Wrapping up our look at Bruce Thornton’s book Eros—The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, one side in today’s debate regarding so-called homosexual “rights” cries “homophobe!,” “hater!,” “bigot!” In Thornton’s book we learn that there was plenty of name calling in ancient Greece as well. Warning: Some rather vulgar language is ahead.
Thornton writes, “there is no evidence in Greek literature for the current fashionable supposition that the Greeks viewed the penetration of both women and men in the same light.”
On the contrary, he explains: “Ancient Greek has several insulting epithets that derive their force from the disgust felt toward those who allow themselves to be sodomized.” Among them are “wide-anused,” “cistern assed,” “gapping assed,” and “gapers,” which Thornton says, alludes “to the stretched-out anuses” of those regularly sodomized.
From the comic poets to the orators and philosophers, ‘shame’ dominates the characterization of the kinaidos. One ancient Greek writer accused another of being a passive homosexual and shaving his ‘hot tempered anus.’ Another is said to have the “asshole of a furnace.”
In the [play] Frogs, Cleisthenes is described ‘plucking the hairs from his anus among the tombs,’ graveyards and public privies being favorite spots for homosexual trysting.
Regarding the public privies reference, again, there is nothing new under the sun.
How could there be such harsh words used if the ancient Greeks were so pro-homosexuality? Well, as we now know, it’s only a myth that they were.
Aristotle saw “the willingness to endure penetration by another man, the evidence for which is the effeminacy of the pathic, as a sign of ‘unnatural’ degeneration from masculine identity.”
Thornton cites several sources and then writes this:
Apparently a significant number of Athenians saw no difference between the adult passive homosexual and the presumed physical gratification the boy bestows on his admirer, since both involved anal penetration by another male… [O]rators reflect the same common characterization of same-sex activity as something the community as a whole considers disreputable, whether in the context of pederasty or adult homosexuality.
The solution for the problems caused by eros is also outlined in Greek literature, and it sounds awfully familiar. Thornton writes that there was a strong theme about the importance of “domesticated sexuality”:
Given the disorder of the appetites and their pleasures, happiness can result only from the rational management of both, that is, the imposition of limits that lessen their potential for destructive excess.
When Christian writers address the topic of the Judeo-Christian view of sexuality (see a good example here), marriage is the focal point, and marriage was an institution the ancient Greeks also recognized and honored.
So are today’s pro-homosexuality folks enlightened and liberated? The ancient Greeks wouldn’t think so. They believed that a person will either be “tyrannized” by their desires, or reason and self-control will bring “victory over the self.” The goal for the Greeks was stated clearly: eros needed to be domesticated so humans could be “truly human and not just clever beasts.”
When domesticated, sex can serve the soul and not destroy it. Thornton writes that Americans, unfortunately,
…continue to cling to a shopworn Romanticism that idealizes sexual passion and justifies abandoning the time-honored social controls—marriage and chastity, guilt and shame—that once helped to prevent sexual excesses from destroying American society.
Thornton says that the ancient Greek writer Euripides “would have been amazed to see a supposedly advanced culture handling sexual passion with all the blithe insouciance of an infant with a loaded guy.”
Later Thornton states that moderns “blindly patronize the monster waiting to devour us.”
The ancient Greeks’ solution to the chaotic force of eros was marriage: “Rather than a private relationship, marriage for the Greeks is a cultural construct. Its main purpose is to harness and control the forces of eros, particularly female sexuality.”
I’ll let you read the book to learn more about what Thornton is referring to there with the words “female sexuality.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that if a person lacks self control, “they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
So the ancient Greeks and Paul were pretty much on the same page regarding the benefits of marriage when it comes to eros.
Today, the political left, Hollywood, pop culture, and most of the media see themselves as much wiser than the ancient Greeks or that rabble rouser Paul of Tarsus. Bruce Thornton points out that the downward cultural trajectory since the 1960s has produced “the frantic promiscuity of the gay bathhouses…” But heterosexuals shouldn’t “feel smug,” he writes: “they have herpes, genital warts, new strains of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, not to mention the psychological costs of our so-called ‘sexual liberation.’”
That doesn’t sound like enlightenment to me.
Click here to purchase Bruce Thornton’s book Eros—The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality. Both at the Amazon.com page and at a scattered few other places on the web you can read about the hysteria the book created among those who desperately want to believe in myths.
(Updated version. First published August 2012)