Homosexuality: Greco-Roman Period to Today

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Homosexuality, the sexual attraction between members of the same sex, is a term not coined until the late nineteenth century; however, its prevalence throughout Western history is apparent and cannot be ignored. Some of the earliest accounts of homosexual relationships date back to 700 BCE in Ancient Greece. Spanning from that period up to today, the history of the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) minority is one that is commonly overlooked. Only by analyzing the historical records of homosexuality can one fully understand the widespread GLBT movement of the current era. In ancient Greece, sexual relationships were common across both genders. The most prevalent form was pederasty, which means “boy love.” This involved an older man, erastes, and an adolescent male, eromenos. The erastes’s role was to educate, protect, love, and provide a role model for his eromenos. A complex social code, with standards for courtship, served as a model for the social institution of pederasty. In the military, same-sex love was used as a means of boosting morale. The most prominent example of this was the Sacred Band of Thebes. A troop of elite soldiers, the band was made up of same-sex couples with the belief that lovers would fight more passionately than strangers. Same-sex relationships between two adults were not as acceptable as pederasty. The passive man was considered weak and feminine. However, the issue was not with the sexual act but with the man’s perceived masculinity. A famous homosexual relationship is that of Achilles and Patroclus in Homer’s Iliad. Due to the civilization’s focus on men, less is known about same-sex relationships between women. Sappho, a poet from the island of Lesbos, wrote a large amount of verses about ... ... middle of paper ... ...oxes based on any number of reasons, e.g. sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. Such rigid structure would be utterly alien and confusing to the ancients. Therefore, it is difficult to judge GLBT tolerance in the periods before the term homosexual was invented. The often overlooked GLBT history is one which is important to be aware of when analyzing the GLBT movement of the current era. Although the very term homosexual is a relatively new one, examples throughout history give insight into the views of GLBT issues. A clear shift in tolerance can be seen in the transition from Pagan religions to Christianity in Ancient Greece and Rome. Similar shifts, both positive and negative, exist as well. Changing popular beliefs is a very slow process, although the widespread tolerance of the GLBT population today is promising but there still is much more work to be done.

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