Wednesday, March 22, 2006


He-Men and Girlie-Men

Usually when I hear words like "gender studies," I start running as fast as I can in the opposite direction. But I did read a brief review of Cynthia R. Chapman, The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter (Harvard Semitic Museum/Eisenbrauns, 2004) = Harvard Semitic Monographs, 62, at the blog Idle Musings of a Bookseller. The review states:
Her basic thesis is that by comparing the Neo-Assyrian warfare texts with the prophetic texts relating to warfare, we can see how they both used gendered terms to discredit the other side. In the Neo-Assyrian texts, the enemy is shown to be "feminine" and the king is portrayed as a "man's man." On the other hand, in the Hebrew texts, the enemy is also feminized, but it is YHWH who is shown to be the true man and Jerusalem is the bride/daughter of YHWH who spurns or whores with (depending on the time period) the enemy.
I've noticed the same type of thing in the classical epic poems. There's a very clear example at Vergil, Aeneid 9.603-620 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), where the Rutilian Numanus Remulus is taunting the Trojans:
A race of hardy stock, we first bring our newborn sons to the river, and harden them with the water's cruel cold; as boys they keep vigil for the chase, and tire the forests; their sport is to rein the steed and level shafts from the bow; but, patient of toil, and inured to want, our youth tames earth with the hoe or shakes cities in battle. All our life is worn with iron's use; with spear reversed we goad our bullocks' flanks, and sluggish age weakens not our hearts nor changes our vigour. On white hairs we press the helm: and we ever delight to drive in fresh booty and live on plunder.

But ye are clothed in embroidered saffron and gleaming purple; sloth is your joy, your delight is to indulge the dance; your tunics have sleeves and your turbans ribbons. O ye Phrygian women, indeed! -- for Phrygian men are ye not -- go ye over the heights of Dindymus, where to accustomed ears the pipe utters music from double mouths! The timbrels call you, and the Berecynthian boxwood of the mother of Ida: leave arms to men, and quit the sword.

durum a stirpe genus natos ad flumina primum
deferimus saevoque gelu duramus et undis;
venatu invigilant pueri silvasque fatigant,
flectere ludus equos et spicula tendere cornu.
at patiens operum parvoque adsueta iuventus
aut rastris terram domat aut quatit oppida bello.
omne aevum ferro teritur, versaque iuvencum
terga fatigamus hasta, nec tarda senectus
debilitat viris animi mutatque vigorem:
canitiem galea premimus, semperque recentis
comportare iuvat praedas et vivere rapto.

vobis picta croco et fulgenti murice vestis,
desidiae cordi, iuvat indulgere choreis,
et tunicae manicas et habent redimicula mitrae.
o vere Phrygiae, neque enim Phryges, ite per alta
Dindyma, ubi adsuetis biforem dat tibia cantum.
tympana vos buxusque vocat Berecyntia Matris
Idaeae; sinite arma viris et cedite ferro.
Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized the term "girlie-men." See here for some equivalents in ancient Greek.

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