Gay Relationships Through History: Ancient Greece

Zeus and Ganymede Statue

The practice of an older man taking on a younger lover is one that has occurred for thousands of years. One particular variety of this type of relationship dates all the way back to the 7th century BCE in Crete. The concept is called pederasty, and consisted of a relationship between a mature male, who had already established himself in society, and a younger man.

In ancient Greece pederasty was seen as a rite of passage for boys. While the relationship was often sexual (but not always), it was also the way that boys could learn how to function as men in society. The relationship is thought to have benefitted both the older man, referred to as the erastês, and the younger male, termed the erômenos. Where the erastes would benefit from the younger man’s youth and beauty, the erômenos would benefit from the older man’s care, protection, and wisdom. It was a mentor-mentee relationship wherein the erastês, finding himself taken by the younger man, would begin a long courting process, often accompanying the young man to symposia, which were aristocratic gatherings where topics of politics and philosophy were debated and where men went to brag, swap stories, and generally booze it up.

The relationship between the erastês and erômenos was taken seriously, and the older man was required to not only court the boy to win his approval, but also seek permission from the boy’s father before continuing on with the courtship. The young men were often courted by many suitors at once and were therefore able to choose who they wanted to partner up with. Similarly, the pairing wasn’t set for the whole of the boy’s youth, and if a relationship went awry, it was possible to end it—hopefully amicably, although often times the end was a turbulent one.  Phillip II of Macedon was said to have learned that the hard way. When Phillip tried to trade in his eromanos lover Pausanias for a younger model, he unintentionally set off a sequence of events that led to his assassination at the hands of Pausanias.

Ancient Greek mythology doesn’t want for good ManLove drama. Homosexual relationships were so accepted by the society that even Zeus was said to have taken on the young mortal Ganymede as his lover. Following the pederastic tradition, Zeus sought Ganymede’s father’s approval by giving the father beautiful horses in exchange for the boy. Not exactly the most romantic courtship, but Zeus wasn’t that romantic of a god. When Zeus brought Ganymede to Mount Olympus to mingle with the other Olympians, all the gods adored Ganymede’s youthfulness.

All the gods, that is, except Hera, Zeus’s wife. She was understandably not so big on the situation.

By Claire Deschain, Staff Contributor


photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

2 comments

  1. E.A. Reynolds /

    I read about that years ago and thought it was amazing.

  2. Thanks for the overview of this aspect of ancient Greece culture.
    The best way to learn more is to Visit-Ancient-Greece.com
    Cheers,

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