Those Un-natural Animals

And being the youngest brother in a family. That makes you more likely to be gay.

To be pedantic, each successive male child has a higher chance of being gay. But, yeah, what he said.

No! Each child has an equal chance of being gay! I have a doctorate in economics and/or taught genetics to pre-med students!

(creepy window boy flashback)

I read that in The Economist too recently. The reason I ask is because a few months ago after watching Troy I got involved in a discussion with my wife. I thought the story would have been stronger if Achilles and Patroclus were gay lovers, and it would be closer to the truth as well. My wife basically replied: that’s just the Western-, liberal-, leftist-, reinterpretation of history and culture to inject homosexuality everywhere.

So I looked up the subject, and boy, judging from Wikipedia and the Straight Dope I was more right than I know. Which leaves me confused. How do you reconcile scientific findings that there appear to be biological causes of homosexuality even before birth with the fact that male homosexuality among the Greek aristocracy at least seems to have been extremely common?

Because sexuality is a complex human behavior, and so its expression is likely to have multiple influences. People may exhibit homosexual behavior due to biological causes, social causes, or likely a combination. We’ve had more success at identifying systematic genetic factors than social ones, but that may simply mean that there’s no common environmental influence on homosexuality.

In US history, gays often have been pressured by society to act straight. It’s conceivable that there may be some folks who have some biological leanings towards homosexuality, but who have never acted on it due to cultural intolerance.

In contrast, most male members of Greek aristocracy were expected to have relations with young adolescent men, as well as bearing heirs with their wives. It’s likely that some ancient Greeks didn’t have biological inclinations towards men, but simply performed homosexual acts because it was culturally appropriate.

Neither the Greeks or romans had a concept of homosexuality. Whenever you hear about an ancient Greek or roman talking about homosexuality it is really something a modern western historian has imposed upon some ancient text.

From the ancient Greek point of view, women had a very low standing in society. Pretty much all they were considered good for was making babies. Even men were considered to frequently make a better choice as a lover then a woman. The most common ‘family’ setup was that a man had a wife who took care of the household and children, but several other lovers, many of which were male.

AFAIK the Acropolis in Athens was off limits to females and was often a place where men could escape their wives to have some fun. This kind of attitude is why women in Greek stories generally are not very nice.

In Rome, the attitude was a bit more even although still slanted to wards men. When considering someone as a sex partner, their physical beauty was of primary concern, while their gender was a secondary concern. Roman women held a much higher status then Greek women did, but it was still fairly low. A woman was at the complete mercy of her husband.

If a woman cheated on her husband, the punishment was death. A man could only be considered for adultery if he was married and he slept with a woman who was also married. However, sleeping with an unmarried woman, or another man (married or not) was considered perfectly fine.

Furthermore a man was considered promiscuous (it was frowned upon, epically the higher your rank in Roman society) if he slept around excessively with other women. However, he could sleep with as many guys as he wanted. An example of this was something that happened to Julius Cesar. He was known to sleep with everyone, he was a total horn-dog. At one point he was told that a man of his standing should not be seen with so many women or people might think he was cheating on his wife. Yet by the end of is life, it was said there was not a man in all of Rome that did not know the love (physical love) of Julius Cesar.

Now the question I have, one that probably can not be answered in my life time is:
Why does it seem that in the ancient times that being ‘bisexual’ was normal, where as someone who was truly hetero was just as rare as someone who was truly homo?

Another way to ask the same question is, why isn’t it the same way today?

If you were to take a large chunk of the population and then raise them in an environment where sexuality was gender neutral, would the males begin to behave as this did in the roman and Greek times or would bisexual / gay males end up still being only a small minority compared to the strictly hetero ones?

So far as I can tell, DeepT, your post is substantially incorrect. Both the Greeks and Romans did have a concept of homosexuality, and the Romans, especially the republican Romans and the later Christian imperial Romans, abhorred it. But even under the excesses of the more insane emperors homosexuality was not considered proper behavior for Romans. It may not have been illegal in Rome (not sure, probably the censor could theoretically prosecute for generically immoral behavior, but as a rule didn’t) but it’s certainly the case that it was considered unmanly, and the early Romans had very strong ideas on morality and virtue that even the worst of the imperial Romans gave lip-service to.

Attitudes varied amongst the early Greek cities. Homosexuality in the form of pederasty with teenagers was routine in some times and places there so far as I can tell. But even the famous Theban Sacred Band was housed separately and kept apart from the ordinary run of the citizenry, and I gather that homosexuality was frowned on in many places, and in particular mature relationships between men were considered perverse in many places.

I do agree that women had a very inferior place in Greek society, for the most part, and no doubt this inferiority was a piece of the picture. But inferiority is not the same as seclusion or isolation. Of course if you just consider the standard myths, stories, poems, and dramas that have come down to us, heterosexuality is a fairly strong rule with only a few famous exceptions that I can think of. Even the fragments of Sappho I’ve read seem at least superficially to sing of heterosexual desire, though some are rather ambiguous. Considering that their literature seems to present heterosexuality rather predominantly, you would expect the real culture to reflect the same attitudes – though you can make various arguments that the surviving literature we have has been filtered over the generations in ways to select against presentations of homosexuality.

I must admit I have no references to support this post offhand, just general information gathered from various reading over the years.

What I have read and heard from scholars (admittedly, I have not studied it in any depth, but have a passing interest and had some courses dealing tangentially with the subject) concur much more with DeepT (particularly with respect to the Greeks) than what you said.

This is not a “nyah” thing, just you are saying two different things and DeepT’s matches what I have heard and read.

Not very complete but:

Other tidbits quoted from various sources:[i]
“Though perhaps not the originator of the practice, the emperor Nero appears to have been the first Roman emperor to marry a male. According to Edward Gibbon, writing in 1776, of the first twelve emperors only Claudius was exclusively involved with women. All others took either boys or men as lovers.”

"Homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world was almost universally practised and almost universally accepted as a part of everyday life. Yet it did not exist at all in the sense in which we understand it today. Neither in Greece nor in Rome were there groups of people classifying themselves or each other as ‘homosexuals’ or ‘heterosexuals’ and regarding each other with disapproval or incomprehension. This bisection of human sexual potential seems to be a modern invention. Both Greek and Roman men and women practised homosexuality and heterosexuality in different social circumstances, at different times in their lives and according to different religious, political and ritual obligations, without drawing any kind of ethical distinction between them.

It is important not to idealise this state of affairs. Both Greek and Roman society were profoundly patriarchal, and in Greece in particular, male homosexuality served as perhaps the most important bonding-mechanism between men. Greek male homosexuality evolved by the Classical period (5th century BC) into a highly ritualised social-political system, with rigidly-defined roles and a powerful educational role. In Sparta and Thebes male homosexual bonding was actually elevated to a form of military organisation

Female homosexuality seems to have been equally widespread and accepted, though subject to the restrictions that the patriarchal order imposed on women’s sexuality in general. Unfortunately, our evidence on this is fragmentary, since virtually all our sources are male writers who were generally not interested in what women did, provided they produced legitimate heirs. Furthermore, the most important focus of women’ s social life, and hence of female sexuality, were the rituals of the Mystery cults, which men were forbidden to see or know about. The works of only one woman writer, those of Sappho, have survived, and they only in fragments."[/i]

I think the social norm was pretty much as I have said.

Mirimon, I suggest you read a much wider selection texts regarding the history of Rome and Greece.

I recommend the “Complete History of Rome (or Greece)” audio books. Each, IRRC are about 20+ hours long. If you have a long commute, they can make the time go by very quickly.

It seems to me, that as far as “the west” is concerned, homosexual wasn’t an issue in the consciousness of the average person until Judeo-Christan values spread. It was only the Jewish Tanakh that had any rules about this. As it stands in history, Christianity took a lot of it’s beliefs from there, and then Muslims took their laws from early Christianity. Since western morality mostly comes from these sources, we have these issues with homosexuality. If we could go back and change the Tanakh and remove any reference to it, we might not even have a word for it today.

In this case, I think wiki is not a very useful source (because it doesn’t agree with me? Ha, yes, but it also seem to me to be a bit on the slender side in terms of lacking classical citations.) Again I admit I have no citations on my side either to back up my claims, so take that for what it’s worth, perhaps not that much, but I suppose once I get home I could dig up my book on Roman society and culture and see if its references are any more solid than wiki’s.

I don’t think the reference to Nero’s behavior has any bearing.

Nero was after all an insane absolute ruler, and like Caligula, he could do any damn thing he wanted to so long as the praetorians supported him. Compared to the more serious excesses of Nero and the other unstable emperors during this period, I’m sure the praetorians and what few senators still had any vestiges of power were more than happy to ignore his private life, if only he would stop screwing up the empire and throwing legions away on the frontier. In any event, in my post, I specifically mentioned republican Rome as being particularly averse to homosexuality. The early imperial period (until the Antonines) was so chaotic after Augustine that Roman society in that period was in a state of constant upheaval, so no doubt conventional norms were less adhered to than in the past.

As regards the statement of universal homosexuality in the other excerpt, I think this is just absolutely wrong in Rome from my own reading, but as I did say, there certainly was routine pederasty in Greece in some cities – but still I think it was far from universal.

I will agree to the point that in those places in Greece where homosexuality was common, that they didn’t consider it to be a choice that was opposed to heterosexuality – a man who was exclusively homosexual would be considered rather strange, I think.

Anyhow, there are no doubt many different interpretations of classical culture, and I am no classicist anyway, so I don’t assert I am absolutely right, but I would like to see some actual classical source citation for these claims of universal homosexuality. Since human history has not exhibited “universal homosexuality” in other cultures so far as I know, and since Greek culture is the font from which western culture has sprung, such a state of affairs would have to be very strange, don’t you think?

According to the anthropologist Don Kulick, there are tribes in Papua/New Guinea where a boy has to be inseminated to become a man. And not just once, there has to be quite large amounts involved. So for a period the boy lives with all the men of the village in a building where he is inseminated until he is male enough. As in many other situations, I don’t think this should necessarily be interpreted as homosexuality or pedophilia, though.
As an aside, a widow can also get the rights of a man by claiming to have been inseminated enough for it, as I recall.

If you are looking for citations, then scroll to the bottom of the wiki-page.

You may not trust the wiki, and that is fine. However, I do not care enough about this issue to cite sources beyond it. If you really want to look further, do your own homework. I am sure google will prove bountiful.

I am not saying that every single Roman male dug dudes. I am just saying that “culturally” the attitude toward nailing a guy vs a girl was on about the same level of importance as nailing a blond vs a brunet.

Imagine that one guy points to a short guy and says to his friend, “I had sex with him.” His friends response might be “Id prefer someone a bit taller.” opposed to “Id prefer a female.” Gender simply was not very important as far as sex partners were concerned.

If you went back and time and said that men should sleep with women and only women, they would consider it one of the most absurd ideas they had ever heard.

If you then tried to define the term Homosexual, it would seem as silly to them as someone inventing a term for only sleeping with blond people or only sleeping with tall people.