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Classical Mythology  
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Neither Homer nor Hesiod ever explicitly ascribes homosexual experiences to the gods or to heroes. The sexualization of Zeus's role in the myth came later, possibly not before the sixth century.

The exaltation of Ganymede as inamorato of Zeus gives male homosexuality its most celebrated myth--and one of far-reaching effects. This myth particularly, if not uniquely, has proved a godsend to gay artists and writers ever since the Italian Renaissance.

That the supreme god exemplifies and sanctions homoerotic love has been taken as classic paganism's answer, alternative, and antidote to the harsh, vindictive, and, in the usual exegesis, antihomosexual story of Sodom and Gomorrah at Genesis 19 (whence "" and "sodomite"), which is all that Judeo-Christian mythology has to offer lesbian and gay culture.

And in the area of ordinary language, from the Middle Ages until well into the seventeenth century a ganymede--the name turned into a common noun--was a "sexually submissive or kept boy" or a "," a sixteenth-century synonym from the Latin catamitus, which in turn is said to derive from the Greek name Ganymedes.

The Pederastic Practices of Hellenic Civilization

During the seventh century, the male pederastic practices characteristic of Hellenic civilization took root. In following the received code of conduct, a citizen of the polis, a man who had or could have a beard, was in his twenties or older, and either single or married, would amorously consort with a freeborn adolescent who was still without facial hair and might have been as young as twelve and was rarely over eighteen.

Each partner took--or at least was expected to take--a prescribed role: The man was to be active, the initiator, impassioned, the wooer with words and with gifts, a strong pedagogical influence, and the recipient of orgasmic pleasure by means of penile insertion from a frontal position between the closed thighs of the youth; he, in turn, was supposed to be passive, reluctant, unaroused, educationally benefited, and if he chose to grant his sexual favors, to do so standing, staring straight ahead, and without an erection or delectation.

Later, though the loverly aspect of the association faded when hair defaced the younger countenance, the two were likely to remain joined in friendship. The lover was the erastes, the beloved the eromenos. It was these conventions that governed the behaviors imputed to the deities and heroes in the post-Homeric and post-Hesiodic myths.

When the gods in classical mythology fall homoerotically in love, they never do so with other gods or with adult human males; rather they always do so with a mortal youth. They enter into liaisons in which they, like Zeus, act the part of the erastes to an adolescent who, like Ganymede, serves as the eromenos. The sexual acts imagined to be performed by the divine-human lovers, though not described in detail, can be assumed to conform, just as the structure of the relationship does, to the cultural ideal of pederastic unions.

Poseidon and Pelops

Poseidon desired the young Pelops, ivory-shouldered and the son of Zeus's son Tantalus. The sea-god came to him by chariot, took him off to Olympus, and made him his beloved. That was before the arrival of Ganymede, who, however, remained there, whereas Pelops after a time was returned to the world of mortals.

In adulthood, he wished to wed Hippodamia, but her kingly father would give her only to the suitor who could defeat him in a chariot race. None had. So Pelops sought help from his powerful friend, reminding Poseidon of the joy he had found in their love, and obtained from him, also the god of horses, a chariot of gold drawn by winged steeds with which to win the race and bride. (In a variant, he wins by trickery.)

Here the divine erastes is impassioned at first and takes the initiative, then keeps the beloved only during his adolescence, and afterward proves to be an amicable and dependable benefactor. Pindar created this homoerotic myth in an ode, Olympian I, to substitute for another myth, wherein Pelops is cannibalized by a deity, that the poet disapproved of as impious.

The Homosexual Loves of Phoebus Apollo

Phoebus Apollo--with his eternally smooth and splendid body the very model of the ephebe--had many male loves, more than any other god, but the two of his romances we know most about are those with Hyacinthus and Admetus.

Hyacinthus was, like Ganymede, preeminently handsome and the teenaged youngest son of a king--here king of Sparta. At least two gods sought his affection, as did a man, Thamyris, a legendary bard of Thrace. He boasted that he could outdo the Muses in song, and when they heard about that--some say from Apollo with malice toward a rival--they punished him by depriving him of his sight, voice, and art. Zephyrus, the West Wind, was another who desired Hyacinthus. This rivalry of gods for the love of a youth may be singular.

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