HOMOSEXUALITY in Ancient Greece – Part 3

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)

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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 “lawless” 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)

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“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)

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Physiognomy

homosexuality in ancient greece_08“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

homosexuality in ancient greece_05Also 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)


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