The treatment of paiderastia upon the Attic stage requires separate considerations. Nothing proves the popular acceptance and national approval of Greek love more forcibly to modern minds than the fact that tragedians like Æschylus and Sophocles made it the subject of their dramas. From a notice in Athenæus it appears that Stesichorus, who first gave dramatic form to lyric poetry, composed interludes upon paiderastic subjects. 1 But of these it is impossible to speak, since their very titles have been lost. What immediately follows, in the narrative of Athenæus, will serve as text for what I have to say upon this topic. "And Aeschylus, that mighty poet, and Sophocles brought masculine loves into the theatre through their tragedies. Wherefore some are wont to call tragedy a paiderast; and the spectators welcome such." Nothing, unfortunately, remains of the plays which justified this language but a few fragments cited by Aristophanes, Plutarch, Lucian, and Athenæus. To examine these will be the business of this section.
The tragedy of the Myrmidones, which formed part of a trilogy by Æschylus upon the legend of Achilles, must have been popular at Athens, for Aristophanes quotes it no less than four times--twice in the Frogs, once in the Birds, and once in the Ecclesiazusæ. We can reconstruct its general plan from the lines which have come down to us on the authority of the writers above mentioned. 2 The play opened with an
anapæstic speech of the chorus, composed of the clansmen of Achilles, who upbraided him for staying idle in his tent while the Achaians suffered at the hands of Hector. Achilles replied with the metaphor of the eagle stricken by an arrow winged from one of his own feathers. Then the embassy of Phoenix arrived, and Patroclus was sent forth to battle. Achilles, meanwhile, engaged in a game of dice; and while he was thus employed Antilochus entered with the news of the death of Patroclus. The next fragment brings the whole scene vividly before our eves.
"Wail for me, Antilochus, rather than for the dead man--for me, Achilles, who still live." After this, the corpse of Patroclus was brought upon the stage, and the son of Peleus poured forth a lamentation over his friend. The Threnos of Achilles on this occasion was very celebrated among the ancients. One passage of unmeasured passion, which described the love which subsisted between the two heroes, has been quoted with varieties of reading by Lucian, Plutarch, and Athenæus. 1 Lucian says: "Achilles, bewailing the death of Patroclus with unhusbanded passion, broke forth into the truth in self-abandonment to woe." Athenæus gives the text as follows:--
"Hadst thou no reverence for the unsullied holiness of thighs, O thou ungrateful for the showers of kisses given."
What we have here chiefly to notice is the change which the tale of Achilles had undergone since Homer. 2 Homer represented Patroclus as older in years than the son of Peleus, but inferior to him in station; nor did he hint which of the friends was the Erastes of the other. That view of their comradeship had not occurred to him. Æschylus makes Achilles the lover; and for this distortion of the Homeric legend he was severely criticised by Plato. 3 At the same time, as the two lines quoted from the Threnos prove, he treated their affection from the point of view of post-Homeric paiderastia.
Sophocles also wrote a play upon the legend of Achilles, which bears for its title Achilles' Loves. Very little is left of this drama; but Hesychius has preserved one phrase which illustrates
the Greek notion that love was an effluence from the beloved person through the eyes into the lover's soul, 1 while Stobæus quotes the beautiful simile by which love is compared to a piece of ice held in the hand by children. 2 Another play of Sophocles, the Niobe, is alluded to by Plutarch and by Athenæus for the paiderastia which it contained. Plutarch's words are these: 3 "When the children of Niobe, in Sophocles, are being pierced and dying, one of them cries out, appealing to no other rescuer or ally than his lover: Ho! comrade, up and aid me!" Finally, Athenæus quotes a single line from the Colchian Women of Sophocles, which alludes to Ganymede, and runs as follows: 4 "Inflaming with his thighs the royalty of Zeus."
Whether Euripides treated paiderastia directly in any of his plays is not quite certain, though the title Chrysippus and one fragment preserved from that tragedy--
"Nature constrains me though I have sound judgment"--
justify us in believing that he made the crime of Laius his subject. It may be added that a passage in Cicero confirms this belief. 5 The title of another tragedy, Peirithous, seems in like manner to point at friendship; while a beautiful quotation from the Dictys sufficiently indicates the high moral tone assumed by Euripides in treating of Greek love. It runs as follows:--"He was my friend; and never may love lead me to folly, nor to Kupris. There is, in truth, another kind of love--love for the soul, righteous, temperate., and good. Surely men ought to have made this law, that only the temperate and chaste should love, and send Kupris, daughter of Zeus, a-begging." The philosophic ideal of comradeship is here vitalised by the dramatic vigour of the poet; nor has the Hellenic conception of pure affection for "a soul, just, upright, temperate and good," been elsewhere more pithily expressed. The Euripidean conception of friendship, it may further be observed, is nobly personified in Pylades, who plays a generous and self-devoted part in the three tragedies of Electra, Orestes, and Iphigenia in Tauris.
Having collected these notices of tragedies which dealt with boy-love, it may be well to add a word upon comedies in the same relation. We hear of a Paidika by Sophron, a Malthakoi by the older Cratinus, a Baptæe by Empolis, in which Alcibiades and his society were satirised. Paiderastes is the title of plays
by Diphilus and Antiphanes; Ganymedes of plays of Alkaeus, Antiphanes and Eubulus.
What has been quoted from Æschylus and Sophocles sufficiently establishes the fact that paiderastia was publicly received with approbation on the tragic stage. This should make us cautious in rejecting the stories which are told about the love adventures of Sophocles. 1 Athenæus calls him a lover of lads, nor is it strange if, in the age of Pericles, and while he was producing the Achilles' Loves, he should have shared the tastes of which his race approved.
At this point it may be as well to mention a few illustrious names, which to the student of Greek art and literature are indissolubly connected with paiderastia. Parmenides, whose life, like that of Pythagoras, was accounted peculiarly holy, loved his pupil Zeno. 2 Pheidias loved Pantarkes, a youth of Elis, and carved his portrait in the figure of a victorious athlete at the foot of the Olympian Zeus. 3 Euripides is said to have loved the adult Agathon. Lysias, Demosthenes, and Æschines, orators whose conduct was open to the most searching censure of malicious criticism, did not scruple to avow their love. Socrates described his philosophy as the science of erotics. Plato defined the highest form of human existence to be "philosophy together with paiderastia," and composed the celebrated epigrams on Aster and on Agathon. This list might be indefinitely lengthened.
27:1 Athen., xiii. 601 A.
27:2 See the fragments of the Myrmidones in the Poetæ Scenici Græci. My interpretation of them is, of course, conjectural.
28:1 Lucian, Amores; Plutarch, Eroticus; Althenæus, xiii. 602 E.
28:2 Possibly Æschylus drew his fable from a non-Homeric source, but if so, it is curious that Plato should only refer to Homer.
28:3 Symph., 180 A. Xenophon, Symph. 8, 31, points out that in Homer Achilles avenged the death of Patroclus, not as his lover, but as his comrade in arms.
29:1 Cf. Eurid., Hippol., l. 525; Plato, Phædr., p. 255; Max. Tyr., Dissert., XXV. 2.
29:2 See Poetæ Scenici, Fragments of Sophocles.
29:3 Eroticus, p. 760 E.
29:4 Ath. p. 602 E.
29:5 Tusc., iv. 33
30:1 See Athenæus, xiii. pp. 604, 605, for two very outspoken stories about Sophocles at Chios and apparently at Athens. In 582, e, he mentions one of the boys beloved by Sophocles; a certain Demophon.
30:2 Plato, Parm., 127 A.
30:3 Pausanias, v. 11, and see Meier, p. 159, note 93.