LLR Books

Homosexuality in ancient Greece- myths and facts.


By Gelanna Stathopoulou in LGBT

 Homosexuality has been a subject of discussion and of challenge for centuries now. Only lately, society has started changing its views towards this matter yet there are still millions of people who believe that this is something unnatural and that it should be treated as a ‘disease’.
When I am asking people what they believe about homosexuality back in ancient Greece, the answer was always this: ‘there were definitely homosexuals, I have read it in books as well’ and it made me wonder. So I did my own research and came to some conclusions, there are some myths some facts and some questions upon this matter.
There is no doubt that homosexuality existed even in ancient Greece. However, anything that has been written upon it, supporting that homosexuality was publicly accepted because there were indications that the teachers had intimate relationships with their students - something that ancient Greek texts present in a particular way - is unfortunately misled.
The laws of ancient Greece were extremely strict and there were very harsh punishments to whoever disobeyed them. Truth is that nor the philosophers or the laws encouraged homosexual activities, they condemned them and considered homosexuals to be criminals.
Plato writes in his Laws: ‘the crime of male with male, or female with female, is an outrage on nature and a capital surrender to lust of pleasure’. He continues by saying ‘I said I knew of a device for establishing this law of restricting procreative intercourse to its natural function by abstention from congress with our own sex, with its deliberate murder of the race and its wasting of the seed of life on a stony and rocky soil, where it will never take root and bear its natural fruit, and equal abstention from any female field whence you would desire no harvest’ clearly not supporting the idea of homosexuality.
Solon on the other hand, a law creator, mentioned in his laws that whoever is suspected of homosexuality, will be stripped off all his rights as a citizen – something that was the worst punishment for a citizen of Greece, to be unable to be part of the community. On top of that, whoever confessed of being homosexual could even be sentenced to death. What makes things complicated upon this matter is the work of philosophers that whenever translated from ancient geek to Modern Greek and any other language, the actual meaning is getting lost in translation.
Moving on to the mostly discussed topic, the relationship between the student and the teacher, which is actually misunderstood. It is true that they had a different, closer connection but it was never sexual. The word ‘lover’ or ‘erastis’ in Greek had a completely different meaning than the one it has today. Teachers wanted to pass their knowledge to students and provide them with all the important information and the proper education in order to become a citizen. In their effort to do so, they were coming closer to their students, not to seduce them but to make them fall in love with the Truth, with knowledge and wisdom.
However, there are not many references to the women of that time, mainly because they had no rights, they were not allowed to have any other sexual activity outside their home and they were not really considered as part of the society. There were rumours about intimate relationships between females and people referred to them as ‘lesbians’ which is the ancient Greek word for ‘lesviazein’ which means ‘to perform oral intercourse’ something that could be applied to both sexes.
A fact that should be questioned is the following: what were women doing while men were at war year after year and they were left behind to raise their children? Could have they have been indulged into homosexual activities?
There are many theories and misunderstandings regarding homosexuality in ancient Greece and no one can be completely sure of the facts or the myths. However, the laws were strict enough to indicate that such a behaviour would definitely be punished. This at the same time does not mean that homosexuality did not exist, just because it was not obvious does not mean it was not happening.

Before anyone jumps into conclusions from what they read about ancient Greeks, it is important to understand the foundations of ancient Greece’s laws and shape of society. Greece had a very complicated system of justice that sometimes it became unjust considering the limited amount of personal freedom. Now that societies have evolved, people should be guilt free, to choose with whom they want to live their life.

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