Manuel Villalobos Mendoza – « Masculinity undone »

5. Run away if you want to survive!

In Greco-Roman culture, bodily movements were systematically scrutinized for signs of effeminacy. Cicero, for instance, disapproved Caesar’s way of wearing a toga and walking as effeminate: ‘Caesar used to belt his toga in such a way that an edge dragged and his walk looked effeminate.’[19] Ancient cloaks and mantles like our neaniskos’s sindōn ‘[are] likely to have been, […] simple (i.e. sleeveless) rectangles of cloth, and they were regularly wrapped or draped around the body without any belt or fasteners of any kind to hold them on; even in the best of circumstances, consequently, they were likely to slip off with the normal movements of the body. With any sudden violent action, particularly any involving the arms or legs, the garment was practically assured of being thrown off.’[20]

Classical scholars remind us that in the Greco-Roman world ‘“[u]nbeltedness” is near to being the exact opposite of masculinity […] the absence of cincture indicates defiance of convention and also unreadiness for action, in particular the inability to wear a weapon.’[21] The neaniskos wears his sindōn in what would be seen as an ‘unmanly’ way in this context, without a belt or sword, and thus his clothing is incapable of proving and defending his masculinity. ‘In the Roman world, however, a sword is never “just” a sword: penetration invokes the opposition between conqueror and conquered, domination and submission, masculine and feminine.’[22] The sword functioned similarly to the US Marines’ creed: ‘This is my rifle! This is my gun [penis]! This is for fighting! This is for fun!’

And not enough that the young man is displaying a lack of masculinity in his dress and comportment, he also runs rather than facing Jesus’s captors and thus shows a problematic lack of aggression. ‘Rather than being in the nude to engage in a “manly” contest like those who do so in gymnasia, this nameless nude dude runs away from a fight.’[23]

Bodily movements are not only an expression of our individual personality and uniqueness but are shaped by our social context. Thus, the way in which a person walks can be understood as an expression of how they perform gender norms. According to Cicero, the veri viri’s walk should be fast, yet not too fast, with a broad stride, bold yet not showy (Cicero, For Sestius, 17, 19). Their gait should still appear ‘natural’ and unstudied, however; feigning a way of walking could lead to the discovery of one’s hidden nature, especially if that nature was effeminate (Cicero, Against Piso. 18). As Mark describes it, our neaniskos’s way of walking cannot be taken as a reflection of his masculinity because (as we stated above) he did not repels the soldiers, but rather run away in order to safe his life: ‘[c]apping the account of the arrest, the motif’s vivid picture of abject terror and shameful nudity in cowardly flight admirably reinforces a scene in which the ruling emotion is the desperate impulse to save one’s own skin, the mood of “Every man for himself.”’[24] Ironically, Jesus’s disciples must learn to take the cost of their ‘effeminate’, non-normative discipleship ‘like a man’, staying with Jesus during his dark night rather than running in what appears to be, on the background of Greco-Roman culture, a womanish way.

[19] Quoted in Kelly Olson, Masculinity and Dress in Roman Antiquity, New York: Routledge, 2017, p.144.

[20] Howard M. Jackson, ‘Why the Youth Shed His Cloak and Fled Naked: The Meaning and Purpose of Mark 14:51-52’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 116 (1997), p. 280. 

[21] Margaret Graver, ‘The Manhandling of Maecenas: Senecan Abstractions of Masculinity’, American Journal of Philology, 119. 4 (1998), p. 620.

[22] Chris Frilingos, ‘Sexing the Lamb’, in Stephen D. Moore and Janice C. Anderson (eds.), New Testament Masculinities, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003, p. 316.

[23] Tat-siong Benny Liew, ‘Re-Mark-able Masculinities: Jesus, the Son of Man, and the (Sad) Sum of Manhood?’, in Stephen D. Moore and Janice C. Anderson (eds.), New Testament Masculinities, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003, p.115. 

[24] Jackson, ‘Why the Youth Shed His Cloak’, 286.