PEDERASTY IN ANCIENT CRETE
Here are brought together all the important ancient texts on the practise of pederasty in Crete. The subject deserves specialised consideration because of its special characteristics. First, we have the authority of two ancient writers that pederasty originated in Crete, whence it spread to Sparta and elsewhere, and the evidence from artefacts shown here confirms this is likely to be true as far as ubiquitous or institutionalised Greek pederasty is concerned. Secondly, the passages from both our main informant, Ephoros (come down to us through Strabon), and Athenaios suggest pederasty was even more popular and more firmly institutionalised there than elsewhere in Greece. Indeed the passage from Ephoros says it is about Cretan “love affairs” in general, and by then ignoring all that were not between men and boys, rather implies that only the latter kind were of significance. Thirdly, so far as is known, the practice of ritualized pederastic abduction described by Ephoros was peculiar to Crete, and may afford insight into the archaic origins of Greek pederasty.
Taken together, the stories briefly summarised below in Strabon’s Geography XVI 4 xii and Konon’s Narrations XVI suggest that suitors for boys being put to the test with challenges may have been typical in Cretan folklore.
The following extracts are presented in the chronological order of the writers cited rather than those through whom their information has come down to us. In two of them, the Latinised names used by the translators have, for consistency, been replaced with romanisation of the Greek. Not included here are two brief references in Plato’s Laws to the prevalence of pederasty in both Sparta and Crete (636b-d) and the responsibility of gymnasia in giving rise to it (836b-d).
Strabon, Geography X 4
The first edition of this work was published in 7 BC and the last by AD 23, but the longer second passage given here was taken by him from the universal history of Ephoros of Kyme, written in the mid-fourth century B.C. The fourth chapter of Book X is all a description of Crete.
The translation of section xii is by H. L. Jones in The Geography of Strabo V, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928, while that of section xxi is by Thomas Hubbard in his Homosexuality in Greece and Rome (University of California Press, 2003), pp. 72-3.
|From Leben came Leukokomas and his lover Euxynthetos, the story of whom is told by Theophrastos in his treatise On Love. Of the tasks which Leukokomas assigned to Euxynthetos, one, he says, was this — to bring back his dog from Prasos. The country of the Prasians borders on that of the Lebenians, being seventy stadia distant from the sea and a hundred and eighty from Gortyn.||ἐκ δὲ Λεβῆνος ἦν Λευκοκόμας τε καὶ ὁ ἐραστὴς αὐτοῦ Εὐξύνθετος, οὓς ἱστορεῖ Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ ἔρωτος λόγῳ, ἄθλων ὧν ὁ Λευκοκόμας τῷ Εὐξυνθέτῳ προσέταξεν ἕνα φήσας εἶναι τοῦτον, τὸν ἐν Πράσῳ κύνα ἀναγαγεῖν αὐτῷ: ὅμοροι δ᾽ εἰσὶν αὐτοῖς οἱ Πράσιοι, τῆς μὲν θαλάττης ἑβδομήκοντα Γόρτυνος δὲ διέχοντες ἑκατὸν καὶ ὀγδοήκοντα.|
|They have a unique custom with regard to love affairs. For they do not win their boyfriends through persuasion, but through abduction. The lover warns the boy's friends and family three or more days in advance that he is going to carry out the abduction. It is most shameful for them to hide the boy or not allow him to travel the appointed road, as this is viewed as a confession that the boy is unworthy of such a lover. When they meet him, if the abductor is a man equal to or surpassing the boy in social standing and all else, they fight and pursue him only a bit, enough to fulfill what is customary, and after that they turn the boy over and enjoy the occasion. But if the abductor is unworthy, they prevent him from taking the boy. The pursuit ends when the boy is brought to the men's building of the one who seized him. They think most desirable not the boy distinguished by beauty but the one distinguished by bravery and good behavior. After giving him presents, he takes the boy away to any place in the countryside he wishes, and those who were present at the abduction accompany them; after feasting and hunting together for two months—for it is not permitted to keep the boy away any longer than that—they come down to the city. The boy is set free upon receiving as gifts military equipment, an ox, a drinking cup—these are the traditional gifts—and many other things, at such expense that the lover's friends also contribute because of the magnitude of his expenses. The boy sacrifices this ox to Zeus and holds a feast for those who came down with him; then he gives his opinion of his time with his lover, whether it has happened to please him or not, for the custom gives him this prerogative, in order that, if violence has been used against him in the course of the abduction, he have the power at this point to avenge himself and escape. For those who are good looking and from illustrious families it is a disgrace not to get a lover, since it is assumed that they suffer this because of their manner of living. The "sidekicks"—this is their name for those who were abducted—receive special honors in the dances and the most honored places at the races, and they are permitted to outfit themselves differently from the others, in the equipment they have received from their lovers. And not only then, but also when they are grown, they wear an outfit distinct from those of other men, from which each of them will be recognized as kleinos (famous). For they call the boyfriend a kleinos, and they call the lover a philētor (lover). These then are their customs regarding love affairs.|| ἴδιον δ᾽ αὐτοῖς τὸ περὶ τοὺς ἔρωτας νόμιμον: οὐ γὰρ πειθοῖ κατεργάζονται τοὺς ἐρωμένους ἀλλ᾽ ἁρπαγῇ: προλέγει τοῖς φίλοις πρὸ τριῶν ἢ πλειόνων ἡμερῶν ὁ ἐραστὴς ὅτι μέλλει τὴν ἁρπαγὴν ποιεῖσθαι: τοῖς δ᾽ ἀποκρύπτειν μὲν τὸν παῖδα ἢ μὴ ἐᾶν πορεύεσθαι τὴν τεταγμένην ὁδὸν τῶν αἰσχίστων ἐστίν, ὡς ἐξομολογουμένοις ὅτι ἀνάξιος ὁ παῖς εἴη τοιούτου ἐραστοῦ τυγχάνειν: συνιόντες δ᾽, ἂν μὲν τῶν ἴσων ἢ τῶν ὑπερεχόντων τις ᾖ τοῦ παιδὸς τιμῇ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ὁ ἁρπάζων, ἐπιδιώκοντες ἀνθήψαντο μόνον μετρίως τὸ νόμιμον ἐκπληροῦντες, τἆλλα δ᾽ ἐπιτρέπουσιν ἄγειν χαίροντες: ἂν δ᾽ ἀνάξιος, ἀφαιροῦνται: πέρας δὲ τῆς ἐπιδιώξεώς ἐστιν ἕως ἂν ἀχθῇ ὁ παῖς εἰς τὸ τοῦ ἁρπάσαντος ἀνδρεῖον. ἐράσμιον δὲ νομίζουσιν οὐ τὸν κάλλει διαφέροντα, ἀλλὰ τὸν ἀνδρείᾳ καὶ κοσμιότητι ... καὶ δωρησάμενος ἀπάγει τὸν παῖδα τῆς χώρας εἰς ὃν βούλεται τόπον: ἐπακολουθοῦσι δὲ τῇ ἁρπαγῇ οἱ παραγενόμενοι, ἑστιαθέντες δὲ καὶ συνθηρεύσαντες δίμηνον （οὐ γὰρ ἔξεστι πλείω χρόνον κατέχειν τὸν παῖδα） εἰς τὴν πόλιν καταβαίνουσιν. ἀφίεται δ᾽ ὁ παῖς δῶρα λαβὼν στολὴν πολεμικὴν καὶ βοῦν καὶ ποτήριον. ταῦτα μὲν τὰ κατὰ τὸν νόμον δῶρα ... καὶ ἄλλα πλείω καὶ πολυτελῆ, ὥστε συνερανίζειν τοὺς φίλους διὰ τὸ πλῆθος τῶν ἀναλωμάτων. τὸν μὲν οὖν βοῦν θύει τῷ Διὶ καὶ ἑστιᾷ τοὺς συγκαταβαίνοντας, εἶτ᾽ ἀποφαίνεται περὶ τῆς πρὸς τὸν ἐραστὴν ὁμιλίας εἴτ᾽ ἀσμενίζων τετύχηκεν εἴτε μή, τοῦ νόμου τοῦτ᾽ ἐπιτρέψαντος, ἵν᾽ εἴ τις αὐτῷ βία προσενήνεκται κατὰ τὴν ἁρπαγήν, ἐνταῦθα παρῇ τιμωρεῖν ἑαυτῷ καὶ ἀπαλλάττεσθαι. τοῖς δὲ καλοῖς τὴν ἰδέαν καὶ προγόνων ἐπιφανῶν αἰσχρὸν ἐραστῶν μὴ τυχεῖν, ὡς διὰ τὸν τρόπον τοῦτο παθοῦσιν. ἔχουσι δὲ τιμὰς οἱ παρασταθέντες （οὕτω γὰρ καλοῦσι τοὺς ἁρπαγέντας）: ἔν τε γὰρ τοῖς χοροῖς καὶ τοῖς δρόμοις ἔχουσι τὰς ἐντιμοτάτας χώρας, τῇ τε στολῇ κοσμεῖσθαι διαφερόντως τῶν ἄλλων ἐφίεται τῇ δοθείσῃ παρὰ τῶν ἐραστῶν, καὶ οὐ τότε μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ τέλειοι γενόμενοι διάσημον ἐσθῆτα φέρουσιν, ἀφ᾽ ἧς γνωσθήσεται ἕκαστος κλεινὸς γενόμενος: τὸν μὲν γὰρ ἐρώμενον καλοῦσι κλεινὸν τὸν δ᾽ ἐραστὴν φιλήτορα.  ταῦτα μὲν τὰ περὶ τοὺς ἔρωτας νόμιμα.|
Aristotle, Politics 1272a xxii-xxvi
The following is from a passage about Cretan customs explaining how many Spartan customs were borrowed from them. The translation is by William Ellis in A Treatise on Government by Aristotle (London, 1912).
|The legislator gave great attention to encourage a habit of eating sparingly, as very useful to the citizens. He also endeavoured, that his community might not be too populous, to lessen the connection with women, by introducing the love of boys: whether in this he did well or ill we shall have some other opportunity of considering. ||πρὸς δὲ τὴν ὀλιγοσιτίαν ὡς ὠφέλιμον πολλὰ πεφιλοσόφηκεν ὁ νομοθέτης, καὶ πρὸς τὴν διάζευξιν τῶν γυναικῶν ἵνα μὴ πολυτεκνῶσι, τὴν πρὸς τοὺς ἄρρενας ποιήσας ὁμιλίαν, περὶ ἧς εἰ φαύλως ἢ μὴ φαύλως ἕτερος ἔσται τοῦ διασκέψασθαι καιρός.|
Athenaios, The Learned Banqueters
Athenaios of Naukratis wrote this in the early 3rd century AD, but cites much earlier writers. The translation here is by S. Douglas Olson in Athenaeus: The Deipnosphists VI-VII (The Loeb Classical Library edition, 2010-1).
Discussing the honours paid to Eros by various peoples:
|So too the Cretans put their best looking citizens in the ranks and sacrifice to Eros on their account, according to Sosicrates.||καὶ Κρῆτες δ᾿ ἐν ταῖς παρατάξεσι fτοὺς καλλίστους τῶν πολιτῶν κοσμήσαντες διὰ τούτων θύουσι τῷ Ἔρωτι, ὡς Σωσικράτης ἱστορεῖ.|
|Many people wholeheartedly prefer love-affairs with boys to those with women; for the Greek cities that are best-governed in comparison with the others engage vigorously in this practice. The Cretans, for example, as I said, and the inhabitants of Euboean Chalcis become extraordinarily excited about sex with boys. Echemenes in his History of Crete, at any rate, claims that it was not Zeus who kidnapped Ganymede, but Minos. But the Chalcidians mentioned above claim that Ganymede was kidnapped in their territory by Zeus, and they point out the spot, which they refer to as Harpagion, where exceptionally fine laurel trees grow. So too Minos abandoned his hostility toward the Athenians, even though it was caused by his son’s death, when he fell in love with Theseus, and he gave him his daughter Ariadne as his wife, according to Zenis (or Zeneus) of Chios in his treatise on his native land.||ὅλως δὲ τοὺς παιδικοὺς ἔρωτας τῶν ἐπὶ ταῖς θηλείαις προκρίνουσι πολλοί· παρὰ γὰρ τὰς ἄλλας ταῖς εὐνομουμέναις πόλεσιν ἐπὶ τῆς Ἑλλάδος σπουδασθῆναι τόδε τὸ ἔθος. Κρῆτες γοῦν, ὡς ἔφην, καὶ οἱ ἐν Εὐβοίᾳ Χαλκιδεῖς περὶ τὰ παιδικὰ δαιμονίως ἐπτόηνται. Ἐχεμένης γοῦν ἐν τοῖς Κρητικοῖς οὐ τὸν Δία φησὶν fἁρπάσαι τὸν Γανυμήδην ἀλλὰ Μίνωα. οἱ δὲ προειρημένοι Χαλκιδεῖς παρ᾿ αὑτοῖς φασιν ἁρπασθῆναι τὸν Γανυμήδην ὑπὸ τοῦ Διὸς καὶ τὸν τόπον δεικνύντες Ἁρπάγιον καλοῦσιν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ μυρρίναι διάφοροι πεφύκασιν. καὶ τὴν πρὸς Ἀθηναίους δ᾿ ἔχθραν διελύσατο Μίνως, καίπερ ἐπὶ θανάτῳ παιδὸς συστᾶσαν, Θησέως ἐρασθεὶς καὶ τὴν θυγατέρα τούτῳ γυναῖκα ἔδωκε Φαίδραν, ὡς Ζῆνις ἢ Ζηνεύς φησιν ὁ Χῖος ἐν τῷ περὶ τῆς πατρίδος συγγράμματι.|
|… since pederasty began with the Cretans and made its way to Greece from there, according to Timaios.||τοῦ παιδεραστεῖν παρὰ πρώτων Κρητῶν εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας παρελθόντος, ὡς ἱστορεῖ Τίμαιος.|
Konon, Narrations XVI
The Narrations of the Greek mythographer Konon, written between 36 BC and AD 17, survive only in summaries by the ninth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios, in his Bibliotheke. The translation used here is the online one of Brady Kiesling.
The 16th about Promachos and Leukokomas the Knossians (Knossos is a city of Crete). Promachos yearned for the handsome youth Leukokomas, and offered to perform great trials for him full of risk. Promachos undertakes all these in hopes of success, but doesn't win the boy, so he spites Leukokomas by putting the last prize (a celebrated helmet) on another handsome young man while Leukokomas is watching. Unable to bear his jealousy he took a sword and did away with himself.
Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism III 199
The translation of this work of ca. AD 200 is by R. G. Bury in the Loeb Classical Library volume 273 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933).
|and they say that Meriones the Cretan was so called by way of indicating the Cretans’ custom,||καὶ τὸν Μηριόνην τὸν Κρῆτα οὕτω κεκλῆσθαί φασι δι᾿ ἔμφασιν τοῦ Κρητῶν ἔθους|
Claudius Aelianus, On the Characteristics of Animals IV 1
The translation given here of this early third century AD work is that by A. F.Scholfield in the Loeb Classical Library edition (1958) pp. 215-6.
Partridges are the most incontinent of birds; that is the reason for their passionate love of the female birds and for their constant enslavement to lust. So those that rear fighting Partridges, when they egg them on to battle with one another, make the female stand each by her mate, as they have found this to be a device for countering any cowardice or reluctance to fight. For the Partridge that is defeated cannot endure to show himself either to his loved one or to his spouse. He will sooner die under the blows than turn away from his adversary and dare in his disgrace to look upon her whose good opinion he courts.
The Cretans also have taken this view regarding Cretan lovers. For I have heard that a Cretan lover, who had beside other qualities that of a fine soldier, had as his favourite a boy of good birth, conspicuous for his beauty, of manly spirit, excellently fitted by nature to imbibe the noblest principles, though on account of his youth he was not yet called to arms. (I have elsewhere given the name of the lover and of the beautiful boy.) Now the Cretans say that the young man did acts of valour in the fight, but when the enemy’s massed line pressed him hard, he stumbled over a dead body that lay there and was thrown down. Whereupon one of the enemy who was nearest, in his eagerness was about to strike him in the back. But the man turned and exclaimed ‘Do not deal me a shameful and cowardly blow, but strike me in front, in the breast, in order that my loved one may not judge me guilty of cowardice and refrain from laying out my dead body: he could not bear to go near one who so disgraces himself.’
Ἀκολαστότατοι ὀρνίθων οἱ πέρδικές εἰσι. ταῦτά τοι καὶ τῶν θηλειῶν ἐρῶσι δριμύτατα, καὶ τῆς λαγνείας ἡττώμενοι συνεχέστατά εἰσιν οἵδε. οὐκοῦν οἱ τρέφοντες τοὺς ἀθλητὰς πέρδικας, ὅταν αὐτοὺς ἐς τὴν μάχην τὴν κατὰ ἀλλήλων ὑποθήγωσι, τὴν θήλειαν παρεστάναι ποιοῦσιν ἑκάστῳ τὴν σύννομον, σόφισμα τοῦτο δειλίας καὶ κάκης τῆς κατὰ τὴν ἀγωνίαν ἀντίπαλον αὐτοῖς εὑρόντες. οὐ γάρ τί που ἡττώμενος φανῆναι ἢ τῇ ἐρωμένῃ ἢ τῇ γαμετῇ ὁ πέρδιξ ὑπομένει· τεθνήξεται δὲ μᾶλλον παιόμενος ἢ ὁμόσε χωροῦντος ἀποστραφεὶς ἰδεῖν τολμήσει ταύτην ἀσχημόνως, παρ᾿ ᾗ βούλεται εὐδοκιμεῖν.
τοῦτό τοι καὶ Κρῆτες ὑπὲρ τῶν ἐρωμένων ἐνενόουν. ἀκούω γὰρ Κρῆτα ἐραστὴν ἀγαθὸν τά τε ἄλλα καὶ τὰ πολέμια ἔχειν μὲν παιδικὰ εὐγενὲς μειράκιον ὥρᾳ διαπρεπὲς καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἀνδρεῖον καὶ πρὸς τὰ κάλλιστα τῶν μαθημάτων πεφυκὸς εὖ καὶ καλῶς, καλούμενον δὲ δι᾿ ἡλικίαν ἐς ὅπλα μηδέπω (εἶπόν γε μὴν ἀλλαχόθι καὶ τοῦ ἐραστοῦ καὶ τοῦ καλοῦ τὸ ὄνομα). ἀρετὰς μὲν οὖν ἐν τῇ μάχῃ τὸν νεανίαν ἀποδείξασθαί φασιν οἱ Κρῆτες, ἀθρόας δὲ ἐς αὐτὸν ὠθουμένης τῆς τῶν ἐχθρῶν φάλαγγος προσπταῖσαι νεκρῷ κειμένῳ, καὶ περιτραπῆναι λέγουσιν αὐτόν. τῶν οὖν τις πολεμίων, ὁ μάλιστα πλησίον, ἀνατεινάμενος παίειν ἔμελλε κατὰ τῶν μεταφρένων τὸν ἄνδρα· ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς ‘μηδαμῶς’ εἶπεν ‘αἰσχρὰν καὶ ἀναλκῆ πληγὴν ἐπαγάγῃς, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τῶν στέρνων ἀντίαν παῖσον, ἵνα μή μου δειλίαν ὁ ἐρώμενος καταψηφίσηται, καὶ φυλάξηται περιστεῖλαί με νεκρόν, καὶ μάλα γε ἀσχημονοῦντι προσελθεῖν οὐ τολμῶν.’
Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentaries on the Works of Vergil
Servius was a late 4th to early 5th century grammarian who wrote commentaries on the works of Virgil. They were only ever published in full as In Vergilii carmina comentarii. Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii carmina commentarii edited by Georgius Thilo and Hermannus Hagen, 3 volumes, Leipzig, 1881-1902.
Aeneid X 325
Infelix nova gavdia Cydon de Cretensibus accipimus quod in amores puerorum intemperantes fuerunt: quod postea in Laconas et in totam Graeciam translatum est, adeo ut et Cicero dicat in libris de re publica, obprobrio fuisse adulescentibus si amatores non haberent.
 [Note by Thos. Hubbard] The building where Cretan men took common meals together.
 [Note by Thos. Hubbard] These three gifts seem to symbolize the boy's assuming adult status in three realms: war, religion (since the ox is sacrificed), and the banquet.
 The preceding passage, 1271b, says this was Minos, the well-known legendary King.
 This intention was not fulfilled.
 Sosikrates of Rhodes, a historian of the early 3rd century BC.
 A Sicilian historian of the early 3rd century BC.
 “i.e. Μηριόνης is derived from μηρός (“thigh”)” according to the translator, but see P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. “Eupalamus: A Comment on Anth. Graec. 12.97” in The American Journal of Philology , Spring, 1975, Vol. 96, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 13-15 for its meaning as “anus” (and the likely reluctance of another Loeb translator to admit this). Meriones was a captain of the Cretan in the Trojan War.