Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome

February 20, 2021
Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome

The careers of two popular second-century rhetorical virtuososoffer Maud Gleason fascinating insights into the ways ancientRomans constructed masculinity during a time marked by anxiety overmanly deportment. Declamation was an exhilarating art form for theGreeks and bilingual Romans of the Second Sophistic movement, andits best practitioners would travel the empire performing in frontof enraptured audiences. The mastery of rhetoric marked thetransition to manhood for all aristocratic citizens and remainedcrucial to a man's social standing. In treating rhetoric as aprocess of self-presentation in a face-to-face society, Gleasonanalyzes the deportment and writings of the two Sophists-Favorinus,a eunuch, and Polemo, a man who met conventional genderexpectations-to suggest the ways character and gender wereperceived. Physiognomical texts of the era show how intently menscrutinized one another for minute signs of gender deviance in suchfeatures as gait, gesture, facial expression, and voice.Rhetoricians trained to develop these traits in a "masculine"fashion. Examining the successful career of Favorinus, whosehigh-pitched voice and florid presentation contrasted sharply withthe traditionalist style of Polemo, Gleason shows, however, thatideal masculine behavior was not a monolithic abstraction. In ahighly accessible study treating the semiotics of deportment andthe medical, cultural, and moral issues surrounding rhetoricalactivity, she explores the possibilities of self-presentation inthe search for recognition as a speaker and a man.