As I’m reading Foucault’s The Use of Pleasure, which is ultimately his analysis of Greek sexuality, I must admit that I’m finding it difficult to really try to visualize (er, not like that, but I mean really try to picture the culture and practices in my head) the society that Foucault presents. The Greeks he is writing about lived and wrote nearly 1,500 years ago — that is a long time. Our current ideas of individuality and politics and whatnot are pretty radically different.
Take the idea of sexual relationships with boys. The way Foucault writes (and I don’t think Foucault is alone in presenting this idea), sex between older men and younger boys was quite normal. Foucault goes a long way to explain how these relationships caused great anxiety for the Greeks and that they weren’t “homosexual” as we understand the concept — it was a matter of desiring a thing of beauty (and young boys were considered beautiful) and a way of combining pleasure and knowledge so that the boys could grow up to be better leaders.
In addition to the sex with boys thing, Foucault also describes marriage relationships. According to Foucault (and, again, many other writers and historians), during the Greek times men in their 30s would marry wives in their late-teens and early-20s. The marriages had more to do with politics and the creation of a household unit than love or anything terribly romantic. The wives had to remain faithful to their husbands while the husbands could find pleasure elsewhere (though it was considered best if the men remained faithful as well — though, as Foucault mentions, it wasn’t even a question about whether women could stray or not — it was assumed and ingrained that they would only have sex with one man). Further, the wives had no autonomy in their life and were mainly around to clean the house and produce children.
So like I said, I was having a difficult time imagining how a society would look with those particular sexual and politics structures. Not that I haven’t seen old movies where women are the property of their husband and whatnot — that I could imagine. I do have a difficult time picturing a society where women had no subjectivity at all.
Well, looking to the contemporary film Troy was no help, whatsoever.
I can understand that when someone makes a historical film, they want to make it a bit more contemporary so that the audience doesn’t feel so far removed that they are trying to understand the culture instead of the characters or storyline… but still, I find it a little distressing that the filmmakers failed to even try to problematize some of the more interesting relationships, such as whether Helen choose to was forced to return to Troy with Paris (in the film, it’s obvious that she choose to and that her and Paris have such a passionate relationship in which they are equals and he values her as a person and all that) or even the strange relationship between Hector and Paris.
I should add that I’m not terribly familiar with the story, but I remember that when we read it in high school it wasn’t as idealized as the film version.
And to be honest, I don’t know why I expected more from such a big budget film, but oh well. We all make mistakes. Does anyone have any recommendations of films that actually try to reflect classical times in a more realistic way?