Monday, December 15, 2003

Ideology as History

I wasn't going to post anything today. Monday is my day off, and I had planned on indulging myself in relative idleness in view of the fact that last week was very busy and that I will get even busier as we near Christmas.

But sometimes a piece of nonsense comes along so egregious that comment, correction, and debunking is necessary.

I am speaking of some of the assertions made in a recent New York Times book review, linked yesterday by Mark Shea.

Edward Rothstein, in his efforts to offer unconfined adulation to Louis Crompton's Homosexuality and Civilization, repeats uncritically Crompton's assertions regarding homosexuality in ancient Greece, and illustrates that the Manhattanite chattering classes owe their conception of history more to trends of pseudo-intellectual fashion than to actual reading.

Crompton, in his book, wants to posit that "homosexuality is associated with the inner workings of civilization itself". Since homosexuality is at the very core of what it means to be civlilized, it shouldn't surprise us to learn that homosexuals had things just peachy before that horrible old Christianity came on the scene; until just a few decades or so ago, when we finally began shaking those Christian bugaboos off our enlightened intellects.

And so, he trots out the now all-but-unquestioned canard that in ancient Greece "homosexuality had an 'honored place' for more than a millennium".

This. is. utter. nonsense.

I know you've heard from shows on the Discovery Channel and read in Cosmo that homosexuality was an accepted, "normal" part of Greek society, but that assertion is complete poppycock.

Anyone who asserts that the ancient Greeks looked at homosexuality as "normal" is either ignorant or is blinded by ideology. And any honest classical scholar will admit it.

I studied Classics and Patristics in graduate school at the Catholic University of America in Washinton, DC, whence I have an M.A. in Classics. I also studied the Classics in college at the University of Illinois. I labored for years reading Plato, Xenophon, Euripides, Plutarch, Homer, etc. in the original Greek. And I can tell you without equivocation that the ancient Greeks did not view homosexuality as "ok".

Now, it is true that they didn't look at homsexual behavior with the same degree of abomination as say, did ancient Israel. And they wouldn't have labelled it a "sin against nature", as would Thomas and the scholastics. At best, it was something they made jokes about. And the failure to abominate hardly constitutes approval. There's a wide ground between calling homosexuality an "objective disorder" and granting it an "honored place" in society.

But don't just take my word for it. Let's look at what some notable Greeks themselves said. This is how Xenophon, in his Memorobilia, describes Socrates' reaction to Critias' homosexual desire for Euthydemus:
Nevertheless, although he [Socrates] was himself free from vice, if he saw and approved of base conduct in them, he would be open to censure. Well, when he found that Critias loved Euthydemus and wanted to lead him astray, he tried to restrain him by saying that it was mean and unbecoming in a gentleman to sue like a beggar to the object of his affection, whose good opinion he coveted, stooping to ask a favour that it was wrong to grant. [30] As Critias paid no heed whatever to this protest, Socrates, it is said, exclaimed in the presence of Euthydemus and many others, “Critias seems to have the feelings of a pig: he can no more keep away from Euthydemus than pigs can help rubbing themselves against stones.”

It is important to note that Xenophon places this account in relation to describing Socrates moral rectitude and virtue, and in his reactions to "base" conduct. Secondly, Socrates points out that it would be "wrong" for Euthydemus to grant the favor Critias sought, and that it is "mean" for Critias to go mooning after him. Finally, even in ancient Greece one did not compare sentiments which have an "honored place" in society to the "feelings of a pig."

Xenophon also describes how the legendary Lawgiver of the Spartans, Lycurgus, dealt with the prospect of homosexual "recruitment" of boys in the ephebate [the training program for boys of about 15-19]:
If someone, being himself an honest man, admired a boy's soul and tried to make of him an ideal friend without reproach and to associate with him, he approved, and believed in the excellence of this kind of training. But if it was clear that the attraction lay in the boy's outward beauty, he banned the connexion as an abomination; and thus he caused lovers to abstain from boys no less than parents abstain from sexual intercourse with their children and brothers and sisters with each other.

Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaimonians

Again, it is hard to reconcile the supposed "honored" place of homosexuality with its description as an "abomination" on par with incest.

Plutarch, in his Alexandros, relates that when Alexander was asked by the governor of one of his provinces in Asia Minor, in an attempt to curry favor, if he would like him to send "...a young man, the likes of whom for bloom and beauty did not exist." Alexander replied, "Why you vile man, what past deeds of mine have you witnessed that would make you think I would be interested in such pleasures?" Note that Alexander did not reply with a modern, "tolerant" response, like, "Well, "I'm not interested in that sort of thing, not that there's anything wrong with that."

Finally, Nikos Vrissimtzis, the author of a recent best-seller in Greece, Love, Sex and Marriage - a Guide to the Private Life of the Ancient Greeks, said in a BBC report:
"Contrary to popular opinion, that world was not a paradise for homosexuals, and paedaracy was held in such contempt that it was very heavily punished... Homosexuals were not, as many believed, openly accepted by society. They were marginalised and punished by law," Vrissimtzis says. "For example, they could not enter the ancient Agora [the business and government center of a Greek city] or participate in ranks and rituals involving the state.

He also said, "Ancient Greece was not a liberal society."

And in that last remark lies the crux of the issue. It is the typical tactic of sexual libertines, including homosexuals, to try to create a mythos of some ideal society which embraces the degeneracy that they want to establish here and now. Liberals want to be able to point to some utopia, and will make one up if necessary. Margaret Mead tried to do it with the Samoans and was eventually proven a fraud. The gay activists have been trying to do it with ancient Greece, and are also perpetrating a fraud.