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three pairs of lovers with space



Until 1822, Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire, and the hostile influence of the Greek Orthodox Church on the population’s attitudes to pederasty was countered by its prevalence amongst their Turkish rulers, who made demands on Greek boys, both locally and for Istanbul. Until 1805, there were occasional devshirme, the once-frequent roundups for the Sultan’s palace schools of promising Christian boys, whose “chief recommendation in the first instance is their comeliness”,[1] and some of the best-looking of whom ended up in his bed.

Adolphus Slade's Records of Travels in Turkey, Greece, 1829, 1830 includes a pederastic anecdote about Mount Athos, when it was still under Turkish rule.

To whatever extent it may have been Turkish customs that had helped to sustain pederasty in Greece, during the 19th and early 20th centuries Greece was second only to Italy as a European country resorted to by pederasts from the intolerant north, who easily found willing boys, with the added frisson of being able to practice Greek love in its classical homeland. The English Lord Byron, later a critical figure in the Greek War of Independence, was one of the first to find his longings amply fulfilled there during a stay from 1808 to 1810. His travelling companion, John Cam Hobhouse, observed:

The unmarried women are never seen, the bridegroom never sees his future wife till he puts on the ring – there are consequently no amours except with married women – and now and then a little contrabande, as the signor called it. This is some excuse for pæderasty, which is practised underhandly by the Greeks, but openly carried on by the Turks.[2]

Smoke Rings (The Little Struggler) by Georgios Jakobides, 1887

Casual boy prostitution was common and fairly well tolerated so long as it was discreetly conducted in the first half of the 20th century. The French writer Roger Peyrefitte discovered his essential boysexuality with a 15-year-old at a public urinal, while posted as a young diplomatic attaché in Athens 1933-38. He was soon introduced by Balkan diplomats to the nocturnal scene in the public gardens and learned to find willing apprentices and delivery boys, leading to indiscretions that eventually required his resignation for “family reasons”.[3]

A German in Greece” is an account of one pederast’s liaisons in Greece around the 1960s: he went there specifically because he found it easy to meet schoolboys in their early teens wanting love and sex. He described parents sometimes encouraging their sons for the educational benefits.

In his diary entry for 31 March 1967, the Australian artist Donald Friend described street boys and their pimps soliciting tourists in Athens.

Later that year, the French writer Gabriel Matzneff, always on the look out for promising boys of ten to sixteen, visited Poros and observed:

The pupils of the naval military school are very charming. The older ones would drive my friend Chrysostom mad; as for the youngest ones (twelve to thirteen years old), Georgette kindly brings to shape the interest I show in them. Unfortunately, their chaplain, to whom I have a letter of recommendation, is on holiday. This worthy clergyman would have helped me set foot in the place![4]

The short stories published by Bob Henderson as Attic Adolescent, and reviewed here, realistically capture the frustrating character of pederastic liaisons in Greece in the 1970s, by when they were in decline.

All of the preceding examples involved boys from humble backgrounds. There seems never to have been the slightest modern revival of the more idealistic pederasty most associated with the ancient upper class, whose modern representatives at least outwardly adhered to the proprieties demanded by the Orthodox church. This was so even in the boarding-schools which were fertile grounds for such love in other European countries. In his novel, The Magus, inspired by own his time teaching English at a boys’ boarding-school on a Greek island in the early 1950s, John Fowles makes his 25-year-old protagonist say:

Much more tempting were some of the boys, possessors of an olive grace and a sharp individuality that made them very different from their stereotyped English private school equivalents—those uniformed pink termites out of the Arnold mould. I had Gide-like moments, but they were not reciprocated, because nowhere is pederasty more abominated than in bourgeois Greece.[5]

Greece 1949. Bartholomew 
                                                                                        Greece in 1949

Such general social hostility as there was to pederasty was largely founded on Christianity, rather than on the medical pathologisation of all homosexuality that had replaced religious hostility in northern Europe, and this was surely conducive to greater understanding. As late as the 1960s, “beardless youths” as well as females were banned from the country’s greatest monastic community at Mount Athos,[6] implying that they too might give rise to disturbing lascivious thoughts. Thus the old assumption lived on that boys were a common sexual temptation for men in a way that other men were not.

The legalisation of sex between men over 17 from 1 January 1951 had the usual long-term inimical effect on the practice of pederasty, since it led both to more intense repression of what remained illegal and to boys thereafter fearing being stigmatised as gay if involved in homosexuality, though at first the deterioration was slow. The age of consent was reduced to 15 in 2015, but was hedged in with the sort of typical 21st-century restrictions that were most harmful to the idealistic form of it first known to have arisen in this very land.


[1] Paul Ricaut, The Present State of the Ottoman Empire (London, 1668; facsimile edition, New York, 1971) p. 25.

[2] Entry for 6 October 1809, The Diaries of John Cam Hobhouse: British Library Add.Mss. 56527.

[3] Antoine Deléry, Roger Peyrefitte, le sulfureux (France, 2011) pp. 53-60.

[4] Gabriel Matzneff, Vénus et Junon: Journal 1965-1969, Paris: la Table ronde, 1979, pp. 270-1.

[5] John Fowles, The Magus, 1965, revised 1977.

[6] Private communication from American novelist Jay Edson, who stayed on Mount Athos in 1963. For a brief description of his trip to the holy mountain, click here: “An (Almost) Beardless Youth Visits Athos.”




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