Situational Homosexuality and Demography



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Situational Homosexuality and Demography
Greek pederasty was in fact one of the most obvious and lasting survivals from the feudal "Middle Ages." Greek homosexuality was of a military type. It was quite different from the inversion which is bound up with the rites of initiation and the duties of a priesthood . . . [L]ove between men is a recurring feature of military societies, in which men tend to be shut in upon themselves. The exclusion -- the utter absence -- of women inevitably means an increase in masculine love . . . The phenomenon is more accentuated in a military milieu, for here, with the glorification of an ideal made up of masculine virtues like strength and valour and loyalty, with the cultivation of a distinctively masculine pride, there goes a tendency to depreciate the normal love of a man for a women. (Henri-Irénée Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, London, 1956)
Yet another explanation for the origins of Greek pederasty came from a professor at the University of Paris. As if inspired by the martyred Jewish leader of the Resistance, the renowned medievalist Marc Bloch, Henri-Irénée Marrou envisaged a Greek Dark Age populated by lusty knights living in crude castles or citadels. These men, he reckoned, had sexual relations with their young squires given the absence of ladies to share the rough life of the castle. Marrou had little to say in defense of his theory despite the absence of any indication in the sources that Greek knights were particularly given to pederasty. Other of his points have arisen above. He, too, felt, for example, that Homer made no mention of pederasty because the poet was too reticent or too embarrassed to include the practice in his epic.i However, even if we could believe that Homer had such inhibitions, the argument fails to explain why for a full century and a half after the end of the Dark Age all other poets and artists depicted a society that had none of the basic concomitants of institutionalized pederasty. Terpander, Simonides, Callinus, Tyrtaeus, and perhaps most significantly Archilochus, who was uninhibited in describing heterosexual acts, did not mention pederasty or, for that matter, any other form of homo-sexuality.ii Equally unconvincing is Marrou's apparent assumption that the situational homosexuality he posited for the Dark Age knights changed forever the sexual practices of these men. As modern studies, including the Kinsey report, have shown, the majority of men who find themselves in the conditions hypothesized by Marrou for Greek knights revert to heterosexuality when the opportunity presents itself.

Despite the many imperfections in Marrou's thesis, it does raise one important point for our investigation: the possibility that certain situations and certain developments in Greek society which fostered contact between males may have accustomed them to accept or even develop a taste for such behavior and thus prepared the way for the institutionalization of pederasty. Listen to Murray describe the early Archaic poleis:

In later Greek society respectable women were largely confined to their quarters, and took little part in male social activities at home or in public. This change in status is probably related to the movement from an estate-centred life to a city-centred one: the urbanization of Greek culture in most communities saw the increasing exclusion of women from important activities such as athletics, politics, drinking parties and intellectual discussion; these characteristically group male activities resulted also in the growth in most areas of that typically aristocratic Greek phenomenon, male homosexuality -- though in the Symposium (182a) Plato mentions Ionia as an exception.iii

Although soldiering, education, seafaring, travel, colonies, and politics have rarely been considered from a homosocial angle, some studies have appeared. B. R. Burg's (1983) on seventeenth-century English pirates, J. Gathorne Hardy's (1978), J. R. de Symons Honey's (1977), and J. Chandos' (1984) on English public schools, and P. Fussell's (1975) and P. Parker's (1987) on the military, G. Dall'Orto's (1981) and T. Maasen's (1988) studies on the eros tradition are pertinent and show how in certain environments males often had their most intimate relationships.


Womenless Colonists
Setting out from the Greek peninsula to flee the drought and/or invaders, colonists became a regular part of Greek history after 1000. Aeolians and Ionians fled during the Dark Age to the Aegean islands and the Anatolian coasts, and some Dorians followed later. Many of the founding bands of Greek colonists were entirely male, given the dangers and rigors that accompanied moving into enemy territory. A colony might include the wife of the founder or a priestess, but probably more colonists took native brides (or boys) rather than import wives from the homeland. In any case, for long periods the original colonists remained without access to females; new arrivals in the later decades also often came without women. When the colony was well-established, its inhabitants would often ask the mother city to send them wives, but evidence from the whole colonial period indicates that normally colonists took native brides, as sources say they did in Marseilles, Cyrene, Miletus, and Thasos.

Besides being for long periods without women of their own background or without equal numbers of females of any sort, the colonists were often estranged to a certain extent from their native wives. Sometimes they did not eat with them and perhaps lived apart from them more than was the custom in the homeland. Pausanias stated that "the Ionians overwhelmed the original Milesians, killed the entire male population except for those who ran away when the city fell, and married their wives and daughters" (VII, 2.3). Herodotus said that when the Ionian immigrants to Miletus married native women after slaughtering their fathers, husbands, and sons, their wives enacted a law, which they swore to observe, "that none should ever sit at meat with her husband, or call him by his name" (I, 146). In Cyrene, where the colonists also married natives (Pindar, Ninth Pythian Ode), their wives purportedly declined to dine with their husbands because like the Egyptians they refused to eat beef or pork (Herodotus, IV, 186).iv

How often native boys served the sexual needs of these colonists, one can only speculate, but judging from modern-day experiences situational homosexuality must have been very prevalent, both with native boys and amongst the colonists themselves. In 1796, eight years after the first convicts landed in Australia, Francis Wilkinson was accused of buggery. In 1822 a rumor circulated that women had been sent there to prevent men from committing "unnatural crimes." In 1832 and 1837 Parliament obtained evidence of the prevalence of sodomy in the colonies. Convicts called each other "sods," and boy convicts had names like Kitty and Nancy. One chain-gang prisoner lamented that his companions were "so far advanced . . . in depravity" that they openly engaged "in assignations one toward the other" and "kicked, struck or otherwise abused" anyone who dared to condemn "their horrid propensities."v
Mariners, Soldiers, and Their Mates
After the population explosion that began in 800, the less crowded islands beckoned to the Greeks more than ever. In addition, their trade was expanding exponentially. With better ships and greater skills, these intrepid mariners could undertake even longer voyages that fostered not only comradeship but also homosexuality. It is surprising to me that the Odyssey is silent about such activity. Even Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica has no overt homosexuality other than the affair between Heracles and Hylas, which allegedly began before their expedition. Homosexual flirtations and affairs among mariners must, however, have occurred.

Prolonged absences from home in army service could also stimulate homosexual feelings and activities. Xenophon (Anabasis, VII, 4) speaks of certain commanders who allowed their troops to take boyfriends as well as women along, but many troops must have turned to each other, then as now for sexual relief.vi

In the phalanxes and perhaps also in the cavalry after the institutionalization of pederasty, lover and beloved sometimes fought side by side. On Crete a boyfriend came to be called parastates ("one who stands beside [in battle]"). There was, of course, the famous Sacred Band in fourth-century Thebes made up of 150 pairs of lovers and another less famous one in Elis. How often Spartans and others fought alongside their lovers after the institutionalization of pederasty is not easy to determine. As to whether they did so earlier or whether a squire or driver might often or even normally have become a sexual partner (presumably passive) of his superior is certainly open to question although some later Greeks imagined just such behavior about certain heroes of the Trojan War. Eubulus' remark about that battle: "No one ever set eyes on a single hetaira [prostitute]; they wanked them-selves for ten years. It was a poor sort of campaign: for the capture of one city, they went home with arses much wider than (sc. the gates of) the city that they took" (fr. 120) may well reflect traditions of his own day in the army.vii
"Nouveaux pauvres," Poor Farmers, Emigrants, Paupers, and Slaves
When speaking above of the mariners' long trips, I mentioned how a population explosion after 800 compelled the Greeks to set sail for less crowded areas of the Mediterranean. The effects at home of such overpopulation were even more profound. The explosion may have occurred because of the gradual immunization of the population to diseases that had previously ravaged the region. Perhaps also the population had been so thinned by the original onslaught and the periodic return of epidemics that it was no longer dense enough for certain diseases to transmit themselves effectively from one human host to another. In any case, after 800, when the climate may also have improved, a healthier and better fed population multiplied, expanding at the fastest rate imaginable.viii If McNeill (1976) and the demographers and epidemiologists that he summarized are correct, general advances and declines in population are most likely to occur because of changes in human immunity and diseases, but these causes can and often do operate together with more traditional factors to bring about demo-graphic booms or busts that can last for several centuries. Die offs and system collapses may be easier to envisage as the result of microbes and their evolutions than of human actions.ix

By the middle of the seventh century, when good colonial sites were running out, population pressure at home became intolerable, threatening to impoverish the Greeks. The English archeologist Snodgrass claimed (largely on the basis of the growth in datable burials in Attica within two thirty-year generations in the eighth century) that the population increased well over 3% per annum (700%). That is not higher than the rate experienced by the most rapidly increasing populations today in certain Third World countries. It may have been achieved in ancient Greece (whatever the effect of microbes) because the abundant food supplies that better weather and technology made possible were coupled with high birth rates due to early marriages and lack of contraception. From Snodgrass' arguments one can extrapolate a population of about 150,000 at the nadir between 1000 and 800 (approximately one-fourth of the 800,000 attained by Myceneans). Seven times that figure yields about 1,000,000 people around the year 700. By 600 the total Greek-speaking population, including all the overseas extensions, may have doubled to 2,000,000.

Although Camp (1979) strongly disagreed with Snodgrass' conclusions and Morris (1987) argued that the increase in population from 800 to 700 may not have been so great as the seven-fold figure postulated by Snodgrass, Sallares strongly endorsed Snodgrass and like me believed that a great and general population expansion took place more or less from 800 to 480.x Indeed, no one can deny that the Greek population was far greater in 600 and certainly by 500 than in 1000. In that regard no one would claim that Hesiod's Works and Days fails to represent hardship due to overpopulation during the early and perhaps the middle Archaic Age as well. It suggested that marriage for men was desirable only at around thirty.xi His Theogony enjoined against having more than one son, although it recognized the need of having children to provide for one's old age, which it foresaw as needy. Fear of poverty owing to overpopulation lay behind the injunction: "There should be only one son, to feed his father's house, for so wealth will increase in the home; but if you leave a second son you should die old" (Theogony, 376-382; 603-613). Other signs of the population problem come from the small island of Ceos. There people who lived to sixty were compelled to drink hemlock, apparently regardless of their rank. Even Ceos' most famous poet Simonides was said to have fled into exile in his fifties to avoid that fate (Strabo, Geography, X, 486). The Cypria, ascribed to Stasinus of Cyprus, too, speaks of the hardships of overpopulation: "There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world" (3).

In such a time, many small farmers and craftsmen must have been too poor to marry or even ever to form any permanent liaison with females at all. These people, who mingled with the paupers and indeed fell into their ranks, often had similar problems securing sexual relief and probably turned to one form or another of homosexuality, perhaps with the street boys or orphans of the day. We have, however, no incontrovert-able evidence at all of their homosexuality before the Late Archaic period.


Levantine Origins?
Although I have been suggesting that developments within the Greek world such as overpopulation and situational homosexuality constituted important elements in the background to institutionalized pederasty, another school of thought has implied since the eighteenth century that Levantines and more specifically Lydians corrupted the ancient Greeks. The Greeks were seen as morally upstanding Aryans, induced by the Levantines to inject a sensual, sexual dimension into what had previously been a religious ritual between males or merely a pure comradeship.xii This perspective thrived in the nineteenth century, when European racists assigned the Hellenes a special genius and moral as well as physical superiority.

Search as they did, Aryan supremacists could find no evidence to substantiate their hypotheses. In spite of the fact that kedeshim and other forms of male temple prostitution and transgenderal homo-sexuality abounded in the ancient Near East,xiii the less religious Hellenes failed to build large-scale temples with permanent staff or to establish priesthoods of significance, thus remaining alien to the idea of male temple prostitutes. Moreover, even when Greeks institutional-ized pederasty, they produced a far different custom from that practiced in the Near East. Not only was it not associated with temples, but it had nothing to do with eunuchs, effeminates, transvestites, shamans, or slaves. The Greek boys grew up to be the equal of their patrons. Aristocratic and athletic, they trained for war and citizenship.xiv

Not a single ancient ever argued that the Greeks acquired the institution of pederasty from any other people. Proud of their unique form of pederasty, the Greeks were acutely aware that they did not borrow it from barbarians. In fact, it is worth repeating here that Plato accounted pederasty, philosophy and nude sports as the three things that set the Hellenes apart from the barbarians (Symposium, 182B). Herodotus of Halicarnassus, one of the Greek cities located closest to the Near East and Egypt, claimed very specifically that the Persians "learned pederasty from the Greeks" (I, 135).xv

Middle Archaic Innovations: A New View
If, as I have tried to suggest, it is difficult to find evidence that institutionalized pederasty arose among the earliest Indo-Europeans or even the proto-Greeks, we must now propose and justify its appearance at a later date. The correct time, I believe, was the middle Archaic Age (between 650 and 600), a period of considerable innovation in many fields.

In art a decisive change occurred after 650. The geometric style associated with the early Archaic Age contained numerous silouhettes of human forms as well as of animals and other objects such as ships and chariots, but they were still more abstract than realistic in nature. Prior to 650, we see at best a trend away from the earlier linear style and toward the larger and more numerous figures that occasionally interrupted the geometric patterns once dominant on the surface of the ceramics. About 650 a precise break with the remnants of the geometric style finally takes place. The new mode emphasized figures rather than lines.

The sculpture of the early Archaic Age, too, resembles that of the Proto-geometric more than it does the art that came after 650, when the first monumental statues, strongly influenced by Egyptian art, appeared. The crude early Archaic statues were small, whether in wood, clay, ivory, or bronze. They were usually free-standing because few large buildings decorated with reliefs or murals were erected. Although male nudity was the rule and female nudity, the exception, neither was particularly erotic before 650. Similarly, the few extant life-size statues (mostly mutilated) and vase paintings, like the literature of the same early Archaic period, provide no evidence that adolescents received training from men who were approximately ten years their senior or exercised nude. None of the gods or heroes, except perhaps Orpheus or other imports from Thrace or Asia, were said to practice or shown practicing pederasty before the last decades of the seventh century. The earliest firm evidence of such activity comes from the seventh century, not the eighth century, despite statements by Bowra and Sergent to the contrary.xvi

Traditionalists who believe that all important classical institutions took shape either in the early eighth century or in the decades before 480 miss not only the "orientalizing" of art and its focus on the male body, but also the great institutional innovations in Crete and Sparta in the middle of that age. At that time Sparta and colonies prone to innovation and experimentation imported from Crete a number of key institutions associated with institutionalized pederasty: symposia, seclusion of women, and gymnastic nudity. These institutions endured as long as classical civilization did.




i Marrou (1956) 26-31.

ii Dover (1978) 195.

iii Murray (1980) 44.

iv Rouge (1970) passim.

v Dynes (1990) “Australia.”

vi See Berube (1990) for modern examples.

vii I use Dover's translation of Eubulus (1978) 135.

viii For a discussion of climate changes in this part of the Mediterranean, see the theory of Rhys Carpenter (1986), according to which a shift north in the trade winds c. 1200 led to drought in Palestine, Syria, central Anatolia, Crete, and much of the Peloponnesus.

ix Sallares (1991) 221-293 did not accept this theory. He argued that the breakdown of the age-class system (see below "Cretan Knights") and of compulsory pederasty, which he thought had been instituted to curb births and continued only in Crete and Sparta, caused the population explosion everywhere else.

x Sallares (1991) 84.

xi "Bring home a wife to your house when you are of the right age, while you are not far short of thirty years nor much above; this is the right age for marriage. Let your wife have been grown up four years, and marry her in the fifth. Marry a maiden, so that you can teach her careful ways, and especially marry one who lives near you, but look well about you and see that your marriage will not be a joke to your neighbors" (695-702).

xii Prominent supporters of this theory are Gesner (1767), Welcker (1816), Meier (1837), and Patzer (1982).

xiii Dynes (1990) "Kadesh."

xiv Isocrates, whose Bousiris, portrayed Egypt as the most blessed of lands, added that "in former times any barbarians who were in misfortune presumed to be rulers over the Greek cities [for example] Danaos, an exile from Egypt, occupied Argos; Kadmos from Sidon became king of Thebes . . ." (Helen, X. 68). This has given occasion to those ancients who supported a Theban origin of pederasty through Laius, king of Thebes, to connect its introduction to the Near East, but no moderns have argued this line of thought.

xv On the other hand, he noted that the Greeks adopted the phallic procession and Dionysiac ritual, along with, he thought "all the gods" from Egypt: "Now I have an idea that Melampous . . . introduced the name of Dionysus into Greece, together with the sacrifice in his honour and the phallic procession . . . . Probably Melampous got his knowledge about Dionysos through Kadmos of Tyre and the people who came with him from Phoenicia to the country now called Boiotia. The names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from Egypt. I know from the enquiries I have made that they came from abroad, and it seems most likely that it was from Egypt, for the names of all the gods have been known in Egypt from the beginning of time . . . These practices, then, and others which I shall speak of later, were borrowed by the Greeks from Egypt" (II, 49-51). Bernal in essence agrees (1987) 67.

xvi Bowra (1957) 40; Sergent (1986) 103ff.


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