three pairs of lovers with space

WAS A CLASSICAL EDUCATION AN INCITEMENT TO GREEK LOVE?

 

Since the repression of pederasty in the Roman Empire began with the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century, those drawn to Greek love have unsurprisingly drawn inspiration from classical Greece as having been simultaneously the most successful culture ever, measured by influence in proportion to population, and the one which most highly esteemed pederasty. Countless writings on this website attest to the discovery of classical culture comforting and emboldening those already drawn to Greek love, but could it also incite it in those not yet so drawn?

Probably this question was never found as vexing as it was in the enclosed communities of the English public schools, and above all in the later nineteenth century. On the one hand, repressive attitudes had grown until the school authorities had fairly suddenly determined to try to stamp out Greek love there, where they had previously largely ignored it, a development well described by John Chandos in his A Demon Hovering.  On the other hand, classical literature was still very much most of what public school education was about.

John Addington Symonds in the 1880s

One man who agonised over this question was the homosexual historian and literary critic John Addington Symonds, author of A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883). In his Memoirs, he included a letter he wrote to his tutor, the renowned classicist Benjamin Jowett, in which he explained how very dangerous he thought the study of Plato was to those who had discovered in themselves an inclination to Greek love and yet had to live in a society that was fiercely intolerant of it.

Symonds also consulted Edward Norman Peter Moor (10 January 1851 – 6 March 1895), then a master and soon to be a housemaster at Clifton College, where he had once been a boy.[1]  As will be seen, they were evidently on terms of sufficient trust to discuss such a taboo subject, since Symonds had been Moor’s lover in the latter’s late teens (though their physical intimacy had never gone beyond kissing on the lips and sleeping together naked, due to Moor already having been attracted to boys rather than men).[2]

Presented here is Moor’s reply.  He was as well qualified to answer the question as anyone. Besides having had a thoroughly classical education, he had partaken of Greek love as successively both the younger and older boy, and gone on to marry with children. His letter was kept unseen with Symonds’ Memoirs until published as Appendix Four of the latter in 1984, edited by Phyllis Grosskurth

 

Norman  Moor’s Letter to "Johnnie" Symonds

6 Northcote Road
Clifton
26 November 1886

My dear Johnnie,

Norman Moor

Your question is not I think a very easy one to answer - chiefly because people do not talk about their experiences in this line much. I think one may say without fear or contradiction that a very large proportion of the ‘unnatural vice’ which they say is so prevalent in public schools has nothing whatever to do with the reading of the classics - and I should doubt much whether ever any one at school was first put upon the track of it by his classical studies. - for (1) boys have been initiated into the mysteries of παιδεραστία[3] unofficially long before their reading of the classics has any effect on their conduct, some purely, some impurely – ‘spooning’ to use a school boy term comes so naturally to a large number of boys, and the spooning may be quite harmless, innocent of any desire tending to ὕβρις[4] or of course may be quite animal and find its only satisfaction in ὕβρις, in one form or another. I should much doubt whether Lyttleton[5] is right in thinking that all ‘dual vice’ comes from ‘solitary vice’ - but I am quite sure that if you had a large boarding school compound of young Jesus Christs even, spooning would not be unknown. E.g., T. E. Brown has told me that he had a passion for a boyfriend, and this was absolutely pure, and it seems inconceivable that T. E. B. was ever guilty of the ‘solitary vice’ or that his juices were ever in anything but a thoroughly hearty and healthy condition. (2) The classics that the boys read at school are not as a rule those that contain allusions to παιδεραστία. They read the Iliad of course but it does not I think occur to them that there was anything between Achilles and Patroclus, nor I think do they attach much meaning to the friendships of Orestes and Pylades, Theseus and Pirithous and co. Theocritus they read, but the idylls they read are not the paiderastic ones, and the edition they are provided with is probably expurgated. They never read as school subjects at all events the Phaedrus and Symposium - and I much doubt whether they read them as πάρεργα[6] - a very very few only do so, if any. I can tell you of a single instance that has come within my own experience of a boy who got a twist that way. He went up from us as a scholar to Balliol, and before he had been long at Oxford he declared himself a paederast, and went so far as to publish or at all events write and get printed an ‘Ἀπολογία περὶ παιδεραστίας’[7] - which contained a defence of the habit, i.e. of the ideal παιδεραστία - the purely spiritual views. I do not think that he for a moment contemplated any such co-habitation as the Greeks permitted themselves under certain conditions - it was all up in the clouds as the love of the beautiful. This youth was sent down from Balliol, and sent on a voyage round the world, much as one sends an invalid round the world to get rid of a disease. This boy was ‘hurt’.

My own idea, founded more or less on experience, is that it is not the scholars as a rule who take to spooning and sometimes debauching beautiful choirboys etc. but far more fleshly people. Those who have really studied Greek literature are so far from being injured in any way, rather kept straight and narrow on the ideal lines - they appreciate the ugliness of ὕβρις.

The end of all this is that I do not believe the evils Lyttleton combats are in any way due to a study of the classics. The study of the classics may give a sanction to some few for παιδεραστία but does not put them upon vices - the love of boys for boys is I believe inevitable in our public schools to which we point as our national glory - and not only is it inevitable, but I would go so far as to say it is desirable if it can be kept in an absolutely pure region. The beastly form of it is I am afraid also almost inevitable - the best safeguards against it are a well-filled routine of work and play - hard play, tiring and exciting. I don’t believe you’ll touch the thing by religion - neither do I think you’ll do much by telling boys at a certain age all about the reproductive organs etc. You’ll rouse curiosity in more than you will allay it in. I dare say if you get them thoroughly well frightened as to the effects on their bodily health, you might do much that way - a thorough knowledge of the laws of health would be very advantageous, but I don’t see how you are to get it. The pedagogue as we know him is not very well qualified to give it.

Clifton College, where Moor, as an older boy, "regarded every small boy as a possible spoon"

I don’t know whether I have given you anything in answer to your questions. I have been obliged to write in great haste and at odd moments. My own case in this matter was not perhaps an isolated one. Corrupted at a very early age by a Harrow eleven boy who came over to Ashborne to play in a cricket match, and invited to his house by him where I stayed two or three days, nights were more to the point, and by him introduced to a sense of what one was made of, for years I never could throw off a perfect lust for being spooned. I regarded every big boy as a possible admirer - and when I got a bit older myself, I regarded every small boy as a possible spoon. A most pandemic state. The combined influence of Percival and yourself did something to cure me of this - but here you see is another case where the paiderastic instinct (if it can be so far dignified as to be called paiderastic) was not in any way caused by the reading of Gk lit., but was rather chastened and directed by a literary education. I dare say I have told you all this before, but it seems to me a case which Lyttleton might be glad to get hold of, if he could, - but God forbid he ever should - and then mangle many other poor little boys who are got hold of in this way by some great lustful beast, fat, soft and sleeky. He was a very good cricketer . . . .

I must write no more now. Goodbye. Of course all this is very private. I should like one of the pamphlets, unless you dislike letting one out of your hands. What an enterprising compositor! Will he proclaim you for it?

Yours aff.

Norman Moor

 

[1] Head boy 1868-9 (Clifton College Register, September 1862, to July, 1887 by E. M. Oakeley, (London, 1890) p. 28).

[2] This is likewise described in details in Symonds’ Memoirs, Chapter Thirteen.

[3] “Paiderastia”, ie. pederasty.

[4] “Hubris” or pride that was insolent to the gods; implicitly, in this case, sexual behaviour that the writer imagined would provoke their wrath because it offended his own sensibilities.

[5] The Rev. the Hon. Edward Lyttelton, headmaster of Eton. In 1877 he privately printed a pamphlet The Causes and Prevention of Immorality in Schools. [Note by Phyllis Grosskurth in the aforementioned publication of this letter]

[6] “Parerga”, ie. diversions.

[7] “Apologia peri paiderastias”, ie. an apology for pederasty.