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three pairs of lovers with space



Demetrios, known as “Poliorketes” (City-taker), (337/6-283 BC), sometime King in Macedon and elsewhere, was one of the most colourful of those who fought over the empire of Alexander the Great for about forty years after his death. The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch wrote a biography of him at the beginning of the second century AD, as one of his Parallel Lives. Here follows the only passage in it relating to pederasty.

The translation is by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classical Library volume CI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1920) except for two words amended with explanatory footnotes. Latinised names have been replaced by romanisations of the Greek.


XXIV 1-4

In 304 BC, Demetrios came to the rescue of the Athenians, who had earlier proclaimed him a King and Saviour-God. Having driven away his rival Kassandros, who had been besieging Athens, the grateful Athenians housed him over the ensuing winter on the acropolis, assigning him the rear chamber of their greatest temple, the Parthenon, dedicated to Athena. …

But Demetrios, who ought to have revered Athena, if for no other reason, at least because she was his elder sister (for this was what he liked to have her called[1]), filled the acropolis with such wanton treatment of free-born boys[2] and native Athenian women that the place was then thought to be particularly pure when he shared his dissolute life there with Chrysis and Lamia and Demo and Antikyra, the well-known prostitutes.

Now, to give all the particulars plainly would disgrace the fair fame of the city, but I may not pass over the modesty and virtue of Demokles. He was still an adolescent[3] boy, and it did not escape the notice of Demetrios that he had a surname which indicated his comeliness; for he was called Demokles the Beautiful. But he yielded to none of the many who sought to win him by prayers or gifts or threats, and finally, shunning the palaistras and the gymnasium, used to go for his bath to a private bathing-room. Here Demetrios, who had watched his opportunity, came upon him when he was alone.

And the boy, when he saw that he was quite alone and in dire straits, took off the lid of the cauldron and jumped into the boiling water, thus destroying himself, and suffering a fate that was unworthy of him, but showing a spirit that was worthy of his country and of his beauty. Not so Kleainetos the son of Kleomedon, who, in order to obtain a letter from Demetrios to the people and therewith to secure the remission of a fine of fifty talents which had been imposed upon his father, not only disgraced himself, but also got the city into trouble.

For the people released Kleomedon from his sentence, but they passed an edict that no citizen should bring a letter from Demetrios before the assembly. However, when Demetrios heard of it and was beyond measure incensed thereat, they took fright again, and not only rescinded the decree, but actually put to death some of those who had introduced and spoken in favour of it, and drove others into exile; furthermore, they voted besides that it was the pleasure of the Athenian people that whatsoever King Demetrios should ordain in future, this should be held righteous towards the gods and just towards men.

A tetradrachm of Demetrios Poliorketes

[1] Δημήτριος δέ, τὴν Ἀθηνᾶν αὐτῷ προσῆκον, εἰ δι᾿ ἄλλο μηδέν, ὥς γε πρεσβυτέραν ἀδελφὴν αἰσχύνεσθαι (τοῦτο γὰρ ἐβούλετο λέγεσθαι), τοσαύτην ὕβριν εἰς παῖδας ἐλευθέρους καὶ γυναῖκας ἀστὰς κατεσκέδασε τῆς ἀκροπόλεως ὥστε δοκεῖν τότε μάλιστα καθαρεύειν τὸν τόπον, ὅτε Χρυσίδι καὶ Λαμίᾳ καὶ Δημοῖ καὶ Ἀντικύρᾳ, ταῖς πόρναις ἐκείναις, συνακολασταίνοι.

[2] Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα σαφῶς ἀπαγγέλλειν οὐ πρέπει διὰ τὴν πόλιν, τὴν δὲ Δημοκλέους ἀρετὴν καὶ σωφροσύνην ἄξιόν ἐστι μὴ παρελθεῖν. ἐκεῖνος γὰρ ἦν ἔτι παῖς ἄνηβος, οὐκ ἔλαθε δὲ τὸν Δημήτριον ἔχων τῆς εὐμορφίας τὴν ἐπωνυμίαν κατήγορον· ἐκαλεῖτο γὰρ Δημοκλῆς ὁ καλός. ὡς δὲ πολλὰ πειρώντων καὶ διδόντων καὶ φοβούντων ὑπ᾿ οὐδενὸς ἡλίσκετο, τέλος δὲ φεύγων τὰς παλαίστρας καὶ τὸ γυμνάσιον εἴς τι βαλανεῖον ἰδιωτικὸν ἐφοίτα λουσόμενος, ἐπιτηρήσας τὸν καιρὸν ὁ Δημήτριος ἐπεισῆλθεν αὐτῷ μόνῳ.

[3] καὶ ὁ παῖς, ὡς συνεῖδε τὴν περὶ αὑτὸν ἐρημίαν καὶ τὴν ἀνάγκην, ἀφελὼν τὸ πῶμα τοῦ χαλκώματος εἰς ζέον ὕδωρ ἐνήλατο καὶ διέφθειρεν αὑτόν, ἀνάξια μὲν παθών, ἄξια δὲ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ τοῦ κάλλους φρονήσας, οὐχ ὡς Κλεαίνετος ὁ Κλεομέδοντος, ὃς ὠφληκότι τῷ πατρὶ δίκην πεντήκοντα ταλάντων ἀφεθῆναι διαπραξάμενος καὶ γράμματα παρὰ Δημητρίου κομίσας πρὸς τὸν δῆμον οὐ μόνον ἑαυτὸν κατῄσχυνεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν πόλιν συνετάραξε.

[4] τὸν μὲν γὰρ Κλεομέδοντα τῆς δίκης ἀφῆκαν, ἐγράφη δὲ ψήφισμα μηδένα τῶν πολιτῶν ἐπιστολὴν παρὰ Δημητρίου κομίζειν. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἀκούσας ἐκεῖνος οὐκ ἤνεγκε μετρίως, ἀλλ᾿ ἠγανάκτησε, δείσαντες αὖθις οὐ μόνον τὸ ψήφισμα καθεῖλον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν εἰσηγησαμένων καὶ συνειπόντων τοὺς μὲν ἀπέκτειναν, τοὺς δὲ ἐφυγάδευσαν, ἔτι δὲ προσεψηφίσαντο δεδόχθαι τῷ δήμῳ τῶν Ἀθηναίων πᾶν, ὅ τι ἂν ὁ βασιλεὺς Δημήτριος κελεύσῃ, τοῦτο καὶ πρὸς θεοὺς ὅσιον καὶ πρὸς ἀνθρώπους εἶναι δίκαιον.

A man courts an unresponsive Athenian boy


Comparison of Demetrios and Antony 4 iii

Plutarch’s great work is known as the Parallel Lives because he told in pairs the story of one great Greek together with one similar great Roman, and then compared them. He compared Demetrios to the Roman triumvir Mark Antony, and, in comparing their lascivious practices, drew attention to the same anecdote about Demetrios:

And that vice which one would think least associated with such wanton enjoyments, namely, the vice of cruelty, this enters into Demetrius’ pursuit of pleasure, since he suffered, or rather compelled, the lamentable death of the most beautiful and the most chaste of Athenians, who thus sought to escape his shameful treatment. καὶ οὗ τις ἂν ἥκιστα τὰς τοιαύτας τρυφὰς καὶ ἀπολαύσεις οἴοιτο μετέχειν κακοῦ, τῆς ὠμότητος, τοῦτο ἔνεστι τῇ Δημητρίου φιληδονίᾳ, περιϊδόντος, μᾶλλον δὲ ἀναγκάσαντος, οἰκτρῶς ἀποθανεῖν τὸν κάλλιστον καὶ σωφρονέστατον Ἀθηναίων, φεύγοντα τὸ καθυβρισθῆναι.


[1] [Note by Perrin:] Since the Athenians had made him a “Saviour-god.”

[2] Perrin’s “youth” has been replaced with “boys” as a more accurate translation of the Greek “παῖδας”.

[3] Perrin’s “young” has here been replaced by “adolescent” as a translation of the Greek adjective “ἄνηβος”, which means one who was not yet an ephebe and thus fully a minor, which is suggestive of adolescence rather than of being a particularly young boy.



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Ned Hedley, 21 December 2021

Plutarch tells us Demokles the Beautiful “jumped into the boiling water, thus destroying himself” and so escaped the lecherous Demetrios.

Are we supposed to believe this actually happened? Would a reader in Plutarch’s day have believed it literally, or would he have taken it as a figure of speech sort of deal?