Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

But the concept of honour arising out of a chaste love was not a new one: for this was the essential character of— the paederastic relationship in classical Greece. As this subject has been so heavily veiled in prudery, it will perhaps be as well to outline the main facts. Every man was expected to take to himself a boy, to whom he should act for a time as a mentor, helping him to find his place in life. The man was called the Inspirer; the boy, the Listener. It seems quite clear that, while a relationship of love existed between them, the performance of sexual acts was strictly forbidden.(180) Lycurgus made it a felony, punishable by death, to lust after a boy; and Cicero writes: “The Lacedaemonians, while they permit all things except vileness (praeter stuprum) in the love of youths, certainly distinguish the forbidden by a thin wall of partition from the sanctioned, for they allow embraces and a common couch to lovers.” And, as we know from another source, their punishment for “stuprum” was banishment or death. The Greeks were, of course, fully aware of the existence of homosexuality as a perversion and called it paedomania, as distinct from paederasty: and they ridiculed effeminate youths. Says Plato:

“The one love is made for pleasure: the other loves beauty. The one is an involuntary sickness, the other a sought enthusiasm. The one tends to the good of the beloved, the other to the ruin of both…. The one is virile, the other effeminate.”

This nobler relationship was not the eccentricity of a few, but was absolutely general.(222) It was a disgrace for a boy not to be chosen by anyone; when any boy was chosen, the arrangement was agreed to by his parents. “I know not any greater blessing to a young man beginning life”, said Phaedrus in the Symposium, “than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth.” Such relationships were general also in mythology, a fact which the modern editors have found difficult to disguise. Poseidon loved Pelops; Zeus loved Ganymede and Chrysippus; Apollo, Hyacinthos, not mention Branchos and Claros; Pan, Cyparissus; Hypno Endymion. Hercules, naturally, was an epic paederast, an Iolaus and Hylas are only two among his favourites.

Sophocles and Aeschylus wrote plays on the subject; Pheidias, Euripide Lysias, Demosthenes, Aeschines and many more contracted similar relationships. Plato declared that the highest form human existence was philosophy combined with paederasty. Alexander, the conqueror of the world, like Caesar after him, was a paederast.

The particular virtue of this relationship was that each party set himself the highest standard of behaviour, rather than lose the respect and love of the other. It was held that an army of such lovers would be invincible. After Chaeronaea, in which battle all three hundred of the picked band of lovers fell on the field, the victor, Philip of Macedon, shed tears as he beheld the scene and said: “Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or supposed anything that was base.”

John Addington Symonds comments: “The effect produced upon the lover by his beloved was similar to that of the inspiration which the knight of romance received from his lady.”

But the claim which is usually made for the troubadours is not that they familiarized Western Europe with the conception of honour, but that they were the first to erect into a virtue the sensation of passionate love. The historians regret that, in their half-civilized way, these men permitted themselves to love women who were already married, and infer that it needed the politer touch of modern times to regard the unmarried girl as an object of love, and so create the modern notion of romantic marriage. This is to misunderstand the situation. The troubadour did not (as is so often asserted) exclude the possibility of loving an unmarried woman; Andrew makes a point of recommending virgins to “take arms in the soldiery of love”. But he did recognize that his love was a product of frustration, and would vanish if he gave rein to his desires. Consequently he never regarded marriage as the outcome. He might marry, rout not the object of his love, for as Andrew noted, passionate love between married people is impossible. Andrew was not such a fool as not to know that between married Persons a deep affection may reign; nor such a fool as to believe that they could live in an endless transport of passion. Yet his remark is always quoted as if it were merely a cynical endorsement of adultery.