The Greek Pedophile/Pederasty Stereotype


Not exactly child porn.

Were the Ancient Greeks more homosexual than other groups from antiquity? Were homosexuals more commonly found in Greece? Was pederasty, or man-boy-love, a common expression of gay love? And is it even fair to make broad generalizations about any group of people, whether they be Greek or gay? 

This is by no means a scholarly paper. If it were, I would have done weeks of research in a university library. Rather, this is me, a history major using my blog to vent. 

Last night, I had the unfortunate experience of getting into a debate with the worst kind of debater, the type of person I like to call an informed ignoramus. Unlike your typical ignoramus, the informed ignoramus possesses a kernel of knowledge about a certain subject, and using this little bit of knowledge, they often make outlandish claims that are, for lack of a better word, utter bull-crap. What was worse for me, I once considered this person my friend, someone very liberal in his views, and very sensitive when it comes to matters of race and sexual orientation. He would never make broad generalizations about black people, Hispanics, Muslims or LGBT people. Unfortunately, I am none of those things. I am Greek, and being Greek isn’t in vogue these days. You don’t see anybody on social media speaking out against Greek stereotypes, so my friend could not understand my being offended when he generalized about my ancestors. 

Negative stereotypes exist for Greeks, like any other group, and it hurts just the same. People call us loud, rude, and egotistical. While this may be true for some individuals, it isn’t true for everyone I know, just as not all Asians are bad drivers and not all Irish are drunkards. But while making a “dumb Polack” joke or calling a Jewish person stingy is usually frowned upon, when it comes to the Greeks, anything goes. Make fun of us, the world says, our feelings don’t matter. Never mind that our country suffered one of the greatest, if not longest oppression in the history of the world—four hundred years—by the Ottoman Turks, or that, after our war of independence in 1821, we were left so poor that over one hundred thousand people died of starvation in a single year. Never mind the daily struggles for survival my own parents endured during their childhoods. Our recent history is swept under the rug, willfully forgotten, to make room for jokes that go back two thousand years. Most of these jokes, as you probably know, involve gay sex and pedophilia. To give you a taste, a friend of mine wrote in my senior yearbook, “How do you separate the Greek men from the boys? With a crowbar!” All I could do is use a black marker to blot out what he had written, leaving an ugly stain on a cherished childhood souvenir. Flash forward twenty years, and I am still dealing with the same kind of ignorance. 

Now I have nothing against homosexuality or homosexuals. I only take offense to the notion that the Ancient Greeks were pedophiles, and somehow “more gay” than any other group. We also must not confuse, as Vladimir Putin has, sexual orientation with child abuse. As someone who has been sexually molested as a child, by a Greek relative no less, this is a sensitive subject for me. 

But like all stereotypes, there is evidence to support it. Plato talked about man-boy love in the Symposium, and we know from other sources that in Athens, pubescent boys engaged in “sexual relations” with their male teachers. But how frequent and accepted was this practice? The answer is, as I often like to remind people about history, complicated.  

This is a problem intrinsic to the study of history itself, and something that came up again and again when I was in graduate school. My professors consistently chastised us for making claims based on too little evidence. I’d write a paper arguing a particular point, with a handful of references, and my professor would say to me, “Yes, but, did you read this book? And did you look at this guy? Oh, and that piece there, that’s been debunked.” The worst grade I ever got, for this very reason, wasn’t even an F. He simply wrote on the back of my paper, “You’d be crucified by any other historian!” Crucified! When I wrote my thesis on the Battle of Thermopylae, I asked my professor how many sources he wanted to see. His answer shocked me. “All of them.” And he followed that up with, “And you have it easy, in my day, we had to read every source in every language, including ancient Greek.” Shit. This is why our current Google/Wikipedia age infuriates me. YOU CANNOT SUPPLANT ACTUAL RESEARCH WITH A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH. 

Another problem with studying history can be thought of this way: Imagine a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, but we only have about one hundred pieces, and for some parts of the world, we have almost no pieces. Now let’s extrapolate this further, using the United States as an example. Imagine you are a historian living in the year 4015, and you want to know everything you can about life in the U.S. today. So, you dig through some ruins, trying to learn what you can, and what do you come across? Religion everywhere! How many churches do we have? How many Bibles in hotel rooms? How many laws have we passed discriminating against gays based strictly on religion? With this evidence, future historians could make a strong case that America in 2015 was utterly Puritanical. But wait, that’s just half the puzzle. After a bit more digging, archaeologists might find bookstores filled with the works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, and a number of other atheists, which may leave a lot of future historians scratching their heads in confusion. 

My argument, then, when talking to my informed ignoramus friend, was that you cannot make broad generalizations about a loosely organized group of city-states, existing over two-thousand years ago, spanning centuries of time, based on the few books you’ve read. What I know about Ancient Greece, based on my studies, is that sex between a man and a boy may have been more tolerated than it is today, but that the practice was localized to a specific time, place, and social class. There is also debate regarding what these “sexual relations” actually involved. I have yet to see an image of a boy, in any museum, bent over, in the aforementioned “crowbar” position. What we do see on vase paintings is quite tame, closer to Michael Jackson-type fondling than outright sex. Conversely, there are considerable examples of heterosexual penetration on pottery, images strikingly similar to what you might find on Porn Hub. But again, ancient pornography is no more proof of depravity than pornographic websites prove all Americans have orgies in their bedrooms. While the Greeks did not differentiate between heterosexuals and homosexuals, we know it was socially stigmatizing for a male to be on the receiving end of sex. In times of war, male-on-male rape was often used, much like in prisons today, as a form of domination and humiliation. Given, then, the lack of “penetrative” artwork from antiquity, coupled with the stigma of male penetration, most historians believe pederasty went no further than intercrural sex, or simply, “sex between the thighs.” 

Now, if we look beyond Plato, to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, something as important to the Greek identity as the Torah is for the Jews, we find no mention of homosexuality. It has been suggested that Achilles, who fought at Troy, was involved in a gay relationship with his cousin, Patroclus, but I found no mention of this in the translation I read, and it makes no sense in the larger context of the story, considering that Achilles refuses to fight after his female lover is taken captive by King Agamemnon. No other hero is described as a homosexual, though their love interests are often central to their myths, with Odysseus traveling twenty years to return to his wife in Ithaca (while cheating on her frequently); Perseus heroically rescuing Andromache, a damsel in distress, from a giant sea monster; and Heracles, who was killed by his jealous wife after his infidelity. None of the gods engage in pederasty either, but for Apollo, and Zeus, who seduced 112 mortal women and Ganymede. In the comedy by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, the women of Athens and Sparta refuse sex with their husbands in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War. One must wonder, if male on male sex was as rampant as some stereotypes suggest, why this would have been such a problem.  

This isn’t to say that homosexuality did not exist in Ancient Greece; it certainly did and it was probably common, but no more so than anywhere else, and it is an affront to the LGBT community to claim otherwise. Homosexuality is a natural occurrence, not a social aberration. If we limit it to just one part of the world, we suggest it has nothing to do with biology. While the Hebrews strictly forbid homosexuality in Leviticus (which only goes to prove its practice), we know next to nothing about the Celts, the Saxons, or any other European group at the time, nor do we know anything of the habits of the people in Asia, the Russian steppes, or China. The Roman historian, Plutarch, on the other hand, asserts that the Persians engaged in pederasty with boy eunuchs, and modern historians debate how common gay relationships were in Egypt. If anything set the Greeks apart, it may be their propensity for expressing matters of eros, and their tolerance for differences in sexuality

The only thing we can say with certainty about the ancient world stems from the writings that survived, and when compared to more recent history, it is a puzzle with far too many missing pieces. For all we know, Plato and his ilk may have been the Greek equivalent of NAMBLA. Modern historian, Enid Bloch, suggests that Socrates may have suffered trauma from early sexual abuse. Are we to assume, then, that such abuse was both rampant and prevalent, in a society that gave us science, mathematics, medicine and philosophy? 

Even if we were to agree that Plato and Herodotus reflects a large part of Greek life, the writings themselves are suspect, often failing to corroborate with archaeological evidence. Herodotus states, for instance, that 5 million Persians (500 ten thousands) invaded Greece, which we know to be untrue, based on simple logistics; he also claimed that the city of Babylon was 10 miles by 10 miles square, also untrue. When it comes to sex and sexuality, Herodotus writes that “a woman cannot be raped,” and that there exists a country where “the men pee sitting down, and the women pee standing up.” Thucydides, all the while, who is considered a much more reliable source, says almost nothing about sex or pederasty. Based on Herodotus alone, our impression of the invading Persians may reflect the film 300, but a closer look at Persian art and architecture reveals a much less violent and more sophisticated society. The same can be said of the Vikings, who were no more violent than their European neighbors, but were vilified by the writings of early Christian monks. My friend, incidentally, is Norwegian, but I would never suggest he is the descendant of rapists.  

Not such an evil looking door, is it?


So, where does all this leave us? Were the Ancient Greeks a gay people? No more than anyone else. Were they all pedophiles? No more than anyone else. Were they overly fond of man-boy-love? No, but perhaps, at a specific time and place, were more accepting of it. Does this stereotype carry any weight? Nope. But if we must generalize, let us not say that the Greeks were more or less gay, but like much of the modern world, that they were more tolerant and enlightened. 

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BIOGRAPHIES: Grumblestump

Grumblestump by David Pasco

Grumblestump was born into the warrior caste. Named Grumblor by his mother, who died soon after giving birth, Grumblestump joined in the yearly bogren raids against the mountain city of Northendell. With Captain Sif leading the vanguard, the Knights of Northendell quickly routed the attackers, but Grumblor refused to flee. Believing he was destined for greatness, he fought his way to the outer wall, where he met Duncan Greyoak. The inexperienced bogren was no match for the man-at-arms, however, and Grumblor lost his hand at the wrist, which he crudely replaced with a single spike. He was called “Grumble-stump” ever since, and as a crippled warrior, was consigned to live in the mines among the digger caste, as a foreman.

Grumblestump would often speak of returning “top side” to regain his glory, despite the fact that foremen never become anything more than foremen. Fallen from the caste they are born into, foremen are bitter and cruel, and Grumblestump was no exception. With his spike hand, he tormented his workers at every opportunity. Slackers, particularly, were “tossed into the magma”—which, in bogren society, served as both a punishment and a sadistic form of comedy. Among those he liked to push around was a little digger named Ugh.

Even by digger standards, Ugh was physically lacking, but he more than made up for it in intelligence and compassion, traits which his kin did not recognize. One day, when Ugh was being called for digging, he met a new foreman named Meatface. “Where was Grumblestump?” Earlier that day, he had insulted Meatface’ mother, and Meatface responded the only way he knew how. The diggers were elated, using their former foreman’s decapitated head for a game of “kick-head.”

Thus, Grumblestump’s short and meaningless life came to an end. Ugh, however, used the opportunity, and his relative anonymity, to escape through a tunnel, where he discovered something truly magical, a place that would forever change his fate, and the fate of Aenya.

About the Story: This bio contains story elements from “Ages of Aenya” and “The Princess of Aenya.”

About the Artist: This is David Pasco’s first, 100% clay sculpt! Good job, David!

The Nomad: Chapter 2: The Face of Love

Seline

The fires were not meant to summon me, as I had thought, but the result of bandits, who came to rape and pillage. Even as I arrived, women were being dragged from their homes by the hair, mothers and daughters alike, as fathers and husbands were forced to watch. Truly, this was the work of savage men. And in seeing these things, Lyssa possessed my soul, the goddess which drove my cousin, Heracles, to murder his own family in a fit of rage. But under Olympus, my murderous rage was justified, and I was to avenge.

I came upon a woman, at the feet of an armored bandit, who was brutally beating her with a cudgel. No sooner than when he noticed me, did I catch his arm before his weapon could fall again, and break his limb in my grasp. He dropped to his knees in agony, and I finished his life with a kick. She gazed long upon me, with swollen eyes, had I been the very avatar of Zeus himself, and kissed my feet, muttering words of blessing. But I, deep in my wrath, shoved her aside.
Pressing onward, I turned my ring into a great scythe, sharp enough to raze the grass. In the village square, a horde of them were gathered, each wearing dark leather and wielding curved swords. Like the breath of Aeolious, I blew through them, and made them feel the edge of my blade. By the time they were aware of me, six men lay dead or bleeding at my feet. Quickly, they turned their arms to my demise, and yet, before their bronze could penetrate my naked skin, I rent their skulls in twain, and as they fell, I could hear in their screams their dread of Hades. Throughout the melee, I went untouched, as invincible to them as Achilles at Troy, fighting with the strength of the Nemean Lion, lashing against them with the speed of the Hydra. All were slain but those who fled. And yet I was not sated, thirsting for blood even as I spilled it. Already, my countrymen were singing my praises, as I pursued the bandits, high upon Thunderfoot, to the harbor at Gythio, where Helen of Sparta, born of a swan egg, was abducted by Paris of Troy.
It was here that I met the bandit leader. To look upon him was to be filled with dread, for he was monstrously adorned, with the skull of a great beast upon his head, with horns like that of the Minotaur; and on his shoulders, pauldrons of bone; and about his loins a skirt of human hands. And also, he held a great ax without equal, topped with a skull, with an edge like a great serpent’s fang, as long as his head to his abdomen, with a hilt of scales.

At the sight of me, he showed no fear, but said, in a broken approximation of my tongue, “Fools go where gods dare not tread.” 

“Villain!” I answered him. “I fear nothing! And we shall soon learn who is the fool!” 
“So you believe, because you do not know of Trax the Torturer.”
“And who is this swine you speak of?” 
“It is I, who will pull from you your heart, and take your fingers as my trophy!” 
With little effort, I swatted his ax away, and suspended him from the ground, and squeezing the life from his throat, I said to him, “Know that it is I, Dynotus, Son of Zor, whom you have insulted! I could break your spine like the cock’s, and end your pitiful life here and now, but I will not do you the honor. Rather, I will have you suffer defeat, to forever lament this day, the day you dared to plunder these shores and met Dynotus!” With that, I severed his arm, and tossed him with his men into the sea, whereupon he boarded his ship.
When he landed, he stood in a fury, crying, “You know not what you have done! I shall return to my home, to bring a great legion, with the aid of my father. You know him not, but all in Assyria cringe before the name of Iuz, Iuz the Cruel!”
“Go find him then, and let him know that I shall sever his arm as well!” This I replied, before his ship left for its distant realm.
That day, there was a great feast in the halls of King Demaratus. He showed me his gratitude, as always, by offering the things I loved most: wine, women, and food. I rendered Thunderfoot unto a servant, to be escorted to the royal stables, and continued on under the pediment of the king’s palace, across rows of fluted Dorian columns. The mosaic patterned floor was cool and smooth against my dusty soles, where I was gingerly greeted by three maids, stripped bare, who bathed and oiled me.

In the afternoon, I did rest, and in waking was greeted by four women in rich white himations, their hair laced in gold, their earrings of precious lapis lazuli. Only one of them appealed to me. I was sure to remember her name, to include her with the bathers I fancied, certain they would come to my bed that night. 
As the royal feast was a formal affair, I was required to don clothing, much to my displeasure, with a lion skin for my loins; and a cloak of royal purple fastened by a brooch from Crete, engraved with the bull of King Minos; and a gilded laurel wreath upon my brow. Entering the great hall, I came upon a festive crowd. There were breads, eggs, and freshly caught squid; meats of heifer, swine, lamb and poultry roasting; and olives from neighboring Kalamata. We drank mead and milk and listened to the lyre and the pan flute, and watched the dancers’ careful choreography, as performed by the most talented Athenians. Among those in attendance, were the landed classes, aristocrats and men of the phalanx, and the revered members of the oligarchy. And yet, despite their number, I recalled no one and favored none. Only the king himself, could I call friend, and it was for him that I remained. My true friends had not been allowed attendance, though they lived no differently than I, those who had suffered the most from the attack, their homes now in ruins and their women violated. Richly dressed as I was, in that assembly of riotous and pompous people, I was most uncomfortable. 
   
Demaratus carried himself well, dressed in a simple purple tunic. As Sparta was ruled by the oligarchs, he was less a supreme ruler, and more ‘first among equals.’ Lifting his wine goblet to me, he said, “Today, my friends, we celebrate yet another victory, as Dynotus, Son of Zor, our blessed centurion, has vanquished the marauders from the South! Let us drink, in honor of our beloved Dynotus!” They cheered, every face turned to me. Modestly, I made way to the king’s side, whispering to him, “The bathing girls were very beautiful. I liked Ellena, Astymeloisa, and the maid servant, Clytemnestra.” 
“Dynotus, my friend, you remain quite the hedonist! I am certain they will be eager to . . . share themselves with you tonight!”
“You are so very generous, as always, your highness.”
“It is all in gratitude, my good man. Now sit, for tonight we revel in Dionysus, and in all his delights!”  
A girl showed me to my seat, where a jeweled grail awaited me. When I looked across the table to greet my neighbor, I noticed another young girl, who looked no older than seventeen. For long minutes, I stared dumbfounded. Hers was a beauty like no other, her hair cascading gracefully to her mid-back, in two braids like golden silk threads; her nose broad yet small; her lips pink as saffron. When my eyes caught hers, I was smitten. Deep and blue as the Aegean, they were, glittering in the flame like polished silver, and I remained transfixed by my own reflection, by the meager visage mirrored in her eyes, my divine beauty made lesser in the beholding.
All through the night, Fate entwined us in her thread, yet it was like a bolt from the hand of Zeus. It was a feeling quite foreign to me, for it was most unlike what passions I had known for other women. Stranger still, she hid behind the table, so that I did not see the contours of her body, and yet this did not seem to matter. At first, I thought to add her name, to the bacchanal planned for me, but the thought of her in my bed, with three others, was repulsive in a way I could not understand. Was I, perhaps, in the presence of some goddess, Aphrodite herself? Or had her servant, Eros, driven me to madness?

I thought to ask the king for her alone. And yet, I did not desire it. Finally, I chased such foolish thoughts, and resolved to ask her name, so that I might tell the king to send her to my room. In answer to me, I was further amazed, that her voice did justice to her beauty, and like Apollo’s harp, did soothe the stirrings of my tumultuous soul. So mesmerized was I, I was compelled to ask again, making myself look the fool.

“Seline,” she repeated. “My name is Seline.”  
“Is it Hellenic?” I muttered oafishly, the sound of my own voice harsh, and grating.

“It is a Dorian name,” she replied, “it means princess. My mother hailed from the North, where came the ancient Dorians. But I live with my father now. He brought me here to live in Hellena.”

“And do you . . . live in the palace? Are you a servant?” 

She smiled, as if to laugh, and replied, “I live in the palace, yes, but am no servant.” 
“Oh, then are daughter to the oligarchs?”

“No, I am born of Demaratus.” 
A chill ran across my spine. To think what would have happened, had I coerced her to my bed, or have let the king know of my lust for his daughter! Learning of this, I abandoned any future thought of her, replying, meagerly, “Princess, I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I knew not who you were. Forgive me.”

Later, King Demaratus called his people to attention, to make an announcement. Half drunk and lifting his spilling chalice, he proclaimed, “Dynotus, my good, good friend! To show my appreciation for all you have done, I grant you one wish. Any single thing you desire, whatsoever I possess, shall I give freely, if you indeed wish it.”

I stood to respond. “There is no thing under Olympus which I desire, that you have not already given. I am grateful, nonetheless.”

“Come now, Dynotus, do not be so modest. I know you’ll find something that you desire of me, and on that day, let me know of it, and it shall be yours!” Afterward, the crowd of voices drowned my own, and I returned to my seat, humbled for the remainder of the banquet. And then a strange impulse moved me, to look where Seline had been, hoping in my heart to see her once more. But to my dismay, she was gone, with nothing but her memory to linger in my mind. All the while, a young orator was reciting,

Let us fight with courage for our country, and for our children
Let us die and never spare our lives
Young men, remain beside each other and fight,
And do not begin shameful flight or fear,
But make your spirit great and brave in your heart,
And do not be faint-hearted when you fight with men;
Your elders, whose knees are no longer nimble,
Do not flee and leave them, those who are old.
For the young boy, there was much applause. With great conviction, he had spoken the well known words of our people, a poem by my stepfather, expressing the creed and ethos of Sparta. But his voice was a distant echo to me, for I cared only to hear the princess again.   
That night, as I began to undress, there came a tapping at my chamber door. The three maidens stood before me, clad as they had come from their mother’s womb. I gazed long upon Clytemnestra, beautiful as I remembered, but when I reached to kiss her, was unable. Instead, I took hold of Astymeloisa, and tried to make love to her, but alas, the power was not in me. Finally, I told them to leave.

They were discouraged, but quietly did as they were told. I shut the door to my room and laid myself down. From the West, moonlight filtered through my window. But as I shut my eyes to sleep, I could not part the face of Seline from my memory.

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