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Paul Halsall: Greek Couples


There is no doubt that classical Greek literature frequently presents a distinct model of homosexual eros. The proposed relationship is between a an older man (the lover or erastes) and a younger man (the beloved or eromenos). This ideal has much influenced discussion of the subject, and has lead some commentators to limit the connections between ancient Greek homosexually active men and modern "homosexuals": old-style historians emphasized that "homosexuality" was a phenomenon of the upper classes, opposed to democracy, and become less common in the more "heterosexual" Hellenistic period; modern "cultural historians" have argued repeatedly that the "homosexual" (conceived as an individual [or "subject"] defined by his or her sexual orientation) is a modern "social construction".

It is worthwhile retaining such considerations when studying the texts about homosexuality in Ancient Greece: the proposers of these ideas are serious scholars whose views demand respect. Nevertheless, such views can become a rigid orthodoxy. The fact of the matter is that there are all sorts of texts relating to homosexuality surviving from Ancient Greece, and many of these texts reveal that the literary ideal was not indicative of much practice; nor, even, the only ideal of homosexual love.

Here, then are textual references for long-term (in some cases life-long) homosexual relationships in the Greek texts.

  • Orestes and Pylades,
    -Orestes is the hero of the Oresteia cycle. He and Pylades were bywords for faithful and life-long love in Greek culture.
    -see Lucian (2nd C. CE): Amores or Affairs of the Heart, #48
  • Damon and Pythias
    -Pythagorean initiates
    -see Valerius Maximus: De Amicitiae Vinculo
  • Aristogeiton and Harmodius
    -credited with overthrowing tyranny in Athens.
    -see Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Book 6
  • Pausanias and Agathon
    -Agathon was an Athenian dramatist (c. 450-400 BCE). He was famous as an "effeminate" homosexual. It was in his house that the Dinner Party of Plato's Symposium takes place.
    -see Plato: Symposium 193C, Aristophanes: Thesmophoriazusae
  • Philolaus and Diocles
    -Philolaus was a lawgive at Thebes, Diocles an Olympic Athlete
    see Aristotle, Politics 1274A
  • Epaminondas and Pelopidas
    -Epaminondas (c.418-362 BCE) led Thebes in its greatest days in the fourth century. At the battle of Mantinea (385 BCE) he saved the life of his life long friend Pelopidas
    -see Plutarch: Life of Pelopidas
  • Members of the Sacred Band of Thebes
    -see Plutarch: Life of Pelopidas
  • Alexander the Great and Hephasteion
    -Atheaneus, The Deinosophists Bk 13

[If you have any more suggestions for this list, please send me a note with a reference.]