Ancient Greek guys were super-open-minded when it came to sex (for MEN, that is): “Any port in a storm”–any gender person, animal…or thing. It was perfectly acceptable to have sex with a woman, girl, man, pig, or partly-cooked turnip–but definitely poor taste (particularly in the case of the turnip) to do them all in the same afternoon–For, as Aristotle put it: “All things in moderation.”
Adult male-male sex just wasn’t that common in ancient Greece (although this is still being debated) partly because Greek men thought that the “receiver” was put in a lower position of power. That was okay for boys, and for women (of course!), but not for MEN. A boy receiver in anal sex was made fun of by the other boys, who would call him a girl. If a MAN took it in the *ss, other men were disgusted by him. Guess this makes Ancient Greek dudes the perfect Christians, eh?: Everybody wanted to give, but no one wanted to receive.
WWJD? Not That, I Think…
And a male receiver was never supposed to show that he ENJOYED the sex, because it made him more like a woman, and showed that his passion was taking over his brain. If you couldn’t manage your emotions and sexual behavior, how could you manage your money or your politics to be a good and trusted citizen?
To avoid such power imbalance issues, male-male sex, even with boys, often wasn’t anal–it was between-the-thighs. (Still very popular today in many cultures around the world, with gay and straight couples.)
And if you thought all ancient Greek men were perverts who lusted after little boys, you were WRONG! Just like we do, Ancient Greeks thought that adult men who had sex with little boys were sick pedophiles. Okay, you were right, too, because it was just fine to have sex with BIG boys! Yes, getting it on with little boys was a big no-no, but once a boy turned 12, he’d better tie that toga tighter! (Or, perhaps once he turned 15: The “cool-to-drool” age is still up for debate.) In theory, the man was supposed to help educate the boy: teach him good morals and proper behavior as a citizen. In practice, he often taught him more about his bod than the body politic.
Aristophanes made teasing fun about the supposed intellectual side of these mentor-protege relationships in one of his plays. A character in The Birds criticizes his friend for failing to adequately mentor the character’s son:
“…You meet my son, just as he comes out of the gymnasium (nude–the way the boys exercised), all fresh from the bath, and you don’t kiss him, you don’t say a word to him, you don’t hug him, you don’t feel his balls! And yet, you’re supposed to be a friend of ours!”
Yeah, what kinda friend is THAT?
I’m Hot For Student
Just imagine that teacher male and in a toga, and you’ll get the Ancient Greek picture.)
The mentor and boy would remain close for life, but once the boy developed a full beard, he was considered a man, and the romantic/sexual side of the relationship was supposed to end. (It didn’t always, though this was not encouraged.)
NOBODY Tells the Army What To Do
Adult man-man sex was common in the ancient Ancient Greek army. And it blows away any stereotype of wimpy, effeminate gay guys. A character of Plato’s in The Symposium says:
“A handful of (male) lovers and loved ones, fighting shoulder to shoulder, could rout a whole army. For a lover to be seen by his beloved forsaking the ranks or throwing away his weapons would be unbearable. He would a thousand times rather die than be so humiliated…The worst of cowards would be inspired by the god of love on such occasions to prove himself the equal of any man naturally brave.”
Here’s Reay Tannahill, in A History of Sex: “The famous Sacred Battalion of Thebes was entire comprised of pairs of (male) lovers. After 33 glorious years, it was finally annihilated at the battle of Chaeronea, but it took the combined power of Philip and Alexander of Macedon to achieve it. During the battle, all 300 of its members fell dead or mortally wounded.”
(It is interesting that in Roman times, most army members, instead of worshipping Roman gods, followed a different religion “that very much encouraged homosexual practices–and it is also interesting that they were allowed to follow it–although, what smart politician would have said “No” to the entire Roman effing army?).
Greedy Greek Guys: Mistresses, Whores, Wives, AND Boys
“We have hetaerae for our pleasure, concubines to care for our daily body’s needs, and wives to bear us legitimate children and (look after the housekeeping).” And don’t forget those teenaged boys.
The hetaerae were the top courtesans of the day: Beautiful, talented, witty, often as knowledgeable about (accounting as they were about classical literature).
Hetaerae: The Perfect Stepford-Mates
“What Athenian men liked about the hetaerae was that they excelled in all the things those same men prevented their wives from learning, which must have been extremely galling for the wives. (Wives) were not allowed, as the hetaerae were, to join men at the supper table where they might have picked up enough about culture and public affairs to allow them to sustain an intelligent conversation….As throughout most of history, (mistresses) had a better time than wives.”
Streetwalkers advertised by hammering metal studs into the bottom of their sandals which spelled out words in the dusty roads when they walked by:
HOT HONEYMOON TRIVIA:
“On the night of their wedding, Spartan wives were expected to lie in a dark room and dress as a man – presumably to help their husbands make the transition from (male to female sex).” (Source 2)
“Does the Fake Beard Help Any, Hon?”
(1) Reay Tannahill’s “History of Sex”, pp. 86-104
(2) 2014-02-03 http://www.pbs.org/empires/thegreeks/background/19a_p1.html
(A lovely rich assembly of quotes from respected folks and original sources)
2014-02-15–Had inadvertently left out the Spartan honeymoon night detail.