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Ancient Gender Studies in Italy

Frederica Bessone

Gender studies have developed in Italy since the mid-70’s in connection with the feminist movement. Influenced by French theory, they have predominantly focused on women’s history and culture. Universities have not recognized gender studies as an academic field until recently, due to the rigidity of our educational system and the weak position of women academics in the ’80s and ’90s. Interest in gender was fostered mainly through interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship in journals and other editorial enterprises, and, particularly in classics, by small research groups or the work of outstanding researchers.

At the University of Pavia in the Eighties, Vegetti and Lanza produced several young scholars, including Sissa, investigating gender; Cantarella, professor of ancient law in Milan, has for decades played a leading role in the study of women and sexuality in the ancient world; Bettini, in Siena, has strongly promoted anthropological studies in classics, foregrounding kinship relations. Other scholars currently working on gender are Susanetti in Padova, Cenerini in Bologna, Faranda at Roma “Sapienza”, Andò in Palermo. Although distinguished feminist thinkers in other fields, such as Cavarero, creatively engage the thinking of Butler and other theorists, Gender theory does not feature as prominently in classics.

History journals have been especially welcoming to contributions on gender by classicists. Quaderni storici dedicated special issues to gender topics in 1980 and 1990. While periodicals launched in the Eighties ceased publication in the next decade (e.g. Memoria. Rivista di storia delle donne [1981-’91], with contributions by Cantarella, Centanni, Sissa), new ones have emerged in the past ten years: Genesis (2002–), by the Società Italiana delle Storiche, whose editorial board includes Bettini; Storia delle donne (2005–), which articulates every volume into the categories ‘Presente… e passato’; La camera blu (2006–), Rivista del Dottorato di Studi di Genere dell’Università di Napoli Federico II (whose scientific board includes Schmitt-Pantel).

Among publishers, Laterza has been especially active in the field of gender studies, e.g. translating works by Sissa and Loraux, issuing collective volumes on women in Greece and Rome. An important editorial enterprise was the Storia delle donne in Occidente, a c. di P. Schmitt-Pantel (vol. 1, 1997; orig. ed. Paris 1991). Einaudi translated Pomeroy’s 1975 book in 1978.

Among the first Academic centers promoting interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on gender was CIRSDe, Centro Interdisciplinare di Ricerche e Studi sulle Donne, in Torino (1991–), which now also offers an online course on gender and an annual list of gender-oriented courses. Others have been founded since the mid ’90s: CIRSPG in Padova (2008–; Susanetti is a member); GIO in the three Universities of Rome (2009–). There are also a few Gender Studies Programs (offering the MA in Bologna, and doctoral degrees in Napoli, Roma I and III); classics is scarcely represented in them.

So far, Italian classicists have been contributing to gender studies in the fields of anthropology, law, history, myth, philosophy and religion, as well as literature. In studies on genre developed by the ‘school’ of Gian Biagio Conte, scholars such as Rosati have illustrated how the analysis of gender roles benefits from investigating their implication in the dynamics of literary genre (as, e.g., in works on the female voice in love elegy, Ovid’s Heroides and post-Vergilian epic, and on the ambiguities of sexual identity and masculinity in Statius’ Achilleid). Here EuGeStA displays a potential for fruitful collaborations between European and North American classicists.

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EuGeStA [European Gender Studies in Antiquity] Workshop

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