men dancing for war and pleasure in ancient Greek poetry

Ancient Greek poetry associated men’s physical vitality in dancing with pleasures of love, banqueting, singing, and bodily comfort such as warm baths and clean clothes. Men’s physical vitality, however, also implies men’s instrumental value in violence against men. In ancient Greek poetry, men dancing to express and provide pleasure shows a communal alternative to valuing men as warriors. Men dancing for pleasure indicates men valued intrinsically as human beings.

War — institutionalized violence against men — was a primary ancient context for men dancing. A reference to the war dance of Ares occurs in the Iliad, composed about 2700 years ago. In response to the Greek hero Ajax’s taunts on the battlefield of the horrific Trojan War, the Trojan hero Hector warned Ajax:

Well I myself know how to fight and kill men in battle.
I know well how to turn to the right, how to turn to the left the ox-hide
seasoned into a sturdy shield for me to wield in the fight.
I know how to charge into clamorous, clashing chariots led by plunging horses.
I know in close fight how to tread the measure of the furious war god Ares.

{ αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν εὖ οἶδα μάχας τ᾽ ἀνδροκτασίας τε:
οἶδ᾽ ἐπὶ δεξιά, οἶδ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ νωμῆσαι βῶν
ἀζαλέην, τό μοι ἔστι ταλαύρινον πολεμίζειν:
οἶδα δ᾽ ἐπαΐξαι μόθον ἵππων ὠκειάων:
οἶδα δ᾽ ἐνὶ σταδίῃ δηΐῳ μέλπεσθαι Ἄρηϊ. }[1]

After describing generally what might be called dancing in battle, Hector explicitly referred to a war dance of Ares. Ancient warfare required from men agility like that in dancing. In response to the Greek warrior Meriones ducking under Aeneas’s flying spear, Aeneas taunted him:

Meriones, although you’re also a dancer,
my spear would have made you stop forever, if only I could have hit you.

{ Μηριόνη τάχα κέν σε καὶ ὀρχηστήν περ ἐόντα
ἔγχος ἐμὸν κατέπαυσε διαμπερές, εἴ σ᾽ ἔβαλόν περ. }[2]

In taunting Meriones for being a dancer as well as a warrior, Aeneas shows how readily men could be disparaged for dancing.

relief depicting Athenian men dancing with shields and swords, probably Pyrrhic dance

Dancing has been a figure for ridiculing men’s bodily activity in war and sex. Writing about a millennium after the Iliad referred to the war dance of Ares, the eminent satirist Lucian of Samosata imagined the history of the Roman war dance:

Rightly we should not forget the Roman dance that the best born among Romans, those called Salii, the name of a priesthood, perform in honor of Ares, the most bellicose of the gods. It’s a dance that’s both very majestic and very sacred. Moreover, a Bithynian story not very different from those current in Italy tells that Priapus, a warlike deity, one of the Titans, I suppose, or one of the Idaean Dactyls who made a business of giving lessons in fencing, had Ares put into his charge by Hera. This occurred while Ares was still a boy, although he was hard-muscled and immoderately virile. Priapus didn’t teach Ares how to handle weapons until he had made him a perfect dancer. Indeed, Priapus even got a pension from Hera for this. He was assigned to receive from Ares in perpetuity a tenth of all the spoils that accrued to Ares through war.

{ δίκαιον μηδὲ τῆς Ῥωμαίων ὀρχήσεως ἀμνημονεῖν, ἣν οἱ εὐγενέστατοι αὐτῶν τῷ πολεμικωτάτῳ τῶν θεῶν Ἄρει, οἱ Σάλιοι καλούμενοι (ἱερωσύνης δὲ τοῦτο ὄνομα), ὀρχοῦνται, σεμνοτάτην τε ἅμα καὶ ἱερωτάτην. Βιθυνὸς δὲ μῦθος, καὶ οὗτος οὐ πάνυ τῶν Ἰταλιωτικῶν ἀλλότριος, φησὶν τὸν Πρίαπον δαίμονα πολεμιστήν, τῶν Τιτάνων οἶμαι ἕνα ἢ τῶν Ἰδαίων Δακτύλων τοῦτο ἔργον πεποιημένον, τὰ ἐνόπλια παιδεύειν, παραλαβόντα παρὰ τῆς Ἥρας τὸν Ἄρη, παῖδα μὲν ἔτι, σκληρὸν δὲ καὶ πέρα τοῦ μετρίου ἀνδρικόν, μὴ πρότερον ὁπλομαχεῖν διδάξαι πρὶν τέλειον ὀρχηστὴν ἀπειργάσατο. καὶ ἐπὶ τούτῳ καὶ μισθὸς αὐτῷ παρὰ τῆς Ἥρας ἐγένετο, δεκάτην ἀεὶ τῶν ἐκ πολέμου περιγιγνομένων τῷ Ἄρει παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ λαμβάνειν. }[3]

According to other ancient sources, Salii, chosen from among aristocratic Roman young men, processed around Rome every March. They sang and danced while dressed as archaic Roman warriors. Priapus, in contrast, was a crude, rustic, minor divinity who adorned personal gardens and came to represent disparagement of men’s sexuality. In associating the starkly status-contrasting Salii priests with Priapus in an utterly implausible myth, Lucian ridiculed men’s bodily activity in war and sex.

Both dancers and warriors tended to be regarded as not highly intelligent. In the Iliad, the Trojan military leader Polydamas was wise enough to advise the Trojans to return Helen to the Greeks. Polydamas chided his friend the eminent Trojan warrior Hector:

Just because the god granted that you excel in deeds of war,
you also wish to excel in counsel by knowing more than others.
But there’s no way you can get everything all to yourself.
The god Zeus grants that one man excel in deeds of war,
and another in dancing, and another in playing the lyre and singing.
And for yet another man, far-seeing Zeus places in his breast thought,
genuine thought, and many men benefit from such a man.
That man saves many of them, and he himself has the greatest powers of understanding.

{ οὕνεκά τοι περὶ δῶκε θεὸς πολεμήια ἔργα,
τοὔνεκα καὶ βουλῇ ἐθέλεις περιίδμεναι ἄλλων·
ἀλλ’ οὔ πως ἅμα πάντα δυνήσεαι αὐτὸς ἐλέσθαι.
ἄλλῳ μέν γὰρ δῶκε θεὸς πολεμήια ἔργα,
ἄλλῳ δ’ ὀρχηστύν, ἐτέρῳ κίθαριν καὶ ἀοιδήν,
ἄλλῳ δ’ ἐν στήθεσσι τιθεῖ νόον εὐρύοπα Ζεὺς
ἐσθλόν, τοῦ δέ τε πολλοὶ ἐπαυρίσκοντ’ ἄνθρωποι,
καί τε πολέας ἐσάωσε, μάλιστα δὲ καὐτὸς ἀνέγνω.
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ἐρέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα. }[4]

Polydamas regarded himself as thoughtful. He prudently advised that the Trojans pull back from a battle going badly for them. The fierce Hector, in contrast, wanted to keep fighting. Polydamas aligned the thoughtlessness of Hector the determined warrior with the thoughtlessness of dancers, musicians, and singers. Polydamas thus implicitly contrasted the bodily activity of warriors, dancers, musicians, and singers with activity of the mind.

For most men in archaic Greece, war was a desire contrasting with desires for pleasure. Menelaus complained to Zeus, the nominal chief god of the cosmos:

Of all things there is satiety — of sleep and sex
and sweet celebration and blameless dancing.
A man certainly hopes to have these desires sated, more so than
desire for war. The Trojans, however, continually seek battle.

{ πάντων μὲν κόρος ἐστὶ καὶ ὕπνου καὶ φιλότητος
μολπῆς τε γλυκερῆς καὶ ἀμύμονος ὀρχηθμοῖο,
τῶν πέρ τις καὶ μᾶλλον ἐέλδεται ἐξ ἔρον εἷναι
ἢ πολέμου· Τρῶες δὲ μάχης ἀκόρητοι ἔασιν }[5]

Ancient Greek men desired war as well as sleep, sex, celebrating, and dancing. War and dancing were communal activities with normal limits such as the bounds implicit in “blameless dancing {ἀμύμων ὀρχηθμός}.”[6] In contrast to other desired activities such as sex and dancing, a man would not hope to have so much war that he no longer desired war. No longer desiring war implies defeat, and perhaps even death. Menelaus blamed the Trojans for having unlimited desire for war. Trojan men sought war to their deaths. Put differently, Trojan men didn’t regard their lives as having intrinsic value.

For most men in archaic Greece, war wasn’t pleasurable like dancing. With Hector leading the Trojan forces in an attempt to burn the Argive ships, the Argive leader Ajax implored his men:

Shame, you Argives! Now decides whether
we perish or will be saved by beating back ruin from our ships.
Do you expect, if our ships fall to gleaming-helmeted Hector,
you each will go by foot to the land of your fathers?
Do you not hear the Trojan army urged on
by Hector, raging to set fire to our ships?
Surely he invites you not to a dance, but to battle!

{ αἰδὼς Ἀργεῖοι: νῦν ἄρκιον ἢ ἀπολέσθαι
ἠὲ σαωθῆναι καὶ ἀπώσασθαι κακὰ νηῶν.
ἦ ἔλπεσθ᾽ ἢν νῆας ἕλῃ κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ
ἐμβαδὸν ἵξεσθαι ἣν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἕκαστος;
ἦ οὐκ ὀτρύνοντος ἀκούετε λαὸν ἅπαντα
Ἕκτορος, ὃς δὴ νῆας ἐνιπρῆσαι μενεαίνει;
οὐ μὰν ἔς γε χορὸν κέλετ᾽ ἐλθέμεν, ἀλλὰ μάχεσθαι. }[7]

Battle entails risk of grievous suffering and death, but it wards off peril. Dancing, in contrast, involves no threat to life and implicitly brings forth pleasure. Hector’s gleaming helmet and the associated Greek foot movement ironically evoke men dancing pleasurably.[8] Apart from necessity, most men in ancient Greece evidently preferred pleasurable dance to battle.

In Phaeacia in the Odyssey, just as princess Nausicaa offers Odysseus an alternative to his wife Penelope, King Alcinous presents excellence in dancing as an alternative to glory in war and combative sports. Alcinous was willing to have his men take Odysseus home by sea, however far Odysseus’s home was. Alcinous bragged that his men had carried the wise demigod Rhadamanthys to the island Euboea, the farthest place they knew, in a single day “without toil {ἄτερ καμάτοιο}.” Alcinous then told Odysseus:

You too will know for yourself and understand that the best
in churning through the salty sea are my ships and my young men.

{ εἰδήσεις δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐνὶ φρεσὶν ὅσσον ἄρισται
νῆες ἐμαὶ καὶ κοῦροι ἀναρρίπτειν ἅλα πηδῷ. }[9]

Speed and endurance in rowing and sailing were important in naval voyages and naval battles. At the subsequent send-off banquet for Odysseus, Alcinous declared:

Hear me, Phaeacian leaders and counselors.
Already we’ve satisfied our hearts with the shared feast
and with the lyre, companion to a bounteous feast.
Now let’s go out and compete in all sorts of contests,
so that this stranger can tell his friends,
when he returns home, how far we surpass other men
in boxing, wrestling, jumping, and running.

{ κέκλυτε, Φαιήκων ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες.
ἤδη μὲν δαιτὸς κεκορήμεθα θυμὸν ἐίσης
φόρμιγγός θ᾽, ἣ δαιτὶ συνήορός ἐστι θαλείῃ:
νῦν δ᾽ ἐξέλθωμεν καὶ ἀέθλων πειρηθῶμεν
πάντων, ὥς χ᾽ ὁ ξεῖνος ἐνίσπῃ οἷσι φίλοισιν
οἴκαδε νοστήσας, ὅσσον περιγιγνόμεθ᾽ ἄλλων
πύξ τε παλαιμοσύνῃ τε καὶ ἅλμασιν ἠδὲ πόδεσσιν. }

Boxing and wrestling are fighting arts. Jumping and running are activities of men in war. The Phaeacians engaged in such martial contests at the send-off banquet for Odysseus.

Odysseus prompted Alcinous to redirect his claim about Phaeacian excellence. Alcinous’s son, the boxing champion Laodama, urged Odysseus to participate in the contests. Odysseus at first declined, mentioning the hard struggles he had already endured. The wrestling champion Halius, who was another of Alcinous’s sons, then taunted Odysseus for being a merchant rather than a “combatant {ἀθλητήρ}.” Halius was ignorant of Odysseus’s long, arduous fighting in the Trojan War. His ignorant taunt nonetheless aroused Odysseus’s fighting spirit. Odysseus told him:

You’ve aroused the spirit in my chest
by speaking improperly. I’m not unknowing of contests,
as you say. To the contrary, I think I used to be
among the best, as long as I trusted in my youthful vigor and my hands.
But now I’m bound by suffering and pains, for I’ve endured much,
slicing through wars among men and grievous waves.
Even so, though I’ve suffered much, I’ll compete in the contests,
for your words bite at my heart. You’ve incited me with your speech.

{ ὤρινάς μοι θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισιν
εἰπὼν οὐ κατὰ κόσμον. ἐγὼ δ᾽ οὐ νῆις ἀέθλων,
ὡς σύ γε μυθεῖαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πρώτοισιν ὀίω
ἔμμεναι, ὄφρ᾽ ἥβῃ τε πεποίθεα χερσί τ᾽ ἐμῇσι.
νῦν δ᾽ ἔχομαι κακότητι καὶ ἄλγεσι: πολλὰ γὰρ ἔτλην
ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων.
ἀλλὰ καὶ ὥς, κακὰ πολλὰ παθών, πειρήσομ᾽ ἀέθλων:
θυμοδακὴς γὰρ μῦθος, ἐπώτρυνας δέ με εἰπών. }[10]

The contests, though games, were struggles like war. Odysseus picked up a discus and threw it much farther than any Phaeacian had. He then challenged any Phaeacian man to a contest “in boxing, wrestling, or even running {ἢ πὺξ ἠὲ πάλῃ ἢ καὶ ποσίν}”:

Indeed, I’m not bad in all — in any contests among men.
I know well how to handle a polished bow.
Always I’d be first to shoot and strike a man
in the throng of enemy men, even though many comrades
stood close by and were shooting at the men.
Philoctetes alone surpassed me with the bow
in the Trojan kingdom where we Achaeans fought.
I declare that I’m the best by far of all the others,
of the mortals who now live on earth and eat bread.

{ πάντα γὰρ οὐ κακός εἰμι, μετ᾽ ἀνδράσιν ὅσσοι ἄεθλοι:
εὖ μὲν τόξον οἶδα ἐύξοον ἀμφαφάασθαι:
πρῶτός κ᾽ ἄνδρα βάλοιμι ὀιστεύσας ἐν ὁμίλῳ
ἀνδρῶν δυσμενέων, εἰ καὶ μάλα πολλοὶ ἑταῖροι
ἄγχι παρασταῖεν καὶ τοξαζοίατο φωτῶν.
οἶος δή με Φιλοκτήτης ἀπεκαίνυτο τόξῳ
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ὅτε τοξαζοίμεθ᾽ Ἀχαιοί.
τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων ἐμέ φημι πολὺ προφερέστερον εἶναι,
ὅσσοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπὶ χθονὶ σῖτον ἔδοντες. }

Odysseus convincingly established his identity as an eminent warrior. He had the physical skills that an eminent warrior needed. He also showed his combative, courageous spirit.

King Alcinous quickly pivoted to boasting of the Phaeacians’ skills in dancing and singing. He tempered his previous claim about the Phaeacians fighting skills and instead indicated their love for pleasurable activities:

Indeed, we’re not flawless boxers or wrestlers,
but we run swiftly by foot and are the best seamen.
Always beloved to us are dinner, the lyre, and dances,
fresh clothes, hot baths, and beds.
But come, you who are the best Phaeacian dancers,
beat upon the floor, so the stranger can tell his loved ones
upon his return home how much we surpass others
in sailing, running, dancing, and singing.

{ οὐ γὰρ πυγμάχοι εἰμὲν ἀμύμονες οὐδὲ παλαισταί,
ἀλλὰ ποσὶ κραιπνῶς θέομεν καὶ νηυσὶν ἄριστοι,
αἰεὶ δ᾽ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη κίθαρις τε χοροί τε
εἵματά τ᾽ ἐξημοιβὰ λοετρά τε θερμὰ καὶ εὐναί.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε, Φαιήκων βητάρμονες ὅσσοι ἄριστοι,
παίσατε, ὥς χ᾽ ὁ ξεῖνος ἐνίσπῃ οἷσι φίλοισιν
οἴκαδε νοστήσας, ὅσσον περιγιγνόμεθ᾽ ἄλλων
ναυτιλίῃ καὶ ποσσὶ καὶ ὀρχηστυῖ καὶ ἀοιδῇ. }[11]

Sailing and running, which are less aggressively martial than boxing and wrestling, matter less than dancing and singing in King Alcinous’s new boast. The context of Alcinous’s appeal is pleasurable activities. Rather than beating upon other men, Phaeacian men excel in beating upon the dance floor:

The herald came near, bringing the clear-toned lyre
to Demodocus, who then went into their midst. Around him
stood men in youth’s prime, deities experienced in dancing.
They beat the divinely inspired dance with their feet. Odysseus
beheld with wonder the gleaming of their feet and marveled in his heart.

{ κῆρυξ δ᾽ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων φόρμιγγα λίγειαν
Δημοδόκῳ: ὁ δ᾽ ἔπειτα κί᾽ ἐς μέσον: ἀμφὶ δὲ κοῦροι
πρωθῆβαι ἵσταντο, δαήμονες ὀρχηθμοῖο,
πέπληγον δὲ χορὸν θεῖον ποσίν. αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
μαρμαρυγὰς θηεῖτο ποδῶν, θαύμαζε δὲ θυμῷ. }[12]

Odysseus didn’t respond with competitive self-assertion to this display. With a receptive heart, he appreciated the dancing of these beautiful men — “men in youth’s prime {κοῦροι πρωθῆβαι}.” Demodocus subsequently sang about the love of Ares and Aphrodite.[13] Odysseus similarly relished the singer’s performance. Then came more dancing:

Alcinous urged Halius and Laodamas
to dance individually, since no one could rival them.
They took into their hands a beautiful ball,
glittering purple, which skilled Polybus had made for them.
One of them, bending far backwards, would throw it
toward the shadowy clouds, and leaping high above the earth, the other
would easily catch it before his feet returned to the ground.
After they had tried it with the ball straight upwards,
they danced upon the earth that feeds many,
interchanging positions rapidly as other young men standing
throughout the contest place beat time. A great clamor arose.

{ Ἀλκίνοος δ᾽ Ἅλιον καὶ Λαοδάμαντα κέλευσεν
μουνὰξ ὀρχήσασθαι, ἐπεί σφισιν οὔ τις ἔριζεν.
οἱ δ᾽ ἐπεὶ οὖν σφαῖραν καλὴν μετὰ χερσὶν ἕλοντο,
πορφυρέην, τήν σφιν Πόλυβος ποίησε δαΐφρων,
τὴν ἕτερος ῥίπτασκε ποτὶ νέφεα σκιόεντα
ἰδνωθεὶς ὀπίσω, ὁ δ᾽ ἀπὸ χθονὸς ὑψόσ᾽ ἀερθεὶς
ῥηιδίως μεθέλεσκε, πάρος ποσὶν οὖδας ἱκέσθαι.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ σφαίρῃ ἀν᾽ ἰθὺν πειρήσαντο,
ὠρχείσθην δὴ ἔπειτα ποτὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ
ταρφέ᾽ ἀμειβομένω: κοῦροι δ᾽ ἐπελήκεον ἄλλοι
ἑστεῶτες κατ᾽ ἀγῶνα, πολὺς δ᾽ ὑπὸ κόμπος ὀρώρει. }

This dance occurred in the contest arena and involved the champion wrestler Halius and the champion boxer Laodamas. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a contest, but a performance. Despite being a boxer, Laodamas was the most beautiful of the Phaeacian men.[14] Odysseus again responded with wondrous appreciation:

Godlike Odysseus indeed called out to Alcinous,
“Your majesty Alcinous, most exalted above all men,
you boasted that your dancers are the best,
and now your words have been fulfilled. Wonder holds me as I watch them.”

{ δὴ τότ᾽ ἄρ᾽ Ἀλκίνοον προσεφώνεε δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς:
‘Ἀλκίνοε κρεῖον, πάντων ἀριδείκετε λαῶν,
ἠμὲν ἀπείλησας βητάρμονας εἶναι ἀρίστους,
ἠδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἑτοῖμα τέτυκτο: σέβας μ᾽ ἔχει εἰσορόωντα. }

In the ancient Greek world, violence against men was socially constructed as a means for men to gain approbation — “glory {κλέος}.” Men couldn’t become heroes on the dance floor. However, the warrior-hero Odysseus in Phaeacia recognized a different form of manly excellence. In dancing, men could create amazed appreciation for their bodies in exquisite motion. These men weren’t serving some instrumental need. They were amazing in themselves, amazing in their very being. Like Socrates’s “city of sows {ὑῶν πόλις},” Phaeacia with its amazing men-dancers and its lovely, courageous princess Nausicaa offered an alternative to glorifying violence against men.[15]

In the Iliad, the shield of Achilles tells the tale of two cities. Appreciating men dancing comes first in characterizing the first city:

In one of the cities were weddings and feasts.
With blazing torches brides were led from their chambers
throughout the city, and much wedding song arose.
Young men were whirling in dance. Among them
sounded flutes and lyres. The women
standing, each on her own threshold, marveled at them.

{ ἐν τῇ μέν ῥα γάμοι τ᾽ ἔσαν εἰλαπίναι τε,
νύμφας δ᾽ ἐκ θαλάμων δαΐδων ὕπο λαμπομενάων
ἠγίνεον ἀνὰ ἄστυ, πολὺς δ᾽ ὑμέναιος ὀρώρει·
κοῦροι δ᾽ ὀρχηστῆρες ἐδίνεον, ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα τοῖσιν
αὐλοὶ φόρμιγγές τε βοὴν ἔχον· αἳ δὲ γυναῖκες
ἱστάμεναι θαύμαζον ἐπὶ προθύροισιν ἑκάστη. }[16]

Persons in this city resolved their disputes with words spoken before wise judges. The other city, besieged like Troy, was the site of horrific violence against men:

That city’s army set their battle array beside the riverbanks and fought.
The two armies were striking one another with bronze-tipped spears.
Strife and Tumult entered among them, and destructive Fate, too.
It grasped one living man with a new wound and another one
unhurt, and it dragged a dead man by his feet through the carnage.
The clothing upon Fate’s shoulders was red with men’s blood.
Strife, Tumult, and Fate clashed like living men and fought with each other,
and dragged away corpses of men that others had killed.

{ στησάμενοι δ᾽ ἐμάχοντο μάχην ποταμοῖο παρ᾽ ὄχθας,
βάλλον δ᾽ ἀλλήλους χαλκήρεσιν ἐγχείῃσιν.
ἐν δ᾽ Ἔρις ἐν δὲ Κυδοιμὸς ὁμίλεον, ἐν δ᾽ ὀλοὴ Κήρ,
ἄλλον ζωὸν ἔχουσα νεούτατον, ἄλλον ἄουτον,
ἄλλον τεθνηῶτα κατὰ μόθον ἕλκε ποδοῖιν:
εἷμα δ᾽ ἔχ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ ὤμοισι δαφοινεὸν αἵματι φωτῶν.
ὡμίλευν δ᾽ ὥς τε ζωοὶ βροτοὶ ἠδ᾽ ἐμάχοντο,
νεκρούς τ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἔρυον κατατεθνηῶτας. }

In one city was the best of times; in the other city, the worst of times. Appreciating men intrinsically in dance or instrumentally in war represent ancient alternatives in valuing men.

The problem of men dancing has been socially constructed in women-dominated culture as a concern about effeminacy or unmanliness. In the second century, Lucian of Samosata satirized such concern in a sophisticated dialogue. The dialogue’s primary character, the rhetorician Lycinus, responds to his counterpart Crato’s indictment against “dance and all pertaining to dance itself {ὄρχησις τε καὶ αὐτός ὀρχηστικός}.” According to Crato, dance is “vulgar and effeminate {φαῦλος καὶ γυναικεῖος}.” Crato declares:

Lycinus, anyone who is a man at all, moreover a life-long friend of letters and moderately conversant with philosophy — can he abandon his interest in all that is better and his association with the ancients to sit enthralled by the flute while watching a womanly man in soft clothing, a man making himself delicate in singing licentious songs and imitating love-sick little women? … May I never reach a mature age if I ever endure anything of that kind, as long as my legs are hairy and my beard unplucked!

{ ἀνὴρ δὲ τίς ὢν ὅλως, καὶ ταῦτα παιδείᾳ σύντροφος καὶ φιλοσοφίᾳ τὰ μέτρια ὡμιληκώς, ἀφέμενος, ὦ Λυκῖνε, τοῦ περὶ τὰ βελτίω σπουδάζειν καὶ τοῖς παλαιοῖς συνεῖναι κάθηται καταυλούμενος, θηλυδρίαν ἄνθρωπον ὁρῶν ἐσθῆσι μαλακαῖς καὶ ᾁσμασιν ἀκολάστοις ἐναβρυνόμενον καὶ μιμούμενον ἐρωτικὰ γύναια … Μὴ ὥρας ἄρα ἱκοίμην, εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἀνασχοίμην ποτέ, ἔστ᾿ ἂν δασύς τε εἴην τὰ σκέλη καὶ τὸ γένειον ἀπαράτιλτος. }[17]

That’s a humorous caricature of the ancient Greek social construction of masculinity: men honor reason and historical learning, have hard muscles, endure rough clothing, and are unemotional and hairy. Young men dancing lack such a self-presentation.

Men dancing pleasurably implicates a more fundamental aspect of the social construction of masculinity. Crato condemns dance audiences for “crying out very shameful praises to a noxious man bending himself downward for nothing necessary {ἐπαίνους ἀπρεπεστάτους ἐπιβοῶντα ὀλέθρῳ τινὶ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐς οὐδὲν δέον κατακλωμένῳ}.” Crato regards men’s bodily movement as worthy only if instrumental. Moreover, Crato understands men’s instrumental use of their bodies to be obligatory. Lycinus, in contrast, declares:

It’s so much more delightful to see young men dancing than to see them boxing, awash with blood, or wrestling in the dust. Indeed, dance often presents young men in a way less risky to them and also more shapely and pleasurable.

{ πόσῳ γὰρ τοῦτο ὁρᾶν ἥδιον ἢ πυκτεύοντας νεανίσκους καὶ αἵματι ῥεομένους, καὶ παλαίοντας ἄλλους ἐν κόνει, οὓς ἡ ὄρχησις πολλάκις ἀσφαλέστερον ἅμα καὶ εὐμορφότερον καὶ τερπνότερον ἐπιδείκνυται. }

Risks to men’s welfare should matter, because men’s lives matter, and men are beautiful. Men dancing for pleasure transgresses and disrupts the oppressive social construction of men’s gender. Crato, and gynocentrism more generally, cannot accept men as human beings with intrinsic value.

Beyond classical philology’s deeply entrenched penis problem, classicists have utterly misconstrued men’s gender position. The cultural problem within this modern ideological echo chamber is men being like women:

dance has been associated with decadent pleasure-seeking, unmanliness, and the arousal of sexual desire from its very first appearances in Western cultural history. … The thoroughgoing liberation of men, and women, from the effeminate associations of dance would need the overhaul of those constitutive constructions of gender (and the power structures underpinning them) which happen to have been dominant not only for the last two centuries but since the earliest stages in the making of the Western cultural tradition.[18]

Men’s sexual desire has been historically more strictly regulated than women‘s, and men have been more harshly punished for adultery. Men still lack reproductive freedom. Men encroaching on women’s privileged position in relation to pleasure and sexual desire are morally disparaged as “effeminate.” Such men should instead be celebrated as gender freedom fighters.

Mother goddess Cybele and consort Attis riding in a quadriga pulled by four lions, with three Corybantes in a war dance

The gender trouble with men dancing centers on institutionalized violence against men. In the Iliad, the shield of the preeminent warrior Achilles depicts men and women dancing on a dance floor like that in the grand, archaic court at Minoan Knossos:

And the very famous, bent-limbed one embellished it with
a dance floor, like that which once in wide Knossos
Daedalus built for lovely haired Ariadne.
Young men were dancing on it, and young women, sought
with gifts of oxen. They were holding each other’s hands at the wrists.
The young women wore light linen robes, and the men, tunics
fine-spun and shining softly with olive oil.
The young women had beautiful crowns, and the young men,
short golden swords that hung from silver baldrics.
At times they would run very smoothly on their skilled feet,
as when a potter, crouching, tries his wheel, holding
it close in his hands, to see if it will run straight. At other
times they ran in rows moving toward each other.
And around the lovely chorus stood a great multitude,
delighting in it. Among them, two tumblers,
leading the song and dance, whirled in the middle.

{ ἐν δὲ χορὸν ποίκιλλε περικλυτὸς ἀμφιγυήεις,
τῷ ἴκελον οἷόν ποτ᾽ ἐνὶ Κνωσῷ εὐρείῃ
Δαίδαλος ἤσκησεν καλλιπλοκάμῳ Ἀριάδνῃ.
ἔνθα μὲν ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι ἀλφεσίβοιαι
ὀρχεῦντ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἐπὶ καρπῷ χεῖρας ἔχοντες.
τῶν δ᾽ αἳ μὲν λεπτὰς ὀθόνας ἔχον, οἳ δὲ χιτῶνας
εἵατ᾽ ἐϋννήτους, ἦκα στίλβοντας ἐλαίῳ:
καί ῥ᾽ αἳ μὲν καλὰς στεφάνας ἔχον, οἳ δὲ μαχαίρας
εἶχον χρυσείας ἐξ ἀργυρέων τελαμώνων.
οἳ δ᾽ ὁτὲ μὲν θρέξασκον ἐπισταμένοισι πόδεσσι
ῥεῖα μάλ᾽, ὡς ὅτε τις τροχὸν ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσιν
ἑζόμενος κεραμεὺς πειρήσεται, αἴ κε θέῃσιν:
ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖ θρέξασκον ἐπὶ στίχας ἀλλήλοισι.
πολλὸς δ᾽ ἱμερόεντα χορὸν περιίσταθ᾽ ὅμιλος
τερπόμενοι· δοιὼ δὲ κυβιστητῆρε κατ᾿ αὐτοὺς
μολπῆς ἐξάρχοντες ἐδίνευον κατὰ μέσσους. }[19]

This scene depicts the ancient past relative to the Iliad, which itself was composed about 2700 years ago. The god Hephaestus, a blacksmith, made this scene and the whole shield of Achilles. He is called the “very famous, bent-limbed one {περικλυτὸς ἀμφιγυήεις}.” He was famous in part for being a cuckold: his wife Aphrodite repeatedly had sex with the war god Ares. Hephaestus being bent-limbed perhaps hints at one reason Aphrodite turned elsewhere for sex. As the ancients knew well, men’s impotence makes for epic disaster. Nonetheless, the classical circle of castration and cuckolding was deeply embedded in ancient Greek society, just as it is in many societies today.

The dance scene as Knossos shows the gender trouble in men dancing. The young women and young men are partners in dance. The women, however, have intrinsic value. They dance on a dance floor like the one that the man Daedalus built for the woman Ariadne. Moreover, to marry one of the women, a man must give oxen. A woman need not give oxen to marry a man. The women wear “crowns {στέφᾰνοι},” a term associated with a conqueror’s wreath, and more generally, a prize or laurel. The men, in contrast, carry “short swords {μάχαιραι}” — weapons associated with violence against men, and also figures brutalizing men’s penises. In short, the women are grand prizes, and the men are brutal tools of merely instrumental value. Onlookers delight in seeing both women and men dance. The men’s dancing, however, isn’t enough to overcome the gender oppression encoded in their attire and in how they are valued.

While men surely have expressed and created pleasure with their dancing throughout history, men dancing pleasurably contradicts men’s instrumental gender position. In ancient Greek cultures, choruses of non-professional men singing and dancing at festivals for gods and cities were a central aspect of communal life. Men and women undoubtedly took pleasure in men’s dancing at these and other occasions such as wedding and banquets.[20] At the same time, men dancing for pleasure tended to be disparaged as effeminate and licentious. That disparagement shows gender ideology seeking to preserve women’s gender privilege as intrinsically valued persons and buttress use of men as social tools for violence against men. Pleasure in men dancing, like the beauty of men’s bodies, cannot be socially acknowledged without undermining men’s instrumental gender position.

Men dancing for pleasure has revolutionary potential for gender. Associating war dances with men and dancing for pleasure with women separates men from pleasure. As fully human beings, men deserve to enjoy as much pleasure and sexual freedom as women do. The men-abasing ancient Latin love poetry of the influential Roman military leader Gallus united love with men’s risky, burdensome instrumental acts in military campaigns. Medieval Christians, in contrast, celebrated men’s intrinsic gifts: men’s seminal blessing and men’s divine association with sacrificial, passionate love. In our narrow-minded and benighted age, men should utterly disregard persons disparaging men dancing as effeminate and licentious. Men must insistently dance for joy!

Etruscan man and woman dancing from the Tomb of the Triclinium

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Homer, Iliad 7.237-43, ancient Greek text and my English translation, benefiting from those of Murray (1924), Lattimore (1951), and Johnston (2002). “There is nothing else like this in the whole of Homer, despite the typical nature of the warrior’s boast as such.” Kirk (1978) p. 28. Subsequent quotes from the Iliad are similarly sourced.

In distinguishing war dances from peaceful dances, Plato described a Pyrrhic war dance like Hector’s dance for Ares:

The warlike dance division, being distinct from the peaceful, one may rightly call Pyrrhic. It represents modes of eluding all kinds of blows and shots by swerving and ducking and side-leaps upward or crouching. It also represents the opposite kinds of motion, which lead to active postures of offense, when it strives to represent the movements involved in shooting with bows or darts, and blows of every description.

{ τὴν πολεμικὴν δὴ τούτων, ἄλλην οὖσαν τῆς εἰρηνικῆς, πυῤῥίχην ἄν τις ὀρθῶς προσαγορεύοι, τάς τε εὐλαβείας πασῶν πληγῶν καὶ βολῶν ἐκνεύσεσι καὶ ὑπείξει πάσῃ καὶ ἐκπηδήσεσιν ἐν ὕψει καὶ ξὺν ταπεινώσει μιμουμένην, καὶ τὰς ταύταις ἐναντίας, τὰς ἐπὶ τὰ δραστικὰ φερομένας αὖ σχήματα ἔν τε ταῖς τῶν τόξων βολαῖς καὶ ἀκοντίων καὶ πασῶν πληγῶν μιμήματα ἐπιχειροῦσαν1 μιμεῖσθαι. }

Plato, Laws {Νόμοι} 815A (Book 7), ancient Greek Text and English translation (modified slightly) from Bury (1926). Subsequent quotes from Plato’s Laws are similarly sourced. On “Pyrrhic {πυρρίχιος / πυρρίχη}” dance, see Lucian of Samosata, About Dance {De Saltatione / Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως} 9, available in Harmon (1936), and Carvajal (2024).

[2] Iliad 16.617-8. Dancers and warriors in the early Roman Empire had similar physical training. Slater (1994) pp. 131-40.

[3] Lucian of Samosata, About Dance {De Saltatione / Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως} 21, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Harmon (1936). For an alternate English translation, Fowler & Fowler (1905). Costa (2005) regrettable doesn’t include Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως. Early in the twentieth century, some authorities doubted that Lucian composed this work. Robertson (1913) dispelled most doubts. Subsequent quotes from Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως are similarly sourced.

Harmon apparently interpreted this passage as literally descriptive and noted:

This Bithynian myth of Priapus is not recorded elsewhere, but as it is known that Priapus was held in high honour there, it may well be that he was associated with Ares and that armed dances played a part in the cult.

Harmon (1936) p. 235, note 1. Since Lucian is a satirical writer, how to interpret passages in his work might not be obvious. But it in this case, it seems to me clear that Lucian is engaged in outrageous satire.

Lucian seems to have been attempting to do what pantomime dancers themselves were unable to do: establish pantomime as a worthy art in the eyes of the intellectual elite. In the eastern Roman Empire of Lucian’s time, the intellectual elite mainly consisted of verbally sophisticated performers such as Lucian himself. Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως is a sophisticated verbal performance, not a factual account of pantomime dance. Lada-Richards (2007), Schlapbach (2008). The modern development of ballet into an elite art is a historical culmination of Lucian’s endeavor. On the incorporation of ancient pantomime into ballet in eighteenth-century England and France, Lada-Richards (2010a), and more generally, Macintosh’s Oxford bibliography and Toepfer (2019).

The most important ancient literary works concerning dance are Plato, Laws (composed around 367 BGC); Lucian, About Dance (composed mid-second century GC); Aelius Aristides, oration attacking pantomimes (composed mid-second century GC, now lost); and Libanius, Oration 64, Reply to Aristides on Behalf of the Dancers (composed about 361 GC). Aristides seems to have resented the inclusion of pantomime in Greek intellectual and athletic competitions. Bowersock ((2008). On pantomime competitions, Webb (2012). For a translation and study of Libanius’s oration on dance, Molloy (1996). For a massive study of pantomime throughout history, Toepfer (2019). On dancing in late antiquity, Webb (2008).

[4] Iliad 13.727-34. The ancient Greek grammarian and influential Homeric editor Aristarchus of Samothrace rejected Iliad 13.731, “and another in dancing, and another in playing the lyre and singing {ἄλλῳ δ’ ὀρχηστύν, ἐτέρῳ κίθαριν καὶ ἀοιδήν}” as spurious. This verse doesn’t occur in the best ancient manuscripts. Murray (1924) p. 56, note 27. Leaf and Bayfield’s late Victorian Iliad commentary described that verse as a “tasteless interpolation.” Hall (2010) p. 22. However, Lucian in Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως 23 quotes Iliad 13.730-1. For “to another man the lyre and singing {ἐτέρῳ κίθαριν καὶ ἀοιδήν},” Lucian substitutes “delightful song {ἱμερόεσσαν ἀοιδὴν}.” Cf. Odyssey 1.421.

The Iliad’s ancient Greek audience almost surely wouldn’t have regarded as inappropriate Polydamas’s inclusion of dancing and singing as gifts of the gods. Polydamas himself engaged in battle alongside Hector in the Trojan War. Bodily activity and mental activity aren’t necessarily exclusive.

[5] Iliad 13.636-9. In order to entrap and kill Penelope’s suitors, Odysseus in the Odyssey arranges his household as if Penelope is being married. Odyssey 23.142-8. That arrangement features similar pleasures subordinate to violence.

In Iliad 24.2621, the Trojan king Priam disparages some of his sons as being merely “dancers {ὀρχησταί}.” The Trojan prince Paris / Alexander is more extensively figured as a dancer. See, e.g. Iliad 3.390-4. Trojans thus could be both insatiable warriors and dancers. Cf. Hall (2010) p. 19, Ransom (2011) p. 47. The eminent ancient Greek poet Sappho appreciated men as dancers.

[6] Iliad 13.637. This phrase also occurs in Odyssey 23.145 in describing the action of a divine singer: “and he raised among them desire / for sweet song and blameless dancing {ἐν δέ σφισιν ἵμερον ὦρσε / μολπῆς τε γλυκερῆς καὶ ἀμύμονος ὀρχηθμοῖο}.”

Translations have blunted the moral distinction implicit in “blameless dancing {ἀμύμων ὀρχηθμός}.” For example, in Iliad 13.637, consider “incomparable dance” in Harmon (1936), “innocent dance” in Lattimore (1951), and “gorgeous dancing” in Johnston (2002); in Odyssey 23.145, “pleasant dance” in Murray (1919).

Writing in Attic Greek rather than epic Greek, Plato distinguished between “questionable dancing {ἀμφισβητέω ὄρχησις}” and “unquestionable / blameless dancing {ἀναμφισβητέω ὄρχησις}”:

So, in the first place, we must draw a line between questionable dancing and dancing that is above question. All the dancing that is of a Bacchic kind and cultivated by those who indulge in drunken imitations of Fans, Sileni and Satyrs (as they call them), when performing certain rites of expiation and initiation — all this class of dancing cannot easily be defined either as peaceful or warlike, or any one distinct kind. The most correct way of defining it seems to me to be this — to separate it off both from peaceful and warlike dancing, and to pronounce this kind of dancing to be improper for our citizens. Having thus disposed of it and dismissed it, we will now return to the warlike and peaceful types which do unquestionably belong to us.

{ Τὴν τοίνυν ἀμφισβητουμένην ὄρχησιν δεῖ πρῶτον χωρὶς τῆς ἀναμφισβητήτου διατεμεῖν. τίς οὖν αὕτη, καὶ πῇ δεῖ χωρὶς τέμνειν ἑκατέραν; ὅση μὲν βακχεία τ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ τῶν ταύταις ἑπομένων, αἷς [Νύμφας τε καὶ] Πᾶνας καὶ Σειληνοὺς καὶ Σατύρους [ἐπονομάζοντες], ὥς φασι, μιμοῦνται κατῳνωμένους, περικαθαρμούς τε καὶ τελετάς τινας ἀποτελούντων, ξύμπαν τοῦτο τῆς ὀρχήσεως τὸ γένος οὔθ᾿ ὡς εἰρηνικὸν οὔθ᾿ ὡς πολεμικὸν οὔθ᾿ ὅ τί ποτε βούλεται ῥᾴδιον ἀφορίσασθαι· διορίσασθαι μήν μοι ταύτῃ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ὀρθότατον αὐτὸ εἶναι, χωρὶς μὲν πολεμικοῦ, χωρὶς δὲ εἰρηνικοῦ θέντας εἰπεῖν ὡς οὐκ ἔστι πολιτικὸν τοῦτο τῆς ὀρχήσεως τὸ γένος, ἐνταῦθα δὲ κείμενον ἐάσαντα κεῖσθαι νῦν ἐπὶ τὸ πολεμικὸν ἅμα καὶ εἰρηνικόν, ὡς ἀναμφισβητήτως ἡμέτερον ὄν, ἐπανιέναι. }

Plato, Laws 815B-D (Book 7). Plato’s distinction here seems to me to provide the best guide to understanding the meaning of “ἀμύμων ὀρχηθμός.” Plato also distinguished dance propriety by age categories. Yu (2021).

In Plato’s scheme, warlike dancing is also blameless dancing. Menelaus’s distinction between the Trojan’s war desire and blameless desire centers on respect for limits. Menelaus doesn’t praise dancing itself. Cf. Hall (2010) p. 22, and p. 29, note 55.

[7] Iliad 15.502-8.

[8] For analysis of two hexameter passages that “emphasize the flashing, shining, scintillating qualities of dancers in motion,” Kurke (2012) p. 228. One such passage is at the court of Queen Arete and King Alcinous in Odyssey 8.264-5:

the Phaiakian chorus, at the moment that their feet in motion shimmer and glint like metal, are beating out a “divine” or “divinely inspired” dance.

Id. Hector dances in battle with his glinting metal helmet and his feet in rapid motion. Violence against men, however, isn’t dance like that of the Phaeacian men.

[9] Odyssey 7.327-8, ancient Greek text of Murray (1919) via Perseus, and my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Fagles (1996), and Lombardo (2000). Subsequent quotes from the Odyssey are similarly sourced. The subsequent quote above is Odyssey 8.97-103.

Fleeing from Calypso, Odysseus came ashore on the island of Scherie (Phaeacia). The lovely princess Nausicaa took him to the court of her mother, Queen Arete. She questioned him and investigated his suitability to be a husband for her daughter Nausicaa. After a banquet for Odysseus, Queen Arete’s husband Alcinous invited him to participate in contests with the Phaeacian men.

[10] Odyssey 8.178-85. Just before this declaration of his warrior skills, Odysseus called Halius a “reckless man {ἀτάσθαλος ἀνήρ}.” Odysseus then spoke of the gods differing gifts, just as Polydamas had to Hector in Iliad 13.727-34. According to Odysseus, Halius (“Of the Sea {Ἅλιός}”) had received from the gods a beautiful appearance, but a deformed mind. That’s not a characterization that the wrestling champion Halius would welcome.

The subsequent quote above is from Odyssey 8.214-22

[11] Odyssey 8.246-53. Horace disparaged unwise persons like Alcinous’s men:

We are merely numbers, born to consume earth’s fruits,
like Penelope’s good-for-nothing suitors, like Alcinous’s
young courtiers, unduly concerned to keep sleek skin.
Their pride was to sleep until mid-day and
lead diligence to rest to the sound of lutes.

{ nos numerus sumus et fruges consumere nati,
sponsi Penelopae nebulones, Alcinoique
in cute curanda plus aequo operata iuventus,
cui pulchrum fuit in medios dormire dies et
ad strepitum citharae cessatum ducere curam }

Horace, Epistles 1.2.27-31, Latin text from Fairclough (1926), my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

Alcinous’s boast to Odysseus in Odyssey 8.248 seems to recast Achilles chiding Agamemnon, and Zeus chiding Ares: “Always beloved to you is strife and wars and battles {αἰεὶ γάρ τοι ἔρις τε φίλη πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε}.” Iliad 1.177 and 5.891. Heubeck, West & Hainsworth (1988) p. 361. Aristarchus of Samothrace rejected these lines in his ancient edition of the Iliad. Murray (1924) p. 26, n. 20. The insightful contrast with Odyssey 8.248 suggests that Iliad 1.177 and 5.891 aren’t spurious.

The Old Babylonian version of the ancient Mesopotamian epic of Enkidu and Gilgamesh includes a passage urging a life with the pleasures that Alcinous described. Gilgamesh, grieving the death of his beloved friend Enkidu, journeys in search of immortality. He meets the alewife Siduri. She advises him:

You, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full.
Keep enjoying yourself, day and night.
Every day make merry, and
dance and play day and night.
Let your clothes be clean, and
let your head be washed. May you be bathed in water.
Gaze on the little one who holds your hand.
Let a wife enjoy your repeated embrace!

{ attā gilgāmeš lū mali karaška
urrī u mūšī ḫitattu attā
ūmišam šukun ḫidûtam
urrī u mūšī sūr u mēlil
lū ubbubū ṣubātūka
qaqqadka lū mesi mê lū ramkāta
ṣubbi ṣeḫram ṣābitu qātīka
marḫītum liḫtaddâm ina sūnīka }

Epic of Enkidu and Gilgamesh, Old Babylonian VA+BM (tablet reportedly from Sippar) and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Andrew R. George via the electronic Babylonian Library. For an earlier edition, George (2003) vol. 1, p. 275. Cf. the biblical book Ecclesiastes 9:7-9. On this parallel, Suriano (2017).

[12] Odyssey.8. 261-5. On the sense of wonder in this distinctive passage, Kurke (20212) p. 228. The subsequent two quotes above are from Odyssey 8.370-80 (Alcinous urged Halius and Laodamas…) and 8.381-4 (Godlike Odysseus indeed called out…).

[13] In his dialogue in support of pantomime dance, Lucian has a pantomime dancer triumph in telling the story of Aphrodite and Ares’s adulterous affair. According to Lucian, Demetrius the Cynic denounced dancers as adding nothing to the telling of a story. The leading pantomime under Nero, probably a pantomime with the stage name Paris, proved that a dancer could tell a story apart from music and singers like Demodocus:

Enjoining silence upon the stampers and flute-players and upon the chorus itself, and thus quite unsupported he danced the love of Aphrodite and Ares. He danced Helius tattling, Hephaestus laying his plot and trapping both of them with his entangling bonds, individually portrayed gods who came in on them, Aphrodite ashamed, Ares seeking cover and begging for mercy, and everything that belongs to this story. He did it in in such a way that Demetrius was delighted beyond measure with what was taking place and paid the highest possible tribute to the dancer. He raised his voice and shouted at the top of his lungs: “I hear the story that you are acting, man. I don’t just see it. You seem to me to be talking with your very hands!”

{ ἡσυχίαν γὰρ τοῖς τε κτυποῦσι καὶ τοῖς αὐλοῦσι καὶ αὐτῷ παραγγείλας τῷ χορῷ, αὐτὸς ἐφ᾿ ἑαυτοῦ ὠρχήσατο τὴν Ἀφροδίτης καὶ Ἄρεος μοιχείαν, Ἥλιον μηνύοντα καὶ Ἥφαιστον ἐπιβουλεύοντα καὶ τοῖς δεσμοῖς ἀμφοτέρους, τήν τε Ἀφροδίτην καὶ τὸν Ἄρη, σαγηνεύοντα, καὶ τοὺς ἐφεστῶτας θεοὺς ἕκαστον αὐτῶν, καὶ αἰδουμένην μὲν τὴν Ἀφροδίτην, ὑποδεδοικότα1 δὲ καὶ ἱκετεύοντα τὸν Ἄρη, καὶ ὅσα τῇ ἱστορίᾳ ταύτῃ πρόσεστιν, ὥστε τὸν Δημήτριον ὑπερησθέντα τοῖς γιγνομένοις τοῦτον ἔπαινον ἀποδοῦναι τὸν μέγιστον τῷ ὀρχηστῇ· ἀνέκραγε γὰρ καὶ μεγάλῃ τῇ φωνῇ ἀνεφθέγξατο, “Ἀκούω, ἄνθρωπε, ἃ ποιεῖς· οὐχ ὁρῶν μόνον, ἀλλά μοι δοκεῖς ταῖς χερσὶν αὐταῖς λαλεῖν.” }

Lucian, Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως 63.

[14] Among the men who went to the contests after Alcinous’s feast was Euryalus:

Euryalus also rose up, the peer of man-killing Ares,
the son of Naubolus, and in form and looks
the best of all Phaeacians after peerless Laodamas.

{ ἂν δὲ καὶ Εὐρύαλος, βροτολοιγῷ ἶσος Ἄρηι,
Ναυβολίδης, ὃς ἄριστος ἔην εἶδός τε δέμας τε
πάντων Φαιήκων μετ᾿ ἀμύμονα Λαοδάμαντα. }

Odyssey 8.115-7. This appreciation for men’s beauty, an intrinsic personal quality, contrasts with the men competing in contests for glory.

[15] In ancient Greek culture, men could not become “heroes of the dance floor” in the sense that they could become heroes in institutionalized violence against men (war). Men could, however, inspire amazement for their dancing and be valued for their dancing. Cf. Hall (2010).

[16] Iliad 18.490p-6. The subsequent quote above is Iliad 18.533-40.

[17] Lucian, Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως 2 and 5. The prior short quotes above are from Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως 1, and the subsequent two quotes above are from Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως 5 and 71.

[18] Hall (2010) p. 3 (first part), pp. 2-3 (second part). With awesome bombast, Lada-Richards opined:

Is it the case that polemical authors have thrust upon the genre “female genitals”, in accordance with the diachronic, pan-cultural logic that one “feminises” what one needs to demote and disparage? … In general, as I have argued elsewhere in detail, pantomime paid the price for the imperial socio-cultural élite’s deep-seated need of a series of feminised “Others” to be trampled underfoot, so that the masculinity, and hence supremacy, of legitimate cultural expressions could be better recognised, ring-fenced, celebrated.

Lada-Richards (2010b) paras. 25-6 (footnotes omitted). One has to be very well educated to take such writing seriously.

[19] Iliad 18.590-606. The epithet “ἀμφιγυήεις,” as applied to the master craftsman and iron smith Hephaestus, isn’t well-understood. Its literal meaning apparently is “both-limbs” or “both-(curved plow wood).” It has been interpreted as “lame-legged” or “strong-armed.” Hephaestus’s wife Aphrodite had adulterous sexual relations with Ares. In the context of that well-known affair, ἀμφιγυήεις plausibly alludes erectile failure.

Furthermore, in discussing war dance / Pyrrhic dance, Plato highlighted the importance of straight limbs:

In all these cases, the action and the tension of the sinews are correct when there is a representation of fair bodies and souls in which most of the limbs of the body are extended straight. This kind of representation is right, but the opposite kind we pronounce to be wrong.

{ τό τε ὀρθὸν ἐν τούτοις καὶ τὸ εὔτονον, τῶν ἀγαθῶν σωμάτων καὶ ψυχῶν ὁπόταν γίγνηται μίμημα, εὐθυφερὲς ὡς τὸ πολὺ τῶν τοῦ σώματος μελῶν γιγνόμενον, ὀρθὸν μὲν τὸ τοιοῦτον, τὸ δὲ τούτοις τοὐναντίον οὐκ ὀρθὸν ἀποδεχόμενον. }

Plato, Laws 815A-B. Cf. Hesiod, Works and Days {Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι} vv. 248–64, advising princes to make straight, not crooked, judgments. Via the epithet ἀμφιγυήεις, understood as “bent-limbed,” Hephaestus is characterized as inferior to Ares in sexual “fighting.”

Having space to dance was a favorable aspect of a location. That’s a plausible interpretation of describing Mycalessus {Μυκαλησσός} as “having a broad dancing space {εὐρύχορος}” in Iliad 2.498.

The metaphor of the potter testing his wheel should inform interpretation of the dancing in Iliad 18.590-606. The potter apparently is testing if his wheel runs true, meaning evenly between his hands. That metaphor supports a contrast between the dancers running smoothing and their rows moving into each other.

The verse numbering for Iliad 18.604-5 is abnormal, with one verse numbered 18.604-5. Some editions use an alternate text that includes a separate v. 605:

And around the lovely chorus stood a great multitude,
delighting in it. And among them, a divine singer sang and played
on the lyre, and two tumblers among them
whirled in the middle, with the singer leading the song and dance.

{ πολλὸς δ᾽ ἱμερόεντα χορὸν περιίσταθ᾽ ὅμιλος
τερπόμενοι· μετὰ δέ σφιν ἐμέλπετο θεῖος ἀοιδὸς
φορμίζων· δοιὼ δὲ κυβιστητῆρε κατ’ αὐτοὺς
μολπῆς ἐξάρχοντος ἐδίνευον κατὰ μέσσους }

Iliad 18.403-6 (as corrected by Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 180c-181f). A singer leading dancers is consistent with later, well-known Greek choral practice. On this textual variant, Olsen (2016) pp. 43-5, and Dué (2018) Chapter 3.

[20] Dance played in central role in communal life in ancient Greek-speaking communities:

they had what may be called a dance culture, in which much of their dancing contributed to processes needed for the coordination, survival, reproduction and prosperity of the community.

Zarifi (2007) p. 228. On the role of dance in ancient Greek culture, Kowalzig (2007) and Wilson (2000).

The earliest known Greek inscription praises a man’s dancing:

He who dances now most gracefully of all the dancers, for him this…

{ὸς νῦν ὀρχεστôν πάντον ἀταλότατα παίζει, τô τόδε κλμιν / ΗΟΣΝΥΝΟΡΧΕΣΤΟΝΠΑΝΤΟΝΑΤΑΛΟΤΑΤΑΠΑΙΖΕΙΤΟΤΟΔΕΚΛ[?]ΜΙ[?]Ν }

Inscription on Dipylon oenochoe (wine jug), dated c. 740 BGC and preserved as inv. 192 in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The ancient Greek text is via Wikipedia, Dipylon inscription entry, and the English translation mainly from D’Angour (2021). The Dipylon oenochoe apparently was a prize in a men’s dancing competition. On later dance competitions, Webb (2012).

Plato referred to the Emmeleiai, a peaceful, pleasurable type of dancing that men do:

Many of the names bestowed in ancient times are deserving of notice and praise for their excellence and descriptiveness. One is the name given to the dances of men who are in a prosperous state and indulge in pleasures of a moderate kind. How true and how musical was the name so rationally bestowed on those dances by the man, whoever he was, who first called them all Emmeleiai.

{ πολλὰ μὲν δὴ τοίνυν ἄλλα ἡμῖν τῶν παλαιῶν ὀνομάτων ὡς εὖ καὶ κατὰ φύσιν κείμενα δεῖ διανοούμενον ἐπαινεῖν, τούτων δὲ ἓν καὶ τὸ περὶ τὰς ὀρχήσεις τὰς τῶν εὖ πραττόντων, ὄντων δὲ μετρίων αὐτῶν πρὸς τὰς ἡδονάς, ὡς ὀρθῶς ἅμα καὶ μουσικῶς ὠνόμασεν ὅστις ποτ᾿ ἦν, καὶ κατὰ λόγον αὐταῖς θέμενος ὄνομα ξυμπάσαις ἐμμελείας ἐπωνόμασε, καὶ δύο δὴ τῶν ὀρχήσεων τῶν καλῶν εἴδη κατεστήσατο, τὸ μὲν πολεμικὸν Cπυῤῥίχην, τὸ δὲ εἰρηνικὸν ἐμμέλειαν. }

Plato, Laws 816B (Book 7). .

The extent to which Plato and Aristotle were concerned with dance has been under-appreciated. In Plato and Aristotle, ποίησις / poiesis is best understood not as “poetry” but as “music-dance and verbal verse.” Scott (2023). In Plato’s Laws, dance has fundamental importance: “choral dance proves to be the ideal means to educate somebody with respect to pleasure and pain.” Pfefferkorn (2021) p. 345. See also Spaltro (2011). In the Laws, Cleinias of Crete readily assents to the Athenian stranger’s query: “Shall we assume that the uneducated man is without choir-training, and the educated man fully choir-trained { Οὐκοῦν ὁ μὲν ἀπαίδευτος ἀχόρευτος ἡμῖν Bἔσται, τὸν δὲ πεπαιδευμένον ἱκανῶς κεχορευκότα θετέον}?” They then quickly agree upon the related proposition, “The well-educated man will be able both to sing and dance well {Ὁ καλῶς ἄρα πεπαιδευμένος ᾄδειν τε καὶ ὀρχεῖσθαι δυνατὸς ἂν εἴη καλῶς}.” Laws 654B (Book 2).

[images] (1) Relief (detail, color enhanced) depicting Athenian men dancing with shields and swords (probably Pyrrhic dance). Relief made in the first half of the first century BGC, probably imitating an Athenian relief from the second half of the fourth century BGC. The dancers probably aren’t meant to represent Corybantes {Κορύβαντες}, castrated men serving the mother goddess Cybele. Relief preserved as Inv. 321 in the Pius-Clementine Museum, Room of the Muses, Vatican Museum (Rome). Source image thanks to Rabax63 and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a plaster cast of four of the men dancers from the relief. (2) Greek men dancers performing Pontian Serra dance (Pyrrhic {Πυρρίχιος} dance) at the closing ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics at Athens, August 29, 2004. Video via YouTube. (3) Three Corybantes dancing a war dance around the mother goddess Cybele and her consort Attis, who are riding in a quadriga pulled by four lions. Detail from the Parabiago Plate, a late fourth-century silver plate found in 1907 at an ancient Roman cemetery near present-day Milan. Preserved in the Museum of Archeology (Milan, Italy). Source image via Europeana. Many images are also on Wikimedia Commons. (4) Fresco of Etruscan man and woman dancing from the Tomb of the Triclinium in the Necropolis of Monterozzi (Lazio, Italy). Made about 470 BGC. Preserved in the National Etruscan Museum (Tarquinia, Italy). Image via Yorck Project and Wikimedia Commons.

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