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Dio’s First Tarsian Oration and the Rhetoric of Gender-Indeterminacy

Anna Peterson

Pennsylvania State University

In his First Tarsian Oration (Or.33), Dio of Prusa offers up a colorful harangue against a mysterious fault that he refuses to name, despite the threat he says it poses to the reputation of the city. Instead, Dio speaks in analogies, likening it specifically to an inelegant snore (ῥέγκουσιν, 33). Scholarly debate persists about the exact object of Dio’s opprobrium, with proposed solutions ranging from reading ῥέγκουσιν as a reflection of the Tarsians’ sexual habits (Houser 1998), as a way of describing their preference for an ‘Asianist’ style of speaking (Bost-Pouderon 2011), or as a euphemism for farting (Kokkinia 2007). Yet, another unmistakable rhetorical cue comes at the speech’s conclusion, where Dio turns his attention to the Tarsians’ treatment of their bodies. Assuming the role of doctor, Dio diagnoses his audience’s decline into effeminate behavior as the result of excessive depilation, sarcastically quipping in the final line of the speech: “if it were possible to borrow from women other attributes, then we should be supremely happy, not defective beings (ἐνδεεῖς), but whole and natural ἀνδρόγυνοι” (64).

In this paper, I will use the interplay between the ambiguity of Dio’s rhetoric and the final image of the ἀνδρόγυνος as an entry point for reconsidering the treatment of ambiguously sexed bodies in the imperial Greek world. Although often conflated with κίναιδος and male passivity ( cf. Pollux 6.126-7), ἀνδρόγυνος denotes in its most literal sense “an appearance of gender-indeterminacy” (Gleason 1995: 64). In the first part of my paper, I explore how this meaning is on display in a variety of texts from the first and second centuries CE. Examples from Polemon’s Physiognomy point to its close association with the figure of the κίναιδος and emphasize its use as a negative paradigm against which the masculine norm is reaffirmed (Swain 2007: 188-189). Yet, it could also be applied to women. In Lucian’s Erotes (28), the term appears in relation to women who take on an active role in sexual relationships, —a meaning that is further reflected by Artimedorus in his discussion of the significance of dreams involving hyenas (2.12). In recent discussions of ἀνδρόγυνος and the different ways in which masculinity is performed in this period, these latter uses have been generally ignored or summarily dismissed. Nevertheless, they offer important information on the range of meanings and implications that ἀνδρόγυνος could have, particularly as a term reflective of questions about a person’s gender.

Dio capitalizes on these connotations in his use of ἀνδρόγυνος as the final reflection of the problem plaguing the Tarsians. As Lawrence Kim (2013) has suggested, Dio intentionally leaves his audience in the dark as to the exact nature of their condition. This is achieved both by delaying discussion of it through a thirty-paragraph exordium and by employing deliberately ambiguous language to describe it, such as ‘some condition’ (τι πάθος, 33) and as an ‘action’ (ἔργον, 34). In the second part of my paper, I explore how the uncertainty caused by Dio’s refusal to speak in specifics brings into relief, reflects on, and ultimately stages the gender-indeterminancy inherent to the term ἀνδρόγυνος. Dio’s speech, as I suggest, reaffirms through its vitriol the idealized masculine identity of the time, even as the confusion it inspires in its audience mimics the indeterminate nature of its concluding image.

 The final joke of the speech then is not simply, as Kim suggests, that Dio has denied his audience both a clear diagnosis and treatment for their condition. For those in the audience who recognize Dio’s strategy, the confusion evoked by the speech renders them in a position rhetorically analogous to the ἀνδρόγυνος, thus complementing Dio’s invective with their own experience.

Session/Panel Title

[Tr]an[s]tiquity: Theorizing Gender Diversity in Ancient Contexts (organized by the Lambda Classical Caucus}

Session/Paper Number

54.6

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