A review of The Greeks and Greek Love: a Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece by James Davidson, 2007
Topical propaganda posing as history *
This is as bad as a so-called history book can get. For a generation now, devotees of ancient Greek culture have had to grind their teeth while modern gays of the semi-educated variety have laid bogus claim to be its heirs, consoling themselves that surely no academic would ever stoop to lending them his authority. Now one has done just that.
Everyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Greek history has always known this claim to be nonsense. Greek homosexuality was practiced between clearly differentiated lovers (men in the active role) and beloveds (boys in the passive role). Its whole ethos was premised on this inequality, it being society’s means of inducting its youth into the fighting skills and higher culture of their elders. Much as one may wish it had been otherwise, adult men taking a passive role were despised and unkindly ridiculed. There was no concept of sexual orientation; it was expected that most men were capable of attraction to both women and boys.
Now, however, Davidson would have us suddenly discover that actually, despite the mountains of evidence carefully sifted over a generation by serious scholars such as Kenneth Dover and William A. Percy, the ancient Greeks thought and behaved just like 21st century American gays striving after assimilation at any moral cost. So sex was not only illegal with boys under the age of …, you guessed it, 18, but carried the death penalty! Not only did the Greeks celebrate their inclusion of homosexuals in the military, but they also made a special place for them in their religious rites, just as today’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it “Christian” gays demand. They even had same-sex marriages too.
And God forbid that anyone should think Greek homosexuality had much to do with sex! Just like 21st century gay couples, whom we are assured are really just like other respectable, middle-class couples, Greek homosexuality too was about loving couples and fidelity rather than anything naughty. To achieve this sanitisation, Davidson feels he has to try to undermine the credibility of Professor Dover, who placed sex in the foreground of Greek love, and it is his persistent use of cheap, snide remarks to this end that undermined any will I might have had to try to be charitable about his book. Thus we are assured that a “happily-married, heterosexual” professor could not hope to understand such things as whether the Greeks practiced sodomy. Being gay today is apparently much more useful for understanding the remote past than objective study of the historical sources.
Needless to say, Davidson’s effort has been found worthless by the experts in the field. It would be out of place here to catalogue the endless misrepresentation, mistranslation, misleading paraphrasing and outrightly false reporting of ancient and secondary works that are used to justify this “bold” rewriting of history, when I can refer anyone in doubt to the thorough and carefully-reasoned, online demolition of it by Thomas Hubbard.
The best book I can think of to compare with this is the Anglo-German Houston Chamberlain’s The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899), which explained on similarly tendentious and twisted lines how every advance in civilization was due to the superior Aryan race, including even Christianity (since Jesus had hitherto been disgracefully misrepresented as a Jew). The degree to which either author succeeded in genuinely deluding himself (as opposed to being consciously dishonest) is perhaps the most fascinating and unanswerable question about them.
The more outlandish claims in both books tempt one to laugh until one remembers the huge appeal and influence of Chamberlain on a Germany longing to hear just such a message. Similarly, Davidson’s drivel is now likely to be cited as an authority both to claim a close association between classical Greek culture and 21st century gay culture, and to discredit all that Greek love truly stood for. The only consolation I can find is that it is so very caught up in the ephemeral concerns of the decade in which it was written that it will date quickly; even people in the 2030s will surely see more in it about the previous generation than about the Greeks.
Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 20 Jan. 2014