Noah Wellington (The University of Melbourne)
Passing through a gendered transition period from which he emerges a man and citizen (anēr), caught in a seemingly perpetual state of becoming, the Greek ephebe carries significant resonances for the modern trans masculine individual. Pierre Vidal-Naquet once suggested that the ephebe was a “temporary woman” (Vidal-Naquet, 116), however this paper supplements the suggestion of Gloria Ferrari that the ephebe instead comprised an alternative, temporary gender category (Ferrari, 129), and that the process of becoming an anēr in ancient Greece amounted to a “transformation in gender” (Ferrari, 123). Ferrari’s proposal was based on the transformation in sexual status – from pederastic object to agent – concomitant with the ephebe’s induction into the triply privileged status of adult male citizen; this paper takes this, perhaps glib, suggestion at face value, and considers the ephebic transition as one of gender beyond sexual status, and comparable to the complicated process trans masculine individuals face in their own transitions, medical or otherwise. Transitioning into manhood is a fraught journey, both for the ancient ephebe and the modern transgender man. Each must navigate a complex social and personal matrix which confronts the nature of gender and masculinity.
Writing on the male body in Athenian tragedy, Katrina Cawthorn suggested that ancient manhood was a perpetual “becoming”, rendering the male self perennially unattainable (Cawthorn, 59): attendant to both the modern transgender and ephebic body and self is the complicated notion of manhood as an ever-shifting goal post and performance. Seeking a deeper understanding of the makeup of ancient Greek gender and manhood through the lens of modern trans experience and theory, this paper examines the confluences and divergences of these two unique experiences of masculinity. The Athenian ephebe was a figure at once at odds with and entering into the society he lived in, and his appearances in ancient Greek literature mark these concerns surrounding his “becoming” in ways that are distinctly gendered. It is in figures such as the Orestes and Pentheus of Euripides and the Neoptolemus of Sophocles that these are most legible, and these tragic ephebes, bending and breaking their transitions, and these key texts (Euripides, Orestes; Bacchae; Sophocles, Philoctetes) will serve to illuminate the fraught status of ephebic gender, and its resonances for and relevance to the trans masculine experience.