For nearly two thousand years, historians have treated the subject of homosexuality in ancient Greece with apology, embarrassment, or outright denial. Now classics scholar James Davidson offers a brilliant, unblushing exploration of the passion that permeated Greek civilization. Using homosexuality as a lens, Davidson sheds new light on every aspect of Greek culture, from politics and religion to art and war. With stunning erudition and irresistible wit–and without moral judgment–Davidson has written the first major examination of homosexuality in ancient Greece since the dawn of the modern gay rights movement.
What exactly did same-sex love mean in a culture that had no word or concept comparable to our term “homosexuality”? How sexual were these attachments? When Greeks spoke of love between men and boys, how young were the boys, how old were the men? Drawing on examples from philosophy, poetry, drama, history, and vase painting, Davidson provides fascinating answers to questions that have vexed scholars for generations. To begin, he defines the essential Greek words for romantic love–eros, pothos, philia–and explores the shades of emotion and passion embodied in each. Then, exploding the myth of Greek “boy love,” Davidson shows that Greek same-sex pairs were in fact often of the same generation, with boys under eighteen zealously separated from older boys and men.
Davidson argues that the essence of Greek homosexuality was “besottedness”–falling head over heels and “making a great big song and dance about it,” though sex was certainly not excluded. With refreshing candor, humor, and an astonishing command of Greek culture, Davidson examines how this passion played out in the myths of Ganymede and Cephalus, in the lives of archetypal Greek heroes such as Achilles, Heracles, and Alexander, in the politics of Athens and the army of lovers that defended Thebes. He considers the sexual peculiarities of Sparta and Crete, the legend and truth surrounding Sappho, and the relationship between Greek athletics and sexuality.
Writing with the energy, vitality, and irony that the subject deserves, Davidson has elucidated the ruling passion of classical antiquity. Ultimately The Greeks and Greek Love is about how desire–homosexual and heterosexual–is embodied in human civilization. At once scholarly and entertaining, this is a book that sheds as much light on our own world as on the world of Homer, Plato, and Alexander.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ever since Kenneth Dover's pioneering work Greek Homosexuality: Updated and with a new Postscript, the homoerotic current in Classical studies has been removed from an embarassing footnote and placed front and center in many studies of Ancient Greek Civilization. Nonetheless, James Davidson feels historians still have it wrong, especially in reducing the concept of Greek Love to sexual acts and who does what to whom being of central importance.
In what promises to be the new landmark study, not only in its controversial theses but in the sheer volume of detail and example accumulated, Davidson has made the case that homoerotic relationships in Ancient Greece were far more complex than historians have previously been willing to explore.
Initially, by examining various words used to describe various shades of amorousness,...
It is long yes but it is not written in a way that is difficult to understand. Davidson covers every aspect of Greek life in regards to the practice of male-male (and female-female) love, from art to religion to military to societal differences in practices from city-state to city-state. It is well detailed, and very few things mentioned are irrelivent. Some may criticize this book for focusing on homosexual practices amoungst the ancient Greeks, but the author makes it clear that the Greeks were a predominently Heterosexual based culture and homosexual love was not viewed by the ancients as being at odds with this. The ancients loved based on beauty and quality rather than gender. Anyone who wants to learn about same-sex practices in the ancient world will enjoy this wonderful book and learn a lot from it.
The negative reviews of this book are fascinating, in a Freudian sort of way. Frankly I doubt whether the negative reviewers have even bothered to read this book. Get over it, negative reviewers: James Davidson has brilliantly exposed the biases of the likes of K.J. Dover and Michel Foucault. Foucault, remember, never did any primary work on this subject; he only sermonized on the work of others, using a postmodern jargon generator (it would seem) to do his writing for him. As for Dover, Dover remains valuable if you can read him in the context of the staunch traditionalist that he was.
Negative reviewers of "The Greeks and Greek Love" would have us believe that James Davidson expends almost 800 pages in some sort of prolonged recitation of the modern "homosexual agenda." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Davidson takes us into the texts, and into Greek philology, far deeper than Dover did. And besides, Dover seemed to have a preference for urns and...
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