Everything you need to know about the gay culture in ancient Greece
We learn about ancient Greece but nothing about the different Bisexual or Homosexual traditions that also existed in ancient Greece. Did you know, for example, that Alexander the great had several male lovers?
Is the cutting out of this information just a sign of how homophobic our society still is?
Well, today you will learn something about the more than over 500 years practiced bisexual culture of mostly Greek males.
Men as the ideal human being
Greek people adored Males that seemed to have the perfect body and mind. Their statues were concentrated very much on male bodies and in some books, they used male adjectives to describe a girl as more beautiful.
Basically, the most common gay love was the one between an adult men who already had a wife and children and a young men/boy. The relationship between the man and his wife was seen more as practical and necessary to get children and have a family, and the women were basically there to take care of the children. There was almost no education for women, so the relationship with other men was seen as way richer. Because they could discuss different things with each other.
Furthermore, it was seen as if the older man was the mentor for the younger one. He should teach him everything he learned in life and pass him his knowledge. Young men had an older lover and when they became older, they had a younger lover. Those relationships with men were not seen as a competition for the wife but as an add on. And it wasn´t limited to just having one relationship at a time.
Yet this sexuality and practice was pretty commonly accepted and even internalized in the society (we can read it in the books or old comedy shows, see it in old pictures or statues); relationships between two men of the same age were not really accepted. However, the Greek lawyer Pausanius once elaborated the idea that the relationship a men has o a women they just have to feel more powerful than the other person.
According to Pausanius, it is the same when an adult man has a relationship with a younger men: they just want to feel that they have more power. So the only true love without power differences, according to the lawyer, and would be the one between two men of the same age.
Looking at the practices with our lenses from nowadays, people see the age range as very critical, while nowadays in most European countries an adult is doing something illegal when having sex with a minor (meaning under 18) in ancient Greece the young males were sometimes just 14 years old starting their relationship with the older man. While it was a practice where many old men were trying to gain the boy, he was the one choosing which man should be his mentor and lover. They said this phase of relationship and mentoring should happen until a boy would be ready to marry. However, some relationships kept going after this moment but would be met with a little resistance by others.
The change of stereotypes
Another interesting fact is when we think about gay men today, the stereotype of this person is still mostly that the guy has feminine attitudes. Our society is still confusing gender expression, and sexual orientation, which does not has to be related to each other at all. Because on one side, the old Greek society had those homosexual practices on the other side, the society itself was highly misogynistic. If a man would have womanly traits, he was seen as weak. And if you would ask an ancient Greek person, what is the gayest thing he could think about, it would be “soldiers“.
Especially the elite army, “The Sacred Band” gained a lot of attention. They were the unit people were most afraid of. It was a unit of 300 men having 150 couples in the unit.
It was gay lovers fighting next to each other, and that is exactly what made them so strong and scary. Because it makes sense that one warrior will fight way better having his loved one next to him, he don´t want to lose him at any cause, so he will try to protect him with everything he has. At the same time, he wants to show his lover how good and amazing he can fight, impose him.
Men did not only have relationships with women because of kids. But it was common to be interested in men as well as women. Some men would have more male lovers, some more female, and both were accepted. So you can state that it was not a gay culture but more a bisexual one.
You can find the same or similar practices in Italy or Arabic and other European countries or farther away in Japan in the old traditions of the samurai.
The question is why are we not learning about this in school when it was actually a big part of (greek) society.
As George Orwell already stated:
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.“
All the pride events, stonewall riots, it seems like something new that is coming up, something we have to fight for. Fighting to just exist peacefully without getting bullied, kicked out of our homes, hit or even killed. We want the same rights as human beings: safety and acceptance.
Not to mention that in ancient Greece not everyone was safe, and the culture also had its flaws. It just seems surreal that thousands of years before us, bisexual behaviors even were a fixed part of society. Furthermore, it would take too long now, but ancient Greece was just an example. There were thousands of cultures all over the globe having more fluid gender roles or more than two genders, even manifested in their gods. Moreover, homosexual practices in sex and romantic relationships outside of our heteronormative understandings and mindsets were part of their society and culture. Many more ways to love and have sex.
But the Colonisation came and destroyed these cultures. Now society seems to see western culture as the one and only right or normal way to live. It is an opportunity to remember that good and bad, “normal“ and “right“ is nothing fix, but rather a concept depending on the time, country and society you were born in and about who is controlling your present right now.
I wish everyone a powerful and happy pride, be and support your sisters (not your cis-ters?) and I hope you can find a little bit of peace in yourself. And maybe when someone is dropping the next homophobic comment you can just silently smile and think about how gay this person would have been in ancient Greece.