Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Love and Relationships (H408/32)

Podcast: Sex in the Ancient World

Prof James Davidson and Dan Orrells discuss the nature and impact of Greek love.

‘Now sex. Sex, sex, sex. Where were we?’ This is a memorable line from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Sex produced us; it surrounds us, lures us, tempts us; it intrigues and entertains us, yet also abashes and disconcerts us. Few topics have enthralled and enticed scholars more than sex, but few topics are also seen with more suspicion and reservation. Think of the public school master played by John Cleese in the sketch just mentioned: he has to teach sex to a class of bored boys. He makes a mockery of the whole thing, because his dry detachment and scientific descriptions clash with the content of such a hot and emotional subject.
Sexuality as well as sex and gender are now firmly part of academic discourses in the humanities. Classics in particular has a lot to contribute, since so many things sexual seem to originate in Graeco-Roman antiquity. After all, Lesbian love, homosexuality, and the Oedipus complex all go back to parts of the Greek past. And sex is a Latin word.
But how did the Greeks conceive of love, lust, and sexual longings? Did homosexuality play a prominent part in classical societies? And how did Greek ideas about sex and gender impact on modern times?

Blog: Sources for Seneca

Dr Liz Gloyn of Royal Holloway, University of London, is creating a series of blogs to support the teaching of Seneca which can be accessed below

First blog: Sources for Seneca on love and desire

Second blog: Seneca’s De Matrimonio or ‘On Marriage’ – The Fragments

Third blog: Understanding Stoic ideas about the emotions

Festival of Love

[Source: Southbank Centre, Published on 25 Jun 2014]


Award-winning historian, author and broadcaster Dr Bettany Hughes reads an extract from Chapter 35, O Tell Me The Truth About Love, of her book, The Hemlock Cup about Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life. The extract covers Socrates' views on Love and Eros, the God of Love.

Bettany Hughes is speaking at the opening weekend of the Festival of Love with philosopher Professor Angela Hobbs on the nature and power of erotic love.

Plato's Symposium

[Source: BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time]

symp

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Plato's Symposium, one of the Greek philosopher's most celebrated works. Written in the 4th century BC, it is a dialogue set at a dinner party attended by a number of prominent ancient Athenians, including the philosopher Socrates and the playwright Aristophanes. Each of the guests speaks of Eros, or erotic love. This fictional discussion of the nature of love, how and why it arises and what it means to be in love, has had a significant influence on later thinkers, and is the origin of the modern notion of Platonic love. With Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield; Richard Hunter, Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge; and Frisbee Sheffield, Director of Studies in Philosophy at Christ's College, University of Cambridge.

Sappho

[Source: BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time]

s

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Greek poet Sappho. Born in the late seventh century BC, Sappho spent much of her life on the island of Lesbos. In antiquity she was famed as one of the greatest lyric poets, but owing to a series of accidents the bulk of her work was lost to posterity. The fragments that do survive, however, give a tantalising glimpse of a unique voice of Greek literature. Her work has lived on in other languages, too, translated by such major poets as Ovid, Christina Rossetti and Baudelaire.

With Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King's College, London; Margaret Reynolds, Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London; and Dirk Obbink, Professor of Papyrology and Greek Literature at the University of Oxford, Fellow and tutor at Christ Church, Oxford.

Greek and Roman Love Poetry

[Source: BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time]

lurve

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Greek and Roman love poetry, from the Greek poet Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos, to the love-hate poems of the Roman writer Catullus. The source of many of the images and metaphors of love that have survived in literature through the centuries. We begin with the words of Sappho, known as the Tenth Muse and one of the great love poets of Ancient Greece: “Love, bittersweet and inescapable, creeps up on me and grabs me once again”Such heartfelt imploring by Sappho and other writers led poetry away from the great epics of Homer and towards a very personal expression of emotion. These outpourings would have been sung at intimate gatherings, accompanied by the lyre and plenty of wine. The style fell out of fashion only to be revived first in Alexandria in the third Century BC and again by the Roman poets starting in the 50s BC. Catullus and his peers developed the form, employing powerful metaphors of war and slavery to express their devotion to their Beloved – as well as the ill treatment they invariably received at her hands!So why did Greek poetry move away from heroic narratives and turn to love in the 6th Century BC? How did the Romans transform the genre? And what effect did the sexual politics of the day have on the form? With Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London.