When I was growing up as a little kid in St. Louis in the early 1960s, we were told that ancient Greek civilization had collapsed because of moral degeneracy. We were not told what kind of moral degeneracy; we were left to imagine it. When we grew up a little bit more, teachers and books became a little less coy, and suggested that Greek civilization was destroyed by God because they committed the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually, post-AIDS and after the Satanic ritual abuse repressed memory hoax, the taboo on saying what they really meant pretty much went away, and everybody now gets told more or less bluntly: Greek civilization started out okay, but collapsed because they tolerated adult men having sex with little boys.
Such is the conventional wisdom. I assume that if the topic is brought up at all in today's history classes for children and teens, that the same story is told? But you know, history is a funny subject. As James Loewen wrote in the introduction to his best-seller Lies My Teacher Told Me:
College teachers in most disciplines are happy when their students have had significant exposure to the subject before college. Not teachers in history. History professors in college routinely put down high school history courses. A colleague of mine calls his survey of American history "Iconoclasm I and II," because he sees his job as disabusing his charges of what they learned in high school. In no other field does this happen. ... Indeed, history is the only field in which the more courses students take, the stupider they become.This wasn't one of Loewen's examples, but it fits the pattern. If you get to a reputable college and you study ancient history or the classics, this is one of the notions they have to disabuse you of. You can find the truth in college-level history books, both textbook and popular. You won't see it many other places, though, because this is Forbidden History. You see, anybody who wants to explain that ancient Greece fell to the Macedonians because of pedophilia is going to have to explain how they thrived with pedophilia for longer than white people have lived in the western hemisphere so far. And they're going to have to explain why they had pedophilia before they had democracy. And if you study the subject long enough, you'll eventually find, whether it makes you uncomfortable or not, that the Greeks considered homosexual pedophilia a pre-requisite for a successful entrepreneurial democracy.
By putting that in writing in front of a non-scholarly audience, I have all but guaranteed that I will become the target of a federal and/or local police investigation. Ministers, cops, social workers, psychologists, postal inspectors, and even most professional historians believe that there is no reason to discuss this truth, to stand up for this truth, unless you are yourself a homosexual pedophile and seeking justification for your behavior. After all, if you don't learn it by college-level study of the classics, just about the only place you're likely to find this out is from NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association, and look how many of their founders, leaders, and members have been convicted of homosexual pedophilia. So by standing up and saying that in this case, at least, NAMBLA is right about the historical facts, I've put a set of crosshairs on the concentric circles that I just painted on my own back. I will be tarred as a "defender of NAMBLA, and of pedophiles in general."
My motivation could hardly be farther from theirs. No, I bring this up because every attempt to revive Hellenic religion gets this thrown into its face, and usually sooner rather than later. And when they bring this up, most of the people who do so have such a gleeful air. "Ah hah," they're clearly thinking, "I've proved that your religion is for pedophiles! Now nobody will listen to what you have to say!" After all, what I'm saying is that I worship gods who sanctioned it, who blessed a society where 30 year old guys routinely screwed 14 year old boys. Some of them they fell in love with, others they paid. How could I possibly worship gods who thought that that was all right? Most Hellenic Reconstructionists, many of whom know nothing about the religion that they didn't learn from Bullfinch (or from cartoons), fall back on the excuse that all religions use for reprehensible behavior: it wasn't the gods who endorsed man/boy buttsex, it was the fallible Greeks themselves. Because after all, homosexual pedophilia is so, so evil that surely the gods would never have blessed it, right?
I say: wrong. The gods did bless this, and this does not make the blessed gods, nor the Greeks who lived this way, evil people. But to understand this, you're going to have wrap your head around some pretty alien concepts. If it helps, treat this as science fiction. Pretend for a moment that we're not talking about human beings; imagine this as being about non-humanoid aliens on some distant planet in the far future. It's not, but most of you will need all the emotional distance you can muster to get through this.
First of all, let's dispose of the word homosexual pretty quickly. The Greeks didn't have a word that means homosexual, any more than they had a word for heterosexual. Nor, for that matter, would it be entirely accurate to describe the Greeks as bisexual. The standard Greek practice was to have sex with men or boys under some circumstances, and with women or girls under other circumstances. The circumstances were mostly separate and seldom overlapped, so one simply did what was right under the circumstance. There is a Greek word that is routinely translated as "sodomite" or "homosexual." That word is katapugon. Early scholars attempting to translate surviving texts saw from the context that the word was an insult and had something to do with sex, that it basically meant "pervert," so they just assumed it meant homosexual. Later scholars saw the inescapable proof that claiming that someone else had sex with people of the same gender wasn't an insult, so they concocted an elaborate hypothesis (completely unsupported by any known text or art) that it meant not all homosexual sex, but certain sexual acts, in particular buttsex.
In his absolutely essential book Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Athens, James Davidson went back to the actual texts and researched every person in any known text who's called a katapugon and looked into that person's history, looked at the context in the speech, and if they gave a defense in another speech to prove that they weren't a katapugon, analyzed their defense. In so doing, he proved beyond all shadow of a doubt what the Greeks considered a pervert. To the ancient Greeks and their gods, a pervert is someone who lets his sex drive control him, who devotes inordinate amounts of time and money to sex. This is one of the classic signs of alcoholism or any other addiction, of course, the definition: "characterized by continuous or periodic: impaired control over (whatever), preoccupation with (whatever), (doing whatever) despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial." So a katapugon is a sex addict. As Davidson pointed out from the texts, having been a teenage prostitute down at the city gate for a couple of years doesn't make you a katapugon. Continuing to go down there to sell yourself once you've grown up because you like it makes you a katapugon. Paying a teenager to have sex with you doesn't make you a katapugon. Spending so much money on teenage hookers that you wreck the family farm or business, or worse that you embezzle public funds, makes you a katapugon.
Of course, keep in mind here that we're not talking about children, by the standards of the ancient world. The Greeks, much like us, had a word that means basically "teenager." Children legally become epheboi at 14, no longer children but not quite legally adults. They become full citizens and legal adults when they marry an adult, or when their father's fraternity votes that they've become an adult. Epheboi are expected to go out and try to snare an older romantic and sexual partner of the same sex, usually 30 or older. It has to be same sex, otherwise it threatens childbirth and that could throw inheritance issues into things. As Plato attributed to Socrates in The Symposium, this relationship, which he called Heavenly Love, could be said to be much purer, much holier, and much more romantic than mere Earthly Love between male and female adults. Why? Because when heterosexual adults have sex they are thinking, if only instinctively, of children to carry on their name and to care for them in their old age. But according to Socrates, heavenly love involves adults and teens loving each other for their best virtues. The man loves the boy (or the woman the girl) for his (or her) beauty and physical fitness, and it's important that teens be physically fit. The boy (or girl) loves the man (or woman) for his (or her) knowledge and hard-won skills, and financial and political success, and it's important to society that adults have another incentive to succeed. Sure, had he been pressed on the point, even Socrates would probably have admitted that there's an element of pragmatism on the teen's side and narcissism on the adult's side, but of which relationship is that never true? In any case, once the boy becomes a man, the two are expected to put the relationship behind them. Sexual and romantic relationships between adults are expected to be between men and women, and specifically for the purpose of having, protecting, and raising children. (What was scandalous to the Greeks about Alexander the Great was not that he had a male lover, but that his lover was an adult like himself. Playing with a boy his own age was felt to be something he should have grown out of at 14.)
To us, 14 sounds awfully young, but not to them. Nor, frankly, does 14 sound too young for sex to a 14 year old. Has it been in the news enough lately that I don't have to remind you that in our time, many 14 year olds are sexually active and most 15 year olds? The question before any society is not "are 14 and 15 year olds going to have sex," but "with whom." Our culture's rules may be the weirdest yet. Imagine, if you will, the fate of a couple that fall in love at the age that Romeo and Juliet were, age 14, and (improbably) remain romantically and sexually faithful to each other. At age 15, they're having legal sex. At 16, she's having legal sex but he's a child molester. At 17, they're both legally having sex again. WTF? Now, purely as a hypothetical, answer this. We live in a world with at least three incurable sexually transmitted diseases. We consider teenage pregnancy to be a major problem. We've tried teaching teenagers to be serious about condom use, about prophylaxis and contraception. But we run into the constant problem, and not just in matters of sex, that a 14 year old (and, in fact, most 18 or 19 year olds) is going through a major growth spurt in the part of the brain that involves predicting future outcomes and analyzing levels of risk; during that time, that part of the brain is largely out of order. Maybe when teenagers first begin to have sex, it should be with someone who knows what they're doing? What's more, how many teenagers have ruined their lives by insisting that their first sexual crush was Eternal Love, and dropping out of all schooling so they can Be Together Forever?
Imagine that our society had a rule that older adult/teen sexual and romantic relationships had to be temporary. Imagine that the rule was that the relationship couldn't involve any health risk to the teen, or any physical threat to the teen, or any type of unfair control over the teen. Imagine if spending your teen years in love with someone successful was something your family was proud of, not ashamed of. Who'd be hurt? Ah, but as a modern or even a post-modern, you presume that this can't possibly happen. If I were to point out to you that it worked for the Greeks for over 700 years, and that compared with them we have yet to prove that they were wrong and that a democratic and entrepreneurial society can survive without these socio-sexual relationships, you would probably say that that was them then, not us now. But is it? Consider the case of Mary Kay LaTourneau and Vili Fualuaau. He was only 13 when he fell in love with his 34-year-old former 6th grade teacher. Then she went to jail when they were caught having sex. He has waited more-or-less patiently for 7 years for her to be released from prison, endured (but not tolerated) coercive counseling sessions intended to make him "understand" how he was victimized, and has told anybody who will listen that she did not take sexual advantage of him. He doesn't feel raped by her. He feels raped by society, for calling him a victim and for putting his "true love" in prison.
This came as no shock to me at the time. No, I got my shock on this subject many, many years ago. It was in the early days of public-access on the Internet, when Usenet was pretty much what there was. One of the best Usenet forums I found was called alt.sex.wizards. It was originally set up as an advice board for educated dilettantes, and maintained a consistently high educational tone the whole time I was reading it. Early in my time on there, someone asked if there was any sexual practice that we all agreed was sick, perverted, beyond the pale, inexcusable? I was only one of probably a dozen people who immediately said pedophilia, of course. What this brought out of the woodwork was that out of perhaps fewer than 100 regulars on alt.sex.wizards, three had had their first sexual relationship, not just first sexual act but first sexual and romantic relationship, when they were between the ages of 13 and 15 and their lovers were between the ages of 35 and 50. If memory serves, two had been homosexual, one had been heterosexual. All three were now adults, ages 20ish to 40ish. All three of them insisted that it was the best thing that had ever happened to them in their entire lives. Two of them insisted that, given the rest of the details of their lives, had it not been for that first older lover they might well not have grown up sane and healthy. The rest of us were stunned, and challenged them on as many details as we could get out of very carefully anonymous writers. What the three relationships all had in common that separates them from the pedophilia cases that you hear so much about in the news was that all three were initiated by the teen, and that in all three the adult had been emotionally sensitive and physically (and legally) careful to protect the teen. Of course, they were remarkable. But what if they weren't?
Am I recommending or endorsing, or even tolerating, such relationships now? No. No, not with society the way it is now. Whether it was by Mary Kay LaTourneau or by the state, Vili Fualuaau did get his life ruined, and theirs was rather close to a best-case scenario. No sane, rational adult would attempt a relationship this insanely dangerous; any adult insane enough to risk such a relationship has no business being around a teenager, let alone becoming their adult role model. Do I think it would be a good thing if our culture changed so that such relationships were the norm? I've never made up my mind. What's the point? There is absolutely no imaginable way that our society could change from our current sexual and romantic pattern to that one. None. None whatsoever that I can imagine, whether gradually or all at once. No, we've made our bed and we shall lie in it, not to make too horrible a pun. We shall have to hope that the Greeks were wrong, and that entrepreneurial democracy can survive without it.
However, I refuse to denounce a society that was once otherwise, or the gods who blessed that society.
Next: Obviously, my sense of self-preservation is impaired. Sex today, drugs tomorrow. Next: the Mysteries.