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The ideal Greek re­la­tion­ship was be­tween older man and hair­less boy


Old soap-pow­der slo­gan, though more de­ter­rent than de­ter­gent for ho­mo­phobes.

“Bug­gery is use­ful for that awk­ward time be­tween tea and cock­tails” – Mau­rice Bowra, clas­si­cist and wit, the model for Mr Sam­grass in Brideshead Re­vis­ited.

“Bug­gers can’t be choosers” – also Bowra. (Full story in: KJ Dover, Greek

Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (1978); Craig Wil­liams, Ro­man Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (1999); R McMullen, ‘Ro­man At­ti­tudes to Greek Love,’ His­to­ria 31, 1982, 484-502. Cor­nu­copia of trans­lated sources in For­berg’s un­in­ten­tion­ally hi­lar­i­ous Clas­si­cal

Ero­tol­ogy, 1884, sub-ti­tled “Pri­vately printed for Viscount Ju­lian Smithers M.A. and Friends”)

Though not short in de­scrip­tive terms for spe­cific prac­tices and prac­ti­tion­ers – the most im­pres­sive be­ing Lu­cil­ius’s (fr. 1373)

Scul­timi­donus, an­ciently glossed “One who be­stows for free his anal ori­fice, so de­scribed as from the in­ner parts of whore” – there is no ac­tual word for ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in Greek or Latin, our English one be­ing a mod­ern hy­brid coined by 19th-cen­tury Ger­man psy­chol­o­gist Karoly Maria Benkert.

And, whilst wax­ing ter­mi­no­log­i­cal, ‘gay’ is not a mod­ernism, be­ing used in the 18th-cen­tury to de­scribe pa­trons of the male broth­els known as Molly-Houses.

Helps to know the ter­mi­nol­ogy (cf. JN Adams, Latin Sex­ual Vo­cab­u­lary, 1982) if you want to en­joy the weird­look­ing cap­tions to pic­tures of ‘Daisy Chains’ and ‘Cir­cle Jerks’, e.g. ‘An Ir­ru­ma­tor ir­ru­mated,’ ‘Five Pedi­cons Ped­i­cated’ – all in For­berg.)

OK, here’s the crib. ‘Ir­ru­ma­tor’ de­notes one who forces his cock into an­other man’s mouth. A ‘Pedi­con’ is one who ei­ther bug­gers or is bug­gered; Cat­ul­lus (Poem 16) threat­ens to do both to a pair of ri­vals.

Leviti­cus 18.22 & 20.13 pre­scribe the death penalty for ho­mo­sex­u­als. No need to de­scribe the Gen­e­sis story of God’s fiery de­struc­tion of

Sodom and Go­mor­rah – we know a Lot:

( Oh, you’ve all read in the New Tes­ta­ment

How the wife of Lot be­came condi­ment. It was her cu­rios­ity started the rot She only peeped a lit­tle but she had

lost her Lot – Ox­ford Theatre ca­lypso) Al­beit not ex­plicit in Homer, Achilles and Pa­tro­clus were/ are of­ten thought to be lovers, like­wise Alexan­der the Great and Hephæs­tion. No doubt about trage­dian Agathon and Pau­sa­nias, both of whom de­camped to Mace­do­nian King Archelaus’s court along with misog­y­nist Euripi­des – a hos­pitable place for their tastes, as was Sparta whose men, ac­cord­ing to their best mod­ern his­to­rian Paul Car­tledge ( Re­flec­tions on Sparta, 2003, p190) “were ad­dicted to bug­gery”.

No doubt ei­ther about Cleis­thenes, favourite butt of at least four Aristo­phanes come­dies as an ef­fem­i­nate pathic. When not mat­tress-munch­ing, he was a diplo­mat, thus fore­shad­ow­ing Julius Cæsar who (Sue­to­nius, ch49 paras1-2) pro­cured a favourable treaty for Rome in the bed of King Ni­comedes of Bithy­nia. One ri­val dubbed Cæsar “Ev­ery wife’s hus­band, ev­ery hus­band’s wife.” Bi­sex­u­al­ity was clas­si­cally ram­pant. As Woody Allen said, “It dou­bles your chances of a date.”

There was gos­sip about Socrates and man-about-town Al­cib­i­ades – might have been wel­come re­lief from nag­ging wife Xan­thippe. One of his dis­ci­ples, Phædo, was a for­mer rent-boy. His Ro­man fol­low­ers were en­thu­si­as­tic pedi­ca­tors, Ju­ve­nal (2. v10) dub­bing one’s ar­se­hole “the most no­to­ri­ous So­cratic ditch”.

When legally per­se­cuted, mod­ern gays of­ten ro­man­ti­cised clas­si­cal Greece as a haven of sex­ual free­dom. In fact, you had to play by rig­or­ous, not al­ways at­trac­tive rules. The ideal re­la­tion­ship was be­tween older man (‘Erastes’) and hair­less young boy (‘Eromenos’) – no age min­ima for con­sent. Only the ac­tive part­ner was sup­posed to en­joy the sex. Adult pathics were (as Cleis­thenes) re­morse­lessly pil­lo­ried.

Oral sex was also deemed shame­ful. Mar­tial and the Greek

An­thol­ogy abound in epi­grams de­nounc­ing fel­la­tors’ bad breath, so foul that it con­tam­i­nated any thing their lips touched.

Still, a Pom­peian graf­fito ( CIL 4

no9027) lauds one Se­cun­dus as “a cock-sucker of rare tal­ent” – three cho­ruses of For He’s A Jolly Good Fell-ator...

Per­haps as a re­ac­tion, mod­ern writ­ers in­sist that anal pen­e­tra­tion was rare, the usual method be­ing in­ter­cru­ral cock-fric­tion – thighs of re­lief ev­ery­where. Hap­pily, this dull-sound­ing er­satz cop­u­la­tion is coun­tered by fre­quent lit­er­ary jokes about a male ‘Euryprok­tos’ (‘Arse-hole split open by con­stant bug­gery’), and arch-pæderast Strato’s ( Greek An­thol­ogy, bk12 no6 –cf. Daryl Hines’s Pueril­i­ties, 2003) com­pu­ta­tion that the nu­mer­i­cal Greek let­ter val­ues of ‘Arse’ and ‘Gold’ are iden­ti­cal.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was never an is­sue in the Ro­man army. Good and bad here: Poly­bius (bk6 ch37 para9) re­ports a pathic pri­vate be­ing clubbed to death; Mar­ius (Plutarch, ch14 paras 4-8) ac­quit­ted a squad­die who had killed an of­fi­cer sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing him – a theme of Si­mon Raven’s Feathers of Death.

No non­sense about ‘un­manly’ gay sol­diers. Thebes had its fa­mous ‘Sa­cred Band’ con­sist­ing of 150 pairs of lovers, out­stand­ing in courage. Sur­vey­ing their corpses af­ter the de­ci­sive bat­tle of Chæonea (338 BC), Philip (Plutarch, Pelop­i­das, ch16) pro­nounced: “Let him per­ish who says these men did or suf­fered any­thing un­seemly.”

Same-sex mar­riages are at­tested at all so­cial lev­els, from those ridiculed by Mar­tial (bk1 no24, bk12. no42) and Ju­ve­nal (2. vv117-42) to Nero’s two (pos­si­bly three) boy brides, one of whom (Sporus) he first had cas­trated – balls were in the other court – and Elaga­balus who mar­ried at least two, be­sot­ted by their gi­ant or­gans – size re­ally mat­tered to him, as to Com­modus whose 300-strong bi­sex­ual harem in­cluded a fel­low so prodi­giously hung (think John Dillinger) that he was nick­named ‘Don­key’.

When not kiss­ing this ‘ti­tanic doo­dle’ (Vic­to­ri­an­ism from My Se­cret

Life), Com­modus would oc­cupy him­self with a favourite eight-yearold bed­mate – no won­der ne­glected con­cu­bine Mar­cia even­tu­ally or­gan­ised his mur­der.

Even Nero plays se­cond fid­dle to Hadrian who, when his catamite Anti­nous ‘did a Maxwell’ in the Nile, promptly de­i­fied him – from sod to god; cf. Roys­ton Lambert, Beloved

and God (1984). Can imag­ine El­ton John do­ing this for his eromenos – to adapt the old slo­gan, Fucks Do Fur­nish a Groom

John Boswell, Chris­tian­ity: So­cial

Tol­er­ance and Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (1980) claimed same-sex wed­dings in­volv­ing Byzan­tine em­per­ors, though his sources are am­bigu­ous and Boswell had an ‘agenda’, be­ing him­self gay.

Speak­ing of which, there is lit­tle sign of vene­real dis­eases in Greece and Rome, apart from a vague ref­er­ence to mor­bus Venereus that could be fig­u­ra­tive, although some foren­sic stud­ies cur­rently sug­gest the pos­si­bil­ity of syphilis.

As now, im­pos­si­ble to es­ti­mate the per­cent­ages. Ac­cu­sa­tions of pas­sive sodomy were the stock-in-trade of le­gal and po­lit­i­cal or­a­tors – no li­bel laws re­strain­ing them – from Aeschines in Athens to Cicero in Rome, the lat­ter hav­ing great fun in his Se­cond Philip­pic re­vil­ing Mark Antony (in pre-Cleopa­tra days) for be­ing so mad for bug­gery that he smashed through the roof of his lover’s house to get in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion.

An­other one who couldn’t wait was the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Galba (Sue­to­nius, ch22), un­usual in pre­fer­ring ma­ture men, who greeted a for­mer part­ner bring­ing news of Nero’s death with kisses and a quickie.

Im­pos­si­ble to top Hostius Quadra. Shame I’ve not the space fully to quote Seneca, Nat­u­ral Ques­tions, bk1 ch16 – go read it on­line. He dis­ported him­self with mul­ti­ple part­ners, rev­el­ling in si­mul­ta­ne­ous oral and anal pen­e­tra­tion whilst fel­lat­ing a third, in a spe­cial orgy room whose walls and ceil­ing were lined with re­flect­ing glass to make their cocks seem enor­mous – eat your heart out, Hugh Hefner...

In ad­di­tion to Julius Cæsar, Au­gus­tus, Tiberius (whose min­ions ran from fel­lat­ing in­fants to daisy­chains of ‘Sphinc­ters’), Caligula, Nero, and Elaga­balus all swung both ways. Only Claudius is (sig­nif­i­cantly) com­mended by Sue­to­nius for eschew­ing “un­nat­u­ral vice”. Not the only sign of dis­ap­proval; Dio Cas­sius felt obliged to apol­o­gise for the oth­er­wise ad­mirable Tra­jan’s de­vo­tion to boys.

Such at­ti­tudes hard­ened with Chris­tian­ity. Wit­ness this vi­cious Latin epi­gram (no43) by Au­so­nius – iden­ti­cal with Greek An­thol­ogy, bk12 no210: “Three men in bed to­gether, Two are sin­ning, one is sinned against. Doesn’t that make four? Wrong! The man at ei­ther end is im­pli­cated once; the one in the mid­dle does dou­ble duty.”

Apart from the ob­scure Scan­tinian Law Con­cern­ing In­fa­mous Love (pos­si­bly third-cen­tury BC, but not men­tioned un­til Cicero in 50 BC), there were few if any in­tru­sions by the state into an­cient bed­rooms un­til Philip the Arab (AD 244-9) banned male pros­ti­tu­tion – this helped later Church his­to­ri­ans’ claims that he was a crypto-Chris­tian. Over the next two cen­turies, var­i­ous em­per­ors en­acted in­creas­ingly bar­barous pun­ish­ments, from de­cap­i­ta­tion to burn­ing alive, cli­max­ing in Jus­tinian’s reign (AD 527-65) where (e.g.) Malalas, Chron­i­cle, bk18 pp4489 men­tions two ac­cused bish­ops tor­tured, cas­trated, and dragged through the streets.

Jus­tinian ( Nov­els, nos 77, 141) achieved a leg­isla­tive apogee by ban­ning sodomy be­cause it caused earthquakes – earth cer­tainly moved in gay bed­rooms, no such erup­tions re­ported for Hamp­stead Heath. Jus­tinian was prob­a­bly helped to this con­clu­sion by the Byzan­tine word for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters be­ing

theome­nia = Wrath of God. A lit­er­ary con­se­quence was the dis­ap­pear­ance of pæderas­tic Greek po­etry un­til its Alexan­drian re­vival by Con­stan­tine Cavafy.

This (shall we say) fun­da­men­tal ca­nard bot­tomed out in 2008, when the sodomy-earth­quake equa­tion was re­vived by Is­raeli MP Shlomo Benizri, apro­pos re­cent lo­cal seis­mic shak­ings – as Von­negut Kurtly opined, What Goes Around Comes Around.

One per­son who’d have chuck­led at this is the ded­i­ca­tee of this col­umn: the coura­geous Quentin Crisp, self-styled Stately Homo of Eng­land.

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