Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gays in Ancient Greece, Part 2

Wait...people liked reading my super long philosophical debate posts?  Weird!  The last time I did something like that, the response was mediocre at best.  Maybe it's time for me to start a new series...

But first! I have about twelve, half-written posts that I really should get out of the way. So today, let's have Part 2, of my post entitled Gays in Ancient Greece.

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In Ancient Greece, they had a double standard when it came to being gay. It was considered good to have a gay lover, but it was considered bad to be a gay lover.  ...This is easier to explain in Greek, because they had different words for "gay lover" and "gay lover": erastes and eromenos.

There's a modern double standard, which is kind of similar. A guy who has lots of girlfriends is often praised as being manly or good. A girl who does the same thing (i.e. has lots of boyfriends) is looked down upon as being bad and slutty.

So in the ancient days, a guy who had lots of boyfriends was considered to be manly and dominating. On the other hand, a guy who was the boyfriend to other men was considered to be weak and submissive. Teenagers often made fun of each other about this, by calling the submissive partners "girls".  (Male teenagers today still use that as a nickname to make fun of each other.)

The majority of information we have on ancient homosexuality deals with boys and men. We know about the sexual behaviors of adult women, but we know almost nothing about what young girls and teenagers did. They had a few publicly-funded ceremonies for girls, which dealt with topics like puberty and sexuality.  But it was illegal for men to attend these, with the heaviest punishment being banishment. So...no one really wrote about them, beyond the fact that they existed.

2 comments:

GameOverTown said...

this is completely contradictory against your part 1

Athena said...

As it is with most issues, even by saying nothing, you are saying something. The fact that female sexuality, both homosexually and heterosexually, is largely ignored or omitted, (whatever side you take), from Greek history and writings, speaks of their misogynic culture. Women were largely seen as just vessels for offspring. Why would sex really interest them if their whole purpose was to reach puberty, (which was a big deal, as you stated), because now she could be married off and become a mother? Homosexuality for men was just for pleasure-it’s something men deserved to indulge in because they were men. Why would a woman need/want to be with another woman when no children could come of it? It was largely illogical that women would A.) enjoy sex, and B.) want to have sex without the end goal of becoming mothers. Women just weren’t seen as sexual creatures who might enjoy sex, who might want pleasure from it, just like the men did.

Of course, you have the prevailing folk legends , rumors, and false understanding about lesbians in ancient Greece, like island of Lesbos, which had nothing to do with homosexuality, even though that is where the word lesbian comes from. Mainly lower class women worked on the island. They manufactured a purple dye used to dye clothing for the elite. This dye was made from shells and the process made the worker smell very bad. "Extremely fishy" is how I’ve heard the smell described. This made the men less interested in the women as wife and mother figures since they smelled like rotten fish, were day laborers, and were low class. The women spent more time together than they did with men, thus leading to the rumors of female homosexuality being rampant on the island. There was some, true, but it wasn’t an island for or of lesbians. It was just where some women worked and because of their jobs, men didn’t want them.

Keep in mind though there wasn't really any such thing as being 'gay' in the ancient world. It wasn't a concept they would have understood at all. Being 'gay' was not an identification in the ancient world; it was just an activity. In other words, who one slept with, did not separate a different class of human beings. As religions took over that considered such activity to be sinful, this activity both declined, and went into hiding. It’s possible that in addition to just being misogynous, the ancient Greeks didn’t not write a lot about female sexuality because their understand of the concept is a lot different than ours. Why write about something that’s not important to them?

As a comparison, the ancient Greeks would probably find us strange because of our emphasis on the woman’s choice in our society. Marriage, for example, back then was considered one of the most important decisions and events in a woman’s life, but she had no direct control over it. In ancient Greek society, females were given little voice, if any, in major decisions. They were denied the freedom to choose whom to marry. When a young woman was to marry, she was given in marriage by her male relatives and her choice had no legal bearing on the contract. A woman was not allowed to decide whom she wanted to wed, whether she loved her proposed spouse or not. She was not given the opportunity or option to select her husband; she was GIVEN in marriage. Women were not active in making the initial decision, because it was arranged and planned by a father figure or male relative.

So, with that mind, an ancient Greek male would probably take one look at “The Notebook” and think we are a society of sickos for letting women choose who they want to marry and letting them be happy with that decision.