WHAT WAS GREEK LOVE?
Greek love was love between a boy, typically adolescent, and an older adolescent or man. It is called Greek because it was most famously practised in ancient Greece, where it was called paiderastia, formed from paidos, "of a boy", and erastia, "love". Though eros, erotic longing, implicitly inspired a Greek love affair, it could remain chaste.
Greek love was not an orientation. A man who prefers boys sexually is a pederast or boy-lover, but, surprisingly, most men in history involved in Greek love affairs were attracted to women just as much. It can be proved, for example, that in Renaissance Florence at least two thirds of all males were incriminated in sodomy, which there meant consummated Greek love. This is known from the records of the Office of the Night set up to investigate it. Down to the seventeenth century, there and in other Christian countries it was simply taken for granted that men in general were attracted to boys as well as women, even if they never acted on their attraction because of the Christian prohibition of sodomy.
In many non-Christian cultures, Greek love was not merely openly practised by most, but actively encouraged by society because of its benefits to boys when ethically conducted. Like any other kind of sexual relationship, a Greek love one could of course be conducted either nobly or shamefully. We aim to present as much as possible of its whole history here, showing both the cruelties it incited in the base and the generous giving of the self it inspired in the decent. Most remarkably though, will be seen the astonishing cultural florescence that ensued when this form of love was ubiquitous and idealistically espoused.
Due to huge cultural changes in the last three centuries, and most especially in the last generation, changes to be discussed, Greek love is now practically extinct in most of the world and, in so far as it is remembered at all, thoroughly misunderstood. The aim here is, through presenting the past in its own words, to enable the reader willing to take off his 21st-century glasses to understand a lost form of love, and then to judge it objectively if he so wishes.
The expression "Greek love" has sometimes been used to refer only to the romantic or ideal form of what is being considered here, but on this website "love" is taken to include simple sexual attraction amongst its definitions, the point being to include stories of rape and thus to ensure the most negative is considered, as well as the positive.
What it was not:
Since Greek love has become so little understood, there have been two sexualities with which it has become badly confused. Any individual may of course have multiple sexual likes, but that does not mean they are not distinct in character and incompatible for other individuals.
Pedophilia, despite some misuse in popular parlance, is defined by psychologists as sexual attraction to prepubescent children of either gender, currently meaning children under ten or eleven. The boys in Greek love affairs were defined by attraction to older males and not to younger children. The men are also badly misrepresented by the term pedophile for two reasons. First, they were typically involved with adolescent boys. There is, for example, no reference in the whole of ancient Greek literature to sexual interest in a boy under twelve. The age of the boy in Japanese Greek love affairs usually corresponded to the age of the wakashu (adolescent boy), defined by hair-shaving ceremonies performed at the ages of eleven or twelve and eighteen or nineteen. Secondly, though men in Greek love affairs were generally at least as attracted to females, the ethos of Greek love was usually determinedly same-sex only. A disposition to Greek love equates to the combined male-only versions of what psychologists term hebephilia and ephebophilia.
Gay is a very modern term that at least in its connotations suggests androphilia or sexual attraction to men, the only form of male homosexuality permitted in most countries today. Almost all men in the cultures best-known for widespread practice of Greek love expressed profound distaste for sex with other men, as did the boys once they were men. The Florentine records, for example, indicate that 80% of all the passive partners incriminated for sodomy were under eighteen and 97.4% were under twenty-one. Both the boys and the men involved usually married and had families without sense of conflict or known lack of enthusiasm for so doing. Surely it is absurd to think of men who were attracted to women and not to other men as gay? Moreover, in both ethos and sexual practise, Greek love affairs were asymmetrical and much closer to traditional marriage than to typically egalitarian gay relationships.
Everything on this website is freely available to all. No advertising is accepted. No donations are solicited. The editors and contributors devote their time out of a desire to increase understanding of the subject, and with no reward except fulfillment of that desire. They do not endorse all the ideas expressed, which are intended to encompass the rich diversity to be found in history and literature. Questions as to how Greek love is or should be handled today are beyond the website's remit.
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning in the subject line either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.
Dale Bach, 16 June 2018
As I see it, it the craftsman & apprentice scenario
Anonymous 19, 8 September 2019
To understand what Greek love truly was. One would need to go back in time and live it the way it was. Or one could study the man boy relationships of today… However the bulk of mdern society has already been programed beyond repair by their masters. They will never accept it. Man Boy love does not always mean there is anal penetration. Most of what goes on between a man and a young boy is fondling of the boy, or the man performs fellatio. The man in such a situation is often concerned about the boy’s health, happiness, and his masculine growth. I think modern Christians should read the Bible a bit deeper. I have taken some time to study and what surprised me is that there is no mention of pedophilia, pederasty, or oral copulation of minors anywhere. The two Greek words were in use at the time the New Testament was being written and history tells us the acts were commonly known and performed. The only reference that I can find is in Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind”. That scripture was specifically written to the Hebrews and not to the Greeks. It also indicates that a grown adult man shall not anal penetrate another grown adult man, yet it is ok for him to anal penetrate a grown adult woman. It says nothing about a “boy” The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, not English. I will not get into a debate over this issue, so please do not reply back if you just want to argue. This Greek love site contains forgotten history and I think there is much that can be beneficially added.
In Umbris, 18 September 2019
There is so much here to digest, I am taken aback.
Interestingly, many comments reflect the spirit of the age--we close our minds to issues that are not politically and socially acceptable. We accept the rewriting of history without thinking.
The curious thing (to me) is the social and cultural advances of the Ancient Greeks came about because of critical thinking, not accepting the status quo, and reaching out for superior 'modes' of understanding, whether for love or political systems. This approach of querying the norm in inspiring ways is also the essence of creative thinking.
When you realize that Christianity has formed most western attitudes and is founded on the singular principle of 'believe what I say,' it is easy to understand how we arrive at the current situation. Young males are now second class citizens, without purpose and direction. They are doomed until the next renaissance.
Anonymous 70, 11 November 2021
The second paragraph, writing this in 2021, is even more true, and likely to become worse. Will there be a backlash? Role on the next renaissance! As for young males being second class citizens, the male is now under attack as a predator of the female. Critical Race Theory would appear to teach that the white male is to be despised.
Anonymous 29, 7 August 2020
Sadly the great misconception running through the narrow minds of nearly all modern homophobically constricted lovers of love between humans, especially of the overly weaned Christian bent, is the emotional equation of the phrase ‘Greek love’, supposedly reflecting the ancient Greek practice of love by a man for an adolescent boy, with the phrase ‘anal sex’ with anyone. Typically the ancient Greek lover of boys regarded anal sex as not only most unnatural and but also especially most demeaning to the ‘object’ being used. Rather intercrural frottage was commonly the preference among them.
Editor, 8 August 2020
Please try to read some of the Greek primary sources, eg. the epigrams of two poets posted here last month, and stop believing or trying to spread this very modern myth dishonestly created by people trying to make the Greeks models for their own tastes. You will search in vain for one scrap of Greek literature that implies distaste for pedication as opposed to any other form of intercourse. Whenever specific sexual acts are alluded to in either comedy or verse, it is always assumed as a matter of course that pederastic sexual intercourse is anal. The only "evidence" ever peddled for this myth is that, for special reasons, man/boy pedication is not shown on vases, but by this logic one would have to assume that the Greeks also regarded masturbation, fellatio and even kissing as "unnatural" and "demeaning". For explanation of the special reasons, please see the article Did the Greeks Pedicate their Loved Boys?
Dea kotoa, 31 December 2020
Just remember everyone. If one person holds fast to a fantastical lie, it’s called delusional. If a whole group holds fast to a fantastical lie, it’s called cultural.
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Anonymous 90, 25 February 2022
Pinning Anal Sex On The Greeks: A Millenial Slur
I am entirely open to debate, but any worthwhile debate has to be founded on primary sources, not parroting of dishonest 21st century propaganda.