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(De)Colonise Antiquity/Archaeopolitics/Homosexuality

Dimitris Plantzos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), ‘We Have Never Been Queer: Ancient Sexualities and Present Archaeosocialities as a Way (Not) to Define the Modern Greek Self’
John Champagne (Pennsylvania State University), ‘The Italian Vice, Rethinking the Role of Italy in the Invention of Modern Male Homosexuality’
Stefano Evangelista (University of Oxford), ‘Blue Love: John Addington Symonds in Venice’


Dimitris Plantzos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), ‘We Have Never Been Queer: Ancient Sexualities and Present Archaeosocialities as a Way (Not) to Define the Modern Greek Self’

Modern Greeks have time and again styled themselves as the legitimate offspring of the glory that was Hellas, complete with good old ‘Greek’ DNA going all the way back to Homeric times, whenever these may have been. Whereas many present-day Greeks, however, would gladly promote a close cultural, even biological, relation with the likes of the (mythical) Achilles, they might feel less inclined to include Patroclus in the mix – and certainly not over-think what these two may have been doing together. 

A certain  archaeolatric ethos has been permeating Greek society, and public discourses about the past, since at least the establishment of the Greek state in the 1830s; in recent years, however, and following the repeated social, economic, and political challenges Greek society has been facing, such archaeolatric notions have been turned into something of an archaeopolitical regime: that is, a realm where antiquity becomes an instrument for politics and a yardstick for public control, manipulation, and sorting. These projections of the past invariably focus on appropriately patriarchal readings of ancient Greek society, engendered and embodied in ways modern ethno-nationalist, exceptionalist, and racist ideologies would approve of. These readings are inevitably hostile to queer readings of the past, even if these seem to make actual historical sense. 

This paper discusses how Greek society is being conditioned to accept an archaeopolitical template for itself through an academically outmoded, through culturally still appealing model for ancient Greece and its classicality.
Dimitris Plantzos is Professor of classical archaeology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He studied history and archaeology at Athens, and holds an MPhil and a DPhil in classical archaeology from Oxford, where he also spent three years as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow. He is the author of various papers and books on Greek art and archaeology, archaeological theory and classical reception. His Greek-language textbook on Greek Art and Archaeology, first published in 2011 by Kapon Editions, was published in 2016 in English and is now available by American publishers Lockwood Press in Atlanta, Georgia. His more recent book, The Art of Painting in Ancient Greece, published by Kapon Editions in Athens, was also published by Lockwood Press in 2018. He is currently finishing a monograph titled L’Archéopolitique: antiquité, territoire, population, scheduled to appear in 2025, in French, by Sorbonne University Press. Since 2022, he is Director of the Research Centre for the Digital Humanities based at the University of Athens.

John Champagne (Pennsylvania State University), ‘The Italian Vice, Rethinking the Role of Italy in the Invention of Modern Male Homosexuality’

In late 19th and early 20th century Europe, discursive accounts of male homosexuality, whether produced by sexologists, self-identified ‘Uranians,’ novelists, jurists, journalists, German masculinists like Adolf Brand, or homosexual rights activists like JA Symonds, invariable referenced ancient Greece and Rome. These efforts were undergirded by a broader ‘Hellenic’ revival that cut across such disparate cultural regimes as Winkelmann’s aesthetics, Great Britain’s Oxford Movement, and French and Russian Symbolist theory and practice. 

Unfortunately, the ubiquity of this neo-Hellenism has played an overdetermining role in accounts of the history of modern male homosexuality, fostering what George Chauncey has identified as two false dogmas: that homosexuality was the invention of German sexology; that modern homosexual culture was the product of wealthy bourgeois privileged white men. Both of these dogmas effectively erase the participation of working-class men in modern homosexual culture, evidence of which can be found, albeit not in the archive queer theory has typically referenced. This erasure has been aided by the wide range of texts produced by the numerous bourgeois white male artists—writers, painters, and photographers – who traveled to Italy in search of both the remnants of antiquity and male same-sex love. Both these ‘primary’ texts and subsequent analyses of them by modern critics such as Robert Aldrich have however inadvertently produced a history of modern homosexuality that treats Italy as its object but not its subject. That is, many accounts of modern male homosexuality imply that it was brought to Italy by privileged European gentlemen who availed themselves of sex with Italian young men and boys whose own longstanding patterns of queer life were treated as residual or primitive – a status confirmed by the racial identity of Italians as non-white and even ‘Oriental.’ 

Recent work in Marxist queer theory, however, has suggested an alternative way of understanding the history of modern male homosexuality – one attentive to capitalism’s long durée in the Mediterranean region. This work seeks to restore to the history of modern male homosexuality its working-class origins and recenters that history on Italy. After briefly discussing how and why Chauncey’s two dogmas came to dominate queer theory’s account of modern male homosexuality, this talk will first propose how a modern history of male homosexuality might be centered on the Mediterranean and second, the value of engaging in such a project today, given queer theory’s continuing reluctance to take up issues of class. 
John Champagne is a professor of English at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. The author of scholarly monographs and essays, novels, personal essays, and poems, his most recent book is Queer Ventennio, Italian Fascism, Homoerotic Art, and the Nonmodern in the Modern (Peter Lang. 2019).  Champagne’s work has appeared in such venues as Forum Italicum, Modern Italy, College English, and College Literature. His essay entitled ‘Baron Corvo’s Venice Letters and Modern Male Homosexuality’ is forthcoming in The Journal of the History of Sexuality. Champagne divides his time between Erie and his second home in Perugia. 

Stefano Evangelista (University of Oxford), ‘Blue Love: John Addington Symonds in Venice’

'In the Key of Blue' (1893), one of the last essays that John Addington Symonds wrote before he died, is also one of the most daring intersections of aesthetics and queer desire to have seen the light in the nineteenth century. Symonds was an Oxford-trained English classical scholar who, like many of his contemporaries, chose Italy as the preferred stage to explore his erotic feelings for other men. Composed in the wake of his collaboration with leading sexologist Havelock Ellis, ‘In the Key of Blue’ is a hybrid poetic and philosophical meditation on the clothes worn by Venetian gondoliers. This talk explores Symonds's use of colour as a foil for homosexual identity, focusing in particular on the aesthetics and ethics of his depictions of Italian working-class men.

Stefano Evangelista is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Oxford University and Fellow of Trinity College. His research focuses on nineteenth-century English and comparative literature, the reception of the classics, and the relationship between literary and visual cultures. He is the author of British Aestheticism and Ancient Greece: Hellenism, Reception, Gods in Exile (2009) and the editor of volumes on, among others, Walter Pater, the European reception of Oscar Wilde, literature and sculpture at the fin de siècle, and Decadence and translation. His second monograph, Literary Cosmopolitanism in the English Fin de Siècle, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021. Together with Clément Dessy and Patrick McGuinness, Stefano is currently heading a research collaboration between Oxford and the Université Libre de Bruxelles on ‘Symbolism as World Literature’. From this academic year till 2026, he will be an Einstein Visiting Fellow at the Humboldt University (Berlin), where he directs a project entitled ‘The Boundaries of Cosmopolis’.

All are welcome to attend this free seminar which will be held online via Zoom, starting at 5pm BST (UK time). Please register to receive the zoom link, by clicking Book Now at the top of this page.

In this online seminar series for ILCS's Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing, we will venture to explore queerness and its affordances for counterhegemonic critique and resistance within the cultural framework of two countries of the European South, Italy and Greece. Given that the European South has been constructed as a space of gendered, sexualised, racialised, and economic subalternity, the cycle of seminars we suggest endeavours to revisit these epistemologies which fashion and manage subjects and entire populations. More specifically, Italy and Greece have been selected as case studies because of the steady rise of extreme neoliberalism and the far-right in both countries. For us, the intersection of queerness and the European South opens up possibilities to seize and reconfigure key concepts of these (homo)nationalist, capitalist, and patriarchal political agendas: family, trans*ition, antiquity, and crises. At a time when femininity and queerness are subjected to specific processes of construction, control, and annihilation, we aim at an interdisciplinary approach which will result in a toolkit of alternative knowledges and praxes. Instead of a hotbed of intense biopolitical (and necropolitical) management, we envision the queer European South as a positionality for worldmaking critique and solidary community building. Each of these four weekly seminars takes its cue from an assortment of keywords which provide the different strands for discussion. After hearing from our invited speakers, a conversation between the panellists and the public will follow.

The seminar series is conceived and co-curated by Alice Parrinello and Billie Mitsikakos (University of Oxford, co-convenors of Queer Intersections Oxford).


30 April

Massimo Prearo (University of Verona), ‘Anti-Gender Mobilizations, Religion and Politics in Italy’
Dimitris Papanikolaou (University of Oxford), ‘Oxymoronic Family. On the National Production of Double-Binds’

7 May
(De)Colonise Antiquity/Archaeopolitics/Homosexuality

Dimitris Plantzos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), ‘We Have Never Been Queer: Ancient Sexualities and Present Archaeosocialities as a Way (Not) to Define the Modern Greek Self’

John Champagne (Pennsylvania State University), ‘The Italian Vice, Rethinking the Role of Italy in the Invention of Modern Male Homosexuality’
Stefano Evangelista (University of Oxford), ‘Blue Love: John Addington Symonds in Venice’

14 May

Alberica Bazzoni (Università per Stranieri di Siena), ‘Undoing Italy with Ferrante, Sapienza, Scego, and Lahiri: Transnational Approaches to Contemporary Literature in Italian’
Mariza Avgeri (Open University), ‘Towards a Decolonizing Framework for Centering the Experiences of Trans and Queer Migrants and Refugees’

21 May
Crises/Critique/Grammars of Resistance

Maria Boletsi (University of Amsterdam / Leiden University), ‘Grammar and/as Infrastructure: Revisiting the Politics of the Middle Voice in “Post-Crisis” Greece’
Vera Gheno (Università degli Studi di Firenze, ‘“Is There a Problem with Italian? ”: The Challenges of a Binary Language Facing a Fluid Reality’

Image: The artwork at the top of the page is courtesy of Martina Martonsky. Martina Martonsky is an Italian artist currently based in the Netherlands. Through illustrations, mini comics and short animations, she explores the connection between femininity, animality and monstrosity, subverting the patriarchal Western canons of beauty. See: