Book Review: Making Men

Making Men: Sophists And Self-Presentation In Ancient Rome, by Maud W. Gleason

There are a lot of things that I don’t particularly appreciate about this book. The author both has and lacks self-awareness in interesting ways, knowing that the fondness of our contemporary age for the body and physical matters as well as a certain love of freakishness and moral decadence may draw the same sort of moralistic scorn in the future as the second century AD drew in history afterwards. Yet this knowledge that our own ways may be decadent does not lead her to urge a moralistic response to the contemporary period, or to view the moral criticisms made by Christians and Roman traditionalists against the Roman culture of their day as being the right approach. Instead, the author finds herself most interested, as might be expected for someone in the solipsistic world of contemporary philosophy, in the self-presentation of sophists during the time. This book is about the way in which manhood was defined by elites of the second sophist period, and the author is fascinated by the way that manhood is defined and defended, and how it is that manhood has throughout history not always been accessible to every man, but has been limited to men who can attain certain accomplishments.

This book is a relatively short one at between 150 and 200 pages. The book begins with a preface, introduction, and a list of abbreviations that set the book within the context of works that deal with gender and the subject of philosophy in antiquity. After that the opening chapter covers the strange and monstrous Favorimus and his defense of his statue as a demonstration of his manhood and as an indirect defense of himself. After this comes a look at Polemo’s self-portrait and the issue of self-presentation (2). Continuing with Polemo and others like him, the author then moves to the issue of physiognomy and the semiotics of gender, looking at deportment as communication (3). This is followed by a chapter that deals with voice training and the calisthenics of gender, showing how rhetorical skill was seen as a means of achieving and defending one’s manhood (4). After this, the author examines the question of voice and virility as a matter of rhetorical appeal (5). Finally, the book ends with a look at Favorimus and how it is that a eunuch-philosopher defined himself through his speech (6), after which there is a conclusion, a note on finding sources in translation, a select bibliography, an and a couple of indices.

That said, although there is a lot about this book that I do not like–including the rather icky way that many of the characters involved live, to say nothing of the author’s own perspective on matters of gender and identity and sexuality–there is at least one thing that this author does get right. And that is the fact that manhood is not something that comes automatically, but is something that must be developed. And this is something that has been true in every culture, even our own depraved and corrupt culture. That is not to say that manhood has always been developed along proper lines, but rather that manhood has never been a matter of men simply becoming adults, but rather becoming adults who have acquired certain skills, a certain degree of self-control, a certain level of achievement in various aspects of life, such as rhetoric or military skills, or the ability to work productively, and the acquisition of certain aspects of social and intellectual and practical knowledge. It is to be regretted that so few writers in an age that is obsessed with matters of gender and identity should be so blind as to the importance that manhood is always something that had to be formed and made, and was never something that came automatically. Failing to understand this has led to all sorts of gross misstatements about men and manhood.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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