Titans Were Once Here

The most important thing to remember about the political history of gay rights is that, as far modern society has come since the dark ages, it’s a de-evolution from much of ancient society. The moral obligations against homosexuality aren’t a natural progression of human existence. In fact, they didn’t become and acceptable part of culture and law until after the rise of Christianity (which is another post). Homosexuality was an accepted part of ancient culture. Vergil even describes the love of Nisus and Euryalus as “pius.” Uncovered art in Pompeii and Herculaneum (the other city destroyed when Vesuvius erupted) show several homoerotic frescos. Cultural objections toward homosexuality are not simply an evolution of humanity. Humanity, in terms of social acceptance went backward and humanity moved forward.

Now, granted, there were acceptable and unacceptable forms of homosexuality in ancient Rome…there were social rules, like in everything else. Roman culture, however, freely accepted homosexual relations between men of class and their slaves or entertainers.  Societal structure, when societal rules are adhered to, was accepting of just about anything. Although Roman culture had a masculine/feminine social structure, homosexuality was acknowledged and accepted and understood. It may not have been universally stigma-free, but it was legal and existed without ramification throughout the Empire.

Ancient Greece also had an open acceptance toward homosexuality. The thing to remember about ancient Greece is that the idea of ‘sexuality’ as we think about it today simply didn’t exist. Sexual orientation wasn’t any time of social identifier, and in fact, sexual desire wasn’t identified by gender. It just happened. The only social stigma associated with homosexual relationships between adult men in ancient Greece was that of passivity. The passive sexual partner, even when he had the same social status, was often scorned in society. The active partner, however, was not. Granted, the idea of the passive partner being ‘feminised’ men isn’t exactly a happy equality thought, but the objections were based on gender roles, and not on morality. There are, however, notable exceptions to that, including Alexander the Great and his best friend/confidante Hephaistion; Pausanias and Agathon; and Achilees and Patroclus.

Although homosexuality in both ancient Greece and Rome had to adhere to certain social standards, it WAS accepted. Neither culture devised the idea of a sexual “orientation,” as such, it was just how men were. Antithesis to today’s society in which people are defined by one word describing who they sleep with, ancient culture categorised people by social status and class…who one slept with was, for the most part, ignored.

There’s a lot about ancient society that we look back on with fondness: running water, social structure, governmental changes and evolution, bathhouses, sewer systems, and open acceptance of homosexuality. The dire moral ramifications, laws against, and societal shunning, of homosexuals would not exist until the 3rd century C.E. The rise of Christianity as comprehensive religion changed the culture and morals of humanity, pushing aside historical acceptance and understanding as Europe galloped headlong into the Dark Ages.

[DISCLAIMER: BOTH of my history degrees are in European history/American political history, mostly focused on the 17th century forward. Ancient history is so far removed from my comfort zone that it might as well be on Mars. I guarantee I’ve missed important points, and I know this particular post is on the short side…PLEASE feel free to comment with any facts/etc that I missed. I promise not to be offended. In truth, ancient history has always bored me, so it’s not something I ever studied past the basics. I also realise that I completely skipped pederasty in ancient Greece because, truthfully, I know nothing about it other than it existed. Sorry :(]

Part II: Rise of Christianity and its impact on “moral laws”


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A Biblical Argument for Gay Rights | Agony Tate: Book Reviews and Writing Blog

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