Homosexuality In Ancient Greece Section 3

Thursday 23 March 2017.
 

Homosexuality in Ancient Greece Section Three

Greek Philosophers

A review of the surviving historical written records from the three greatest philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle will show that they regarded homosexual conduct as intrinsically immoral. Therefore they would most likely have rejected the idea of the modern gay identity.

All three of the greatest Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, regarded homosexual conduct intrinsically immoral. All three rejected the linchpin of modern gay ideology and lifestyle.

At the heart of the Platonic-Aristotelian and later ancient philosophical rejections of all homosexual conduct, and thus of the modern gay ideology, are three fundamental theses: (1) The commitment of a man and a woman to each other in the sexual union of marriage is intrinsically good and reasonable, and is incompatible with sexual relations outside of marriage. (2) Homosexual acts are radically and peculiarly non-martial, and for that reason intrinsically unreasonable and unnatural. (3) Furthermore, according to Plato, if not Aristolte, homosexual acts have a special similarity to solitary masturbation, and both types of radically non-martial act are manifestly unworthy of the human being and immoral. (Finnis, Law, Morality, and Sexual Orientation, p.33)

Philosophers such as Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle expressed this attitude in a more radical form, and consequently were only prepared to accept pederastic relationships in their nonsexual form. Thus they attempted at least theoretically to put an end to the ancient tendency to sexually abuse boys and youths. (Detel, Translated by David Wigg-Wolf. Foucault and Classical Antiquity Power, Ethics and Knowledge, p. 135)

Plato

But Plato at least understood the myth to finger Liaus as the inventor of homosexuality. In the Laws, the Athenian Stranger, tacking the difficult problem of regulating sexual passion, the cause of myriad evils both for the individual and whole states, says that following nature legislators should make the law as was before Liaus, when sex with men and youths as though they were women (a reference no doubt to sodomy) was forbidden on the model of animals, which Plato mistakenly believed restricted sex to procreation. Plato sees the state of nature as one where homosexuality does not exist, sex between males thus being an unnatural invocation whose origin is Laius. This would be consistent with Peisandros, who calls Laius’s passion a lawless eros, lawless in the sense of contrary to natural law, an interpretation supported by another epithet Peisandros uses, atheniton, which means lawles in the sense of contrary to established customs, the unwritten laws handed down by the gods before history, not those legislated by men. Nor is Plato’s view of homosexuality as unnatural merely a consequence of his old age. In the earlier Phadrus, one of the great encomia to pederasty, he likewise calls same-sex gratification lawless and criticizies the lesser soul that cannot see the form of beauty in a handsome boy and so is not ashamed to pursue pleasure against nature.

Homosexuality, then, to the Greeks is a historical invocation, a result of the depraved human imagination and vulnerability to pleasure.; (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.102)

The pederastic milieu of the gymnasium, where young men exercised naked, was considered a Spartan invention, along with the innovation of rubbing olive oil on the body before exercising, to protect the skin but also no doubt to increase the athlete’s erotic allure. Plato’s Athenian Stranger indulges these culture stereotypes when he holds the Dorians responsible for corrupt[ing] the pleasures of sex which are according to nature, not just for men but for beasts. Again Plato see homosexuality as a historical phenomenon, an enormity arising out of the inability to control a pleasure defined as against nature because it is its own end rather than serving the goal of procreation. Later in the Laws he again condemns homosexuality, along with adultery and heterosexual sodomy, on the grounds of being not according to nature because it does not lead to procreation. (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.103)

Plato’s distaste for homosexuality is shared by his contemporary Xenophen, a great admirer of the Spartans who is anxious to resolve them of their traditional responsibility for legitimizing homosexuality. The mythical lawgiver of Sparta, Lcyurgus, Xenophon tells us, forbade physical intimacy between the boy and his admirer, categorizing homosexuality with other crimes like incest. Like Plato, Xenophon considers sexual relations between men a depravity that all right-thinking men should abhor as much as they would incest. (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.103)

Aristotle

Although Aristotle, as we saw, implies the Dorians invented homosexuality, elsewhere he recognizes that homosexuals can be born as well as made. Either way, though, they are a deviation from the norm. While discussing the Nichomachean Ethics why some unpleasant or disgusting practices are pleasurable, he says that some diseased things result from nature or habit, and he instances pulling out one’s hair, nailbiting, eating coals or earth, and sex between males. The latter, he notes, often results from childhood sexual abuse. Such persons are no more unrestrained in their sexual behavior, than a woman, whether they are made that way by nature or the disease of habit. Despite Aristotle’s tolerant and objective tone, homosexuality is still characterized as a disease (nosematodie), a compulsive, unpleasant, and destructive behavior akin to manias like eating dirt or chewing one’s fingernails. Even pederasty, that supposedly accepted institution of the city-state, is here seen as possibly contributing to what Aristotle considers a morbid condition. Today’s kinaidos is yesterday’s eromenos or boy-favorite. (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.104)

The Aristotelian corpus offers other evidence for the belief that homosexuality results from a physiological deformity brought about by either nature or habit. A bizarre passage from the Problems explains why a man would find pleasure in being anally penetrated-obviously in the Greek mind a disturbing anomaly, needing some explanation. Starting from the assumption that every form of excretion has a region in the body from which it is secreted, the write explains that the passive homosexual, due to some damage to the ducts that take semen to the testicles and penis, is unnaturally constituted and so has semen collect in his anus. This damage could be a result of an inborn deformity or childhood sexual abuse. The collected fluid caused by desire, a desire that cannot be gratified because there is no way to discharged the accumulated semen. Hence the catamite seeks out anal intercourse in order to relieve the swelling. The writer goes on to note that boys subjected to anal intercourse will become habituated to it, thus associating pleasure with the act. Environment and childhood experience play a major role in creating the passive homosexual by deforming the body. (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.104-105)

Physiognomy

The pseudo-Aristotelian Physiognomy similarly describes the effects of passive homosexuality on the body: The effeminate man is drooping-eyed, knock-kneed, his head hanging on one shoulder, his hands carried upturned and flabby. He wriggles his loins as he walks, or tries not to, and he looks furtively. Both these passages, like the ones in Plato, see homosexuality as a deformed condition brought about by a natural disorder or by habit-something, in short, abnormal, not quite the practice accepted by and fully integrated into society that some modern scholars believe it to be. (Thorton, Eros The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, p.105)

Greek Laws

Also there are written records of legal provisions regulating various forms of homoerotic behavior. These legal provisions may be may be grouped into three categories. The first group has been mentioned before, legal provisions surrounding male prostitution. The male lost the right to address the Assembly and to participate in other areas of civil life if he engaged in homosexual intercourse for gain. These legal provisions against male prostitution also applied to pederasty. A second group addressed laws relating to education and courtship. General provisions concerning sexual assault comprised the third group of laws that may apply to all sexual behavior, whether it was heterosexual or homosexual in nature.

Concerning pederasty itself, numerous laws addressed it, and in various ways throughout Greece. But because pederasty was mostly limited to the ruling class and pederasty therefore for the most part was socially acceptable in practical terms the laws were rarely enforced. Exceptions were in cases where within the ruling class enforcement of the laws were used to gain political advantage in disputes.

But in Greece, though pederasty was forbidden by law in most cities, it had become so fashionable that no one troubled to conceal it. On the contrary, such tendencies were respected and even approved. (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.63)

We are clearly in a different realm from the romantic pursuit of young men in their teens by young men in their twenties known as paederasty, an activity well illustrated on Athenian vases of the late sixth and early fifth centuries B.C.E. and portrayed in Plato’s dialogues as an experience sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes delicious, but always of general interest and approval. In paederasty, as Dover, Golden, and Foucault have carefully demonstrated, a variety of conventions combined to protect the junior partner from the stigma of effeminacy, of being a kinaidos. (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)

As Dover has aptly observed (1978, 88 f.), the same kind of two-faced morality must have governed homosexual seduction that controls heterosexual relations in most societies; pursuit and seduction are sanctioned, the yielding to seduction is not. Athens went to great lengths to protect its handsome young sons from men preying on their beauty; stringent measures were built into the legal system to prevent boys from falling into prostitution. However since love gifts and social favors were part of the pederastic pattern, it must have been difficult to determine exactly at which point prostitution began. (Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus Sexual Politics in Ancient Greece, p. 296

All the same, at Athens, a whole body of laws existed for the purpose of restraining the spread of pederasty. This legislation probably dated back to the time of Solon. It aimed among many other things at keeping male lovers out of the schools and exercising arenas so far as possible. (See Aeschines, Against Timarchus, 9-11.) But laws can do very little to suppress widely disseminated and inveterate habits. (Flacelliere, Love in Ancient Greece, p.67)

The available evidence points to a certain Athenian nervousness regarding all types of homosexual encounters. Solon’s laws concerning homosexuality, for which our chief source is Aeschines’ speech Against Timarchus, attempted to regulate its practice and to protect Athenian citizens from sexual abuses: slaves could not indulge in homosexuality willingly or unwillingly or frequent the palaestras; free persons could not be prostituted or violated; and fathers were encouraged to protect their sons from seduction by employing guardians to watch out for their best interests, at least until they reached an age at which they could make intelligent decisions regarding the conduct of their lives. (Henderson, The Maculate Muse, p.204-205)

From Aeschines’ speech it is possible to perceive something of the code of behavior that surrounded the carrying out of such affairs. Love affairs between men and boys or between grown men could, depending on the circumstances, be licentious and depraved or noble and chaste. If a man conducted the affair high-mindedly, without any kind of payment and out of proper regard for his lover’s beauty and -----, then no one could blame him for satisfying his desires. But if a man prostituted himself for payment or made a habit of surrendering his body or pursuing young men for purely sensual purposes, than he could legitimately be called to account for lewdness. (Henderson, The Maculate Muse, p.205)

An important turning-point is indicated by the name of Solon (Aeschine, Tim., 138; Charicles, ii, 262 ff.), who, himself a homosexual, issues important laws for the regulation of paederasty, providing in the first place, especially, that a slave might not have connection with a free-born boy. This shows two things: first, that paedophilla was recognized in Athens by the legislator, and secondly that the legislator did not consider the feeling of superiority of the free born to be diminished by intimate relations with a slave. Further, laws were issued (Aeschines, Tim., 13-15) which were intended to protect free-born youths from abuse during their minority. Another law deprived those of their civic rights who incited free boys to offer their charms for sale professionally; for prostitution has nothing to do with paedophilla, of which we are speaking here, and in which we must rather think always only of a voluntary relationship that is based upon mutual affection. (Licht, Sexual Life in Ancient Greece, p. 452-453)

Solon, the famous lawgiver and chief archon at Athens in 594/3 B.C., is alleged to have instituted two pieces of moral legislation in Athens pertaining to homosexuality in the gymnasium. The first prohibits slaves from activities of the gymnasium and from having freeborn slaves as lovers: (Scanlon, Eros and Greek Athletics, p. 212)

A second Solonian law, this probably dating to the late fifth century, prescribes hours for opening and closing schools and palaestrae to discourage homosexual liaisons from taking place there in the dark or without the presence of the proper supervisors: (Scanlon, Eros and Greek Athletics, p. 213)

The Athenians themselves were not unaware of these ambiguities and contradictions. To begin with: according to the Xenophon, Greeks were well aware of that laws and customs regarding pederasty varied widely between different states. Some prohibited it outright, others explicitly permitted it. In the Symposium Plato put into the mouth of Pausanias an econcomium of love which explicitly addresses the conflicts within Athenian norms and customs pertaining to pederasty. Whereas for the rest of Greece these laws and customs are clear and well defined, explains Pausanias, those of Sparta are poikilos-intricate, complicated, subtle. He comments that Athenian legislation in this are is admirable, but difficult to understand; the difficulty consists in the simultaneous approbation and censure which social norms and legal rules attach to the pursuit of a pederastic courtship. (Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens, p. 152 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey)

The legal provisions regulating various forms of homoerotic behaviour may be grouped in three categories: laws relating to prostitution; laws relating to education and courtship; and finally, general provision concerning sexual assault. These are only categories of convenience, however, and there can be considerable overlap between them. The laws concerning male prostitution may be considered first. One statue partially disenfranchised any Athenian citizen who prostituted himself, whether as a boy or as an adult; he lost his right to address the Assembly and to participate in other important areas of civic life. Secondly, if a boy was hired out for sexual services by his father, brother, uncle or guardian, they were subject to a public action, as was the man who hired him. Thirdly, a general statue prohibit procuring and applied any free-born child or woman. (Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens, p. 153 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey)

The second category of laws pertained to education and set out a series of detailed prohibitions designed, among other things, to protect schoolboys from erotic attentions of older males. These laws regulated all the contacts which boys had with adult males during the period at school, and provided for an appointment of public officials to ensure that proper order was maintained. According to Aeschines, the law forbade the schools to open before sunrise or to stay open after dark, and strictly regulated who might enter and under what circumstances. Finally, another law prohibited slaves from courting free boys. (Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens, p. 153-154 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey)

The third kind of statutory prohibition is rather more problematical than the first two and has received scant attention in regard to regulation of homoerotic conduct. Here I referto the law of hubris (outrage or abuse). Current scholarship on pederasty commonly asserts that there was no law prohibiting an Athenian male from consummating a sexual relationship with a free boy without using force or payment. This point is usually adduced as the cornerstone of the standard interpretation. This interpretation ignores, however, a series of questions concerning the legal context of pederastic sexuality which, to my knowledge has never been asked. Did the Athenian law acknowledge an age of consent in its conceptualization of sexual assault and seduction? If the consent of the boy was not a bar to prosecution, did any consummated sexual relationship with a boy fulfill the required elements of the offence? Did Athenian law have some notion equivalent to statutory rape in modern legal systems, where consent is the crucial issue in definition of rape offenses? An affirmative answer to any of these questions would require one to reassess the standard view that the active role in pederastic relationships was absolutely free from any taint of disapprobation. (Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens, p. 154 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey)

The set of legal norms embodied in these statues reflects a social order which encompassed a profound ambivalence and anxiety in regard to male-male sexuality; a social order which recognized the existence and persistence of such behaviour, but was deeply concerned about the dangers which it represented. The chief of these dangers was the corruption of the future of the polis, represented by the male, participated in sexual intercourse with men were believed to have pros children of citizen families. Boys who, under certain circumstances participated in sexual intercourse with men were believed to have acted for gain and to have adopted a submissive role which disqualified them as potential citizens. Likewise, adult citizens who prostituted themselves were subject to the same civic disabilities and opprobrium. These laws represented one of the severest sanctions which such a society could impose, and they reflect the level of concern for the preservation of the citizen body. (Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens, p. 156-157 in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome, editors Mark Golden and Peter Toohey)

Scholars usually do not refer to hubris in connection with pederasty because they believe hubris to require violent insult and outrage. They have not paid sufficient attention, however, to the way in which the law of hubris may have provided for the principle criminal penalties for rape. But although rape is often characterized as hubris, so is seduction. Euphiletus, for example, refers to the hubris which the lover of his wife has committed against him (Lysias 1.4, 17, 25) and an oration of Demosthenes involves a prosecution for hubris (hubreos graphe) brought by a son on account of the seduction of his mother.
Such contexts perfectly match Aristotle’s definition of hubris as any behaviors which dishonors and shames the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the offender (Rhetoric 1387b). Indeed, it is in this connection that Aeschines introduced the law of hubris into the catalogue of statutes which he enumerated as regulating paederasty in Athens in the fourth century B.C. In fact, when he first refers to the law of hubris he characterizes it as the statute which includes all such conduct in one summary prohibition: If anyone conmmits hubris against a child or man or woman or anyone free or slave . . . (Aeschines 1, 15). Accordingly, Athenian sources qualify both rape and seduction of women and children as acts of hubris, for both violate the sexual integrity and honor of the family.
(Cohen, Law, Sexuality, and Society The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens, p.178-179)

The violation of a free boy was hubris, or wanton disregard of the rights of another, and could lead to the death penalty. Apparently fathers scolded and schoolmates teased boys who had lovers. But we do not know how often these relationships were sexual; they might have been twilight moments, frequently occurring yet rarely acknowledged. (Clark, Desire A History of European Sexuality, p. 23)

We can now in conclusion say homoerotic behavior in ancient Greece and our modern western culture has much more in common and for the most part it is in agreement. There is great confusion and disagreement. The whole idea of the societal acceptance and legalization of homosexual behavior is the agenda and focus of homosexuals themselves and those on the liberal political left. Attempting to bring about the acceptance and change, the social and legal tolerance of homosexuality by a minority upon the majority. When viewed in the context of the defining marriage to allow same-sex marriage, and voting by the general population homosexual behavior is not approved.

Though one important difference when comparing homosexuality between ancient Greece and our modern western culture is that of concerning the physical sexual component in ancient Greek pederasty, today sex between adult males and adolescent boys is illegal and socially not acceptable in our modern western society.

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, editor.)

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