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A Problem in Greek Ethics

by John Addington Symonds


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This book is a ground-breaking study of the Greek institution of paiderastia. This was a custom by which adolescent men made alliances with older men of a romantic and sexual nature. The young men in question were the same age as contemporary teen pop stars (aproximately from puberty to the Athenian age of majority, 21). And they were treated similarly, as celebrities, showered with gifts and attention, and fought over by lovers. Philosophers such as Plato considered these same-sex unions as a remedy for tyranny, the bedrock of a cultured society, and the purest form of love.

The point of this essay is never made explicit, but it is still very relevant. The ancient Greek civilization lasted for hundreds of years, invented democracy, built amazing monumental buildings, developed advanced philosophy, drama and literature, and defeated the Persian empire. And no small part of this success was due to the openly acknowledged contribution of gay people. This proves specious the argument (most recently advanced by a certain President of the United States) that homosexuals achieving parity in a society means the end of civilization "as we know it".

Symonds, who also wrote A Problem in Modern Ethics, was an accomplished classicist, and a pioneering (if closeted) self-realized gay person. This book was originally published privately for the use of 'Medical Psychologists and Jurists'; this figleaf was neccesary in the repressive climate of Victorian England. The number of copies supposedly was not to exceed 100; however, if the number of used 'first edition' copies available is any indication the print run far exceeded that number, or possibly this sensational tract had a number of pirate editions.

Title Page
I. Introduction: Method of treating the subject
II. Homer had no knowledge of paiderastia--Achilles--Treatment of Homer by the later Greeks
III. The Romance of Achilles and Patroclus
IV. The heroic ideal of masculine love
V. Vulgar paiderastia--How introduced into Hellas--Crete--Laius--The myth of Ganymede
VI. Discrimination of two loves, heroic and vulgar.
VII. The intensity of paiderastia as an emotion, and its quality
VIII. Myths of paiderastia
IX. Semi-legendary tales of love--Harmodius and Aristogeiton
X. Dorian Customs--Sparta and Crete--The sacred band--Alexander the Great
XI. Paiderastia in poetry of the lyric age
XII. Paiderastia upon the Attic stage
XIII. Recapitulation of points--The Palæstra
XIV. Distinctions drawn by Attic law and custom
XV. Platonic doctrine on Greek love
XVI. Greek liberty and Greek love extinguished
XVII. The deep root struck by paiderastia in Greece--Position of Women
XVIII. Relation of paiderastia to the fine arts
XIX. Homosexuality among Greek women
XX. Greek love did not exist at Rome--Christianity--Chivalry