Culture Writer Jaiden Griffin reviews Sarah Nooter’s How to be Queer finding it to be a delightfully fast-paced read that perfectly encompasses the fluidity of sexuality

Written by Jaigriff
Images by Jaiden Griffin

How to be Queer: An Ancient Guide to Sexuality is the most recent addition to series Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers. Composed by Sarah Nooter, academic in classics from the University of Chicago, How to be Queer is an inspiring collection offering a wonderfully insightful selection of ancient Greek writings, philosophy and commentary on sexuality. Moving beyond previously discussed topics, such as How to Make Money, and How to Get over a BreakupHow to be Queer takes readers on a whimsical journey through myth and reality to uncover how the ancient Greeks considered queerness and sexuality.

Beginning chronologically with Homer’s Iliad, snippets of text is translated to expose the nuanced feelings shared between Achilles and Patroclus. Hitting the ground running, this passage forces readers to acknowledge the emotional tragedy of lost love. A couple consolidated in popular culture as committed lovers, many already acquainted with ancient Greek mythology should be aware of the complexities of their relationship. Introducing the work with their story eases readers in with a comforting familiarity whilst revealing the heartrending outcomes.

The book’s fast pacing works in the wider structure’s favour

Those unaware of the series structure may expect some modern commentary. However, this is not the case, as the selection and placement of the pieces act as the only observation. This works brilliantly within the tone of the book, allowing readers to approach each topic with their own assumptions and experience those of the ancients and their successors with a fresh perception. Moreover, the book’s fast pacing works in the wider structure’s favour. Constituting a guidebook of advice for modern readers, we are whisked through different tales, scripts, and thought-processes to highlight key conclusions. Whilst the work protests that it is not attempting to paint all of ancient Greece in this brush of queer tolerance, it nevertheless succeeds in encouraging readers to ponder on fundamentals of their approaches to sexuality.

Nooter’s fine selection covers a wide range of emotion, with a central focus on eros. Eros is the Greek god of love and desire but is also taken in this book to broadly refer to the relationships founded among men, women, gods and humans alike. Early on, a selection of poems from archaic Sparta explore homoerotic rituals being completed between women. Their songs create a beautiful melodic tale of female desire in this world, allowing a break from the dominance of masculinity within the work. Additionally, a later snippet from a stage production forces a conversation around gender identity and fluidity among the ancients. Using eros as a central motif, Nooter exposes a link between modernity and the ancient world through these emotions.

How to be Queer makes for a delightful reading experience

How to be Queer is an elegantly presented book, evoking thoughtful consideration of queerness and sexuality. With a constant return to modernity, whether it be through the chapter titles or well-chosen literature, a simple point is enforced; we are not all that different from the ancient world. Sexuality is fluid, and our modern understanding of it will change, and keep changing, but at its roots, it will always be recognisable across time and space.

Nooter’s How to be Queer: An Ancient Guide to Sexuality makes for a delightful reading experience, and can be enjoyed by anybody, no matter their identity. It also makes the perfect starting point for exploring more classical works and better situating your thinking concerning sexuality, queerness, and the ancient world.

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