[Back to Articles & Essays - J] [Back to RBT Files]
Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West
Journal of Homosexuality
(ISSN: 0091-8369) Volume: 49 Issue: 3/4 2005
Prepublication ISBN-13: 978-1-56023-603-0 http://www.haworthpress.com/store/product.asp?sku=5694
Reconsiderations About Greek Homosexuality (William Armstrong Percy III)
Glukus Himeros: Pederastic Influence on the Myth of Ganymede (Vernon Provencal)
Pindar’s Tenth Olympian and Athlete-Trainer Pederasty (Thomas Hubbard)
Boeotian Swine: Homosexuality in Boeotia (Charles Hupperts)
Some Myths and Anomalies in the Study of Roman Sexuality (James L. Butrica)
The Originality of Tibullus’ Marathus Elegies (Beert C. Verstraete)
On Kissing and Sighing:
Hellenism and Homoeroticism in Shelley and His Circle (John Lauritsen)
The Greek Mirror: The Uranians and Their Use of Greece (Donald H. Mader)
Table of Abbreviations
Index of Names and Terms
Reference Notes Included
Reconsiderations About Greek Homosexualities
William Armstrong Percy PhD
Focusing his analysis on (mostly Athenian) vase paintings of the sixthand early fifth-century and on a handful of texts from the late fifthand early fourth-century (again Athenian), Dover depicted the pederastic relationship of erastes (age 20 to 30) and eromenos (age 12-18) as defined by sexual roles, active and passive, respectively.
This dichotomy he connected to other sexual and social phenomena, in which the active/ penetrating role was considered proper for a male adult Athenian citizen, while the passive/penetrated role was denigrated, ridiculed, and even punished.
Constructing various social and psychological theories, Foucault and Halperin, along with a host of others, have extended his analysis, but at the core has remained the Dover dogma of sexual-role dichotomization. Penetration has become such a focal point in the scholarship that anything unable to be analyzed in terms of domination is downplayed or ignored.
To reduce homosexuality or same-sex behaviors to the purely physical or sexual does an injustice to the complex phenomena of the Greek male experience. From Sparta to Athens to Thebes and beyond, the Greek world incorporated pederasty into their educational systems. Pederasty became a way to lead a boy into manhood and full participation in the polis, which meant not just participation in politics but primarily the ability to benefit the city in a wide range of potential ways. Thus the education, training, and even inspiration provided in the pederastic relationship released creative forces that led to what has been called the Greek 'miracle.'
From around 630 BCE we find the institution of Greek pederasty informing the art and literature to a degree yet to be fully appreciated. Moreover, this influence extends not only to the 'higher' realms of culture, but can be seen stimulating society at all levels, from the military to athletic games, from philosophy to historiography. An understanding of sexual practices-useful, even essential, to an appreciation of Greek pederasty cannot fully explicate its relationship to these other phenomena; pederasty is found in many societies, and certainly existed before the Greeks. It is time that we move beyond Dover and recover the constructive dynamics of Greek pederasty.
The Dispersion of Pederasty and the Athletic Revolution in Sixth-Century BC Greece
Thomas F. Scanlon PhD
Dorian Crete and Thebes are conventionally seen by ancient sources as the originators of pederasty; modern historians see support for this view in Dorian male-centered militarism and sexual segregation in upbringing. Here athletic culture, including training, nudism, and competition, is argued to be a chief 'trigger' for the emergence of pederasty in Sparta and its relatively rapid spread to other Greek states in the seventh to sixth centuries BC.
Athletic nudity, in particular, was not a device to enforce civic egalitarianism, as some have argued, but is a persistently erotic incentive that reinforces hegemonic maleness and advertises the individual's virtuous exercise of restraint. In particular, Sparta is found to be the likely source of generalized athletic nudity combined with open pederasty in the early seventh century BC.
Nudism in Greek art is erotically charged and not, as others argue, simply a gender marker in the seventh century. Generalized athletic nudity spread to other Greek states emulating the successful Spartan model by the 'athletic revolution' of the early sixth century. With athletic nudity, open pederasty, again following Sparta, was fostered.
Glukus Himeros: Pederastic Influence on the Myth of Ganymede
Vernon Provencal PhD
Pederastic influence on the myth of Ganymede enables it to evolve, in a continuous line of development easily traced in the history of Greek literature from Homer to Plato, into a homoerotic emblem of the spiritual union of the human and divine. Continuity in this history is marked by the thematic use of the Homeric phrase glukus himeros, (“sweet longing”) to describe sexual desire in association with the Ganymede myth in the Hymn to Aphrodite, Pindar and Plato.
Himeros Pindar's Tenth Olympian and Athlete-Trainer Pederasty
Thomas Hubbard PhD
The comparison of the adolescent boxer Hagesidamus and his trainer Ilas to Patroclus and Achilles in Pindar's Olympian 10.16-21 and the subsequent comparison of Hagesidamus to Ganymede in Olympian 10.99-105 suggest that the relationship was in some sense pederastic, particularly in the wake of Aeschylus' treatment of Achilles and Patroclus in these terms in Myrmidons.
This possibility motivates a broader examination of the evidence for such relationships in fifth-century Greece. There is no doubt that the palaestra was a central locus for the formation of pederastic liaisons and that athletic nudity was integral to the esthetic construction of adolescent beauty. There is also no doubt that the trainer's position afforded him regular intimacy and close physical contact with boys; several Hellenistic texts take for granted the erotic opportunities connected with the position.
The “Solonian” law presuming to protect pupils from such relationships, attested in Aeschines, was probably a late fifth-century development in reaction to their common occurrence in earlier generations. Evidence also exists for lovers acting as financial backers to boy athletes or as informal trainers. Some of the most intriguing evidence for the conflation of the trainer's and lover's roles can be found in red-figure vase painting of the late sixthand fifth-centuries.
Boeotian Swine: Homosexuality in Boeotia
Charles Hupperts PhD
This article shows that the accounts in our ancient sources regarding Boeotian attitudes towards homosexuality, namely that the Boeotians were different from other Greeks in that they enjoyed great freedom in this respect and seemingly everything was permissible to them, present a distorted picture of the homosexual practices in this region.
In fact, vase paintings with homosexual iconography dating from the sixth century BC reveal marked similarities with Attic and Corinthian pottery ware of the same period. The view that the Boeotians conducted themselves in an 'uncivilized' manner in their homosexual relations is therefore better understood as an attempt by other Greeks to distinguish themselves from the 'boorish' Boeotians and to justify their own aversion to this form of erotic love.
"Sleeping in the Bosom of a Tender Companion": Homoerotic Attachments in Sappho
Anne L. Klinck PhD
This paper re-examines the ancient evidence to see what light it sheds on homoeroticism in Sappho. From the Hellenistic period on there are derogatory references to her homosexuality-and also denials that she was involved in same-sex relationships.
From the late archaic period on there are hints that women from Lesbos had a reputation for being sexually adventurous. Yet there is a discontinuity between these quips about Sappho and/or “Lesbianism,” and her own poetry, which is intense, sometimes voluptuous, but really not very carnal.
Sappho's oeuvre is so fragmentary that the evidence it offers is tentative at best. Nevertheless, if her homoerotic poetry is at all autobiographical it reflects a circle of mainly adolescent girls or very young women around a somewhat older and more authoritative Sappho. Passionate attachments exist between members of this group as well as between individual girls and Sappho.
Although many modern scholars believe Sappho's relationships were egalitarian and same-age, the collective evidence of her own poetry together with the ancient testimonia and commentaries does not support that inference.
Some Myths and Anomalies in the Study of Roman Sexuality
James L. Butrica PhD
This paper seeks to dispel several myths prevalent in the scholarship on Roman sexuality:
It also draws attention to some neglected, unfamiliar, or misinterpreted evidence-anomalous on the current understanding of Roman sexuality, where women, boys, and lower-class men are supposed to have equal standing as potential passive sexual partners for adult men-for adult men whose sexual partners are exclusively male, and either active or passive:
Representations of the Cinaedus in Roman Art: Evidence of a Gay Subculture?
John R. Clarke PhD
Whereas analysis of ancient Roman texts reveals signs of a possible homosexual subculture, their interpretation is difficult. This article analyzes the content and context of visual representations of male-male intercourse, including wall paintings at Pompeii, a silver cup, and an engraved agate gemstone.
Whether presenting negative stereotypes (Tavern of Salvius, Pompeii; Suburban Baths, Pompeii), or positive ones (Warren Cup, British Museum; Leiden gemstone), these representations reveal the presence of well-developed social attitudes toward the practice of male-male sex and the practitioners themselves.
The Originally of Tibullus' Marathus Elegies
Beert C. Verstraete PhD
As far we can judge from the extant literature, Tibullus' three Marathus elegies are among the most sophisticated poetry of male same-sex desire and love composed in the ancient Greco-Roman world. These poems belong to a long and well-established tradition of male homoerotic poetry that goes back to the Greeks of the Archaic Age and was given new impetus centuries later in Roman literature. In this tradition, Tibullus' Marathus elegies stand out for their qualities of irony, dramatic engagement, and psychological finesse. Keywords: greek and roman literature, male homoerotic poetry, Tibullus, Marathus elegies
On Kissing and Sighing:
Renaissance Homoerotic Love from Ficino's De Amore and Sopra Lo Amore to Cesare Trevisani's L'impresa (1569)
Armando Maggi PhD
This essay investigates the homoerotic connotations present in the so-called treatises on love, a popular philosophical and literary genre of the Italian Renaissance. The referential text of this sixteenthcentury genre is Marsilio Ficino's De amore (1484), a deeply innovative interpretation of Plato's Symposium.
Focusing on the initial section of Ficino's text, Maggi highlights some important structural differences between the De amore and the Symposium.
Moreover, by comparing Ficino's Latin text with his own subsequent Italian translation (Sopra lo amore, 1544), Maggi examines how Ficino interprets some key terms such as “appearance” and “splendor.” The second part of the essay studies Cesare Trevisani's L'impresa (1569), a later treatise on love with an explicit homoerotic foundation.
Light in Hellas: How German Classical Philology Engendered Gay Scholarship
Wayne R. Dynes
Beginning in the latter part of the eighteenth century, German classical philology acquired a hegemonic status that made it the envy of scholars in other nations. Among the tasks embraced by this great endeavor was the study of what is known of same-sex behavior in ancient Greece.
Remarkably, the German philologists chose to present their findings straightforwardly in modern German, accessible to every educated reader. The deposit of this inquiry is the basis of our contemporary knowledge of ancient Greek homosexuality.
Moreover, by providing models of homosexual behavior that were more positive than those prevalent in Europe at the time, the research fostered the emergence of the German Gay Movement in 1897.
Hellenism and Homoeroticism in Shelley and His Circle
This paper discusses two leading English Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and George Gordon, Lord Byron-and three of their friends, who lived close together in Italy during the first half of 1822.
Despite the censorious efforts of family, friends and biographers, ample evidence survives to establish the importance of male love in their lives and works. They were ardent hellenists, whose reference point for male love was the homoerotic ethos of Ancient Greece.
The Greek Mirror: The Uranians and Their Use of Greece
Donald H. Mader BA, MDiv
The Uranians comprised a loosely-knit group of British and American homosexual poets writing between approximately 1880 and 1930, sharing a number of basic cultural and literary assumptions derived on one hand from Walter Pater, and on the other from Walt Whitman.
Although they used Oriental, Christian and other motifs, one of the major elements many shared was a use of various allusions and themes from ancient Greece, including paganism, male companionship or intimate friendship (which was not defined in terms of sameness), and democracy and a natural aristocracy of virtue, which they applied to the concerns of their own society and era.
The model of male relationships which they advocated (and in at least some cases practiced) was almost uniformly asymmetrical, either by age or class, or both. In addition to their poetry, various theoretical writings by members of the group are also involved in the discussion, and this article argues that these historical/ literary allusions and themes should not be understood as means of evasion which allowed them to write of tabooed subjects safely, but as part of a consciously adopted artistic/cultural strategy for homosexual emancipation. It also suggests that their arguments should be reexamined as a corrective to the present egalitarian model of homosexuality.
Eros Underground: Greece and Rome in Gay Print Culture, 1953-65
Amy Richlin PhD
This essay surveys the building of intellectual community through print culture in the nascent gay movement in the United States and in Europe in the mid-twentieth century. Amateur historians, especially Jim Kepner and W. Dorr Legg of ONE, used Greece and Rome as models on which to base claims for gay rights.
Ancient history figured in ONE's educational enterprises, including articles in the magazine ONE, the ONE Institute, and Homophile Studies. The magazine writers and their readership faced problems in the accessibility of knowledge, which the increasing circulation of the magazines corrected, to a degree.
Biases surviving from the Victorian period caused the popular idea of ancient homophile culture to favor Greece over Rome, and made “Greek” a code word. Antiquity also played a large, though decreasing, role in formations of homoerotic fantasy during this period.
Pederasty: An Integration of Cross-Cultural, Cross-Species, and Empirical Data
Bruce Rind PhD
Pederasty, or sexual relations between men and adolescent boys, is condemned in our society as an unqualified evil that maims and destroys. In ancient Greece, samurai Japan, and numerous other cultures, pederasty was seen as the noblest of human relations, conducive if not essential to nurturing the adolescent's successful intellectual and physical maturation.
Current psychological and psychiatric theorizing have pronounced and promoted the former view, while ignoring the vast array of cross-cultural data related to the latter view. Mental health opinion has also ignored a wealth of cross-species data with important parallels. Instead, this opinion is based on feminist models of rape and incest, which are backed up by clinical research on child sexual abuse.
The current article examines empirical rather than clinical data on pederasty, and supplements this with cross-cultural and cross-species perspectives. The empirical data show that pederasty is not only not predestined to injure, but can benefit the adolescent when practiced according to the ancient Greek form. Cross-cultural and cross-species data show the extensiveness of pederasty in the natural world, as well as its functional rather than pathological nature in these societies and species.
An evolutionary model that synthesizes the empirical, cross-cultural, and cross-species data is proposed as an alternative to the highly inadequate feminist and psychiatric models. The animal data suggest that the seeds for pederasty were planted at the dawn of humanity. The human data suggest that pederasty came to serve a mentoring function.
[Back to Articles & Essays - J] [Back to RBT Files]