In light of pop culture’s recent obsession with the myth, battles and monsters of ancient history, thanks to films like 300, Troy and Clash of the Titans, it would seem that our friends the ancient Greeks have been thoroughly glamorized as a culture of warrior-philosophers and monster hunters. Besides, who doesn’t like the look of Brad Pitt in a bit of leather?
Brad Pitt aside, it’s especially worth noting that the ancient Greeks were more than just monster-hunting battle-wagers: they were also a bunch of lecherous old perverts, quite happily couched in a culture of pedagogical pederasty.
Pedagogi-wha? Put simply, their fatherly/teacherly paedophilia. You see, the ancient Greeks had quite a thing for young boys, with older men commonly lusting after them. The nubile form of the “Pais Kalos” or “beautiful boy” was the subject of much poetry, artwork and public admiration, and was even incorporated into their social practices.
Young boys were not abused but rather idolised to a degree that today, would be considered unhealthy. Odes were written to the sensuality of their young bodies, vases were adorned with the imagery of Zeus caressing such a boy, and juvenile athletes were celebrity figures.
But what of the teacherly aspect? Well, a common societal practice was that of a ritual kidnapping of a desirable young man, thought of as a kind of wooing. A grown man would entreat the family of a boy who had caught his eye, offering them gifts to allow their son to become the older male’s apprentice of sorts. He would then be ritually abducted and taken to live with his new pedagogue, learning the arts of poetry, warfare, land management and the customs of manhood.
In exchange, the friendship between man and boy took on a sexual element. Penetrative sex was virtually unheard of, but caressing (effectively mutual masturbation) was common, consensual and almost universally accepted. This extended to school practice as well, with upperclassmen frequently taking a younger student under their wing, but fostering a sexual relationship in exchange for their protection and guidance.
The Spartans in particular took things to a new level, having their prospective wives cut their hair short and dress in a more masculine fashion before ritually kidnapping them from their beds at night, and spiriting them off to their new homes.
My, how things have changed! Indeed, for all its titans and glorious battles, Greek culture had some rather iffy aspects too.
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