Was Greece a Gay Utopia?
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PRIDE

Episode · 2 years ago

Was Greece a Gay Utopia?

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The birthplace of modern Western concepts like democracy, modern philosophy and mathematics, the practice of medicine, and even the alarm clock. Ancient Greece feels like a not so distant relative. However, Professor Andrew Lear teaches us that modern comparisons with Ancient Greece are complicated. Learn more about Professor Lear's Oscar Wilde Tours here! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Sebastian Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

STRAWUT media. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of many modern western concepts, democracy, modern philosophy and mathematics, the practice of medicine and even the alarm clock. A lot of our words are derived from their words. But with all this, how similar was ancient Greek society to life as we know it today? Today we talked to classist Professor Andrew Lear. Aside from being a scholar on ancient Greece and Rome, otherwise known as classical antiquity, he also founded a company called Oscar Wild Tours, which offers lgbtq plus historical and art tours all over the world. Was Ancient Greece really a gay utopia? How is pederosity different from pedophilia? Was Alexander the great a big Gay King? I'm Le by Chambers, and this is pride. Andrew Lear has spent a lot of time learning everything he could about what life was like in ancient Greece and Rome. He was a professor of classics and his taught at Harvard, Columbia and Nyu. His courses on sexuality in the ancient world have been particularly popular throughout his teaching career. In Two Thousand and eight he published a widely praised book on same sex mail love in ancient Greek art, called images of ancient Greek pederosity. Boys were their gods, Co authored by AVA Cantarella. I wrote a book about the appearance of male male relations, courtship, etcetera, in a FAZ painting vase. Painting is an artistic genre from ancient Greece. The clay pots were used mostly for drinking at parties. There were scenes painted on the vases and fairy number of them include either drake scenes of meal male relations, or some of them have some refer to it in sight be less direct ways and sorry. I wrote a book about that. Andrew has also written articles on gender ideals in the work of Greek poets, and he's generally viewed as an expert on the comparison between ancient and modern views and practices of gender and sexuality, which we'll talk about today. Besides his interest in classical antiquity, he's also the chief partnership officer for Rome and experiential podcast company, where he serves as a lead storyteller, helping create experiences focused on lgbtq plus women's and diversity issues. But his interest in ancient Greece, and Rome started when he was in college with the Roman poet catalysts, who mostly writes about his relationship with a married woman, therefore adulteress and bad by Roman rules, but he also writes about in a couple of poems, about relations with a...

...boy. Catalyst led him to Greek poetry, where he read more and more about the rules of love between men and boys, and then from there I started just kind of trying to put together an idea of what was okay about these relations in ancient you know, wi other what the Greeks thought was okay in Ancient Greece. And so I started getting interested in the artistic evidence, principally because it had been so badly studied. It was wasn't even adequately collected as evidence. It was interpreted in a very crude, simplistic way, and so I started working on that evidence. Over time he became more and more knowledgeable on the subject. I don't you know the way academia is. Once you're a specialist, you're a specialist. When anyone needs an article written about something relating to Greek pederisty, they know who to ask. So they call you, say Andrew write this article, then most of you already know the stuff, but you look up a few things, you become more and more an expert in this area. So now I'm this big expert on this area, which is we're kind of fun. When we think about ancient Greece, some of US picture the first Olympic Games, naked dude throwing a discuss and the like. Or if you read the Odyssey in high school or college, you might picture odysseus tied to the mast of his ship fighting the temptation of the sirens songs. You could also just be picturing Brad Pitt as allies in the two thousand and four adaptation of Troy. However, the timeline of ancient Greece is actually a bit more complicated. Most of the physical evidence we have about ancient Greece comes from Athens during the sixth, fifth and fourth centuries B cee. But Andrew Likes to expand his view even further back. The mycenian world, where the homeric epics supposedly take place, lasts until about one hundred bce. After that there is a period called the Greek Dark Ages, which goes until about eight hundred BC. After that Greece becomes more urbanized and that urbanization leads to classical Greece. So in that period of the dark ages it's possible that Greeks lived in a somewhat tribal society and there is some very slight evidence that there might have been initiation rituals in that tribal society. That involves some kind of no real relations, as initiation rituals do. You know a lot of cultures and there's a lot of dispute about whether that evidence is solid or not. I come down on the side that it's it's better than no evidence. We have no evidence for any other theory. Throughout today's show we'll talk a lot about possibilities, evidence and theory surrounding life during Ancient Greece. But no, even Andrew Lear says that none of this is Gospel. We're making educated guesses and drawing conclusions based on the information we have, but we'll get more into that later in. Andrew says that somewhere during the Greek dark...

...ages, male male relationships start to become common and accepted in Greek culture and the social practice continues into at least the third century. A D also, really, really long time, went on for at least a thousand years. So let's dive into one of the most famous kings in ancient Greece, Alexander the Great. His reign lasted from three and thirty six to three D and twenty three B ce, and there's been a lot of theorizing about his sexuality. But what do we really know? Not A lot. All our sources about him are from hundreds of years after he died. So it's it's some undoubtedly goes back to something that was said when he was alive. But you know, it's like a game beginning of telephone. Who knows with her it reflects anything that was said it. You know in in what way yourflets it. There are a few things on which historians base their views of Alexander the Great's sexuality. He had a royal companion, which is kind of an official role in the Macedonian a court. One of his royal companions was he faced Jan. It does look as if they they are portrayed as some kind of couple, but again, given how far removed the evidence is, Andrew is not convinced it can be taken as fact. And there's another reason he takes the available information about Alexander the great with a grain of salt. I think that rulers, were big political figures in the ancient world sometimes used sexuality as a kind of propaganda. Andrew says that rulers might choose to portray themselves in ways that were fashionable at the time and that Alexander the great may have wanted to draw similarities between himself and Achilles. In the Iliad, Achilles has a close relationship with a man named patrocles. Whether it's an actual sexual relationship or not as of impossible to tell at this distance. The Greek biographer plutarch also wrote that Alexander the great kissed a eunuch named Bagoas, who had belonged to the Persian emperor. Historians point to this as further evidence. Assuming that did happen, I tend to think that what he meant if he did that in front of Greeks or Macedonians in public, was to say I am the emperor of the persons. Still by questioning the evidence used to make assertions about Alexander the Great Sexuality, Andrew doesn't mean that he was straight. No, the cultural context, in the cultural context in which Alexander lived, same sex relations were perfectly regular and it is completely believable that he might have had them. We just don't have such great evidence. You may be noticing a recurring theme in our conversation, which is well, in the end we don't really know when we come back. Okay, fine, so what do we know today?...

We take for granted the idea that your sexual preference is intrinsic to your character, but Andrew says that looking at cultures throughout history, including ancient Greece, shows us that who we attracted to as it relates to gender is not so intrinsic after all. There isn't really much evidence for that concept outside of Western culture. Sexuality in Ancient Greece and beyond, Andrew says, was less about preference and more about okay and not okay. What made things okay didn't come down to heterosexual and homosexual lines, and in ancient Greece there was no Bible to condemn you to hell for eternity, though that's not to say you couldn't get in some kind of trouble. You not be allowed to speak in the assembly or something like that, but that's that's kind of the most extreme punishment to be able. So what was okay and what was not okay? There's a lot more evidence for those delineations in men than in women, so let's start there. First, prostitution of all kinds flourished in ancient Greece, as it did in every culture before the central state started in the S. cortisans and concubines were common and accepted. Second, it was not only okay but even praiseworthy for a man to have a sexual relationship with a teenage boy. There how a boy learns the virtues and skills appropriate to be a man is through this relationship with an with an older guy. This relationship was extremely romanticized and spoken very highly of during the time, though they don't talk explicitly about the sexual aspect of these relationships, Andrew says they most certainly had them. So how old were these boys? Again, not entirely clear. There is one poem is, of course, tiny evidence from the era of the Emperor Hadrian. So we're already in the Roman Empire, which goes to the ages of a boy and that our talks about their attractions and the attractive boy goes from twelve to seventeen. Now you might be wondering what was not okay. Any other male male relationship was not okay, including with male prostitutes. Anal intercourse not okay. Adultery not okay, and this is adultery as defined by the Greeks, which was sex with another man's wife. Andrew summed up the rules like this. The cool guy does all the things a cool guy does. He has a wife, he has a relationship of some kind of the courtisan and he has a relationship for the teenage fore. And the not cool guy has some kind of inappropriate meal male relations and commits adultery. It is clear that the ancient Greeks thought email sex was bad. We have that...

...from many different sources. It's definitely in the not cool department. In fact, Andrew says, most sexual activities we can think of would be categorized as not cool, certainly oral sex. It's just unspeakably foul. In masturbation is mentioned occasionally, but as an activity for slaves to engage it. So it really a question which people ask when they read the ancient Greek sources as well. What did they do then? Well, in literature, the short answer is that they don't really tell us they just say that you want a boy to gratify you. But in visual art we see quite frequently what we're calling intercurl evidence, intracral intercourse, which is sex where man put his puts his wrecked penis between the thighs of the boy. It's not clear if intercrural sex was standard practice for all these relationships or if it was reserved as a custom for elite. I would say most of our evidence is for the elite, but I don't think that's a trustworthy categorization because of course most of our evidences for the elite anyway, and we don't really know what people other than the elite did. But my general view is that people not in the elite in all cultures at all times try to behave like the elite. So was there really no anal sex going on? Really? Andrew says it does show up in scenes of socalled bad sexuality with satyrs and once or twice among so called respectable people, but it's hard to say to what extent this reflects reality. As I always say in my students, you know you don't even know what your best friend does in bed. Really, the evidence that we have about sex in ancient Greece is similar to sex as it's portrayed in movies. That is how the Greeks chose to portray it publicly. We don't have any evidence for you know, we don't have people's letters, we don't have their diaries, we don't have snapshots, so we don't know what they really did. Women's lives and sexuality, on the other hand, is even more opaque. Luckily, there are still some evidence to pull from. Everybody's heard of the poets Affo, so we have her poems, which are which clearly reference female female desires and perhaps relationships. Andrew also said it's likely that female female sex didn't count as sex at the time and that the Greeks just didn't care what women did in private. When we come back gay Utopia, fact or fiction? From what we've learned so far about same sex relationships in ancient Greece, what do you think? Was it a gay paradise or was it simply a different lt? Clearly there was a kind of seeing sex relationship that was not...

...only practiced but even praised, and if you compare ancient Greece to our own culture up to about fifty years ago, there was undoubtedly much more room for same sex relationships. It certainly has long served as proof that are rules about sexuality. Are Not, you know, some kind of eternal verity that other cultures have different rules, and that's true a lot of cultures, but ancient greases the culture we know about and also that we value. Andrews view is that sexuality as a concept is a matter of rules. All cultures have their own rules to govern their sexuality and even though the rules may be absurd, there are crucial part of human sexuality. So in our culture we have a lot of debate about what the rules should be, but we sort of don't deny the fundamental principle that there should be rules. And even though we have rules, the rules are malleable, they're complicated, they're complex and that makes people worry. They're worried about what they themselves do and they're worried about what other people do and they're just constantly this. Like the rules committee on Sexuality uperates seven and so the integrates had their had their rules and we have our rules and they're just different rules. The rules don't just come out of nowhere, though. They're based on the basic concepts that Structure Society. We take for granted that sexuality has a lot to do with marriage, but of course marriage has law to do with the Organization of an industrial society. Similarly, Andrew says, Greece was a warrior society. What really mattered to the Greeks was whether or not a man could stand on a battlefield and fight. As a result, everything in Greek culture was influenced by that. At the end of the day, Andrew says, it's difficult to translate between ancient Greece and the modern world. Can you look at the Greeks and think that there's some evidence in here for men who were what we call gay? Right? There are men who said, you know, I'm particularly enthusiastic about boys. That's a poetic thing, you say, who I'm a boy lover. Who knows whether that, how much of that their life that reflects, and certainly were probably married, etcetera. It's probably a whole other life going on as well. The question of Trans People in Ancient Greece is also complicated. There were like priesthoods in Asia, minor were guys castrated themselves, and those have play a fairly large role, at least in the Roman imagination. Does is that in some relationship to modern transidentity? Really hard to say. Maybe it's very hard to say. You're starting with a modern set of concepts and trying to identify people in the incient world, and of course we only hear about the incient world from people in the egian world, so we hear about it in their sexual terms. So I don't know. So let's talk now about the...

...differences between Pederasty, which we've been talking about today, and pedophilia. Pad is as in pedagogy. It's the words for child, and the ERR US part is from are us, as in the god of desire or desire. So it's the love of voice. Is what a pederasty means. There are many different words for different kinds of love in ancient Greece. Among them are arrows, as Andrew explained, is love of the sexual kind. Think of the word erotic. Another word for love is Philia, which usually means an affectionate regard. Think of the word cinophile, which is a person who loves film. It is strange, then, that linguists chose Philia when naming pedophilia. Andrew wants to make it clear that pederasty in ancient Greece is not the same thing as the modern concept of pedophilia. So pedophilia is meant to be a personal against. It's like the way we see sexuality. It's a personal thing. One person feels it strongly and it's a sexual desire for children. And Pedophilia could be the subject could be male or female, the object would be male or female and there's no particular age distinction about what kind of child you're talking about. I think we're a little ambiguous about whether we think people in having some kind of relationship with teenagers is pedophilia. Some people would say yes, some people would say now, and the law of areas from place to place it's a pederasty. Again, it's not a personal desire, it's a social custom. It's something people did, and there's a big difference between a social customer and a personal desire, because if you live in a custom a culture where something that's a custom, you're probably going to engage in it unless you absolutely have some gigantic reason not to. If you absolutely don't like that, then you don't do it, and there are such cases in the ancient world. The biographer the Roman Emperor Claudius, listing is characteristic. Says that he wasn't interested in boys. So Claudius, clearly it wasn't like it was a person who felt none of this desire and therefore didn't do it. But better ask you. Is just generally something people did, and it's very specific that it's about adult men and teenage boys. Even though Brad Pitt looks so natural in his breastplate, society and Ancient Greece was really not much like it is today. It's a really very odd society. We tend to think of the Greeks of some kind of ancestors, but we only do that by...

...ignoring gigantic things about them. It's a very foreign society and I think the sexuality things is a great way to dive into that because it's so farn. Andrew's interest in historic sexuality goes far beyond ancient Greece. In addition to giving tours in Greece, he also has tours in Italy. So the Italian Renaissance, I think, is very interesting for me history of sexuality perspective. Andrew says that the Italian Renaissance is where our modern concepts of homosexuality began. It's still very much more man boy, not man man in the way people think about it. But still there's a definite sense that that's a characteristic of specific people. Starts to form, and this is not much studied, but people who do studies in the history of homosexuality. But that's because most of the people who do that are from northern Europe and America. They don't know if you tell an evidence, so they're not all that interested in it. But there's a lot of interesting evidence in the renaissance and a lot of major figures in the renaissance or some Proto Proto version of what we call gay. Oscar wild tours gives tours all over the world. His very first tour followed the life of Oscar Wilde from Dublin to Oxford to London to Paris, and I haven't done that tour in a couple of years but I probably will do it again. His tour of the National Portrait Gallery in London stemmed from his research urge into Oscar wild so I went in and they started finding all this great stuff. Now he gives tours at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which are called the gay secrets of the metropolitan then the gay secrets of the MFA. We see a lot of kind of interesting things about pretty wide spectrum of LGBT issues in the museum, starting with ancient grease but then going up to l Richard's dieing or whatever, whatever's in the museum. And he's done a tour in Berlin, which is a great place for his fear of sexuality, and think of doing once in southern Spain and Morocco, which would be great. Where would you like to catch an Oscar wild tour? Go check out Oscar Wild Tourscom and follow them on facebook so you can keep up with all the new and exciting lgbtq plus tours around the US and beyond. Pride is a production of Straw hut media. If you like the show, leave us a rating and or of you on Apple, podcasts,...

...spotify or wherever you're tuning in from. Share us with your friends, subscribe and follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter. At Pride. You can follow me at leave by chambers. We're taking a short break next week as we plan for the New Year, but we'll be back on January eighth with more stories about Lgbtq, ps, people and culture. In all things, you have to think people try to live up to the values of their culture, that we all know that we all fail, so presumably everybody at increase failed as well.

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