Shawn O’Bryhim, “The Economics of Agalmatophilia” 419-430

tl;dr version: a fun tour through a group of bizarro stories featuring men in love with statues; the argument is that these are analogous to urban legends, actively disseminated to encourage tourism.

undergrads would find this fascinating

stakes: a new way of thinking about a (lesser-known) story type, with possible (unexplored) wider repercussions for considering likenesses/differences between our world and the past more generally

This is a fun and engaging piece that identifies a group of stories mainly from the Hellenistic era in which a man falls in love with, and then attempts to have sex with, a particularly alluring statue (the “agalmatophilia” of the title. what a great word!).

O’Bryhim takes us through the stories and our sources for them, and then speculates that they were fabricated and disseminated by either temple personnel or people who earned money acting as tour guides. The stories would have increased interest in seeing the statues, and thus increased the lucrative tourist trade. We have other indications (helpfully assembled in the article) that tourism could be a vital part of some towns’ economies, so the notion that these stories could be economically motivated is plausible and interesting.

On a side note: I found myself somewhat stumped by the language of sexual misconduct O’Bryhim consistently uses to describe these encounters between man and statue (“outrageous treatment”; “abuse”; “molestation”). He never says “rape” but “outrage” feels like code for that. Is this odd? Clearly statues can’t consent, but nor can they not consent… and clearly there’s something transgressive about falling in love with one, but somehow the language of “abuse” or “molestation” seems peculiar here. Not that I have a better suggestion.