The History Boys is firmly situated in the category of similar literary works that use teacher-student romances in order to draw a connection between teaching and eroticism. A few examples are the novels The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark, 1961) and Notes on a Scandal (Zoe Heller, 2003) and the films A Teacher (Hannah Fidell, 2013) and Loving Annabelle (Katherine Brooks, 2006). Each of these stories centers on an older authority figure engaging in sexual relations with a pupil, which is rooted in the ancient Greek custom of students performing sexual acts on their teachers as a display of love and as a rite of passage.
These relationships were almost always between individuals of the same sex, like in The History Boys. In his book Greek Homosexuality, noted classics scholar Sir Kenneth Dover introduces ample evidence from ancient texts and lore to suggest that homosexuality, pederasty, and sexual relationships between male teachers and their students were quite common in Ancient Greece. However, even though the genre of teacher-student romance has classical roots, contemporary writers usually use this kind of plot as a way to convey forbidden eroticism; like in The History Boys, modern teacher-student relationships are usually doomed.
Dover argues that the teacher-student romance is not really about sex, though; he posits that beneath the physical interaction, pederasty between a teacher and a student is actually about power. According to Dover, the most common pederastic relationship in ancient Greece occurred between an erastes, an older male (usually a teacher or superior), and an eromenos, a younger male who has just passed puberty. The arrangement between the erastes and the eromenos maintained the power dynamic between them; the erastes remained in control, while the eronmenos was expected to learn and grow under the tutelage of the older man.
Bennett mirrors this relationship structure in The History Boys, but he turns the power dynamic on its head; even though Hector is driving the motorcycle, he is not in control of his fate. Similarly, Dakin determines the nature of his relationship with Irwin.