Oswyn Murray

Ho Pais Kalos Estin

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


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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.

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