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Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists
Book XIII (601-606)
2nd Century CE


This enormous collection of extracts from hundred of authors, arranged as the ruminations of Intellectuals at a dinner party, gets around to homosexuality in Book XII

[Loeb Translation]

[601] Altogether, many persons prefer liaisons with males to those with females. For they maintain that this practice is zealously pursued in those cities throughout Hellas which, as compared with others, are ruled by good laws. The Cretans, for example, as I have said and the people of Chalcis in Euboea, have a marvellous passion for such liaisons. Echemenes, at any rate, says in his History of Crete that it was not Zeus who carried off Ganymede, but Minos. But the Chalcidians just mentioned assert that Ganymede was carried off by Zeus in their own countrv, and they point out the place, calling it Harpagion; in it grow excellent myrtle-trees. Even his quarrel with the Athenians was given up by Minos, though it had arisen over the murder of his son,a because he loved Theseus and gave him his daughter Phaedra to be his wife, according to Zenis (or Zeneus) of Chios in the History of his native land.

[602] Hieronymus the Peripatetic declares these love affairs with boys became widespread because it often happened that the vigour of the young men, joined to the mutual sympathy of their companionship, brought many tyrannical governments to. an end. For if their favourites were present, lovers would choose to suffer anything whatever rather than incur a reputation for cowardice in the mind of their favourites. This was proved, at any rate, by the Sacred Band organized at Thebes by Epameinondas,e and by the murderous attempt on the Peisistratidae made by Harmodius and Aristogeiton; and again in Sicilv at Agrigentum, by the love of Chariton and Melaruppus. The latter was Chariton's favourite, according to Heracleides of Pontus in his work On Love Affairs. It transpired that they were plotting against Phalaris, but on being put to the torture and compelled to speak, they not only refused to name their accomplices but even moved Phalaris to pity for their tortures, so that he released them with hearty praise. Wherefore Apollo, pleased at this action, favoured Phalaris with a postponement of his death, making a declaration of this to those who inquired of the Pythian priestess how they should attack Phalaris; Apollo also gave forth an oracle concerning Chariton and his followers, putting the pentameter before the hexameter, according to the method later followed by Dionysius of Athens, nicknamed the Bronze, in his Elegies. The oracle is as follows: "Happy were Chariton and Melanippus, guides for mortals in divine loving." Notorious are also the things that happened in the case of Cratinus of Athens; for he was a handsome lad at the time when Epimenides was purifying Attica by the sacrifice of human blood, because of some ancient acts of abomination, as recorded c by Neanthes of Cyzicus in the second book of his work On the Rituals of Initiation; and Cratimls voluntarily gave himself up in be half of the land that had nurtured him; following him his lover Aristodemus also died, and so the terrible act was atoned for. Beeause of these love affairs, then, tyrants, to whom such friendships are inimical, tried to abolish entirely relations between males, extirpating them everywhere. Some even went so far as to set fire to the wrestling-schools, regarding them as counter-walls to their own citadels, and so demolished them; this was done by Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos.

Among the Spartans, as Hagnon the Academic philosopher says, it was customary for girls before their marriage to be treated like favourite boys. Why, even the lawgiver Solon said: " With longing glance at thighs and sweet lips." Likewise Aeschylus and Sophocles quite frankly said-the first in The Myrmidons: "For the pure honour of the thighs thou hadst no reverence, O thankless one for those frequent kisses ! " while the other, in The Colchian Women, speaking of Ganymede " Setting Zeus's majesty aflame with his thighs." But I am not ignorant that Polemon the Geographer asserts in his Replies to Neanthes that the story of Cratinus and Aristodemus is a fiction. But you, Cynulcus, believe these stories to be true even if they are false, and you practise in private all such things in the poems as have to do with the love of boys....

The practice of paederasty came into Greece from the Cretans first, according to Timaeus. But others declare that Laius initiated such love-practices when he was the guest of Pelops; he became enamoured of Pelops's son, Chrysippus, whom he seized and placed in his chariot, and then fled to Thebes. Yet Praxilla of Sicyorl says ; that Chrysippus was carried off by Zeus.b And among barbarians the Celts also, though they have very beautiful women, enjoy boys more; so that some of them often have two lovers to sleep with on their beds of animal skins. As for the Persians, Herodotus says c they learned the use of boys from the Greeks.

King Alexander also was madly devoted to boys. Dicaearchus, at any rate, in his book On the Sacrifice at Ilium says d that he was so overcome with love for the eunuch Bagoas that, in full view of the entire theatre, he, bending over, caressed Bagoas fondly, and when the audience clapped and shouted in applause, he, nothing loath, again bent over and kissed him. But Carystius in Historical Notes says " Charon of Chalcis had a beautiful boy who was dear to him. But when Alexander, at a drinking-party in the house of Craterus, praised the boy, Charon bade him kiss Alexander; and Alexander said, ' Not so ! For that will not delight me so much as it will pain you.' For, passionate as this king was, he was in like measure self-controlled when it came to the observance of decency and the best form. When, for example, he had taken captive the daughters of Darius and his wife as well, a woman of very distinguished beauty, he not only kept his hands off them, but he even restrained from letting them know that they were captives, and ordered that everything be done for them just as if Darius were still king. 'Wherefore Darius, on learning this, raised his arms and prayed to the Sun that either he or Alexander might be King." As for the righteous Rhadamanthys, Ibycus says that Talos was his lover. And Diotimus in the Epic of Heracles says that Eurystheus was the favourite of Heracles, and for that reason Heracles patiently undertook his labours. Again, Agamennon loved Argynnus, so the story goes, having seen him swimming in the Cephisus river; in which, in fact, he lost his life (for he constantly bathed in this river), and Agamemnon buried him and founded there a temple of Aphrodite Argynnis. Licymnius of Chios in his Dithyrambs says that Elymenaeus was the beloved of Argynnus. Aristocles the harp-singer was the beloved of King Antigonus, concerning whom Antigonus of Carystus, in his Life of Zeno, writes as follows " King Antigonus used to have revels at the house of Zeno. On one occasion, coming away from a drinking-party at daybreak, he rushed to Zeno's and persuaded him to join in a revel at the house of Aristocles the harp-singer, whom thc king loved greatly."

Sophocles was fond of young lads, as Euripides was fond of boys, or at any rate, in the work entitled Sojournings, writes as follows a " I met Sophocles the poet at Chios when he was sailing as general to Lesbos; he was playful at wine, and clever. A Chian friend of his, Elermesilaus, who was the proxenus of Athens, entertained him, when there appeared, standing beside the fire, the wine-pourer, a handsome, blushing boy; Sophocles was plainly stirred and said: ' Do you want me to drink with pleasure ? 'And when the boy said ' Yes ' he said, ' 'Then don't be to rapid in handing me the cup and taking it away.' When the boy blushed still more violently he said to the man who shared his couch: ' 'That was a good thing Phrynichus wrote when he said [604] " There shines upon his crimson cheeks the light of love."' To this the man from Eretria (or Erythrae), who was a schoolmaster, made answer: ' Wise you are, to be sure, Sophocles, in the art of poetry; nevertheless Phrynichus did not express himself happily when he described the handsome boy's cheeks as crimson. For if a painter should brush a crimson colour on this boy's cheeks he would no longer look handsome. Surely one must not compare the beautiful with what is obviously not beautiful.' Laughing loudly at the Eretrian Sophocles said: ' So, then, stranger, you don't like that line of Simonides, either, though the Greeks think it very well expressed: " From her crimson lips the maiden uttered speech "; nor again the poet who speaks of " golden-haired Apollo "; for if a painter had made the god's locks golden instead of black, the picture would not be so good. And so for the poet who said "rosy-fingered" ; for if one should dip his fingers into a rose-dye, he would produce the hands of a purple-dyer and not those of a lovely woman.' There was a laugh at this, and while the Eretrian was squelched by the rebuke, Sophocles returned to his conversation witll the boy. He asked him, as he was trying to pick off a straw from the cup with his little finger, whether he could see the straw clearly. When the boy declared he could see it Sophocles said, ' Then blow it away, for I shouldn't want you to get your finger wet.' As the boy brought his face up to the cup, Sophocles drew the cup nearer to his own lips, that the two-heads might come closer together. When he was very near the lad, he drew him close with his arm and kissed him. They all applauded, amid laughter and shouting, because he had put it over the boy so neatly; and Sophocles said, ' I am practising strategy, gentlemen, since Perieles told me that whereas I could write poetry, I didn't know how to be a general. Don't vou think my stratagem has turned out happily for me?' Many things of this sort he was wont to say and do cleverly when he drank or when he did anything.a In civic matters, however, he was neither wise nor efficient but like any other individual among the better class of Athenians."

Hieronymus of Rhodes says in his Historical Notes that Sophocles lured a handsome boy outside the city wall to consort with him. Now the bov spread his own cloak on the grass, while they wrapped themselves in Sophocles' cape. When the meeting [ie the "doing"] was over the boy seized Sophocles' cape and made off with it, leaving behind for Sophocles his boyish cloak. Naturally the incident was much talked of; when Euripides learned of the occurrence he jeered, saying that he himself had once consorted with this boy without paying any bonus, whereas Sophocles had been treated with contempt for his licentiousness. When Sophocles heard that, he addressed to him the following epigram, which refers to the fable of the Sun and the North Wind, and also alludes lightly to Euripides' practice of adultery: " Helios it was, and not a boy, Euripides, who by his heat stripped me of my cape; but with you, when you were embracing another man's wife, Boreas consorted. So you are not so clever, because when sowing in another's field you bring eros into court for thieving."

Theopompus in his treatise On the Funds plundered from Delphi says [605] that Asopichus, the favourite of Epameinondas, had the trophy erected at Leuctra pictured on his shield, and that he risked extraordinary dangers; this shield was dedicated as a votive offerinr in the colonnade at Delphi. In the same treatise Theopompus says that Phayllus, the tyrant of Phocis, was fond of women, Onomarchus, of boys; and froln the treasures of Apollo the latter gave the offerings of the Sybarites, four golden strigils, to ... the son of Pythodorus of Sicyon, who had come to Delphi to dedicate his shorn locks, and who, being beautiful, had accorded his favours to Onomarchus. To the flute-girl Bromias, daughter of Deiniades, Phayllus gave a silvcr karchesion, a votive offering of the Phocaeans, and an ivy wreath of gold, the offering of the Peparethians. " This girl," Theopompus says, " would even have played the flute accompanimnet to the Pythian Games had she not been prevented from doing so by the populace. And (he adds) to Physchl.ls, the son of Lycolas of Trichoneium, a beautiful boy, Onomarchus gave a laurel wreath of gold, votive offering of the Ephesians. This boy was taken to Philip by his father and was there prostituted, and afterwards dismissed without reward. To Damippus, the son of Epilycus of Amphipolis, a beautiful boy, Onomarchus gave . . .. a votive offering of Pleisthenes.b To Pharsalia, the Thessalian dancing-girl, Philomelus gave a laurel crown of gold, a votive offering of the Lampsacenes. This Pharsalia lost her life in Metapontium at the hands of the soothsayers in the market-place; for a voice had issued from the bronze bay tree which the Metapontines had set up when Aristeas of Proconesus visited them and declared that he had come from the land of the Hyperhoreans; and no sooner was she spied setting foot in the market-place than the soothsayers became furious, and she was pulled to pieces by them. And when people later came to look into the cause it was found that she had been killed because of the wreath which belonged to the god."

So beware, you philosophers who indulge in passion contrary to nature [para phusin], who sin against the goddess of love,-beware lest you also are destroyed in the same manner. For even boys are handsome, as the courtesan Glycera, in the account given bv Clearchus, was wont to say, only so long as they look like a woman. It was, in my opinion, quite in accordance with nature that Cleonymus the Spartan acted when he, thc first of men so to do, took as hostages from the Metapontines two hundred of their most eminent and beautiful matrons and maidens, as Duris of Samos records b in the third book of his History of Agathoc1es and his Times; and what is more, to put it as Epicrates does in Anti-Lats " I have learned completely all the love-affairs of Sappho, Meletus, Cleomenes, and Lamynthius." But do you, my philosophers, if you ever fall in love with wome n and then see thslt it is impossible to attain your object, learn that (whell love is impossible) it comes to an end, as Clearchus asserts. For example, a bull once mounted the bronze cow of Peiren; and a painted bitch, pigeon, and goose were approached, in the one case, by a dog, in the other, by a pigeon, in the last, by a gander leaping upon them; but when it became clear to all these creatures that their desires were impossible, they desisted, like Cleisophus of Selymbria. For he, becoming enamoured of the statue in Parian marble at Samos, [606] locked himself up in the temp]e, thinking he should be able to have intercourse with it; and since he found that impossible on account of the frigidity and resistance of the stone, he then and there desisted from that desire and placing before him a small piece of flesh he consorted with that. This deed is mentioned by the poet Alexis in the play entitled A Picture ~: " Another case of a like sort occurred, they say, in Samos. A man conceived a passion for a stone maiden, and locked himself up in the temple." And Philemon, mentioning the same, says : " Why, once on a time, in Samos, a man fell in love with the stone image; thereupon he locked himself in the temple." Now the statue is the w-ork of Ctesicles, as Adaeus of Mytilene says in his work On Sculptors. But Polemon, or whoever wrote the work entitled Of Hellas, says that " at Delphi, in the treasury of the Spinatae, are two lads carved in stone; for one of these, the Delphians say, a pilgrim to the shrine once conceived a passion and locked himself up with it, leaving behind him a wreath as the price of the intercourse. When his act was detected the god ordained to the Delphians who consulted his oracle that they should release the fellow; for, the god declared, he had paid the price."

Athanaeus now goes on to discuss animals in love with human beings!

"What is more, dumb animals have fallen in love with human beings: a cock fell in love with a certain Secundus? royal wine-pourer; the cock was called Centaur, and Secundus was a slave of Nicomedes,..