Pyrrhic loss: battle of sexes necessary for achieving gender equality

Pyrrhic Dance

Pyrrhic (weapon) dances in the ancient Greco-Roman world depicted gender equality in fighting. Yet men fought and died in actual inter-society battles in vastly disproportionate numbers. Women rationalized not fighting outside the home in a variety of ways.[1] In short, gender equality in Pyrrhic dance wasn’t actually about equally shouldering the burdens of fighting foreign enemies.

Gender equality in Pyrrhic dance is best understood as a domestic political ideal. Pyrrhic dance was explicitly associated with the battle of the sexes and gender equality. Yes-dearism destroys societies. The point of ancient Pyrrhic dance was to encourage men to fight with women domestically. Men must be willing to battle with women to constrain gynocentric tyranny.

Archaic Greek Pyrrhic dance seems to have been associated with elite men warriors. Under the social power of feminization, Pyrrhic dance changed. A wise old man in fifth-century BGC Athens complained:

I get so angry when I see young men, dancing the martial dances {Pyrrhic dances} at the Panathenea festivals, and instead of raising their shield high above their naked bodies and swinging it vigorously about, they just hold it down low, in front of their dick!  No respect at all for our thrice-born goddess, Athena! [2]

Women were incorporated into the dances for cultural boasting. Xenophon reported:

After they had made libations and sung the paean, two Thracians rose up first and began a dance in full armour to the music of a flute, leaping high and lightly and using their sabres. One finally struck the other, as everybody thought, and the second man fell, in a rather skilful way. The Paphlagonians set up a cry. Then the first man despoiled the other of his arms and marched out singing the Sitalcas. Other Thracians carried off the fallen dancer, as though he were dead. In fact, he had not been hurt at all. After this, some Aenianians and Magnesians arose and danced under arms the so-called carpaea. … Then a Mysian came in carrying a light shield in each hand. At one moment in his dance he would go through a pantomime as though two men were arrayed against him. He would use his shields as though against one antagonist, and again he would whirl and throw somersaults while holding the shields in his hands. The spectacle was a fine one. Lastly, he danced the Persian dance, clashing his shields together and crouching down and then rising up again.  All this he did, keeping time to the music of the flute. After him the Mantineans and some of the other Arcadians arose, arrayed in the finest arms and accoutrements they could command. They marched in time to the accompaniment of a flute playing the martial rhythm. They sang the paean and danced, just as the Arcadians do in their festal processions in honour of the gods. And the Paphlagonians, as they looked on, thought it most strange that all the dances were under arms. Thereupon the Mysian, seeing how astounded they were, persuaded one of the Arcadians who had a dancing girl to let him bring her in, after dressing her up in the finest way he could and giving her a light shield. She danced the Pyrrhic with grace. Then there was great applause, and the Paphlagonians asked whether women also fought by their side. The Greeks replied that these women were precisely the ones who put the King to flight from his camp. [3]

In fourth-century BGC Athens, Plato’s imagined ideal laws required boys and girls to be taught equally Pyrrhic dance. About six hundred years later, Apuleius, with his keen sense for the absurdity of everyday sexism, described girls and boys dancing together the Pyrrhic dance for a large public festival.[4]

A poem fortunately preserved in the Anthologia Latina shows Pyrrhic dance’s relation to gender equality. It depicts the battle of the sexes that brings peace and gender equality through the potent functioning of a soothing instrument:

On a Pyrrhic dance

In the precinct of Venus are simulated the battles of Mars,
when the two sexes come against each other.
The Pyrrhic dance pitches the female group against the males
and it moves like a soldier in the conduct of arms,
although the weapons aren’t tipped with stiff steel,
but being made of boxwood only give off sound.
Thus do they alternately aim javelins and protect themselves with shields.
No man or woman is hurt in their coming together.
The play has fighting, but the contests bring peace,
because the soothing instrument commands them to retire as equals.

{De pyrrhica

In spatio Veneris simulantur proelia Martis,
cum sese adversum sexus uterque venit.
Femineam maribus nam confert pyrrhica classem
et velut in morem militis arma movet,
quae tamen haut ullo chalybis sunt tecta rigore,
sed solum reddunt buxea tela sonum.
Sic alterna petunt iaculis clipeisque teguntur.
Nec sibi congressu vir nocet an mulier.
Lusus habet pugnam, sed dant certamina pacem,
nam remeare iubent organa blanda pares.} [5]

Not depicting masculine sexuality as distinctively violent, the male and female dancers alternate javelin thrusts and shielding. The battle of the sexes, when conducted appropriately, hurts neither men nor women. It brings about peace and gender equality.[6]

With modern intensification of gynocentric dominance, many men are afraid to confront women. They refuse to engage in the battle of the sexes. The resulting gender rout further intensifies gynocentrism. Loss of Pyrrhic dance is extraordinarily damaging to society.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The ancient Greco-Roman world didn’t achieve modern ideals of gender equality. Sexuality in ancient Athens was regulated with a harsh gender double standard. Ancient Rome was founded with an express commitment to gender subordination. Nonetheless, across all social classes and all ordinary activities, life in the ancient Greco-Roman world was probably more gender equal than life today in high-income Western countries professing gender equality. Life for most persons in the pre-modern world — men and women — was nasty, brutish, and short.

Within the context of the Trojan War’s brutal violence against men, Euripides, Andromache ll. 1129-41, describes Neoptolemus’s Pyrrhic dance in response to actual, vicious violence against him. For analysis, Cairns (2012).

[2] Aristophanes, Clouds 988-9 (first produced in Athens in 423 BGC), from Greek trans. George Theodoridis (2007). An alternate translation:

It sends me into a fury when I see one of them dance Pallas Athena’s martial dance steps {Pyrrhic dance} screening his butt with a shield, quite ignoring Athena.

Roche (2005) p. 177. The context is clearly homoeroticism:

When a boy oiled himself, he’d never rub his body below his navel and so his balls would glisten with a soft, cool dew, much like the skin of a quince. And when he went for walks with his lovers he wouldn’t make his voice all soft and sleazy or drop his glances coyly at other boys like a pimp.

See ll. 980-4, trans. Theodoridis. On the history of Pyrrhic dance in classical Athens, Spaltro (2011) Ch. 2.

[3] Xenophon, Anabasis (Ascent) 6.1.5-13, from Greek trans. Carleton L. Brownson for the Loeb Classical Library (1922). In the Epic Cycle, Neoptolemos, whose natal name was Pyrrhos, was the first Greek to leap from the Trojan horse. Neoptolemos slayed the Trojan King Priam.

[4] Plato, Laws 7.796c5-10; 12.942d3-5. Women between the age of marriage and age forty apparently were excluded from military service. On gender equality in in Pyrrhic dance in Plato’s Laws, Spaltro (2011) pp. 94-7. For Pyrrhic dance in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, see id. 10.29.4. Metamorphoses is thought to have been written in the late second century GC.

[5] Anthologia Latina 104 (R115), Latin text from Kay (2006) p. 45, my translation, with help from id. p. 151. This epigram follows four other epigrams on performing arts: 100 (pantomime), 101 (funambulist (tight-rope walker)), 102 (citharode (singer accompanying a stringed instrument)), and 103 (lyrist). The poetic context is thus realistic. Processing in the underworld, Aeneas’s son Silvius leans on a “tipless spear of honor” (hasta pura). Aeneid 6.760. The spear cited above may have been similar.

[6] A sarcophagus discovered near Troy in 1994 and dating to about 500 BGC suggests the domestic, inter-sexual significance of the Pyrrhic dance. The sarcophagus has been tendentiously mis-interpreted to satisfy dominant gynocentric interests. For insightful analysis, Neer (2012).

[image] Pyrrhic dance. Neo-attican relief from about 100-50 BGC, modeled after relief from 350-300 BGC. Held in Museo Pio-Clementino (Vatican City)‎, Sala delle Muse. Thanks to Sailko and Wikimedia Commons.


Cairns, Francis. 2012. “Pyrrhic dancing and politics in Euripides’ Andromache.” Quaderni Urbinati Di Cultura Classica. 129: 31-47.

Kay, N. M. 2006. Epigrams from the Anthologia Latina: text, translation and commentary. London: Duckworth.

Neer, Richard. 2012. “‘A tomb both great and blameless’: Marriage and murder on a sarcophagus from the Hellespont.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 61/62: 98-115.

Roche, Paul, trans. 2005. Aristophanes. The complete plays. New York, N.Y.: New American Library.

Spaltro, Frances L. 2011. Why should I dance for Athena? Pyrrhic dance and the choral world of Plato’s Laws. Ph. D. University of Chicago, Division of the Humanities, Department of Classical Languages and Literatures.

One thought on “Pyrrhic loss: battle of sexes necessary for achieving gender equality”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *