three pairs of lovers with space

BYZANTINE POEMS IN THE GREEK ANTHOLOGY

 

The poems in the Greek Anthology range in date from the 5th century BC to the 9th century AD, but only four from the last five of those centuries address the subject of pederasty. Four of these date from the middle four decades of the sixth century.[1] By this time, Christianity was firmly established as the religion of almost all the population of the Roman Empire and the Emperor Justinian I had just inaugurated a vigorous persecution of male homosexuality (typically then pederastic) vividly described by his court historian Prokopios, amongst others, and using harsh new laws. The fifth epigram, probably ninth century, seems to suggest this persecution had been successful, as sodomy is assumed to be a barbarian vice. It is therefore no coincidence these four poems are the only ones that are hostile to pederasty in the two hundred and sixty-seven in the Anthology touching on the subject.[2]

Of the two poets presented here, Agathias “Scholastikos” Ἀγαθίας σχολαστικός of Myrina (ca. 531-ca. 580), a devout Christian, lawyer and historian, lived in Constantinople from ca. 551[3] and wrote his poems there. Soon after the death of Justinian, he published an anthology of hitherto unpublished poems known as the Cycle, which included both his own and those of others (all, so far as is known, his contemporaries), including five epigrams by Eratosthenes “Scholastikos” Ἐρατοσθένης, σχολαστικὸς, the other poet of interest here, of whom nothing certain is otherwise known. Agathias’s Cycle, like the much earlier anthologies of Meleagros and Philip, was incorporated in the tenth century into what eventually became The Greek Anthology.

The translations are by W. R. Paton in The Greek Anthology, Volumes I and IV: Loeb Classical Library Vols. LXVII and LXXXV (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1916-18). The only amendments are to undo his Latinisation of names in favour of more literal transliteration of the Greek. His footnotes about minor variations in the Greek text between the two manuscript sources are omitted.

Constantinople

 

V.  Erotic Epigrams by Various Poets

 

277 by Eratosthenes Scholastikos

Let males be for others; I can love only women, whose love lasts a long time. There is no beauty in pubescent youths: I loathe that hateful hair that begins to grow too soon.  Ἄρσενας ἄλλος ἔχοι· φιλέειν δ᾽ ἐγὼ οἶδα γυναῖκας,
     ἐς χρονίην φιλίην οἷα φυλασσομένας.
οὐ καλὸν ἡβητῆρες· ἀπεχθαίρω γὰρ ἐκείνηντὴν τρίχα
     τὴν φθονερήν, τὴν ταχὺ φυομένην.
 


278 by Agathias Scholastikos

Kytherea herself and the enchanting Loves hate me and will melt my empty heart. If I am ever inclined to love males, may I neither meet with success nor fall into greater transgressions! Sins with women are enough; those I will indulge in, but leave young men to foolish Pittalakos.[4]   Αὐτή μοι Κυθέρεια καὶ ἱμερόεντες Ἔρωτες
     τήξουσιν κενεὴν ἐχθόμενοι κραδίην.
ἄρσενας εἰ σπεύσω φιλέειν ποτέ,
     μήτε τυχήσωμήτ᾽ ἐπολισθήσω μείζοσιν ἀμπλακίαις.
ἄρκια θηλυτέρων ἀλιτήματα· κεῖνα κομίσσω,
     καλλείψω δὲ νέους ἄφρονι Πιτταλάκῳ.

 

302 by Agathias Scholastikos

What path should one take to love? If you seek it in the streets, you will come to lament the prostitute’s greed for gold and luxury. If you approach a maiden’s bed, it must end in lawful marriage or the punishment for seduction. Who would endure to awake a joyless love in his lawful wife, forced to do her duty? Adulterous beds are the worst of all and have no part in love, and let the sin of pederasty be ranked with them. The widow, if she is indecent, takes every man as a lover and knows every prostitute’s scheme; but if she is chaste, she no sooner makes love than she feels the sting of regret for her loveless act and is horrified by what she has done. She has a remnant of shame and distances herself from the affair until she sends a message breaking it off. If you have sex with your own servant, you must make up your mind to change places and become a slave to a slave, but if with someone else’s, then the law that prosecutes crimes against others’ houses will mark you with infamy.[5]    
     Diogenes fled all these paths and sang the marriage hymn to his palm, for he had no need of a Laïs.[6]
 
Ποίην τις πρὸς ἔρωτας ἴοι τρίβον; ἐν μὲν ἀγυιαῖς
     μαχλάδος οἰμώξεις χρυσομανῆ σπατάλην.
εἰ δ᾽ ἐπὶ παρθενικῆς πελάσοις λέχος, ἐς γάμον ἥξεις
     ἔννομον ἢ ποινὰς τὰς περὶ τῶν φθορέων.
κουριδίαις δὲ γυναιξὶν ἀτερπέα κύπριν ἐγείρειν
     τίς κεν ὑποτλαίη, πρὸς χρέος ἑλκόμενος;
μοίχια λέκτρα κάκιστα καὶ ἔκτοθέν εἰσιν ἐρώτων,
     ὧν μέτα παιδομανὴς κείσθω ἀλιτροσύνη.
χήρη δ᾽ ἡ μὲν ἄκοσμος ἔχει πάνδημον ἐραστὴν
     καὶ πάντα φρονέει δήνεα μαχλοσύνης·
ἡ δὲ σαοφρονέουσα μόλις φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
     δέχνυται ἀστόργου κέντρα παλιμβολίης
καὶ στυγέει τὸ τελεσθέν· ἔχουσα δὲ λείψανον αἰδοῦς
     ἂψ ἐπὶ λυσιγάμους χάζεται ἀγγελίας.
εἰ δὲ μιγῇς ἰδίῃ θεραπαινίδι, τλῆθι καὶ αὐτὸς
     δοῦλος ἐναλλάγδην δμωΐδι γινόμενος.
εἰ δὲ καὶ ὀθνείῃ, τότε σοι νόμος αἶσχος ἀνάψει,
     ὕβριν ἀνιχνεύων δώματος ἀλλοτρίου.
πάντ᾽ ἄρα Διογένης ἔφυγεν τάδε, τὸν δ᾽ ὑμέναιον
     ἤειδεν παλάμῃ, Λαΐδος οὐ χατέων.
 
Solidus, AD 542/565. of Justinian I, the emperor in whose reign Agathias wrote, and whose views and laws on sexual behaviour were well represented by his poems

 

X.  The Hortatory and Admonitory Epigrams

 

68 by Agathias Scholastikos

The Anthology describes the author as simply “Agathias”, without an epithet, but scholars in general have no doubt that “Agathias Scholastikos” was the author.

It is good to have a mind that hates sexual intercourse,[7] but if you must, let not the love of males ever disturb you. It is a small evil to love women, for gracious Nature gave them the gift of amorous dalliance. Look at the race of beasts; not one of them dishonours the laws of intercourse, for the female couples with the male.[8] But wretched men introduce a strange union between each other.  Καλὸν μὲν στυγόδεμνον ἔχειν νόον· εἰ δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἀνάγκη,
     ἀρσενικὴ φιλότης μή ποτε σε κλονεοι.
θηλυτέρας φιλέειν ὀλίγον κακόν, οὕνεκα κειναις
     κυπριδίους ὀάρους πότνα δέδωκε φύσις.
δέρκεο τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων γένος· ἦ γὰρ ἐκείνων
     οὐδὲν ἀτιμάζει θέσμια συζυγίης·
ἄρσενι γὰρ θήλεια συνάπτεται· οἱ δ᾿ ἀλεγεινοὶ
     ἄνδρες ἐς ἀλλήλους ξεῖνον ἄγουσι γάμον.

 

IX.  The Declamatory Epigrams

 

686 Anonymous

The dates argued for this poem have varied between the 4th and 9th centuries. The argument of the translator in his footnote that the Basil referred to was the Byzantine Emperor Basil I (reigned 867-886) has been persuasively argued by others,[9] whilst a counter-argument says he was one Basilides, who was Prefect of Illyricum in 529.[10]

On the Eastern Gate of Thessalonike

Exult in thy heart, stranger, when thou seest above the gate the prefect Basil,[11] destroyer of the valour of insolent Babylon and light of incorrupt justice. Thou goest to the place of good government, the mother of excellent sons. Thou hast no need to fear the barbarian or sodomites.[12] The Spartan for a wall has his arms, and thou a royal statue (or the statue of Basil.)

Ες τν πλην τν νατολικν τς Θεσσαλονκης

Ἠνορέης ὀλετῆρα ὑπερφιάλου Βαβυλῶνος καὶ σέλας ἀκτεάνοιο δίκης Βασίλειον ὕπαρχον, ξεῖνε, νόῳ σκίρτησον, ἰδὼν ἐφύπερθε πυλάων. εὐνομίης ποτὶ χῶρον ἀριστογένεθλον ὁδεύεις, βάρβαρον οὐ τρομέεις, οὐκ ἄρρενας ἀρρενοκοίτας. ὅπλα Λάκων, σὺ δὲ τεῖχος ἔχεις βασίλειον ἄγαλμα.

Gold solidus of the emperor Basil I, himself on the obverse, and his son and wife on the reverse, ca. 882

 

[1] Averil and Alan Cameron, “The Cycle of Agathias” in The Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 86 (1966), pp. 6-25.

[2] There are two others in which the poet says the love of women is better than the love of boys (V 116 by Marcus Argentarius) and V 208 (Meleagros) and another two in which he says his taste has switched from boys to women (V 19 by Rufinus and V 41 by Meleagros), but none of these come near to condemning pederasty in the manner of the Byzantine poets presented here.

[3] Ronald McCail, “The Erotic and Ascetic Poetry of Agathias Scholasticus” in Byzantion vol. 41 (1971) p. 207.

[4] An example chosen from literature, not life; he is mentioned in Aeschines, Against Timarchus 54. [Translator’s note]. Pittalakos was a public slave whom Aischines accused Timarchos of having prostituted himself to. Aischines was explicit in section 40 that all the sexual misdeeds of which he accused Timarchos related to when he was a μειράκιον (adolescent boy aged between 14 and 20), hence this was pederastic despite the poet’s reference to “young men”.
     Ronald McCail suggests this epigram might well date from 559, when the Emperor Justinian “proclaimed an amnesty during which homosexual acts could be confessed and penance done for them.” (“The Erotic and Ascetic Poetry of Agathias Scholasticus” in Byzantion vol. 41 (1971) p. 213).

[5] “This poem could be interpreted as an arabesque created out of Justinian's résumé of sexual offences in Inst. 4.18.4, a passage familiar to Agathias since his first year at law-school. Again, it resembles the enumeration of sexual relationships in the austere diatribe of Musonius (fl. A.D. 60), 63 ff. Hense: Musonius concludes that the only sexual relations free from licence and dishonour are those undertaken by a husband and wife expressly for procreation.” (Ronald McCail, “The Erotic and Ascetic Poetry of Agathias Scholasticus” in Byzantion vol. 41 (1971) p. 216)

[6] Galen (De Locis Affectis p. 419 Kühn) records a story that the Cynic philosopher Diogenes, when approached by a prostitute, preferred to masturbate, claiming that he was already married to his hand. Agathias makes the anecdote more ironic by adding the name of Laïs, a famous courtesan, who was said to have so admired the Cynic philosopher Diogenes that she provided her services to him without charge. [Translator’s note]

[7] This alludes to St. Paul’s commendation of celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7.

[8] In contrast to the Christian tone of the rest, his argument about animals can be traced back to Plato, The Laws 836c, though it had been taken up by Christians such as Clement of Alexandria and was also used by Justinian in his New Law 141 issued in 559.

[9] For example, Barry Baldwin, B. Baldwin, “Anthologia Palatina 9. 686” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift 79, 1986, pp. 263-4, who suggests “prefect” was being used figuratively for one who was a spiritual prefect of Christ.

[10] Cyril Mango, “Anthologia Palatina, 9. 686” in The Classical Quarterly , 1984, Vol. 34, No. 2 (1984), pp. 489-491.

[11] As the terms of the epigram suit the emperor Basil I., who conquered the Arabs in Mesopotamia and was celebrated as a legislator, it probably refers to him in spite of the title “Prefect” given him [Translator’s note].

[12]  i.e. the Arabs. The Greeks at the time charged the Oriental nations with this vice. There is no reference to measures for its suppression [Translator’s note]. If Cyril Mango’s argument for a date of 529 were accepted, then the barbarians would have to have been Persian rather than Arab, and their defeat not literal.
     Of greater pertinence to this website, ἄρρενας ἀρρενοκοίτας means more accurately “males who take other males to bed”, rather than “sodomites” (George M. Hollenback, “Boswell’s ἄρρενας ἀρρενοκοῖται (Anthologia Palatina 9.686)” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift Bd. 110/3, 2017, pp. 645-648). In either case, the reason for including this epigram is that, so far as is known, almost all the male homosexuality practised by early medaeval Greeks or Arabs was pederastic.

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