As explained by Andrew Calimach, in his “restored and retold” Lovers’ Legends: the Gay Greek Myths (Haiduk Press, 2002, p. 124), what we call Ancient World “Greece” was not a homogeneous affair at all, but rather a culture that spanned 2000 years, and was spread from Albania and Coastal Turkey, across the Aegean Sea to North Africa, including Italy and the Italian Islands, with local culture, traditions, laws, and even language varying widely from region to region, each considered a state in its own right. A universal throughout Greek Culture, however (to such an extent that “doing it Greek” is understood as describing a Certain Kind of Sex Act today), was the Initiation of young males into adult manhood by means of what Mr. Calimach calls the “pederastic initiation.” Understood to possess “clear pedagogic functions” (p. 3), this process involved the Older Man (the Adult) instructing the Youth in the ways of civic behavior, responsibility, and warfare. A (frankly) Homoerotic relationship was supposed to develop (clearly intended to be positive and rewarding for both the Youth and the Initiating Adult); for Divine Examples of this Sacred Relationship, you can check out the Contents of Mr. Calimach’s book, cited above: they include Poseidon and Pelops; Zeus and Ganymede (Zeus being “set on fire” by Ganymede’s thighs); Hercules and Hylas (although Hercules was credited with a Herculean number of lovers, both female and male; of his male partners, in addition to “handsome” Hylas, He also loved “wise” Nestor and “war-like” Iolaus); Apollo and Hyacinthus (although Apollo was also famous for his affair with Orpheus, as well as so many others, that Calimach calls Him the “champion of male love” [p. 4]); and Narcissus (with Himself). Others touched upon in the book (p. 4) include Hermes and his “beloved” Antheus; Pan and his “boyfriend” Daphnis (“whom he taught to play the panpipes”); and Dionysus, who loved Ampelos, and perhaps others, but His Mysteries have been especially lost to us. Of the Greek Heroes (who clearly acted in inspiration of these Homoerotic Legends): we learn of Agamemnon (the Butch Military General of the Trojan War, who surprised Argynnus whilst swimming); the poet Thamyris, and his beloved Hymaeneus (presumably, as Mr. Calimach points out, after his other great flame, Hyacinthus); Philolaus the Corinthian (who gave Laws to the Thebans), and his lover, Olympic victor Diocles, with whom he remained all his days, and to whose twin-tombs Greek lovers traveled, to pledge troth to one another. This list (p. 126) includes a huge number of others; to which may be added the “historical battalion” called the Sacred Band of Thebes, 150 pairs of lovers, each consisting of a warrior and his charioteer- Greek poetry seems to make a “regular homoerotic connection” between the warrior/ chariot-rider and his charioteer (p. 123); the Sacred Band proved invincible, until their last battle, when they died to a man against Philip of Macedon (father to Alexander the Great); who was himself killed by the captain of his guard- a jealous ex-boyfriend. (p. 142)
The Worship of the Beautiful Youth can be tricky to talk about: as Mr. Calimach points out, the median age for these youths was sixteen (how old Ovid says Narcissus is, and the age at which Iolaus became Hercules’ companion). Of course, the Heroic Men loving the Beautiful Youths (and instructing them into manhood) were probably only in their twenties themselves. Life was shorter then, and the necessity of a war-like age would have demanded that the youngest and fittest be warriors; Alexander was only in his teens when he started to act as Philip’s general, and was all of twenty (what seems to us an astonishingly young age) when he became ruler of Macedon outright. If we “up” the age of the Beautiful Youth to twenty-one (the current age at which you can get into a bar or hold a gym-membership): not for nothing is there the “Daddy” stereotype in modern Gay Male Culture (a “Daddy” is an “older” man- “older” being a somewhat elastic term- who likes noticeably younger “Boys”; some young Gay Guys will actively pursue older men as “Daddies”).
For all that the “pederastic initiation” was supposed to occur only between Young Men (teen-agers) and Older Men (who were maybe only in their late-20s); as Calimach notes, the Greeks could make “accommodations”: “the one who carried the calf can bear up the bull” being a kind of oblique Greek saying. (p. 3) The famous pairing of Achilles (who was “said to be a girl in his youth” [p. 124]) and Patroclus, as Calimach observes, turns the Older Lover/ Younger Beloved trope upside-down: Homer “clearly asserted” that Achilles was both the younger of the two, as well as the more dynamic partner in the relationship (in other words, the “Daddy” of the pair); at any rate, their relationship was between two men more or less equal in age, and so famous a one that Alexander and his boyfriend Hephaiston (also his peer-in-age) gave offerings at the twin-tombs of Achilles and Patroclus, according to Arrian. (p. 144) Iolaus also had a tomb to which lovers traveled as a sign of their commitment, so great was Iolaus’ devotion to Hercules (according to Aristotle) (p. 141); Philolaus the Law-Giving Corinthian, and his husband Diocles the Olympic victor, were equally remembered by lovers at their twin tombs. (p. 126)
One of the most famous of the Beautiful Youths was undoubtedly Hyacinthus, who first attracted the eye of Thamyris the poet (presumably, as Calimach notes, before Thamyris met his other great flame, Hymaeneus), before commencing an affair with the virile and studly Zephyrus, Lord of the West Wind: which is depicted on a 4th century BCE kylix (seen above), in a scene that calls to mind Achilles’ reference to the “holy union” of his and Patroclus’ thighs. (p. 106) The almost-transcendent joy of sexual pleasure is conveyed marvelously, in the suggestion that Winged Zephyrus and Hyacinth are flying together (to understand which is the Lover, and which the Beloved, check out whose hands are where). Alas, if ever there were a relationship that came to no good end; it was surely the one that ended when Hyacinthus chose Apollo over Zephyrus, causing the stormy West Wind to end Hyacinthus’ life.
There is a ton of interesting information in this book: Cyprian Aphrodite was the Aspect of the Love-Goddess dedicated to Male-Male lovers (p. 130); the Ficoroni cist (an Etruscan bronze vessel used in religious processions, dated c. 325 BCE), is “replete with depictions of male love,” including Dionysus with ithyphallic satyrs, and Hercules with his beloved Iolaus and Eros. (p. 137) Mr. Calimach’s efforts to recreate these original myths are impressive: his recounting of “Zeus and Ganymede,” for instance, draws upon Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Apollodorus, Virgil, and Ovid, as well as the anonymous Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. (p. 134) It is in discussing how these Homoerotic tales came to be whitewashed of their Homoerotic vigor that Mr. Calimach really leaves his mark: if it were not for the early Christian preacher Clement of Alexandria (ironically), who was preaching against the “depravity” of Pagans, we would not have the story of Dionysus’ sitting on a phallus in honor of a lost love (p. 125); Pope Gregory VII (in office from 1073-1085) ordered all copies of the Lesbian poet Sappho burned (p. 146); and the fact that none of the Classical plays “with male love as a topic have survived bears mention.” (p. 144) Calimach also takes to task scholars such as Edith Hamilton (p. 146), whose genteel omissions skip some notable points: for instance (according to Mr. Calimach), in Ms. Hamilton’s version of Greek Mythology, Cronus deals His father Uranus a “terrible wound”; soon after, Aphrodite is born of sea-foam. The first part that is missing is: Cronus wounds Uranus- by slicing off His genitals, which He flings into the sea. The churning ocean swirls with Uranus’ spilled semen- giving birth to Aphrodite (and technically making Her a daughter of Uranus, and Cronus’ sister). As Calimach observes, such “tidying up” of Classical Mythology strips the “rough primal beauty and terrible symmetry of Greek myth” (p. 118); as is indicated in the Afterward, Lovers’ Legends helps us to understand the connection that the Greeks made between falling in love, and revering the Gods; it helps us recover the “sacred aspects of sexual love.”