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three pairs of lovers with space



Greek love caught the attention of two of the great European philosophers of the eighteenth century, Voltaire, whose article on "Socratic Love" in his Philosophical Dictionary, first published in 1764, was for some time the most widely-read writing on the subject, and Jeremy Bentham, whose much longer Offences Against One's Self: Paederasty, written in about 1785, he dared not publish. These reveal similar assumptions about Greek love amongst the intellectual giants of the enlightenment.

First, even in northern Europe, where alone in the world sex between mature men was becoming much heard of, pederasty continued to dominate the great thinkers’ imagination of homosexuality. Had Voltaire thought sex between men a significant or interesting phenomenon, he could easily have included it in his term Socratic Love, instead of which he wrote only about desire for boys or youths.  Likewise, given that the purpose of Bentham’s essay was to argue against the harsh law against sodomy, which applied to pedication of men and females as much as boys, he might have sodomy the subject of his essay had sex between men occurred to him as of significance. Instead, he insisted that the Greeks’ use of Pederastia rather than Andrerastia and the Romans’ use of Paedicare proved that this form of law-breaking was inspired by desire for boys, and argued in favour of tolerating an attachment of the kind that “it could not be lasting, that is confined for any length of time to the same individual. … it is only for a very few years of his life that a male continues an object of desire even to those in whom the infection of this taste is at the strongest,” after which years “no man hoped to be an object of desire to his own sex.”

Secondly, though Voltaire and Bentham shared the modern assumption that desire for boys was what Bentham termed a “propensity”, rather than a potentially general taste, they did not take this nearly as far it would be taken in the twentieth century, accepting the evidence that whole societies rather than just individuals could incline towards it, and insisting on its compatibility with desire for women. Voltaire believed that pederasty is “a mistake in nature” occasioned by the similarity in beauty for a few years of boys to girls. Bentham quoted him approvingly on this and added: “But it is a neverfailing rule wherever you see any thing about boys, you see a great deal more about women. … In all antiquity there is not a single instance of an author nor scarce an explicit account of any other man who was addicted exclusively to this taste. Even in modern times the real womenhaters are to be found not so much among paederasts, as among monks and catholic priests, such of them, be they more or fewer, who think and act in consistency with their profession.”

Europe by Herman Moll 1721
                                                      Europe in 1721 by Herman Moll

The Venetian adventurer Giacomo Casanova (1725-98) left a long memoir that is unrivalled in bringing eighteenth-century Europe to life, his travels ranging from Madrid to Moscow and Constantinople. Though best-known for his  amorous adventures with females, he briefly described one with a boy and alluded to others, besides describing the Greek love liaisons of others.

Attitudes to Sex with Willing Pubescents in Eighteenth- Century Europe is an essay by Edmund Marlowe adducing evidence from the law, memoirs and the opinons of enlightenment phiosophers to show that none of the objections that might then be raised against sex between a man and a willing pubescent child of either gender who felt ready had anything to do with the age gap or the child's age.

For the first half of the twentieth century, the life most worth studying for understanding both Greek love itself and attitudes to it in Europe then is that of the writer Norman Douglas, who was very active as a lover of boys from 1897 until his death in 1952. He is best understood as European rather than as a particular nationality, since he was born and raised in Austria, was of mostly Scottish descent, lived most of his adult life in Italy, and also lived for years in Russia, England, France and Portugal. Open about his loves with his large social circle, his affairs are well-documented from his correspondence as well as his memoir Looking Back, and have been detailed in a fine biography. Both the latter and, more dramatically, the letters sent to him by two boys who had taken Douglas as their lover when they were twelve, offer rare illustration of the sort of strong, beneficial and lifelong bonds that Greek love tended to forge when either it was tolerated or a man of strong enough spirit defied intolerance. Later, his devoted, though exclusively woman-loving, friend, John Davenport, offered both an explanation of how it was precisely this spirit that won him such devotion from his friends, as well as adding some intimate details.


There are specific articles devoted to the modern history of Greek love for the following European countries:

Great Britain
Germany, including Austria
The Netherlands




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