Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

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Updated: Apr 03, 2021
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Homosexuality in Ancient Greece essay

“There are mixed views on what exactly homosexuality was in ancient Greece. Some sources say that homosexual relations were a normal occurrence, while others believe that the society wasn’t quite as progressive as its reputation suggests. However, most sources agree that the topic is still very controversial today, perhaps making an impact on the information that we have. “Nevertheless, it is undeniable that relationships we would call homosexual, especially between men and youths, played an important role in Ancient Greek society.” (PBS)

Although the men-youth relationships that played such an important role in ancient Greek society are regarded as quite controversial today; the Greeks did not view pederasty as pedophilia. At that time it was perceived as a normal part of life. In fact, many people believed it was essential to the education of young boys. (PBS) An older man would have a relationship with a teenager (usually of the same social class) (NCBI). This relationship lasted until the boy became an adult and got married to a woman. It was during the Archaic period that these relationships gained popularity, particularly in Sparta and Thebes. The older man in the relationship would “mentor” the teenager and pay for his education as well as living costs. This relationship was more of a father – son dynamic, but sexual activity was not exempt from their interactions. Interestly enough, the physical intimacy in this relationship contradicts the Greek way of life: the belief that submission in a physical relationship was “unacceptable for a full Greek citizen” (PBS).

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“The Greeks never conceived of sex as a mutually satisfying experience shared by equal partners as we do today. They regarded sex as an activity one does by oneself, even though the other person is there to be acted upon.” (STMU). The concept of dominant and submissive partners is connected to pederasty, for in these relationships the “older man was the active partner while the youth was the submissive one.” (STMU). The Greeks thought of “the act of love” as “utterly one sided: you could be longed for and loved, even desired, but there was no mutual love, meaning that both individuals could not love or desire each other”. (STMU) This is connected to the idea of submissive and dominant partners, as Robin Osborne states in Greek History: “they worked to regulate their aphrodisiac and sensual pleasures, with their mind and body, but sexual activity was not treated as a matter of morality as it often is today.” (Greek History, as found in STMU). “The Greeks also differentiated sharply between eros, an erotic desire, and philia, the non-sexual affection family members or friends might feel for one another.” (STMU)

However, there were a fair amount of pederastic relationships that did not include sexual activity. This was for one of two reasons: more commonly, it was considered “a prime display of self-control for the older man to temper his passion and not engage in sexual intercourse with his progeny” (STMU). But it could also be done out of a respect for the boy and his civic status or personal anatomy. The eromenos (the young man in the relationship)thought of some sexual activities as an act of shame. As the relationship was considered “preparation for manhood” (STMU), the eronmenos were evaluated for “his potential to assume domestic and civic responsibilities” (STMU), so it was necessary that the young man uphold his sense of honor.

As the young boys became young men, their romantic relationship with the older men would come to a close. This relationship would “transform into an emotional connection of friendship and trust” (NCBI). But before these young men would get married to women, their wives would dress up like men. This was “presumably to help their husbands make the transition from homosexual to heterosexual love”. (NCBI).

These relationships continued to be common occurrences in Ancient Greece, and even though they were quite common, “constant homosexual relationships and male prostitution were considered to be reprehensible behaviors” (NCBI). Having a romantic relationship with a man of the same age was considered to be a violated of “normal Greek sexuality”. But relations with younger submissive boys was considered “normal and necessary” (STMU). Had a Greek man sought a relationship with another man his age, he would be reviled for violating beliefs about normal Greek sexuality, yet a relationship with a younger, submissive man was viewed as normal and necessary.10 Homosexuality between same sex people near in age was not openly practiced in Greek culture. In fact, it was considered perverted. Greeks believed that homosexuality existed in the act of violating the dominant/submissive construct, not in the gender of the partner as later cultures defined the concept. Ultimately, beliefs and practices surrounding Greek sexuality in ancient times were different from anything existing in modern society, including a very different understanding of homosexuality.

The Greeks idea of sexuality was not the same as our modern understanding. They “do not seem to have defined themselves as exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, which raises some difficulties when trying to compare their activities with modern notions of sexuality.” (PBS). The “closest word they had to describe sexuality was ta aphrodisia” or “the matters of Aphrodite”(STMU). “Matters ascribed to Aphrodite encompassed sexual acts, urges, and pleasures” (STMU).”

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Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/homosexuality-in-ancient-greece/