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Forum LockedProblematization of Eros in later Antiquity.

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Theodore Felix View Drop Down
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    Posted: 14-May-2009 at 03:12
I found this to be incredibly interesting topic. For many of us, it has often been a common belief that the problematization of sex, the body and pleasure has been a feature of the growth of Christianity. Increasingly pleasure became a terrible, whereas in classical antiquity it was a good that should be measured, like drinking and eating. The only possible sex was that between a man and woman through a marital union.

In 5th century we find a various levels of erotic pleasure being adopted, such as the always problematic paiderastia, sexual relations between a lover (erastes) and beloved (eromenos), the former being associated with the male (active, penetrating), while the latter with the woman (passive, penetrated). Thus homosexual relations could be excused through a gendered model that honored one and yet dishonored the other. This remained the rule for much of classical antiquity. Although anyone who has read the Symposion of Plato will see that the positions in it are continually flipped, particularly in the story Alkibiades (technically the student and therefore the eromenos) tells of his attempts to court Sokrates (the technical erastes). Technically the eromenos was not to receive pleasure from the relationship, while the erastes was.

It later antiquity, especially in the works of Plutarch, we start to see arguments and discussions increasingly taking this model into question, with some men proposing that the paiderastic model was ideal while others that of a relation between married men and woman. In fact, as antiquity moves on, even before the Christian era, pleasure as a whole becomes problematized. In works like Daphnis kai Xloe, and other Greek novels, the only suitable erotic relationship is between a man and woman who achieve a sort of symmetrical status(meaning both married man and women are lover and beloved, and both receive pleasure), unlike before where it was entirely assymetrical.

What exactly brough about this change? If it wasnt Christianity, and most don't believe it was today, then what?

Your thoughts
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khshayathiya View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote khshayathiya Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-May-2009 at 08:58
In the case of paederastic relations, the assymetry existed, but it did not cast any dishonour upon the eromenos. "Humiliation" implies social opprobrium, and there was none attached to the situation of the eromenos, since he was not even technically a man.

Social opprobrium seems to have been attached, however, to adult males who continued to be passive parties in homosexual relations, but not always and not everywhere. Take, for example, the Sacred Band of Thebes, whose soldiers are reputed to have been all lovers. Presumably the relation erastes-eromenos existed in their case also, but the eromenoi were not considered any less manly or valiant than their erastai.

As for the assymetry between the pleasure received in a heterosexual relation, it may be remembered that Teiresias was supposed to have arbitrated a dispute between Zeus and Hera as to who receives more pleasure from the sexual act - the man or the woman. After spending a number of years in the body of a woman, Teiresias famously said the woman receives much more pleasure than the man, which angered Hera so much as to blind the poor fellow.

Fundamentally, the search for symmetry is not so much in terms of "who gets more in bed", but in terms of social status. In Daphnis and Chloe, both kids grow up as shepherds, then discover they are both of noble origin, but had been abandoned in their infancy. So any transitions affect both in equal measure and this seems to be the key to their happiness.

I guess the drive towards the emancipation of women was given great impetus under the Roman Empire (although tendencies were observed also in the Hellenistic world), when women owned property and conduct business in their own right and could divorce their husbands easily, retaining all property.

As for the "sex is bad for your soul" spirit that dominated Christian Europe (and in places, it still does), the idea is not strictly judeo-christian. Pythagoreans are said to have practised abstinence and Plato coined the famous "soma sema" (the body is a tomb <onto the spirit>). So such ideas were circulated, but never really caught on except in philosophical circles. I guess it was the flames of Hell arduously depicted by preachers that did a lot to innoculate in the masses the idea - always contradicted in practice - that sex was bad.


Edited by khshayathiya - 14-May-2009 at 09:03
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-May-2009 at 11:52
Not a subject in which I profess any expertise, but what about the possible effect of Persian and Levantine attitudes on Greek attitudes to sex in Hellenistic times?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-May-2009 at 15:30
Originally posted by khshayathiya khshayathiya wrote:

In the case of paederastic relations, the assymetry existed, but it did not cast any dishonour upon the eromenos. "Humiliation" implies social opprobrium, and there was none attached to the situation of the eromenos, since he was not even technically a man.

Social opprobrium seems to have been attached, however, to adult males who continued to be passive parties in homosexual relations, but not always and not everywhere. Take, for example, the Sacred Band of Thebes, whose soldiers are reputed to have been all lovers. Presumably the relation erastes-eromenos existed in their case also, but the eromenoi were not considered any less manly or valiant than their erastai.
 
There were several discussions about homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome on this forum ( e.g. http://www.allempires.net/forum_posts.asp?TID=21970 ).
I am not sure if in the Sacred Band of Thebes there were grown-up men as eromenoi, many soldiers were quite young in that era (we'd probably regard them as boys even today) and also the ancient sources give such hints (Plutarch, Pelopidas, "Others say that it was composed of young men attached to each other by personal affection")
 
Quote As for the "sex is bad for your soul" spirit that dominated Christian Europe (and in places, it still does), the idea is not strictly judeo-christian. Pythagoreans are said to have practised abstinence and Plato coined the famous "soma sema" (the body is a tomb <onto the spirit>). So such ideas were circulated, but never really caught on except in philosophical circles. I guess it was the flames of Hell arduously depicted by preachers that did a lot to innoculate in the masses the idea - always contradicted in practice - that sex was bad.
 The ideas of chastity and morality (also sexual morality) from Late Antiquity were more than merely philosophical musings, it was an entire image promoted by elites for elites. It was essentially the morality which was set as a barrier between the refined, educated people and the commoners, peasants, slaves, barbarians, etc. This view was inspired also by the Greek philosophy and ethics but also medicine. Consequently excessive sexuality became repressed because it was seen as morally erroding, as staining the innate superiority of the well-born. Peter Brown qualified this phenomenon as "moral hypochondria".
The early Christian theoreticians and preachers were mostly part of this upper class, so along with many other Graeco-Roman ideas, Christianity inherited also this view on sexuality.
 
I am not so sure how much the Christian preaching influenced / changed the masses. Many areas of Europe remained more or less pagan for a long time, and their social and sexual norms might have various causes but being taught by priests. However I am quite sure that even in the Roman era, the social and sexual dynamics were different in a city like Pompei (as we have lots of graffiti and inscriptions testifying for their sexual exuberance) and in a small Celtic or north-African village of some dozen households.
 
The man-woman assymetry certainly owes something to the patriarchal Judaic backgroung of Christianity, however I believe it is also due the important political and social transformations during the first millenium, and thus to the redefinition of the role of the man and of the woman. Christian saints were mostly military saints, the medieval nobles were no longer aristocrats enjoying a peaceful life in a country-side villa, they were soldiers fighting for their lord and for Christ, etc. it's a long discussion and I guess many of its parameters are well-known.


Edited by Chilbudios - 14-May-2009 at 15:51
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khshayathiya View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote khshayathiya Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-May-2009 at 16:01
Well, Dryden's translation puts an accent where in Greek there is none: "ενιοι δε φασιν εξ εραστων και ερωμενων γενεσθαι το συστημα τουτο". Plutarch says nothing about their ages. However, though I'm sure they must have been men in the prime of their lives, I'd be surprised to find out they were younger than 18, the traditional age at which the boy finished his education. True enough, we know this happened at Athens, but Thebes might have been no different, given the subsequent reference to the palaistra as the place where the education of the youth is carried out. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-May-2009 at 07:40
 Now that you mentioned that particular quote looks unfortunate but I don't believe Dryden exaggerated that much because virtually all sources characterize these lovers to be young, to be boys (παιδες or sometimes νεανισκοι). Moreover, as you remarked, it's Plutarch's own account which suggests that. Reading the text further, he explains this Theban custom and the education of their youth: "It was not the disaster of Laius, as the poets imagine, that first gave rise to this form of attachment amongst the Thebans, but their lawgivers, designing to soften whilst they were young their natural fierceness, brought, for example, the pipe into great esteem, both in serious and sportive occasions, and gave great encouragement to these friendships in the Palaestra, to temper the manners and characters of the youth. " and here Plutarch mentions explicitely their youngness ( http://books.google.com/books?id=-dJj_zUhaoMC&pg=PA83 - pgf. 19)
 
As for their boyhood, I don't think it was judged by being below 18, but by various criteria (sometimes varying from city to city). On the other thread on homosexuality I presented an epigram of an eromenos worried about the hair growing on his thighs.


Edited by Chilbudios - 15-May-2009 at 09:46
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote khshayathiya Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-May-2009 at 10:34
I wouldn't want to seem to go on arguing for the sake of argument, as this is really a very minor point, but the way I understood Plutarch's account was that the Theban lawgivers encouraged eroticised friendships among the boys in the Palaestra (so not the typical elder male-young boy relation common elsewhere), and these relations continued even afterwards, when the boys turned young men joined the phalanx. I'm not really sure boys (judging by the standards then in place in Thebes) would technically be allowed to join the phalanx, as in order to do that one had to be a citizen in his own right. Of course, if there is evidence that Thebes differed in this respect I'm happy to take that comment back.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-May-2009 at 13:12

Though it looks minor, it can be a piece of evidence to argue that there were Greek cities where it was normal/socially acceptable for adult males to be typically passive parties in homosexual relations, so it is important to sort it out. 

I agree with your reading on Plutarch's account but to me it looks that it suggests that eromenoi were rather young. Here is why:
 
-  The military service came from a relative young age (following the Palaestra). Their education (not only in Thebes probably there was nothing wrong/shameful of two juniors to experience homosexual pleasures) was to prepare them for their first years in military service (when they were still very young) and I find rather unlikely that a 20 years old freshman would be the dominating partener in homosexual relation with a 40 years old, gray-haired, scarred, veteran soldier. I don't think we have here homosexuality as merely a sexual orientation, it is (also) the codification of a social relation, an exactment, a recognition (of authority, of domination, of value, etc.). There are many warriors and generals pictured in the Greek literature and some of them had have young eromenoi, but were not eromenoi themselves at the height of their career (at least I can't think now of any).
 
- Between the two passages we have discussed there's another one about Iolaus and Heracles, the former a very young warrior fighting alongside Heracles and, according to some stories, Heracles' lover. This myth inserted here invokes a certain type of bondage between warriors, not random homosexual relations. With Iolaus as a worshipped Theban hero it is suggested that the eromenoi were rather young.
 
- Equally important is that Plutarch is no 4th century BC Theban, he's living centuries later. It is even possible that his story is partly invented, being based on hearsay and providing a literary device, a topos to promote certain virtues (the love and friendship between warriors, just as the myth of Heracles and Iolaus). His words and concepts however should have meanings for him and his audience in late 1st-early 2nd century AD. Therefore when he refers to this army as "ex eraston kai eromenon" I think we should regard these terms as commonly understood in Plutarch's era and not assume hidden meanings based on an alleged exceptionality of the Sacred Band. Plutarch actually describes several eromenoi (especially in Moralia) and they are either of unspecified age or presented as young, effeminate, etc. Consequently though it's not merely a mot à mot translation, I can't find a real flaw in Dryden's account.
 
As for age classes (paides, ageneioi, neaniskoi, etc.), I'm not sure what is the point of this mention, but sometimes these were flexible and even transgressible (for instance see Plato, Phaedrus, 237b), much like today.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote khshayathiya Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-May-2009 at 22:11
Of course what you say is very sensible and informative and of course Plutarch may or may not convey an accurate story.

But since these "friendships" originated in the palaestra - unless they were between an educator and a young boy - it implies that the age difference between the two is either a few years at most or none at all. That's what made me say that the rather common type of erotic relation between an old(er) and a young(er) man does not exactly apply in the case of the Theban Sacred Band.

Now, it's true that a difference of 2 or 3 years, though largely irrelevant when talking about mature or old men tends to be blown out of proportion from the perspective of an adolescent (it's one thing to be 15, quite another to be 18). So if one looks at things from this perspective the typical older erastes/younger eromenos relation might be identified even within the Sacred Band.


Edited by khshayathiya - 18-May-2009 at 22:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-May-2009 at 08:26
Originally posted by khshayathiya khshayathiya wrote:

But since these "friendships" originated in the palaestra - unless they were between an educator and a young boy - it implies that the age difference between the two is either a few years at most or none at all. That's what made me say that the rather common type of erotic relation between an old(er) and a young(er) man does not exactly apply in the case of the Theban Sacred Band.
I doubt the erotic friendships acquired in the teen years remained the same along the military career. Besides we also know of Theban warriros who had several lovers, such as Epaminondas, which is not consistent with the image of two males of almost same age entangled for life.
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