Greek homosexuality which involved pederasty (sexual relations between a man and a boy with the boy as a passive partner) was a central feature of Greek civilization among the upper classes. The writer E. M. Foster had a fictional character in the work Maurice call Greek homosexuality "the vice of the Greeks".
The Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham declared concerning Greek homosexuality:
|“||Most of the ancient Near East adopted an attitude to homosexuality very similar to that of classical Greece and Rome which simply accepted it as long as it was done among consenting adults. Indeed Greeks and Romans often approved homosexual acts between adult men and youths where it was part of an ongoing educational relationship. This practice of pederasty does not seem to have been approved in the ancient orient, but in other respects the classical and oriental outlooks seem similar.||”|
Historical sources and evidence
What is known about homosexuality in Greece is mainly revealed through and Greek tragedies (dramas) and mythological stories of Greek gods, and this historical record is overall fragmentary. Of the approximately 1,000 Greek tragedies that were produced in Athens, the learning capital of Greece in little over one century, only 33 have survived. In addition, this and other literary evidence of homosexuality in ancient Greece consists almost completely of public forms, and lacks the evidence of private journals and letters. A further issue is that it is difficult to determine if homosexuality was at all common among all classes, rather than mostly remaining among the upper classes of society. Some assert that pro-homosexual authors have been extrapolate prevalent homosexuality out of little evidence.
The largest amount of material pertinent to the history of homosexuality in Greece is from notable philosophers and writers such as Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, and pseudo-Lucian, to plays by Aristophanes, to Greek artwork and vases. James B. De Young notes that homosexuality seems to have existed more widely among the ancient Greeks more than among any other ancient culture. The main form of this was pederasty, a custom that seems to have been practiced mostly among the upper classes, in which an older man (the erastest) would make a young free boy (the eromenos) his sex partner, and become his mentor. This was regulated by the State as an institution. However, this practice was usually a supplement to marriage, and thus is seen as being done by bisexuals. The practice of pederasty is mentioned in Homer's Iliad, and is evidenced to have existed at least 4500 years ago in ancient Egypt.
In the Amores (the loves) of Lucian, an Assyrian rhetorician (125 to approx. 180), which many think was written by another in a later period, and thus it is called, pseudo-Lucian, extensive discourses are given on the subject of homosexual affections and relations. In Amores 10, Lycinus describes the Athenian character Callicratidas as one who was well provided with handsome slave-boys and all of his servants were. pretty well beardless. They remained with him till the down first appeared on their faces, but, once any growth cast a shadow on their cheeks, they would be sent away to be stewards and overseers of his properties at Athens. This man is set in contrast to the character Charicles who loves females, and who supports the cause of normal heterosexual passion, first most because of their ability to procreate.
However, homosexual "orientation" is also indicated on the part of Callicratidas, at least toward boys, as in Amores 20 he is said to be reluctant to go to the temple of Aphrodite because he was going to see something female, while Charicles describes those who engage in homosexual sex as having "bought a little pleasure at the cost of great disgrace. Sternly reproving homosexuals he also states, With what blind insensibility have you engulfed your souls that you have missed the mark in both directions, avoiding what you ought to pursue, and pursuing what you ought to avoid? (22)
Charicles also laments those who attempted basic sex change operations through castration: The daring of some men has advanced so far in tyrannical violence as even to wreak sacrilege upon nature with the knife. By depriving males of their masculinity they have found wider ranges of pleasure. But those who become wretched and luckless in order to be boys for longer remain male no longer, being a perplexing riddle of dual gender, neither being kept for the functions to which they have been born nor yet having the thing into which they have been changed. (21)
For his part Callicratidas forwards an polemic that is used today by homosexual apologists, that homosexuality was not seen in early times, "for intercourse with women was necessary so that our race might not utterly perish for lack of seed", (35) and postulates that doing away with martial relations would be a good thing, if children could be hand another way, lamenting the efforts women must go through to make themselves attractive. Yet he sees the efforts that a child must go through as making him an attractive object of homosexual affection for all men. (38-46)
The famous philosopher Plato (427 B.C. - 346 B.C.) around 348 B.C. describes and implies the widespread practice of homosexuality, and advocates laws to regulate it. One of the most explicit records of disapproval of homosexuality is found in Laws 636c, in which Plato, speaking through the character of the Athenian stranger, describes homosexual relations as an "enormity" or "crime" (tolmema), and explains that it derives from being enslaved to pleasure. He plainly rejects homosexual behavior as "unnatural" (para physin), as “When male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female”. Homosexuality is also described regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments: Homosexuality is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.
In Plutarch's Dialogue on Love, he has Daphnaeus disparage "union contrary to nature with males" (he para physin homilia pros arrenas), as contrasted to "the love between men and women," which is characterized as "natural" (te physei). A few sentences later, Daphnaeus complains that those who "consort with males" willingly are guilty of "weakness and effeminacy," because "contrary to nature (para physin)," they "allow themselves in Plato's words 'to be covered and mounted like cattle'" (Dialogue on Love 751C, E). However, he also wrote that "The noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail", and which many use to endorse homosexuality.
Plato's Symposium, a collection of ideas on love by several friends of Socrates, with the latter's thoughts at the end, acknowledges homosexuality as a condition. Aristophanes posits that there were three kinds of beings from the beginning, that of the male, the female - and a third androgynous - type of person. Zeus is said to have cut these humans in half so that they seek their other sexual counterpart, or in the case of composite being, their own sex. Aristophanes then describes the latter as being such as prefer their own gender, in which he includes lesbianism, and all of which the pagan philosopher commends.Young notes that in Symposium, Plato anticipates virtually every element in the modern discussion the homosexual condition. This reality stands in opposition to the premise which many pro-homosexual writers rely upon, in seeking to disallow the universal condemnation of homoeroticism in Romans 1.
Additional sources in Plato's Symposium which evidence and advocate homosexuality in Greek culture, including some that speak of a predisposition towards it, include The Speech of Pausanias (181b-185c), The speech of Socrates (209c-d; 210e-211e). The Speech of Alcibiades (215a-222b). Selections from the Phaedrus (231c-240c) also give indications of how homosexuality was thought of in Greek philosophy.
Though the Greeks also practiced homosexual relations existed among equals, it was considered problematic, as while the predominate man was considered to be masculine, the one who played the female role would be seen as inferior. In Amores 24, Charicles invokes Plato as saying that "as long as his beard was not yet fully grown, he was beloved by all. But, after he had passed from boyhood to manhood, during the years when his hitherto immature intellect now had its full powers of reason, he was hated by all." This role more likely pertained to slaves, or male youths who were not yet citizens.
Attitudes toward homosexuality varied in Greece, as general strictures against same-sex eros existed in parts of Ionia, while in Elis and Boiotia (e.g., Thebes), it was approved of and sometimes celebrated.
- Roman Homosexuality
- Homosexuality in Greek literature
- Religious Upbringing and Culture Affects Rates of Homosexuality
- Teenager Homosexuality
- The Old Testament Attitude to Homosexuality, Gordon J Wenham, Expository Times 102 (1991): 259-363
- Dover, K.J., Greek Homosexuality (Harvard University Press, 1989, as summarized in "Homosexuality," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, August 2002)
- Homosexuality, By James B. DeYoung p. 322
- PSEUDO-LUCIAN, AFFAIRS OF THE HEART, 10
- Laws 636a-c; 835-c; 836a-e; 838b-839b; 840de; 841de
- David E. Malick, "The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27"
- First Things, Peter L. Berger, Leadership U.
- Quoted by John Boswell in "The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective" (1979).
- Dialogue on Love 751C, E
- Plutarch, Dialogue on Love, 146.
- 182e-184b, 186b-e, 187c, 192b-c, 193c, 200a-201c-e
- Young, Homosexuality, pp. 189-204
- Young, Homosexuality, pp. 205-214
- John Boardman et al, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World, 1986, pp. 225-226.
- cf. Dover, 1989; Halperin, 1990
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