Pederasty

There’s a huge misconception that has been promoted for obvious reasons about what “pederasty” actually was .

The very first written account of possible sexual relations (since only much later texts refer to it as such) between a man and a youth comes from Thebes and the myth of Laius, a Laius known mostly due to the accounts and plays related to his son Oedipus.

Laios while being the guest of Pelops fell ‘in love’ with his son Chrysippus and abducted him, for this, Pelops cursed him to be killed by his own son.

As the story goes… Oidipus killed Laius and then married his mother (without knowing it) she kills herself and he blinds himself, never to be heard of again.

The 4 children born by this unwanted marriage are also doomed, the brothers Eteocles and Polynices fall in battle killed by eachother’s hand. Antigone is sentenced to death and Ismene asks for the same fate as her sister.

Αίδως (Aidos) being provoked by the κίναιδος (see “defining homosexual”) grandafather, puts Nemesis into action and we find that due to his actions not only he, but his whole family line was wiped out.. Justice is served for what their perversed grandfather (Laios) had done ..

Now the first written account related to homosexual relations is highly interesting and comes from Herodotus. The interesting thing about this account is that he does NOT use the misinterpreted terms ‘εραστής-ερώμενος’ but when accusing the Hellenes of allegedly teaching ‘pederasty’ (as defined in all translations) to the Persians, he describes the activity as :

Herodotus 1.135 :
ἀπ᾽ Ἑλλήνων μαθόντες παισὶ μίσγονται

“παισὶ μίσγονται” is exactly the same terminology Plutarch used when critisizing Herodotus for this among other claims:

“On the Malice of Herodotus” 857.C.2:

Πέρσες μέν φυση παισί μίσγεσθαι παρ’ Έλλήνων μαθόντας

So what does this “παισὶ μίσγονται” finally mean?
παισὶ = child
μίσγονται = mingle with, have intercourse with.

So why use two words to describe the same activity that one word allegedly represents ?

Probably because the following quotes indicate that the ‘εραστής-ερώμενος’ relationship was something else, something that could be desribed as a tuto-student relationship.

Plato, Euthydemus 282b
“there is no disgrace, Cleinias, or reprobation in making this a reason for serving and being a slave to either one’s lover or any man, and being ready to perform any service that is honorable in one’s eagerness to become wise.”

Plato’s Symposium,184b

“it is our rule that, just as in the case of the lovers it was counted no flattery or scandal for them to be willingly and utterly enslaved to their favorites, so there is left one sort of voluntary thraldom which is not scandalous; I mean, in the cause of virtue.
It is our settled tradition that when a man freely devotes his service to another in the belief that his friend will make him better in point of wisdom, it may be, or in any of the other parts of virtue, this willing bondage also is no sort of baseness or flattery. Let us compare the two rules”

Xenophon Symposium 8.8
[8]“Now, I have always felt an admiration for your character, but at the present time I feel a much keener one, for I see that you are in love with a person who is not marked by dainty elegance nor wanton effeminacy, but shows to the world physical strength and stamina, virile courage and sobriety. Setting one’s heart on such traits gives an insight into the lover’s character.”

Xenophon Symposium
[26] Furthermore, the favourite who realizes that he who lavishes physical charms will be the lover’s sovereign will in all likelihood be loose in his general conduct; but the one who feels that he cannot keep his lover faithful without nobility of character will more probably give heed to virtue. [27] But the greatest blessing that befalls the man who yearns to render his favourite a good friend is the necessity of himself making virtue his habitual practice. For one cannot produce goodness in his companion while his own conduct is evil, nor can he himself exhibit shamelessness and incontinence and at the same time render his beloved self-controlled and reverent”

Plato’s Republic 403b
“may not come nigh, nor may lover and beloved who rightly love and are loved have anything to do with it?” “No, by heaven, Socrates,” he said, “it must not come nigh them.” “Thus, then, as it seems, you will lay down the law in the city that we are founding, that the lover may kiss and pass the time with and touch the beloved as a father would a son, for honorable ends, if he persuade him.”

As anyone can see, every single one of these quotes related to the ‘εραστής-ερώμενος’ relationship, give a meaning of obtaining knowledge and virtue, none of them refer to anything sexual .

Another text in which the misunderstood term ‘ἐραστής’ is used is that of Thucydides. Where in 2.43 while presenting us with Perikles’ speech we read:

Original:

ἀτολμοτέραν δὲ μηδὲν ἀξιοῦν τὴν ἐς τοὺς πολεμίους διάνοιαν ἔχειν, σκοποῦντας μὴ λόγῳ μόνῳ τὴν ὠφελίαν, ἣν ἄν τις πρὸς οὐδὲν χεῖρον αὐτοὺς ὑμᾶς εἰδότας μηκύνοι, λέγων ὅσα ἐν τῷ τοὺς πολεμίους ἀμύνεσθαι ἀγαθὰ ἔνεστιν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον τὴν τῆς πόλεως δύναμιν καθ᾽ ἡμέραν ἔργῳ θεωμένους καὶ ἐραστὰς γιγνομένους αὐτῆς, καὶ ὅταν ὑμῖν μεγάλη δόξῃ εἶναι,ἐνθυμουμένους ὅτι τολμῶντες καὶ γιγνώσκοντες τὰ δέοντα καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις αἰσχυνόμενοι ἄνδρες αὐτὰ ἐκτήσαντο, καὶ ὁπότε καὶ πείρᾳ του σφαλεῖεν, οὐκ οὖν καὶ τὴν πόλιν γε τῆς σφετέρας ἀρετῆς ἀξιοῦντες στερίσκειν, κάλλιστον δὲ ἔρανον αὐτῇ προϊέμενοι.

Translation:

but you ought not to be less venturously minded against the enemy; not weighing the profit by an oration only, which any man amplifying, may recount, to you that know as well as he, the many commodities that arise by fighting valiantly against your enemies; but contemplating the power of the city in the actions of the same from day to day performed1, and thereby becoming enamoured of it. And when this power of the city shall seem great to you, consider then, that the same was purchased by valiant men, and by men that knew their duty, and by men that were sensible of dishonour when they were in fight; and by such men, as though they failed of their attempt, yet would not be wanting to the city with their virtue, but made unto it a most honourable contribution.

The metaphor is obvious, as the ‘εραστής’ seeks nothing more than his ‘ερώμενος’ virtue, his charater, his spiritual elevation, that will allow him to accomplish truelly greaty feats. In order to accomplish this, not even his life is a great enough price to pay, especially since the ‘ερώμενος’ in our case, is the city of Athens itself.