Classical Greek Culture; pederasty, homosexuality and slavery

Modern Eyes

One of the first rules an anthropologist must learn is not to view an alien culture with reference to their own. People may have unique reasons as to why they do certain actions or hold certain beliefs which have no connection to the culture of the Observer.

One of the most dramatic examples occurred during World War II The Japanese, seeking to honour a particular Allied prisoner beheaded him with a Samuari sword. The Allies were horrified by the barbarism.


Civilisation

The Western World sees Ancient Greece as the birth place of civilisation. The fact that 200 people could vote was hailed as a democracy and the art work, the literature, proof of the great advancements in society.

In the early days of the English Raj; that is when India was the Jewel in the Crown of the Empire, what was viewed was the vast wealth of the upper class, not the horrible lives lived by the majority of people.

This narrow focus of the invader leads to the eventual overthrow because there is no attempt at enculturating the masses so that they feel part of the Empire not an exploited commodity.

This narrow view prevents us from truly comprehending Classical Greek culture.

Basic Views

Today, we see young slender women as the epitome of beauty. They are desirable, they are all that is perfect.

In Ancient Greek Culture the object of beauty was the boy.

Beardless, slender, not yet matured, this was the object of lust.

Today, society is centred about the older wealthy man marrying the 19 year old girl. Almost every millionaire has his 'arm candy', the most beautiful young woman his money can buy.

Many millionaires replace their wives at ten year intervals, because the pursuit of a young woman rules them.

In Greece, substitute male for female.

Society

In Greek culture, men did not marry until they were forty This would be a young virgin who would bear his children. He would take a boy as his protégé, and school him, assist him, and engage in sexual relations with him.

This boy was the object of his devotion.

When the boy was no longer beardless, interest would wane, and although he might be kept on as an assistant in the older man's business, a new boy would be introduced. The superseded protégé might take his own boy or satisfy his lusts with female prostitutes until reaching forty he was allowed to marry.

This mentoring system (for besides sex there was a business aspect) often allowed the protégé to become successful in his pursuits, sometimes becoming his mentor's rival.

The Ideal

When examing ancient Greek statues one finds a prevalence of male nudes. Whether a warrior or a deity, male nudity was 'what sold' to use a modern experession.

The genitalia seems remarkably small almost childlike on a muscular mature body. This was as considered desirable then as large breasts on a woman are today. Considering what the intention of the mature male was and the object of that intention 'size did matter'.

Slavery

Slaves made up more than about one-third of the total population . Slaves rarely revolted as they were of diverse populations which had as much hatred for each other as they might for the Master.

Most families owned slaves, even the poorest Greek family owned a few slaves. Owners were not allowed to beat or kill their slaves, and often promised to free them.

However, a free slave did not become a citizen with all the rights and privileges. They would be defined as Metics, which were foreigners who were officially allowed to live in the state.

There were publicaly owned slaves who had a larger measure of independence than slaves owned by families, living on their own and performing specialized tasks

As a Whole

When studying a culture one must take it as a whole and see how the pieces fit. To grab an aspect and interpret it and present it complete is intellectually dishonest. If widely disseminated in leads to an incorrect image and will cause future confusion.

Greek democracy was of very limited vintage. It was an improvement over the single dictator, but it was not extended beyond a specific class of landowners. Slaves never became citizens. Neither them nor their children. They remained foreigners, excluded from benefits .

Young men were exploited, for the mentoring procedure was the only way they could advance in life.

Women were almost as excluded in Ancient Greece as they are in Afghanistan. Their route to prestige was often as a prostitute of the highest ranking.

Hence it was not a culture of such laudatory nature that should be continually seen as an aspiration.

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Comments 7 comments

kcmorris profile image

kcmorris 4 years ago from South Bend, Indiana

It's not particularly helpful to apply what we know about ancient Athens to Greek culture as a whole (though admittedly, much of what we consider "Greek" is Athenian). Specifically, the examples we have of institutionalized pederasty in Ancient Greece are Athenian in origins. Sparta, the other polis of which we have enough information to reconstruct some idea of its society, lacked the pederasty of Athens, and we don't know enough about the other poleis to assert that pederasty itself was universal in Ancient Greece.


qeyler profile image

qeyler 4 years ago Author

Interesting point; however, let us recognise that what is reflected as 'Greek culture' today is similar to what one would call 'Jamaican culture' for not every corner of Jamaica has what one would call 'Jamaican culture'. When one thinks of the classical period of Greece, this is what one considers. Sparta, at the time, was, a different 'country'.


kcmorris profile image

kcmorris 4 years ago from South Bend, Indiana

In some senses, yes, but in others, no. They all spoke Greek and all recognized themselves as Greek (well, Hellenes).

My point, ultimately, was just that it's misinformation to label all of Ancient Greece as pederasts when it wasn't a "Greek" trait the same way that, say, speaking Greek was. Even in Athens, the pederasty was largely a practice of the aristocracy, but given that all the sources we have are aristocratic, that's the part of the culture that tends to be taught.

The same goes for the blanket statement of substituting male for female, as well, of course. In Athens, homosexual relationships between adult males was seen as strange. In Sparta, by contrast, at least within the military, it was often the norm.

Ultimately, these topics are incredibly complex and difficult to sum up in a short article like this one. The hub could greatly be improved in its purpose as an informational tool if it didn't present such a myopic view.


kcmorris profile image

kcmorris 4 years ago from South Bend, Indiana

I should have said "misleading" up there. It's what I meant. Sometimes I type faster than I think.


qeyler profile image

qeyler 4 years ago Author

Homosexuality was widely practiced, accepted, and the facts can't change despite the personal opinion of those who would prefer this not to be. It is hard to call it 'democracy' when only a limited number of males could vote. But it is so different from other systems of the time that this small change is spotlighted.


kcmorris profile image

kcmorris 4 years ago from South Bend, Indiana

I'm not actually speaking from opinion. My bachelor's was in Classics and while literature was my primary focus, my track spent a lot of time on gender roles and sexuality. Homosexual relationships between adult men were seen as abnormal, at least in Athens, as they violated what the Greeks viewed as the normal "order" of gender roles. Males were supposed to be the active or dominant participant in a relationship and females (or boys, which they generally did not yet consider "male") were supposed to be the passive or submissive member. As a result, there's a distinction made between homosexual pederasty and adult homosexuality in studies of ancient Greece.

This is not to say that such relationships did not exist--they did, but there was a stigma attached primarily to the passive partner in the relationship, which is a far cry from wide acceptance.

Because of this, again, it's not at all informative to suggest that we should "In Greece, substitute male for female." The facts are not so clear cut.

I actually agree with you on the democracy bit, though what we mean by democracy and what the Greeks meant are somewhat different as well.


qeyler profile image

qeyler 4 years ago Author

I don't think we are disagreeing. I was reetty clear that the 'beardless boy' was the object of lust and as he matured he was discarded as Greek men married when they were 40. So no where am I imputing that two men of forty were having a romance.

I read Classics in my first degree, and previous to writing this article I did further research, (not I repeat NOT WIKIPEDIA).

Today's sex symbol is the young woman...we aren't looking at women over forty, (in general) we are looking the young girl who, when she becomes a woman is no longer the object of lust.

The use of boys (i.e. bachabazi in Afghanistan) as sexual objects was wide spread, Grown men married young girls and used them for physical release and young men were the objects of their lust and desire.

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