Ancient Greece

People in Fiction: Zeus and Ganymede

Ganymede Leochares Vatican Inv2445

“Ganymede carried off by the eagle.” Marble, Roman copy after bronze original, ~325BC. Wikimedia Commons

One of the most enduring of the Greek myths concerns Ganymede, the son of Tros, a great king for whom Troy and the Trojans are named. Tros had three sons, all perfect, but Ganymede was said to be the most beautiful boy who had ever lived. One day, while still a youth, Ganymede was resting in a meadow on Mount Ida when Zeus, king of the gods, saw him and fell instantly in love.

Summoning a great storm, Zeus transformed into an eagle and swept from the skies, seized the boy, and carried him off to the heavens. There, he made Ganymede immortal and gave him a position as cupbearer to the gods, supplanting his daughter Hebe, who had previously held the title.

Tros was so grief-stricken with the loss of his son that even Zeus was moved to pity, sending the messenger god Hermes to inform the man of Ganymede’s fate, and compensated him with a pair of the god’s own horses, said to be able to run on thunder and race over water. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in History: Alexander and Hephaestion

Istanbul - Museo archeol. - Alessandro Magno (firmata Menas) - sec. III a.C. - da Magnesia - Foto G. Dall'Orto 28-5-2006 b-n

Wikimedia Commons

Born in Pella, Macedon, in 356BC, Alexander was the first son of Philip II and his principle wife, Olympias. Almost from the moment he was conceived, Alexander became something of a legend. His mother, a princess of Epirus in her own right, was a follower of an orgiastic, snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, and was widely believed to be a sorceress. She mythologised her son, claiming visions of thunderbolts from the heavens and a great fire accompanied his conception, and Philip himself was recorded as saying he dreamed he sealed Olympias’ womb with the device of a lion. As Philip’s fourth of seven or eight wives, likely elevated to principle only because of Alexander’s birth, it served Olympias’ interests to secure her son as Philip’s heir, and herself as mother of the future king. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece stands as something of a shorthand whenever we think today of a “history” or even “origin” of homosexual behaviour. On the surface, the correlation is a fair one. There’s enough in the written record — to say nothing of statues, art, and pottery — to convince us that male same-sex sexuality was known and frequently celebrated. To call such conduct “homosexual” as we recognise that meaning today is, however, not only anachronistic, but simply wrong.

For starters, “Ancient Greece” wasn’t one nation the way modern Greece is, but was constructed of numerous self-governing states, all of which had different cultures and traditions, and were frequently at odds with each other, if not at outright war. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Identity

Erastes eromenos Staatliche Antikensammlungen 1468

Wikimedia Commons

We often think of sexuality as though it exists on a linear continuum: we talk about homosexuality in Ancient Greek society, for example, when in fact there was no such thing as a “homosexual” before 1868, when the word was coined by German sexologists. It wasn’t used in English until the 1890s.

There were, obviously, other words in use before that time: pederasts, inverts, urnings, sodomites, lesbians, tribads, and so on. Most of those terms referred very specifically to particular socio-sexual behaviour (the active or passive partner in anal intercourse, etc.), and not to identities as we know them. Before the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Germans became obsessed with the idea of how the sex we have affects the people we are, the very idea of a sexual identity would have seemed absurd. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging