Before proceeding to discuss the conditions under which paiderastia existed in Athens, it may be well to pause and to consider the tone adopted with regard to it by some of the earlier Greek poets. Much that is interesting on the subject of the true Hellenic Erôs can be gathered from Theognis, Solon, Pindar, Æschylus, and Sophocles; while the lyrics of Anacreon, Alcæus, Ibycus, and others of the same period illustrate the wanton and illiberal passion (Hybris) which tended to corrode and undermine the nobler feeling.
It is well-known that Theognis and his friend Kurnus were
members of the aristocracy of Megara. After Megara had thrown off the yoke of Corinth in the early part of the sixth century, the city first submitted to the democratic despotism of Theagenes, and then for many years engaged in civil warfare. The large number of the elegies of Theognis are specially intended to instruct Kurnus how he ought to act as an illustrious party-leader of the nobles (Esthloi) in their contest with the people (Deiloi). They consist, therefore, of political and social precepts, and for our present purpose are only important as illustrating the educational authority assumed by a Dorian Philetor over his friend. The personal elegies intermingled with these poems on conduct reveal the very heart of a Greek lover at his early period. Here is one on loyalty:--
"Love me not with words alone, while your mind and thoughts are otherwise, if you really care for me and the heart within you is loyal. But love me with a pure and honest soul, or openly disown and hate me; let the breach between us be avowed. He who hath a single tongue and a double mind is a bad comrade, Kurnus, better as a foe than a friend." 1
The bitter-sweet of love is well described in the following couplets:--
"Harsh and sweet, alluring and repellent, until it be crowned with completion, is love for young men. If one brings it to perfection, then it is sweet; but if a man pursues and does not love, then it is of all things the most painful." 2
The same strain is repeated in the lines which begin, "a boy's love is fair to keep, fair to lay aside." 3 At one time Theognis tells his friend that he has the changeable temper of a hawk, the skittishness of a pampered colt.} 4 At another he remarks that boys are more constant than women in their affection. 5 His passion rises to its noblest height in a poem which deserves to rank with some of Shakespeare's sonnets, and which, like them, has fulfilled its own promise of immortality. 6 In order to appreciate the value of the fame conferred on Kurnus by Theognis and celebrated in such lofty strains, we must remember that these elegies were sung at banquets. "The fair young men," of whom the poet speaks, boy-lovers themselves, chaunted the praise of Kurnus to the sound of flutes, while the cups went round or the lyre was passed from hand to hand of merrymaking guests. A subject to which Theognis more than once refers is calumny:--
"Often will the folk speak vain things against thee in my ears, and against me in thine. Pay thou no heed to them." 1
Again, he frequently reminds the boy he loves, whether it be Kurnus or some other, that the bloom of youth is passing, and that this is a reason for showing kindness. 2 This argument is urged with what appears like coarseness in the following couplet:--
"O boy, so long as thy chin remains smooth, never will I cease from fawning, no, not if it is doomed for me to die." 3
A couplet, which is also attributed to Solon, shows that paiderastia at this time in Greece was associated with manly sports and pleasures:--
"Blest is the man who loves brave steeds of war,
Fair boys, and hounds, and stranger guests from far 4
[paragraph continues] Nor must the following be omitted:--
"Blest is the man who loves, and after play,
Whereby his limbs are supple made and strong,
Retiring to his home, 'twixt sleep and song,
Sports with a fair boy on his breast all day." 5
The following couplet is attributed to him by Plutarch, 6 nor does there seem any reason to doubt its genuineness. The text seems to be corrupt, but the meaning is pretty clear:--
"In the charming season of the flower-time of youth thou shalt love boys, yearning for their thighs and honeyed mouth."
Solon, it may be remembered, thought it wise to regulate the conditions under which the love of free youths might be tolerated.
The general impression produced by a careful reading of Theognis is that he entertained a genuine passion for Kurnus, and that he was anxious to train the young man's mind in what he judged the noblest principles. Love, at the same time, except in its more sensual moments, he describes as bitter-sweet and subject to anxiety. That perturbation of the emotions which is inseparable from any of the deeper forms of personal attachment, and which the necessary conditions of boy-love exasperated, was irksome to the Greek. It is not a little curious to observe how all the poets of the despotic age resent and fret against the force of their own feeling, differing herein from the singers of chivalry, who idealised the very pains of passion.
Of Ibycus, who was celebrated among the ancients as the lyrist of paiderastia, 1 very little has been preserved to us, but that little is sufficient to indicate the fervid and voluptuous style of his art. His imagery resembles that of Anacreon. The onset of love, for instance, in one fragment is compared to the down-swooping of a Thracian whirlwind; in another the poet trembles at the approach of Erôs like an old racehorse who is dragged forth to prove his speed once more.
Of the genuine Anacreon we possess more numerous and longer fragments, and the names of his favourites, Cleobulus, Smerdies, Leucaspis, are famous. The general tone of his love-poems is relaxed and Oriental, and his language abounds in phrases indicative of sensuality. The following may be selected:--
"Cleobulus I love, for Cleobulus I am mad, Cleobulus I watch and worship with my gaze." 2
"O boy, with the maiden's eyes, I seek and follow thee, but thou heedest not, nor knowest that thou art my soul's charioteer."
In another place he speaks of 3--
"Love, the virginal, gleaming and radiant with desire."
Syneban (to pass the time of youth with friends) is a word which Anacreon may be said to have made current in Greek. It occurs twice in his fragments, 4 and exactly expresses the luxurious enjoyment of youthful grace and beauty which appear to have been his ideal of love. We are very far here from the Achilleian friendship of the Iliad. Yet occasionally Anacreon uses images of great force to describe the attack of passion, as when he says that love has smitten him with a huge axe and plunged him in a wintry torrent.-- 5
It must be remembered that both Anacreon and Ibycus were court poets, singing in the palaces of Polycrates and Hippias. The youths they celebrated were probably little better than the exoleti of a Roman Emperor. 6 This cannot
be said exactly of Alcæus, whose love for black-eyed Lycus was remembered by Cicero and Horace. So little, however, is left of his erotic poems that no definite opinion can be formed about them. The authority of latter Greek authors justifies our placing him upon the list of those who helped to soften and emasculate the character of Greek love by their poems. 1
Two Athenian drinking-songs preserved by Athenæus, 2 which seem to bear the stamp of the lyric age, may here be quoted. They serve to illustrate the kind of feeling to which expression was given in public by friends and boy-lovers --
"Would I were a lovely heap of ivory. and that lovely boys carried me into the Dionysian chorus." 3
This is marked by a very delicate though naïf fancy. The next is no less eminent for its sustained, impassioned, simple, rhythmic feeling:--
"Drink with me, be young with me, love with me, wear crowns with me with me when I am mad be mad, with me when I am temperate be sober."
The greatest poet of the lyric age, the lyrist par excellence Pindar, adds much to our conception of Greek love at this period. Not only is the poem to Theoxenos, whom he loved, and in whose arms he is said to have died in the theatre at Argos, one of the most splendid achievements of his art; 4 but its choice of phrase, and the curious parallel which it draws between the free love of boys and the servile love of women, help us to comprehend the serious intensity of this passion. "The flashing rays of his forehead" and "is storm-tossed with desire," and "the young-limbed bloom of boys," are phrases which it is impossible adequately to translate. So, too, are the images by which the heart of him who does not feel the beauty of Theoxenos is said to have been forged with cold fire out of adamant, while the poet himself is compared to wax wasting under the sun's rays. In Pindar, passing from Ibycus and Anacreon, we ascend at once into a purer and more healthful atmosphere, fraught, indeed, with passion and pregnant with storm, but no longer simply sensual. Taken as a whole, the Odes of Pindar, composed for the most part in the honour of young men and boys, both beautiful and strong, are the work of a great moralist as well
as a great artist. He never fails to teach by precept and example; he does not, as Ibycus is reported to have done, adorn his verse with legends of Ganymede and Tithonus, for the sake of insinuating compliments. Yet no one shared in fuller measure the Greek admiration for health and grace and vigour of limb. This is obvious in the many radiant pictures of masculine perfection he has drawn, as well as in the images by which he loves to bring the beauty-bloom of youth to mind. The true Hellenic spirit may be better studied in Pindar than in any other poet of his age; and after we have weighed his high morality, sound counsel, and reverence for all things good, together with the passion he avows, we shall have done something toward comprehending the inner nature of Greek love.
23:1 Bergk., Poetæ Lyrica Græci, vol. ii. p. 490, line 87 of Theognis.
23:2 Ibid., line 1,353.
23:3 Ibid., line 1,369.
23:4 Ibid., lines 1,259-1,270.
23:5 Ibid., line 1,267.
23:6 Ibid., lines 237-254. Translated by me in Vagabunduli Libellus, p. 167.
24:1 Bergk., Poetæ Lyrici Græci, vol. ii. line 1,239.
24:2 Ibid., line 1,304.
24:3 Ibid., line 1,327.
24:4 Ibid., line 1,253.
24:5 Ibid., line 1,335.
24:6 Eroticus, cap. v. p. 751, 21. See Bergk., vol. ii. p. 430.
25:1 See Cic., Tusc., iv. 33
25:2 Bergk., vol. iii. p. 1,013.
25:3 Ibid., p. 1,045.
25:4 Ibid., pp. 1,109, 1,023; fr. 24,46.
25:5 Ibid., p. 1,023; fr. 48.
25:6 Maximus Tyrius Dissert., xxvi., says that Smerdies was a Thracian, given, for his great beauty: by his Greek captors to Polycrates.
26:1 See what Agathon says in the Thesmophoriazuse of Aristophanes.
26:2 xv. 695.
26:3 Bergk., vol. iii. p. 1,293.
26:4 Ibid., vol. i. p. 327.