Oswyn Murray

Ho Pais Kalos Estin

The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 632pp £30 order from our bookshop

Love the unconquered warrior, Love who falls on the flocks, Love who keeps vigil in the soft cheeks of a girl, you roam over seas and in the halls of savages; no immortal nor any of the men whose life is a day can escape you: he who is touched by you goes mad. You twist the minds of just men to the ruin of injustice. It is you who has stirred up this present strife of kinsfolk; victorious is the bright desire from the eyes of the fair bride; it sits enthroned beside the eternal laws, for the goddess Aphrodite works her invincible will.

Sophocles’ dark and ominous wedding song is performed as Antigone goes to her marriage-death with her beloved in the rock tomb that they will share. It introduces many of the themes of Greek love – love as a warrior, love as an economic force, love that lies dormant in the cheeks of the beloved, love that drives you mad. Eros or love is central to Greek society; but it is an emotion that exists outside and beyond the control of the lover in two respects. Eros the servant of Aphrodite fires his dart from outside, and the lover is wounded, poisoned, incapable of resisting, not responsible for his actions. If human responsibility is involved it inheres in the charis (grace), the himeros (longing), which belongs to the beauty of the beloved: the beloved therefore has a duty to respond favourably to the almost involuntary madness of the lover.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,