Homosexuality in Ancient Greece Section 1

Friday 21 November 2014.

Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

Although this article is included in the section of age-structured homosexuality, its scope is broader in that it addresses more than Greek pederasty. It discusses Greek sexuality in general, adult homosexual activity, and compares our modern western society to that of ancient Greece.

What, then, can we conclude about homosexuality in the modern American culture if one only listens to those on the political left, from those on the political right, or from the various court cases? One may find a fourth view when the issue of homosexuality is on a ballot up for vote. Two contradictory outcomes have been the result depending on whether the question has been an issue of discrimination or the definition of marriage. In an overwhelming majority of times when the vote has been to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples the results have been not to change the historical definition of marriage of one man and one woman. There have been more favorable outcomes when the question is discrimination against homosexuals. So then our modern American culture view of homosexuality is very similar to that of ancient Greece as seen in the following quotes by historians David Cohen and Bruce Thornton.

“What, then, is one to conclude about a culture whose laws expressed a deep-rooted anxiety about pederasty while not altogether forbidding it? A culture in which attitudes and values ranged from the differing modes of approbation represented in Plato’s Symposium to the stark realism of Aristophanes and the judgment of Aristotle that homosexuality is a diseased or morbid state acquired by habit and comparable to biting fingernails or habitually eating earth or ashes? A culture is not a homogeneous unity; there was no one "Athenian attitude" towards homoeroticism. The widely differing attitudes and conflicting norms and practices which have been discussed above represent the disagreements, contradictions and anxieties which make up the patterned chaos of a complex culture. They should not be rationalized away. To make them over into a neatly coherent and internally consistent system would only serve to diminish our understanding of the "many-hued" nature of Athenian homosexuality.” (Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens, p. 21)

“What, then, is one to conclude about a culture whose laws expressed a deep rooted anxiety about pederasty while not altogether forbidding it. A culture in which attitudes and values range from the differing modes of approbation represented in Plato’s Symposium to the stark realism of Aristophanes and the judgment of Aristotle, that in a man, the capacity to feel pleasure in a passive sexual role is a diseased or morbid state, acquired by habit, and comparable to biting fingernails or habitually eating earth or ashes. A culture is not a homogeneous unity; there was no one “Athenian attitude” towards homoeroticism. The widely differing attitudes and conflicting norms and practices which have been discussed above represent the disagreements, contradictions, and anxieties which make up the patterned chaos of a complex culture. They should not be rationalized away. To make them over into a nearly coherent and internally consistent system would only serve to diminish our understanding of the “many-hued” nature of Athenian homosexuality.” (Cohen, Law, Sexuality, and Society The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens, p. 201-202).

“First, most of the writing on ancient sexuality these days grinds the evidence in the mill of an “advocacy agenda” supported by some fashionable theory that says more about the crisis of Western rationalism than it does about ancient Greece. Thus we are told that the Greeks saw nothing inherently wrong with sodomy between males as long as certain “protocols” of age, social status, and position were honored, an interpretation maintained despite the abundance of evidence, detailed below in Chapter 4, that the Greeks-including pederastic apologists like Plato-were horrified and disgusted by the idea of male being anal ling penetrated by another male and called such behavior “against nature.” One purpose here is to get back to what the Greeks actually say without burying it in polysyllabic sludge.” (Thornton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p. xiii)

“There can be no doubt that the development of homosexuality was connected with the rise of the gymnnasis and arenas in which boys practised the five exercises of the pentathlon, which comprised wrestling, the foot-race, leaping, throwing the discus and hurling the javelin. Others were boxing and the pancration, a mixture of fist-fighting and wrestling. The competitors were always naked and watched by admiring spectators.” (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.65)

“One thing is certain: homosexuality was associated in the Greek mind with the separation of the sexes, military ethos, male nudity, physical culture, and gymnasis. The education of boys consisted of physical training as much as scholarship and the arts, and it took place in the gmnasia. The word comes from gymnos, which means naked. Boys spend a great part of the day racing and wrestling there, naked or lightly clad.” (Karlen, Sexuality and Homosexuality A New View, p.31-32)

“Once one looks beyond the literary apologists for homosexuality in ancient Greece, one finds a widespread attitude of mockery and disgust. Homosexual behavior was probably often practice with shame, false bravado or secrecy.” (Karlen, Sexuality and Homosexuality A New View, p.35)

“The point of all of this is not to prove that homosexuality is vicious or pernicious, but that in ancient Greece homosexuality was considered a deviation; it was given positive value only by a minority of homosexuals, bisexuals and apologists. Neither did its presence in Greece have any relationship to social, artistic or political health. The fact that homosexuality was a factor in the lives of great men only speaks for its prevalence among the leisured, literate elite from which artists and statesmen came. A permissive or positive view of homosexuality must find other grounds than the myth that made everything Greek praiseworthy.” (Karlen, Sexuality and Homosexuality A New View, p. 38)

“If ancient Greeks and Romans were concerned with the social and political implications of their sex acts, modern westerners have become obsessed with desire’s object. The West has been largely preoccupied with whom people had sex, ancients with the question of excess or over-indulgence, activity and passivity.” (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 17)

Sex was viewed as directional, and having two roles active and passive

While this article is written to discuss the homosexuality, specifically Greek pederasty, a discussion of how the Greek’s saw sexuality must be understood. In our modern understanding of sexuality, except in cases of abuse such as rape, the partners are equals. But this was not the case in ancient Greece. First there was a fundamental inequity in favor of the free male in relationship to boys, women and slaves. Secondly this resulted in sex having a directional quality, with an anatomic imperative, again in favor of the free male. Sex was something he did to someone else and what he used to do it with, his male sex organ, the penis. Thirdly, sex had active/passive roles, one partner was the penetrator and the second partner was penetrated. Thus the ancient Greeks may be seen as having a greater acceptance for bisexuality.

“For the ancients, many historians agree, sexuality was not a separate realm of experience, the core of private life; instead it was directly linked to social power and status. People were judged by public behavior, for which there were clear roles; marriage, for instance, was a duty that bore no necessary relationship to erotic satisfaction. Socially powerful males (citizens) enjoyed sexual access to almost all other members of the society (including, in Greece, enslaved males, younger free males, foreigners, and women of all classes).” (Clausen, Beyond Gay or Straight, p. 51)

“First, the expression of sexuality was centered on a fundamental inequity, not only in male-female relationships, but also between male partners in a homosexual relationship.” (King, “Sowing the Field: Greek and Roman Sexology, p. 29 in Sexual Knowledge Sexual Science: The History of the Attitudes in Sexuality editors Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich)

“ In Greece the sexual relationship was assumed to be a power relationship, where one participant is dominate and the other inferior. On one side stands the free adult male; on the other, women, slaves, and boys. Sexual roles are isomorphic with social roles; indeed, sexual behavior is seen as a reflection of social relationship not as itself the dominant theme. Thus it is important for us to remember that for the Greeks it was one’s role, not one’s gender, that was salient. Sexual objects come in two different kinds – not male and female but active and passive.” (Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, p.135-136)

“In the late twentieth century it became fashionable to assume that penile penetration expressed the power of the penetrator and subordination of the penetrated (Foucault 1976/80-1984/6; Keuls 1985; Parker 1992). Many studies then concluded, rightly I feel, that men had sexual access to all those beneath them in society (unmarried females, non-citizen males, slaves; Richlin 1992: xviii; Sutton 1992; 5); only proper women and citizen males were off limits.” (Younger, Sex in the Ancient World From A to Z, p. xiv)

“Although sexual pleasure and marriage were not necessarily linked, sexuality and domination most certainly were. Far from being a mutual experience, sexual activity always had a directional quality for the Greeks. Sex was something one “did” to someone, and anatomic imperative dictated that it was a man (or more precisely the penis) that did the doing.” (Mondimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, p. 7)

“In both Greece and Rome, as the most recent studies have correctly argued, the fundamental opposition between different types of sexual behaviour was not the heterosex/homosexual contrast, but the active/passive contrast, the former category – activity – being characteristic of the adult male, while the latter – passivity – was reserved for women and boys.” (Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World, p. x)

“The ancient world, both Greek and Roman, did not base its classification on gender, but on a completely different axis, that of active versus passive. This has one immediate and important consequence, which we must face in the beginning. Simply put, there was no such emic, cultural abstraction as “homosexuality” in the ancient world. The fact that a man had sex with other men did not determine his sexual category. Equally, it must be emphasized, there was no such concept as “heterosexuality”. The application of these terms to the ancient world is anachronistic and can lead to serious misunderstandings. By the fifth time one has made the qualification, “The passive homosexual was not rejected for his homosexuality but for his passivity,” it ought to become clear that we are talking not about “homosexuality” but about passivity.” (Parker, The Teratogenic Grid, p.47-48 in Roman Sexualities editors Judith P. Hallett and Marilyn B. Skinner)

“As we remarked earlier, the Greeks showed a pronounced tendency to attach greatest importance to (indeed, to glorify) the sexual instinct itself rather than the particular object; consequently they were much freer than modern men to vary sexual objects on their relative merits. Greek culture, unlike modern cultures, imposed on adult males no limitations as to the choice of sexual objects per se, and the only “perversions” remarked by the comic poets (reflecting, we may be sure, community opinion) are cases in which sexual acts other than vaginal intercourse, otherwise perfectly acceptable, are pursed to excess (see Cratin. 152, for example) or practiced in an inappropriate setting.” (Henderson, The Maculate Muse, p.205)

“The third, closely related, feature is the importance of penetration; the main distinction in all sexual encounters, heter- or homosexual, was presented as being between penetrator and penetrated.” (King, “Sowing the Field: Greek and Roman Sexology” p.30 in Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of the Attitudes to Sexuality editors Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich p. 30)

“Scholarly debates endure on the question of whether Athenians and indeed other Greeks condoned most forms of consensual male-male sexual contact provided they respected broader social hierarchies including age, status and citizenship, or instead celebrated only chaste love between men and were more morally dubious about penetration. Despite ongoing controversy, it appears that in both the early modern Ottoman and ancient Athenian, contexts the active and passive in the sex act were conceived differently. Those prone to committing sodomy exhibited moral failure rather than sexual pathology in ways that will become familiar from the pages below.” (Phillips and Reay, Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 5)

“The Greeks associated sexual desire closely with other human appetites – the desire for food, drink, and sleep – and saw all these appetites as entailing the same moral problem, the problem of avoiding excess.” (Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, p.134)

“The Greek sexual ethic emphasized not what one did but how one did it; it involved not an index of particular forbidden acts but an inculcation to act with moderation.” (Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, p.135)

Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

“The ancient Greek and Latin languages have no word that can be translated as homosexual, largely because these societies did not have the same sexual categories that we do. Our concepts and categories of sexual expression are based on the genders of the two partners involved: heterosexuality when the partners are of the opposite sex, and homosexuality when the partner are of the same sex. In other times and among other peoples, this way of thinking about people simply doesn’t seem to apply-anthropologists, historians, and sociologists have described many cultures in which same-sex eroticism occupies a very different place than it does in our own.” (Mondimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, p. 3-4)

“Ancient Greece is often cited as an example of a civilization in which homosexuality was accepted as normal, even encouraged. This is not quite true. All males were expected to make love to women, to marry, and to sire a family, whether or they had a male lover or not. Moreover, love and sex between adult males was thought to be a bit ridiculous. The norm was for an adult male to have a relationship that lasted several years with an adolescent boy. When the boy reached maturity, he, then, was also expected to take a young lover.” (Goode, Deviant Behavior, p.193-194)

“Homosexuality was a universally recognized sexual option throughout the ancient world, particularly in Dorian areas, where it seems to have had a religious, ethical, and legal sanction and to have been more a part of man’s everyday public life than was the case in Athens.” (Henderson, The Maculate Muse, p.204)

“The second feature is more applicable to classical Greece culture. Male homosexual activity was, to some extent, seen as normal, but only if it was kept within certain clearly defined social parameters. Relationships between equals in age were frown upon. In classical Athens, homosexual relationships ideally had some features of an initiation rite, between a young, beardless boy and an older mentor. However, even such relationships were hedged round with etiquette regarding the process of courtship and the giving and receiving of gifts and other signals, while a ‘deep-rooted anxiety’ about pederasty was expressed in classical Athenian law. Aristotle argues that any enjoyment of what he saw as the subordinate, defeated role of the passive partner in a homoerotic relationship was unnatural; on Athenian vase-paintings, the passive partner is never showed with an erection. The Athenian figure of the kinaidos, the man who actually enjoys the passive role, is presented as a ‘scare-figure’, both socially and sexually deviant.” (King, “Sowing the Field: Greek and Roman Sexology” p. 30 in Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of the Attitudes to Sexuality editors Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich)

“The model of classical Athenian homosexual culture that continues to be the most influential is firmly based on that put forward by Sir Kenneth Dover in his 1978 book, Greek Homosexuality The views he developed there reached an audience beyond that of classical scholarship when they were taken up (in somewhat misunderstood form) by Michel Foucault in his 1984 book, L’usage des plaisirs (translated in 1985 as The Use of Pleasure). The model might be summarized in the following terms. Male homosexual acts normally took place between an erastes (lover), a young man, ideally a bachelor, and an eromenos (beloved), a beardless, adolescent boy between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Both would belong to the elite. The erastes would court the eromenos with such things as hunting gifts and, if successful, consummate his desire through anal sex. As the boy turned to manhood in the period between the ages of eighteen and twenty—the transitional period of life associated with service as an ephebe (a border-guard)—he would himself cease to be a passive partner and pursue other boys in turn. Later on, by around the age of thirty, he would give up homosexual activity altogether in favor of marriage. The role of the erastes was one of dominance, the role of the eromenos one of subjection, and they participated in a zero-sum game of social advantage and disadvantage. As a result, the pursued boy was in a morally precarious situation, but he could retain his honor so long as he was extremely discriminating in his acceptance of a lover, took extravagant gifts for his favors but money on no account, and did not make any show of enjoying the anal sex. The lover would use his dominant position to give the boy valuable help, material or ethical, in becoming a full adult member of the community, as is reflected in Plato’s Symposium. So far as the Athenians were concerned, only an extremely deviant grown man would put himself in the role of the eromenos, and those who did, whether as prostitutes (as Timarchus was alleged to have been in a well-known speech of Aeschines) or as kinaidoi (men who simply enjoyed and sought to receive anal sex, were conceptualized as effeminate and reviled, and at Athens the former group was deprived of at least some citizen rights.” (Gilbert, Conceptions of Homosexuality and Sodomy in Western History, p. 37-38 in A Cultural History of Sexuality Volume I In The Classical World editors Mark Golden, and Peter Toohey Editors)

“Both of these explanations of homosexuality-as either an “unnatural” perversion of sex or an excessive expression of its essential nature-can be found in ancient Greek literary remains. Choosing one of the two to the exclusion of the other, which is often the practice among modern scholars, oversimplifies the complexity of attitudes attested in the evidence.” Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.101)

“The ambiguity and complexity of Greek attitudes toward homosexuality can be seen first in the various speculations about its origins, which oscillate between the poles of culture and nature. Whatever its source, though, habitual, passive homosexuality is clearly considered an aberration, a disorder linked to violence and disease, even the supposedly accepted institution of pederasty.” (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p. 101-102)

“Whether the origins of homosexuality are to be found in nature or history, though, it clearly is problematic, even in its presumably accepted forms of pederasty, a phenomenon needing to be accounted for mythically in the crime of Laius.” (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p. 103)

“One of our difficulties when reading about ancient Greece is that the most common manifestation of homosexuality in the evidence concerns pederasty, the quasi-ritualized, transient, physical and emotional relationship between an older male and a youth, an activity we view as criminal. Very little, if any, evidence from ancient Greece survives that shows adult males (or females) as “couples” involved in an ongoing, reciprocal sexual and emotional relationship in which sex with women (or men) is moot and the age difference is no more significant than it is in heterosexual relationships. Thus the evidence from ancient Greece involves either man-youth homosexuality (the idealized social relationship we will discuss in Chapter 8), or more precisely defined passive homosexual or kinaidos, the adult male who perversely enjoys being penetrated by other males and who has sex with women only because of societal pressure. These two categories, as we will see, are not as mutually exclusive as they might appear, which accounts for the anxiety tingeing even the most enthusiastic ancient celebrators of pederasty.” Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.100

“In the first place it appears extremely likely that homosexuality of any kind was confined to prosperous and aristocratic levels of ancient society. The masses of peasants and artisans were probably scarcely affected by habits of this kind, which seem to have been associated with a sort of snobbery.” (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.62)

“In Athens, for a boy to have a homosexual relationship with an adult was considered not only acceptable, but also, under certain conditions, socially approved.” (Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World, p. 17)

“By the time Athens entered period of her greatest power in 480 B.C., male homosexual practices were undoubtedly common and socially tolerated, but were they sanctioned? The age of pederastic innocence was over and a certain anxiety about the subject can be traced in art and literature. The misgivings expressed over male homosexuality usually concerned either homosexual prostitution or the possibility of homoerotic relations between peers.” (Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus Sexual Politics in Ancient Greece, p. 287)

“The above outline of the homosexual ethos in Athens shows that it underwent a fundamental change between the Archaic and the Classical ages. The archetypal homosexual relationship was that between a childlike or prepubescent boy and a mature man. The contact had strong paternal overtones, and it involved affectionate response from the child partner and mild sexual response from the pubescent partner. The original image of the ideal “beloved” did not include any feminine traits. In general, the sexual approach was frontal and the copulation intracrural.

The period when this pattern took shape was the Archaic age of Athens, before the greatest flowering of Attic culture. During the fifth and fourth centuries this patterned became compromised and led to male prostitution by citizens and to adult male love affairs; both of these practices were consistently stigmatized as socially unacceptable. Anal sex, generally associated with obscenity and coarse behavior, were the common form these discredited types of homosexual contact.” (Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus Sexual Politics in Ancient Greece, p.298-299)

“This was especially so if the youth allowed himself to be penetrated, an act considered unworthy of a man and a free citizen, and one which could threaten his citizenship.” (Bishop and Osthelder, Sexualia From Prehistory to Cyberspace, p.208)

“The situation was totally different in the case of grown equals, however. Whereas the Dorian boy would attain manhood through his submission, the grown man who submitted to another man would lose his manliness and become effeminate, exposed to shame and scorn.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 89)

“Regardless of actual behavior patterns, anal copulation between two males was equated with sex between two adults, not between a mature man and a young boy, and it was obviously not approved” (Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus Sexual Politics in Ancient Greece, p. 291)

“Homosexuality, then, to the Greeks is a historical innovation, a result of the depraved human imagination and vulnerability to pleasure.” Thornton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.102)

“Already in 1964 Dover sounded the themes of his later publications: the centrality of Athenian law-court speeches; due attention to painted pottery; distinctions of genre, context, class, between beliefs and behaviors; the tendentious use of terms of personal abuse (such as “prostitute”) in political propaganda; and above all, the contrast between the older, active erastes and his passive junior partner in a homosexual pair, the eromenos. These Dover saw as essentially two stages in the social development of a Greek citizen rather than as life-long identities.” (Golden and Toohey, editors, Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, p. 6-7)

“Occasional exceptions need not undermine completely the general integrity of the model. But a more serious challenge to it has been mounted by James Davidson in an article first published in 2001. Davidson endorses from the Doverian-Foucauldian consensus the notion that a loss of honor on the part of an eromenos or, for that matter, on the part of anyone engaged in homosexual activities could ensue from a perceived failure of self-mastery (enkrateia, sophrosyne) in initially yielding to a relationship or in the conduct of it thereafter. A boy or man could demonstrate such a failure of self-mastery by yielding too readily or too eagerly, by yielding to many lovers at once or at random, or, most damagingly, by accepting money to yield—in other words, by becoming a prostitute. But Davidson decries what he sees as the fallacy of the "polarity of penetration" upon which the Dover-Foucault model otherwise depends. The notion that the anal penetrator was a "winner" and the anally penetrated was, to an equal and complementary degree, a "loser" in a zero-sum game of social advantage and disadvantage is to Davidson anachronistic and without warrant in the evidence for classical Athens. And, he maintains, there is insufficient evidence for the contention that the normal mode of sex between erastes and eromenos was the anal penetration of the latter by the former.” (Gilbert, Conceptions of Homosexuality and Sodomy in Western History, p.39 in A Cultural History of Sexuality Volume I In The Classical World editors Mark Golden, and Peter Toohey Editors)


In ancient Greece there is one particular adult male who is identified with homosexual behavior. The Greeks had a name for this individual, “kinaidos’. This individual was the one who took the passive receptive role in the male homosexual behavior of anal intercourse.

In doing so by being willing to take the passive, submissive role he was seen as unworthy to be a free man, and more like a male prostitute. As a result forfeited his right as a citizen to hold office. The man who would allow himself to be anally penetrated it was thought would also subject himself to the abuse of alcohol, eating, money, or power.

“Of those who surrendered to desires, none provoked more extreme outrage than the class of sexual degenerates known variously as katapugons or kinaidoi, the latter term apparently succeeding to the semantic field of the former some time around the beginning of the fourth century.” (Davidson, Courtesans & Fishcakes The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens, p. 167)

“Another male image, the kinaidos, was totally negative. This was the man who was represented as acting in an effeminate fashion, by implication taking the passive role in sex because he could not control his appetites. The male prostitute or kinaidos was very different from our modern notion of the homosexual. The male prostitute was not expelled from society because, like the female prostitute, he provided a sexual service, albeit a shameful one. A man was not seen as born a kinaidos or male prostitute-it was a role he acquired.” (Clark, Desire A History of European Sexuality, p. 22)

“What we find is the kinaidos as emblem of unrestrained compulsive sexual appetite, of surrender to the chaos of natural passion that threatens civilized order, a traitor to his sex, a particularity offensive manifestation of eros’s power over the masculine mind that is responsible for creating and maintaining that order in the face of nature’s chaos.” Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.101)

“But in nearly every genre of Greek literature the kinaidos’s appetite is sterile, useless, good only for pleasure, rendering the male prone to other appetites, for money or power, that also threaten culture and its discriminating categories, particularly if he is a citizen responsible in some measure for the political functioning of the city.” (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.101)

“The situation was totally different in the case of grown equals, however. Whereas the Dorian boy would attain manhood through his submission, the grown man who submitted to another man would lose his manliness and become effeminate, exposed to shame and scorn.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 89)

“Once we have accepted the universality of homosexual relations in Greek society as a fact, it surprises us to learn that if a man had at any time in his life prostituted himself to another man for money he was debarred from exercising his political rights.” (Dover, Classical Greek Attitudes to Sexual Behavior, p.122-123 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey.)

“In so far as the “passive partner” in a homosexual act takes upon himself the role of a woman, he was open to the suspicion, like the male prostitute, that he abjured his prescribed role as a future solider and defender of the community.” (Dover, Classical Greek Attitudes to Sexual Behavior, p.125 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey.

“As a rule, the only sexual practice attacked as a demeaning perversity is passive anal sex by men¸ the “wide-asses” (euryproktoi) who willingly submit to another man’s assertiveness. In this society, any form of submissiveness was considered unworthy of a free man. While all understood that a woman is naturally to be penetrated by a man, it was considered only for a slave or male prostitute to submit in this way to another male.” (Garrison, Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece, p.161)

“A man who enjoys playing the receptive partner is derogated as a prostitute and as having forfeited his right as a citizen to hold office. The assumption is that a man who would willingly make himself available would do anything! Only slaves, women, and foreigners would willingly choose to be treated as objects” (Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, p. 139)

“Whether created by history or nature, childhood sexual abuse or deformed seminal ducts, the man who enjoys anal penetration by another man is an aberration, a volatile locus of potential social disorder that like the woman he resemble must be dealt with.” (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.105)

“The protocols explain why. Since sexual activity is symbolic of (or constructed as) zero-sum competition and the restless conjunction of win, the kinaidos is a man who desires to lose. Contrary to all social junctions prescribing the necessity of men to exercise their desires in a way that shows mastery over self and others, the kinaidos simply and directly desires to be mastered.” (Winkler, “Laying Now the Law: The Oversight of Men’s Sexual Behavior in Classical Athens”. p. 186 in Before Sexuality The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World editors David M. Halperin, John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin)


After discussing how the Greek’s viewed sex in general, and specifically homosexuality, along with the ‘kinaidos’, the man who is the passive receptive partner in anal intercourse we now will discuss the Greek practice of pederastry,’ the love of boys’. Ideally pederasty did not have a sexual component, but was a rite of passage and an educational mode for an adult male (not a biological father) to take on the role of mentor for a young male entering puberty, growing and maturing into an adult male, who as a free male citizen was to be a political leader in the Greek city-state. Pederasty served the role for the moral and political formation of young men. More importantly it was not a private affair between two individuals but was a public affair for the benefit of all.

“For Greeks the essence of the personal morality lay in avoiding excess and passivity; it was they experience only special moral scruples.) We have already described some of those elaborate conventions which surrounded Greek pederasty. They reveal, in an acute form, Greek anxieties about passivity and excess. However, the boy, just because he had not yet achieved manly status could, if briefly, avoid the stigma of passivity and be an admissible object of pleasure. For the adult male, it was a challenge to his self-control: to direct the boy towards manhood and transform the relationship from one of love to friendship. In a sense it was a question of ‘stylistics’, of the manner of the relationship. One fashioned one’s morality in the course of living.” (Copley, Sexual Moralities in France 1780-1980, p. 27-28)

“The ancient Greeks, as is widely known, had a custom which they called paiderastia, or pederasty, consisting of erotic relations between adult men and adolescent boys.” (Lear and Cantarella, Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty Boys were their gods, p. xv.)

“The word pederasty is derived from the Greek paiderasteia, literally meaning the love of boys. In English pederasty has come to signify almost exclusively the practice of sexual inversion. But in Greek literature paiderasteia is used to refer to both to pure, disinterested affection and to physical homosexual relations.” (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.62)

“In the Greek language the word “paederasty” had not this ugly sound it has for us to-day, since it was regarded simply as an expression for one variety of love, and had no sort of defamatory meaning attached to it.” (Licht, Sexual Life in Ancient Greece, p.413)

“I hope that sufficient documentary evidence has been given to show that paiderasty was cultivated by heterosexually normal men in ancient Greece, where it did not presuppose an inversely homosexual type of personality. It was not considered a transgression, to be tolerated, nor was it felt to betoken to any laxity in moral standards; it was a natural part of the life-style of the best of men, reflected in the stories of the gods and heroes of the people.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 32)

“In Ancient Greece, homosexuality was described as pederasty, and was an integral part of life of the polis because it was a culture that allowed the norm to function. It therefore did not preclude relations with women, which was based on the reproductive order, and was based upon the division between an active principle and passive principle: a free man and a slave, a boy and a mature man and so on. Its function was, in other words, initiatory. Only the men had the right to practice pederasty, and the hierarchy precluded any equality between the partners. But a homosexual who refused to have anything to do with women was regarded as abnormal because he infringed the rules of the polis and the family institution.” (Roudinesco, Our Dark Side A History of Perversion, p. 33)

“The core of this interpersonal dynamic is a pedagogic relationship between the “inspirer” and the “inspired,” terminology shared by the Greeks and the Etor of New Guinea (Dover, 1978; Kelly¸1976). The younger man enters an erotic apprenticeship that immerses him in male culture and gender functions transmitted as a collective lore to new “adherents.” Consistent with the “one way” socialization process is role differentiation: The younger male is a “recipient” and the older, the “provider,” a role contrast that generally structures anal and oral intercourse. Unlike the Nyakyuas, the ancient model is a fundamentally intergenerational sexual dynamic in which exclusively “homosexual” younger men become “bisexual” in adulthood by acquiring wives and youthful lovers. The ancient model finds its highest development in the early imperial societies of Greece, China, Byzantium, and medieval Persia where social class complicates the inequality between adult and youth.” (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p.21-22 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)

“As we have seen, Greek pederasty fundamentally differed in form and function from modern sexuality. Admittedly, the Greek situation offered great opportunities to those males whose sexual interest mainly concerned other males, but this preference had to be limited to boys and, moreover, the passive and active roles in these relationships were sharply defined. In addition, this preference had to be propagated with moderation, without completely excluding the opposite sex. At the same time, the aspect of initiation into the adult world illuminates an even more important difference between Greek pederasty and modern ways of homosexuality. Whereas modern homosexuals often occupy a marginal position in society and are regularly considered to be effeminate, in Greece it was pederasty that provided access to the world of the socially elite; it was only the pederastic relationship that made the boy into a real man. The Greeks, then, certainly knew of ‘Greek love’ and their interest in boys was never purely platonic, but they did not, in any sense, invent homosexuality!” (Bremmer, Greek pederasty and modern homosexuality, p. 11) in From Sappho to De Sade, Jan Bremmer editor.)

“This shows that not only writers but also painters are aware of the fact that in order to maintain its proper character, pederasty has rules.” (Lear and Cantarella, Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty Boys Were Their Gods, p. 192)

“Paiderasty served the highest goal – education (paideia). Eros was the medium of paideia, uniting tutor and pupil. The boy submitted and let himself be taken in the possession of the man.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 87)

“But it was only after the formation of the city that the Greeks took to loving other men, and more particularly boys? Male homosexuality in Greece, in fact – or at least its most socially and culturally significant forms – was, in practice, pederasty, and was extremely widespread. The problem if its ‘origins’ remains open.” (Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World, p. 4)

“In Athens, homosexuality (which as we know was really pederasty, in the sense the sexual relationship between and adult and a young boy) held an important position in the moral and political formation of young men, who learned from their adult lovers the virtues of a citizen.” (Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World, p. viii)

“Such pederasty was supposed to transmit manly virtues of mind and body from nobleman to young lover (Vangaard, 1972).” (Karlen, “Homosexuality in History,” p.79 in Homosexual Behavior: A Modern Reappraisal, editor Judd Marmor)

“While for the Dorians the purpose of the love relationship was the development of a warrior, for the Athenians it was the vehicle through which males were educated in the values, beliefs and manners important to the Athenians, and through which the young man was introduced into adult male society. The relationship served a socializing function, whereby the youth, as companion to an older man, learned how to comport himself in society, how to enjoy the pleasures of life, and how to bring self-control and moderation to the enjoyment of those pleasures. With the guidance of his mentor/lover, the boy began cultivation of what were to the Greeks the all-important virtues of courage, temperance, justice and wisdom. Though the boy received a basic education in such areas as reading and writing from a tutor, or in later times a primary school which he would attend until his early teens, it was through his relationship with his lover that he acquired knowledge and experience in the world of the Athenian citizen, became conversant in politics, civic virtues and philosophy, and acquire an appreciation of the arts. This educational emphasis reflected the Athenian view that civic strength rested not just on military might, but on a citizenry composed of educated and virtuous men.” (Neil, The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies, p.163)

“For instance, in ancient Greece, homosexual relationships between older men and younger men were commonly accepted as pedagogic. Within the context of an erotic relation, the older man taught the younger one military, intellectual, and political skills. The older men, however, were also often husbands and fathers. Neither sexual relationship excluded the other. Thus, although ancient Greek society recognized male homosexual activity, the men in these relationships rarely defined themselves as primarily “homosexual.” (Escoffier, American Homo: Community and Perversity, p. 37)

“So these love relationships were not private erotic enterprises. They took place openly before the eyes of the public, were regarded as of great importance by the state, and were supervised by its responsible authorities.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 39)

“They were tied together in a pact equally compelling for both. It was the obligation of the erastes always to be an outstanding and impeccable example to the boy. He should not commit any deed that would shame the boy. His total responsibility to the boy made him dependent on the boy in ways far beyond the purely erotic. He was judged by the development and conduct of the boy. Even in regards to the bodily aspect of the relationship the boy could assert himself against his tutor.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 88)

“Many scholars have written much about early paiderastra-since Homer does not mention it, some scholars argue that it must be an innovation of the later Iron Age. Scholars than looked for causes (population control [Percy 1996], or a byproduct of athletic nudity [Scanlon 2002]. Paiderastra, however, is not homosexuality; it is a coming-of-age rite, and as such it has anthropological parallels that situate it in a stage of state-formation, at the tribal level. In that case, paiderastria should originate in the Bronze Age (Cantarella, 1992; 5), and I myself would put its development no later than the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1900- 1600 BCE).” (Younger, Sex in the Ancient World From A to Z, p. xv)

“The practice born in the Greek gymnasium to which Cicero refers to is not homosexuality but paiderastia, the courtship of free youths by older males, and the central issue was status rather than gender.” (Williams, Roman Homosexuality Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity, p.64)

“The abundant surviving literature composed by the ancients in praise of pederasty always assumes it to be an affair of minds, not bodies, a pure, ‘Platonic’ love, as still call it today, from which carnality is excluded. It was declared that Eros in such cases would not tolerate the presence of his mother Aphrodite. For Eos, as we have already suggested, symbolized the passion of the soul, and Aphrodite fleshly unions, whether homosexual or not.” (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.67)

“Instead the homosexual connection favored by the Greeks was not so much homoerotic as pederastic; the archetypal relationship was between a mature man at the height of his sexual power and need and a young, erotically underdeveloped boy just before puberty. The standard Greek nomenclature gives the older, aggressive partner the title of the “lover” (erastes) and the young, passive male that of the “beloved” (eromenos).” (Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus Sexual Politics in Ancient Greece, p.275)

“The term used to describe the sexual pursuit of adolescent males by adult males was ’paederastia’. In stark contrast to modern attitudes towards sex between teachers and students, paederastia was usually conceptualized as a pedagogic and erotic mentoring relationship between an adult male, the ’erastes’ (lover), and a young, passive ’pais’ (boy) called the ’eromenos’ (beloved), usually between 12 and 17-20 years old (though professional teachers and trainers, often former slaves, were not allowed to seduce their students, nor were slaves allowed to seduce young free-born males). Often presented as a normal part of the education of a young man, paederastia institutionalized a relationship in which the mentor instructed the boy in philosophical matters and general knowledge, and prepared him for his citizenship role.” (Mottier, Sexuality A Very Short Introduction, p. 12)

“The model of socially validated homosexuality was paiderastia (following Thorkil Vanggaard I will use this form to avoid identifying the Greek practice with the associations “pederasty” has in our world), the love of an older man for a youth (By older man here we mean mostly men in their twenties, while youths were adolescents.) The context was the gymnasium, where youths went to exercise (and display) their physical gifts, and the older men went to watch, appreciate and select. The arena was an upper-class one paiderastia was essentially an aspect of the paideia, the training for citizenship of aristocratic youths. (That same-sex love tended to be mocked in comedy, an art form that attracted the masse may indicate it played a less focal role in their lives.” (Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, p. 137)

“As is well known, to define it simply as a “homosexual relationship” (as was customary in the past) would be to falsify reality, attributing to the Greeks a concept which did not exist in their world. Today, it is generally accepted among scholars that an adult man in ancient Greece could with, little or no risk of social disapproval, express sexual desire for another male, so as long as the desired male was an adolescent (pais), whom the adult loved within the context of the socially codified and positively valued relationship which we call pederastic. This kind of relationship took place, then, between and “active” adult and a “passive” boy, though by “activity” and “passivity”- this is an important aspect of the question-the Greeks understood not necessarily and not only sexual roles, but also and above all intellectual and moral roles.” (Lear and Cantarella, Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty Boys Were Their Gods, p. 1-2)

“To facilitate the understanding of the Hellenic love of boys, it will be as well to say something about the Greek ideal of beauty. The most fundamental difference between ancient and modern culture is that ancient is throughout male and that the woman only comes into the scheme of the Greek man as mother of his children and as manager of household matters. Antiquity treated the man, and the man only, as the focus of all intellectual life. This explains why the bringing up and development of girls was neglected in a way we can hardly understand; but boys, on the other hand, were supposed to continue their education much later than is usual with us. The most peculiar custom, according to our ideas, was that every man attracted to him some boy or youth and, in the intimacy of daily life, acted as his counselor, guardian, and friend, and prompted him in all manly virtues. It was especially in the Doric states that this custom prevailed, and it was recognized so much as a matter of course by the State that it was considered a violation of duty by the man, if he did not draw one younger to him, and a disgrace to the boy if he was not honoured by the friendship of a man. The senior was responsible for the manner of life of his young comrade, and shared with him blame and praise.” (Licht, Sexual Life in Ancient Greece, p.418)

“It is beyond dispute, therefore, shocking as the fact may appear, that ‘homosexuality contributed to the formation of the moral ideal which underlies the whole practice of Greek education. The desire in the older lover to assert himself in the presence of the younger, to dazzle him, and the reciprocal desire of the latter to appear worthy of his senior’s affection necessarily reinforced in both persons that love of glory which always appealed to the competitive spirit of mankind. Love-affairs accordingly provided the finest opportunities for noble rivalry. From another point of view the ideal of comradeship in battle reflects the entire system of ethics implied in chivalry, which is founded on the sentiment of honour.” (H.-I.Marrou, Histoire de l’ Education dans l’ Antiquite, pp. 58-59)

“ But the apprenticeship to courage and the love of honour and glory, important as they were to the Greeks, comprised only a part of Greek education. For lovers claimed that they participated actively in all the moral and intellectual development of their loved ones.” (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.87)

“Basic to the understanding of the nature, meaning, and importance of paiderasty is the following:

Firstly, the age difference between the erastes and his eromenos was always considerable. The eraste was a grown man, the eromenos still an immature boy or youth.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p.43)

“Secondly, as has been demonstrated, an ethical basis was essential for the Dorian relationship.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 43)

“Thirdly, the homosexuality of the paidersty relationship had nothing to do with effeminacy. On the contrary, among the Dorians the obvious aim of education was manliness in its most pronounced forms. Refinement in the manner of dressing and in regards to food, house, furniture, or other circumstances of daily life was looked upon with contempt. Contemporary as well as later sources agree in stressing that it was among the warlike Dorians in particular that paidersty flourished.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 44)

“Fourthly, Dorian paiderasty was something entirely different from homosexuality in the usual sense in which we use the term, as inversion (see definition on page 17). We have repeatedly pointed out that ordinary men regularly cultivated paiderasty and active heterosexuality at the same time. Men who stuck exclusively to boys and did not marry were punished, scorned, and ridiculed by the Spartan authorities, and treated disrespectfully by the young men.” (Vanggard, Phallos A Symbol and Its History in the Male World, p. 44)

“From the point of view of many older male lovers, boys and girls were equally desirable, but elite girls were secluded at home, while boys went to school and exercised nude at the gymnasium. Teenage male youths were seen as the most beautiful objects of desire, muscular yet, still hairless, smooth-skinned, with the small, delicate penises adult Greek men regarded as erotic. Since they were young they did not have the status of adult males and could be seen as somewhat feminine. When boys reached the age where they began to sprout beards and public hair, when their skin grew coarse they seemed much less desirable; they acquired the status of citizens, and might pursue their own young male lovers before they married.” (Clark, Desire A History of European Sexuality, p. 23)

“If we are to draw conclusions from what has been said as to the ethics of Greek love of boys, the following emerges as an undeniable fact: The Greek love of boys is a peculiarity of character, based upon an aesthetic and religious foundation. Its object is, with the assistance of the State, to arrive at the power to maintain the same and at the fountain-head of civic and personal virtue. It is not hostile to marriage, but supplements it as an important factor in education.” (Licht, Sexual Life in Ancient Greece, p.445)

“Although the Greeks believed that the same desire attracted one to whatever was desirable, they nonetheless thought this desire entailed particular problems when it arose in a relationship between two males of distinct age cohorts, one of whom had not received yet achieved the status of adult citizen. The disparity was what gave the relationship its value-and what made it morally problematical. An elaborate ritualization of appropriate conduct on the part of both participates was designed to give such relationships a “beautiful” form, one that would honor the youth’s ambiguous status. As not yet a free adult male, he was an appropriate object of masculine desire; as already potentially a free citizen, his future subjectively must be honored. The active role can only be played by the older partner, but the younger partner must be treated as free to accept or reject his suitor. Thus the Greeks believed that the relationship should be designed so as to provide an opportunity for the younger to begin to learn the self-mastery that would be expected of him as an adult. The older man’s desire was seen as unproblematic; what was difficult was how to live that desire in such a way that its object might in turn become a subject.” (Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, p. 138)

“Despite general social acceptance of paederastic relationships, the fact that free-born boys were future citizens entailed a certain degree of moral preoccupation about social status. It was therefore crucial to observe sexual etiquette in this area. In particular, boys were not expected to experience sexual desire in the paederastic relationship. If they conceded sexual favours to the older man, this was expected to be out of ’philia’ - friendship, respect, and affection for the suitor. It was thought proper that boys should submit only after a respectably long and sometimes expensive courtship. Deriving sexual pleasure from-male-to-male sex could open the boy up to accusations of ’feminine’ shamelessness and ’less than male behaviour’ (given women’s supposedly voracious appetite for sexual pleasure).” (Mottier, Sexuality A Very Short Introduction, p. 12)

“The truth is that pederasty is a vice encouraged by abnormal social conditions, such as life in military camps or purely masculine communities. Society was essentially masculine in the classical period of Greek civilisation, even outside of Sparta. Homosexuality in fact develops wherever men and women live separate lives and differences in education and refinement between the sexes militate against normal sexual attraction. The more uncompromising such separation and diversity become, more widespread homosexuality will be.” (Flaceleitere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.215-216)

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