Mark Anthony Masterson: Mark Anthony Masterson is Ph.D. student in Classics at the University of Southern California. He is doing research on the construction of masculinity and sexuality in the fourth century CE Roman Empire. He also is a member of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators' Network.
Since Kenneth Dover published his ground breaking GREEK HOMOSEXUALITY In 1978, scholars such as David Halperin, the late John Winkler, and others, have been busy exploring the previously all but unmentionable topic of ancient Greek homosexuality. What has been brought to light in, at long last, explicit detail, is the way in which same-sex love was pursued among the Greeks. Greek male-male sexual expression did not have the equality that characterizes much of modern Western homosexuality. Homosexual relations were between a young man (aged approximately 20-25) and a boy (aged approximately 12-18). They were completely legal and quite common. The relation between the two was one in which the older pursued the younger and the younger was the passive partner in anal or interfemural (between the thighs) sex. The younger partner was supposed to be rather indifferent to the sex—to submit was his obligation. The older partner was to mentor and teach the younger. With the arrival of his heavy beard and pubic hair (at age 18 or so), the younger partner, if he were so inclined, then found a boy to mentor and find sexual satisfaction from. Marriage occurred around the thirtieth birthday. Pederasty appears to have been a way for the young men to find sexual release in a culture that severely curtailed access to women and also a way to socialize and educate boys.
In PEDERASTY AND PEDAGOGY IN ARCHAIC GREECE, Percy (a professor of History at the University of Massachusetts) is interested primarily in the socializing and educative function of these relationships. This is not a book about sex, as his title indicates. He is concerned with placing pederasty in the context of Greek society. Indeed, Percy states that he regards his book as a supplement to Dover's GREEK HOMOSEXUALITY, in that it is concerned with the context and use of pederasty as opposed to the mechanics of it. It also is not a book about sexuality. The debate about essentialism and social constructionism, which plays such a part in the writings of Halperin, Boswell, Foucault, and others, is not present here. For Percy, pederasty is a practice that is embedded in a society. He does not speculate on what this sexuality may mean (or not mean) in terms of identity.
The book takes the reader all around the Greek world, which included, besides Greece, Southern Italy and Asia Minor. The time frame is the Archaic period—from the very beginning of the time where there seem to be Greeks (1500 BCE or so) up to 500 BCE. This means that he stops just short of the time during which Athens was dominant, the “classical” period. (The book is doubly welcome on the basis of temporal scope alone; Dover's, Halperin's and Winkler's works focus on the “classical” period.)
In addition to describing the various local differences in the pursuit of pederasty, Percy also forwards the thesis that pederasty became institutionalized at a rather late date (in the late 600's) and that it diffused from Crete to the rest of Greek world. He does not see any continuity between Greek pederasty and the hypothetical forms homosexual activity might have taken among the much earlier Greeks or the Indo-Europeans. He attributes the growth of pederasty both to population pressures which necessitated a later date for marriage and to the all-male groups that were created by the enforced separation of the sexes during a male's time of intense sexual feelings. He also asserts that much of what we admire about Greek cultural accomplishments comes from the educating and affectional bonds that were established between men through pederastic relationships.
A weakness in the book stems from the frequent invisibility of the lower classes. Greek pederasty seems to have been primarily an upper class activity. If one of the reasons that it arose was to control population, it is not clear how the lower classes would have had their population controlled if they were not engaging in it also. It is legitimate to ask how a poor subsistence farmer in Crete could afford to disappear with his boy for a two month long “honeymoon”. What the diffusion of pederasty was to the lower classes we will probably never know, but the limits of what we can tell from the evidence about all of Greek society, upper and lower class, could have been more clearly articulated. I also wonder about his assertion that institutionalized pederasty spread from Crete in the space of about fifty years.
There is, however, much to praise about this book. Percy has provided a description of the institution of Greek pederasty that is needed. The scholarly writing up to now has mostly been for specialists. Percy's book, in contrast, speaks to a wider audience without condescension. This book can be used profitably by sociologists, anthropologists, and scholars interested in the history of sexuality. It could also be used as a text in a gay studies course. Particularly good are the sections on sources that he includes in each chapter. Percy talks about what the evidence is and where it can be found. Those who are interested can look the material up and form their own opinions if they so wish. All in all, this is a worthwhile book that describes the place pederasty had in the archaic Greek world and its probable contours as an institution.
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