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Setting Plato Straight: Translating Ancient Sexuality in the Renaissance

April 1, 2013 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of Todd Reeser outdoors in a European town wearing a grey-brown shirt

Monday Seminar:

Todd W. Reeser

Solmsen Fellow (2012-2013)

French and Women’s Studies, University of Pittsburgh


As fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Humanists read, digested, and translated Plato, they found themselves faced with a fundamental problem. On the one hand, the rebirth of the Ancients implied a “fidelity” to the words and the sense of Greek texts. On the other hand, many Humanists refused to translate faithfully, and thus to propagate, the institution of pederasty or the other homoerotic elements in the Platonic corpus. This recurring tension in Christian-Humanism could not be avoided because of the blatant homoerotics in Plato, particularly in the Symposium, the Phaedrus, and the Lysis. In this talk, I present an overview of the critical questions around this tension, with a focus on translation and hermeneutics, in translations, commentaries, and literary texts from Italy, France, and Germany. This presentation is drawn from my book in progress, a comparative and comprehensive study of the reception of Platonic sexuality from the first Renaissance translations of Plato’s erotic dialogues in the early fifteenth century (by Leonardo Bruni) to Michel de Montaigne’s skeptical commentary on translation in the late sixteenth century, with many stops in between.


A Solmsen Fellow for AY 2012-13 at the University of Wisconsin, Todd Reeser is Professor of French, with a secondary appointment in Women’s Studies, in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh. He just completed a year as acting director of the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests lie largely in the areas of gender and sexuality broadly conceived, especially in the early modern period. His first book Moderating Masculinity in Early Modern Culture (2006) studies ways in which masculinity often aligns itself with the virtue of moderation as it positions its various “others” (e.g. women, the sodomite, the Amerindian) as excess and lack. In 2010, Reeser published Masculinities in Theory, a monograph that provides a series of theoretical models to analyze masculinity from a literary/cultural perspective, especially as inflected by post-structuralist thought. He has also coedited Approaches to Teaching the Works of François Rabelais (2011) and “Entre hommes”: French and Francophone Masculinities in Theory and Culture (2008), and he is currently editing a collection of essays on the topic “Transgender France.”


April 1, 2013
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Categories:


University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States