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* A slightly different version of this review was published in February 
2009 on the Hist-Sex list of H-Net. 

The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in 
Ancient Greece. By JAMES DAVIDSON. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007. 
Pp. xxii + 634. Cloth, $42.00. ISBN 978–0–297–81997–4.

Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty: Boys were their Gods. By ANDREW LEAR AND 
EVA CANTARELLA. London and New York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. xviii + 262. 
Cloth, $115.00. ISBN 978–0–415–22367–6.

Order these texts for $34.96 and $37.75, respectively, from Amazon.com 
using this link and benefit CAMWS and the Classical Journal:


Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Online 2009.11.03

Study of Greek same-sex relations since Sir Kenneth Dover’s influential 
Greek Homosexuality (London, 1978) has been dominated by a hierarchical 
understanding of the pederastic relations assumed to be normative between 
older, sexually and emotionally active “lovers” and younger, sexually 
and emotionally passive “beloveds.” Michel Foucault’s subsequent 
History of Sexuality: Vol. 2, The Use of Pleasure (New York, 1986) was 
heavily influenced by Dover’s collection of evidence and concretized 
these roles into formalized “sexual protocols.” Self-consciously 
invoking Foucault was David Halperin’s One Hundred Years of Homosexuality 
(London, 1990), which envisioned phallic penetration as a trope for the 
asymmetrical political empowerment of adult citizen males over “women, 
boys, foreigners, and slaves—all of them persons who do not enjoy the 
same legal and political rights and privileges that he does” (Halperin, 
p. 30). This orthodoxy, conditioned by the academic hegemony of feminist 
theory and contemporary anxieties over child sexual abuse, has begun to be 
seriously challenged only during the last several years. Both of the books 
reviewed here aim, with varying degrees of success, to offer a more nuanced 
and multi-dimensional picture of relations that were often mutual, not 
always radically age-different, and seldom crudely exploitive in the way 
implied by the Dover-Foucault-Halperin approach.

However, in Davidson’s book, we find a new form of political correctness 
substituted for the old: instead of socially constructed relations of power 
and domination, Davidson gives us an ancient Greece in which there was no 
physical sex with those under 18, male prostitution was condemned, gays 
openly served in the military and engaged in long-term monogamous 
relationships that were acknowledged in public “wedding” ceremonies. If 
this sounds a little too much like the assimilationist preoccupations of 
the mainstream lesbian and gay rights movement today, the reader may with 
some justification wonder whether he is being sold a bill of goods.

Davidson is the author of an excellent, highly readable first book, 
Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens 
(London, 1997), and an important 50-page article on the present subject in 
the respected historical journal Past and Present. However, fans of his 
previous work (among whom I would count myself) cannot fail but be dismayed 
by this turgid, self-indulgent, interminable tome of 634 pages, in which 
the author with free abandon mingles fact, fantasy, speculation, 
mistranslation, misleading paraphrase, and arguments of such impenetrable 
convolution and improbability that even the experienced scholarly 
specialist is left with head spinning. This is a genuine shame, as there 
are actually many valuable observations within the book, but one must wade 
through quite a bit of muck to find them.

It is unclear just who the intended audience of this book is. Bound between 
handsome, color-illustrated endpapers and heavily promoted by a British 
trade press (although no American distributor has yet seen fit to pick it 
up), the volume would appear to be intended for a general public of 
well-educated, but Greekless readers. But few of these are going to have 
the patience to make their way through a book on this subject that is both 
so long and long-winded, that indulges in so many allusive in-jokes, and 
that casually refers back to factoids or theories last mentioned 300 pages 
ago as if they were still in the forefront of the reader’s consciousness. 
The scholarly specialist, on the other hand, is likely to be put off by the 
author’s breezy style, erratic annotation, outright mistakes, and 
repeated assertions of erroneous dogma as established fact.

A major problem that this book shares with much work in the field of 
ancient sexuality is a failure to distinguish between primary sources that 
are credible and those less deserving of our trust; even sources 
contemporary with the practices described need to be interpreted through 
the rhetorical inflections and ideological biases of the author or genre. 
Anecdotes gleaned from authors like Ephorus, Theopompus, Sosicrates, Nepos, 
Aelian, Athenaeus, and Maximus of Tyre should not automatically receive our 
credence: some of them wrote history to be colorful and entertaining, 
others wrote miscellanies full of tidbits and curiosities from the distant 
past. What is most interesting in these authors is not the facticity of 
what they report, but what their selection of anecdotes reveals about their 
own ideological prisms and contemporary concerns.

A second major issue is the author’s lack of careful engagement with or, 
in many cases, even acknowledgment of relevant recent scholarship that 
contradicts his assertions. We shall note several specific cases in the 
body of this review. Even in cases where he has read something, he may 
misrepresent the author’s argument. For example, on p. 184 he states, 
“In the real world, any Athenian caught assaulting a boy under Eighteen 
… could be punished with death on the same day.” The attached footnote 
identifies David Cohen’s 1991 book Law, Sexuality, and Society as his 
source for this bold assertion, but Cohen nowhere says anything of the 
sort; Cohen merely cites Aeschines 1.7–8 with reference to “acting as a 
procurer for a free boy.” Aeschines 1.16 does say something about the 
death penalty for assault, but editors of Aeschines universally agree that 
this quotation of a law (like all such quotations in the speeches of 
Demosthenes and Aeschines) is a later fabrication with no evidentiary 
authority for the 4th century.

But the worst problem with this book is its carelessness in translation and 
paraphrase of the ancient sources, which often results in serious 
misrepresentation of the information they convey. Sometimes the errors are 
inconsequential to the broader argument, as when he identifies Pelops as 
“Zeus’s attendant on Olympus” (p. 2—a misunderstanding of 
Pindar’s Greek in Olympian 1.41–5) or claims, with no specific 
citation, that Agathon in Plato’s Symposium is “barely 18” (p. 27); 
Plato nowhere says any such thing, although Symp. 175e does identify him as 
neos (a term usually referring to young men in their twenties). Similarly, 
he claims that Vergil identifies Jupiter’s rape of Ganymede as “the 
reason” (p. 177) for Juno’s hatred of the Trojans, when in fact, as 
every Latin student knows, he merely includes it as third on a list of 
three possible motivations (Aeneid 1.25–8). Few competent Greek scholars 
would believe that Phaedrus 263d could possibly be read as “speeches of 
Cephalus” (p. 213).

He is no better in dealing with material remains: he states, as if it were 
a well-known fact not even needing to be footnoted, that the splendid 
François Vase in Florence once contained remains of the dead (p. 260). No 
Greek vase found in an Etruscan tomb ever did; indeed the Etruscans did not 
even practice cremation during this period. He misreads the inscription on 
a jug by the Eretria Painter to identify a character as Kephalos (p. 213), 
when even the most cursory examination of the secondary literature on this 
piece would have revealed that the character was Kephimos.

More serious, however, are the occasions when tendentious translations are 
used to undergird substantive arguments, as when he mistranslates Plato, 
Symposium 182b, to mean “it has been straightforwardly laid down by law 
[haplôs nenomothetêtai] that it is beautiful to graciously gratify” a 
lover (p. 353, italics in original). Although the verb nomotheteô may 
indeed refer to the action of a lawgiver, the notion of nomos Pausanias 
employs throughout this speech in the Symposium is clearly with reference 
to “custom” and not “law” in our usual understanding of the term; 
laws can hardly dictate what we find “beautiful.” In another chapter, 
he tries to argue that the Greek word katapygon refer to those with a 
proclivity to take the active role in anal sex: in support of this notion, 
he mistranslates Aristophanes, Knights 640–1 to suggest that a character 
“bends over and thrusts his anus” (p. 63) toward a katapygon, whereas 
in fact the Greek must mean that he made a quick obeisance to the gods and 
then used his rear end to break down the gate into the Council meeting, a 
move that would have him facing the katapygon rather than turning his back. 
He is equally misleading in translating sophrosynê as “chasteness” (p. 
70); the word denotes a more general concept of restraint and moderation, 
which in pederastic contexts might mean something other than “abstinence 
only” (e.g. being careful and selective in choosing a lover/beloved).

Another substantive contention is that Greek boys encountered puberty much 
later than boys nowadays: to support this idea, Davidson must discredit the 
testimony of the Aristotelian History of Animals, which clearly states that 
male puberty hits at 14 (HA 581a13–17). To do so, Davidson claims (p. 527 
n. 30) that the Aristotelian text must be wrong, since it also says beard 
growth does not occur until 21 and there cannot be such a long gap between 
the onset of puberty and growth of a beard. However, he misinterprets the 
Aristotelian text, which in fact asserts (HA 582a16–34) that beard growth 
occurs at some point “until three times seven years” (mechri tôn tris 
hepta etôn); in other words, rather than saying that 21 is the normal age 
of beard development, as Davidson claims, the text says that 21 is the 
latest point at which males, whose individual development varies, show a 

Even worse are the cases where he blatantly misrepresents the content of 
texts. Nothing in either Xenophon’s Hellenica 7.4.13 (cited on pp. 
346–7) or Symposium 8.34 (cited on p. 492) supports the claim that the 
Eleans had an elite military band of lovers like the Thebans: the texts 
merely refer to a group of 300. Nothing in Maximus of Tyre 20.8 
characterizes Spartan relationships as age-equal (p. 85). Nothing in Ibycus 
fr. 282(a) identifies Polycrates as a “boy” (p. 412). By all accounts, 
Ibycus’ association with Polycrates of Samos was limited to the 
latter’s period as a tyrant ruling the island; the praise of his beauty 
is an encomiastic topos frequently used of adult patrons in encomiastic 
poetry. [[1]] Nothing in Plato’s Lysis, which he cites on p. 425 without 
specific identification of the passage, says or implies that there was a 
“law against ‘mingling’” between older and younger boys in the 
gymnasium. Indeed, Lysis 406d specifically shows them doing so at the 
festival of Hermes, and nothing says they were not allowed to do so on 
other occasions as well; indeed, Attic vase painting reveals such 
interaction in the gym to be ubiquitous. I have by no means checked all the 
references within this book, and indeed the style of reference is often so 
inexact that they cannot be checked. However, the number that do not check 
out when I do track them down leaves me with a deep suspicion of any claim 
the book makes that I do not already know to be true from independent 
knowledge. This is not a book that the non-specialist reader can rely upon 
for accuracy.

With these prefatory caveats, let us proceed to examine the book’s 
arguments chapter by chapter. The first two chapters are largely concerned 
with issues of terminology. Chapter 1 surveys the various Greek words for 
love, focusing particularly on Eros, both as an abstract concept and a 
divine personification. Davidson defines erôs as a longing for the absent, 
which may be, but need not always be overtly sexual. Scant notice is taken 
of Bruce Thornton’s Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality (Boulder, 
1997), which deals with this subject at length. Chapter 2 turns its 
attention to charis, which in an erotic context refers to sex offered 
freely as part of a gracious interpersonal exchange; as such, Davidson 
argues that it can only characterize homoerotic transactions in the Greek 
world, since women had no capacity to choose. This is unexceptionable (and 
unoriginal) enough, but he is on less firm ground with some of the other 
terms covered in this chapter: contrary to previous interpreters, he argues 
that the comic word euruprôktos (literally “with a wide-open anus”) 
possessed no sexual implications, but was merely a vulgar variant of 
eurustomos (“with a wide-open mouth”), referring to orators and other 
wordsmiths who are always farting (i.e. talking). However, Aristophanes, 
Clouds 1083–1104 makes it very clear that euruprôktos is synonymous with 
kinoumenos (“being fucked”); it is not caused by breaking wind, but by 
having foreign objects introduced into the anus. He usefully notes that the 
pejorative term kinaidos is not used in comic authors, but in serious 
authors of the 4th century BCE and later. I believe that he is right to 
reject the usual translation of “sexual passive,” since, as he notes, 
lexicographers associate the term with general lewdness and debauchery. 
However, he is wrong to believe that the term refers specifically to a 
corrupting seducer or abuser of other males; it and closely related words 
are too often coupled with the term moichos (“adulterer”) in reference 
to the same person.

Chapter 3, “Age Classes, Love-Rules and Corrupting the Young,” is one 
of the most important in the book, as it is here that Davidson undertakes 
to demolish “the fable of paedophile Greeks” (p. 70) by arguing that 
physical intimacies could be practiced legally only with “boys” 18 and 
older. However, his evidence for this sweeping assertion is extremely thin. 
He misinterprets Aeschines 1.139 to affirm that the Law of Solon forbade 
such associations with any boy who is akuros (i.e. “not yet in control of 
his own affairs legally”). What Davidson fails to see is that Aeschines 
is throwing sand in the jurors’ eyes with almost all of his legal 
citations throughout the speech, something the Attic orators did commonly; 
if one examines the original Greek, it is clear that this particular 
sentence (embedded within a paragraph quoting Solon’s actual law, which 
merely forbade slaves to enter the gymnasium or pursue free boys) [[2]] is 
bracketed as Aeschines’ own opinion (note the opening verb oimai) of what 
the law ought to do (note the present tense verbs, in contrast to the past 
tense always used of the lawgiver himself).

Equally amazing is the assertion that “Laws forbade anyone of Twenty or 
over from entering the gymnasium when under-Eighteens were exercising: The 
strictest penalties, not excluding the death penalty, were imposed on those 
who transgressed” (p. 69). No textual citation or footnote is attached to 
this grand statement, but it continues to be repeated throughout the rest 
of the book as an established fact. But at least for Athens in the 
classical period, it is pure fiction. We do possess an inscription from the 
Macedonian town of Beroea in the 2nd century BCE that tells the gymnasiarch 
to prevent young men and boys from mingling in the gymnasium, but it 
contains no reference to the death penalty. Although Davidson does not 
mention it, some scholars interpret Aeschines 1.10 as referring to an 
Athenian law with similar intent, but that view is based on a 
mistranslation of the verb eisphoitaô to mean that young men of a certain 
age could not “enter” the gymnasium, whereas the verb is actually a 
frequentative that means “attend regular classes at” the gymnasium; the 
supposed text of the law in 1.12 (which must be the source for Davidson’s 
nonsense about the death penalty) is universally bracketed as spurious.

Davidson rightly argues that Ancient Greece was an “age-class” society, 
but goes too far in implying that the Greeks did not count years: Solon fr. 
27W proves that they did. The same fragment also shows that the Greeks did 
not consider 18 a particularly important dividing line, so much as 14 (the 
onset of puberty) and 21 (full physical maturity); see also Aristotle, Pol. 
1336b37–37a1. Davidson’s view that the Greeks must have experienced 
puberty at 18.5 contradicts not only what Solon tells us, but virtually 
every other ancient source until late Roman times. [[3]] Davidson’s 
argument is based on accounts of puberty from the 18th century and 
anthropological estimates drawn from very early civilizations unconnected 
with Greece, but surely Aristotle and the ancient medical writers are 
better witnesses. Davidson also misses the mark when positing that the term 
meirakion refers only to 18–19 year olds; Hippocrates (ap. Philo, Opif. 
Mundi 36.105) and Aristophanes of Byzantium (frr. 42–54 Slater) both say 
that the term covered the entire range 14–21. Both associate pais as a 
technical term not with under-18s, as Davidson does, but with children in 
the 7–14 range. Although Davidson is right to point out that pais is 
often used in a more generic sense, he strains credulity in claiming that 
any use connecting that word with sexual activity must refer to 18–19 
year olds.

Given this degree of philological carelessness at the outset, most of what 
Davidson says about age throughout his book should be dismissed. However, 
he does stray into Truth when speculating that sexual relations among 
classmates may have been more common than literary sources reflect. As he 
notes, the art historian Charles Hupperts estimates that as many as 
one-third of the erotic scenes in red-figure painting involve age-equal 

The second major section of the book, consisting of Chapters 4–6, looks 
at the history of modern scholarship on Greek homosexuality, with 
particular focus on the intellectual influences that shaped Sir Kenneth 
Dover’s and Michel Foucault’s views of it. While some readers may be 
put off by the ad hominem (e.g. snide remarks about Foucault’s 
anti-Semitism or Dover’s self-pleasuring habits), this is arguably the 
strongest part of the book. He traces Dover’s preoccupation with physical 
sex and the shamefulness of being sexually passive to the influence of his 
collaboration with the notoriously homophobic ethno-psychoanalyst Georges 
Devereux, who labelled the Greek practice “pseudo-homosexuality”—all 
a matter of acts rather than perverted orientation, and thus in 
Devereux’s clinical view less pathological. While I agree with the basic 
thrust of Davidson’s critique of Dover, he goes too far when he claims 
that the Greeks did not at all share the modern concept of penetration as a 
form of aggression: Aristophanes, Knights 364–5 and the so-called 
“Eurymedon vase” (Fig. 3.5 in Lear and Cantarella) make it clear that 
they did, particularly when it involves two adult males. However, I think 
Davidson is right to interpret the conventions of Greek pederasty outside 
of this framework and to emphasize that it is not “all about sex.”

Chapter 6 turns its attention toward Foucault, whose intellectual genealogy 
is traced through the influence of the Boas–Sapir–Benedict–Mead 
school of cultural anthropology on the one hand, and on the other that of 
the French classicist Paul Veyne, obsessed with what he saw as 
“Mediterranean sexuality.” The real target here is the doctrine of 
“social constructionism,” a term Davidson avoids, but one is left 
wondering, what does he propose in its place? A return to essentialism and 
its transhistorical categories of identity? Davidson never makes it 
altogether clear just where he stands in this debate.

The third section of the book, consisting of Chapters 7–9, aims to 
connect Greek Love with “Greek Religions,” conveniently playing up to 
those who wish to integrate gay sexuality into contemporary religion. 
However, these chapters actually have very little to say about religious 
ritual or belief; they instead treat various myths which are literary in 
nature and have no connection with cult observance. On the one myth that 
actually may have had ritual connections, that of Hyacinthus, he is unaware 
of the fundamental work of Michael Petersson, Cults of Apollo at Sparta 
(Stockholm, 1992); he is also ignorant of the relevant epigraphic evidence 
(e.g. SEG 28.404) about “Hyacinthian” love in ancient Laconian ritual. 
One finds throughout a lack of familiarity with even the most basic 
principles of myth interpretation. He ignores the diachronic evolution of 
literary and artistic variants, conflating together details from sources 
that are centuries apart (see, for example, p. 170). He confuses separate 
characters, like the Cephalus (son of Hermes) loved by the Dawn and the 
Cephalus (son of Deion) married to Procris; the two are distinct until Ovid 
conflates them. As if all of this were not enough, he subjects us to an 
utterly incomprehensible and irrelevant theory about the position of the 
constellation Auriga in the sky, when seen from the Erechtheum, as an 
explanation for why Poseidon is involved in Pindar’s version of the myth 
of Pelops.

Just as Section Three pandered to the religious gays, Section Four 
addresses the militarist gays. Chapter 10 surveys homoerotic elements in 
warrior myth, especially those of Achilles and Heracles. Davidson is 
convinced that homosexual love was present in 8th-century Greece (despite a 
void of independent evidence) and is thus at the heart of epic tradition, 
even though nowhere explicitly mentioned. He believes that the contemporary 
audience of the Iliad could not but have read the emotional bond of 
Achilles and Patroclus in homosexual terms, even though the language of 
Eros and lovemaking, so common in heterosexual contexts within epic, is 
nowhere applied to them. He seems not to notice that even the four 
appearances of the Ganymede story in epic tradition say nothing about Eros 
as a motivating factor. He is so eager to read homosexuality into myths 
that he even tries to reconstruct the lost Aethiopis to feature Antilochus 
as a new beloved of Achilles (pp. 271–8), based on little more than 
Achilles increasing his prize in Iliad.

Chapter 11 looks at the historical evidence concerning pederastic relations 
in Crete and Sparta. Davidson credits the 4th-century historian Ephorus’ 
account of a special abduction ritual the Cretans practiced with noble 
youths; not all would agree with his description of Isocrates’ pupil (p. 
301 “by all accounts, a pretty good historian”). He appears to be 
unaware that some sceptics have argued that this unusual ritual is 
Ephorus’ entertaining concoction of different practices designed to 
appeal to contemporary Athenian tastes. [[4]] Davidson’s attempt to 
integrate Ephorus’ evidence with that of later sources like Aelian and 
Maximus of Tyre is interesting, but it is unclear whether the Cretan 
practices they describe are the same one; Crete was the “land of 100 
cities,” each with its own customs and laws. Moreover, he proposes that 
the abduction ceremony was a “wedding ritual,” which implies a 
permanent relationship between the man and boy, something none of our texts 
suggest. Even he so much as admits that his reconstruction of a Spartan 
male wedding ritual (pp. 331–4) is pure fantasy. He does make the 
interesting suggestion, albeit based on thin evidence, that the 
contradictions among sources as to the chasteness of Spartan pederasty may 
be explained by the peculiar nature of Spartan intercourse, intercrural 
through clothing (pp. 326–31).

Chapter 12 turns its attention to some other parts of Greece that less 
often form part of the discussion concerning Greek love. The chapter begins 
with speculation about Elis, largely based on an enigmatic vase (his Figure 
33) depicting a scene of anal intercourse that no one has ever understood, 
but nothing specifically connects this piece with Elis. More intriguing are 
his ideas about Thessaly and Macedonia, which he believes were societies 
that did not follow the same age-structured protocols we reconstruct for 
Athenian pederasty. In treating erotic anecdotes about Alexander the Great, 
Davidson shows the appropriate scepticism toward our sources that he 
elsewhere lacks; indeed, he even doubts that Hephaestion was actually the 
beloved of Alexander, but thinks he was a politically serious character of 
some importance. Davidson credits accounts of the Sacred Band of Thebes as 
an elite corps of lovers and even treats it as the model for similar 
military groups in Elis and Macedon; he is aware that David Leitao has 
recently challenged this assumption even in relation to Thebes, but refuses 
to engage with Leitao’s arguments in any serious way. [[5]]

The short Chapter 13 is a complete mystery to me, but Chapter 14 turns its 
attention to the Aeolic and Ionian lyric poets of the 7th and 6th 
centuries. Little new interpretation is offered. He appears to be unaware 
(p. 398) that the late Thomas Rosenmeyer long ago debunked the canard that 
elegy is sung to the accompaniment of a double-flute. [[6]]

Chapter 15 focuses on Athens: like many other critics, Davidson makes the 
mistake of using Pausanias’ speech in Plato’s Symposium as reliable 
evidence for Athenian social history, ignoring the ideological tendencies 
engendered by Pausanias’ need to defend his own rather deviant form of 
love for the intelligent, beautiful, grown-up, albeit effeminate Agathon. 
Davidson is troubled that the usual interpretation of Athenian vase 
painting yields such a different picture from the one he finds in 
Pausanias’ speech, so he concludes that we must have been interpreting 
the vases wrongly. In his view, all these scenes of men or youths fondling 
or having intercrural intercourse with boys were really meant to be 
condemnatory illustrations of the “improper.” This theory is both naive 
and bizarre: these vases were meant for use at often wild drinking parties 
(those in both Plato’s and Xenophon’s Symposium were exceptional in 
their sobriety), where well-to-do men of the world would hardly be in the 
mood to receive moral lectures on dignified behavior from the artisans who 
painted their drinking ware. Symposia themselves are frequently the 
subject-matter of vase painting and seem anything but dignified and 
moralistic. No experienced critic of ancient vase iconography would 
interpret visual details with Davidson’s eye: it is incredible that he 
can describe the vigorous, hairy-chested man on the Brygos Painter’s cup, 
of which he does not give us a picture (but Lear and Cantarella do, as 
Figure 1.13), as “a kinaidos, sex pest” (p. 443) and “a Senior even, 
with his pectoral muscles having drooped to mid-chest” (p. 444). He again 
reveals himself unaware or unwilling to engage with the work of major 
scholars, even in reference to the specific artifacts he discusses: both 
the Brygos cup and the Getty psykter (a wrap-around scene of four courting 
couples), to which he devotes a silly discussion on pp. 439–43, have been 
discussed far more perceptively by Alan Shapiro. [[7]]

The thesis of Chapter 16 is that the 4th century BCE is the time when 
“homo-whorishness” arrives in Athens in the form of “sex slaves who 
might serve their masters as live-in lovers; handsome cithara-boys … and 
mercenary politicians” (p. 446). What he fails to take into account is 
that this impression is merely the accident of which sources happen to 
survive from which periods: the kind of documents where we would hear about 
these types of characters (Comedy and forensic oratory) are only extant 
from the last quarter of the 5th century forward, not because comedies and 
speeches in court did not occur earlier, but because it was only with the 
growth of more widespread literacy and a developing book trade that it 
became worthwhile for people to preserve these “lower” genres in 
written form.

Davidson argues that there was never any negative public attitude toward 
elite pederastic practices because both Timarchus’ defenders and 
Aeschines speak of pederasty respectfully in orations aimed at the general 
public of the jury (pp. 459–60). He seems unaware that the portion of the 
speech in which Aeschines speaks favorably of an ideal, Platonic pederasty 
was almost certainly added later only in the written version of the speech, 
directed at a much more elite audience. [[8]] And Timarchus’ defenders 
praise traditional pederasty with literary and historical examples 
precisely to defend his undeniable homoerotic relationships before a public 
which might be suspicious of the practice. Davidson is surely aware of my 
“Popular Perceptions of Elite Homosexuality in Classical Athens,” [[9]] 
but he nowhere mentions it or engages seriously with its arguments, just as 
he ignores other scholars whose findings are inconvenient for his scenario.

The 51-page Conclusion, which rather self-importantly advertises itself as 
“A Map of Greek Love,” complements Davidson’s previous pandering to 
the “gays in the military” and the “gays in the church” crowds by 
again addressing the gay-marriage fetishists. “The fact of pairing and 
the identities of any particular pair must have been known to the 
authorities; by some signal means or another, each same-sex relationship 
must have been concretized as a public and archaeologicable fact” (p. 
476). He ultimately traces these weddings back to Mycenaean chariot-pairs 
and even Indo-European ritual (pp. 512–16). As with so many other grand 
statements, his evidence is thin: the figures dancing around pairs having 
intercrural sex in black-figure vase iconography cannot be, as he supposes, 
witnesses or celebrants in a public ceremony of union. They are either 
rival suitors or servants bringing gifts; as Lear and Cantarella’s book 
shows, scenes in vase iconography should not be interpreted as photographic 
documentation of what went on simultaneously so much as symbolic 

*	*	*

In contrast to Davidson’s sensationalism, this book offers a more subtle 
and less tendentious analysis in much shorter compass. Cantarella’s 
contribution is limited to a 23-page survey of the literary material, which 
unfortunately shares many of Davidson’s faults, pressing thin evidence to 
make sweeping claims. Whereas Davidson errs in denying sex to boys under 
18, Cantarella makes the opposite mistake of positing a uniform “social 
code” in which the beloved was never over 18 and the lover under 20, even 
though evidence suggests that both the Stoics (Athenaeus 13.563e) and the 
Spartans (see Plutarch, Lycurgus 25.1) loved youths in their late 20s. 
Strato’s epigram AP 12.4 (from the 2nd century CE) on his preferred ages 
should hardly be used as evidence for practices 600 years earlier, which 
were likely not uniform throughout Greece anyway. Like Davidson, Cantarella 
assumes that pederastic myths necessarily derive from early ritual origins, 
rather than arising as literary inflections of previously non-pederastic 
stories. She also makes the mistake of reading highly colored literary 
passages from authors like Aristophanes, Aeschines and Plato as if they 
constituted evidence of universal attitudes.

However, the heart of this book is the iconographic survey offered by Lear, 
from which both novice and experienced scholars can learn much. Lear warns 
us that we should not treat Attic vase painting as a naturalistic 
transcription of lived experience. Instead, it operates within the context 
of aesthetic preferences and idealizing conventions: for example, genitals 
are usually rendered in smaller proportions than is natural, suggesting 
moderation and restraint, but are represented as larger than natural in 
orgies or scenes featuring satyrs (fantasy projections of man’s 
unrestrained, bestial side). The presence or absence of erections in scenes 
of intimate interaction should not be construed as evidence of who is or is 
not receiving pleasure, but must be interpreted within the framework of the 
general idealization of small, boyish members. Similarly, the ubiquitous 
presence of oil flasks or strigils (scrapers used to wipe dust and oil off 
athletes’ bodies) in the hands of boys or on the wall in the background 
of red-figure scenes should be construed as a kind of synecdochic shorthand 
for the gymnasium as the most frequent setting of pederastic courtship.

Chapters 1 and 2 survey various types of courtship scenes, gifts and 
associated gestures, showing particular sensitivity to the way different 
phases of courtship and the varying responses to it are rendered through 
details of body position, clothing and gaze. In addition to the familiar 
settings of the gymnasium and symposium, Lear shows that even war may be a 
context for the display of pederastic eros, as we see beautiful young 
warriors arming themselves in front of admirers; I find this discussion 
novel and interesting, but am surprised that no reference is made to J.-P. 
Vernant’s famous essays on the topos of “beautiful death” in archaic 
poetry. [[10]] While Lear does not see all courtship gifts as directly 
pedagogical in nature, he does believe that they at least associate the 
interaction of men and boys with realms of activity that are often 
pedagogical: e.g. music, hunting and athletics. I think he may be overly 
conservative in not acknowledging cockfighting among these: as unpleasant 
as we find such gratuitous animal cruelty, Greek men did regard it as a 
useful way of hardening boys and instilling a spirit of ruthless 
competitiveness. Another not infrequent gift that Lear does not discuss at 
all, despite its interesting implications (i.e. sacrifice, butchering, 
providing for one’s family), is a large piece of meat.

One of Lear’s most interesting findings is that the iconography does not 
distinguish between sacks of money and other gifts, as if to belie the 
“sacred boundary between the eromenos and the prostitute” (p. 80). 
However, I think Lear is not correct in believing that our ancient textual 
sources create such a clear boundary. This is largely a fiction of modern 
scholarship. Aristophanes’ Wealth (149–59) notes precisely how little 
difference there is between receiving generous gifts and receiving money, 
implying that those who would distinguish the two (like the naive 
Chremylus) fail to recognize their essential sameness. Aeschines’ 
prosecution of his political rival Timarchus for having “prostituted 
himself” as a youth is based on precisely the same definitional 
indistinction: Aeschines never offers evidence that Timarchus actually 
received bags of money from his many lovers, but suggests that the mere 
fact of Timarchus living with them and enjoying lavish entertainment 
without himself paying for it was tantamount to the same thing as being a 

Chapter 3 looks at the more explicit material, showing scenes of actual 
consummation as well as the various forms of physical foreplay. Lear shows 
that the familiar figuration of intercrural intercourse, where the lover 
crouches down into a rather awkward posture so as to rub his penis between 
a shorter boy’s thighs, actually shows him in an inferior position, 
allowing his beloved to “overtop” and “overlook” him (p. 114). 
Similarly, the so-called “up-gesture,” in which a lover touches the 
chin of the beloved, is correctly interpreted as a pose of supplication. 
However, I think that the corresponding “down-gesture,” in which the 
lover fondles the testicles of the beloved, is not just a “request for 
trust” asking “a boy to surrender control over his most vulnerable 
parts,” but like the focused gaze of many lovers upon the boy’s 
genitals, suggests a fetishization of the developing pubescent member as a 
visible and tangible sign of development into sexual maturity and manhood.

As Lear notes, we do not find explicit anal sex depicted in pederastic 
contexts, but it does at least twice appear in scenes involving youths of 
the same age or, on Tyrrhenian amphorae, among drunken adults; other scenes 
may hint at the lover’s desire for it or the beloved’s offer of it. An 
interesting section of this chapter compares the courtship conventions on 
vases featuring courtesans with those involving boys: on the whole, they 
are quite similar, but courtesans do tend to show more initiative. A final 
section examines slave boys, whom he argues to be neither courted nor 
forced, but I am not certain that we can always tell who is a slave boy and 
who is not: it is quite possible that the boys who serve at feasts were in 
some cases freeborn boys who learned the rules of feasting by first 
attending upon the banqueters. [[11]]

Chapter 4 examines pederastic scenes involving the gods. Here alone do we 
see evidence of a lover forcing himself upon a boy, as if to imply that 
mere humans are subject to a code of propriety and restraint. Zeus and 
Ganymede are only depicted in red-figure painting of the 5th century, Lear 
suggests, as a more acceptable way to treat the theme after the explicit 
scenes of mortal consummation become rare. However, I think he is wrong in 
suggesting that the eagle sitting on Zeus’ scepter in Figure 4.3 alludes 
to the means of Ganymede’s abduction; the eagle is first introduced into 
the Ganymede myth in the 4th century, probably modeled on Apollo’s 
seduction of Hyacinthus in the form of a swan (of which we do have solid 
5th-century illustrations). Similarly, I think Lear’s interpretation of 
Apollo as an eromenos in Figures 4.1 and 4.2 is clearly incorrect: the 
former depicts him about to battle Idas for the romantic favor of Marpessa, 
and the latter shows him providing epiphanic inspiration to a contemplative 
muse. That Apollo himself looks like a beautiful youth is not in question, 
but myth typically depicts him as an active (if rather ineffective) lover.

The second half of this chapter constitutes an interesting discussion of 
the god Eros as a character on pederastic vases. Figured as a beautiful 
youth himself, Eros is usually indistinguishable in age from the youth he 
pursues, penetrates, crowns or brings a gift to. As with the 
representations of Zeus and Ganymede, Lear argues that his presence is a 
more coded way of representing pederastic eros in a period when more 
explicit depictions had ceased. To this I would add the observation that 
his equality in age to the beloved youth yielded an intonation of 
adolescent frolic that was less offensive to late-5th and early-4th century 
tastes than the older scenes of highly age-differential courtship.

Chapter 5 deals briefly, but very ably with the so-called “kalos-” 
found on many vases, even many without pederastic subject matter, declaring 
that either a specific named boy or the generic “boy” is 
“beautiful” (kalos). Lear dismisses the theory that the vases were 
themselves meant as gifts, instead more plausibly explaining these 
inscriptions as toasts. He notes that some of these vases have the less 
appreciative word katapygon (“bugger”) scratched into them by a later 
hand, although he does not speculate whether the motive was cynicism or 
moralistic indignation.

Chapter 6 treats the question of chronological development even more 
briefly. As many have previously noted, the familiar scenes of pederastic 
courtship and consummation largely disappear after the 470s BCE, but the 
same is also true of explicit heterosexual sex. Lear correctly points out 
that this does not mean that pederasty disappears as a representational 
focus, only that it changes: later in the 5th century, we see more scenes 
involving gods, symposia and “youths in conversation.” The 
homoeroticism is either displaced into the realm of myth or it becomes more 
implicit and coded. He attributes this change not to any variation in the 
social status of pederasty, but to “a general trend toward prudery” (p. 
175). However, I am not sure these two developments can be so neatly 
segregated: more prudish societies are generally less tolerant of minority 
sexual practices. Lear does not examine what factors contribute to this 
growing prudishness in the mid-5th century. I have elsewhere argued that 
pederasty was mainly an elite practice in Athens, and the rising political 
dominance of what one might call the “middle class” within Athenian 
democracy led to a privileging of middle-class taste, as reflected in the 
anti-elite posture of comedy, the simplified diction of Euripidean tragedy, 
the decline of erotically based pedagogy, and the marginalization of 
explicit sexuality in art. I would qualify that view now only with the 
observation that as the general living-standard of the urban populace grew 
at the height of the Athenian empire, painted vases ceased to be a luxury 
product, but became commonplace even in many non-elite households; this 
explains the inferior workmanship we see in the late 5th century, as 
painted vases came to be mass-produced, and the luxury market turned to 
silver vessels, which have almost all been melted down and have thus 
disappeared from our archaeological record.

One of the most valuable features of this book is the long appendix at the 
end, based on the work of the late Keith DeVries, listing over 700 vases 
with pederastic content, broken down by period, with descriptions of each 
side’s decoration. This supersedes the similar (and ideologically 
filtered) list at the end of Sir Kenneth Dover’s Greek Homosexuality 
(1978). This list will be of fundamental reference value to future 

I have two complaints about the format and organization of this book, both 
related to the illustrations. Although over 100 vases are pictured within 
the book, the illustrations are so small that one often cannot see the 
details discussed in the text. For a book this expensive, we should expect 
larger photos, including, where appropriate, detail shots. My second 
complaint is that dating should be discussed throughout the text, rather 
than confined to one short chapter and DeVries’ appendix at the end. 
Every illustration should feature an approximate date as part of its 
caption, so that readers can judge for themselves the lines of 
chronological development and perhaps note some tendencies that may have 
escaped the authors’ notice.

University of Texas, Austin

[[1]] See F. Lasserre, “Ornements érotiques dans la poésie lyrique 
archaïque,” in J.H. Heller and J.K Newman, eds., Serta Turyniana 
(Urbana, 1974).

[[2]] See D.G. Kyle, “Solon and Athletics,” Ancient World 9 (1984) 

[[3]] See E. Eyben, “Antiquity’s View of Puberty,” Latomus 31 (1972) 
677–97, an article of which, like so many others, Davidson is unaware.

[[4]] E.g. David Dodd, “Athenian Ideas about Cretan Pederasty,” in my 
Greek Love Reconsidered (New York, 2000) 33–41.

[[5]] D. Leitao, “The Legend of the Sacred Band,” in M. Nussbaum and J. 
Sihvola, eds., The Sleep of Reason (Chicago, 2002) 143–69.

[[6]] T.G. Rosenmeyer, “Elegiac and Elegos,” CSCA 1 (1968) 217–31.

[[[7]] A. Shapiro, “Leagros and Euphronios: Painting Pederasty in 
Athens,” in T.K. Hubbard, ed., Greek Love Reconsidered (New York, 2000) 
12–32, especially Figures 13–14.

[[8]] See T.K. Hubbard, “Getting the Last Word: Publication of Political 
Oratory as an Instrument of Historical Revisionism,” in E. A. Mackay, 
ed., Orality, Literacy, Memory in the Ancient Greek and Roman World 
(Leiden, 2008) 185–202.

[[9]] Arion ser. 3, 6.2 (1998) 48–78.

[[10]] J.-P. Vernant, Mortals and Immortals (Princeton, 1991) pp. 50–91.

[[11]] See J. Bremmer, “Adolescents, Symposion, and Pederasty,” in O. 
Murray, ed., Sympotica (Oxford, 1990) 135–48.

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