule from the 6th century bce to the 3rd century ce. However, in this study I concentrate on sources that are roughly contemporary with the New Testament.


On the other hand, one has to note that the “parting of the ways” between early Judaism and early Christianity had not yet happened in the first century ce, so the ancient Greco-Roman people did not necessarily differentiate between Jews and Christians.


Juvenal, Sat. 2.142–145; Seneca, Nat. 7.31.3. Edwards 1993; Williams 1999, 141–142.


See, e.g., Seneca, Ep. 30.8; Cicero, Phil. 3.35; Tusc. 2.17.40–41. Barton 1993, 15–16; Cobb 2008, 48–49; Kyle 1998, 80.


The Hebrew Bible is closer to the ancient Near Eastern cultures than the Greco-Roman world. The Hebrew Bible should be compared to the masculinities of the ancient Near East. It is possible that the Hebrew Bible had different ideas of masculinity than those in the Greco-Roman world. Moreover, it is possible that the masculinities in the Hebrew Bible differed from both Greco-Roman and Near Eastern ideals. Susan Haddox (2010), for example, maintains that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all occasionally appear feminine. Haddox argues that this critique of hegemonic masculinity is intended to show a proper relationship with God: “While the biblical text in many ways reflects and supports the categories of hegemonic masculinity, in the realm of the relation with God, these norms are frequently subverted because no human can assume the position of ultimate power. That position is left to God.” Haddox 2010, 15. On Hebrew Bible masculinities, see Creangă (ed.) 2010; Creangă & Smit (ed.) 2014; Zsolnay (ed.) 2017.


Philo (e.g., in Alleg. Interp. 3.156); Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; Sir passim. Smith 1999, 100.


Joseph and Aseneth 4.7; 8.8. Transl. C. Burchard.


Ben Sira mentions controlling one’s wife and children, esp. daughters (e.g., Sir 25:25–26; 26:1–27; 30:1–13; 42:9–11) and self-control (e.g., Sir 18:30–31). See also Camp 1991, 19.


Leander (2011, 170–171) notes the ambivalent attitude of the rabbis toward Rome (b. Šabbat 33b): “R. Judah, R. Jose, and R. Simeon were sitting … R. Judah commenced [the discussion] by observing, ‘How fine are the works of this people! They have made streets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths.’ R. Jose was silent. R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said: ‘All what they made they made for themselves; they built market-places, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them.’ ”


Niehoff 2001, 8–9, 39–40; see, e.g., Moses 1.1–3.


Mattila 1996, 106, 119.


Mattila 1996, 125–126.


See, e.g., Philo, Spec. Laws 3.178–180; Alleg. Interp. 2.6, 50; 3.161; Creation 146, 165–166; Names 223; Worse 28, 89–90; Heir 232–233; qg 1.46; Sacrifices 103. Baer 1970, 14–17; Mattila 1996, 105; Sly 1990, 47.


Philo, Spec. Laws 1.200–201; Alleg. Interp. 2.97. Philo also argues that the Essenes do not marry because a woman is a selfish, jealous, deceitful, proud, and shameless creature. Philo, Hypothetica 11.14–16.


Philo, qe 1.7–8.


Philo, Worse 28: “the passions are by nature feminine, and we must practice the quitting of these for the masculine traits that mark the noble affections.”


Philo mentions Sarah (Worse 28) when commenting on Gen 18:11, as well as Julia Augusta (Embassy 319–320): “training and practice gave virility (ἀρρενωθεῖσα) to her reasoning power.” Transl. F. H. Colson.


Mattila 1996, 107, 127. Philo mentions Laban (qg 4.117–118, Dreams 1.45), Lot (Migration 13), and Joseph (Migration 203–204) as examples of effeminate men who are identified with the sense perception. Mattila 1996, 112.


Philo, On Courage 1. Transl. Walter T. Wilson.


Philo, Moses 2.3–7; Joseph 54: “Moses has now set before us three characteristics of the statesman, his shepherd-craft, his household-management, his self-control.” Transl. F. H. Colson.


Philo, Moses 2.3–7, 2.8.


Philo, Joseph 38–39. On Joseph in Jewish texts, see Tinklenberg deVega 2006. Philo argues also that men and women have different roles: “that the physical forms of a man and a woman are dissimilar, and that the life assigned to each of these forms is not the same (for one a domestic, to the other a civic life has been allotted).” On Courage 19. Transl. Walter T. Wilson.


Philo, Alleg. Interp. 3.237.


Philo, Spec. Laws 2.195. See also On the Contemplative Life, where the Therapeutai are portrayed as examples of self-control.


See also Niehoff 2001, 75–110.


E.g., Philo, Spec. Laws 4.179.


See, e.g., Josephus, Ant. 1.5; 20.262. Feldman 1998, 543.


Laziness (Seneca, according to Augustine, Civ. 6.11); superstition (Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1.205–211; Plutarch, On Superstition 8.169C); credulity (Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.112–114; Horace, Sat. 1.5.97–103); zealous missionary activity (Horace, Sat. 1.4.142–143); misanthropy (Ag. Ap. 2.121, 2.148); impiety (Ag. Ap. 2.148, 2.291); lack of courage (Ag. Ap. 2.148). See also Feldman 1997.


Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.135.


Feldman 1968; 1983; 1990; 1995; 1998.


Abraham (Ant. 1.154), Moses (Ant. 4.328). See also Jacob (Ant. 2.15), Saul (Ant. 6.45), and Solomon (Ant. 8.34).


Abraham (Ant. 1.154–155; 1.167), Moses (Ant. 3.13; 4.328), Joshua (Ant. 3.49; 5.118).


Joshua (Ant. 3.49: “man of extreme courage”; 5.118: “daring in action”); Saul (Ant. 6.54); David’s courage is emphasized more than in the biblical narrative (Ant. 7.74; cf. 2 Sam 5:20): “Let no one, however, suppose that it was a small army of Philistines that came against the Hebrews, or infer from the swiftness of their defeat or from their failure to perform any courageous or noteworthy act that there was any reluctance or cowardice on their part.” Transl. Ralph Marcus.


Moses (Ant. 4.328–329: “thorough command of his passions”), Gideon (Ant. 5.230: “man of moderation and a model of every virtue”), Saul (Ant. 6.63), David (Ant. 7.391), and Solomon (Ant. 7.362).


Moses (Ant. 3.66–67), Samuel (Ant. 6.294), David (Ant. 7.110), Solomon (Ant. 8.21), and Josiah (Ant. 10.50).


Jacob (Ant. 2.196), Joshua (Ant. 3.49), Solomon (Ant. 8.22), and Josiah (Ant. 10.50). Josephus also omits or changes events that call David’s piety into question (1 Sam 20:6; 21:4–7; 26:19).


Joseph (Ant. 2.101, 136), David (Ant. 6.304; 7.391).


Barclay 2005, 321.


Moore & Anderson 1998.


4 Macc 5:31. Cf. 2 Macc 6:27: “by manfully (ἀνδρείως) giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age.”


Cf. 4 Macc 10:11–16.


4 Macc 15:30: “O more noble than males in steadfastness, and more courageous (ἀνδρειοτέρα) than men in endurance!”.


See also D’Angelo 2003b.


4 Macc 5:23–24.


See also 4 Macc 7:23: “For only the wise and courageous (σώφρων ἀνδρεῖος) are masters of their emotions.”


See also D’Angelo 2003b, 141.


See Chapter 1.


Boyarin 1993, 16. One has to note that although the rabbis were in a marginal position in the overall culture, their cultural hegemony within Judaism grew during this period with the production of Midrashim and Talmuds. Boyarin 1993, xi.


Feldman 2000, 281–283 refers to ‘Abodah Zarah 2b; Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 13.5; Megillah 6a–b; Midrash Genesis Rabbah 65.21, 76.6; Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah 3.4.2. See also Leander 2011, 170.


Boyarin 1997, 4–6; 1995, 44. Boyarin (1995, 53) notes that whether or not this presentation is true, it tells us something about how the Romans were seen by outsiders.


See Boyarin 1997, 81–126, esp. 99–107, where Boyarin talks about Baba Meṣi‘a 88a. Rabbis also expressed ambivalence about Jewish military figures like the Maccabees and Bar Kochba; see Boyarin 1997, 273–274. Instead, the rabbis valorized deception in opposition to the “manly” acts of violent resistance; see Boyarin 1999, 48–49.


Boyarin 1997, 143.


Boyarin 1995, 64. Boyarin refers to Baba Meṣi‘a 84a, where Rabbi Yohanan invites Resh Lakish to join the fellowship of “real men” who study the Torah. Boyarin 1995; 1997, 127–150. Boyarin (1997, 2) argues that the gentle and studious man was presented also as the paramount “object of female desire.” Moore (2001, 32) maintains that the message of the Targum and Midrashim is: “Scholarship is sexy” (emphasis original). See also Eilberg-Schwartz 1994, 219–220.


Boyarin 1992, 495–496; 1995, 51–52.


Boyarin 1993, 217; 1995, 44; 1997, 12.


Boyarin 1997, 81. Boyarin also notes the difference between later Ashkenazic Jews in Christian cultures and Sefaradic Jews in Muslim cultures. Boyarin sees the sociopolitical conditions of power and powerlessness as contributing factors to the different masculinity ideologies of these two groups of Jews. The Sefaradic Jews, who were socially dominant and close to the ruling class, identified with the local culture, including its masculinism, while the marginalized Ashkenazic Jews identified themselves as the “opposite” of the surrounding culture. Boyarin 1997, 164–165.


See also Oepke 1964a, 362–363; D’Angelo 1990, 453; 1999, 187; 2002. Interestingly, the New Testament uses the gender specific Greek term for a man, ἀνήρ, for Jesus only three times, twice in Acts (2:22; 17:31) and once in the Gospel of John (1:30).


Paul uses the derivative ἀνδρίζοµαι (“to be manly”) in 1 Cor 16:13: “Γρηγορεῖτε, στήκετε ἐν τῇ πίστει, ἀνδρίζεσθε, κραταιοῦσθε.” nrsv translates the verse as: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”

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Jesus and Other Men

Ideal Masculinities in the Synoptic Gospels

Series:  Biblical Interpretation Series, Volume: 159