Renowned Homosexuals of Ancient Greeceafter the History of Greek Life and Customs
by Hans Licht (ca. 1925)
MINOS, the mythical king of Crete, to whom the Greeks attributed a large part of their culture, formalized pederasty in Crete, according to Aristotle in order to prevent overpopulation.
LYCURGUS, the legendary lawgiver of Sparta (about 800 BC), declared in his laws that lay the foundation of the Spartan virtue, that "no one who does not have a (male) friend in his bed can be a good citizen".
SOLON (ca. 634-560 BC), the Athenian statesman who in his poetry showed himself entranced with boys, enacted important laws to regulate pederasty: No slave was allowed to have intercourse with a free-born boy. Another law deprived those of their citizenship who kept free boys in prostitution. However, these laws applied only to Athenian citizens, not to the many "xenoi", immigrants and their descendants.
POLYCRATES, the well-known ruler of Samos, who after a life of enormous felicity and splendour was betrayed by the Persian satrap Orontas and died on the cross in 522 BC. He had surrounded himself with a retinue of choice pages. When the poet ANACREON stayed at the court of Polycrates, he fell in love with Smerdis, could not take his eyes off the boy's sumptuous hair and celebrated the dark abundance of these locks in his songs. Smerdis, in the vain nature of boys, enjoyed his praise very much. But in tyrannical temper and a fit of jealousy, Polycrates had Smerdis' hair cut off to hurt both the boy and the poet. Anacreon, however, did not show his irritation, but acted as if the boy had decided to bereave himself of the ornament of his locks. He wrote a poem to scold him for his folly, which thereby just became another homage. Maximus Tyrius says of Smerdis: "Polycrates gave Smerdis gold and silver and what else a mighty man naturally gives a beautiful boy whom he loves; but Anacreon gave him songs of praise and what else a loving poet naturally gives." We can still get an idea of Anacreon's boy ideal, since another one of his beloved boys was Bathyllus. He delighted the poet not only by his beauty but also by his talent for playing the flute and the cithara. Polycrates had a statue of this youth erected at the temple of Hera in Samos, which was described by Apuleius who still saw it.
HIERON, king of Syracuse 478-467 BC, was a high-minded and noble prince, protector of the arts and science; at his court he gathered the most famous poets of the time, such as Pindar, Aeschylus, Simonides, Bacchylides. There is a work of Xenophon, entitled "Hieron", relating a discourse with Simonides about the advantages and disadvantages of a life as a king as compared with a life as private citizen and on the best methods by which a king may become popular and make his subjects happy. The conversation also turns upon pederasty. Hieron says that he cannot quite enjoy this, as he lacks just what makes love sweet, the wooing longing, because everybody complies with a king's wishes at once.
PAUSANIAS, of Sparta, the victorious leader of the Spartans in the battle of Plataia against the Persians (479 BC). His love for a boy from Argilos is told by the Roman historian Cornelius Nepos after a now lost Greek source.
THEMISTOCLES, famous Athenian strategist, who defeated the Persians in the naval battle of Salamis (480 BC). According to the philosopher Ariston, the enmity between him and the Athenian statesman ARISTIDES, who fought at Marathon and was called "the just" by the people, began in their youth when they both loved the same boy, Stesileos, "then the most beautiful of all boys", as Plutarch has it. Later they were also political enemies.
SOPHOCLES (496-406 BC), the poetic representative of the classical age of Athens, was always ready to succumb to the charm of boys. A few of his amorous adventures have been related by Athenaeus. One of his lost plays was called "The Lovers of Achilles", featuring the wise centaur Chiron being smitten with his brilliant pupil, of whom he says in a preserved fragment: "He casts glances from his eyes that wound like lances." Another fragment compares his love to a snowball melting in the hand of a playing boy. When Achilles has left, the satyrs who form the choir, and who probably also had been after him, try to comfort the grief-stricken Chiron. In another lost play of Sophocles appeared Troilos, the tender son of the Trojan King Priamos, about whose juvenile beauty already the older tragedian Phrynichos had raved, as the beloved of Achilles.
EURIPIDES (480-406 BC), the youngest of the three eminent Athenian tragedians, whose works reflect the doubts and insecurity of a sceptical mind and therefore have a special appeal to our time. He wrote 92 plays, of which 17 tragedies and one satyric drama have been preserved. Once Sophocles, when told that Euripides was a misogynist, replied: "Only in his plays, but he likes to have women in his bed." There was, however, a notable exception to this. One of the lost plays of Euripides was a tragedy entitled "Chrysippos" which treated the love of King Laios, the father of Oedipus, for the boy of that name. Very likely Euripides was caused to write it by the personal experience of his love for AGATHON, who was then a youth praised for his beauty as well as for his culture, and who later became himself a respectable playwright. In Plato's Symposium he appears as the host at a feast to celebrate the prize he has won for a drama. To all appearances the relationship between the two poets remained amourous and sexual long after the younger one had passed the age up to which this was regarded as becoming, and therefore the comedian Aristophanes made them the butt of gross jokes.
SOCRATES, of Athens, the most influential thinker (470-399 BC). Diogenes Laėrtius tells that as a boy Socrates was loved by his teacher Archelaus, which is confirmed by Porphyrius, who says that as a youth of 17 Socrates did not disdain the love of Archelaus, because he was then very sensual. Later he managed to overcome this by eager brain-work. Socrates did not write himself, and his remarks about pederasty, as handed down by others, are not unequivocal. In the upshot, one may suppose that, as a Greek, he had an eye for the beauty of boys and young men. Also to him it was absolutely necessary to keep company with youths, but usually he renounced the physical activity of this love. He could do without sensualism because he compensated it by his incomparable art of shaping the souls of the youths and leading them as far as possible to perfection. He presented this power of continence as ideal also to others; still, it is nowhere documented that he demanded of everybody to follow his example, which besides would have been inconsistent with the wisdom of "the wisest of all Greeks".
CRITIAS, Athenean sophist and politician, was the leader of the "Thirty Tyrants" who after the Peloponnesian War ruled for a short while over Athens (404 BC). Xenophon relates his passion for Euthydemos and how Socrates mocked him for it: "Socrates had observed that Critias loved Euthydemos and wanted to have his way with him. Therefore Socrates tried to argue him out of it, saying that it was degrading for a free man and ill became someone "beautiful in body and mind" to importune, moreover for nothing good, his beloved to whom he should be a shining example. It is very likely that by this rebuke, Socrates incurred the animosity of the mighty man, which was later nearly fatal to him.
ALCIBIADES of Athens, (452-404 BC). The most adored youth of his time, beautiful and talented, but vain and inconstant, he later was a notoriously untrustworthy statesman and strategist who was to blame for the disastrous defeat of the Athenian expeditionary force in Sicily (414), deserted to serve the Spartans, but again commanded the Athenian navy in a brilliant victory over the Spartans (410), returned triumphantly to Athens (408), to be then defeated by the Spartans led by Lysander in a sea-fight at Notion (407). Finally he escaped to a Persian satrap in Asia Minor, where he was murdered at the instigation of the Spartans. Over 500 years later, Emperor Hadrian, on his way through that region, erected a monument in remembrance of Alcibiades. As for the homoerotic side of his love-life, Cornelius Nepos sums it up: "As a boy he was loved by many men, one of them Socrates; as an adult he himself loved not a few boys."
AGESILAOS, king of Sparta, victor in the battle of Coroneia (394 BC), no less important as king than as general, died at 84 after a long reign. Most well-known is his love for the beautiful Megabates, whose story Xenophon tells.
Socrates' most famous disciple PLATO (427-347 BC) founded the Academy of Athens in 386. "Platonic", i.e. chaste pederasty, is a frequent and important theme of his writings. Among the boys whom he loved were Agathon, Dion, Alexis, Aster.
Another disciple of Socrates, ARISTIPPUS of Cyrene (ca. 435-355 BC), founded a hedonistic school of philosophy, similar to the later epicurism: A wise man should enjoy all lust but not let himself be governed by it. He loved a boy named Euthichydes.
EPAMINONDAS of Thebes, one of the greatest strategists of all ages, victorious in the battles of Leuctra (371 BC) and Mantinea (362 BC). He founded the "Sacred Legion", an elite of male couples. The most well-known of his favourite boys was Asopichos, who shared the glory of victory with his lover at Leuctra. Later Epameinondas loved the beautiful youth Kaphisodoros, who fought and fell by his side at Mantinea and was buried in the same grave.
PHILIP, king of Macedonia, who achieved the supremacy over Greece, father of Alexander the Great. He loved a certain Pausanias. Justinus tells that in his first prime of youth, Pausanias was raped by Attalos, king of Pergamon. Besides, once at a banquet, Attalos had him serve not only his own lust but also his guests', like a common catamite. Therefore Pausanias complained to Philip. Because Philip put him off with idle promises, while he made Attalos his general, his resentment against Philip escalated, so that he murdered his erstwhile friend in the year of 336 BC.
ALEXANDER, king of Macedonia, rightly called "the Great" by history, had, as Athenaeus says, "a boundless passion for beautiful boys". His most beloved male was of the same age as himself, his boyhood friend Hephaistion. He died a year before Alexander in Ecbatana (324 BC). The distracted Alexander decreed national mourning and had built him a funeral pyre of sixty metres height.
ANTIGONOS, one of Alexander's strategists, was the first of them to claim the title of a king and found a new dynasty. The most well-known of his loved boys was the zitherist Aristocles. Once, after a carouse with the philosopher Zenon, Antigonos went with him noisy and singing to Aristocles.
DEMOSTHENES (384-322 BC), Athenian statesman and orator, enemy of the Macedonians, most remembered for his "Philippica", a series of speeches against King Philip. Demosthenes' taste for boys was well known. The name of one beloved has been handed down: Cnosion.
Demosthenes' equally renowned colleague and opponent was AISCHINES (389-314 BC). In one of his speeches he accused a political enemy of having himself prostituted as an adolescent, but in the same speech he told of himself: "I have always been loitering about the gymnasia, and I have loved some youths to whom I addressed love-poems... I don't deny that I indulge in this love now no more than I have done hitherto."
Plato's disciple ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC), the philosopher and universal scholar, whose ideas, notably his logic, dominated European thought for many centuries. According to antique historians he had love affairs with several of his adolescent students, among them the "ravishing" Nicanor. In his writings, however, he shows himself hostile to pederasty and advises against it.
DEMETRIUS PHALEREUS stood for ten years (317-307 BC) at the head of the Athenian state; the people erected many monuments in his praise. He was important as statesman, orator and scholar. Later he lived in Alexandria, where he became a counsellor of King Ptolemy and founded the famous library. Carystius tells in his memoirs: "All the boys of Athens were jealous of Diognis, the favourite of Demetrius. They all strove to associate with him, so that the most beautiful boys of the town went to where Demetrius would take a stroll in the morning, to be seen by him."
CLEOMENES, one of the most noble-minded men of ancient history, famous but unfortunate king of Sparta, was according to Polybius "the born ruler and king". We know from Plutarch that in his youth he was the beloved of one Xenares. Later he loved Panteus, "the most beautiful and valorous youth of Sparta", who after the suicide of the exiled Cleomenes in Egypt (219 BC) killed himself in faithfulness and attachment beyond death. As Plutarch has it, "when he found Kleomenes lying, he gave him a push and, seeing that he could still knit his brows, he kissed him and raised him. Holding the body next to him, he plunged his sword into his own breast."
NICOMEDES, king of Bithynia; his beloved was a young Roman, Gaius Julius Caesar. It was an open secret that Caesar had given the bloom of his youth to King Nicomedes. Later one time, when Caesar pleaded in the Senate for Nicomedes' daughter Nysa, he pointed out the services Nicomedes had rendered Rome, but Cicero interrupted him, saying: "Please, omit all that! We know what he rendered to you and what you rendered to him."
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