UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Unmasking Bacchus : an examination of gender constructions in in the participants of Bacchic rites Ramsden, Madeline Emma


The rites of Bacchus have long been a source of intrigue among academics. Previous scholarship has often assumed a normative set of Bacchic worship based on the literary evidence available to us, primarily Euripides’ Bacchae. As a result, scholars these rites as a female-only set of practices. However, epigraphic and archaeological evidence has revealed more diversity in the rites, leading scholars to challenge gender composition of participants within the rites. It is now known men and women participated in these rites equally. This thesis seeks to further our understanding of the gender of participants in Bacchic rites by examining how the gender identities of participants were constructed across the various media of Bacchic rites. I argue that, in the epigraphic evidence, participants are represented as conforming to conventional gender norms, whereas literary sources construct participants as subverting these norms. Through the production and display of inscriptions, participants in Bacchic rites legitimated their practice and promoted their rites. In reverse, the literature constructs participants as subverting traditional gender roles, which serves to delegitimize the rites and participants and acts as a discourse of deterrence from the rites. This research also points out a larger issue regarding the study of gender in antiquity: the conflicting representation of Bacchic participants in the literary and epigraphic evidence acts as a reminder to historians that gender is not a neutral subject. As such, constructions of gender identities across any ancient media must, in the future, be viewed with a critical eye.

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