Ancient Greece and Rome

It was with the Greeks that conjectures on the origins of different homosexual activities became common. The Cretan customs of segregating boys and encouraging homosexual relations between boys and men were attributed by Aristotle to a desire to hold down the birth rate. Plutarch suggested that Theban pederasty resulted from a conscious policy of channeling the "natural ferocity of adolescent males to socially useful purposes" (Murray, 2000). Xenophon contrasted the transitory couplings between men and boys of Elis with the more permanent pairings common in Thebes. Whereas in Thebes, Sparta, and Crete physical relations between a mature mentor (erastes) and a beardless youth (eromenos) were encouraged, Plato argued that in Athens the relationship ideally avoided physical sex at least until one's partner had proved his worth (Murray, 2000, p. 105).

When Alexander the Great conquered most of the western world a period of wider cross-cultural comparisons began. Observers noted the homosexual use of eunuchs and effeminate boy slaves in different parts of the Hellenic empires, and in fact, even before Rome conquered Greece, the old Greek system had given way to systems more like those in the conquered territories. By late Hellenistic times Charicles thought the idea of women having sex with women was so ridiculous that he used it to clinch a reductio ad absurdum argument.

In Rome what a man did with his slave was considered his own business, but freemen were ridiculed if, as adults, they engaged in "receptive" homosexuality. In the 5th century Caelius Aurelianus argued that homosexuality was an inherited disease (Murray, 2000).

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