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Gay Greek Mythology

The Many Loves of Hercules

Hercules and Hylas

Zeus and Ganymede

Poseidon and Pelops

Apollo and Hyacinth

Apollo and Cyparissus

Pan and Daphnis

Narcissus and Echo

Orpheus and Eurydice

Achilles and Patroclus

Laius and Chrysippus

  Male couples, in the gay Greek myths, usually consist of a god in the role of the adult lover, and a hero in the role of the adolescent boy beloved. Children, even mythical ones, were not involved, as the Greeks frowned upon sexual relationships with little boys. In actual practice the most prized boys were well into adolescence and would be of legal age in many countries today.

The gay myths here, like Greek male love in general, are not principally about sex. They are first of all about friendship and love as reflected in conflicts about trust and betrayal, pride and humility, and right and wrong. It's also problematic to say that the myths are about "gay" love. Greek homosexuality is more complex and the Greeks would not have thought of themselves as gay. On one hand, sex between adult men was frowned upon (which proves that it existed). On the other, most men and boys who fell in love with each other would later go on to marriage and children. Accordingly, mythical Greek homosexuality defies the modern fashion of gay and straight.

In another departure from modern gay culture, penetration in ancient Greece was badly seen. Men who penetrated their boyfriends were regarded as uncultured and abusive. Those that were themselves penetrated became the object of ridicule. When couples made love, they were expected to make love between the thighs. And that is how the gods are depicted.

When I was teaching a college age crowd about the gay Greek myths, one outraged boy piped up from the back of the room, "They never told us Hercules was gay!" Well, here the uncensored stories have "come out." You will find out that Hercules had too many boyfriends to count, and you'll read how Apollo fell in love with one boy after another. Strangely, they all died, which is the Greeks' way of saying that his boyfriends died as boys in order to be reborn as men. You will meet the most handsome of all heroes, Achilles, who fell in love with his best friend, Patroclus. Here too is Narcissus, who was cruel to his boyfriends and paid for it. And let us not forget Zeus, who drove his wife into a rage with his love for beautiful Ganymede.

Editors' note: The above description is based on primary sources such as Plato, Xenophon, Aeschines, and Cicero. They reflect mostly on Athenian and Spartan lore and practices, which also differed from each other. In the rest of Greece other customs, ranging from less restrained sexuality to total prohibition, could be found.
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