Pederasty, Rape and Inequality, Oh My!
In Ancient Greece, domination was the name of the game. Men were the ultimate rulers and women were lowly property. A married woman couldn’t even walk in the marker without an escort and oftentimes men would lock their wives away in their homes when they went out to conduct business. Female children, the ones not sold to a brothel or outright killed, were not educated and were given away to the highest bidder, usually a man several decades her senior. These young girls, as they were still girls, often died early during childbirth. However, as a wife’s only job was the produce heirs and do labor within the home, it didn’t much matter that she died as long as she produced a boy before doing so.
Within this male-centered society, the penis is king, even seen as the symbol of fertility. Zeus, a male god, was the one giving birth to all the other gods and goddesses – making him both mother and father. With Zeus as a role model, Greek men frequently practiced rape, a ‘right of domination.’ The target of the rape was not important, be it slaves, prostitutes, other men or even their own wives, as being the one doing the penetrating meant control and domination and that was what ultimately counted.
This brings us around to the homosexuality practiced within Ancient Greece. Most homosexual relationships were between an older man and a young boy. Called paiderastia (boy love), this bond took place between an erastes (the older man) and the eromenos (the young boy). The erastes was there to teach, be a role model and love the eromenos, who provided beauty and youth in return. Since a boy was not considered a man until he could grow a full beard, these relationships were men in their 30s and 40s and boys from around 12 to 17. There was also quite an elaborate social code revolving around this practice, where the man had to prove his love and almost court the young boy, before the boy would give into the desires of the older man. Yet, even with paiderastia running rampant, homosexuality between adult men was rare, neither one wanting the stigma of being the one to submit and be penetrated, thus lowering himself to the same position as a woman.
Within the art of Ancient Greece, one can see the effects of paiderastia. The images of men during that time were drawn and sculpted with very small, boy-like penises, as that was the ideal in beauty. This can be seen in great contrast with Ancient Rome, where the large and outlandish penis was much more prized.
The outlier in the Ancient Greek way of life was Sparta. Though a woman’s role in Sparta was to be a wife and mother, the amount of freedom experienced by Spartan woman was extreme compared to other Greeks. Spartan woman, from birth, were treated as equals to male children. There were allowed to go to school and learn both physical sports as well as philosophy. Another huge difference is the age at which Spartan women were married – 18, instead of 13 or 14. Spartan women could not get married until they would enjoy sex, something impossible with a child and was even considered an act of violence among Spartan men.
Obviously, pederasty was also not practiced in Sparta. Since the men married their wives at a younger age (early to mid 20s) there was no real times to experiment with homosexuality and being a bachelor with no children was actually looked down upon, the man considered a disgrace to his country. The closeness in age and the need to produce children made men more intimate with and true to their wives.
Ancient Greece, as a society, runs from one end of the spectrum to the other. From male gods giving birth to women being treated as equals to the love between a man and a boy, one can look at today’s sexual oddities and maybe begin to realize where they stem from.