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literature

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Greek Literature: Ancient  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  

Erotes

This question, a popular a subject for debate in late antiquity, is central to the last full-length philosophical dialogue on homosexuality that has survived. The dialogue, entitled Erotes, or The Loves, in many ways parallels Plutarch's Eroticos and reads like a response to it.

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Once more we have a highly passionate debate between a homosexual and a heterosexual on the merits of their respective lifestyles. Originally ascribed to Lucian, it is written in his lively, not to say racy, style, but dates from after his death, perhaps from around 230 C.E.

The setting for the debate is a visit by three men to the temple of Aphrodite at Cnidus to view Praxiteles' famous statue. Its arguments in favor of male love are very much in the mode of the Symposium and the Eroticos. Callicratidas, the homosexual speaker, makes the traditional claim for the ennobling influence of male love with some eloquence.

There are, however, a few novelties. Callicratidas, when invoking the heroic side of Greek love, chooses as his exemplary lovers a new couple, Orestes and Pylades. He points to their self-sacrificing behavior in Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, where each is represented as willing to die to save the other.

And, in contrast to the Eroticos, this time the debate is adjudicated in favor of the homosexual speaker, a result that demonstrates how long the classical Greek view endured in antiquity.

Classical civilization may be said to have come to an end with the abolition of the Olympic Games, in 393, by the Christian Emperor Theodosius. Theodosius launched a determined campaign against paganism and passed a law that made homosexual acts punishable by burning.

Nonnus' Dionysiaca

The last substantial work of Greek literature to celebrate male love is the Dionysiaca of Nonnus. Apart from his authorship of the Dionysiaca, nothing is known of Nonnus, except that he lived at Panopolis in Egypt and (presumably later) produced a verse paraphrase of the gospel of St. John.

Nonnus' dates are very uncertain. The composition of the Dionysiaca has been dated as early as the period 390-405 and as late as the end of the fifth century. Given the strong official reaction against paganism and the repeated attacks by the Fathers of the Church on the pederastic element in Greek religion and literature, the earlier dates seem more likely.

Nonnus' vast epic in forty-eight books describes Dionysus' conquest of India; books ten through twelve recount, in baroque detail, his love for the boy Ampelus, who after his death is transformed into the vine sacred to the god.

It also tells of the love of two boys, Carpus and Calamus. Carpus is drowned, and the grieving Calamus is turned into a water reed. It has been suggested that this myth may have inspired the title for Whitman's "Calamus" poems in his Leaves of Grass. Whether or not such a link exists between ancient Greek and modern American gay poetry, the Dionysiaca is a final, and remarkable, swan song to a literary tradition that existed for more than a millennium.

Louis Crompton

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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  Classical Art

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literature >> Overview:  Classical Mythology

The Greco-Roman myths concerning same-sex love have been of crucial importance to the Western gay and lesbian literary heritage, both as texts and as icons.

social sciences >> Overview:  Greece: Ancient

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Both the elegiac and the romantic pastoral have been associated with homoerotic desire from their beginnings in classical literature to their echoes in contemporary literatures.

social sciences >> Overview:  Pederasty

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literature >> Overview:  Roman Literature

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literature >> Cather, Willa

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literature >> Doolittle, Hilda

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social sciences >> Hadrian

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literature >> Horace

In his highly accomplished and influential poetry, Horace reflects the easy bisexuality of the Roman upper class in the first century B. C.

literature >> Lowell, Amy

Much of Amy Lowell's poetry is extremely frank, forthrightly sensual, and often overtly lesbian.

literature >> Lucian

In Lucian's satiric works, homosexuality is treated as one of a related series of personal traits that characterize villainy, pretension, and ignorance, while the Erôtes of pseudo-Lucian advocates male-male love as honorable and as a sign of social progress.

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No ancient is more instructive about pederasty than the Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch.

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literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

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literature >> Theocritus

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literature >> Vivien, Renée

Renée Vivien, who had many affairs with women, openly celebrated lesboerotic love in her poetry and dreamed of women-controlled spaces in an era when most women were still domestically confined.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.


    Bibliography
   

Buffière, Félix. Éros adolescent: la pédérastie dans la Grèce antique. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1980.

Clarke, W. M. "Achilles and Patroclus in Love." Hermes 106(1978): 381-396.

Dover, Kenneth. Greek Homosexuality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Dynes, Wayne, ed. Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1990.

Foucault, Michel. The Use of Pleasure. Trans. R. Hurley. New York: Random House, 1985.

Flacelière, Robert. Love in Ancient Greece. Trans. J. Cleugh. New York: Crown, 1962.

Halperin, David. One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Licht, Hans. Sexual Life in Ancient Greece. London: Routledge, 1932.

Page, Dennis. Sappho and Alcaeus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Sergent, Bernard. Homosexuality in Greek Myth. Trans. A. Goldhammmer. Boston: Beacon, 1984.

Translations of most of the works cited will be found in the Loeb Classical Library; for the dialogues discussed, see Lucian (vol. 8); Plutarch, Moralia (vol. 9); and Xenophon, Scriptora Minora in the Loeb editions.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Crompton, Louis  
    Entry Title: Greek Literature: Ancient  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 28, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/greek_lit_ancient.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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