History

A history of same sex love: Greeks (1)

When I was 23-years-old I handed my mother a 13-page coming out letter. This letter read like a dissertation and I’m honestly shocked I didn’t include citations or a bibliography. It was structured linearly and I proceeded to argue my case for being a lesbian. I’m talking biblical references, well-developed ethical arguments (with counter-points and rebuttals), appeals to ethos, pathos and logos AND academic quotes. [Is it obvious I had just completed my first argument course?]

Needless to say, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (diagnosed) and an insatiable desire to learn.

Prior to coming out, this led me on a quest to consume as much information about homosexuality as humanly possible. I would like to share this information in case another could benefit from my extensive research when coming out to his/her/ their family.

I found a historical understanding of homosexuality to be especially important when conversing with people who claim it is “unnatural” or the byproduct of a liberal agenda.

Here are some facts about homosexual activity (the Greeks did not have a word for homosexuality as we understand it today) in parts of ancient Greece.

  • Pederasty was an important part of Greek culture where an older man (erastes) would teach a younger, most likely teenaged, man (the eromenos) all about politics, war, sex and essentials to becoming an ideal citizen
  • Homosexual activity is extremely common among the Olympian male gods
    • In fact, all primary male gods on Olympus had homosexual relationships attributed to them with the exception of Ares (the god of war)
      • Zeus kidnapped the beautiful Ganymede to be his lover and cup-bearer on Mount Olympus, Poseidon took Pelops, the king of Pisa, as his lover, Apollo is linked to several men but most notably the Macedonian Prince Hyakinthos, who was killed after catching a discus and Apollo turned him into the hyacinth flower.
        • Hercules, Dionysus, Hermes and Pan also enjoyed the company of men
      • Poets constantly wrote about same-sex love, attraction and affection. These included
      • Greek political leaders had consequential instances of homoerotic passions
        • Athens: Solon, Peisistratus, Hippias, Hipparchus, Themistocles, Aristides, Critias, Demosthenes, and Aeschines
        • Sparta: Pausanias, Lysander, and Agesilaus
        • Samos: Polycrates
        • Syracuse: Hieron and Agathocles
        • Thebes: Epaminondas and Pelopidas
        • Macedon: Archelaus, Philip II, and Alexander
      • Socrates, Plato and Xenophon spoke or wrote about the power of love between men (albeit denying physical expression of this love)
      • Stoics, or people who ascribe to self-control as a means of overcoming emotions, such as Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus lauded boy love
      • Phidias’s love for Pantarces was memorialized in marble.
      • In Plato’s Symposium, the character Phaedrus praises the “male eros.”
        • “For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to a lover than a beloved youth. For the principle that ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live—that principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love.”

Many biographers and historians believe that, in Greek culture, “not to have had a male lover seems to have bespoken a lack of character or a deficiency in sensibility”. However, as time progressed the “sin” of the ancient Greeks was widely condemned. In fact, homosexuality became “the sin not even to be mentioned among Christians.” If it had to be mentioned it was limited to legal treaties or discussions of moral theology.

Why was there such a distinct and sharp change? I don’t have an answer yet but we’re on a mission to keep learning and discovering.

Ps the majority of this information comes from this book. I highly recommend purchasing it.

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