Pederasty in ancient Greece

Pederasty in ancient Greece

thumb|250px|">Pederastic courtship scene
Athenian black-figure amphora, 5th c. BC, Painter of Cambridge; Object currently in the collection of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich, Germany."The bearded man is depicted in a traditional pederastic courtship gesture known as the "up-and-down" gesture: one hand reaching to fondle the young man, the other grasping his chin so as to look him in the eye." [J.D. Beazley, "Some Attic Vases in the Cyprus Museum", Proceedings of the British Academy 33 (1947); p.199; Dover supra n.55; p.94ff]

Greek pederasty, as idealised by the Greeks from archaic times onward, was a relationship and bond between an adolescent boy and an adult man outside of his immediate family, and was constructed initially as an aristocratic moral and educational institution.Fact|date=June 2007 As such, it was seen by the Greeks as an essential element in their culture from the time of Homer onwards. [Nick Fisher, "Aeschines: Against Timarchos," "Introduction," p.27; Oxford University Press, 2001] It is important to note, however, that marriages in Ancient Greece between men and women were also age structured, with men in their 30s commonly taking wives in their early teens.

The term derives from the combination of "pais" (Greek for 'boy') with "erastēs" (Greek for 'lover'; cf. eros). In a wider sense it referred to erotic love between adolescents and adult men.Fact|date=January 2008 The Greeks considered it normal for any man to be drawn to the beauty of a boy—just as much if not more than to that of a woman. [Nick Fisher, "Aeschines: Against Timarchos," "Introduction," p.26; Oxford University Press, 2001] What they disagreed upon was whether and how to express that desire.

Pederasty is closely associated with the customs of athletic and artistic nudity in the gymnasia, delayed marriage for gentlemen, symposia and seclusion of women. [William Armstrong Percy III, "Reconsiderations about Greek Homosexualities," in "Same–Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West," Binghamton, 2005; pp47] It is also integral to Greek military training, and at times a factor in the deployment of troops.


Possible beginnings

The ancient Greeks were the first to describe, study, systematize, and establish pederasty as an institution. The origin of that tradition has been variously explained. One school of thought, articulated by Bernard Sergent, holds that the Greek pederastic model evolved from far older Indo-European rites of passage, which were grounded in a shamanic tradition with roots in the Neolithic.

Another explanation, articulated by Anglophone scholars such as William Percy, holds that pederasty was formalized in ancient Crete around 630 BC as a means of population control, together with delayed age of marriage for men of thirty years.

Yet another theory concerns the Greek masculine aristocracy's conception of gender in Greek society: They believed themselves as Greeks to be an 'enlightened' race but did not include Greek women in that definition. Therefore, if one were seeking a relationship among equals one must seek another enlightened male. This conception of an enlightened society relating only to the male members of the culture is not unique (see Semitic and Roman cultures for examples), but tolerance of the sexual expression of that concept is unique to the ancient Greeks in comparison to those 'contemporaries'.Fact|date=May 2008

Alternative forms

Pederasty was constructed in various ways. In some areas, such as Boeotia, the man and boy were formally joined together and lived as a couple. In other areas, such as Elis, boys were persuaded by means of gifts, and in a few, such as Ionia, [Plato, "Symposium," 182A] such relations were forbidden altogether. The Spartans however were said to practise chaste pederasty. [Xenophon, "Constitution of the Lacedaemonians," 2.12-14] Where allowed, a free man was usually entitled to fall in love with a boy, proclaim it publicly, and court him as long as the boy in question manifested the traits prerequisite to a pederastic relationship: he had to be "kalos (Polytonic|καλός)," "handsome" and "agathos (Polytonic|ἀγαθός)," good, brave, just, and modest. The boy was expected to be circumspect and not let himself be easily won. Generally, the role of the lover had many of the characteristics of that of legal guardian, similar to the role of male relatives of the boy.


Foucault declared that pederasty was "problematized" in Greek culture, that it was "the object of a special — and especially intense — moral preoccupation" focusing on concern with the chastity/moderation of the "erōmenos" (the term used for the "beloved" youth). Foucault's conclusions however are now thought to hold true only of Classical Athenian texts, while in Archaic Greece pederasty, rather than being problematized, was variously associated with the highest ideals. [Andrew Lear, "The Idealization of Pederasty in Archaic Greek Poetry and Vase-Painting," delivered at the 2005 American Philological Association Annual Meeting]

The study of Greek pederasty is complicated by the fact that the pederastic record has been subject to systematic destruction since antiquity. Of all the Greek works dealing principally with love between people of the same sex, none has survived, suggesting to at least one historian that "queer works were deliberately suppressed and destroyed rather than merely lost during the passage of time," [ [ The Suppression of Lesbian and Gay History] , Rictor Norton.] though in general only a small percentage of ancient literature has been preserved. Nonetheless, there are some conspicuous exceptions to the general picture such as the "Paidikē Mousa" of Strato and the "Erōtes" of Pseudo-Lucian.

Evolution and extinction

Greek pederasty went through a series of changes over the millennium from its entry into the historical record and its final demise as an official institution. In some areas, such as Athens, the construction of the relationship seems to have gone from greater modesty in the early days to a freer physicality and lack of restraint in classical times, followed by a return to a more spiritual form in the early fifth century.Fact|date=January 2008 Its formal end resembled its beginning, in that it came by official decree — that of emperor Justinian, who also put an end to other institutions that sustained ancient culture, such as Plato's Academy and the Olympic Games.

Philosophical discourses

The topic of pederasty was the subject of extensive analysis. Some of the principal dilemmas discussed were:

*Which form should pederasty take, chaste or erotic?
*Is pederasty right or wrong?
*Is pederasty better or worse than the love of women?

Socrates, as represented in Plato's writings, appears to have favored "chaste pederastic relationships," marked by a balance between desire and self-control. By setting aside the sexual consummation of the relationship, Socrates essentialized the friendship and love between the partners. He pointedly criticized purely physical infatuations, for example by mocking Critias' lust for Euthydemus by comparing his behavior towards the boy to that of "a piglet scratching itself against a rock". [Xenophon, "Memorabilia" 1.2.29-30] That, however, did not prevent him from frequenting the boy brothels, from which he bought and freed his future friend and student, Phaedo, nor from describing his erotic intoxication upon glimpsing the beautiful Charmides' naked body beneath his open tunic. [Plato, "Charmides" 155c-e]

Socrates' love of Alcibiades, which was more than reciprocated, is held as an example of chaste pederasty. Plutarch and Xenophon, in their descriptions of Spartan pederasty, state that even though it is the beautiful boys who are sought above all others (contrary to the Cretan traditions), nevertheless the pederastic couple remains chaste.

Male relationships were represented in complex ways, some honorable and others dishonorable. But for the vast majority of ancient historians for a man to have not had a youth for a lover presented a deficiency in character. Plato, in his early works (the Symposium or in Phaedrus), does not question the principles of pederasty and states, referring to same-sex relationships:

*"For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning in life than a virtuous lover, or to a lover than a beloved youth. For the principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honor and dishonor, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work… And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor and emulating one another in honor; and it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world." [Plato, Phaedrus in the "Symposium"]

Later, however, in his "Laws," Plato spoke up against the decadence into which traditional Athenian pederasty was sinking, blamed pederasty for promoting civil strife and driving many to their wits' end, and recommended the prohibition of sexual intercourse with boys, laying out a path whereby this may be accomplished. [Plato, Laws, 636D & 835E]

Other writers, often under the guise of "debates" between lovers of boys and lovers of women, have recorded other arguments used for and against pederasty. Some, like the charge that the practice was "unnatural" and not to be found among "the lions and the bears," applied to all relationships between men and youths. Others' charges do not involve traditional pederasty, but practices devised for the sexual satisfaction of the strong at the expense of the weak. Chief among these is denouncement of the castration of captive slave boys. As Lucian has it, "Effrontery and tyrannical violence have gone as far as to mutilate nature with a sacrilegious steel, finding, by ripping from males their very manhood, a way to prolong their use." [pseudo-Lucian, "Erotes"] [ "Erotes" text at Diotima]

ocial aspects

The erastes-eromenos relationship was fundamental to the Classical Greek social and educational system, had its own complex social-sexual etiquette and was an important social institution among the upper classes. [ [ The Warren Cup: homoerotic love and symposial rhetoric in silver] , John Pollini.] Pederastic relationships were dyadic mentorships. These mentorships were sanctioned by the state, as evidenced by laws mandating and controlling such relationships.Fact|date=September 2008 Likewise, they were consecrated by the religious establishment, Fact|date=September 2008as can be seen from the many myths describing such relationships between gods and heroes (Apollo and Hyacinth, Zeus and Ganymede, Heracles and Hylas, Pan and Daphnis) and between one hero and another (Achilles and Patroclus, Orestes and Pylades). (It is interesting to note that the Greeks tried to project a semblance of pederasty (read: propriety) onto these last two pairs, despite a great deal of evidence that the two myths were originally intended to symbolize egalitarian relationships.Fact|date=September 2008) In general, the pederasty described in the Greek literary sources is largely an institution reserved for free citizens.

Historical as well as mythographical materials suggest that pederastic relationships required the consent of the boy's father.Fact|date=September 2008 In Crete, in order for the suitor to carry out the ritual abduction, the father had to approve him as worthy of the honor. Among the Athenians, as Socrates claims in Xenophon's "Symposium," "Nothing [of what concerns the boy] is kept hidden from the father, by an ideal [The term here rendered as "ideal" is καλοκἀγαθίᾳ, translated as "a perfect man, a man as he should be" in Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1968; p.397)] lover." [Xenophon, "Symposium;" VIII.11] This is consistent with the paramount role of the Greek patriarch, who had the right of life and death over his children. It is also consistent with the importance that a son would have had for him. Besides the bond of love between them, a son was the only hope for the survival of a Greek man's name, fortune and glory. In order to protect their sons from inappropriate attempts at seduction, fathers appointed slaves named "pedagogues" to watch over their sons. However, according to Aeschines, Athenian fathers would pray that their sons would be handsome and attractive, with the full knowledge that they would then invariably attract the attention of men and "be the objects of fights because of erotic passions" [Victoria Wohl, "Love among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens" p.5 referring to Aeschines, (Tim.134)]

Boys entered into such relationships from the age of twelve to about eighteen or nineteen, though some suggest they started around fifteen. [A Henri Irénée Marrou, George Lamb, "History of Education in Antiquity" p.27] This was around the same age that Greek girls were given in marriagendash also to adult husbands many years their senior. There was a difference between the two types of bonding: boys usually had to be courted and were free to choose their mate. Girls, on the other hand, were used for economic and political advantage, their marriages contracted at the discretion of the father and the suitor.

The pattern was for the younger partners to remain in the relationship until reaching maturity: "Pederasty was widely accepted in Greece as part of a male's coming-of-age, even if its function is still widely debated." [Johnston, Sarah Iles. "Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide". Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004. pg. 446.] [See also Cocca, Carolyn. "Adolescent Sexuality: A Historical Handbook and Guide". Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006. pg. 4]

The function of the relationship seems to have been the introduction of the young man into adult society and adult responsibilities.Fact|date=September 2008 To that end the mentor was expected to teach the young man or to see to his education, and to give him certain appropriate ceremonial gifts. For example, in Crete, an ox, a suit of armor, and a chalice (from "kylix," Greek for wine cup), signifying his empowerment in agriculture, war and religion; in Boeotia, the eromenos received a military outfit upon coming of age. The bond between the two participants seems to have been based in part on mutual love and desirendash usually sexually expressedndash and in part on the political interests of the two families.Fact|date=September 2008 A great deal of importance was placed on the friendship between the two, as shown by a contemporary proverb, "A lover is the best friend a boy will ever have." [Plato, "Phaedrus," 231] The relationships were open and public, and became part of the biography of the person. Thus when Spartan historians wrote about a personage they would usually indicate whom it was that he had "heard" or whom it was that he "inspired."Fact|date=September 2008

For the youthndash and his familyndash one important advantage of being mentored by an influential older man was an expanded social network.Fact|date=September 2008 Thus, some considered it desirable to have had many older lovers / mentors in one’s younger years, both attesting to one's physical beauty and paving the way for attaining important positions in society. Typically, after their sexual relationship had ended and the young man had married, the older man and his protégé would remain on close terms throughout their life.Fact|date=September 2008 For those lovers who continued their lovemaking after their beloveds had matured, the Greeks made allowances, saying, "You can lift up a bull, if you carried the calf." [Andrew Calimach, "Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths"]

Pederasty was the idealized form of an age-structured homoeroticism that, like all social institutions, had other, less idyllic, manifestations, such as prostitution or the use of one’s slave boys. However, certain forms were prohibited, such as slaves making love to boys (though their access to women was unimpeded), [Plutarch, "De Amores" 4] or paying free boys or young men for sex. Free youths who did sell their favors were generally ridiculed and later in life were prohibited from performing certain official functions.

A prosecution by an Athenian politician, Aeschines, in 346 BC, "Against Timarchus," is an example of how these regulations were used to political advantage. In his speech, Aeschines argues against further allowing Timarchus, an experienced middle-aged politician, his political rights, on account of his having spent his adolescence as the kept boy of a series of wealthy men. Aeschines won his case, and Timarchus was sentenced to atimia. But Aeschines is careful to acknowledge what seemingly all Athens knows: his own dalliances with beautiful boys, the erotic poems he dedicated to these youths, and the scrapes he has gotten into as a result of his affairs, none of which — he hastens to point out — were mediated by money.

Even when lawful, it was not uncommon for the relationship to fail, as it was said of many boys that they "hated no one as much as the man who had been their lover". "See Death of King Philip II of Macedon" Likewise, the Cretans required the boy to declare whether the relationship had been to his liking, thus giving him an opportunity to break it off if any violence had been done to him.

ynergy with sports

The institution of pederasty was inseparable from that of organized sports. The main venue for men and boys to meet and spend time together, and for the men to educate the boys in the arts of warfare, sports, and philosophy was the gymnasium, which was preeminently the training ground for these disciplines, and one of the principal venues for pederastic relationships. In particular, the practice of exercising nude was held to be of the utmost importance in the cult of beauty and eros which permeated pederastic societies. "The cities which have most to do with gymnastics", is the phrase which Plato uses to describe the states where Greek love flourished. [Plato, "Laws," I; 636 C] "Gymnastics" in this instance conveys not only the sense of athletic discipline but also, from the Greek "γυμνός," "nude", the fact that all these exercises were taken by men and boys who were naked, and thus especially liable to be excited by physical beauty.

The beauty and erotic power of the naked body was highlighted by the custom of oiling one's body for exercise. The provision of oil for such decoration was the greatest expense of a gymnasium, and had to be heavily subsidized by the public coffers or private donors. The practice itself varied over time: in the early days it was said that modesty prevented the boys from drawing attention to their sexuality by oiling themselves below the waist. Such restraint was presumably cast by the wayside by Plato's time.

The relationship between a trainer and his athletes often had an erotic dimension, and the same place which served as training ground served equally for erotic dalliances, as can be seen from the many scenes of seduction and lovemaking depicting implements found at palaestras, such as sponges and strigils.

Educational and military aspects

Ancient writers, as well as modern historians such as Bruce Thornton, hold that the goal of "paiderastia" was pedagogical, the channeling of Eros into the creation of noble and good citizens. The various mythographical materials available suggest religious training (see story of Tantalus, Poseidon, and Pelops) as well as military training (Hercules and Hylas). The theme of learning to drive a war chariot occurs repeatedly (Poseidon and Pelops, Laius and Chrysippus). Apollo is said to have taught Orpheus, one of his beloveds, to play the harp. And Zeus had Ganymede serve nectar, a theme with religious connotations. It is thus plausible to assume that even as the loves of the gods paralleled and symbolized those of the mortals, their pedagogy pointed to aspects of the educational process that took place between a lover and his beloved.

In talking about the Cretan rite, the historian Ephorus informs us that the man (known as "philetor", befriender) took the boy (known as "kleinos", "glorious") into the wilderness, where they spent several months hunting and feasting with their friends. If the boy was satisfied with the conduct of his would-be comrade, he changed his title from "kleinos" to "parastates" (comrade and bystander in the ranks of battle and life), returned to the "philetor" and lived in close bonds of public intimacy with him. Ephorus' account does not discuss the educational aspects of the sojourn. However, this is clearly a coming-of-age rite culminating in a major ceremony upon the return of the pair from the mountains, and a process of acculturation into male society is implied. [Ephorus, quoted in Strabo of Amaseia's "Geography" X.4.21] (See [] for Athenian practices and philosophy)

Military function

Military training is inseparable from the other educational aspects of pederasty since the times of the Ancient Greeks were marked by continuous warfare, both internal and external. Martial prowess was held in the highest esteem, and one of the principal functions of pederastic relationships was the cultivation of bravery and fighting skills.

exual aspects

on the back of a dung beetle, a scatological pun on anal sex. Some modern historians, such as Thornton, conclude that whether the relationship was consummated or not probably depended on the partners.

Sixth and fifth c. ceramic paintings of pederastic courtship depict the older partner supplicating the younger, in a variation of the Greek gesture for pleading. Normally the supplicant embraced the knees of the person whose favor he sought, while grasping the man's chin so as to look into his eyes. The painted vases show the man standing, grasping the boy's chin with one hand and reaching to fondle his genitals with the other. The boys are shown in varying degrees of rejecting or accepting the man's attentions. When sexual relations are shown, it is intercrural intercourse, known as "diamerizein" (to do it between the thighs), that is depicted. The partners are shown standing face to face. The erastes embraces the youth, his head resting on the boy’s shoulder, while his penis is thrust between the clasped thighs of the eromenos.

Only very rarely is anal sex suggested or shown, and then it is depicted as eliciting surprise from the bystanders. A number of other sources also suggest it was seen as shameful. Among these is a fable attributed to Aesop which tells that Aeschyne (Shame) consented to enter the human body from behind only as long as Eros did not follow the same path, and would fly away right off if he did. [Aesop, "Zeus and Shame" (Perry 109, Chambry 118, Gibbs 528), in "Fables"] Later literary sources suggest it became more common in late antiquity. Likewise, some epigraphic records, such as the Theran graffiti, have been interpreted as evidence that in other locations it may have been more accepted. [William A. Percy, "Pederasty and Pedagogy in Ancient Greece," Chicago, 1996; p.53 N.36]

K. J. Dover states that the eromenos was not "supposed" to feel desire for the erastes, as that would be unmanly. [K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality] More recent evidence suggests that in actual practice (as opposed to theory) there was, in fact, reciprocation of desire. As Thomas Hubbard points out in a critique of David Halperin's contention that boys were not aroused, some vases do show boys as being sexually responsive, and "Fondling a boy's organ (cf. Aristophanes, Birds 142) was one of the most commonly represented courtship gestures on the vases. What can the point of this act have been unless lovers in fact derived some pleasure from feeling and watching the boy's developing organ wake up and respond to their manual stimulation?" [David M. Halperin, [ How to Do the History of Homosexuality] .]

The theme of mutuality of desire was a topic of discussion in ancient times as well. While the passive role was seen as problematic, to be attracted to men was often takenas a sign of masculinity, and it was thought that the boys who most sought the company and affections of men were the most likely to be successful in life.

Religious aspects

Myths provide more than fifty examples of young men who were the lovers of gods. [Bernard Sergent, "Homosexuality and Greek Myth," "passim"] Poets and traditions ascribe Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Orpheus, Hercules, Dionysus, Hermes, and Pan to such love. All the main gods of the pantheon except Ares had these relationships.

Mythographic material suggests that the initiate experienced ecstatic states of spirit journey leading to mystic death and transfiguration, analogous to practices still reported today in shamanic work. If so, by the fifth century the Greeks had forgotten the connection. In 476 BC, the poet Pindar, in his "Olympian Ode I," claims to be horrified by suggestions that the gods would eat human fleshndash in this context, an obvious shamanic metaphor. An opposite theory (discussed by Murray in his "Homosexualities)" gives credence to the texts that credit (or blame) the Cretans with its origination (Aristotle et al.) and notes the anomaly of an apparent path of diffusion radiating from Crete, while the areas (in the north of Greece) closest to the Indo-European sources are not known to have institutionalized the practice.

Myths also were a vehicle for conveying a set of moral standards for such relationship. In the myth of Zeus and Ganymede, when Zeus sends gifts and assurances to Tros, king of Troy and father of Ganymede, the ancients were reminded that even the king of Heaven must show consideration to the father of the eromenos. Many of the other pederastic myths likewise incorporate the presence of the father, suggesting an essential role for the father in these relationships. The myths also spoke directly to the youths, as is shown by a recently discovered version of the Narcissus myth. This, a more archaic version than the one related by Ovid in his "Metamorphoses", is a moral tale in which the proud and unfeeling Narcissus is punished by the gods for having spurned all his male suitors. [ [ The ugly end of Narcissus: Ancient manuscript sheds new light on an enduring myth] by David Keys.]

Political aspects

The state benefitted from these relationships, according to the statements of ancient writers. The friendship functioned as a restraint on the youth, since if he committed a crime it was not he but his lover who was punished. In the military the lovers fought side by side, with each vying to shine before the other. Thus, it was said that an army of lovers would be invincible, as was the case until the battle of Chaeronea with the Sacred Band of Thebes, a battalion of one hundred and fifty warriors pairs, each lover fighting beside his beloved.

According to popular sentiment, and as expressed in Pausanias' speech in Plato's "Symposium," pederastic couples were also said to be fundamental to democracy and feared by tyrants, because the bond between the friends was stronger than that of obedience to a despotic ruler. [Clifford Hindley, "Debate: Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens" in "Past and Present," No. 133 (Nov., 1991), p.167N4] [Plato, "Symposium," 182c] Athenaeus states that "Hieronymus the Aristotelian says that love with boys was fashionable because several tyrannies had been overturned by young men in their prime, joined together as comrades in mutual sympathy." He gives as examples of such pederastic couples the Athenians Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who were credited (perhaps symbolically) with the overthrow of the tyrant Hippias and the establishment of the democracy, and also Chariton and Melanippus. [Athenaeus, "Deipnosophists," 602] Others, such as Aristotle, claimed that the Cretan lawgivers encouraged pederasty as a means of population control, by directing love and sexual desire into non-procreative channels. [Aristotle, "Politics" 2.1272a 22-24 "and the lawgiver has devised many wise measures to secure the benefit of moderation at table, and the segregation of the women in order that they may not bear many children, for which purpose he instituted association with the male sex."]

Regional characteristics

The structure of pederastic practices varied from one polis to another, differences that often became the basis of competition or denigration between the cities. For example, the character of Pausanias in Plato's "Symposium" unfavorably compares regions such as Elis and Boeotia, where men are "unskilled in speech" and boys are permitted to yield uncritically, or Ionia, where boys are forbidden to yield, to the superior pederasty of Athens and Sparta, where men are well versed in the art of rhetoric and boys relate critically to their suitors, choosing only the most persuasive.


The first legislator of the pederastic tradition in Athens is said to be the lawgiver Solon, who also composed poetry praising the love of boys. [Plutarch,"Life of Solon" 1,6] The lover was known as the "erastes," and his young partner as the "eromenos" or "paidika". High society generally encouraged the erastes to pursue a boy to love. At the same time, the boy and his family were expected to be selective and not yield too easily.

Pederastic affairs were the butt of jokes for the commoners. Athenian philosophers, around the end of the fifth century, prompted by a discomfort with the lack of self-restraint and crude sexuality of some pederastic relationships, elaborated a philosophy of pederasty that valorized chaste pederastic relations.


Chalkis was also known in Greece as one of the centres of pederasty, leading the Athenians to jocularly use the verb "chalkidizein" for "sodomize". In talking about the origin of the Ganymede myth, Athenaeus claims that "the Chalcidians assert that Ganymede was carried off by Zeus in their own country, and they point out the place, calling it Harpagion." Initially the Chalcidians were said to have frowned on pederasty. However, being in military straits in a war against the Eretrians, they called for the aid of a Thessalian warrior named Cleomachus. Cleomachus brought his eromenos along. In sight of the boy he displayed great bravery, leading the Chalcidian charge against the Eretians, bringing victory to the Chalcidians at the cost of his own life. The Chalcidians erected a tomb for him in their marketplace and from that time on began to honor pederasty. Aristotle attributed a popular local song to the event:

"Ye lads of grace and sprung from worthy stock"
"Grudge not to bravemen converse with your beauty"
"In cities of Chalcis, Love, looser of limbs"
"Thrives side by side with courage."Plutarch, "Amatorius" 17 (= "Moralia" 760e–761b).]


The Cretans, a Dorian people described by Plutarch as renowned for their moderation and conservative ways, practiced an archaic form of pederasty in which the man enacted a ritual kidnapping of a boy of his choosing, with, of course, the consent of the boy's father.

Aristotle states that it was king Minos who established pederasty as a means of population control on the island community. This custom was highly regarded, and it was considered shameful for a youth to not acquire a male lover. These same Cretans were credited with introducing the myth of Zeus kidnapping Ganymede to be his lover in Olympus — though even the king of the gods had to make amends to the father.

Ionia and Aeolia

Most of the early pederastic elegiac poets, with the exception of Theognis and Tyrtaeus, were of Aeolian and Ionian descent. Unlike the warlike mainland Greeks, these were sailors and merchants. They seem to have transformed the compulsory Doric pederasty of martial apprenticeship into an elective, intellectual undertaking, and indulged in it extensively.

Their tradition featured poets such as Anacreon, and Alcaeus, a man also reputed for his bravery and political skills, who composed many of the sympotic skolia that were to become later part of the mainland tradition. Unlike the Dorians, where a lover would usually have only one eromenos, in the east a man might have several eromenoi over the course of his life. From the poems of Alcaeus we learn that the lover would customarily invite his eromenos to dine with him. [Percy, William A. "Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece," pp146-150] However, once Ionia was annexed by the Persians, the practice was outlawed. This was regarded as reflecting moral weakness. On one hand it revealed the rulers' greed for power — thus their suppression of customs likely to lead to strong friendships and inquisitive minds, the product of love. On the other, it revealed the cowardice of the subjects. [Plato, "Symposium," 182c-d]


One of the first cities after Sparta to be associated with the custom of athletic nudity, Megara was home to the runner Orsippus who was famed as the first to run the footrace naked at the Olympic games and "first of all Greeks to be crowned victor naked." [W. Sweet, "Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece," 1987; p.125] [Pausanias, 1.44.1]

Megara was also the home of the poet Theognis, among whose works are many pederastic compositions, often addressed to his beloved Cyrnus. In his work he associates naked athletics with pederasty:

"Happy is the lover who works out naked
"And then goes home to sleep all day with a beautiful boy." [Theognis, ]
Many critics hold that his is not the work of a single poet but represents "several generations of wisdom poetry." The poems are "social, political, or ethical precepts transmitted to Cyrnus as part of his formation into an adult Megarian aristocrat in Theognis' own image." [Thomas K. Hubbard, "Homosexuality in Greece and Rome:a sourcebook of basic documents in translation," University of California, 2003; p.23]

It has been noted that in the seventh century, when pederasty is postulated to have first been formalized in Dorian cities, Megara cultivated good relations with Sparta, and may have been culturally attracted to emulate Spartan practices. [N.G.L. Hammond, "A history of Greece to 322 BC," 1989; p.150]

Another poet, Theocritus, describes a local kissing contest for boys:

"And ye Megarians, at Nesaea dwelling,
"Expert at rowing, mariners excelling,
"Be happy ever! for with honors due
"Th' Athenian Diocles, to friendship true
"Ye celebrate. With the first blush of spring
"The youth surround his tomb: there who shall bring
"The sweetest kiss. whose lip is Purest found,

"Back to his mother goes with garlands crowned.
"Nice touch the arbiter must have indeed,
"And must, methinks, the blue-eyed Ganymede
"Invoke with many prayers—a mouth to own
"True to the touch of lips, as Lydian stone
"To proof of gold—which test will instant show
"The pure or base, as money changers know." [Theocritus, "Idyll XII," tr. Edward Carpenter]


Sparta, another Dorian polis, is thought to be the first city to practice athletic nudity, and one of the first to formalize pederasty. [Thomas F. Scanlon, "The Dispersion of Pederasty and the Athletic Revolution in Sixth-Century BC Greece," in "Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West," ed. B. C. Verstraete and V. Provencal, Harrington Park Press, 2005, pp.64-70] The Spartans believed that the love of an older, accomplished aristocrat for an adolescent was essential to his formation as a free citizen. The "agoge", the education of the ruling class, was thus founded on pederastic relationships required of each citizen. [Erich Bethe,"Die Dorische Knabenliebe: ihre Ethik und ihre Idee," 1907, 441, 444]

Many ancient writers held that Spartan pederasty was chaste, though still erotic. [Xenophon, "Constitution of the Lacedaemonians," II.13-14] Plutarch also describes the relationships as chaste, and states that it was as unthinkable for a lover to sexually consummate a relationship with his beloved as for a father to do so with his own son. [Cicero, "De Rep.," iv. 4] Aelian goes even farther, stating that if any couple succumbed to temptation and indulged in carnal relations, they would have to redeem the affront to the honor of Sparta by either going into exile or taking their own lives. [Aelian, "Var. Hist.," III.12]

The lover was responsible for the boy's training. Pederasty and military training were intimately connected in Sparta, as in many other cities. The Spartans, claims Athenaeus [Athenaeus of Naucratis, "The Deipnosophists," XIII: Concerning Women] sacrificed to Eros before every battle.


In Thebes, the main polis in Boeotia, renowned for its practice of pederasty, the tradition was enshrined in the founding myth of the city. In this instance the story was meant to teach by counterexample: it depicts Laius, one of the mythical ancestors of the Thebans, in the role of a lover who betrays the father and rapes the son. Another Boeotian pederastic myth is the story of Narcissus.

Theban pederasty, was instituted as an educational device for boys, in order to "soften, while they were young, their natural fierceness", and to "temper the manners and characters of the youth". [Plutarch, "Life of Pelopidas"] The Sacred Band of Thebes, a battalion made up of 150 pairs of lovers, was unbeatable until its final battle against Philip II at Chaeronea in 338 BC.

Influence on literature and the arts

Poets write of pederasty from the earliest eras to the end of the Hellenistic era. Five philosophical dialogues debate its ethical implications. Notable scholars and writers such as Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, and Pseudo-Lucian would discuss the topic. Tragedies on the theme became very popular. Aristophanes made comical theater about sexual relationships between men and youths.

Vases present numerous homoerotic scenes, and there are thousands of inscriptions celebrating the beauty of youths. Indeed, vase-painting is one of the main sources of information about this custom. It is more specific in its portrayal of sexual activity than any other source; at the same time, a careful analysis of the iconography of pederastic scenes confirms that the Greeks (or at least Athenians of the Archaic period, for most vase-painting is from Archaic Athens) viewed pederasty in a highly idealizing light, connecting it with approved elite activities, such as hunting, athletics, and the symposium, and with approved male attitudes, such as arete (excellence) and sophrosune (restraint). [Andrew Lear and Eva Cantarella. Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty: Boys were their Gods. Routledge, London, 2008.] Famous politicians, warriors, artists, and writers would enjoy these relationships. Such idealized relationships held an honored place in their culture from at least 600 BC to 400 AD. ("Dialogues")

The sculptor Phidias even memorialized his lover Pantarces in marble by inscribing his name on the finger of a colossal statue of Zeus. During the Hellenistic era ("332 BC400 AD") Plutarch, Athenaeus, and Aelian traced the history of Greek homosexuality to its beginning.

Ceremonies and proverbs

* Oath of loyalty at the tomb of Iolaus in Thebes; rite undertaken by lovers to consecrate the relationship. [Plutarch, Eroticus, cap. xvii]

* The Iolaeia, a yearly athletic festival in Thebes, consisting of musical, gymnastic and equestrian events "(agones)". It was held in the gymnasium of Iolaus in honor of Heracles, and lasted several days. The winners were awarded brass tripods. [Pindar, "Olympian Ode," VIII, 84]

* The Hyacinthia festival in Sparta, honoring Hyacinth, the mythical young prince of Sparta and beloved of Apollo. The festivities continued for three days, with the first mourning the death of Hyacinthus and the last two celebrating his rebirth. It has been suggested that the cycle symbolizes the development of a youth in such relationships, in which he dies as a child in order to be reborn as an adult.

* Gymnopaedia; Spartan dances by naked boys, attendance restricted to married men.

* The Diocleia festival at Megara in honour of Diocles, lover of Philolaus; A kissing contest was held in which the boys would kiss a male judge, with a wreath awarded to the one with the best kiss. [Theocritus, Idyll 12:30]

*"A lover is the best friend a boy will ever have." [Plato, "Phaedrus," 231]

*"You can carry a bull, if you carried the calf." Also in Ancient Rome, as "Taurum tollet, qui vitulum sustulerit." Said to excuse men's relations with "boys" who were no longer adolescents. [Petronius, "The Satyricon," III.67]

Modern scholarship

The ethical views held in those societies (such as Athens, Thebes, Crete, Sparta, Elis, and others) on the practice of pederasty have been explored by scholars only since the end of the nineteenth century. One of the first to do so was John Addington Symonds, who wrote his seminal work "A Problem in Greek Ethics" in 1873, but had to wait twenty eight years to be able to publish it (in revised form) in 1901 [] . Edward Carpenter expanded the scope of the study, with his 1914 work, "Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk". The text examines homoerotic practices of all types, not only pederastic ones, and ranges over cultures spanning the whole globe [] . In Germany the work was continued by classicist Paul Brand writing under the pseudonym Hans Licht, who published his "Sexual Life in Ancient Greece" in 1932.

Mainstream Ancient Greek studies however had historically omitted references of the widespread practice of homosexuality. In 1910 a book called "Maurice" by E. M. Forster made reference to this "code of silence" by having a Cambridge professor employing "“Omit: a reference to the unspeakable vice of the Greeks.”" Four decades later in the 1940s: "“This aspect of Greek morals is an extraordinary one, into which, for the sake of our equanimity, it is unprofitable to pry too closely”", by H. Michell. It would not be until 1978 when an English book on this topic, titled "Greek Homosexuality," was published by K. J. Dover.

Dover's work triggered a number of debates which still continue. At the most basic level, there is strong resistance among modern Greeks to the portrait of ancient Greece painted by modern scholarship — that of a culture which integrated and valorized some aspects of same sex love for a period lasting close to one thousand years. "See discussion of controversy".

A modern line of thought leading from Dover to Foucault to Halperin holds that the eromenos did not reciprocate the love and desire of the erastes, and that the relationship was factored on a sexual domination of the younger by the older, a politics of penetration held to be true of all adult male Athenians' relations with their social inferiors — boys, women and slaves — a theory propounded also by Eva Keuls. [Eva Keuls, "The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens," 1985] From this perspective, the relationships are characterized and factored on a power differential between the participants, and as essentially asymmetrical.

Other scholars point to artwork on vases, poetry and philosophical works such as the Platonic discussion of anteros, "love returned," all of which show tenderness and desire and love on the part of the eromenos matching and responding to that of the erastes. Critics of Dover and his followers also point out that they ignore all material which argued against their "overly theoretical" interpretation of a human and emotional relationship [James Davidson, "The Greeks and Greek Love," Orion, 2006] and counter that "Clearly, a mutual, consensual bond was formed," [Robert B. Koehl, "Ephoros and Ritualized Homosexuality in Bronze Age Crete;" in "Queer Representations: Reading Livers, Reading Cultures;" Martin Duberman, ed. New York University, 1997] and that it is "a modern fairy tale that the younger eromenos was never aroused." [Hein van Dolen, "Greek homosexuality," [] ]

Halperin's position has been criticized as a "persistently negative and judgmental rhetoric implying exploitation and domination as the fundamental characteristics of pre-modern sexual models" and challenged as a polemic of "mainstream assimilationist gay apologists" and an attempt to "demonize and purge from the movement" all non-orthodox male sexualities, especially that involving adults and adolescents. [Thomas K. Hubbard, "Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.22" of David M. Halperin's "How to Do the History of Homosexuality" [] ]


ee also

*Age disparity in sexual relationships
*Athenian pederasty
*Cretan pederasty
*Greek love
*Historical pederastic couples
*Homosexuality in ancient Greece
*Mythology of same-sex love
*Philosophy of Greek pederasty
*Platonic love
*Spartan pederasty
*Theban pederasty


* [ "Growing Up Sexually: A World Atlas"]
* [ Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. 2: "Sexual Inversion," by Havelock Ellis]

;Ancient Greece
*"Greek Homosexuality," by Kenneth J. Dover; Duckworth 1978 ISBN
*Percy, William A. [ "Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece"] , Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996. ISBN
*"Die Griechische Knabenliebe [Greek Pederasty] ", by Herald Patzer; Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982. In: Sitzungsberichte der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Vol. 19 No. 1.
*"Homosexuality in Greek Myth," by Bernard Sergent; Beacon Press, 1986. ISBN
*"Homosexualité et initiation chez les peuples indo-européens," by Bernard Sergent, Payot & Rivages, 1996, ISBN
*"Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths," by Andrew Calimach; Haiduk Press, 2001. ISBN
*"Lovers' Legends Unbound," by Andrew Calimach et al.; Haiduk Press, 2004. ISBN
*"Homosexuality in Greece and Rome," by Thomas K. Hubbard; U. of California Press, 2003. [] ISBN

External links

* [ Intergenerational and Egalitarian Models]
* [ The Androphile Projectndash The World History of Male Love: Male Love in Greece]
* [ Ephorus on Cretan pederasty]
* [ Pederasty and Pedagogy In Archaic Greece]
* [ Ancient Greek Homosexuality]

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