Clement of Alexandria (c.200 CE):
On Effeminate Men and Masculine Women
Book 3: Chapter 3
Clement of Alexandria was a major early Church father. He addressed
sexuality in some detail. In this chapter of his work Paidogogus,
he discusses effeminate men and masculine women. He is clearly
hostile. Nevertheless the passage is interesting for a number
- Clement gives a lot of information about pathic homosexual
- Although he discusses men for the most part, he includes
a discussion of female homosexuality as well. There is no question
that he has in mind some general notion of "homosexuality"
- Clement also seems to discuss lesbian marriages.
The last two points play a major role in Bernadette Brooten's
book, Love Between Women, (Chicago: 1996). Brooten argues
that the marriages referred to by Clement were a real Egyptian
social custom, although this is controversial. The book is required
for those interested in the period.
CHAP. III. -- AGAINST MEN WHO EMBELLISH THEMSELVES.
To such an extent, then, has luxury advanced, that not only are
the female sex deranged about this frivolous pursuit, but men
also are infected with the disease. For not being free of the
love of finery, they are not in health; but inclining to voluptuousness,
they become effeminate, cutting their hair in an ungentlemanlike
and meretricious way, clothed in fine and transparent garments,
chewing mastich, smelling of l perfume. What can one say
on seeing them? Like one who judges people by their foreheads,
he will divine them to be adulterers and effeminate, addicted
to both kinds of venery, haters of hair, destitute of hair, detesting
the bloom of manliness, and adorning their locks like women. "Living
for unholy acts of audacity, these fickle wretches do reckless
and nefarious deeds," says the Sibyl. For their service the
towns are full of those who take out hair by pitch-plasters, shave,
and pluck out hairs from these womanish creatures. And shops are
erected and opened everywhere; and adepts at this meretricious
fornication make a deal of money openly by those who plaster themselves,
and give their hair to be pulled out in all ways by those who
make it their trade, feeling no shame before the onlookers or
those who approach, nor before themselves, being men. Such are
those addicted to base passions, whose whole body is made smooth
by the violent tuggings of pitch-plasters. It is utterly impossible
to get beyond such effrontery. If nothing is left undone by them,
neither shall anything be left unspoken by me. Diogenes, when
he was being sold, chiding like a teacher one of these degenerate
creatures, said very manfully, "Come, youngster, buy for
yourself a man," chastising his meretriciousness by an ambiguous
speech. But for those who are men to shave and smooth themselves,
how ignoble! As for dyeing of hair, and anointing of grey locks,
and dyeing them yellow, these are practices of abandoned effeminates;
and their feminine combing of themselves is a thing to be let
alone. For they think, that like serpents they divest themselves
of the old age of their head by painting and renovating themselves.
But though they do doctor the hair cleverly, they will not escape
wrinkles, nor will they elude death by tricking time. For it is
notre dreadful, it is not dreadful to appear old, when you are
not able to shut your eyes to the fact that you are so.
The more, then, a man hastes to the end, the more truly venerable
is he, having God alone as his senior, since He is the eternal
aged One, He who is older than all things. Prophecy has called
him the "Ancient of days; and the hair of His head was as
pure wool," says the prophet. "And none other,"
says the Lord, "can make the hair white or black."
How, then, do these godless ones work in rivalry with God, or
rather violently oppose Him, when they transmute the hair made
white by Him? "The crown of old men is great experience,"
says Scripture; and the hoary hair of their countenance is the
blossom of large experience. But these dishonour the reverence
of age, the head covered with grey hairs. It is not, it is not
possible for him to show the head true who has a fraudulent head.
"But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have
heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:
that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man
(not the hoary man, but him that is) corrupt according to deceitful
lusts; and be renewed (not by dyeings and ornaments), but in the
spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, which after God is
created in righteousness and true holiness."
But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with
a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the
looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and
smooth them, how womanly! And, in truth, unless you saw them naked,
you would suppose them to be women. For although not allowed to
wear gold, yet out of effeminate desire they enwreath their latches
and fringes with leaves of gold; or, getting certain spherical
figures of the same metal made, they fasten them to their ankles,
and hang them from their necks. This is a device of enervated
men, who are dragged to the women's apartments, amphibious and
lecherous beasts. For this is a meretricious and impious form
of snare. For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their
locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but
has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him,
as an attribute of manhood, with shaggy breasts,--a sign this
of strength and rule. So also cocks, which fight in defence of
the hens, he has decked with combs, as it were helmets; and so
high a value does God set on these locks, that He orders them
to make their appearance on men simultaneously with discretion,
and delighted with a venerable look, has honoured gravity of countenance
with grey hairs. But wisdom, and discriminating judgments that
are hoary with wisdom, attain maturity with time, and by the vigour
of long experience give strength to old age, producing grey hairs,
the admirable flower of venerable wisdom, conciliating confidence.
This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen
to be a man, is older than Eve, and is the token of the superior
nature. In this God deemed it right that he should excel, and
dispersed hair over man's whole body. Whatever smoothness and
softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed
the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage,
his help in household management, while he (for he had parted
with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. And
to him has been assigned action, as to her suffering; for what
is shaggy is drier and warmer than what is smooth. Wherefore males
have both more hair and more heat than females, animals that are
entire than the emasculated, perfect than imperfect. It is therefore
impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness. But
the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word),
if it is to attract men, is the act of an effeminate person,--if
to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be
driven as far as possible from our society. "But the very
hairs of your head are all numbered," says the Lord; those
on the chin, too, are numbered, and those on the whole body. There
must be therefore no plucking out, contrary to God's appointment,
which has counted them in according to His will. "Know
ye not yourselves," says the apostle, "that Christ Jesus
is in you?" Whom, had we known as dwelling in us, I know
not how we could have dared to dishonour. But the using of pitch
to pluck out hair (I shrink from even mentioning the shamelessness
connected with this process), and in the act of bending back and
bending down, the violence done to nature's modesty by stepping
out and bending backwards in shameful postures, yet the doers
not ashamed of themselves, but conducting themselves without shame
in the midst of the youth, and in the gymnasium, where the prowess
of man is tried; the following of this unnatural practice, is
it not the extreme of licentiousness? For those who engage in
such practices in public will scarcely behave with modesty to
any at home. Their want of shame in public attests their unbridled
licentiousness in private.
For he who in the light of day denies his manhood, will prove
himself manifestly a woman by night. "There shall not be,"
said the Word by Moses, "a harlot of the daughters of Israel;
there shall not be a fornicator of the sons of Israel."
But the pitch does good, it is said. Nay, it defames, say I. No
one who entertains right sentiments would wish to appear a fornicator,
were he not the victim of that vice, and study to defame the beauty
of his form. No one would, I say, voluntarily choose to do this.
"For if God foreknew those who are called, according to His
purpose, to be conformed to the image of His Son," for whose
sake, according to the blessed apostle, He has appointed "Him
to be the first-born among many brethren," are they not
godless who treat with indignity the body which is of like form
with the Lord?
The man, who would be beautiful, must adorn that which is the
most beautiful thing in man, his mind, which every day he ought
to exhibit in greater comeliness; and should pluck out not hairs,
but lusts. I pity the boys possessed by the slave-dealers, that
are decked for dishonour. But they are not treated with ignominy
by themselves, but by command the wretches are adorned for base
gain. But how disgusting are those who willingly practise the
things to which, if compelled, they would, if they were men, die
rather than do?
But life has reached this pitch of licentiousness through the
wantonness of wickedness, and lasciviousness is diffused over
the cities, having become law. Beside them women stand in the
stews, offering their own flesh for hire for lewd pleasure, and
boys, taught to deny their sex, act the part of women.
Luxury has deranged all things; it has disgraced man. A luxurious
niceness seeks everything, attempts everything, forces everything,
coerces nature. Men play the part of women, and women that of
men, contrary to nature; women are at once wives and husbands:
no passage is closed against libidinousness; and their promiscuous
lechery is a public institution, and luxury is domesticated.
[[[Note: Bernadette Brooten, in Love Between Women, p.
322 translates the above passage as follows: "[Luxury] confounds
nature; men passively play the role of women (lit: "suffer
the things of women"), and women behave like men in that
women, contrary to nature, are given in marriage (gamoumenai)
and marry (gamousai) other (women)"]]
O miserable spectacle! horrible conduct! Such are the trophies
of your social licentiousness which are exhibited: the evidence
of these deeds are the prostitutes. Alas for such wickedness!
Besides, the wretches know not how many tragedies the uncertainty
of intercourse produces. For fathers, unmindful of children of
theirs that have been exposed, often without their knowledge,
have intercourse with a son that has debauched himself, and daughters
that are prostitutes; and licence in lust shows them to be the
men that have begotten them. These things your wise laws allow:
people may sin legally; and the execrable indulgence in pleasure
they call a thing indifferent. They who commit adultery against
nature think themselves free from adultery. Avenging justice follows
their audacious deeds, and, dragging on themselves inevitable
calamity, they purchase death for a small sum of money. The miserable
dealers in these wares sail, bringing a cargo of fornication,
like wine or oil; and others, far more wretched, traffic in pleasures
as they do in bread and sauce, not heeding the words of Moses,
"Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore,
lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness."
Such was predicted of old, and the result is notorious: the whole
earth has now become full of fornication and wickedness. I admire
the ancient legislators of the Romans: these detested effeminacy
of conduct; and the giving of the body to feminine purposes, contrary
to the law of nature, they judged worthy of the extremest penalty,
according to the righteousness of the law.
For it is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man's natural
and noble ornament.
"A youth with his first beard: for with this, youth is most
By and by he is anointed, delighting in the beard "on which
descended" the prophetic, "ointment" with which
Aaron was honoured. And it becomes him who is rightly trained,
on whom peace has pitched its tent, to preserve peace also with
What, then, will not women with strong propensities to lust practise,
when they look on men perpetrating such enormities? Rather we
ought not to call such as these men, but lewd wretches (<greek>bataloi</greek>),
and effeminate (<greek>gunides</greek>), whose voices
are feeble, and whose clothes are womanish both in feel and dye.
And such creatures are manifestly shown to be what they are from
their external appearance, their clothes, shoes, form, walk, cut
of their hair, look. "For from his look shall a man be known,"
says the Scripture, "and from meeting a man the man is known:
the dress of a man, the step of his foot, the laugh of his teeth,
tell tales of him."
For these, for the most part, plucking out the rest of their hair,
only dress that on the head, all but binding their locks with
fillets like women. Lions glory in their shaggy hair, but are
armed by their hair in the fight; and boars even are made imposing
by their mane; the hunters are afraid of them when they see them
bristling their hair.
"The fleecy sheep are loaded with their wool."
And their wool the loving Father has made abundant for thy use,
O man, having taught thee to sheer their fleeces. Of the nations,
the Celts and Scythians wear their hair long, but do not deck
themselves. The bushy hair of the barbarian has something fearful
in it; and its auburn (<greek>xanqon</greek>) colour
threatens war, the hue being somewhat akin to blood. Both these
barbarian races hate luxury. As clear witnesses will be produced
by the German, the Rhine; and by the Scythian, the waggon.
Sometimes the Scythian despises even the waggon: its size seems
sumptuousness to the barbarian; and leaving its luxurious ease,
the Scythian man leads a frugal life. For a house sufficient,
and less encumbered than the waggon, he takes his horse, and mounting
it, is borne where he wishes. And when faint with hunger, he asks
his horse for sustenance; and he offers his veins, and supplies
his master with all he possesses--his blood. To the nomad the
horse is at once conveyance and sustenance; and the warlike youth
of the Arabians (these are other nomads) are mounted on camels.
They sit on breeding camels; and these feed and run at the same
time, carrying their masters the whilst, and bear the house with
them. And if drink fail the barbarians, they milk them; and after
that their food is spent, they do not spare even their blood,
as is reported of furious wolves. And these, gentler than the
barbarians, when injured, bear no remembrance of the wrong, but
sweep bravely over the desert, carrying and nourishing their masters
at the same time.
Perish, then, the savage beasts whose food is blood! For it is
unlawful for men, whose body is nothing but flesh elaborated of
blood, to touch blood. For human blood has become a partaker of
the Word: it is a participant of grace by the Spirit; and if
any one injure him, he will not escape unnoticed. Man may, though
naked in body, address the Lord. But I approve the simplicity
of the barbarians: loving an unencumbered life, the barbarians
have abandoned luxury. Such the Lord calls us to be--naked of
finery, naked of vanity, wrenched from our sins, bearing only
the wood of life, aiming only at salvation.
From Clement of Alexandria, Paidogogus, trans
in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 2, pp275-277
HTML. Paul Halsall, 1997