This is a study in classical reception, one that examines the ways in which a work of erotic classical literature was appropriated in the 1920s for a specific social and artistic goal: pornography with a point. More specifically, I analyze how Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans, a work often located on the periphery of the classical canon, became a nexus of sorts for (homo)sexual discourse in the 1920s and 1930s, and how a specific edition of this work demonstrates the interplay between contemporary social trends and the interpretation of the classical world. In 1928, the charmingly named Press of Classic Lore—an outfit that managed to “press” just one book of classic lore—paired the (apparently gay) translator A. L. Hillman with the (also apparently gay) illustrator Charles Cullen; the resulting collaboration speaks volumes about the ways in which the texts of the classical world served as fodder for those desiring a more open discourse concerning homoerotic and otherwise marginalized sexualities. This study concludes with a trenchant example of how cultural interpretation—even mine— continues to be affected and molded by contemporary social forces.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Jenkins, T. E. (2005). An American "Classic": Hillman and Cullen's Mimes of the Courtesans. Arethusa, 38(3), 387-414. doi: 10.1353/are.2005.0017