Greek love

Interesting summary of theories about Greek homosexuality in the Grauniad today. Did they condemn it or embrace it?

It depends says our author…

“Ancient Greece” was in fact a constellation of hundreds of rivalrous micro-states, with their own calendars, dialects and cults – and their own local versions of Greek homosexuality. These revealed very different attitudes and employed very different practices: “We Athenians consider these things utterly reprehensible, but for the Thebans and Eleans they are normal.” Part of the problem (for the Athenians) was that the men in these communities seem not only to have engaged in public “marriages” but that in these places same-sex couples fought together in battle and slept with each other afterwards, a clear reference to the famous “Sacred Band” or “Army of Lovers”.

But there was more to it than that. The males of Elis, in particular, the guardians of Olympia – the holiest shrine in Greece – seem to have got it on together in a particularly “licentious” way. Unfortunately none of our sources could bring himself to say what was so licentious about it: “I will not say it”, “I pass over it”. There are hints, however, that their sexual transactions were shockingly “straightforward” and did not involve any preliminary courting; and one particularly illustrious Elean, Phaedo, a member of the aristocracy, was said to have served as a male prostitute in his youth, “sitting in a cubicle”, waiting to serve whoever walked in. Was this a garbled allusion to the “sanctioned lust” of Elis?

Foucault gets a knock for having latched on to Dover’s book too uncritically, giving it a postmodern imprimatur, but that’s pretty small beer. Anyway, it’s all in a new book, by James Davidson.


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