Cretan Knights and "Renowned Ones"

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Cretan Knights and "Renowned Ones"

The Cretan lawgiver regarded abstemiousness as beneficial and devoted much ingenuity to securing it, as also to keeping down the birth-rate by keeping men and women apart and by instituting sexual relations between males. (Aristotle, Politics, 1272a 12)

To date, researchers concerned about the origins of institutionalized pederasty have, I believe, overlooked two central points. First, there is the fact that the majority of ancient authors who did not name some divine or clearly legendary, ahistorical figure as the founder of the practice attributed the institutionalization of pederasty to seventh-century Cretans. Some of these accounts specify the role of lawgivers or "musicians," who are also spoken of as having helped export this system to Sparta, Athens, and some of the colonies in Italy and Sicily. Second, although pre-World War I scholars generally tried to deny the historicity of these lawgivers,i archeologists are now tending to confirm or at least attest the likelihood of a number of early legends.ii Some even see certain heroes of the Theban epics and the accounts about prehistoric Dorian leaders as historic. Others, like Nagy, accept the words or deeds of several persons flourishing during the early and middle Archaic Age as authentic and insist that they were attributed to just one of them by later Greeks. This chapter applies the new line of reasoning to the data about seventh-century Crete and Cretan "musicians."

The eminent authority Van Effenterre argued convincingly that Plato, who believed in a Cretan origin for pederasty, probably did visit Crete and knew much about its history.iii Aristotle was as usual well informed about Cretan concerns. Other Athenians of the classical age were also closely acquainted with Cretan affairs. During the Peloponnesian War, Gortyn had favored Athens, which had a proxenus (diplomatic representative) there, and the Cretans bestowed a crown on Athens. Cretan archers often served as mercenaries in Greek armies, and Crete was frequently visited because it lay on the route from Athens and other Aegean ports to Sicily and from the Peloponnesus to the Levant and Egypt. A papyrus fragment in Arabic refers to a lost work of Aristotle that seems to have mentioned a Cretan member of the Platonic Academy. The interest in and knowledge of Cretan institutions among fourth-century Athenians seem in fact to have been extensive.

Detailed evidence for Dorian Crete is, nevertheless, scanty. Unlike late Minoans, early Dorians left few impressive ruins and no writings. The authentic writings of the Cretan "musicians" or sages of the later seventh and early sixth centuries, that is, Onomacritus, Thaletas, and Epimenides, have not survived. Except for a few inscriptions, most notably the Laws of Gortyn c. 500, we have no Cretan sources whatsoever after the last linear B tablets (perhaps as late as the early eleventh century) and before the third-century B.C. poet Rhianus of Bene. Mythographers from other areas provide legends, myths, and epics replete with references to Cretan pederasty. Latter-day historians, also from other regions, provide incidental details about general Cretan customs.

The number of ancient writers who support, directly or indirectly, a Cretan birthplace for pederasty is impressive. Herodotus (484-c. 420), the father of history, and Thucydides (c. 455-c. 400), the first scientific historian, provided some incidental material about athletic nudity there. Plato (c. 429-347), much concerned with love between males, set his last dialogue, Laws, on Crete, which he considered its birthplace. Morrow argued that Plato and his contemporary Academicians assembled a great many texts about Cretans and that Plato spoke accurately about them in four dialogues: Protagoras, Crito, Republic, and Laws. Morrow believed that Aristotle (384-322) used this collection for his Constitution of the Cretans, now lost except for fragments surviving in Heracleides of Pontus, but summarized in the Politics. The Minos, written by Plato or by someone else shortly after his death, may also have drawn on the collection as did Ephorus.iv With his students, Aristotle collected constitutions for 158 Greek states, including at least one typical one from Crete, where all poleis seem to have adopted similar, if not identical laws and customs. Stressing historical evolution, he was most explicit about a Cretan origin of pederasty to reduce birthrates.

The summary of Ephorus' lost history in the Geography of Strabo (X, 4:15-22), though brief, nevertheless provides our fullest account of Cretan pederasty. Ephorus (400-340) was probably not influenced by his contemporary Aristotle in asserting that pederasty and its related institutions were invented by the Cretans and perfected by the Spartans (X, 4. 17), but they may have used a common authority. A quite independent Sicilian source, Timaeus of Taormina, who turned fifty about 300 B.C., remarked: "The practice of pederasty came into Greece from the Cretans first" (Athenaeus, XIII, 602f). Pederastic Cretan lawgivers or related Cretan customs are discussed by Heraclides Ponticus (f. c. 360), Dosiadas (f. c. 250), several contributors to the Anacreontea, Polybius (c. 200-after 118), Hermonax, a third- or second- century Alexandrian, and Sosicrates, possibly from Rhodes, who used a variety of Alexandrian sources now lost. Together with Athenaeus of Naucratis (c. 200 A.D.), an antiquarian who preserved fragments of the writings of some 1,250 authors, these authors provide most of the rest of our information about Archaic Crete.

Myths associate pederasty with Crete more than with any other locality. From the late seventh or sixth century, when they first began ascribing eromenoi to gods and heroes, poets placed many pederastic couples on Crete: Zeus or Minos and Ganymede, Rhadamanthus and Talos, Minos and Theseus, Minos or Sarpedon and Miletus or Atumnios, Apollo and Atumnios, Euxunthetus and Leucocomas, Leucocomas and Promachus, and Idomeneus and Meriones.v

Byzantine scholars provide philological evidence. The Greeks often called male-male sexual activity In the fifth century A.D. the lexicographer Hesychius of Alexandria, who used the commentaries of such Alexandrians as Aristarchus of Samothrace (c. 217-145), explained that when Greeks said "according to the Cretan way" they meant to practice anal intercourse (K, 4080). Hesychius had the entry kretizein: epi tu pseudesthai kai apatan "to play the Cretan: for lying and deceiving," but a separate lemma of his read Kreta tropon: to paidikois chresthai "the Cretan way: to practice pederasty."vii The tenth-century Suda lexicon and the twelfth-century work of Eusthathius of Thessalonica are also valuable for such phraseology. No Cretan source that we know of, however, used a phrase the way Athenians used "to laconicize" or "chalcidize" to imply a foreign origin of pederasty.viii


During the eighth century, when the general population of Greece appears to have increased as much, according to some, as seven-fold,ix the privileged Dorians of Crete may have expanded even more rapidly. Crete had suffered the most during the dessication and lack of trade during the Dark Age. Now it benefitted most with the return of better weather and trade after 800. As a way station to the West, Egypt, and the Levant, it rewon much of the leadership it had enjoyed in the Aegean in Minoan times.

The rapidly multiplying Cretan upper class would not have been able to provide estates for its sons adequate to maintain their aristocratic lifestyle. (They customarily divided an estate among all surviving legitimate sons, who chose by lot which of the roughly equal shares was to be theirs.) The kosmoi (Cretan officials) had to institute measures to curb the population expansion.x In his Politics, Aristotle discussed at length the necessity for control devices to prevent impoverishment through overpopulation observing that "A great state and a populous one are not the same. . . . An excessively large number cannot take on any degree of order" (1266b 8, 1326a 5, 1326a 25). In another passage Aristotle described the precise measures taken in Crete to deal with the population increase: "The Cretan lawgiver regarded abstemiousness as beneficial and devoted much ingenuity to securing it, as also to keeping down the birth-rate by keeping men and women apart and by instituting sexual relations between males" (Politics, 1272a 12). As population pressure mounted, Dorian knights all over Crete, fearful that their estates would be subdivided among too many heirs, accepted the laws of their sage, segregating women and institutionalizing pederasty. These ordinances were first applied presumably to one of their communities (we know not which) but soon copied by the others.

Shamans, "Musicians," Sages, and Lawgivers

Who was the Cretan lawgiver mentioned by Aristotle? Hirschfeld thought it was King Minos,xi but that would put him too early. Perhaps he was Thaletas or his teacher Onomacritus, who lived around the middle of the Archaic Age. Whoever he was (perhaps even a committee or a succession of sages), he may have merely perfected and systematized earlier population control measures. The prestige of Cretan kathartai (exorcists) is attested by the legend that Apollo was purified by Karmanor the Cretan after the slaying of Python (Pausanias II, 30.3). Onomacritus, whom Ephorus placed at the head of the list of lawgivers, was closely associated with the introduction of the Orphic mysteries. The Cretan lawgiver Thaletas, credited with being the adviser of the legendary Spartan Lycurgus, seems actually to have quelled a plague in Sparta in the seventh century (Pratinas, fr. 8 B). As a result, we can see that these charismatic figures were thought to be to some degree magicians or miracle workers.

If, as Ephorus specified, Thaletas of Gortyn introduced the Cretan reforms, it was presumably in his youth, for in old age (c. 615) he was brought to Sparta. A more reliable tradition makes Thaletas a student of Onomacritus. Thus Onomacritus rather than Thaletas would have introduced the reforms to Crete about 650. I believe that another Cretan sage of that age, Epimenides, helped Solon introduce them to Athens.

Epimenides, who purified Athens of the dangerous pollution caused by violation of the right of sanctuary during the conspiracy of Cylon, was assimilated to the type of the peri-Arctic shaman. He came from Cnossos, the site of the great labyrinth, and having grown up in the shadow of the palace of Minos, he could lay claim to an ancient heritage of wisdom, especially as legend asserted that he had slept for fifty-seven years in the cave of the Cretan mystery-god. Epimenides' supposed exchange of letters with the Athenian lawgiver Solon, though not considered genuine, shows the existence of a tradition of links between the legal minds of Crete and Athens. After Epimenides' death his body was found covered with tattoo marks, the sign of the shaman, and his long sleep can be equated with the trance state that is part of the shaman's novitiate.xii

It is not impossible that, as Dodds (1951) has proposed, the Cretan sages who introduced the new pederastic system were influenced by Scythian shamanism, which included cross-dressing, gender inversion, and androphile homosexuality. Nevertheless, we do not have to accept such speculation to understand how an irrational belief in the magical powers of the lawgivers would have persuaded the crisis-beset Cretan knights to adopt a radical solution to their problems. The hoplites of Sparta soon also sought magical relief from the plagues which the Cretan Thaletas brought by the Dance of the Naked Youths, while those of Athens resorted to human sacrifice at Epimenides' suggestion. Irrationality may well have played a large part in the institutional-ization of pederasty among the Hellenes. Just because pederasty was not, as so many from Bethe to Vanggaard, Sergent, and Bremmer have argued, an age-old immemorial custom does not preclude that it could have originally had a magical component.

Whatever the exact origin or date of these lawgivers, tradition connected them all to seventh- and sixth-century Crete, without explaining explicitly that any of them established the laws that were attributed to Minos, much as Spartan laws were attributed to an oracle received by Lycurgus. Thus these traditions assigning the institutional-ization of pederasty to Crete reinforce the myths and legends, most of which also support a Cretan origin for pederasty. Because no source antedating 630 mentioned or depicted institutional pederasty, it seems logical to assume that it did not exist previously for long, even in Crete, especially since the leading sources of the fifth and fourth century state or imply that it was at least a relatively recent establishment.

The Pederastic System of Age-Classes
All the institutions adopted by the Cretans in the seventh century

-- pederasty, nudity in gymnasia, seclusion of women, all-male messes, and herds of boys -- seem to have been new to the Hellenes as such, even if all save perhaps athletic nudity had isolated or occasional forerunners. The Cretan system is described most fully by Ephorus (as summarized by Strabo in Book X of his Geography). Formal puberty for boys (apodromoi) occurred at twelve. Ebioi (boys between twelve and twenty) were known after the age of twenty or, by some accounts, after twenty-six as dromeis (from dromos, a running track where beginning at twelve or perhaps seventeen aristocrats exercised nude). The exact duration of these age-classes, which are poorly attested and may have changed over time, are roughly the same as the better documented age groups in Sparta. Once a youth became a dromeus he ceased to belong to a "herd" (agele). Presumably the youths then lived in barracks at the andreion, where they ate together with older married men as at Sparta. These rites of passage began with the kidnapping at age twelve and continued until as a husband the aristocrat went to live with his wife. Rituals for age groups are by no means necessarily primitive customs, as the various grades of feudal knighthood demonstrate.

All seemed to have married at the same age, perhaps at thirty, as Lycurgus supposedly decreed for Sparta. They may also have married at twenty or twenty-six, that is, even before they left the herd, or at some other age, varying from time to time according to shortages due to wars, famines, or epidemics. In any case, they continued to sleep in the andreion from age twenty until they set up housekeeping with wives, normally at age thirty,xiii if we may presume from Spartan usage, while their young wives lived with relatives. Even after marriage, aristocratic men always dined together.

A knight's ritual kidnapping of a twelve-year-old (with the boy's relatives as accomplices before the fact) and carrying him off for a two-month honeymoon in the wilderness were apparently the prelude to a prolonged homosexual relationship that obviated the pressure for early marriage. These pairings were carefully negotiated, for they bound families together almost in the way that marriages did, and indeed in other poleis about which we are better informed an eromenos often married a daughter, niece, or cousin of his erastes.

They have a peculiar custom in regard to love-affairs, for they win the objects of their love, not by persuasion, but by abduction; the lover tells the friends of the boy three or four days beforehand that he is going to make the abduction; but for the friends to conceal the boy, or not to let him go forth by the appointed road, is indeed a most disgraceful thing, a confession, as it were, that the boy is unworthy to obtain such a lover; and when they meet, if the abductor is the boy's equal or superior in rank or other respects, the friends pursue him and lay hold of him, though only in a very gentle way, thus satisfying the custom; and after that they cheerfully turn the boy over to him to lead away; if, however, the abductor is unworthy, they take the boy away from him. And the pursuit does not end until the boy is taken to the 'Andreium' of his abductor. They regard as a worthy object of love, not the boy who is exceptionally handsome, but the boy who is exceptionally manly and decorous. After giving the boy presents, the abductor takes him away to any place in the country he wishes; and those who were present at the abduction follow after them, and after feasting and hunting with them for two months (for it is not permitted to detain the boy for a longer time), they return to the city. (Strabo, X, 4. 21)

Upon return from the honeymoon, there was a celebration where the boy received three gifts:

The boy is released after receiving as presents a military habit, an ox, and a drinking-cup (these are the gifts required by law), and other things so numerous and costly that the friends, on account of the number of the expenses, make contributions thereto. Now the boy sacrifices the ox to Zeus and feasts those who returned with him; and then he makes known the facts about his intimacy with his lover, whether, perchance, it has pleased him or not, the law allowing him this privilege in order that, if any force was applied to him at the time of the abduction, he might be able at this feast to avenge himself and be rid of the lover. (Strabo, X, 4. 21)

Forever thereafter the eromenos' participation in this institution was noted:

It is disgraceful for those who are handsome in appearance or descendants of illustrious ancestors to fail to obtain lovers, the presumption being that their character is responsible for such a fate. But the parastathentes (for thus they call those who have been abducted)xiv receive honours; for in both the dances and the races they have the positions of highest honour, and are allowed to dress in better clothes than the rest, that is, in the habit given them by their lovers; and not then only, but even after they have grown to manhood, they wear a distinctive dress, which is intended to make known the fact that each wearer has become 'kleinos,' for they call the loved one 'kleinos' and the lover 'philetor.' (Strabo, X, 4. 21)

In addition to Ephorus' detailed description, three sets of antonyms in the Cretans' vocabulary provide important insights into the evolution followed by Greek youths in the system established by Aristotle's lawgiver. These antonyms, not yet fully analyzed in any previous work on Cretan customs,xv are:

apagelos "pre-herder" agelaos "herd member"

apodromos "pre-racer" dromeus "runner," i.e. "gymnast" or "athlete"

skotios "obscure" kleinos "renowned."

The last pair is particularly interesting: skotios is attested in the scholiast on Euripides.xvi The antonym kleinos is explained by Athenaeus (XI, 782c): kleinoi legontai para Kresin hoi eromenoi, spude de autois, paidas harpazein "the beloved are called renowned by the Cretans, since they put much effort into abducting boys." Eustathius of Thessalonica, in commenting on Homer, gave a like explanation in his gloss on Iliad, XX, 280. Skotios designated the boy who had not yet been introducted into society, who had not acquired a lover (in Sparta the analogous term was kryptos "hidden, secret"), while kleinos was the term applied to the boy after his harpagmos "abduction" and two-month "honeymoon" in the wilds with his lover.xvii The semantic opposition accounted for the Cretan use of kleinos in the sense of "the boy loved (by the paiderastes)."

The first pair expressed the contrast between the apagelos (ho medepo synagelazomenos pais ho mechri heptakaideka "the boy who has not yet joined an agele, the one under seventeen," according to Hesychius' gloss), and the agelaos, who has become a member of the "herd." The second pair opposed the apodromos, the boy who has not begun to practice at the gymnasium (which the Cretans called dromos "track"), to the dromeus, whose training had started.xviii

Thus dromeus would be parallel to agelaos (elsewhere agelatas) in designating the male who had reached the age of joining the agele and participating in the military training. Cretan knights underwent it in age-classes, membership in which then made them citizens in the Cretan commonwealth. In Sparta, Boeotia, and Eritrea, which like Crete grouped males strictly in age-classes, young upper-class males made similar transitions at roughly the same ages. In Boeotia and Chalcis, boys of twelve were styled pampaides "fully-grown boys," for which Laconic inscriptions offer the parallel hadropampais.xix

In the law code of Gortyn apodromos occurred only once (VII. 35 ff.) and was immediately contrasted with dromeus (VII. 40 ff.), so that it was equivalent to "minor." It is generally agreed that dromeus meant an adult, one who had attained his majority. The exact age at which a youth became a dromeus is uncertain; some place it at eighteen, others at twenty.

Strabo's account is distressingly vague as to the precise times and terms of passage from one status to another.xx In Sparta, according to Plutarch's "Lycurgus," the life of the male child was divided into six-year periods. The third, beginning after his twelfth year of age, was marked by a far more rigorous regime: the boy no longer wore a tunic, received only one cloak a year, lived in the wild with age-mates, ate hard, dry flesh, was not allowed to bathe or anoint himself except on a few specified days, and could now have a lover. Entry into the fourth age-class amounted to a rite of passage to manhood and the rights and duties of the adult citizen.

The Cretan boy, it would seem, had four or five major transitions in his life: 1) the harpagmos, abduction at approximately the age of twelve by an older lover and mentor that represented his "coming out" into the society of adolescent males, which parallels a change of status at the same age in other Greek city-states and is also the time of life at which the pubescent boy begins to interest the pederast, 2) entrance at the age of seventeen into the agele,xxi 3) the beginning of his military training on the dromos, the open-air exercise ground for track and field events which evolved into the elaborate gymnasium of later centuries, 4) marriage, 5) moving in with his wife, i.e. establishing his own home if this event took place after the actual marriage.
Demographic Consequences
I have suggested that the Cretan system of institutionalized pederasty spread to other parts of Greece because of its success in stemming, at least among the upper classes, the population explosion that began in the eighth century. Our evidence for that success is both theoretical and concrete. Thanks to a model prepared by Hansen,xxii we can observe the general effect that the new Cretan system would have had when it changed the marriage age for males from eighteen or nineteen to thirty. Hansen's table suggests that instead of having 1,925 per 100,000 males in the eighteen to nineteen-year-old category, one would have only 1,570 males eligible for marriage at thirty. In short, there would be about 18% fewer husbands to create families since such a large proportion died between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Moreover, only 54% of the husbands would be alive at age fifty, i.e., twenty years after their marriage instead of 60% of the nineteen-year-old ones. (Because Spartans tended to marry girls of eighteen or nineteen, but Athenians and most other Greeks married girls of fifteen, the demographic effects on Sparta of the demise of nearly half of the thirty-year-old husbands twenty years after their marriage would have produced somewhat lower reproduction rates.)

Except in Sparta, the wives of the fifty-year-old husbands would be on the average only thirty-five and therefore often still fertile when half of them became widows. Unless they remarried, during the last ten years of their fertile period (35-45) they would not produce any children. If, on the other hand, they had married grooms of nineteen, when the grooms reached forty, only one-third of them would have died (1,210 surviving out of 1,920). Thus, a much higher proportion of women would have been fertilized throughout the entire period of their fertility. Consequently, delayed marriages for upper-class males from eighteen or nineteen to thirty would reduce the birth rates significantly, even if the men remained as potent at fifty as they had been at twenty which, of course, is not the case.

One fact surrounding the effect of the new Cretan system is the absence of any colony produced by Crete after the middle of the seventh century. Nor do we hear of immigrants leaving it for established colonies. It gained a reputation for peace, law, and order, a further indication that the segregation of women and late marriage of upper-class males, combined with pederasty, effectively curbed the population increase that was forcing other Hellenes to emigrate, revolt, and struggle with other poleis for fertile lands and trade routes. The Athenian in Plato's Laws commented: "The laws of Crete are held in exceptionally high repute among all the Hellenes" (I, 631b).

Cretans had sent out colonists before the reform ascribed to Onomacritus and Thaletas curbed their population explosion. Until the mid-seventh century Cretans were, like other Greeks, active in trade and colonization, indicating that they had not yet instituted effective birth control measures.xxiii Although Cretans themselves ceased colonizing at a rather early date, evidence for Cretan influence on the western colonies of other poleis abounds. Daedalic architecture and sculpture had Cretan roots. Cretan cultural influence extended west even to Spain. Cretan pitchers with spouts have been found at Massilia (Marseilles) and on Minorca. The name Massilia itself is perhaps Cretan, since it was also borne by a river on Crete. At Costig on Majorca bulls' heads, today found in the Museum in Madrid, have been unearthed whose great similarity to corresponding Cretan artifacts is undeniable. The cult of the bull (Diodorus IV, 18) that prevailed in ancient Spain greatly resembles the Cretan one. The catching of the bulls with nets was as customary on Crete as it is supposed to have been in Plato's Atlantis, the depiction of which was, according to Schulten's illuminating argumentation, inspired by ancient Spanish locales, customs, and historic events.xxiv

Diffusion to Sparta and Other Areas

Before the end of the eighth century, Spartans, Dorian cousins of the Cretans, had settled more than one site in Crete: "well-built" Lyttos and Polyrrhenion, "rich in sheep" (Odyssey, 293). These perhaps, along with the Spartan colony on Thera, which could serve as a way-station on the route from Lacedaemonia to Crete, became conduits of customs from Crete to Sparta.xxv Following Ephorus, Strabo maintained that Spartan colonists, the Lyttians (or Lyctians), borrowed Cretan institutions (X, 4, 17). Aristotle agreed with Ephorus.xxvi Perhaps, however, Thaletas of Gortyn rather than the Spartan colonists provided the critical connection. Whatever the medium, pederasty, along with its associated features, herds of boys, and perhaps certain aristocratic political institutions were imported from Crete to Sparta. As Ephorus stated: "It is said by some writers . . . that most of the Cretan institutions are Laconian, but the truth is that they were invented by the Cretans and only perfected by the Spartans" (X, 4, 17).

Aristotle firmly maintained that Spartans borrowed the segregation of women from the Cretans (Politics, II, 23-25). He asserted that gender segregation was designed to check population growth, as was pederasty, which young adult males substituted for heterosexual contact. Crete was perhaps the only country where homosexuality was not only legal but embodied in constitutions.xxvii

From Crete the Spartans imported not only gymnastic nudity and pederasty but the syssition (common mess), whose old Spartan name, andreion, was the same as that used in Crete. "This is a plain indication of its Cretan origin" (Aristotle, Politics, 1271b 40). There was a significant difference. In Crete the state paid for the meals from public lands and apparently the men took home from the mess food for their wifes and children (Politics, 1271a 26, 1272a 12). In Sparta, as in the Spartan colony on Crete about whose messes we are informed, each member contributed his share and was excluded if he became too poor to do so. The Senate, known as the Gerontes in Sparta and the Boule in Crete, and the ephorate of five men (kosmoi in Crete) came later, but both of these Spartan institutions may well have been imitations of Cretan antecedents (Politics, 1271b 40).xxviii

Regardless of when the Spartans borrowed some of their institutions from Crete, they probably took over pederasty just after the Second Messenian War (635-615), as we shall see. As has so often happened elsewhere, especially in traditional societies, these relatively late importations were in time said to be ancient. To give these radical measures hoary authority, Spartans maintained that "Lycurgus" garnered wisdom in lawgiving on Crete before rather than after enacting his reforms. According to Ephorus, when "Lycurgus" arrived in Crete he studied with Thales [Thaletas] and then went to Egypt to learn about its institutions. Only later did he attempt to "frame the laws" at Sparta (Strabo, X, 4, 19).

Plutarch tells a comparable story, again insisting on "Lycurgus'" training on Crete under Thales.

From Crete he sailed to Asia, with design, as is said, to examine the difference betwixt the manners and rules of life of the Cretans, which were very sober and temperate, and those of the Ionians, a people of sumptuous and delicate habits, and so to form a judgment; just as physicians do by comparing healthy and diseased bodies. Here he had the first sight of Homer's works, in the hands, we may suppose, of the posterity of Creophylus; and, having observed that the few loose expressions and actions of ill example which are to be found in his poems were much outweighed by serious lessons of state and rules of morality, he set himself eagerly to transcribe and digest them into order, as thinking they would be of good use in his own country. They had, indeed, already obtained some slight repute among the Greeks, and scattered portions, as chance conveyed them, were in the hands of individuals; but Lycurgus first made them really known. ("Lycurgus," IV)

Herodotus maintained that "Lycurgus" introduced to Sparta laws and institutions from Crete. He, however, asserted that "Lycurgus" imported the Cretan customs during his regency, not after it, as Ephorus believed (I, 65).

The Pseudo-Platonic Minos also implied Cretan pederastic origins and Spartan borrowings:

SOCRATES. Do you not know which of the Greeks use the most ancient laws?

COMPANION. Do you mean the Spartans, and Lycurgus the lawgiver?

SOC. Why, that is a matter, I dare say, of less than three hundred years ago, or but a little more. But whence is it that the best of those ordinances come? Do you know?

COM. From Crete, so they say.

SOC. Then the people there use the most ancient laws in Greece?

COM. Yes. (318, c-d)

For Spartans, who shared with the Cretans the same dialect, common primitive Dorian institutions, and a similar problem of controlling helots, the Cretan models would be among the first to come to mind and probably the most suitable and easiest to adopt and adapt. "Lycurgus," or rather the authors of the Eunomia who claimed that they were restoring the Lycurgan constitution, visited Crete, adapted institutions needed to perfect the Spartan phalanx and introduced these in oracular fashion.

Removing the element of the abduction, Spartans transformed the Cretan institutions to serve a society in which heavily armored infantrymen -- the hoplites -- replaced cavalry. The Spartan as well as the Cretan system influenced most of the rest of Hellas. But knights in Thessaly and Boeotia, where cavalry reigned longer, may have imported the Cretan system unmodified to adapt it for heavy infantry training and perhaps re-exported it to Chalcis on the neighboring island of Euboea.

In the major trading city of Corinth, with its small contado (surrounding territory), cavalry did not play a large role. A legend holds that Archias, a man from a leading family who loved the boy Actaeon, came to kidnap him. But the father and his relatives, who did not want to yield the boy, pulled him back. In the struggle Actaeon was torn apart.xxix This story hearkens back to the Cretan custom according to which a family, if willing, would allow ritualistic kidnapping. Therefore, the tale may indicate that Corinth borrowed pederasty directly from Crete and not through Sparta, which had abolished the ritual kidnapping.

The brief revival that Crete enjoyed in the middle Archaic Age ended before the beginning of the classical period. By then the Persians had seized the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and cut off the trade with Ionia, Egypt, and the Levant which had made Crete central. Still, even when the classical writers sought to explain the origin of their peculiar institution, they were able to ascertain that it originated in Crete and in relatively recent times.

Cretan pederasty seems more primitive than the Spartan practice or any other for that matter, if only because the ritual kidnapping prevailed only there. So did the two-month "honeymoon" of the couple in the wilds, during which the boy proved himself by hunting. Because similar initiation rituals exist among certain primitives even today, some scholars have assumed that those Cretan practices, along with the nature of the gifts provided to the successful boy upon his return to society by his philetor, presumed a pre-literate origin for Cretan pederasty. Yet, as we have seen, no ancient authority assumed that pederasty had originally been a pan-Dorian, much less a proto-Greek phenomenon. Moreover, most of the myths presume a Cretan origin, and although several posit Thracian or Boeotian origins for Greek pederasty, no one today imagines that it originated in Sparta. It was Sparta, however, not Crete, that became famous for heroic pederasty.

i See, for example, Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1920). Of all of the nineteenth-century German scholars, Meier came closest to the truth about the origins of Greek pederasty, but he avoided making any definitive analysis: "It is therefore most convenient to begin with the states of the Doric tribe, namely those of Crete, all the more as the Cretans are named by some writers [e.g. Servius on the Aeneid, X, 328] as exactly those who first knew boy love and transmitted it to the other Greeks; also not a few myths refer to Crete the institution exercised the most significant influence. Whence it came to Crete, whether the Greeks obtained it from Lydia, as Welcker thinks [in Die Aeschylische Trilogie (1824-26), p. 356], or only the physical abuse of boys, to answer these questions the data are lacking. if then we find boy-love in the most specific and indeed pedagogical form everywhere in the Dorian tribe, then one could designate not so much Crete as the northern districts of Greece, which were the cradle of this tribe, as the areas in which it first developed in this form. The most extensive account of Cretan boy-love we owe to Ephorus. The relationship was here not, as in the other Greek locales, begun by a proposition on the part of the older man, but by abduction (as in Sparta the brides were abducted) . . . . That boy-love in Crete was not free of filthiness and vice is proven by the reproach that Plato [Laws I, 636; VIII, 836] and Plutarch [De puerorum educatione c. 14] express in regard to it, is proven by the saying "Cretan way" for boy-love, and the legislator cannot escape the reproach of having favored an institution that could so easily lead to vileness; but that a so publicly favored establishment that bore such fair fruit of courage [Aelian, Animalium Historia, IV, 1] cannot be ascribed to this filthiness and the intention is attributed to the legislator, probably falsely, by Aristotle [Politics, II, 7, 5] as though he had meant to restrict thereby the increase of the population, should probably be perceived for the honor of the human race, albeit it did lie in the spirit of the Dorian constitution to maintain the equilibrium between population and property, between the number of households (oikoi) and the lots (kleroi) for each, even in a compulsory manner. If lastly in the sagas Harpagias is named as the port from which Ganymede was abducted, we should probably conclude that it was from there that the abduction of the boys in Crete customarily occurred" (Meier [1837] 160-161.

ii Morrow (1960).

iii Van Effenterre (1948) 35-36, 40-44.

iv Morrow (1960) 20-21.

v Best summarized by Beyer (1910) 72 and Sergent (1984) 29 and 262-265.

vi Hirschfeld (1914) 22.

vii I am indebted to Warren Johansson for this information.

viiiFor discussions of the vocabulary of pederasty, see Pogey-Castries (1930), Vorberg (1932), Licht (1932), and Greenberg (1988).

ix Snodgrass (1980) Ch. 1.

x Willetts (1967) 8-10.

xi Hirschfeld (1914).

xii It should be pointed out that whereas Diels (1891) 395ff. affirmed the reality of Epimenides, Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1891) 243ff. denied it.

xiii "In Crete all those who are selected out of the 'Troop' of boys at the same time are forced to marry at the same time, although they do not take the girls whom they have married to their own homes immediately, but as soon as the girls are qualified to manage the affairs of the house. A girl's dower, if she has brothers, is half of the brother's portion. The children must learn, not only their letters, but also the songs prescribed in the laws and certain forms of music" (Strabo, X, 4, 20). Willetts believed on the basis of the Ekdysia, a festival at the Dorian Cretes' city of Phaistos to celebrate the final step in the process of the honeymoon and return to acceptance into society as an adult, that "At the conclusion of the Ekdysia, the newly enfranchised young men also participated in mass marriage ceremonies" (1955) 121, n. 27. This may have occurred, but as they were only about twenty, they did not live with their "wives" for many years.

xiv In the mountains, the adult philetor (lover) taught the parastates (literally, comrade and bystander in the ranks of battle and life, but practically shield bearer) to hunt. According to Hirschfeld, "Parastates was probably a designation of the later relationship and referred to the position in the chorus and army. Cf. parastates in Aristotle, Politics III, I, 4" (Hirschfeld [1914] 764 n. 90). The boy's killing of a large animal proved his prowess, as later among some German tribes.

xv The fullest treatment is in Willetts (1955) 10-14.

xvi Alcestis 989: theon skotioi. Kretes de tus anebus skotius legusi ("Obscure [children] of the gods. The Cretans call minors obscure"). Ruijgh (1957) 108 comments on this use of skotios without realizing the contrast to kleinos.

xvii Jeanmaire (1939) 326 maintained that skotios and kryptos both refer exclusively to the boy while "secluded" on his honeymoon, but this is improbable.

xviii Eustathius on Iliad, VIII, 518 says: Kretes de apodromus, u dia to pepauthai ton dromon ("The Cretans call [ephebi] pre-racers, from not frequenting the dromoi").

xix Kretschmer (1911) 269f. See also Meister (1963) Band 241, 5, Abhandlung, pp. 9-15.

xx Willetts (1955) 13, n. 2) added: "Guarducci reads pentekaidekadromos (fifteen-racer) in the Code, XI 34. Cf. X. HG 3.4.23: Ton deka aph' hebes (of those forty from adolescence), and also the meaning 'finito ephebiae tempore ex agela exire' which it seems necessary to attach to the word egdramein (IC I.XVI.5.21 and Guarducci ad loc.), which verb would thus mean "to graduate from the agele."

xxi The belief that a boy remained in the agele for ten years, for example in Daremberg-Saglio, rests solely upon the gratuitous emendation of a corrupt gloss in the manuscript and editio princeps of Hesychius by Valckenaer (1739) 54: dekadromoi: hoi deka ete en tois andrasi eskekotes ("ten-racers: those who have for ten years trained among the men"). But a comparison of the remark of Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180) in Eustathius' commentary on Odyssey VIII 247: en Krete, apodromous, dia to medepo ton koinon dromon metechein ("in Crete, [the ephebi are called] pre-racers, from not yet taking part in the common races [gymnastic training]") indicates that the correct reading of the lemma is rather: dekadromoi: hoi deka en tois andrasi dromon meteschekotes, hypo Kreton ("ten-racers: those who have taken part among the [adult] men in ten races [athletic contests], in the dialect of the Cretans"), so that pentekaidekadromos would mean "one who taken part in fifteen races."

xxii Hansen explained the origins of his model: "Now, there has never been a reliable and detailed population census in a society which had a life expectancy at birth of less than 30 years. So we lack empirical data; but for about two decades we have had at our disposal computerized models of all possible (stable) populations at 24 different mortality levels (ranging from 20 to 75.5 years for females), and for each mortality level the age distribution is recorded for various growth rates (ranging from an annual decrease of 1% to an annual increase of 5%). Four different demographic system (called Model West, North, East and South) have been computed at all 24 mortality levels. The authors suggest utilizing Model West where there is no reliable guide to the age pattern of mortality actually prevailing. I have followed their advice but one should note that, for my purposes, the variations between the four model populations are so small that the other models might have served equally well. Thus, for this study, I suggest, as a proper analogy: Model West, males, mortality level 4 (life expectancy at birth: 25.26 years) and growth rate 5.00 (an annual increase of 1/2%)" (Hansen [1985] 11). Hansen believed that Model West (the European experience between 1500 and 1750) was most analogous to classical Greece because after 1750 the lower mortality rates distorted what happened in history. I transfer this model from classical to Archaic Greece with many reservations.

xxiii "Soon after the middle of the seventh century the Theran party sailed for North Africa, and were guided by a Cretan to the offshore island of Platea . . . Crete joined Rhodes in founding Gela [c. 690, 45 years after the foundation of Syracuse, Thucydides VI, 4, 3], but Cretan (?) flasks are found in earlier Euboean colonies, and it may be that the island shared with Corinth some of the trade in perfume to the west . . . . The last of the major Dorian foundations in Sicily was a joint effort by the Rhodians and Cretans. Thucydides dates it to 688 . . . . Acragas (Agrigento) was founded in 580 by Gela, and by the Rhodian settlers there, with reinforcements from home, rather than by the Cretans" (Boardman [1964] 43, 160, 170, 179, 190, 198).

xxiv Schulten (1922); Hennig (1934) 57. Warren Johansson has taken this information from a letter written by Professor Schulten.

xxv Bury (1975) 99.

xxvi "The Cretan constitution is similar to the Lacedaemonian; in some few particulars it is certainly no worse, but in general it is less finished. It is said, and it appears to be true, that to a very great extent the Cretan constitution was taken as a model by the Lacedaemonian. (Generally, later forms of constitution are more fully developed than earlier.) They say that Lycurgus, after laying down his guardianship of King Charillus, went abroad and on that occasion spent most of his time in Crete. He chose Crete because the two peoples were akin, the Lyctians being colonists from Sparta; and when the colonists came, they found the inhabitants at that time living under a legal system which they then adopted. Hence to this day the peripheral populations use those laws unchanged, believing Minos to have established the legal system in the first place" (Politics, 1271b).

xxvii Buffière (1980) 62.

xxviii Another case of borrowing, according to Ephorus, was the class of knights (Hippeis), who in Crete seem actually to have ridden horses in battle long after the hoplite displaced them in Sparta (X, 4. 18), but knights may at one time have been common to Dorians. Cretans like early Spartans divided themselves into the three traditional tribes found among other Dorian peoples. The phratry seems to have been of Indo-European origin. The Cretan agora, so similar to the Spartan apellas, may have descended from a common Dorian institution. Thus Cretans and Spartans brought the class of knights, the phratries, and the three tribes with them to the peninsula and instituted serfdom in situ.

xxix Scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes IV 1212; Diodorus Siculus, VIII, 10; Plutarch, Dialogue on Love 772 EF, Maximus of Tyre 24, cf. Alexander Aetolus v. 7 in Parthenenius 14.

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