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New MenManliness in Early America$
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Thomas A. Foster

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780814727805

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814727805.001.0001

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John Adams and the Choice of Hercules

John Adams and the Choice of Hercules

Manliness and Sexual Virtue in Eighteenth-Century British America

(p.217) 11 John Adams and the Choice of Hercules
New Men

Thomas A. Foster

NYU Press

This chapter discusses John Adams' use of the mythic figure of Hercules to embody his notion of masculine virtue, paying close attention to the sexual component of his beliefs. Adams' surviving letters, personal diaries, and unpublished autobiography reveal glimpses of his views of masculine sexual identity—much of which was articulated both explicitly and implicitly via the figure of Hercules. When Adams invoked Hercules, he did so only using the particular story of the Choice of Hercules. The story focused narrowly on young Hercules' confrontation with two women or goddesses, Virtue and Pleasure. Hercules must decide between taking the proper path for his life. Pleasure unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Hercules from the hard path of virtue. The story thus emphasized a moment in the life of young Hercules when he chose virtue and a moral path over a life of pleasure and indulgence.

Keywords:   John Adams, Hercules, masculine virtue, masculinity, sexuality, pleasure

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