three pairs of lovers with space

GENERAL ISSUES IN THE HISTORY OF GREEK LOVE

 

                        by Pierre Joubert

The history of Greek love is mostly best approached through study of its practice in the culturally distinct areas where it has flourished.  This section is reserved for historical questions that pertain to its practise throughout the world.

 

Why has Greek love existed? 

This is perhaps the main theme of "Pederasty: An Integration" by American psychologist Bruce Rind, which summarises succinctly the historical, anthropological and zoological evidence for pederasty having evolved as a fundamental component of male sexuality co-existing with attraction to females, but with its own social functions.

Though one of Rind’s earlier studies of hebephilia[1] had the honour of so offending the dogma of the day as to become the first scientific study formally condemned by a government (his own) since the Pope's condemnation of Galileo's heliocentrism in 1616, from which one might suppose essays on the subject were written as a critique of society today, but such is not their point: his evidence and his evolutionary hypothesis built on it are simply essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how Greek love came into existence and survived.

 

Why have attitudes diverged so sharply?

Sir Richard Burton's essay on "Paederasty", published in 1886, was not only the longest writing on the subject at the time, but may still be regarded as the most substantial global survey.  However, it is perhaps best known for its positing of geography and climate as explaining the differences between a "Sotadic Zone" of the world, within which Greek love was ubiquitous, and the cold northern countries where the "liveliest disgust" for it was felt.  Though Burton took this argument much further, it had already been made by William Lithgow in 1632, Voltaire in 1764 and Jeremy Bentham in about 1785, and it was to be supported by the experienced boy-lover Michael Davidson in 1969.

 

Gender Segregation

It is far from being a coincidence that the new global culture is historically unique both in singling out Greek love for special repression and in practising integration of the sexes to an unprecedented degree. In "Some Notes on the Effects of 'Purdah' on Boys", a chapter of his memoirs written in 1969, the journalist Michael Davidson recorded a lifetime's observations on the effects on boys in various cultures brought up in widely varying degrees of segregation from girls.

 

Nudity

"What Spirit is so empty and blind that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and the skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?"
     Michelangelo

Though nudity is not necessarily sexual, it certainly has sexual implications which have been felt since mankind adopted clothes.  The histories of attitudes to sex and nudity are therefore deeply intertwined.  This is perhaps especially the case where the sex involves boys, for boys have generally been allowed to be clothes-free far more than men or females. It was, for example, rare for boys anywhere to wear anything swimming until well into the twentieth century.  Nude swimming was most often homosocial, females being clothed and even shielded from seeing it, increasing homosexual possibilities.

The gradual suppression of boy nudity since the late nineteenth century until by the end of the twentieth boys were swimming not merely with their genitals covered, but in baggy, desexualising garments, has gone hand in hand with the suppression of Greek love and from surely the same puritanical impulses.  The history of gymnophobia as applied to boys therefore offers valuable insight into attitudes that heavily influenced social responses to Greek love. On Favouring Tradtional Sea-Bathing is a particularly interesting look into conflicting attitudes to boy nudity in one of the most puritanically-advanced countries in 1882.

 

Prostitution

Boys for Sale by Dennis Drew & Jonathan Drake (1969) is a study of boy prostitution around the world that is historically weak, but preserves priceless information from the lost scenes of the 1950s and 1960.

 

What went wrong?

What went wrong?  Some aspects of this are also covered in an earlier study by Bruce Rind, "Hebephilia a mental disorder?" Half devoted to the very different phenomenon of male attraction to pubescent girls, the half relevant to Greek love is mostly repeated in expanded form in his “Pederasty: An Integration”, but, written from a slightly different perspective, it addresses a little more the reasons pederasty, a behaviour implicitly evolved for its social benefits, came to be so much a cultural mismatch with late 20th century society as to provoke unprecedented antagonism.

 

Other Subjects

A number of other articles are intended to appear here which are mentioned now as they require wide research and trenchant observation, any crumbs of which would be gratefully received in the meantime:

 The falling age of puberty [to be constructed; please ignore The falling age of puberty 2, a mere technical experiment]

The usual age at which boys have attracted men

The role of free love in the popularity of pederasty. Contrary to the popular mythology of recent times which seeks to explain away the ubiquitousness of Greek love in many old societies by assuming that the men in them only interested themselves in boys because women were not available, the evidence from the societies where the sexual popularity of boys is clearest shows incontestably that women were very easily available for sex, whether as wives, concubines, prostitutes or all three, far more available in fact than to men of the present century with its undercurrents of hostility to male sexuality.  This essay will present the evidence that a critical clue to the popularity of Greek love was that it was free: unlike women in these societies, boys were free to say yes or no to their suitors, and the winning of love or sex through courtship has always been an essential ingredient of men's happiness and self-esteem.

 

[1] B. Rind, P. Tromovitch, P., & R. Bauserman, “A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties  of child sexual abuse using college samples” in Psychological Bulletin, 124 (1998) pp. 22–53.