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Blog: Review: LGBT Meets SPQR

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I wish that LGBT Meets SQPR had existed as I began my journey into Greco-Roman antiquity in high school. As a closeted gay youth, I was eager to find stories, experiences, and anecdotes that could help me understand my identity better and not feel quite so alone. Modern LGBTQIA+ youth seem to gravitate towards Classics for such resources and community-building. In a survey conducted by Hannah Clarke, young queer people indicated that their interest in Classics stemmed from the fact that “Classics remedies, to a certain extent, anxieties of feeling culturally temporary. [The survey respondents] describe the visibility of queer figures in Classics classes as providing a sort of temporal anchor, which proves that they are not the result of a trend, something that came about in the 70s, something that is having a moment and could potentially vanish once more.”

Curated by Kris Masters, LGBT Meets SPQR capitalizes on this sense of continuity, community, and belonging that Classics can offer to LGBTQIA+ youth. It is a blog (powered by the Blogger platform), in the vein of Sententiae Antiquae, that presents both Greek and Latin passages (in the original language and in translation) that treat some aspect of what we moderns would term LGBTQIA+ identity, primarily for the 14 to 17 year old age group. Masters, in one of the first posts on the site, acknowledges the contingency of gender or sexual terms on cultural and temporal context: “The Romans did not use the terms gay, straight, etc., and similarly, Latin terms like tribas, mollis, etc. will not have a direct equivalent in English.” However, the use of modern terminology in the site’s name, labels, and post titles is a smart maneuver that meets teenagers where they are and can lead them towards contextualizing depictions of gender or sexuality within ancient culture.

The anatomy of a typical post is fairly consistent. Each post is given a descriptive and/or clever title with appropriate citations; recent examples include “Challenging Gender Roles: Dionysus, Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods 18” and “Two Men Giving Birth: Phlegon of Tralles, De Mirab. 26-27.” Some titles include the unexplained abbreviations “M/M” or “W/W,” though one can intuit their meaning (e.g., “M/M” referring to same-gender desire between men). The post then provides any applicable trigger warnings, ones directly applicable to gender and sexuality (e.g., “homophobic slurs”) or other potentially harmful material (e.g., “murder,” “drunkenness”). Some posts include prefatory or contextual remarks to explain specialized terminology or to situate the passage in its larger work or cultural environment.

The core of a post is the presentation of a passage in Greek or Latin and an accompanying English translation that hews close to the original text. Font sizes and formatting (e.g., white space between lines of poetry, punctuation, spacing) can vary from post to post, perhaps due to copying and pasting into Blogger’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, but the issue is more cosmetic than detrimental to understanding. All Greek material is additionally supplemented by Latin translations, often very old ones (for example, Erasino Roterdamo’s Latin translation of Lucian’s Diologi Deorum, used in this post, dates back to 1546). The choice to supplement Greek with Latin makes sense given the relative ubiquity of Latin in high school Classics programs as compared to Greek and the site’s avowed focus on Rome (as evident in the site’s title). I do fear, though, that providing Latin translations for Greek passages without contextualization runs the risk of indicating to students that the languages or cultures are essentially the same, particularly with translations of authors like Sappho who predate the genesis of Roman literature in the 3rd century BCE.

One consistent issue in each post is the lack of explicitly stated origin for the original Greek or Latin text or the English translation. Google searches of random ancient passages often point towards Perseus; the lack of results for searches of the English translations seems to indicate that Masters herself has translated the passages. The posts on the site are valuable tools--not only for students to explore on their own, but also for teachers and even researchers on gender and sexuality-related issues. Citations or source links for the texts and attributions for the English translations, even if Masters created them all herself, would be very helpful in both pedagogical and research contexts; for example, if a Greek or Latin text on LGBT Meets SPQR offers a reading that seems odd, a citation for the editor could help trace its lineage.

The body of each post concludes with a table that identifies the author of the passage with appropriate biographical information, geographic region, and orientation in time; the divisions of the latter two are laid out in a dedicated page of the site. While the geographic divisions of the Mediterranean for the most part make sense, some temporal divisions seem arbitrary or possibly misleading in terms of time cutoffs and titles (for example, using “Golden Age” to describe the 5th and 4th centuries BCE seems needlessly prejudicial against other periods of Greek literature). Then, below each post, a footer section contains a series of labels that can be used to classify the post in terms of content, genre, geography, and time. A list of all labels can also be found at the bottom of every page of the site, and clicking on a label will generate a list of all posts tagged with it, a convenient tool to explore posts that treat, e.g., gender norms (36 posts) or intersex identity (18 posts). The post footer also contains the only direct mention of Kris Masters on the site.

Other pages on the site contain resources for students and teachers. “YA Bookshelf” presents an annotated bibliography of English novels (and two Latin novellas) that treat Classical material with LGBTQIA+ themes. Masters divides the English books into “emerging readers,” “advanced readers,” and “at the discretion of the teacher / guardian.” “Help / Support” supplies links to crisis websites and hotlines like The Trevor Project and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The page promises that resources categorized by state are forthcoming. To this page, especially in light of recent legislative attempts (even successful ones) to bar trans athletes from competing in their gender categories or, worse, prevent trans youth from receiving life-affirming health care, I would suggest adding resources for the trans community like Trans Lifeline. “Resources for Teachers” provides worksheets and lesson plans for various stages of Latin learning that utilize the site’s materials. I particularly appreciate how the questions in the worksheet for LGBT Meets SPQR passages encourage students not to take ancient sources at face value and to think about those texts’ relationships to the societies that produced them.

My main suggestion for the site’s improvement revolves around centralizing site-wide information in an easy-to-find location, like the site sidebar (which currently houses just the post archive, links to RSS feeds, and a contact form) or, preferably, a dedicated “About” page. Such a page could house useful information like Kris Masters’ biography, common abbreviations used throughout the site, a translator to cite for the English translations, and the list of labels. Currently, this information is either non-existent or requires a click on easy-to-miss links (e.g., Masters’ name at the end of posts) or fortuitous scrolling (e.g., the list of labels at the bottom of the page) to find. On mobile, some information, including the list of labels, cannot be found at all. In addition, especially if Masters has created the English translations herself, an “About” page can house a license statement that indicates how the materials on the site are to be cited and used (for example, CC BY-SA 4.0).

Kris Masters has provided a truly valuable resource for students and teachers alike that I personally am excited to incorporate into my own teaching and education on issues of ancient gender and sexuality. As Masters herself notes, academic articles or books on ancient gender and sexuality can be inaccessible, especially for high schoolers just beginning their journey in Classics. The site’s free digital format and its focus on the source material, rather than scholarly interpretation, offer a low barrier to entry to those interested in exploring these topics, both on their own and in the classroom. In particular, LGBTQIA+ students looking for reassurance that they are not “culturally temporary” should find solace in LGBT Meets SPQR’s passages and resources.

TITLE: LGBT Meets SPQR

DESCRIPTION: a collection of authentic Latin texts that highlight LGBTQIA+ topics for the purpose of enhancing representation and facilitating discussion in middle and high school Latin classes (appropriate for ages 14–17).

URL: https://www.lgbtmeetsspqr.com

NAME: Kristin Masters

PUBLISHER: Blogger

PLACE: none listed

COLLECTION TITLE: [none]

DATE CREATED: 2019–present

DATE ACCESSED: May 12, 2021

AVAILABILITY: Free

RIGHTS: none listed

CLASSIFICATION: anthologies, commentaries, digitization, epigraphy, Greek, images, language learning tools, late antiquity, Latin, pedagogy, performance studies, reference materials, texts

Daniel Libatique's picture

Daniel Libatique (he/him/his) is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at the College of the Holy Cross. He received his Ph.D. from Boston University in 2018, and his main research interests include Ovid, Sophocles, narratology, gender, and sexuality, with numerous conference talks and publications on these topics in venues like the New England Classical Journal, Classical Quarterly, and Classical World. More information can be found at https://libatique.info.

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