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three pairs of lovers with space

GENERAL ISSUES IN THE HISTORY OF GREEK LOVE

 

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.

 

Greek love in general

There have been three book-length studies of Greek love in English, each of which mixes general insights into the phenomenon with chapters limited to particular times and places. The second was Sexual Experience between Men and Boys by Parker Rossman - Greek love (1976).

Much the most substantial survey of Greek love has been the two-volume Loving Boys by Edward Brongersma, but though this is encyclopaedic in its coverage of the topic, it is most valuable for its illumination of it from the five hundred 20th-century case histories gathered by the author. In this respect, it is particularly informative on the varied sexual practices used in Greek love: the most substantial section of this is rightly devoted to pedication as the historically most common means of consummation, whilst others are about masturbation, interfemoral intercourse and oral sex.

 

General history

Historical surveys of Greek love so broad in scope that they must be considered general include Rossman's introduction to the chapter on the "Uses of History" in his Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys, and the sections in that chapter titled "Pederasty in the Non-Christian World", "Pederasty à la Mode", "The Western Underground". and "Some Concluding Observations".

 Why has Greek love existed?

Typical behaviour between homosexual mountings: a prepubescent Japanese macaque sits with his back against his adult lover (The Monkeys of Stormy Mountain: 60 Years of Primatological Research on the Japanese Macaques of Arashiyama)

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 an earlier study by Rind of children who had been sexually involved with adults[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 his essays 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.

Though Rind's studies offer much the most comprehensive explanation of why Greek love has existed, they were not quite the first. One Arthur Johnson had posed questions as to its evolutionary function in Why Boy-love?, a short article published in 1982, and though he missed its vital role in securing mentorship for the adolescent boy, his insights were interesting and his omission (finally shown by Rind with great thoroughness) was presciently noted by the editor of the publication.

One of the first to study the behaviour of man's primate cousins as a key to understanding human nature was the psychiatrist G. V. Hamilton, who published his observations of pederasty among macaques and baboons  in 1914. Edward J. Kempf made similar observations of six Rhesus macaques in 1917, drawing further-reaching conclusions from them for human psychology. As the century progressed, observing primate behaviour in free-range situations gained in importance. S. Zuckerman's investigations, published in 1932, were based on both captive and free-range primates, while C. R. Carpenter's 1942 report was based entirely on his observations of a free-range colony of Rhesus monkeys.

Yamagiwa’s study of an all-male group of mountain gorillas found that the ‘boy’ gorilla who was most receptive to pederasty and indeed solicited sexual attention from the adults, was also the only one who received substantial support from them when attacked. It later transpired that he continued to be socially successful, becoming a group leader, and was reproductively the most successful of all the gorillas studied.

Earlier than Rind, Parker Rossman had speculated about how and why pederasty may have been practised in prehistoric societies in his The Earliest Pederast, but with no references to its possible social functions, his explanations seem ultimately frivolous.

 

Cultural influences

by Pierre Joubert

Abundant historical evidence presented on this website shows that in many cultures pederasty was practically ubiquitous, accepted, and in some cases venerated, whilst in many others it was regarded as disgusting and abnormal. In "The Impact of Other Cultures", introduced here, Dr. Parker Rossman used the case histories from the third quarter of the 20th century of men from northern Europe and North Africa living in countries where it was widespread and accepted to show how the individual could be changed by culture. On this, he then made "Some concluding observations".

 

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.

 

Why were some men especially drawn to Greek love?

Once it is understood that Greek love evolved as an option for all men in any society that found it socially useful and that culture was the main determinant as to how widely practiced it was in any particular time and place, it becomes possible to address the question of why some men were more readily drawn to it than others, practising it even in severely antagonistic societies, without falling into the trap of confusing what drove them with the broader raison d'être of Greek love. Such is the subject of "Why Do They?", the fourth chapter of Rossman's aforementioned study, considered from the perspective of the 1970s in North America and Europe.

 

The different types of pederast

Related to the question of why some men have been especially drawn to boys, but nevertheless distinct from it, is the different types of men who have loved boys (whether exclusively or not), reflected in their personalities, their tastes and the character of their liaisons with boys. Discussion of types inevitably involves gross simplification, but still reveals important truths.  A very short, but particularly perceptive summary was given in an essay by Karl Andersson,[2] who found three types of "boy-lover", besides "The Freak" (pedophile, who does not concern us here). These he termed "The Straight" (the ordinary majority historically drawn to boys), "The Schoolgirl" (roughly meaning gays fixated on boys), and "The Aesthete", which he saw as a cross between the first two and has apparently corresponded to many exclusive boy-lovers. The subject was also explored in much greater detail by Rossman in "Dimensions of a Complex Problem", the first chapter of his book.

 

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 memoir Some Boys, 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.

On Nudity and Sexual Shame by Dutch senator Eduard Brongersma (1984) explores much more directly the link between male social nudity and happy acceptance of Greek love from the perspective of the most liberal and pro-sexual time and place in modern Europe.

 

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 1960s. The concluding sections are devoted to "The Future of Boy Prostitution", as it then seemed, and the authors' "Afterthoughts".

Related to this, but nevertheless still firmly distinct from it has been the broader role of money in building liaisons between rich and poor, arguably corrupting them but also often ensuring they have been mutually beneficial. There is nothing peculiar to Greek love as a form of love where this has happened: many have argued that even traditional marriage is, to some degree, a financial transaction, and certainly influenced by financial aspirations, and that there is nothing wrong or practically avoidable about that. The issues raised for Greek love have probably been most honestly and thoroughly appraised in the writings of a prolific traveller in the late 20th-century Third World, J. Darling, who addressed them both in a letter and in his memoir of his boysexual adventures, It's Okay to Say Yes.

 

What went wrong?

In the mid-19th century, Greek love was still tolerated and widely practiced in most of the Far East and Central Asia and, with mostly greater reservations, in the Near East, North Africa, south-eastern Europe and Italy, while legal toleration in the face of social disapproval had been achieved in France and some of her neighbours. It also remained an integral part of the way of life of scattered tribes. Explanations for the strong, general European disapproval at that time must be sought in European history, and the steady deterioration in the position of Greek love elsewhere over the following century is simply explained by European power stretching its tentacles around the world. But what caused the fairly sudden, extreme and globally-imposed repression of the late twentieth century?  Was it inevitable? Was, for example, the sexual liberalism around the 1970s that began to accept Greek love on new terms in northern European countries that had once been its fiercest persecutors, bound to be short-lived? It is easy to assume so with hindsight, but the question deserves deep consideration.

Some aspects of this question 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.

 

Greek love in adversity

"Rings, Subcultures and the Underground", a chapter in Rossman's Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys, is about how pederasts who have in some (not necessarily sexual) sense been active, managed to survive in the hostile societies of North America and western Europe in the later twentieth century. Other chapters about how pederasts and those involved with them have behaved in these societies are "Response to Community Censure", "The Impact of Conscience: Morals and Religion" and "Identity and Self-Understanding".

 

Subjects to be addressed

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 [being constructed]

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.

[2] Destroyer: Journal of Apollonian Beauty and Dionysian Homosexuality, IX (Berlin, June 2009) pp. 8-9.