Wednesday 17 March
11 AM PDT
2 PM EDT
6 PM GMT
7 PM CET
With Dr. Eireann Marshall
Same-sex relationships were central to Greek literature, as they were the education of elite males. The love Achilles felt for Patroclus memorably resulted in an outpouring of grief which saw him desecrate the body of Hector, who ended Patroclus’ life on the battlefield. In his Symposium Plato described the love between men as the highest love, though he also suggested that this love, however erotically charged, should ideally remain unconsummated.
Eromenoi, young passive partners, were the objects of beauty in Greek myths, most notably the handsome Ganymede who was taken up to Olympus and made cup-bearer by a Zeus smitten by his looks. Depictions of Eromenoi and Erastoi (young passive partners with their older lovers) in Greek art, particularly in symposium scenes, allow us to see how important these relationships were to the development of elite males. Predictably, very little attention is paid to female same-sex relations, though one of the most important early Greek poets, Sappho, famously wooed her object of love, Anactoria.
Roman attitudes towards homo-erotic relationships differed to the extent that they weren’t enshrined in elite relationships, though, like Greeks, they defined sexuality not in terms of gay and straight but in terms of active and passive, meaning that a male could be expected to partake in homosexual relations without impunity as long as he were the active partner. To Romans, cinaedi, passive lovers who were too perfumed and well-groomed, were the object of scorn, not because they were gay but because they were like women.
Grasping the way sexuality was conceived and the role it played in Greece and Rome is central to understanding their world views.