Homosexuality in Ancient Greece



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Ralph SettonENG 2100 Muscles, Testosterone, Physique, OH MY! Homosexuality and its Roots in Ancient Greece When one imagines an Ancient Greek warrior, one envisions a manly, brave, honorable brute. We wouldn’t necessarily assume that there would be homosexual tendencies within a society defined by virility, bravery, and honor. Yet there is undeniable proof that Ancient Greek warriors did in fact believe in, endorse, and partake in homosexual relationships.

Although we would expect there to be some form of discretion and prudence when bringing up such a sensitive topic in connection to a society revolving around manliness and man’s superiority, readers are taken aback when discovering that the topic of homosexuality was in fact spoken about openly and freely. Being that there was no concept of the difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality in Ancient Greece, there was no internal conflict regarding morality when it came to engaging in sexual relations with another man. Though that may be true, attitudes toward homosexuality differed by region.

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For example “in Thebes homosexuality was supported, while in Ionia it was deemed immoral and even illegal. ” (Pickett, SEP, 2011) In Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus says, “… he would prefer to die many deaths: while as for leaving the one he loves in a lurch, or not succoring him in peril, no man is such a craven that the influence of Love cannot inspire him with a courage that makes him equal to the bravest born. ” (Plato, Benardete, 2001) Through this statement, we see the implication that the sexual connection between men in the Greek army helped improve bravery and morale on the battlefield.

Perhaps the most surprising fact is that sex between freemen, who were not bound to slavery, was looked down upon, because sex in the Ancient Greek society was seen as an act practiced with one party being superior and one being inferior. Sex between freemen was a problem because there was no difference in their social status, therefore making them equal with one another. Homosexual sex was only derided when it involved a freeman and a freeman, however if the two parties involved happened to be a freeman and a slave, there would be no problem.

The social acceptability of homosexual relationships was based on the parties involved in the act, not the act itself. Most, who were unaware of the homosexual practices occurring within the army, particularly those living in small towns and villages, had assumed that there was a small minority who practiced the defiling act. Many had believed that homosexuality was a “…sin cultivated by a small minority in Athens” (Dover, 1989, 1), showing how truly oblivious they were to what was happening in their own army.

Many who educate themselves on the topic of Ancient Greek homosexuality are placed under the impression that, “…in the case of Greek homosexuality it was a merely subsidiary phenomenon, something which happened in isolated instances, rarely, and only here and there. ” (Licht, 1993, 412) This is due to the preconceived notion that within such a burly society there would be little to no homosexual deeds occurring at all. The Greeks even went so far as to establish a independent military division called the “Sacred Band of Thebes”, which functioned as a battalion for men and their young-male lovers.

The Greek army attributed many of its victories to this special unit, further reinforcing the theory that the homosexual encounters aided the warriors in battle. Though one would expect that in a place such as classical Ancient Greece that homosexuality wouldn’t be found, the shocking truth is that in fact it did run rampant throughout the ancient city-states. We would not presume that homosexuality was in fact spoken of openly and freely and practiced, in most places, without a second thought; yet that happens to be the surprising truth. Works Cited 1.

Dover, K. J. Greek Homosexuality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. Print. 2. Licht, Hans. Sexual Life in Ancient Greece. New York: Dorset, 1993. Print. 3. Cory, Daniel W. Homosexuality: A Cross Cultural Approach. New York: Julian,, 1956. Print. 4. Pickett, Brent, “Homosexuality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), URL = <http://plato. stanford. edu/archives/spr2011/entries/homosexuality/>. 5. Plato. Symposium Trans. Seth Benardete. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001. Print. [Primary Source]

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