Symposium by Plato

Symposium by Plato Sexuality in Plato’s Symposium and Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece, male homosexual relationships were commonly practiced, particularly between old and young men. However, they were not labelled ‘homosexual,’ as the word did not exist in Greek at the time, and were simply part of aphrodisia, love. Some scholars believe the practice between old and young men originated in Dorian initiation rites. They were the last tribe to migrate to Greece and described as a very masculine culture. Pederasty, a relationship between an adult male and an adolescent male, became practice when adult males kidnapped male teens on the Dorian island of Crete.

Although common, there was stigma attached to the passive partner in the relationship, making the teen-adult relationships complex, especially since they were more common in aristocratic circles. Pictures on vases from the time period show the older lover courting the boy, and the former always plays an active role. The older lover is presented like a substitute father to help the young one reach manhood and maturity. Once the adolescent grows a beard, however, the love affair had to end and he had to find a teen of his own to court. If a man with a beard remained the passive partner, they would be marginalized, called kinaidoi, a pejorative expression of the Greeks. They were particularly ridiculed by comedy writers, dressed as women in comedic theatre. However, homosexual relationships were not limited to pederasty, but found as relationships between teens and between adults as well.

Very little information exists on female homosexuality, although it is known that lesbian relationships did exist.