Greek love

Greek love is a relatively modern coinage (generally placed within quotation marks) intended as a reference to male bonding and intimate relations between males as practised in ancient Greece, as well as to its application and expression in more recent times, particularly in a 19th-century European context. Thus the term has been loosely applied to homosexual behaviour in general but especially pederasty.


According to Robert Aldrich, "Greek love" did not hold the central place in the history of lesbians as it did in the history of homosexual men." [Aldrich, Robert: "The Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art and Homosexual Fantasy". London: Routledge, 1993 (p. xi) [] ] . However Greek pederasty, which sought to idealise the relationship of an older man (erastes) with an adolescent boy (eromenos), may have been brought to the Greek mainland, possibly from Crete, as early as the 7th century B.C. Both in Sparta and Athens, the bonding of adult men and adolescent boys was a common cultural and social phenomenon. There is also evidence from Greek vases displaying that the intimate association of men with boys was represented in a range of emotive and expressive guises. These relationships, however, often transcended the physical or the erotic, the adult often took on a teaching role model for the boy: abuse or exploitation of the younger partner was not tolerated. John Addington Symonds encapsulates this relationship as:

Prejudice of Christianity and Middle Eastern views

Intergenerational relationships of the kind portrayed by the "Greek love" ideal were increasingly disallowed within the Judaeo-Christian traditions of Western society until it was turned into something sinful. [Crompton, Louis: "Homosexuality and Civilization", First Harvard University Press paperback edition, 2006 (pp.213, 411 & "passim")] .

The Pashtun culture of modern-era Afghanistan is sometimes cited as a society where man-boy relationships - in many respects exhibiting similarities to the pattern of 'Greek love' - were practised openly in the pre-Taliban days [Khyber, Daoud: "The Return of the Catamites" [] ] .

Uranian Hellenism

The ‘Uranians’ showed a conscious awareness of pederasty as an essential ingredient of Hellenism, and the impulse to acknowledge and declare this aspect of life in Ancient Greece at a time when Victorian justice upheld the illegality of all male-male sexual relations. The Uranians embraced a number of distinguished men of letters, including William Johnson Cory, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde and John Addington Symonds (see above). These people advocated against the unjust and prudish Victorian sexual oppression rampant at the time and tried to get a popular acceptance of "Uranian" love, and to see in "Greek love" an inspiration for civilization at the time. John Addington Symonds defines the term:

His Uranian colleagues were similar in their views, though it is necessary in evaluating their position as an historical group, to be aware not only of the different emphases and interpretations brought to bear on their ideal of pederastic love, but also of other contemporaneous theories and concepts of sexuality taking place elsewhere. This is crucial to an understanding of Greek love both in its original sense and its wider applications. While this clandestine group of neo-Hellenists was finding support and inspiration from an ancient culture, the voices of Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, Karl-Maria Kertbeny and Richard von Krafft-Ebing were being heard across Europe, articulating their theories of ‘homosexuality’ (coined by Kertbeny), sexual orientation and gender inversion which were to make an increasing impact in legal, medical and sociological circles. The Uranians did not see themselves in this light, and were opposed to Ulrichs’s claims for androphilic, homoerotic liberation at the expense of the paederastic (refer Uranian Poetry). In the introduction to his ‘Love in Earnest’ (1970) Timothy D’Arch Smith underlines the distinction:

Adult homosexuality, indeed, has little to do with the themes of the poets heretreated who loved only adolescent boys and it is for this reason that I havedeliberately eschewed the word 'homosexual'. It is unpleasantly hybrid andmodern psychiatrists would give another term to the boy-lover
- a position which thirty years on found ready agreement in Michael Kaylor's acknowledgment that the concept of the 'homosexual' was inapplicable to the dynamics of 'boy-love'.Kaylor, Michael Matthew: "Secreted Desires: The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde". Brno, Czech Republic: Masaryk University Press, 2006 (pp.15 notes, xiv Preface, 58) [] (The author has made this volume available in a free, open-access, PDF version.)]

For the Uranians and those who shared their desires, Michael Kaylor identifies “two forms of erotic positioning in relation to this ‘boy-worship’— as well as the fulfilment and outcome of such an erotic attachment — one ‘conciliatory to social orthodoxies’, the other ‘pervasively dissident’. The three major figures highlighted in his study Hopkins, Pater and Wilde, “represent different responses to this ‘boy-worship’: Gerard Manley Hopkins sublimated most, if not all of his paederastic desires;Walter Pater seems to have actualised his paederastic desires only once, threatening his academic position so thoroughly that he sublimated thereafter, a choice that later matured into an appreciation for such sublimation; Oscar Wilde actualised most of his paederastic desires, a ‘madness for pleasure’ that ruined many lives, and not just his own.”

Donald Mader said:

Surveying the allusions, one sees that they are largely to asymmetricalrelationships, either clearly age-structured, or between a god and a mortal, or awarrior/hero and his protégé […] , or various combinations of these. […] Suchrelationships today are regarded as inherently morally culpable, paternalistic andpatronizing at best, exploitative or even ‘abuse’ at the worst; to hold up suchrelationships as an ideal is accordingly viewed either as self-justification on thepart of the ‘superordinate’ party, or hypocrisy. Yet this inequality is part of theobjective outline that Uranians saw in their Greek mirror; the Greekrelationships were asymmetrical, and the Uranians saw themselves in this outlineand filled in their own features. [Mader, Donald H., "The Greek Mirror: The Uranians and Their Use of Greece", Journal of Homosexuality, 49., 377-420]
The dilemma for the Uranians, put succinctly by A.C. Benson, one of Pater’s first biographers, resided in the educational value attached to the ‘essential character’ of the Greeks and their sanctioned practice of paederastic pedagogy. [David Newsome, "On the Edge of Paradise": A. C. Benson: The Diarist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p.192.]

Recent developments

Since the publication in 1964 of "Greek Love" by J. Z. Eglinton (the pseudonym of Walter Breen), [Eglinton, J. Z.: "Greek Love". New York: Acolyte Press, 1964 [] ] the term 'Greek love' has become more seriously noticed by the mainstream, as is displayed by the fact that it is employed in the titles of books, as, for example, David Halperin's 1990 book "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: and Other Essays on Greek Love" (1990), [Halperin, David M.: "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: and Other Essays on Greek Love". New York: Routledge, 1990 [] ] and James Davidson's 2007 book "The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece" (November 2007). [Davidson, James: "The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece". London: Orion Publishing, November 2007 [] ] The first full exploration of Greek love occurred with Kenneth Dover’s authoritative study of 1980’. [Dover, K.J.:"Greek Homosexuality". Harvard University Press, 1978.] In the 1980s and especially after Foucault, the view of "Greek love" was turned upside down and a new consensus was established. [Davidson, James: "Dover, Foucault and Greek Homosexuality," in "Studies in Ancient Greek and Roman Society", ed. by Robin Osborne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. 78-118 (p. 79) [] ]



ee also

*Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

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