Classical Pederasty

From my studies of Classical Greece and Rome, it would appear that pederasty was widely practiced. I am not talking about sex with 2 year olds as is unfortunately common with some modern crimes. I mean sex with children of 10 - 12 years old (and from what I can gather, mostly male).

This was practiced by all levels in society, including the Athenian movers ‘n’ shakers in the assembly, and we can assume that this action had little or no effect on the children concerned since they grew up to be relatively normal.

Nowadays however, children are indisputably irreparably harmed by the actions of pederasts and paedophiles.

For the sake of the debate, let us assume that the actions are not “rape”, but are as consensual as they were 2,000 years ago.

Are these problems caused by the stigma that Western Society attaches to such events? If such “relationships” were accepted by modern society as a whole as they were by the Greeks, would the ill effects cease to exist?

It probably does not need to be said, but in case : I obviously do not think this, or any variation on said theme, is acceptable behavior.

I suspect harm is due to the cultural context rather then inherent. A society in which women can expect to be mothers in their teens and most people will be dead by forty is going to have very different sexual attitudes for both women and men then the 21st century west.

Many assumptions here:

Most abused children look and act “normal.” They don’t run around killing people or anything (in the main), they just have deep-seated psychological issues, which they may or may not talk about, and which they may or may not be reconciled with. I don’t think it’s impossible that a Greek boy did experience lifelong “intimacy issues” after being someone’s love toy; but in that time and place people were not as prone to emotional self-analysis as we are now. OTOH

I think that some people that we now call “underaged” are in fact capable of informed consent, and could have sexual expereiences at an early age without lifelong scarring. Not all, and nowhere near most, which is why it’s illegal.

It’s not so much that they were consensual then and unconsensual now, it’s that we have changed the definition of “consent.”

I’m not sure that in either case the maturity level of children can be fixed by fiat… but that is sort of your question, and worth asking.

** Furt ** - thanks for your answers. Good food for thought.



Sexuality in any era is pretty complicated. The Greeks did not view sexuality in exactly the same light that we do. They viewed sexual desire as a force of nature that was volatile and destructive if left unchecked. There were many concerns over pedastry, male on male pedastry at least, and there were rules designed to protect the young male. For example gymnasiams, a prime place for hooking up with young boys, couldn’t open until after sunrise and had to close at sunset.

Beyond laws there were certain social expectations from both the older male and the boy. A boy was expected to behave in a modest fashion and play hard to get. Some fathers had slaves to watch over their sons and older youths would sometimes reproach boys who were to attentive to wooers.

There was also a great fear of turning the boy into a kinaidos. A kinaidos was a male that played the role of woman during sex. He was the effeminate passive male who was penetrated during sex. Insults such as wide-anused, gaping-assed, and cisterned-assed were usually also acompanied with accustations of being effeminant and soft (malakos).

A man who played the role of the passive homosexual was thought to take on the ways of a woman in habit and appearance with all her weaknesses. He will make a poor warrior and will be far to irrational to take part in any civil discourse.

In some of Aristophanes comedies the small farmers viewed pedastry as


Institutionalized pedastry in the Greek world was an invention brought about to channel sexual energy, kind of like marriage. Remember, they thought that sexual energy was a destructive force of nature. They used it to raise the next generation of elites. To say that it was universally accepted and approved doesn’t really do justice to what a complicated issue it really was.


It’s important to remember two details when discussing Greek paederasty.

The first is that while “boy-love” culture is treated as shocking, no one brings up the equally-shocking detail that in many pre-modern societies in the West – in Greece, Rome, and Northern Europe – women were often married off at ages 11 and 12, largely without their consent. A Roman tombstone for a woman named Veturia, quoted in my history textbook, reads:

The second is that the whole idea of consent is fairly modern. If anyone’s consent was sought, it was the parent’s, not the potential lover’s.

The gist of it – we’re talking about a pre-Freud, pre-Dr.-Spock society, and the healthy psychological development of children was not a major concern (though their moral development often was).

“…sex with children of 10 - 12 years old …”

Am I in error, then, in thinking that most such male objects of an older man’s affection were at least pubertal, and usually early-post-pubertal? As in ages 13-16?

I had assumed that ancient “paedophilia” was actually what we would now called (when we are being careful and not polemical) “ephebephilia.”

To compound my naivete, if prepubertal children were the sex objects, AND if it was shameful for them to “receive” in the manner of women, er… what were they doing? Those guys on the vases aren’t usually shown doing the Hoover.

From the OP:

Tarantula, are you sure about that age-range? From what I know of Classical history – and Mary Renault’s historical novels – adult male Greeks sought teenage boys (epheboi), not prepubescent boys, as their lovers. And it does make a difference, doesn’t it? I even think NAMBLA – the North American Man-Boy Love Association – gets something of a bad rap. Everybody thinks its members are pedophiles, but what they really are is “ephebephiles,” pursuers of teenagers. It is possible that a boy could be psychologically harmed by being used as a sex toy during his teen years, but the damage must be drastically less than if the same thing happened to him at age 10 or 12.

And does it look any different if we change the genders? I’m a straight male, almost 40, and I sometimes find teenage girls – 15 or 16 – very attractive! I never do anything about it, but I don’t feel that looking on those girls with lust in my heart (or somewhere) makes me some kind of perverted degenerate. Quite the contrary. It’s normal. Girls that age are supposed to be attractive, it’s nature’s way of getting them married off. Remember that late marriage is a relatively recent social invention, and for most of human history, in most times and places, people got married in their teens.

Also from the OP:

Well, that question opens up a whole new can of worms: teenage sexuality. Our society is, right now, rather ambivalent about what sexual behavior should be allowed to teenagers. Remember, teenagers are supposed to have sex, that’s the natural way, that’s what we’re all genetically programmed for. Nowadays, we don’t encourage teenagers to marry young – not because their nature has changed but because society has changed, and marrying too young can ruin your life by getting in the way of the lengthy educational process that is a prerequisite for prosperity. (As a general rule, the higher you are on the social scale, the later in life you will marry.) That leaves teenagers with a choice between fornication, masturbation, and no sexual release at all. There’s a GD thread going right now, “A modest proposal for sex education,” which is about the proposition that teenagers should be taught masturbation, that being the safest sexual activity in which they can engage. And even this modest proposal is still shocking in many quarters – look what happened to Clinton’s first surgeon general (what was her name?) when she proposed the same thing.

In short, the very idea of teenagers having sex, even with other teenagers, or even with themselves, is still painfully controversial in America. And if to that mix you add the option of teenagers having sexual and/or romantic relations with adults – then you’re really playing with dynamite. If you expect society to learn to tolerate such relationships any time in the next 20 or 30 years, you’re asking too much.

But suppose society did tolerate such relationships – would there by a downside?

Well, I can’t see an adult-teen relationship lasting for life – because the teenager who gets involved with an adult is also standing on the threshold of a series of growth processes and changes that will turn him or her into a completely different person by the age of 20 or 25; but the adult partner already has a solidly established personality, and will not change to anywhere near the same degree. So, if an adult and a teenager are compatible with each other now, that happy circumstance is very liable to change.

Another obvious problem is that an adult-teen relationship is not a relationship between equals – the adult has it all over the kid in terms of knowledge and life experience. The adult will always be the dominant partner. So it’s easy to understand why so many people regard such a relationship as exploitive of the teenager.

Is there any way such relationships are good for teenagers? Arguably. An adult lover could serve as a valuable guide to life. A teenage girl might not listen to her father, but if she has a lover old enough to be her father, obviously he has some degree of influence over her and she might listen to him, which is more likely to be a good thing than bad.

[Hijack]Anyone care to join a movement to lower the age of consent? It used to be 16, you know, in most American states, and now it’s 18 practically everywhere. Call this a free country![/Hijack]


That’s what I always thought it was, for the most part anyway. There’s a play called Chrysippus by Euripides where a character named Laius explains his rape of a boy (the boy is named Chrysippus). He says that “nature drove him on.” It appears as though they recognize that men can be attracted to young boys.

We have to remember that not all Greeks were alike. A free citizen or a slave from the city of Athenians would have different values and lead a very different life from that of a free citizen or slave from the city of Spartans. We also have to keep in mind that a living culture will change as time goes by. The mores and values of Athenians in 800 wasn’t exactly the same as Athenians in the year 550.

As to who the men on the vases were, who knows? The active partner wasn’t usually the one condemned unless he picked the wrong partner (like perhaps in the case of Laius). They could have been slaves, resident aliens, or free citizens.


My impression is we hear a whole lot more from the adults who were the perpetrators than the adults who experienced it as children, similarly with women.

Id be very very surprised if all sorts of harm didnt result from the practise. I doubt we can do a whole lot of research on the prevalance of depression amongst children as adults who experienced the practise for instance but Id be pretty surprised if it wasnt there.

Its true that stigma and secrecy are part of the reason why CSA is harmful but its by no means the only reason. And there are any number of things that were once considered ‘normal’ that are now recognised to be harmful.

There is however some somewhat controversial research out now though that CSA has been thought to be more harmful that it perhaps is. This isnt necessarily amazing when we consider how human beings often survive quite horrific things with comparatively few bad effects. We can get away with being rather brutal to each other and still have viable scoeities it would seem.


What if it made the boys become more brutal and violent men? From what I’ve heard, those qualities were prized.

So what we would consider a negative result, they might have considered a positive result.

I just took a class on the subject of Greek sexuality.

There’s a few misconceptions here.

Firstly, these boys are pubescent. Not children, but not yet displaying a full beard. Their sisters of the same age would be already married (to older men).

Secondly, these was a complicated social dance. Boys were not supposed to enjoy it, merely give in out of respect and affection for their suitor. Anal sex was technically discouraged. Intercural sex (that is, just stick it between the thighs) was the prescribed norm. Oral was a big no-no. Look at the vases. The youger man is never aroused, and its often not clear that he’s recieving anal sex.

Men who came of age and continued to enjoy being penetrated were kinadoi. You don’t want to be a kinados.

This was the social norm, and we have heard from its “victims”. See especially teh works of Plato, the Symposium in particular for works by adoring erastes. They don’t seem too harmed. This wouldn’t work in our society, but in times in Greek history, it was the social norm.

This only applies to citizen males of course, you can fuck the slaves whenever and however you want.

I said we heard more from the perps, and I have to wonder how much room there was for publically decrying the practise - as you point out it was a social norm.

“They don’t seem too harmed.”

I guess it comes down to what you’d expect to see that would show they were or were not harmed, particularly on the basis of millenia old writing.

I wouldnt be looking for lots of people writing ‘sexual abuse has ruined my life’ or anything that obvious myself, thats actually very uncommon even in modern day abuse situations. Similarly nor would I view ‘adoring erastes’ as proof things were fine either.

Research into things like depression rates and the like are often the way we’ve seen how serious some of these issues really can be rather than individual case studies.

Just feels a bit too romanticised to me, I’d want a fair bit more evidence than whats quoted so far before concluding it was ‘OK’, given what we know about it today.