I love movies, but I sometimes worry that the general public gets a few odd ideas about the ancients from them.In my response, I cited ancient sources only, yet PhDiva claims that:
For example in '300' the Spartans dismiss the Athenians for - and I may be paraphrasing - liking little boys. Actually ... whilst many Athenian men seem to have been bisexual, the Spartans institutionalized it as part of their military training and it played a more important role in their society. Greek 'naughty' vases with inscriptions almost all speak of the love of one man for another, and most of those great macho Greek warriors probably slept with more men than they did women given that access to women was limited.
I really can't be bothered to deal with 'all Greeks were heterosexual' propaganda by someone advocating using 300 as a source so have deleted a few comments.This statement is false on two grounds: (i) I did not use "300" as a source; I contested King's criticism thereof on the basis of ancient sources, (ii) I certainly did not claim that "all Greeks were heterosexual", I contested her idea that the Spartans had institutionalized homosexuality, or that homosexuality was generally accepted by the ancient Greeks.
Here are the sources I cited, and which Ms. King has thought merited deletion. In the first one, I disputed King's presentation of homosexuality in Greek vases.
Martin F. Kilmer, Greek Erotica. London: Duckworth, 1993. Pp. xiv + 286; figs. 206. ISBN 0-7156-1519-X.In the second, I disputed her claim of institutionalized Spartan homosexuality as part of the education system. Xenophon (5-4th c. BC writer) wrote:
Reviewed by Keith DeVries, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Kilmer's deliberately narrow focus is an aspect of an overall carefulness of definition and rigor of study which produce solid results. A surprise to him was the relatively low number of male homosexual scenes of copulation: 13 to 15, as opposed to 82 heterosexual ones or, put another way, 18% of the total (using the higher figure). He had expected a stronger showing of the homosexual theme, "given the view scholarship has taken over the last century or so" (p. 173). While, as he says, "we must be cautious how we interpret this," his proportion is in line with that of a theme of red-figure vase painting he doesn't take up, the erotic pursuits by deities, which have been collected by Sophia Kaempf-Dimitriadou in her book Die Liebe der Götter in der attischen Kunst des 5. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. (1979). Of her 393 vase paintings, 14% have a male homosexual content, in the form of gods pursuing mortal adolescents. The finding also is in line with Attic comedies and the extant and known tragedies and satyr plays, where male-female sexuality is the norm, but male homoeroticism not unknown, occasionally being in fact at the dramatic center (as in Aeschylus' The Myrmidons, Euripides' Chrysippos, and presumably Sophokles' satyr play The Erastai of Achilles).
This passage directly contradicts the idea of institutionalized Spartan homosexuality. So the idea about the Spartans abhorring "boy-love" is supported by the ancient sources and is not as "odd" as Ms. King apparently thinks.
King referred (in her own deleted comment) to Aelius [sic], and Plutarch, authors who postdate Xenophon by half a millennium or more. One has to wonder if Xenophon or these authors are more reliable sources about the state of Spartan society in the 5th c. BC, i.e., the setting of the "300". Would one rely on the attitudes of modern Manhattan residents towards homosexuality to infer the attitudes of early American colonists?
However, even these authors contradict her claim of a sexual nature to the mentoring relationship in Sparta. Aelian:
and Plutarch on the ancient Spartan customs:
Affectionate regard for boys of good character was permissible, but embracing them was held to be disgraceful, on the ground that the affection was for the body and not for the mind. Any man against whom complaint was made of any disgraceful embracing was deprived of all civic rights for life.I further cited Aristotle who explicitly compared Spartans to Celts:
Again, the license of the Lacedaemonian women defeats the intention of the Spartan constitution, and is adverse to the happiness of the state. For, a husband and wife being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the women is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury. The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizen fall under the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races, except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves.If the Spartans, or indeed any substantial subset of Greeks "openly approved of male loves", then it is strange indeed that Aristotle would use the Celts as an example.
Furthermore, I cited Diodorus Siculus who makes the comparison more explicit:
The men are much keener on their own sex; they lie around on animal skins and enjoy themselves, with a lover on each side. The extraordinary thing is they haven’t the smallest regard for their personal dignity or self-respect; they offer themselves to other men without the least compunction. Furthermore, this isn’t looked down on, or regarded in any way disgraceful…Diodorus is surprised at this proclivity. Whether or not his account is true, the passage shows that he apparently did not think that male homosexuality was neutral or even positive.
Perhaps Ms. King is better suited to writing fruit cake recipes, than to serious evidence-based discussion of ancient Greece, for which she obviously has no stomach.
PS: Or, perhaps she can write another book on Greek homosexuality, since her last one on the Elgin Marbles wasn't exactly well-received.