Fluid Bodies
: Queering Gender in Ancient Greece

  • Bec Rengel

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


My dissertation aims to challenge the long-held notion (both in popular culture and scholarly discourse) that gender, history, and time are stable constructs by re-examining gender ambiguity in ancient Greece. Gender ambiguous people are regularly studied as outliers to the ‘natural’ separation between ‘male’ and ‘female’. Instead, I examine these cultural ‘others’ as queer entities unbound by the strictures of normative time and gender. My first chapter argues that distinctions between ‘gender as cultural’ and ‘sex as natural’ are outdated, noting the limitations of this framework in studies of gender in antiquity. Instead, I suggest that queer unhistoricist analysis, as well as use of anachronistic terminology, could expand our understanding of ancient queer gender. In Chapters 2 and 3, I examine the accounts of Phaethousa and Nanno (Hippocrates, fifth century BCE), and Diophantos and Kallon (Diodorus Siculus, first century BCE), who were all assigned female at birth, but experience spontaneous ‘masculinisations’ later in life. Beginning with Phaethousa and Nanno, I outline the Hippocratic author’s use of language, noting how it, along with the actions of physicians, aims to thoroughly control Phaethousa’s and Nanno’s bodies by presenting them as diseased women. However, anachronistic terms such as ‘transgender’, ‘intersex’, and ‘non-binary’ can allow them to regain their bodily autonomy and truly exist in a ‘grey space’ of gender and time. In Chapter 3, I consider how Diophantos’ and Kallon’s lives become medicalised after physicians artificially reconstruct their bodies to conform to socially-normative ideals. Thus, they simultaneously conform to and subvert gender expectations. By doing so, they show how arbitrary, limiting, and fragile the cultural concepts of gender and time are, and firmly highlight humanity’s obsession with creating an artificially constructed system of order.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorPantelis Michelakis (Supervisor)

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