“The modern view of Amazons as lesbians is just that” — a modern invention, wrote Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, a professor of comparative literature at Hamilton College who, despite being a serious academic, humored me.
Rebecca Flemming, a senior lecturer in classics at the University of Cambridge, told me: “The surviving texts, medical and otherwise, were written overwhelmingly by men, and are not much concerned with female sexuality except insofar as it serves male interests.” And University of Texas, Austin, professor Lesley Dean-Jones wrote in “The Politics of Pleasure” that one respected strain of ancient Greek medical thought allowed a husband to have sex with his wife whenever he wanted “for her own good,” because a womb needed to be weighted down with either semen or a fetus so it wouldn’t drift around her body wreaking havoc.
Thus, the idea that men are superfluous to women’s sexuality “is a reversal of the opinion generally expressed” in antiquity, said UCLA classics professor Amy Richlin, who described her research area as “the raunchiest kinds of ancient literature.” “The only renditions of chick-on-chick sex that I know of in antiquity, they seem to imagine … one of them has to be ‘the man,'” i.e., one of them has “a strap-on,” as she put it. (Rabinowitz mentioned dildos.)
Furthermore, female masturbation “is very, very rarely mentioned,” Richlin said, while male masturbation is frequently mentioned. “Among the people who wrote these texts, there’s just a massive disinterest in what gave women pleasure.”
But Richlin talked about Flemming’s research into vulva votives — some of which depict the clitoris! A votive in the shape of a body part would be offered to heal that body part, so a votive with a clit “attests to some level of loyalty to the clitoris as a body part among actual women who could afford a votive offering.”