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Researching Gender And Homosexuality In Classical Greece Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 2794 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In approaching this research paper about homosexuality in Ancient Greece, it was important to review how homosexuals are perceived and treated in our modern Western culture. Homosexuality is defined as a relationship between 2 adults who are competent, consenting and who willingly enter into this partnership with a member of their same sex. It is assumed that they are capable of understanding and accepting the potential consequences of their actions. Although more accepted, homosexuality is still considered an “alternative life style.” In this 21st century, there are many individuals, religious groups, etc. Who feel that homosexuality is deviant and that those who are in these same sex relationships are sinners, should be shunned or even killed. In our papers, there are frequent news stories about “homosexuals” being randomly targeted, attacked and almost beaten to death by individuals they don’t know. This type of crime has been identified as hate/bias crimes and the term coined for this phenomenon is “gay bashing.” In the United States, homosexuals are not accepted into the military. If a soldier is found to be “gay” he is given a dishonorable discharge, regardless of their heroism. Those in authority in the military attempt to circumvent this rule with their “don’t ask-don’t tell policy.” In addition, there is a great deal of controversy and animosity about gay marriages. The majority of the states do not allow marriages between same sex couples who are committed to each and who want to formalize their union. In general, homosexuals in today’s “modern” society are not openly accepted and are often viewed as “second class citizens.” These facts and/or findings make it clear that Homosexuality is not equal/accepted as Heterosexuality.

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Homosexuality in Ancient Greece was as accepted as Heterosexuality. In fact, those in authority in Ancient Greece appeared to value their homosexual relationship more than their heterosexual one. It should be noted that Homosexuality was not a relationship between 2 equal partners. Homosexuality in Ancient Greece was a state approved sexual relationship between men and boys. Pubescent boys and/or young adult males were acceptable sexual objects for older men.

The idea that pederasty was the accepted form of the homosexual relationships in Ancient Greece is an anathema to today’s society. Those individuals having sexual relationships with minors are pedophiles and are considered the basest of all criminals.

“Anthropologists have been notoriously reticent about divulging much in the way of sexual information on the tribes they have studied. Anthropological records have tended to treat same-sex loving as a phenomenon, hiding references to it in a passing remark or footnote.” [1] , “After a long hiatus marked by censorship of homosexual themes, modern historians picked up the thread, starting with Erich Bethe in 1907 and continuing with K.J. Dover and many others. These scholars have shown that same-sex relations were openly practiced, largely with official sanction, in many areas of life from the 7th century BC until the Roman era.” [2] 

David Greenberg discusses the form of homosexuality most common in Ancient Greece as “Trans-generational homosexuality.” That is, “in many societies, male homosexual relations are structured by age or generation: the older partner takes a role defined as active or masculine; the younger, a role defined as passive or female. Often the relationship is believed to transfer a special charisma (power, knowledge) to the younger partner…Transgenerational homosexual relations have been studied most thoroughly in New Guinea and parts of island Melanesia. In a number of cultures, the homosexual relationship between a man and a boy is part of his initiation, “rite de passage,” into the adulthood. In fact, boys’ initiation rites were fully institutionalized.” [3] , “…Each of the tribes studied had remarkable different rites and rituals involving sexuality, yet many based their ideology on ritual homosexuality insemination of young boys. In the Marind and the Kiman tribes-every boy past infancy was taken away from his mother and the women’s house to sleep with his father in the men’s house. At the first signs of puberty, his maternal uncle was appointed to penetrate the boy annually, thus feeding him with the sperm that will make him strong. The boys remained within this adult male residence for about 3 years.” [4] 

Every boy was required to have a homosexual relationship before he became an adult. Interestingly, the acceptance of pederasty (pedophilia) was reinforced by Mythology. “There are a great number of ancient myths which hinge upon the abduction and love of a youth and nearly all of these are stories about initiation….The most famous male couple in Greek mythology are Zeus and Ganymede.” [5] 

“The Greeks and the Romans-leaving aside the profound differences between their two cultures…Loving another man was not an option falling outside the norm., a different or somehow deviant decision. It was just one part of the experience of life: the manifestation of an impulse which could be either a matter of feelings or of sexuality’ during one’s lifetime this would alternate and interweave (sometimes simultaneously) with the love of a woman …the fact that I speak only of male choices need cause no surprise; the possibility of having experiences of either heterosexual or homosexual kind was allowed (at least theoretically) only to men.” [6] 

“The rite of passage undergone by Greek youths in the tribal prehistory of Greece evolved into the commonly known from of Greek pederasty after the rise of the city-state, or polis. Greek boys no longer left the confines of the community, but rather paired up with older men within the confines of the city. These men, like their earlier counterparts, played an educational and instructive role in the lives of their young companions; likewise just as in earlier times, they shared a sexual relationship with their boys. The adult man enacted the role of the penetrator in these relationships, while the youth was the passive, penetrated member. An elaborate social code governed the mechanics of Greek pederasty. It was the duty of the adult man to court the boy who struck his fancy, and it was viewed as socially appropriate for the younger man to withhold for a while before capitulating to his lover’s desires. This waiting game allowed the boy to ensure that his suitor was not merely interested in him for sexual purposes but felt a genuine emotional affection for him and was interested in assuming the tutor/mentor role assigned to him in the pedarastic paradigm. If a boy yielded too quickly, he was seen as loose or easy; whereas a boy who waited too long to capitulate was seen as a tease and condemned as such.

The age limit for pederasty in ancient Greece for the boy was no younger than 12 years of age with the average age of these “students” between 14-15 years boy was “ripe” when pubic hair was seen. The upper limits of the boy-adult male relationship were between 18-21 years.” [7] 

“The extent of homosexual participation (in Ancient Greece) was difficult to judge. In Sparta it seems to have been universal among male citizens. It should be noted that the soldiers in Sparta’s conquering armies were composed of adult males with their apprenticed boys. In Athens these pedarastic relationships were most frequently found among the elite/nobility. That is, only the wealthy would have had the leisure to loiter near the gymnasium (schoo) or the wealth to purchase gifts for the adolescents they were trying to seduce.”

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Some of the knowledge about Homosexuality in Ancient Greece came from the study of Linguistics. Linguists found interesting terms which gave a great many informational clues about “adult males’ love of boys. The most common form of same-sex relationships between males in Greece was ‘paiderastia’ meaning ‘boy love.’ As stated previously, it was a relationship between an older male and an adolescent youth. In Athens the older man was called Erastes, he was to educate, protect, love, and provide a role model for his beloved. His beloved was called Eromenos whose reward for his lover lay in his beauty, youth, and promise.” [8] ; “Ideally the older partner in a pedarastic relationship strove to win the admiration and love of the younger through exemplary conduct, while the younger sought to emulate the older. Sex thus served to prepare the young for adulthood.”, “The Greek boy lost his honor only if he showed himself impatient and eagerness to get a lover. His motives were questioned that is, did the boy want a Master Educator or did he want the wealth, privileges that would be given to him by this adult. It was stressed that a boy as well as the adult male should know the other to insure that the boy was not selected for his beauty alone and the adult male was not picked because of what he could offer the boy in terms of material wealth. Clearly, there was no shame in this pedarastic relationship and if the boy gave in at the end of a lengthy and serious courtship, having made sure that his lover’s intentions were not only sexual: far from being blamed, the boy deserved honor and consideration. Throughout the study of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece, the type of sexual activities which the adult males engaged in with the boys was vague/ambiguous. There was reluctance to acknowledging the sexual relationship involved … Anal intercourse with these boys …The penetration of the boys was an integral part of the homosexual experience.” [9] Some historians theorized that it was only through penetration that the boy could receive all of the knowledge that the adult male had to impart. The confusion came about because of the “purity” of the boys love… “In Plato’s Phaedrus, the homosexual love inspired by male beauty had the potential to develop into the most exalted love for ideal beauty and truth. By comparison, the object of heterosexual love lacked the special qualities that could inspire a spiritual or philosophical quest. Even those who deplored some of its ramifications never questioned that all men were capable of powerful homosexual attraction…it was important because male supremacy was such an integral element (of Ancient Greece)…So integral that the culture of male supremacy colored all social relations.” [10] , “Athenian law only punished homosexual relationships imposed through violence-they imposed a fine not death.” [11] 

The reason for this Man-Boy love was for the former to impart their knowledge wisdom to the latter so that they could be a productive adult male. A man was expected to marry once he was between the ages of 18- 25. These “educated boys” who were men were expected to produce a small family (various forms of birth control were practiced, as well as abortion and infanticide). If the boy and/or man did not want to leave their homosexual relationship, they were then breaking the societal code and/or law. No man could remain the passive partner once he reached adult hood. If he continued to play the passive role with a lover, he was shunned, considered a failure and could even be sent to prison. Interestingly the active partner in the illicit relationship was not subject to social ridicule nor was he considered to have broken “the law.” “She quotes Heracles that love between two adult males posed some problems- at least for one member of the couple the one who assumed the passive role of the beloved. He had to bear the heavy weight of social disapproval which is unequivocally detested…Unlike the situation which prevails today (at least as a rule) there was no interchangeability between Greek couples.” Only the passive man was breaking the rules (Cantarella 46). No passivity for adult males should’ve grown out of the pedagogic phase (Colin 49).

The institutionalization of male homosexuality in ancient Greece has sometimes been attributed to the inferior position of women. Athenian girls were unschooled, and the women were denied the opportunity to familiarize themselves with politics and civic affairs. Husbands tended to find them boring.” [12] , “Women married earlier, often as young as 12. It was not socially approved for a man to be exclusively a lover of boys and the literature is full of warnings against men who hung out at the gymnasium ogling beautiful youths including Plato. Alexander the Great appeared to be almost exclusively homosexual. A balanced bisexuality whereby a citizen was married was in love with a boy and was also seen to go with courtesans or had a mistress, was normal behavior.” [13] 

“We have very few accounts of transgenerational lesbianism, middle-aged women of Easter Island reportedly seduce young women, but the relationships are not described as ritualized or institutionalized.” [14] , “Female Homosexuality filled society with indifference. Sappho on Lesbos was the most known it was like a finishing school preparing for music, singing, dancing preparation for marriage. They also learned tricks of seduction. Sex was not necessarily with older women but with their peers-equal relationships.” [15] When married there were no relationships with peers only with the husband who was the authority figure (Cantarella 78). Female homosexuality was a free model of affection and not a model of pederasty (Cantarella 84). In fact, female homosexuality, in Ancient Greece, was a counter-culture. Historically, lesbianism is most like today’s homosexual experience.

Throughout Ancient Greek society homosexuality has been treated much differently than in today’s society, and women have a much more prominent role than they did back then. It is funny to look back in time to see how we’ve regressed in some places, and yet also progressed at the same time. Technology has progressed amazingly well, but gay rights remain at a stand-still for most of the United States. Women started a suffragist movement in the late 19th century which eventually led to the nineteenth amendment for no gender-based restrictions on voting. While, it is sad to say, some women still don’t have as many rights as they would in America. Time will move on, however, and humanity with our conservative ideals will change.


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