three pairs of lovers with space



                     by Pierre Joubert


There are several grounds for believing that the institutionalised pederasty of the ancient Greeks originated, like their oldest civilisation, on their largest island. The peculiar customs concerning it there are described in pederasty in ancient Crete. Whether or not through her lawgiver Lykourgos, as was believed, Sparta imported some Cretan customs during the dark age, probably including pederastic ones, while adapting them to her own special ends, the results of which are described in pederasty in ancient Sparta.


Two accounts are given of the most celebrated love affair that was Greek in both senses, that of the tyrannicides Harmodios and Aristogeiton in 514 BC.


The following stories drawn from ancient authors have been selected for their charm and their ability to bring to life the ancient practice of Greek love.

On Tyranny and Love is a debate from Xenophon's Hieron between a ruler and a poet as to whether being a ruler was an advantage in love affairs with boys.

Sophokles as a boy-lover is two anecdotes about the well-known Athenian tragedian from Athenaios's Deipnosophistai (The Learned Banqueters).

Surely the most amusing anecdote concerning Greek love in antiquity is  The story of the Pergamese boy from Petronius's Satyricon, written in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) and sometimes called the world's first novel.

Eighteen of the first twenty-six Roman emperors are recorded as involved in Greek love affairs, whether as boys, men or both. This does not mean the other seven were not; simply that it was not thought worth remarking on, a point proven by Suetonius's mention of Claudius liking only females as one of his oddities.  One other preferred men, two expressed disapproval of pederasty on stoical principles, one died aged nine and three had little if anything recorded of their sexual interests. The much-admired Trajan was the emperor most noted for his special love of boys. Hadrian and Antinous is the story of his great successor and the boy he made a god, as recounted by all the surviving ancient writings. The last of the twenty-six was a boy-emperor whose shocking sexual antics with men were recounted in  "Sardanapallos" by Cassius Dio and Antoninus Heliogabalus by Lampridius. Thereafter the position of pederasty in the Roman Empire began to deteriorate, gradually at first, then rapidly with the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century.


Here are the first in a series of intended articles about Greek love as practised by the Greeks themselves:

Did the Greeks pedicate their loved boys?

The role of the fighting cock in Greek pederasty


Pederasty in ancient Persia brings together all the ancient sources on this subject.


The Entimos Pais of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 by Donald Mader is a scholarly article showing that the Roman centurion's pais said to have been miraculously cured of mortal illness by Jesus may well have been understood by the latter to have been the centurion's loved boy.


Ancient Texts

As a resource for scholars, it is intended here to give every passage touching on Greek love in as many ancient texts as possible.  Some of the English translations are from an era when sexually explicit phrases and frank references to homosexuality were often judged unfit for translation. They have been amended here for accuracy where accurate understanding of Greek love is at stake, but all such amendments are explained in footnotes. In any case, the original Greek or Latin is provided for scholars who wish to check the accuracy of the translations for themselves.  Some of the links here repeat the foregoing ones.

On the Alexandrine War

Arrian, The Anabasis of Alexander

The Augustan History: Hadrian, Verus to Diadumenianus, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus to Carinus.

Cassius Dio, Roman History: LXVIII: AD 98-117; LXIX: 117-138; LXXIII-LXXVII: 180-211; LXXX: 218-229 (end).

Cicero, On the Republic

Curtius Rufus, Histories of Alexander the Great

Herodian's History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus

Julian, The Caesars

Plutarch, The Life of Agesilaos

Plutarch, The Lives of Agis and Kleomenes

Plutarch, The Life of Alexander

Plutarch, The Life of Alkibiades

Plutarch, The Life of Demetrios

Plutarch, The Life of Kimon

Plutarch, The Life of Lykourgos

Plutarch, The Life of Pelopidas

Plutarch, The Life of Solon

Plutarch, The Life of Themistokles

Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars

Xenophon, Agesilaos

Xenophon, Anabasis

Xenophon, Constitution of the Lakedaimonians

Xenophon, Hellenika

Xenophon, Hieron

If a link here leads to a text within an article that includes other texts, it may be assumed that the said text has the entire Greek love content of the work linked. To increase the usefulness of this survey, the ancient texts found to have no Greek love content are listed next:

Arrian: - Events after Alexander; Indica; Parthica.
Augustan History: - All books not listed above.
Cassius Dio, - Roman History: Books LXX-LXXII and LXXVIII-LXXIX.
Plutarch: - Lives: Artaxerxes, Brutus, Caesar, Coriolanus, Dion, Eumenes, Fabius Maximus, Lysandros, Otho, Phokion, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Timoleon.
Tacitus: Agricola; Germania.