Was Ancient Greek pederasty damaging to the participants?

I was just reading a discussion on another bulletin board about paedophilia, and one of the participants essentially claimed that boys in Ancient Greece suffered no ill effects from pedestry, since culturally, it was ok, and they knew all about it beforehand.

Are there any accounts of pedestry in ancient greece that aren’t positive?

One small correction: “pederasty”

:smack: :smack: :smack: :smack: :smack: :smack: :smack: :smack: :smack:
The awful thing is, is that I’ve corrected other people on that spelling. I can’t believe I did it over and over.

Actually, considering your spelling of “paedophilia”, perhaps you’re from one of the places that uses “paederasty” instead.

paedophilia is correct actually.
paederesty just looks weird, but I suppost it would be more consistant.

“pedophilia” and “paedophilia” are both correct, just as “pederasty” and “paederasty” are both correct. Different places prefer one or the other.

(Your actual question will never get answered amidst the bog of spelling discussion :))

I don’t know how we are going to answer this as a GQ.

We don’t have available to us any current or former Greek catamites to interview. We also don’t (unless someone points me to it) have available anything that would approach scientifically-reliable data collected from the Greek boys at that time.

I suspect that the best a person adducing such a claim would have to adduce would be an account from an old-time Greek discussing just how great the practice was: the men got to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of a young boy, the boy got the benefit of an older man’s knowledge, wisdom, etc. But I’m hardly going to regard that as dispositive, because the old goats writing such apologia were no doubt avid chickenhawks themselves, and that’s precisely the kind of alibi someone would give if he were really motivated by nothing other than lust for someone younger and more powerless than himself.

I will also note that there is no shortage of modern-day examples of such rationalizations, which (correctly) no one ever gives a shred of credence. I could find an article about Paul Shanley, the disgraced priest, in which he was quoted making claims to the effect that “in most cases of such relationships, the child is the aggressor” and “the worst harm is done by revealing the relationship, since it is only the shame and stigma attached by society when a big fuss is made of it that makes it traumatic for a child to have a sexual relationship with an adult.” Of course, these very statements should have been the reddest of flags for his superiors that he was speaking not out of a desire for accurate psychological evaluation of adult-child relations, but out of a wild attempt to justify the rampant rape of boys that he was contemporaneously engaging in.

In any event, it’s almost beside the point to ask, “was it okay for the boys?” The answer depends on how you define “good for the boys” or “damaging,” which means we (as a society) just have to take a normative position on what is “good” for children, and say that this ain’t it. Because you could find instances of kids who, through brainwashing, or bribery, or need for affection, actually did kind of “enjoy” the attention of adults, but we’ve decided that’s not a healthy enjoyment, and the law and policy are pretty comfortable with saying that certain classes of people just don’t have the capacity to give informed consent to what is or is not good for them. That’s why “but she wanted it” is never a defense to sleeping with a jailbait girl. On the flip side, the “hey, in the right setting, it can actually be good for the kid” is pernicious from the mindset of the offender, even if he believes it; it impels predators to rationalize their predation by telling themselves there’s no way their actions can be harmful, even when the evidence of their own eyes should convince them there’s no way it can be true.

I’m not saying the person who made that comment the OP saw about ancient Greece is an incipient molester; I’m merely noting that we can’t know factually how things went back then, but that by the way, many molesters do make such comments.

The impression I always got was that the ancient Greek writers had grown up in the same system and had had their turn, er, fielding as well as pitching, so to speak. I have nothing to base that on, I’d just always assumed that it was a long-standing tradition.

And I had the same understanding/assumption, for the most part. If I had unfolded my assessment a little bit further, it would have been that the perspective of someone who was both victim of, and perpetrator of, something possibly exploitative, would have little objective value. We’re all aware of statistics showing that children who were abused (as that’s defined today) disproportionately grow up to abuse, and those populations would not be whom we would ask for an accurate assessment of the prescription for healthy family dynamics.

So more precisely, I should have said that to answer the OP objectively, we would need to hear data from or an assessment by a Greek who was observing/collecting information (including from the boys), at the time, but was not himself involved at any time in the pitcher-catcher dynamic.

Whether that category of source material exists, I have no idea.

I think due to its subject matter this is inherently more suited to GD than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Fixed title.

Not quite. :slight_smile:

I’ve often wondered if the Greek writers whose works survive might be grossly unrepresentative of their societies. Would you really accept Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche as objective historians of 19th century Europe? I can just imagine the wealthy urban intellectuals of ancient Greece rationalizing pederastry while the peasant farmer classes scowl and mutter the equivalent of “goddamn bloody buggerers”.

In an era in which literacy, access to parchment, pens, publication, were far from universal, and in which pederasty was endorsed, I would not expect dissenting views to have stood much of a chance of becoming part of the canon that was passed down from that long ago.

To some extent, it almost doesn’t matter what people thought back then. We’ve made our modern day choice (the vast majority of us) that such activitiy never can be, on the whole, positive. There is a modern day minority (a tiny one, I hope), in the form of NAMBLA, that believes otherwise. Presumably any non-positive ancient Greek portrayals shared some of our same views, and the prevailing pro-pederasty views of those days were modeled along lines similar to those you’d hear from NAMBLA today. I don’t think fundamental human nature has changed, just the social views of how that nature can/should be channeled.

I would bet some smallish sum of money that one or two or more Aztec sacrificial virgins was in an ecstatic trance as she was afforded the honor of being escorted to the volcano rim. I’d also bet others were scared to death. Again, interestingly how different people react psychologically, but psychologically interesting doesn’t mean relevant to whether the practice was right or wrong.

This isn’t a bash of the OP, btw. If we had accurate information on just how many young guys really were happy being the biatches of some scraggly old philosopher dude, as opposed to the comely maidservant, I’d be interested to hear that, as more fodder for my knowledge of the wacky human mind. I’m just afraid we’ll never find that information.

Oh, a final point I forgot to tease out re: “damaging.” Even if someone proved to me that ancient Greece was an idyll of mutually-happy pederast couples, I can’t rule out the possibility that this was damaging to them as a society. Ancient Greece ain’t around anymore and (while this can be said of many vanished societies), it’s frequently the case that unconventional behavior (not least unconventional sexual behavior) is observed, or even glorified, in societies that don’t have much long term viability or stability. Correlation, causation, all that, but the notion of “decadence” does not exist for nothing . . . .

I should have put that into my just-posted post about what might survive. I was thinking that the highest probability of objective, street-level report might actually be in finding some soldier’s or farmer’s graffiti: “Captain Vlatos is a jerk and brings little boys to his tent.” “Those stuck-up Athenians are all a bunch of catamites.”

Andrew Vachss had an example in one of his books (if not repeated in a few more, even) of a child whose parent liked to spank them. Not have sex or anything, just to bring their own child in and spank them for their own amusement. That’s an entirely separate thing from spanking a child because they misbehaved. While children aren’t necessarily all that worldly and knowledgeable, they can still pretty well figure out when they’re being used without any care for their own humanity via body language and so on.

Same thing with, for instance, sex and rape. Not the same thing by any sense except some basic physical happenstances.

Now, it’s decently likely that in some cases the Greek warriors did pretty much use the children simply for their own gratification, and likely that was hard on the children who were used. But there were probably just as many more who felt that they were helping the child and the whole thing was fairly tender and caring. No different from a hug or kiss.

It is the sort of thing though where if you’re stressed out over something or just feeling horny, that you’re likely to abuse the situation. I’d venture to guess that even with most people intending it to be a kind act, there was still probably at least one or two times that each of them essentially forced it. That might not be enough to harm the child, but it’s certainly unnecessary.

I’d venture to guess that the treatment of the children was similar to black slaves in the South. Most people were kind and caring, but they still did awful things just because of being in the position of complete power and occasional stress with nothing to mitigate it.

I gotta assume it wasn’t good for their culture, or else their culture would still be around.

Now that’s just silly, or you’d have to say that nothing anyone at that time in any culture did wasn’t good for their culture or that culture would still be around.

Besides, the culture is still around. It’s just changed gradually over the course of the last 2000 years. Unless you want to argue that “When the Roman empire took over,* the Greeks ceased to exists as a people.” Otherwise, when did the modern Greeks spring into existence — with the collapse of the Ottoman empire? And from whom?

  • or “When Christianity was introduced” or “When they stopped praising the institution of boy-buggery”

Eh? There are plenty of other, much better reasons for Ancient Greek culture to not be around than pederasty, all value judgments aside.

**Huerta88 **makes the best and biggest point of all in this area: we simply don’t have any literature written from the POV of the eromenos. Despite Michel Foucault’s best attempt to convince otherwise, there is plenty of negative material about pederasty, in both Greece and Rome (much more so in Rome). I know you didn’t ask about Rome, but I’m giving it to you anyways, since the Roman tradition is derivative to some degree of the Greek tradition, and Roman mores in this area (as in many areas of culture, law, and practice) a reaction toward what they saw as the corrupting influence of Greece, especially around the second-first centuries BC.

In Rome, you will find a LOT of negative material about pederasty. Speaking in very general terms, it occured in 4th century BC Athens among relatively well-to-do citizens (that is: both *eromenos *and *erastes *are social equals insofar as rank, even if not in age); and it is my opinion that such a relationship may likely have seemed backwards to the average workaday Athenian (just my opinion, after reading, ahem, a *buttload *of primary source material + scholarly discourse).

In Rome, such a union was forbidden with boys who were citizens. Slaves and non-citizens were okey dokey as far as the law was concerned. You could argue that such laws were in place to prevent harm to the boy (sources indicate that in Rome the preferred age range for a “boy” was around 12-19), but it’s not the kind of harm that a modern reader would assume that the Romans are trying to prevent here but rather, as Valerius Maximus puts it in On Chastity (6.1.9) “The senate wished that the chastity of Roman blood be safe no matter what status it might be in” the implication being as long as that status was a citizen, i.e. Roman.