Sexuality Throughout the Ages

Explore the history of sexuality.

Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

photo courtesy of rictornorton.co.uk

In recent years, many historians have begun to write widely in regards to Ancient Greeks and homosexuality. Before the 20th century, the subject was taboo for a lot of historians, but has now become accepted and explored with theories arising Achilles and Patroclus of Homer’s Iliad are homosexual icons. The ancient Greeks viewed homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and was embedded in their culture as a means of social status. For example, many Greeks’ attraction to males and homosexual relationships in the active role with one’s social inferiors was common, approved by society, and could even be regarded as a sign of masculinity.1

Greek writers such as Plato, Xenophone, and Lucretius wrote of homosexuality. Plutarch once wrote: “The noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail.”2

Ancient Greeks did not view homosexuality in moral terms, but rather it was viewed in a matter of personal taste and preference. However, as mentioned before, social status was very important and, given that only free adult men were given full social status, homosexual relations usually occurred between slaves or young boys – the latter, also known as pederasty, was most common. There were also two distinctions in the relationship: the active or insertive role, or the passive or penetrated role.3 The passive role was viewed as weak, so often, the free adult men would take the role of active or insertive.

It is widely regarded the symposion was a leading reason for the celebration of homosexual love. Symposion is essentially, a giant male drinking group. The men are served wine by slave boys and female servants and end the night by rioting in the street. Often, the symposion led to expressions of love by the men toward the young slave boys.4

Many of the homosexual relations that occurred in ancient Greece have come to be the inspiration for some of the greatest poetry and writing in European history. Homosexuality was viewed as the celebration of beauty and was regarded as masculine. Plato once wrote that an army should be compromised entirely from male lovers.5 Thebes did form such a regiment, the Sacred Band of Thebes, formed of 500 soldiers and renowned in the ancient world for their valor in battle.6

References:

  1. www.religionfacts.com
  2. Plutarch, Dialogue on Love, 146.
  3. Dover, K.J., Greek Homosexuality (Harvard University Press, 1989, as summarized in “Homosexuality,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, August 2002).
  4. John Boardman et al, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World, 1986, pp. 225-226.
  5. Plato, Symposium
  6. Homosexuality,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, August 2002.
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This entry was posted on April 2, 2012 by in The Life of Oscar Wilde.
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