Eromenoi and cockerels

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Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

I'm reading Plato's Symposium along with Dover's Greek Homosexuality. I have always wondered what the eromenoi did with the cockerels they got as gifts. Was meat a luxury? I assume that the eromenoi were generally fairly well off. They tended to have pedagogues, went to wrestling schools, be of the class that went to symposiums. Why would cockerels and hares be such a common gift?


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by seneca2008 »


I think it's best not to take the representation of gifts on vases too literally. The cockerels are not for eating but fighting. Similarly the hares are a representation of hunting, perhaps skill in hunting. These were aristocratic pursuits and perhaps intended to underline both the status of the boys and to differentiate them from prostitutes who would of course have received money.

The abundance of such scenes on vases implies that they were a kind of shorthand for a pederastic (however might think about (define) that) relationship. Whether this reflects any reality in gift giving is debatable, there certainly doesn't seem a lot of evidence for it. Perhaps it's best to think of it as an idealisation of the relationship.

Dover certainly broke new ground in his revolutionary study. Since then the field has expanded enormously. James Davidson the Greeks and Greek Love 2007 was highly critical of Dover and what he saw as an obsession with penetration. His approach has also been severely criticised (see Hubbard either at H-Histsex or here ... n%27s_book ) (Reviews of Davidson are here and here

If you are unfamiliar with this subject this on line lecture might be interesting, but not everyone will agree with what is said.

If you are interested in further reading "Homosexuality in Greece and Rome A sourcebook of basic documents" by Thomas Hubbard (2003) is a useful starting point.
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Thanks, Seneca!

I happen to be reading Christian Cameron's novels based on the Long War between the Greeks and the Persians. I'm on volume 2, Marathon. Quite enjoyable evening reading. Given my very limited knowledge of the history, the novels seem believable to me. The author credits Davidson's book for the view of Greek homosexuality in his books -- the hero, Arimnestos, is accepting of homosexuality which is all around him, but he prefers women. I then read a review of Davidson's book which suggested that he is indiscriminate in his use of sources and does not consider opposing viewpoints. I didn't think I could trust the book.

The review by Hubbard is devastating. Even if the book makes some valid points, I would not be capable of distinguishing them from the dross. Hubbard discusses Lear and Cantarella's book Images of Greek Homosexuality, where Lear suggests that the gifts might be seen as pedagological, relating to music, hunting and athletics. I hadn't considered cock fighting as a diversion that would have appealed to teenagers, but it makes perfect sense.

Likewise your suggestion to not take the gifts too literally also makes sense. It may simply be a convention for vase painters to represent appropriate gift-giving to a prospective partner.


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by jeidsath »

Searching for ἀλεκτρυών on TLG seems to give evidence that while they were used for cockfighting, the gift was made afterwards.

Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus: νεανίσκος δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἐπαγγελλόμενον αὐτῷ δώσειν ἀλεκτρυόνας ἀποθνήσκοντας ἐν τῷ μάχεσθαι, “Μὴ σύ γε,” εἶπεν, “ἀλλὰ δός μοι τῶν ἀποκτεινόντων ἐν τῷ μάχεσθαι.”

In this instance at least, it's the dead defeated cock after a fight that will be the gift (which will be eaten, of course), and the joke is that he should "give me the winner instead!"

There are plenty of other instances in the TLG search of their use for sacrifice (after which they were eaten), and their particular taste.

Xenophon is fond of recalling the gifts that Cyrus would give out to friends. Half a goose, or some wine. Reading Tom Brown's Schooldays, you may find it interesting how food centric these upper class boys were. Tom Sawyer too, of course, for a poorer class of boy, but in a slave society.

Food seems to have been a good gift for many occasions. And food items displaying particular virility (hares, cocks), would seem like an obvious thing for a Greek adult attempting to ply a teenage boy. Thomas Hughes, in a footnote, talks about this specific dynamic with the older boys and the younger pretty boys at Rugby. For one thing, food just more expensive in the days before automation and petroleum fuel. And the classical slave economy of the Greeks and Romans didn't help with the relative price of food. The opposite, if anything, as every person, slave or free, needed the same number of calories in a given day. I have seen the claim that the world rested at about its Malthusian limit for population from ancient times down until the industrial revolution.
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Seneca --

I just watched the Andrew Lear YouTube lecture. It certainly confirms what you have said about cock-fighting. He remarks that even the gift of a hen was related because a hen was placed between the cockerels to get them going.

Joel --

I loved the joke from Plutarch! You mention Xenophon's comment about Cyrus sending food such as half a goose to his friends. I remember vaguely from the Anabasis, that the Greek soldiers were unhappy about being forced to eat meat as their only nourishment. Their preference was for bread which wasn't available. Needless to say, that doesn't mean that they would not have enjoyed meat as a supplement to their staple diet.


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by jeidsath »

I forgot to mention the bread. Cyrus would send them half-bottles of wine from his table, half a goose, or half-loaves of bread. Anabasis 9.25-26. Just imagine, royal leftovers!

The soldiers in Anabasis 1.5 fared on meat when their bread gave out, but there is nothing about them liking it less or more. I know the argument, but given the grain prices mentioned, the issue was necessity, not preferences. The problem, I would guess, was that despite hunting, they were mostly killing their pack animals for the meat, many of which did not survive the trip, and quantities were likely meager.

There's a story in Memorabilia (3.14) of Socrates poking fun of a young man (likely Xenophon) for his habit of going after the fish (ὄψος, topping/delicacy) and leaving the bread (σῖτος) alone. He thinks about this a bit, and starts eating a bit of cake (ἄρτος) as a topping for his fish.
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by seneca2008 »


Hubbard makes it clear that he finds the strongest part of Davidson's book his criticism of Dover and Foucault. Unsurprisingly this* shows the difficulty (impossibility?) of entirely putting one's own cultural prejudices to one side or even acknowledging them. it would be a pity to lose sight of much that it is useful in his book. I think Dover has to be used with caution.

The vases that depict cockerels and hares as gifts do so in a context which connects them (mostly) directly to a seduction. (Lear and Cantarella is invaluable here). In general vase decoration has more to do with ideology of some kind (eg military or political) than a depiction of contemporary life. What happens to the animals is not something I would think about because I don't regard the scenes as in any sense realistic. These scenes seem to me like the trope of the lover in Roman Elegy. Do we really believe that the lover camped out at the door of their beloved? Maybe in imitation.

The problems that gift giving might bring are amusingly imagined in Petronius Satyricon 85-87. :D


*this - is a bit cryptic. What I was trying to say was that Davison in seeking to point out the contemporary biases of Dover has failed to recognise his own.
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Thanks, Joel. I must have misremembered what I read in the Anabasis. In fact, I may simply have misunderstood because I remember thinking at the time "how odd that the Greeks would prefer bread to meat".

Seneca -- I'm going to have to finish reading Dover GH and then re-read the reviews. Regarding the trope of the lover camping out in front of his beloved's door, I was quite surprised to find it in Pausania's speech in Plato's Symposium. It seemed to me (despite my limited familiarity with classical literature) to be a Hellenistic/Roman trope. I imagine that at some point some young man, following a komast, did indeed fall sleep on the doorstep of a beloved -- and some people found the idea charming and it made its way into popular culture.


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Seneca -- The link ... n%27s_book
no longer works -- the site seems to be down. Nor could I find the review on H-Histsex

Based on the reviews I was able to read and some other articles I found, I'm wondering if the Dover and Foucault bias isn't actually a Greek bias. In Dover's postscript to the 1989 edition of GH, he says "I was (and remain) well aware that they may have been considerable differences between the representation and reality, and I infer from some comments of reviewers that I should have made this awareness more obvious than I did."

In one review I read, a reviewer (maybe Halperin) mentions the notion that the eromenos did not experience any sexual pleasure from intimate interactions with an erastes seems highly improbable given the tactile stimulation of the eromenos's genitals. This would seem to support Foucault's thinking that there was a fear of potentially ruining an eromenos by leading him to choose a passive sexual role in his adult life.

I imagine that if we accept that GH is, as Dover claims, an examination of representations of homosexuality in Greek art and extant writings, then the biggest problem with Dover's book is the name which suggests that he's writing about the reality. Analogously, a book about the conventions of courtly love in the lyrics of the troubadours would hardly be named Medieval Provencal Sex.


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by seneca2008 »

Hi Mark

I think you have identified one of the problems and one that it seems Dover acknowledged. But Davidson's problems with Dover/Foucault are a) that they emphasise genital acts and fail to acknowledge the emotional dimension of the relationships they describe and b) that too much importance is attached to the act of penetration and the consequent development of a reductive power/domination model. This is to paint both sides of the argument in primary colours but I think it captures the essence.

Dover's study is of course ground breaking and of major importance. Nevertheless the way he talks about "homosexuality" is naturally situated in framework of views that seem rather dated. I am by no means up to date on the latest scholarship but Dover was writing in a time before "queer studies" became as mainstream as it is now. But perhaps thats a subject for a separate thread.

Here are the various reviews and replies which appeared in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. There is obviously a lot of sniping going on but there is an acknowledgement that Davidson has some interesting things to say. I will post Hubbard's review in a second post as it is so long it would take me over the character limit for a single post! You will see that Hubbard's bona fides is also called into question.

I claim no great expertise in this subject but I did quite a lot of reading of the secondary literature some years ago when I was researching Gender problems in Senecan tragedy. Happy to discuss further if you are interested.
Eric C. Brook review of The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexu…
BMCR 2008.07.20
The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece
James Davidson, The Greeks and Greek love : a radical reappraisal of homosexuality in Ancient Greece. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007. xvi, 634 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780297819974 $42.00.
Review by
Eric C. Brook, California Baptist University.
As the subtitle of this text indicates, Davidson questions how ancient Greek homosexuality has been approached in recent scholarship, and seeks to reinterpret the evidence from the primary sources in order to clarify issues under current debate. As such, this text represents a shift that is underway regarding the study of Greek homosexuality that originally took its cue from scholars like Dover and Foucault.1 Davidson’s main objections to their work has to do with their preoccupation with homosexual acts (particularly regarding anal sex), the correlation of these sexual acts with a discourse on domination, and the assertion that the word “homosexuality” does not reflect a historical reality that was true of the Greeks. Davidson’s text builds on topics that he broached in his Courtesans and Fishcakes.2 Like the latter book (which was a reworking of his Oxford doctoral dissertation), Davidson’s new book is popular enough in its orientation that it may not appeal to a scholarly readership. Nevertheless, Davidson does bring his scholarly talents to his inquiry on Greek homosexuality and, as a result, he has made a significant contribution to this area.

In his “Introduction,” Davidson uses the metaphor of the Gordian knot to address the various attempts at working through the complexity of Greek homosexuality. As the story goes, Alexander cut right through the knot in one fell swoop, but Davidson asserts that the careful student of Greek love will not follow this approach, but will rather give attention to the various strands that form an accurate account of the topic. The Greeks themselves understood the complexity involved in a discourse about love, and so students of Greek homosexuality should always be attuned to the context, to what Davidson has called the “Greekness” (p. 7) of Greek love.

It is precisely at this point of focusing on the historical context of the Greeks that part of the controversy regarding contemporary treatments of Greek homosexuality resides, since it may be historically anachronistic to refer to Greek sexual behavior using the word “homosexual.” Davidson takes this criticism head on in Part I, entitled “The Greeks Had Words for It” (pp. 11-100). Laying the foundations for what will become an extensive treatment of Greek myth in Part III, in this section Davidson looks briefly at characterizations of the god Eros himself and analyzes the word “eros” across various ancient sources (e. g., Pausanias, Plato, Thucydides). A study of the Greek vocabulary of love and desire ( agape, philia, himeros, pothos, epithumia) is the starting point of his analysis of the kind of relationships implied in the use of such terminology. Although he is hesitant to find sex as an overarching concern when discussing eros, Davidson seeks to clarify the role and status of homosexual participants, specifically focusing upon the male age classes in Greek society and the expectation for propriety based upon the age of lovers.

Part II “Sodomania” (pp. 101-168) expands upon Davidson’s aversion to how “modern work on ancient Greek culture is remarkably obsessed with the ins and outs of homosexual sex acts” (p. 101). In particular, he rejects notions that Greek homosexuality was primarily concerned with penetration, and ultimately, the assertion of power. Davidson finds in this scholarly preoccupation with sex an underlying (sometimes explicit) homophobic tendency. If Greek homosexuality is merely about which sex acts are performed and in what position they occur, then the actual relational elements of Greek love can be marginalized. The fact that contemporary scholars today may not be able to recognize much else than the discussion of sex in Greek homosexual relationships, shows to what extent Dover’s influence has been felt. Usually, there is no question about what kind of significant relationship may exist for a heterosexual couple beyond sex acts, and so when scholars cannot see the same correlation within discussions of homosexuality, it seems fair to detect a possible underlying homophobia (cf. Davidson’s section “The politics of ‘It’s only sex'” p. 131-132). Such a point has additional relevance for Davidson’s discussion of Greek homosexual marriage (see his section “Syzygies,” pp. 381-388).

As noted above, Part III “Greek Love and Greek Religion” (pp. 169-254) is a discussion of homosexuality in Greek myth, particularly of the rapturous sort. Davidson charts the transformation of the myth of Ganymede over the years as Zeus’s beloved boy by examining Homer and depictions in vase painting and sculpture. Thereafter, he considers the mythic context of Plato’s Phaedrus as it relates to the erotic winged ecstasy of Ganymede. Davidson also considers the poetic retelling of the myth of Pelops by Pindar, which plays off of the myth of Ganymede, and the ritualized seizure of Hyacinthus.

From the context of myth, in Part IV, “Men of War” (pp. 255-390), Davidson examines the link between war and Greek homosexuality. The mythic overtones in the martial world of the Greeks come across in Homer’s depiction of Achilles’ love for Patroclus. The Iliad itself, he argues, provides the basis for affirming the sexual nature of the relationship between the two heroes. The mourning of Achilles for Patroclus (23.135-151) conveys his homoerotic bond with him. Thetis attempts to console her son by telling him that sex with females is also good, given that Achilles has been “tossing and turning and longing for Patroclus’s menos” (p. 258). While the standard meaning of menos in Homeric Greek is “courage or mettle” (p. 258), Davidson notes that there are Archaic sources where the word “unequivocally” means semen.3 In Homer’s correlation between the myth of Meleager and Cleopatra, Davidson believes that a form of homosexual marriage existed between Achilles and Patroclus (p. 259). Achilles and Patroclus are not the only homosexual warriors. Heracles is helped out in more ways than one by his relationship with Iolaus. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized again that for Davidson the actual element of sex is not central to the homosexual relationship.

Greek homosexuality was also a major facet of the consciousness of the historical warriors of Crete and Sparta, given that within these Greek communities, Greek homosexuality was systematized in rituals of initiation, which included military conditioning. The literary evidence (such as we find in Ephorus) is not entirely clear about all the aspects of the ritual or even specifically into what a boy was being initiated, and so Davidson acknowledges the potential for controversy, but it seems to point to an abduction ceremony that involved the public expression of two men being joined together. Here again the sexual aspect (or lack thereof) comes to the fore when considering how the Spartans would consummate this relationship: “The boy as always is wrapped up in a cloak. There is an embrace and the two lie down together, doing everything but the deed itself, but with no touching of bodies, and preservative cloaks always between” (p. 332). Beyond the Cretans and Spartans, erotic associations can also be found in the sacred military bands of Elis and Thebes. Davidson also takes into consideration that Philip II of Macedon found no shame in this homosexual Theban contingent which he defeated, which may be due to his experience of being a hostage at Thebes, and his own apparent homoerotic proclivities. Completing his picture of warrior lovers and the reference to Philip II of Macedon, Davidson also discusses the homosexuality of Alexander the Great.

Moving away from the erotic world of the military bands, in Part V, “Eros Off Duty” (pp. 391-465), Davidson contemplates the more relaxed and leisurely environment of poetry and the symposium. Drawing attention to the art of the Tomb of the Diver, which shows men enjoying the delights of sympotic life, Davidson describes the world depicted there as one of beauty, song, and love. It is in such a world that ancient Greek poets sang of the powerful effects of eros. Though ancient Greek poetry typically expresses male homoeroticism, Davidson includes the fact that female homoeroticism comes to pure expression in the poetry of Sappho, who “in the female gender conforms beautifully to the pattern of Greek Love or, more specifically, Athenian Love, which we know from so many examples in the male gender” (p. 406). Though her poetry was written in the Archaic period, Davidson sees in Sappho’s language and metaphors the kind of formal and public homosexual relationships that existed among male lovers in the classical Athenian context represented by Plato, Aeschines, and Xenophon.

The most valuable part of the whole of Davidson’s sprawling text is the “Conclusion” (pp. 466-516). He returns again to the pertinent analogy of the Gordian knot, finding in it the implications for the study of Greek homosexuality: “A full investigation of ‘the Greek custom’ and all its ramifications would not merely take at least a lifetime…in the end it would resemble something not very far from a full-scale social, cultural and political history of that loose cultural federation of polities that we call ‘ancient Greece'” (p. 466). In this final portion we find a concision that is not typically characteristic of the rest of the book, and it pays high dividends in the end for reading. Because of this, the conclusion is probably the best (and most practical) place to start reading this text. Whatever may spark the interest of the reader in the Conclusion, one can find a more elaborate, although not always more helpful, discussion in the relevant chapters in the text.

The most obvious strength of Davidson’s work is his intimate familiarity with a whole range of primary sources, which he sometimes uses in deft ways to make his points. However, it also in this respect that many people reading his text may take exception to perceived interpretive liberties that Davidson entertains while explaining the meaning of a primary source (Davidson’s treatment of menos mentioned above, would undoubtedly by a case in point, since Homer’s contemporaries may not have caught the slang connotation). Furthermore, on several occasions Davidson uses language that is not always particularly nuanced; yet it is frequently witty, often cheeky, and consistently engaging, such as: “If the liberation of sex from the perceived trammels of Victorian prudishness really was a kind of religious movement as Foucault claimed, Kenneth Dover is its Grand Ayatollah” (p. 107). In addition, in the middle of key points, Davidson is given to long forays into matters that have a loose bearing upon the actual topic under consideration, causing some sections to swell beyond their banks, resulting in the rather large size of the text itself (for example, Davidson’s discussion of 20th century social-anthropology, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Girl from Ipanema).

More work must be done in the area of Greek homosexuality, particularly as more scholars move to modify or reject the theories of Dover and Foucault. The necessity for doing so is laid out strongly by Davidson throughout by highlighting Foucault’s acknowledged reliance upon Dover for his own work on sexuality and power (which was part of Foucault’s larger philosophical approach). As Davidson illustrates from Dover’s own writings, despite his reputation as a classicist, Dover did not always rely solely upon ancient Greek sources for his insights. Davidson’s contribution is a notable milestone along the way in that he seeks to keep the dialogue focused upon the context of the texts themselves.


1. Kenneth J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989); Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality, vol. 2, trans. Robert Hurley (Vintage: New York, 1986).

2. James Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens. (New York: Harper Perennial 1999).

3. Archilochus fr. 196a.52 and Solon fr. 9.1.
Verstraete review of Davidson
The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece
James Davidson, Also Seen: The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007. v, 634. ISBN 0297819976 $42.00.
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Review by
Beert Verstraete, Acadia University.
With full apologies for its lateness, my review is intended as a supplement to the review by Eric C. Brook (BMCR 2008.07.20) since I judged that in several critical areas Davidson’s book needed more discussion. Other reviews by classicists have appeared since early 2008: Catherine Edwards’s in the TLS of March 14, 2008, James Jope’s in the May-June 2008 issue of the Gay & Lesbian Review, and Thomas Hubbard’s in H-Histsex, February 2009. Hubbard’s review of Davidson, which accompanied his review of Eva Cantarella’s and Andrew Lear’s, Images of Pederasty: Boys Were Their Gods, is lengthy (9 pages), detailed and critical, and is highly recommended.

Given the length and detail of Hubbard’s review, I will mostly eschew criticism of detail and instead focus on five principal theses of Davidson’s book which justify the book’s claim to offer “a radical reappraisal of homosexuality in ancient Greece” but which, I think, stand in need of further comment. They are: 1) Greek pederasty involved primarily relationships between adult males and males in the their late teens (18+) and early twenties, not adolescent boys in their early to mid-teens; 2) in classical Athens, sexual acts between adult males and males younger than 18 were strictly prohibited by law; 3) there is good reason to think that biological puberty arrived considerably later for males in ancient Greece than in the modern West; 4) the highly institutionalized homoerotic bonding between adult and younger males in parts of Dorian Greece, cemented in certain locales (e.g. Crete) by peculiar rites of abduction, seclusion and gift-giving, must not be understood as having an initiatory function for the younger partner, thrusting him, as it were, into adulthood but as a genuine pair-bonding (syzygy) between the two—it might be understood, therefore, as a kind of marital union; 5) male-homoerotic themes and motifs are much more prevalent in Greek myth than is often supposed.

1. Davidson is right when he broadens the age-span represented by Greek eromenoi, who were not just adolescent boys in their early to mid-teens but could also be males whom we would rather call young men. He contends that that the recurring appearance of adolescent boys in homoerotic scenes painted on Greek vases must not be construed on the assumption of verisimilitude, for these are stylized, iconic scenes not intended to provide naturalistic portrayals of everyday reality. Here Davidson draws upon the aforementioned recent book on Greek pederasty by Andrew Lear and Eva Cantarella, (reviewed by Craig Williams in BMCR 2009.04.65), which offers detailed analyses of many homoerotic vase-paintings, arguing in many cases for stylization rather than detail-accurate naturalism. However, a hermeneutic assuming non-verisimilitude must not be taken too far.

A major corollary of Davidson’s raising of the upper age-limit of the eromenoi is that the age-difference between the older and younger partner could be a relatively minor one. Since Greek men tended to be marry late, not before their late twenties, the most typical adult Greek male who was homoerotically inclined and homosexually active was likely to be a youngish adult in his twenties. In addition, as Davidson himself recognizes and other scholars, including Hubbard, had already noted earlier, the iconographic, more than the literary, evidence suggests that a large proportion of homoerotic liaisons between males involved pre-adult coevals. However, Davidson is mistaken in removing adolescent boys from the sphere of acceptable objects of adult Greek male eros : such desire was fixated upon youthful, we might even say “boyish,” male beauty but not upon age—whether less than or more than 18 years, ( pace Strato’s well-known epigram in the Greek Anthology, 12.4). This is hardly alien to the valorization of male beauty in our culture where calling a male politician, actor or celebrity “boyishly handsome” is praise equal to “ruggedly handsome.”The retention of the word “pederasty,” with its long-standing Greek pedigree, although, unfortunately, now equated by the general public with “pedophilia,” seems therefore still justified.

2. Even more radical is Davidson’s thesis that in many Greek city-states, and most certainly in classical Athens, sexual acts involving adult and free-status males before the age of 18 were strictly prohibited by law. This claim cannot be supported by solid textual evidence, and Hubbard does well to refute it completely, in his demonstration, for instance, of Davidson’s faulty interpretation of Aeschines 1.139. I would add that the careful monitoring and chaperoning of adolescent boys of the elite classes in classical Athens by their families, as described by Pausanias in Plato’s Symposium, in order to make sure they would not sexually used by predatory erastai, does not, in any way, presuppose the severe legal strictures (which might even impose the death penalty) Davidson claimed were in force—just as the widespread control over the sexuality of girls and young women (especially from upper- and middle-class families) exercised by family and society in the western world until well into the second half of the twentieth century was not predicated on a high legal age of sexual consent for females. Additionally, we should take into account that the large slave population of classical Athens, and the large-scale prostitution that resulted from this provided any Athenian male who just wanted sex with boys all the convenient outlets he needed; he would need not to waste his time and resources on the elaborate, careful courting that was expected of him if the object of his desire was a free-status adolescent.

3. Equally startling is Davidson’s argument that puberty arrived much later for Greek boys than in modern societies. If true, this would provide a biological corroboration for thesis 1) and 2), but the evidence put forward, mostly cross-cultural and transhistorical, for what Davidson calls “The Great Puberty Shift,” (p. 20) which took place in the western world in the 19th and 20th centuries and lowered the start of puberty in boys from the mid- (and even the late teens) to the early teens, is scanty and unconvincing, to say the least. Davidson describes the gap in puberty age between ancient Greece and the modern west as follows: “[Before the great shift] facial hair would have to appear roughly around 18.5, not 14.5 years, and a ‘shaveable’ beard around 20.5 years.” (81) Thus, according to Davidson, it was not until he was in his 21st year that a Greek youth acquired the physical characteristics (marked by full facial hair, stature, and body mass) of an adult male. The various Greek nomenclatures we know of for the periodization of male childhood, youth, and adulthood are inexact and slippery, even when one factors in the phenomenon of age-classes—the detailed exposition of which is perhaps the most notable contribution to scholarship made by Davidson in this book—but nothing in all these classificatory schemes suggests an age-gap of approximately four years, as posited by Davidson, between Greek and modern male puberty. It is hard to believe that Athenian youths would have been enrolled as citizens and subjected to the rigors of military training as they entered ephebeia if at the age of eighteen they were just in the early phase of their puberty. Looking at another ancient Mediterranean society, with living conditions comparable to those of ancient Greece, we must consider the fact that in Rome citizen-boys nearly always assumed the toga virilis well before the age of 18, typically in the 14-16 age-range; again, it is difficult to believe that they would have done so before the start of puberty. I am prepared to admit an average age-gap of up to two years, but no more, between ancient Mediterranean and modern puberty for males and females alike.

4. Given his estimate that a large proportion, and perhaps even the majority of pederastic relationships involved males who were not far apart in age, and could even be coevals, Davidson is bound to reject the theory, propounded by Erich Bethe in the 1900s and revived at great length in the 1980s by Bernard Sergent, that the highly institutionalized homoerotic bonding between erastai and eromenoi in parts of Dorian Greece—which was cemented in some Cretan city-states by peculiar rites of abduction, seclusion and gift-giving—fulfilled a crucial initiatory function for the younger partner, enabling and marking his entry into male adulthood. Rather, according to Davidson, the purpose of the relationship in its most ideal form was viewed by the Greeks as creating “syzygy,” “pair-bonding,” the word being introduced by him in the title of chapter 13, “Syzygies.” Such close, passionate relationships were celebrated in numerous Greek myths and memorialized in Greek epic and art already at an early point of time so that their homoerotic coloring must not be understood as the work of late- archaic or classical Greek culture. Thus, for Davidson, as becomes already clear earlier in his book, the profound friendship between Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad is indeed deeply erotic : “The main reason why I think the Greeks of Homer’s time would read the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus in the same way that the classical Greeks would read it is because I think the phenomenon was already around in 700 B.C, and the main reason I think that is because it appears in so many different places in so many different forms with so many peculiar practices.” (299) One will appreciate that Davidson’s foregrounding of close pair-bonding, so vividly fabulized by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, while it articulates Greek pederasty in what many persons, both past and present, would regard as its most sublime form, has the effect of removing from it much of the pedagogic rationale attached to it by canonical Greek authors such as Plato, Xenophon and Plutarch, by 19th century Hellenophiles such as Shelley, Symonds and Wilde, and even by some modern scholars (cf, for instance, William A. Percy’s 1996 book, Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece).

Is Davidson pressing male homoerotic “syzygy” as a precursor of today’s contested same-sex marriage, as Hubbard, and even more Jope, accuse him of doing? I’ll address this question in the concluding part of my review.

5. Nearly one-quarter of Davidson’s book—the three chapters in Part III, “Greek Love and Greek Religions,” and the first chapter in part IV, “Men of War—is devoted to male homoeroticism in Greek myth and religion. It is worth noting that in the title of part III only the word “religion” is used, rather misleadingly because these four chapters deal far more with myth than with religious-cultic practice, although in the discussion of some myths, e.g. the Hyacinthus myths, linkages between the two are made, if not always convincingly. A few introductory paragraphs or a section of theoretical exposition elucidating the possible connections—if any—between myth and cult would have been desirable. What is placed before the reader a little too often is a kaleidoscope of imaginative speculations insufficiently guided by a clear and consistent methodology. Hubbard indeed goes so far as to say, “One finds throughout The Greeks and Greek Love a lack of familiarity with even the most basic principles of myth interpretation. He ignores the diachronic evolution of literary and artistic variants, conflating details from sources that are centuries apart…” (6). To be fair, attention to “the diachronic evolution of literary and artistic variants” certainly informs Davidson ‘s handing of the myth of Ganymede, which takes up chapter 7, “Ganymede Rising.” Here he shows an admirable familiarity with the secondary scholarship, though rightly faulted by Hubbard elsewhere. My own final advice is: a careful reading of these chapters, accompanied by a judicious weighing of the primary and secondary sources cited in the end-notes, can be profitable to the expert classicist; I would be reluctant, though, to put these chapters before someone with little or no classical background without numerous caveats.

Concluding remarks : Both Hubbard and Jope charge Davidson with catering to contemporary sensibilities regarding such hot-button issues (especially, of course, in the United States) as sex with minors, same-sex marriage, and gays in the military, and thus creating an anachronistically sanitized and romanticized picture of male same-sex desire and love in the ancient Greek world. Davidson certainly does so most conspicuously with his unproven and implausible theory that, for adult males, sex with free-status minor boys, the paides, for which his almost invariable eccentric translation is the “under-Eighteens,” was strictly forbidden by law, thus removing the stain of pedophilia from ancient Greece and normalizing Greek pederasty, if not entirely, at least in the direction of a far more acceptable androphilia—although, starting in the 4th century B.C., as Davidson would have us believe (and is roundly taken to task for this by both Jope and Hubbard), the sexually restrained and non-meretricious pederasty of earlier times degenerated into “Homo-whorishness” (447). Even his severest critics must admit, though, that Davidson unfolds before us an ancient Greek culture so thoroughly permeated with male homoeroticism, at all levels of society and, as he maintains, not just in the elite classes—contra Hubbard’s important scholarship on this point (with which, unfortunately, he does not engage explicitly)—that it stands out, in this fundamental characteristic, as unique in antiquity and perhaps in all of known human societies. “The Greeks were always extraordinary but now they seem more extraordinary” (516), as he puts it in the second last sentence of his book. One might grant that, in thus de-marginalizing and re-valorizing Greek pederasty and situating it at the heart of Greek civilization, Davidson compensates to some degree for his tendency, often with the aid of questionable scholarship, to overmuch sanitize and romanticize it.
Response: Davidson on Verstraete on Davidson,
Response: Davidson on Verstraete on Davidson, The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece
Response to 2009.09.61
1 Responses
Response by
James Davidson, University of Warwick.
Editors’ Note
The Editors are aware that controversy continues regarding BMCR 2008.07.20, BMCR 2009.09.61, and the responses published here and as 2009.11.15. We have invited the interested parties to contribute to discussion on our blog at and we encourage readers to follow the discussion there.

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Response by James Davidson
In the overture to his review of my book lately drawn to my attention, Beert Verstraete directs BMCR’s readers to another review of my book by Thomas Hubbard as “highly recommended”. Verstraete helpfully included a link to this review in which Hubbard refers to my book as “an insufferable cesspool of dross”.

Verstraete makes a number of false claims about my book; I provide some corrections.

Verstraete: “[Davidson] contends that that the recurring appearance of adolescent boys in homoerotic scenes painted on Greek vases must not be construed on the assumption of verisimilitude, for these are stylized, iconic scenes not intended to provide naturalistic portrayals of everyday reality. Here Davidson draws upon the aforementioned recent book on Greek pederasty by Andrew Lear and Eva Cantarella, (reviewed by Craig Williams in BMCR 2009.04.65), which offers detailed analyses of many homoerotic vase-paintings, arguing in many cases for stylization rather than detail-accurate naturalism.”

It was hard for me to “draw upon” Lear and Cantarella because their book was published only months before Greeks and Greek Love [henceforth GGL]. I thought I made this pretty clear, p.581 n.27: “DeVries’s catalogue with additions is due to be published imminently in Andrew Lear and Eva Cantarella, Images of Pederasty (London, 2007).”

Verstraete: “Davidson is mistaken in removing adolescent boys from the sphere of acceptable objects of adult Greek male eros.”

Cf. GGL p.88 “We can assume therefore, I think, that the noisy kind of eros might involve anyone from Eighteen to Eighty proclaiming the virtues of anyone from Nine to Nineteen.”

Verstraete: “Even more radical is Davidson’s thesis that in many Greek city-states, and most certainly in classical Athens, sexual acts involving adult and free-status males before the age of 18 were strictly prohibited by law.”

Cf. GGL p. 470: “When ancient authors refer to the laws here or what the Spartan lawgiver laid down, they are referring to a whole host of very different things: a Spartan cult of Aidôs, Modesty or Sense of Shame, the existence of slaves called paidagôgoi whose job it was to chaperone Athenian Boys, a gymnasium law forbidding Striplings from mingling with Boys. This is a crucial point and one of the keys to resolving some of the contradictions in the sources on Greek Homosexuality. The distinctive erôs of a particular city or community — what the lawgiver laid down concerning erôs — is in fact an artificial composite of distinctive institutions, practices, rituals and rules, written or unwritten, which magistrates can enforce.”

As for how “radical” a position that would be, M.-H.-E. Meier included a whole section on Athenian law in what is considered the first modern scholarly article on the subject, “Päderastie” in J. S. Ersch, and J. G. Gruber, eds. Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, Section 3, Bd 9, (Leipzig, 1837), pp. 166-170, e.g. “die Anklage [hubreos] war schätzbar, das erkenntniss konnte auf Tod oder Geldstrafe gehen, in ersterem Falle wurde es augenblicklich vollzogen.”

Verstraete: “Both Hubbard and Jope charge Davidson with catering to contemporary sensibilities regarding such hot-button issues (especially, of course, in the United States) as sex with minors, same-sex marriage, and gays in the military, and thus creating an anachronistically sanitized and romanticized picture of male same-sex desire and love in the ancient Greek world. Davidson certainly does so most conspicuously with his unproven and implausible theory that, for adult males, sex with free-status minor boys, the paides, for which his almost invariable eccentric translation is the “under-Eighteens,” was strictly forbidden by law, thus removing the stain of pedophilia from ancient Greece and normalizing Greek pederasty, if not entirely, at least in the direction of a far more acceptable androphilia…”

Let’s take these “hot-button” issues in reverse order:

“Gays in the military”. In my book I do indeed deal with (and quite extensively) ancient Greek notions of the role of same-sex eros in warfare. I think it is an important and revealing topic and I make no apology for including it. But I did not invent this topic. It is prominent in the sources on same-sex eros and has therefore long been prominent in the scholarship of Greek Homosexuality and even in public perceptions of Greek Homosexuality: “Army of Lovers” etc. The Greeks do not of course argue about the fighting fitness of “gays in the military” but about the usefulness of same-sex pairs attached through eros.

“Same-sex marriage”. Again, I do indeed deal with formal and institutionalized same-sex pairings or what I call (after Sappho and Xenophon) syzygies, but again I did not introduce this topic. It was a major theme of the late John Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions (New York, 1994), and the existence of such relationships has been acknowledged by scholars as different as Bruno Gentili, Gundel Koch-Harnack and Erich Bethe. In fact Simon Hornblower has drawn my attention to the fact that in 1881 Johannes Classen had already commented on Thucydides’s account of the relationship of Harmodius and Aristogiton “fast mit dem ehelichen zu vergleichen”. Do I nevertheless present an “anachronistically sanitized and romanticized picture”? I personally don’t find the messy and bizarre sexual practices I (following Bethe) associated with such syzygies either romantic or sanitary, but readers will have to judge for themselves.

Sex with minors: Obviously this is the most important issue for Verstraete and Hubbard and the reason why I have suddenly fallen so far from their favour. Hubbard’s own Greek Love Reconsidered was published by NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association. In his introduction to that slim volume he recommends “the outstanding work of Davidson” and draws a direct parallel between what he sees as the marginalization of paedophilia in the Athenian democracy and the marginalization of paedophiles in the modern American democracy: “even as Plato and others sold out the real pederasts… gay leaders today sell out their brothers (and in many cases their own repressed desires) by creating the public fiction that most gays are involved in long-term monogamous age- and class-equal relationships, and that the only men attracted to teenage boys are a few sickos in NAMBLA…”. Verstraete has had less success in finding a publisher for his own collection of articles on Sexual Intimacy Between Adult and Adolescent Males. Hubbard, according to a report in Inside Higher Education (, wrote to the APA demanding that it take action against Taylor and Francis if they did not publish the volume.

It was, I suggest, my highly inconvenient conclusions as to Athenian attitudes to sex with minors that led Verstraete to claim that what I say on this matter is, variously, “implausible and unproven” or “cannot be supported by solid textual evidence” or “refute[d] completely” by Hubbard and why for Hubbard “the outstanding work of Davidson” has turned to “an insufferable cesspool of dross”.

comments on Davidson's reply by Hubbard
Thomas K. Hubbard says: November 13, 2009 at 6:59 pm
I could complain about the propriety of an outraged author using the response to one review to respond to a different negative review, but will leave that matter aside to focus on the misstatements and false inferences about me, since I am mentioned in both the first and last sentences of his response.
(1). Davidson quotes me out of context in his second sentence. My fuller, more balanced statement was, “This is a genuine shame, as there are actually many valuable observations within the book, but one must wade through an insufferable cesspool of dross to find them.” Davidson’s truncated quotation leaves the reader with the incorrect impression that I regard his book in its entirety as insufferable, when in fact it is merely the majority of its 634 pages that I find insufferable.
(2). Davidson characterizes my letter to the APA incorrectly. It merely asked the APA to inquire about a case where the corporate management of a multinational publisher overruled the peer reviewers and editors of the Journal of Homosexuality (which they recently acquired), as well as a promise by the previous corporate management, because they considered the topic of a special issue “controversial.” The APA has asked me not to say more at the present time, as they continue to research and discuss the matter.
(3). The last two paragraphs of Davidson’s response suggest that I have taken a less favorable view of his present book than of his first book because he imagines I have some association with NAMBLA. My edited collection Greek Love Reconsidered was not “published by NAMBLA,” but the publisher did reach an agreement with that group to distribute a few hundred copies through their Topics series. No one from NAMBLA had any editorial control over my volume at any point. The fact that I am happy for my work to be read by NAMBLA members (as well as everyone else) does not mean that I agree with them on everything or even anything. I would be just as happy for my books on Greek sexuality to be distributed to members of the Southern Baptist Convention or Concerned Women for America; they could learn a lot from my work. NAMBLA is an organization with a controversial agenda for legal reform, but it does not (in any of the publications I have seen) encourage anyone to violate existing laws; on the contrary, it warns readers strongly against doing so. It is true that I have had conversations with some of its members and have been independently concerned with the way that “statutory rape” laws are misused to target youthful homoerotic explorations. I do believe that the mainstream gay rights establishment has been so anxious to distance itself from groups like NAMBLA that it has neglected serious human rights abuses that routinely transpire in some of the less liberal jurisdictions of the US. However, I do not favor NAMBLA’s position of abolishing age-of-consent laws altogether, which I regard as Utopian and unrealistic in the current climate of media sensationalism and sloppy, politicized scholarship concerning Child Sexual Abuse.
My ideological position on this contemporary issue has nothing to do with my criticism of Davidson’s assertions about the age at which Greek boys were sexually active. That case was argued on the basis of his naiveté in dealing with visual materials, his carelessness in citation of sources, and his omission of other sources. He has refuted none of the substantive points in my review on H-Net, from which Kirk Ormand quotes two paragraphs. Ad hominem speculation about scholars’ motives (itself one of the features of Davidson’s book) is a poor substitute for scholarly engagement with their evidence
Last edited by seneca2008 on Mon Jan 23, 2023 10:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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See my post above.
Hubbard on Davidson and Lear
From: "Healey D." <D.Healey@SWANSEA.AC.UK>
List Editor: "Healey D." <D.Healey@SWANSEA.AC.UK>
Editor's Subject: Review: Greek Love: Thomas K. Hubbard on Davidson; Lear & Cantarella
Author's Subject: Review: Greek Love: Thomas K. Hubbard on Davidson; Lear & Cantarella
Date Written: Tue, 10 Feb 2009 20:13:46 -0000
Date Posted: Wed, 10 Feb 2009 15:13:46 -0500
H-Net Book Review

Published by H-Histsex (February 2009)

James Davidson. The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of
Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007. Pp.
xxii + 634. ISBN 978-0-297-81997-4, hardcover, $43.40; Andrew Lear & Eva
Cantarella. Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty: Boys were Their Gods. London and
New York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. xviii + 262. ISBN 978-0-415-22367-6, hardcover,

Reviewed for H-Histsex by Thomas K. Hubbard, Department of Classics, University
of Texas, Austin

Study of Greek same-sex relations since Sir Kenneth Dover's influential Greek
Homosexuality (London 1978) has been dominated by a hierarchical understanding
of the pederastic relations assumed to be normative between older, sexually and
emotionally active "lovers" and younger, sexually and emotionally passive
"beloveds." Michel Foucault's subsequent History of Sexuality: Vol. 2, The Use
of Pleasure (New York 1986) was heavily influenced by Dover's collection of
evidence and concretized these roles into formalized "sexual protocols."
Self-consciously invoking Foucault was David Halperin's One Hundred Years of
Homosexuality (London 1990), which envisioned phallic penetration as a trope
for the asymmetrical political empowerment of adult citizen males over "women,
boys, foreigners, and slaves -- all of them persons who do not enjoy the same
legal and political rights and privileges that he does" (Halperin, p. 30). This
orthodoxy, conditioned by the academic hegemony of feminist theory and
contemporary anxieties over child sexual abuse, has begun to be seriously
challenged only during the last several years. Both of the books reviewed here
aim, with varying degrees of success, to offer a more nuanced and
multi-dimensional picture of relations that were often mutual, not always
radically age-different, and seldom crudely exploitive in the way implied by
the Dover-Foucault-Halperin approach.

In Davidson's book, however, we find a new form of political correctness
substituted for the old: instead of socially constructed relations of power and
domination, Davidson gives us an ancient Greece in which there was no physical
sex with those under 18, male prostitution was condemned, gays openly served in
the military and engaged in long-term monogamous relationships that were
acknowledged in public "wedding" ceremonies. If this sounds a little too much
like the assimilationist preoccupations of the mainstream lesbian and gay
rights movement today, the reader may with some justification wonder whether he
is being sold a bill of goods.

Davidson is the author of an excellent, highly readable first book, Courtesans
and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens (London 1997), and an
important 50-page article on the present subject in the respected historical
journal Past and Present. Fans of his previous work (among whom I would count
myself), however, cannot fail but be dismayed by this turgid, self-indulgent,
interminable tome of 634 pages, in which the author with free abandon mingles
fact, fantasy, speculation, mistranslation, misleading paraphrase, and
arguments of such impenetrable convolution and improbability that even the
experienced scholarly specialist is left with head spinning. This is a genuine
shame, as there are actually many valuable observations within the book, but
one must wade through an insufferable cesspool of dross to find them.

It is unclear just who the intended audience of this book is. Bound between
handsome, color-illustrated endpapers and heavily promoted by a British trade
press (although no American distributor has yet seen fit to pick it up), the
volume would appear to be intended for a general public of well-educated, but
Greekless readers. But few of these are going to have the patience to make
their way through a book on this subject that is both so long and long-winded,
that indulges in so many allusive in-jokes, and that casually refers back to
factoids or theories last mentioned 300 pages ago as if they were still in the
forefront of the reader's consciousness. The scholarly specialist, on the other
hand, is likely to be put off by the author's breezy style, erratic annotation,
outright mistakes, and repeated assertions of erroneous dogma as established

A major problem that this book shares with much work in the field of ancient
sexuality is a failure to distinguish between primary sources that are credible
and those less deserving of our trust; even sources contemporary with the
practices described need to be interpreted through the rhetorical inflections
and ideological biases of the author or genre. Anecdotes gleaned from authors
like Ephorus, Theopompus, Sosicrates, Nepos, Aelian, Athenaeus, and Maximus of
Tyre should not automatically receive our credence: some of them wrote history
to be colorful and entertaining, others wrote miscellanies full of tidbits and
curiosities from the distant past. What is most interesting in these authors is
not the facticity of what they report, but what their selection of anecdotes
reveals about their own ideological prisms and contemporary concerns.

A second major issue is the author's lack of careful engagement with or, in
many cases, even acknowledgement of relevant recent scholarship that
contradicts his assertions. We shall note several specific cases in the body of
this review. Even in cases where he has read something, he may misrepresent the
author's argument. For example, he states, "In the real world, any Athenian
caught assaulting a boy under eighteen . . . could be punished with death on
the same day" (p. 184) The attached footnote identifies David Cohen's Law,
Sexuality, and Society (1991) as his source for this bold assertion, but Cohen
nowhere says anything of the sort; Cohen merely cites Aeschines 1.7-8 with
reference to "acting as a procurer for a free boy." Aeschines 1.16 does say
something about the death penalty for assault, but editors of Aeschines
universally agree that this quotation of a law (like all such quotations in the
speeches of Demosthenes and Aeschines) is a later fabrication with no
evidentiary authority for the fourth-century.

But the worst problem with this book is its carelessness in translation and
paraphrase of the ancient sources, which often results in serious
misrepresentation of the information they convey. Sometimes the errors are
inconsequential to the broader argument, as when he identifies Pelops as
"Zeus's attendant on Olympus" (p. 2 -- a misunderstanding of Pindar's Greek in
Olympian 1.41-45) or claims, with no specific citation, that Agathon in Plato's
Symposium is "barely 18" (p. 27); Plato nowhere says any such thing, although
Symp. 175e does identify him as neos (a term usually referring to young men in
their twenties). Similarly, Davidson claims (p. 177) that Vergil identifies
Jupiter's rape of Ganymede as "the reason" for Juno's hatred of the Trojans,
when in fact, as every Latin student knows, he merely includes it as third on a
list of three possible motivations (Aeneid 1.25-28). No competent Greek scholar
would believe that Phaedrus 263d could possibly be read as "speeches of
Cephalus" (p. 213).

Davidson is no better in dealing with material remains. He states, as if it
were a well-known fact not even needing to be footnoted, that the splendid
François Vase in Florence once contained remains of the dead (p. 260). No Greek
vase found in an Etruscan tomb ever did; indeed the Etruscans did not even
practice cremation during this period. He misreads the inscription on a jug by
the Eretria Painter to identify a character as Kephalos (p. 213), when even the
most cursory examination of the secondary literature on this piece would have
revealed that the character was Kephimos.

More serious, however, are the occasions when tendentious translations are used
to undergird substantive arguments, as when he mistranslates Plato, Symposium
182b, to mean "it has been straightforwardly laid down by law [haplôs
nenomothetêtai] that it is beautiful to graciously gratify" a lover (p. 353,
italics in original). Although the verb nomotheteô may indeed refer to the
action of a lawgiver, the notion of nomos Pausanias employs throughout this
speech in the Symposium is clearly with reference to "custom" and not "law" in
our usual understanding of the term; laws can hardly dictate what we find
"beautiful." In another chapter, he tries to argue that the Greek word
katapygon can refer to those with a proclivity to take the active role in anal
sex: in support of this notion, he mistranslates Aristophanes, Knights 640-41
to suggest (p. 163) that a character "bends over and thrusts his anus" toward a
katapygon, whereas in fact the Greek must mean that he made a quick obeisance
to the gods and then used his rear end to break down the gate into the Council
meeting, a move that would have him facing the katapygon rather than turning
his back. He is equally misleading in translating sophrosynê as "chasteness"
(p. 70); the word denotes a more general concept of restraint and moderation,
which in pederastic contexts might mean something other than "abstinence only"
(for example, being careful and selective in choosing a lover/beloved).

Another substantive contention is that Greek boys encountered puberty much
later than boys nowadays: to support this idea, Davidson must discredit the
testimony of the Aristotelian History of Animals, which clearly states that
male puberty hits at 14 (HA 581a13-17). To do so, Davidson claims (p. 527, n.
30) that the Aristotelian text must be wrong, since it also says beard growth
does not occur until 21 and there cannot be such a long gap between the onset
of puberty and growth of a beard. This is to misinterpret the Aristotelian
text, which in fact asserts (HA 582a16-34) that beard growth occurs at some
point "until three times seven years" (mechri tôn tris hepta etôn); in other
words, rather than saying that 21 is the normal age of beard development, as
Davidson claims, the text says that 21 is the latest point at which males,
whose individual development varies, show a beard.

Even worse are the cases where he blatantly misrepresents the content of texts.
Nothing in either Xenophon's Hellenica 7.4.13 (cited on pp. 346-7) or Symposium
8.34 (cited on p. 492) supports the claim that the Eleans had an elite military
band of lovers like the Thebans: the texts merely refer to a group of 300.
Nothing in Maximus of Tyre 20.8 characterizes Spartan relationships as
age-equal (p. 85). Nothing in Ibycus, fr. 282(a) identifies Polycrates as a
"boy" (p. 412). By all accounts, Ibycus' association with Polycrates of Samos
was limited to the latter's period as a tyrant ruling the island; the praise of
his beauty is an encomiastic topos frequently used of adult patrons in
encomiastic poetry. [1] Nothing in Plato's Lysis, which he cites (p. 425)
without specific identification of the passage, says or implies that there was
a "law against 'mingling'" between older and younger boys in the gymnasium.
Indeed, Lysis 406d specifically shows them doing so at the festival of Hermes,
and nothing says they were not allowed to do so on other occasions as well;
indeed, Attic vase painting reveals such interaction in the gym to be
ubiquitous. I have by no means checked all the references within this book, and
indeed the style of reference is often so inexact that they cannot be checked.
However, the number that do not check out when I do track them down leaves me
with a deep suspicion of any claim the book makes that I do not already know to
be true from independent knowledge. This is not a book that the non-specialist
reader can rely upon for accuracy.

With these prefatory caveats, let us proceed to examine the book's arguments
chapter by chapter. The first two chapters are largely concerned with issues of
terminology. Chapter One surveys the various Greek words for love, focusing
particularly on Eros, both as an abstract concept and a divine personification.
Davidson defines erôs as a longing for the absent, which may be, but need not
always be overtly sexual. Scant notice is taken of Bruce Thornton's Eros: The
Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality (Boulder 1997), which deals with this subject
at length. Chapter Two turns its attention to charis, which in an erotic
context refers to sex offered freely as part of a gracious interpersonal
exchange; as such, Davidson argues that it can only characterize homoerotic
transactions in the Greek world, since women had no capacity to choose. This is
unexceptionable (and unoriginal) enough, but he is on less firm ground with
some of the other terms covered in this chapter: contrary to previous
interpreters, he argues that the comic word euruprôktos (literally "with a
wide-open anus") possessed no sexual implications, but was merely a vulgar
variant of eurustomos ("with a wide-open mouth"), referring to orators and
other wordsmiths who are always farting (i.e. talking). However, Aristophanes,
in Clouds 1083-1104 makes it very clear that euruprôktos is synonymous with
kinoumenos ("being fucked"); it is not caused by breaking wind, but by having
foreign objects introduced into the anus. He usefully notes that the pejorative
term kinaidos is not used in comic authors, but in serious authors of the
fourth-century BCE and later. I believe that he is right to reject the usual
translation of "sexual passive," since, as he notes, lexicographers associate
the term with general lewdness and debauchery. However, he is wrong to believe
that the term refers specifically to a corrupting seducer or abuser of other
males; it and closely related words are too often coupled with the term moichos
("adulterer") in reference to the same person.

Chapter Three, "Age Classes, Love-Rules and Corrupting the Young," is one of
the most important in the book, as it is here that Davidson undertakes to
demolish "the fable of paedophile Greeks" (p. 70) by arguing that physical
intimacies could be practiced legally only with "boys" 18 years and older.
However, his evidence for this sweeping assertion is extremely thin. He
misinterprets Aeschines 1.139 to affirm that the Law of Solon forbade such
associations with any boy who is akuros (i.e. "not yet in control of his own
affairs legally"). What Davidson fails to see is that Aeschines is throwing
sand in the jurors' eyes with almost all of his legal citations throughout the
speech, something the Attic orators did commonly. If one examines the original
Greek, it is clear that this particular sentence (embedded within a paragraph
quoting Solon's actual law, which merely forbade slaves to enter the gymnasium
or pursue free boys) [2] is bracketed as Aeschines' own opinion (note the
opening verb oimai) of what the law ought to do (note the present tense verbs,
in contrast to the past tense always used of the lawgiver himself).

Equally amazing is the assertion that "Laws forbade anyone of aged twenty or
over from entering the gymnasium when under-eighteens were exercising: The
strictest penalties, not excluding the death penalty, were imposed on those who
transgressed" (p. 69). No textual citation or footnote is attached to this
grand statement, but it continues to be repeated throughout the rest of the
book as an established fact. But at least for Athens in the classical period,
it is pure fiction. We do possess an inscription from the Macedonian town of
Beroea in the second-century BCE that tells the gymnasiarch to prevent young
men and boys from mingling in the gymnasium, but it contains no reference to
the death penalty. Although Davidson does not mention it, some scholars
interpret Aeschines 1.10 as referring to an Athenian law with similar intent,
but that view is based on a mistranslation of the verb eisphoitaô to mean that
young men of a certain age could not "enter" the gymnasium, whereas the verb is
actually a frequentative that means "attend regular classes at" the gymnasium;
the supposed text of the law in 1.12 (which must be the source for Davidson's
nonsense about the death penalty) is universally bracketed as spurious.

Davidson rightly argues that Ancient Greece was an "age-class" society, but
goes too far in implying that the Greeks did not count years: Solon, fr. 27W
proves that they did. The same fragment also shows that the Greeks did not
consider 18 a particularly important dividing line, so much as 14 (the onset of
puberty) and 21 (full physical maturity) [3]. Davidson's view that the Greeks
must have experienced puberty at 18 contradicts not only what Solon tells us,
but virtually every other ancient source until late Roman times. [4] Davidson's
argument is based on accounts of puberty from the 18th century and
anthropological estimates drawn from very early civilizations unconnected with
Greece, but surely Aristotle and the ancient medical writers are better
witnesses. Davidson also misses the mark when positing that the term meirakion
refers only to 18-19 year olds; Hippocrates (ap. Philo, Opif. Mundi 36.105) and
Aristophanes of Byzantium (frr. 42-54 Slater) both say that the term covered
the entire 14 to 21 year age range. Both associate pais as a technical term not
with under-18s, as Davidson does, but with children in the 7-14 year range.
Although Davidson is right to point out that pais is often used in a more
generic sense, he strains credulity in claiming that any use connecting that
word with sexual activity must refer to 18-19 year olds.

Given this degree of philological carelessness at the outset, most of what
Davidson says about age throughout his book should be dismissed. However, he
does briefly stray into Truth when speculating that sexual relations among
classmates may have been more common than literary sources reflect. As he
notes, the art historian Charles Hupperts estimates that as many as one-third
of the erotic scenes in red-figure painting involve age-equal youths.

The second major section of the book, consisting of Chapters Four through Six,
looks at the history of modern scholarship on Greek homosexuality, with
particular focus on the intellectual influences that shaped Sir Kenneth Dover's
and Michel Foucault's views of it. While some readers may be put off by the ad
hominem tone (e.g. snide remarks about Foucault's anti-Semitism or Dover's
self-pleasuring habits), this is arguably the strongest part of the book. He
traces Dover's preoccupation with physical sex and the shamefulness of being
sexually passive to the influence of his collaboration with the notoriously
homophobic ethno-psychoanalyst Georges Devereux, who labeled the Greek practice
"pseudo-homosexuality" -- all a matter of acts rather than perverted
orientation, and thus in Devereux' clinical view less pathological. While I
agree with the basic thrust of Davidson's critique of Dover, he goes too far
when he claims that the Greeks did not at all share the modern concept of
penetration as a form of aggression: Aristophanes, Knights 364-65 and the
so-called "Eurymedon vase" (Fig. 3.5 in Lear & Cantarella) make it clear
that they did, particularly when it involves two adult males. Still, I think
Davidson is right to interpret the conventions of Greek pederasty outside of
this framework and to emphasize that it is not "all about sex."

Chapter Six turns its attention toward Foucault, whose intellectual genealogy
is traced through the influence of the Boas-Sapir-Benedict-Mead school of
cultural anthropology on the one hand, and on the other that of the French
classicist Paul Veyne, obsessed with what he saw as "Mediterranean sexuality."
The real target here is the doctrine of "social constructionism," a term
Davidson avoids, but one is left wondering, what does he propose in its place?
A return to essentialism and its transhistorical categories of identity?
Davidson never makes it altogether clear just where he stands in this debate.

The third section of the book, consisting of Chapters Seven through Nine, aims
to connect Greek Love with "Greek Religions," conveniently playing up to those
who wish to integrate gay sexuality into contemporary religion. In fact, these
chapters actually have very little to say about religious ritual or belief;
instead, they treat various myths which are literary in nature and have no
connection with cult observance. On the one myth that might actually have had
ritual connections, that of Hyacinthus, he is unaware of the fundamental work
of Michael Petersson, Cults of Apollo at Sparta (Stockholm 1992); he is also
ignorant of the relevant epigraphic evidence (e.g. SEG 28.404) about
"Hyacinthian" love in ancient Laconian ritual. One finds throughout The Greeks
and Greek Love a lack of familiarity with even the most basic principles of
myth interpretation. He ignores the diachronic evolution of literary and
artistic variants, conflating together details from sources that are centuries
apart (see, for example, p. 170). He confuses separate characters, like the
Cephalus (son of Hermes) loved by the Dawn and the Cephalus (son of Deion)
married to Procris; the two are distinct until Ovid conflates them. As if all
of this were not enough, he subjects us to an utterly incomprehensible and
irrelevant theory about the position of the constellation Auriga in the sky,
when seen from the Erechtheum, as an explanation for why Poseidon is involved
in Pindar's version of the myth of Pelops.

Just as Section Three pandered to the religious gays, Section Four addresses
the militarist gays. Chapter Ten surveys homoerotic elements in warrior myth,
especially those of Achilles and Heracles. Davidson is convinced that
homosexual love was present in 8th-century Greece (despite a void of
independent evidence) and is thus at the heart of epic tradition, even though
nowhere explicitly mentioned. He believes that the contemporary audience of the
Iliad could not but have read the emotional bond of Achilles and Patroclus in
homosexual terms, even though the language of Eros and lovemaking, so common in
heterosexual contexts within epic, is nowhere applied to them. He seems not to
notice that even the four appearances of the Ganymede story in epic tradition
say nothing about Eros as a motivating factor. He is so eager to read
homosexuality into myths that he even tries to reconstruct (pp. 271-78) the
lost Aethiopis to feature Antilochus as a new beloved of Achilles, based on
little more than Achilles increasing his prize in Iliad 23.

Chapter Eleven looks at the historical evidence concerning pederastic relations
in Crete and Sparta. Davidson credits the fourth-century historian Ephorus'
account of a special abduction ritual the Cretans practiced with noble youths;
not all would agree with his description of Isocrates' pupil ("by all accounts,
a pretty good historian" - p. 301). He appears to be unaware that some sceptics
have argued that this unusual ritual is Ephorus' entertaining concoction of
different practices designed to appeal to contemporary Athenian tastes. [5]
Davidson's attempt to integrate Ephorus' evidence with that of later sources
like Aelian and Maximus of Tyre is interesting, but it is unclear whether the
Cretan practices they describe are the same one; Crete was the "land of 100
cities," each with its own customs and laws. Moreover, he proposes that the
abduction ceremony was a "wedding ritual," which implies a permanent
relationship between the man and boy, something none of our texts suggest. Even
he so much as admits that his reconstruction of a Spartan male wedding ritual
(pp. 331-4) is pure fantasy. He does make the interesting suggestion, albeit
based on thin evidence, that the contradictions among sources as to the
chasteness of Spartan pederasty may be explained by the peculiar nature of
Spartan intercourse, intercrural through clothing (pp. 326-31).

Chapter Twelve turns its attention to some other parts of Greece that less
often form part of the discussion concerning Greek love. The chapter begins
with speculation about Elis, largely based on an enigmatic vase (his Figure 33)
depicting a scene of impending anal intercourse (one youth apparently about to
sit on the lap of another) that no one has ever understood, but nothing
specifically connects this piece with Elis. More intriguing are his ideas about
Thessaly and Macedonia, which he believes were societies that did not follow
the same age-structured protocols we reconstruct for Athenian pederasty. In
treating erotic anecdotes about Alexander the Great, Davidson shows the
appropriate scepticism toward our sources that he elsewhere lacks; indeed, he
even doubts that Hephaestion was actually the beloved of Alexander, but thinks
he was a politically serious character of some importance. Davidson credits
accounts of the Sacred Band of Thebes as an elite corps of lovers and even
treats it as the model for similar military groups in Elis and Macedon; he is
aware that David Leitao has recently challenged this assumption even in
relation to Thebes, but refuses to engage with Leitao's arguments in any
serious way. [6]

The short Chapter Thirteen is a complete mystery to me, but Chapter Fourteen
turns its attention to the Aeolic and Ionian lyric poets of the seventh- and
sixth-centuries. Little new interpretation is offered. He appears to be unaware
(p. 398) that the late Thomas Rosenmeyer long ago debunked the canard that
elegy is sung to the accompaniment of a double-flute. [7]

Chapter Fifteen focuses on Athens: like many other critics, Davidson makes the
mistake of using Pausanias' speech in Plato's Symposium as reliable evidence
for Athenian social history, ignoring the ideological tendencies engendered by
Pausanias' need to defend his own rather deviant form of love for the
intelligent, beautiful, grown-up, albeit effeminate Agathon. Davidson is
troubled that the usual interpretation of Athenian vase painting yields such a
different picture from the one he finds in Pausanias' speech, so he concludes
that we must have been interpreting the vases wrongly. In his view, all these
scenes of men or youths fondling or having intercrural intercourse with boys
were really meant to be condemnatory illustrations of what they were meant not
to do. This theory is both naive and bizarre: these vases were meant for use at
often wild drinking parties (those in both Plato's and Xenophon's Symposium
were exceptional in their sobriety), where well-to-do men of the world would
hardly be in the mood to receive moral lectures on dignified behavior from the
artisans who painted their drinking ware. Symposia themselves are frequently
the subject-matter of vase painting and seem anything but dignified and
moralistic. No experienced critic of ancient vase iconography would interpret
visual details with Davidson's eye: it is incredible that he can describe the
vigorous, hairy-chested man on the Brygos Painter's cup, of which he does not
give us a picture (but see Figure 1.13 in Lear and Cantarella), as "a kinaidos,
a sex pest" (p. 443) and "a Senior even, with his pectoral muscles having
drooped to mid-chest" (p. 444). Davidson again reveals himself unaware or
unwilling to engage with the work of major scholars, even in reference to the
specific artifacts he discusses: both the Brygos cup and the Getty psykter (a
wrap-around scene of four courting couples), to which he devotes a silly
discussion on pp. 439-43, have been discussed far more perceptively by Alan
Shapiro. [8]

The thesis of Chapter Sixteen is that the fourth-century BCE is the time when
"homo-whorishness" arrives in Athens in the form of "sex slaves who might
serve their masters as live-in lovers; handsome cithara-boys ... and mercenary
politicians" (p. 446). What he fails to take into account is that this
impression is merely the accident of which sources happen to survive from which
periods: the kind of documents where we would hear about these types of
characters (comedy and forensic oratory) are only extant from the last quarter
of the fifth-century forward, not because comedies and speeches in court did
not occur earlier, but because it was only with the growth of more widespread
literacy and a developing book trade that it became worthwhile for people to
preserve these "lower" genres in written form.

Davidson argues that there was never any negative public attitude toward elite
pederastic practices because both Timarchus' defenders and Aeschines speak of
pederasty respectfully in orations aimed at the general public of the jury (pp.
459-60). He seems unaware that the portion of the speech in which Aeschines
speaks favorably of an ideal, Platonic pederasty was almost certainly added
later only in the written version of the speech, directed at a much more elite
audience. [9] And Timarchus' defenders praise traditional pederasty with
literary and historical examples precisely to defend his undeniable homoerotic
relationships before a public which might be suspicious of the practice.
Davidson is surely aware of my "Popular Perceptions of Elite Homosexuality in
Classical Athens" (Arion series 3, 6.2, 1998, 48-78), but he nowhere mentions
it or engages seriously with its arguments, just as he ignores other scholars
whose findings are inconvenient for his scenario.

The 51-page Conclusion, which rather self-importantly advertises itself as "A
Map of Greek Love," complements Davidson's previous pandering to the "gays in
the military" and the "gays in the church" crowds by again addressing the
gay-marriage fetishists. "The fact of pairing and the identities of any
particular pair must have been known to the authorities; by some signal means
or another, each same-sex relationship must have been concretized as a public
and archaeologicable fact" (p. 476). He ultimately traces these weddings back
to Mycenaean chariot-pairs and even Indo-European ritual (pp. 512-16). As with
so many other grand statements, his evidence is thin: the figures dancing
around pairs having intercrural sex in black-figure vase iconography cannot be,
as he supposes, witnesses or celebrants in a public ceremony of union. They are
either rival suitors or servants bringing gifts; as Lear and Cantarella's book
shows, scenes in vase iconography should not be interpreted as photographic
documentation of what went on simultaneously so much as symbolic

In contrast to Davidson's sensationalism, Andrew Lear and Eva Cantarella's
Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty offers a more subtle and less tendentious
analysis in much shorter compass. Cantarella's contribution is limited to a
23-page survey of the literary material, which unfortunately shares many of
Davidson's faults, pressing thin evidence to make sweeping claims. Whereas
Davidson errs in denying sex to boys under 18, Cantarella makes the opposite
mistake of positing a uniform "social code" in which the beloved was never over
18 or the lover under 20, even though evidence suggests that both the Stoics
(Athenaeus 13.563e) and the Spartans (see Plutarch, Lycurgus 25.1) loved youths
in their late twenties. Strato's epigram AP 12.4 (from the second century CE)
on his preferred ages should hardly be used as evidence for practices 600 years
earlier, which were likely not uniform throughout Greece anyway. Like Davidson,
Cantarella assumes that pederastic myths necessarily derive from early ritual
origins, rather than arising as literary inflections of previously
non-pederastic stories. She also makes the mistake of reading highly colored
literary passages from authors like Aristophanes, Aeschines, and Plato as if
they constituted evidence of universal attitudes.

The heart of this book is the iconographic survey offered by Lear, from which
both novice and experienced scholar can learn much. Lear warns us that we
should not treat Attic vase painting as a naturalistic transcription of lived
experience. Instead, it operates within the context of aesthetic preferences
and idealizing conventions: for example, genitals are usually rendered in
smaller proportions than is natural, suggesting moderation and restraint, but
are represented as larger than natural in orgies or scenes featuring satyrs
(fantasy projections of man's unrestrained, bestial side). The presence or
absence of erections in scenes of intimate interaction should not be construed
as evidence of who is or is not receiving pleasure, but must be interpreted
within the framework of the general idealization of small, boyish members.
Similarly, the ubiquitous presence of oil flasks or strigils (scrapers used to
wipe dust and oil off athletes' bodies) in the hands of boys or on the wall in
the background of red-figure scenes should be construed as a kind of
synecdochic shorthand for the gymnasium as the most frequent setting of
pederastic courtship.

Chapters One and Two survey various types of courtship scenes, gifts, and
associated gestures, showing particular sensitivity to the way different phases
of courtship and the varying responses to it are rendered through details of
body position, clothing, and gaze. In addition to the familiar settings of the
gymnasium and symposium, Lear shows that even war may be a context for display
of pederastic eros, as we see beautiful young warriors arming themselves in
front of admirers. I find this discussion novel and interesting, but am
surprised that no reference is made to J.-P. Vernant's famous essays on the
topos of "beautiful death" in archaic poetry. [10] While Lear does not see all
courtship gifts as directly pedagogical in nature, he does believe that they at
least associate the interaction of men and boys with realms of activity that
are often pedagogical: for example, music, hunting, and athletics. I think he
may be overly conservative in not acknowledging cockfighting among these: as
unpleasant as we find such gratuitous animal cruelty, Greek men did regard it
as a useful way of hardening boys and instilling a spirit of ruthless
competitiveness. Another not infrequent gift that Lear does not discuss at all,
despite its interesting implications (i.e. sacrifice, butchering, providing for
one's family), is a large piece of meat.

One of Lear's most interesting findings is that the iconography does not
distinguish between sacks of money and other gifts, as if to belie the "sacred
boundary between the eromenos and the prostitute" (p. 80). However, I think
Lear is not correct in believing that our ancient textual sources create such a
clear boundary. This is largely a fiction of modern scholarship. Aristophanes'
Wealth (149-59) notes precisely how little difference there is between
receiving generous gifts and receiving money, implying that those who would
distinguish the two (like the naive Chremylus) fail to recognize their
essential sameness. Aeschines' prosecution of his political rival Timarchus for
having "prostituted himself" as a youth is based on precisely the same lack of
distinction: Aeschines never offers evidence that Timarchus actually received
bags of money from his many lovers, but suggests that the mere fact of
Timarchus living with them and enjoying lavish entertainment without himself
paying for it was tantamount to the same thing as being a prostitute.

Chapter Three looks at the more explicit material, showing scenes of actual
consummation as well as the various forms of physical foreplay. Lear shows that
the familiar figuration of intercrural intercourse, where the lover crouches
down into a rather awkward posture so as to rub his penis between a shorter
boy's thighs, actually shows him in an inferior position, allowing his beloved
to "overtop" and "overlook" him (p. 114). Similarly, the so-called
"up-gesture," in which a lover touches the chin of the beloved, is correctly
interpreted as a pose of supplication. However, I think that the corresponding
"down-gesture," in which the lover fondles the testicles of the beloved, is not
just a "request for trust" asking "a boy to surrender control over his most
vulnerable parts," but like the focused gaze of many lovers upon the boy's
genitals, suggests a fetishization of the developing pubescent member as a
visible and tangible sign of development into sexual maturity and manhood.

As Lear observes, we do not find explicit anal sex depicted in pederastic
contexts, but it does at least twice appear in scenes involving youths of the
same age or, on Tyrrhenian amphorae, among drunken adults; other scenes may
hint at the lover's desire for it or the beloved's offer of it. An interesting
section of this chapter compares the courtship conventions on vases featuring
courtesans with those involving boys: on the whole, they are quite similar, but
courtesans do tend to show more initiative. A final section examines slave
boys, whom he argues to be neither courted nor forced, but I am not certain
that we can always tell who is a slave boy and who is not; it is quite possible
that the boys who serve at feasts were in some cases freeborn boys who learned
the rules of feasting by first attending upon the banqueters. [11]

Chapter Four examines pederastic scenes involving the gods. Here alone do we
see evidence of a lover forcing himself upon a boy, as if to imply that mere
humans are subject to a code of propriety and restraint. Zeus and Ganymede are
only depicted in red-figure painting of the fifth-century, Lear suggests, as a
more acceptable way to treat the theme after the explicit scenes of mortal
consummation become rare. I think he is wrong to suggest that the eagle sitting
on Zeus' scepter in Figure 4.3 alludes to the means of Ganymede's abduction;
the eagle is first introduced into the Ganymede myth in the fourth-century,
probably modelled on Apollo's seduction of Hyacinthus in the form of a swan (of
which we do have solid fifth-century illustrations). Similarly, I think Lear's
interpretation of Apollo as an eromenos in Figures 4.1 and 4.2 is clearly
incorrect: the former depicts him about to battle Idas for the romantic favor
of Marpessa, and the latter shows him providing epiphanic inspiration to a
contemplative muse. That Apollo himself looks like a beautiful youth is not in
question, but myth typically depicts him as an active (if rather ineffective)

The second half of this chapter constitutes an interesting discussion of the
god Eros as a character on pederastic vases. Figured as a beautiful youth
himself, Eros is usually indistinguishable in age from the youth he pursues,
penetrates, crowns, or brings a gift to. As with the representations of Zeus
and Ganymede, Lear argues that his presence is a more coded way of representing
pederastic eros in a period when more explicit depictions had ceased. To this I
would add the observation that his equality in age to the beloved youth yielded
an intonation of adolescent frolic that was less offensive to late-fifth and
early-fourth century tastes than the older scenes of highly age-differential

Chapter Five deals briefly, but very ably with the so-called
"kalos-inscriptions" found on many vases, even many without pederastic subject
matter, declaring that either a specific named boy or the generic "boy" is
"beautiful" (kalos). Lear dismisses the theory that the vases were themselves
meant as gifts, instead more plausibly explaining these inscriptions as toasts.
He notes that some of these vases have the less appreciative word katapygon
("bugger") scratched into them by a later hand, although he does not speculate
whether the motive was cynicism or moralistic indignation.

Chapter Six treats the question of chronological development even more briefly.
As many have previously noted, the familiar scenes of pederastic courtship and
consummation largely disappear after the 470s BCE, but the same is also true of
explicit heterosexual sex. Lear correctly points out that this does not mean
that pederasty disappears as a representational focus, only that it changes:
later in the fifth-century, we see more scenes involving gods, symposia, and
"youths in conversation." The homoeroticism is either displaced into the realm
of myth or it becomes more implicit and coded. He attributes this change not to
any variation in the social status of pederasty, but to "a general trend toward
prudery" (p. 175), but I am not sure these two developments can be so neatly
segregated: more prudish societies are generally less tolerant of minority
sexual practices. Lear does not examine what factors contribute to this growing
prudishness in the mid-fifth century. I have elsewhere argued that pederasty
was mainly an elite practice in Athens, and the rising political dominance of
what one might call the "middle class" within Athenian democracy led to a
privileging of middle-class taste, as reflected in the anti-elite posture of
comedy, the simplified diction of Euripidean tragedy, the decline of erotically
based pedagogy, and the marginalization of explicit sexuality in art. I would
qualify that view now only with the observation that as the general
living-standard of the urban populace grew at the height of the Athenian
empire, painted vases ceased to be a luxury product, but became commonplace
even in many non-elite households; this explains the inferior workmanship we
see in the late fifth-century, as painted vases came to be mass-produced, and
the luxury market turned to silver vessels, which have almost all been melted
down and have thus disappeared from our archaeological record.

One of the most valuable features of this book is the long appendix at the end,
based on the work of the late Keith DeVries, listing over 700 vases with
pederastic content, broken down by period, with descriptions of each side's
decoration. This supersedes the similar (and ideologically filtered) list at
the end of Sir Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality. This list will be of
fundamental reference value to future researchers.

I have two complaints about the format and organization of this book, both
related to the illustrations. Although over 100 vases are pictured within the
book, the illustrations are so small that one often cannot see the details
discussed in the text. For a book this expensive, we should expect larger
photos, including, where appropriate, detail shots. My second complaint is that
dating should be discussed throughout the text, rather than confined to one
short chapter and DeVries' appendix at the end. Every illustration should
feature an approximate date as part of its caption, so that readers can judge
for themselves the lines of chronological development and perhaps note some
tendencies that may have escaped the authors' notice.


[1] See F. Lasserre, "Ornements érotiques dans la poésie lyrique archaïque,"
in J. H. Heller & J. K Newman (eds), Serta Turyniana (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1974).

[2] See D. G. Kyle, "Solon and Athletics", Ancient World 9 (1984), 91-105.

[3] On which see Aristotle, Pol. 1336b37-1337a1

[4] See E. Eyben, "Antiquity's View of Puberty," Latomus 31 (1972) 677-97, an
article of which, like so many others, Davidson is unaware.

[5] For example, David Dodd, "Athenian Ideas about Cretan Pederasty," in
Thomas K. Hubbard, Greek Love Reconsidered (New York: Walter Hamilton Press,
2000), 33-41.

[6] D. Leitao, "The Legend of the Sacred Band," in M. Nussbaum & J.
Sihvola (eds), The Sleep of Reason: Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in
Ancient Greece and Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 143-69.

[7] T. G. Rosenmeyer, "Elegiac and Elegos," CSCA 1 (1968), 217-31.

[8] "Leagros and Euphronios: Painting Pederasty in Athens," in T. K. Hubbard
(ed.), Greek Love Reconsidered, esp. figures 13 and14

[9] See T. K. Hubbard, "Getting the last word: Publication of political
oratory as an instrument of historical revisionism," in E. A. Mackay (ed.),
Orality, Literacy, Memory in the Ancient Greek and Roman World (Leiden: Brill,
2008), 185-202

[10] J.-P. Vernant, Mortals and Immortals (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1991), 50-91.

[11] See J. Bremmer, "Adolescents, Symposion, and Pederasty," in O. Murray
(ed.), Sympotica (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 135-48.
Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by jeidsath »

Dover and Davidson have taken me a long time to form an opinion on. And I expect that opinion to continue evolving.

Dover's Greek Homosexuality is a pile of evidence, carefully parsed and analyzed with autistic attention to detail, and sometimes an equally autistic sense of the human condition. Some of his claims are tendentious, but their support is clear and well-argued. I think, however, that if Dover is read by someone at the beginning of several years of exposure to Greek, they will find, when they come in contact with the Greeks, that it is a slightly different world than the one Dover portrays.

Davidson's Greek Love is a collection of arguments, carefully presented, extracted I assume, from several decades of academic polemic. The arguments are sometimes interesting, but often extremely tendentious, and presented without the rounded well-analyzed view that Dover is always careful to provide. His analysis of Greek laws around pederasty is an egregious example. He doesn't stop to ask "what energized the creation of all this legal structure?" Nor "why did the Athenians have a view of themselves as different from their neighbors in this regard?" His invocation of "ritualized" images to explain (in fact, explain away) the entire field of Greek visual arts is the most special of special pleading. "Ritual" should be invoked in a technical and careful way -- and should probably be taken as presenting *deeper* insights into a people's psyche, if ritual it is -- but Davidson is not that careful. As most of these vases were produced commercially, it is even more difficult to sustain. Regardless, the point is that Davidson comes across, more than anything else, as a "meme folder" (though on steroids). A bunch of one-off arguments, collected from various places, that provide plenty of ammunition for debate, but are not any sort of body of evidence that can be used to prove other points, as Dover's can.

I mentioned a certain amount of surprise for anyone going on to read massive amounts of Greek after Dover. I triple-down on that for Davidson. The reader who comes to his great exposure to Greek literature after Davidson will be flabbergasted and astonished by the reality.

Where both Dover and Davidson, and in fact the whole field after Dover, fall down is in not attacking the question from a primarily anthropological perspective. Dover was writing just after the publication of the Minority Report, and tells us that he is much influenced by it, and judges by the standards of that time. Davidson, if anything, is even worse about using the modern late-20th century humanities grad-student social judgements to judge every argument. And there is a great deal of material to be judged in the subject, and some standard needs to be used to reach conclusions. But the appropriate standard, in my opinion, is careful cross-cultural comparison. When we analyze the Greeks, we are not analyzing space aliens. They are human beings. And Dover and Davidson's tiny Northern European academic cultural bubble insulates them magnificently from any understanding of the Greeks. The field would do much better, in my opinion, if it had more representation from some of the males who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent decades. The field is, of course, heavily and stupidly insulated from exactly that type of individual with strong blast walls. But an hour's conversation with any of them about the cultures that they had seen up close (not to mention their military experience) would be more valuable than a careful read of Davidson. (Everyone still needs to read Dover, even if his conclusions are not perfect.)

If you doubt my characterization of Davidson as polemically orientated, which I think only can really be seen if you are familiar some of what is out there beyond just him while reading, notice the (worthless and fairly defamatory, imo) NAMBLA back and forth in the quoted reviews.
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Thank you, Seneca, for all of the reviews, and thank you, Joel for your perspective.

In Eric Brook's review, he says "The fact that contemporary scholars today may not be able to recognize much else than the discussion of sex in Greek homosexual relationships, shows to what extent Dover’s influence has been felt. Usually, there is no question about what kind of significant relationship may exist for a heterosexual couple beyond sex acts, and so when scholars cannot see the same correlation within discussions of homosexuality, it seems fair to detect a possible underlying homophobia..."

Seneca, you remark that Dover's book was written in a time well before queer studies. I imagine that Dover would have framed his book differently if it had been written later. Nowadays we assume that same-sex couples have the same emotional attachments as straight couples and assume that this has always been the case throughout the world. Is it fair to Dover to fault him for not addressing our assumptions? Do we disbelieve him when he writes in his preface to GH "I am fortunate in not experiencing moral shock or disgust at any genital act whatsoever, provided that it is welcome and agreeable to all the participants (whether they number one, two or more than two)." Does Dover's book not fairly analyze the written and pictoral evidence that has come down to us?

To Joel's point my experience of Greek literature is limited and I may later discover nuances as I continue to read. Personally, based on a passing familiarity with Theognidea, I'm not feeling a lot of emotional depth in the relationship(s), rather a desire of the erastes to control the eronemos, and the eronemos to rove. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of written evidence for long-term relationships to my knowledge, although in Plato's Symposium, both the Phaedrus-Eryximachus and the Agathon-Pausanias relationships seem to be fairly long lasting. Perhaps these sorts of relationships were simply not talked about -- as was the case in the first half of the 20th century in the US.

As for the power/domination, based on penetration, it's certainly there in what has come down to us. To quote Dover again, this time from his footnotes to Theocritus' Poem V, line 41, "But Komatas contrives to represent his penetration of Lakon not as an experience agreeable to both of them but as a kind of victory of his own, by which he established dominance." And the comedians commonly joke about kinaidoi, where there is never any opprobrium for the dominant partner. Of course there must have been more egalitarian homosexual relationships, but the evidence doesn't seem to have made the cut.

I do think that GH does depict what we call homophobia today, but tend to think that it's Greek homophobia, not Dover's.


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by seneca2008 »

Hi Mark

Thank you for starting this thread and your thoughtful posts.

Dover worked with what he had to the best of his ability and because he was a fine scholar produced an excellent book. Now we can see with the benefit of further work and changes in the way we look at the issue that his treatment is problematic. That is absolutely no criticism of him. I think that part of the problem with the penetration/power model is that it is clearly a simple translation of a male/female paradigm. Homosexual genital practice (to use Dover's terminology) is clearly very diverse and to assume it adheres to a heteronormative standard seems problematic or at least something that needs to be thought about. Dover's analysis is situated very much in what he thought homosexual behaviour could be. (This needs a longer and more detailed argument but I hope it gets my point across).

The example you quote about penetration is comic in origin. (Aristophanes is full of such jokes) I dont read Theokritos 5 literally (I doubt Dover really did either). It seems like a stock joke and its relationship to the reality of homosexual experience difficult to assess. We can see in our own culture old fashioned comic representations of homosexuals as effeminate ("limp waisted") bear very little relation to the real lives of homosexuals. (Such representations belong now in the same bin as "black and white minstrels". ) Arguably laughing at Homosexuals seems to be a defence against the anxiety that a heterosexual man might feel about being penetrated (even though this is fantasy). So the penetration/ power model might tell us a lot about heterosexual experience but very little about homosexual experience.

I am not sure I follow your last sentence but I agree that Dover was not homophobic (in our modern sense).
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Hi Seneca,

Thank you for all of your input and links. They have helped me to refine my understanding of the topic and see the various responses to Dover's GH. Certainly the book does not focus on the actual homosexual experience in ancient Greece, which I suspect, can only be guessed at based on sources other than extant literature, epigraphy and art.

To some degree, I think we have different perspectives, each of which has its own validity. You focus on the real lives of homosexuals and the distortions conveyed by the surviving evidence. I focus on what does the surviving evidence show about attitudes towards same-sex eroticism -- which in the case of the comedians at least seems to be heterosexual normative. Earlier in this thread Joel mentioned Dover's "autistic attention to detail". That's the sort of book that appeals to me. Broad brush statements without sufficient evidence lose my interest.

You say "So the penetration/power model might tell us a lot about the heterosexual experience but very little about the homosexual experience." I agree completely. Not surprisingly comedians cater to the biases of the majority of their audience. When you first mentioned criticism of GH, I was reminded of a sentence from the book "There is no passage of comedy which demonstrably ridicules or criticises any man or any category of men for aiming at homosexual copulation with beautiful young males or for preferring them to women." (page 137). In a footnote he refers to Jeffrey Henderson's The Maculate Muse which lists ten men as 'active pederasts ridiculed by name in comedy'. Dover briefly refutes them. I thought then that I ought to look up the references and make up my mind for myself -- despite being woefully unqualified to do so. Now I'm thinking that I will do that in a new thread.


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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by seneca2008 »

Hi Mark

I think I may have given the wrong impression of how I approach this subject. I too am interested in the evidence, both material and written, that after all is all there is on which we can base our investigations, and in its rigorous analysis.

I am not solely or even mainly interested in "the real lives of homosexuals". I don't think that this is recoverable from the evidence. I am interested in representations of sexuality and what that can tell us. In different time periods those representations have been and will be analysed differently. There is nothing wrong with that, it is inevitable.

I am not going to expand on any of this because your idea of looking at what Henderson says seems much more interesting. I look forward to that thread.

Thanks again
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by Setarcos074 »

Hi there,
I'm currently writing an essay which involves cockerels as symbolisms of pederasty, I was wondering if you could tell me where the mention of cockerels appears in the Symposium so I can cite it in my essay?

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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by jeidsath »

I had assumed that all the Symposium discussion above was mainly about this line: οἷάπερ οἱ ἐρασταὶ πρὸς τὰ παιδικά, ἱκετείας τε καὶ ἀντιβολήσεις ἐν ταῖς δεήσεσιν ποιούμενοι, καὶ ὅρκους ὀμνύντες, καὶ κοιμήσεις ἐπὶ θύραις, καὶ ἐθέλοντες δουλείας δουλεύειν οἵας οὐδ’ ἂν δοῦλος οὐδείς, and nothing about cocks specifically, unless it's somewhere else that I can't remember, which is quite possible.
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Re: Eromenoi and cockerels

Post by markcmueller »

Reading the Symposium got me to read Dover's GH which has a number of examples of vases showing an erastes presenting a cockeral to a prospective eromenos. No mention of cockerals in the Symposium itself.

BTW, I did follow up on looking at examples of where Henderson claimed that Aristophanes was ridiculing active pederasts and Dover rejected his claims. I concluded that Dover is mostly right, and where there is doubt it seems that obsessive sexual pursuit is the main object of ridicule. I decided against posting my notes on each example figuring that it was not particularly interesting to anyone else.


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