***Introduction by David M. Halperin of the University of Michigan***
(W. H. Auden Distinguished University Professor of the
History and Theory of Sexuality)
The history of homosexuality has been increasingly considered, but most books on ancient homoeroticism have been focused on male desire. Sandra Boehringer's book is the first synthesis on female homosexuality covering this period. It does so taking into account the norms of the day and drawing on the existing written material of the period.
In the ancient world, the differentiation between "homosexual" and "heterosexual" was not as tightly drawn as today. Divergent concepts of male sexuality were considered anachronistic and thus seldom written about. Sexual relations between women, on the other hand, were taken note of and specifically characterized in literature.
Too often today, ancient female homosexuals are still described in terms of the "amazon," of the debauched woman, or of a mythical, ethereal Sapphic love. Boehringer, in this scholarly book, shows how these clichés are in error. She raises, with precision and rigor, issues of female homosexuality relating to the prevailing norms, eroticism, desires, and constraints. Her work is based on the analysis of both iconographic and literary documents including the lyric poetry of antiquity, works by Sappho, Plato, and Aristotle. The author paints a portrait of an ancient society in which female homosexuality seems both natural and otherworldly.