Document Type


Date of this Version



This paper was part of the 2015-2016 Penn Humanities Forum on Sex. Find out more at


John Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (1994) achieved a level of popularity unusual for classical philology, arguing that the little-known and barely attested Byzantine ritual of adelphopoiesis was evidence of officially-condoned homosexual marriage in the early Christian world. Both devoutly Catholic and openly gay, Boswell dedicated the book to friends who had died from AIDS complications, a fate he shared later the same year. The book was critically panned, from a non-academic publisher, and marketed to a large layperson audience. Indeed, there are technical errors and perhaps fundamental biases (anachronism, Orientalism) in the work, but detractors tended toward ad hominem: the work’s flaws cast as personal failings rather than academic ones. The delineation between a piece being ‘bad scholarship’ and ‘not scholarship’ is a subtle act of quarantine. Considering also G.E.M. de Ste. Croix’s The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981) and Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (1987), this project examines transgressive scholars finding in classical antiquity an opportunity for sociopolitical relevance, while Classicists’ reactions have been mixed.



Date Posted: 18 November 2016