"Put my hands in chains, they deserve chains!" This is how the seventh poem in the first book of Ovid's Amores begins. "Insanity raised the impetuous arms against my mistress, the girl's wine, hurt by my hand." The spokesman regrets having abused his lover - and explains a few verses later that the beauty of her ruffled hair looks good: "Breathless, I looked at her body and her trembling limbs like a breeze blowing over poplar leaves." The abused woman, beaten, possibly raped , or both, becomes the aestheticized object of a male gaze , and moreover of the offender, whose actions are compared, in somewhat hair-raising euphemisms, with the gentle touches of the wind.
Katharina Wesselmann (* 1976) was a Latin and Greek teacher in Basel for 14 years, where she habilitated on Homer's "Iliad". Since 2019 she is Professor of Didactics of Ancient Languages at the Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel. She is a guest author from "10 to 8". © private
In general, Latin "love poetry," whose main representatives Ovid, Properz, and Tibull have received, is suddenly difficult in this day and age. The spokesmen of the poems present themselves as the victims of Cupid, sufferers and those who have no control over their instincts. The object of her passion is a domina dura , a tough mistress she simply does not want to hear, resulting in stalking, victim blaming and slutshaming. The abusive responsibility of the offender we see in the above excerpt on the linguistic level: the hands deserve chains, the madness has raised the arms, the girl has been injured by the hand . The style of pars pro toto , the replacement of the acting subject by parts, is no coincidence; the offender is incompetent and has lost control of his hands. The victim of the outbreak of violence is viewed only from the outside; a translation into his mental constitution does not take place.
When studying Latin and Greek lyrics, after the change of perspective through #MeToo, unpleasant new realities suddenly arise: The plot of Homer's Iliad is set in motion by the hijacking of abducted slave Briseis, Catullus threatens his poetic rivals with anal and oral penetration, Terence's marriage is a rapist's marriage and victims as a happy ending. How should one deal with these substances in school lessons?
The German-speaking Altphilologen community has not responded to #MeToo so far. In the school, mediation tends to seek absolute identification in order to fascinate the youth of antiquity. This drives partly absurd blossoms when students are told that Roman adolescents had made similar experiences as today; the violence in the texts is simply ignored. However, if uncomfortable questions are asked, the standard answer is that unfortunately the world of Greco-Roman antiquity was not as unsound as ours. Here we have the opposite of naive over-identification: the total distancing. But if the world of ancient texts is so strange, if it has absolutely nothing to do with our presence, why should young people read ancient texts?
As an antiquarian friend one can argue that art is to be considered from a purely aesthetic point of view or in its own time context. But this argument is dangerous: When art closes up current issues, the question of its social relevance very soon arises.
This question becomes more urgent in times of increasing marginalization of the humanities. In addition, there is growing criticism of the traditions of classical philology, which, it is often said nowadays, is a mausoleum of dead, white, male authors, an exclusive elite subject (in the literal sense of the word), inaccessible to non-Europeans. The treatment of issues such as sex and gender is part of this problem, because for centuries, only the male perspective existed on the antique texts, most of which are also written by men. This double masculinization has apparently been accompanied by the trivialization and approval of sexual violence, which is increasingly repelling today's learners.
This situation is not easy for the classical-philological community, even and especially for those teachers and researchers who would really like to take on new perspectives. For male teachers, it can be a challenge to deal with contents such as sexual violence. In addition to their own insecurity towards the students, there is always the danger of exposing themselves to animosity: on the one hand the reproach of ignorance is raised by the female-feminist side, on the other hand the malice threatens the conservative. In addition, there is the fear of consequences from parents or school management, in the academic system also the fear of a premature end of career. Many teachers therefore opt for the consistent avoidance of any perceived as sensitive content.