By: Aparajita Chakrabarty
Homosexuality in Greek mythology has always been set upon a pedestal and is seen as something respectable by writers, philosophers and lovers alike. There are hundreds of tales about love and romance in Greek mythology and some of the most prominent ones are about people of the same sex. Let’s simply take the example of Zeus. We hear the name ‘Zeus’ and the first thing that crosses our mind are the numerous relationships he was a part of. Even though he was married to Hera, it didn’t stop him from having several illicit affairs with gods as well as with mortals. Be it with a Thetis, the goddess of sea or Ganymede, the prince of Troy, gender never seemed to be an issue for the father of Gods. The greater gods such as Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite and others were even seen as patrons as homosexuality and same sex relationships. Characters such as Achilles, Patroclus, Narcissus and Orpheus, among many others, are remembered as some of the most iconic homosexual leads in the Greek mythology. This simply proves how gay culture is no invention of the modern man and has been around since hundreds and thousands of years.
What surprises me the most about all of these legends is the fact that even though these stories are centuries old, the advancement and acceptance shown in them is notably remarkable. What is seen as a sin today in most parts of the world, was deemed worthy back then. Also, the fact that the representation of homosexual relations is done in such a beautiful and aesthetic manner instead of it being described as something ‘gross’ and ‘obscene’ is exactly why the name “Gay Utopia” is fully justified for ancient Athens. Be it the tale of Apollo and Adonis or the various pederastic relationships of Zeus, all of these stories clearly put across one message- how accepting and common these relationships were in the classical times. The customs and culture of homosexuality has been predominantly seen in various novels and stories in and around the world but the way it has been depicted in Greek mythology is surely makes it stand out. Many famous books such as The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and the whole of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan are literal examples of how diverse and complicated all Greek relationships really were.
Even Heracles, one of the most famous Greek warriors, a symbol of masculinity and power, was believed to have numerous male lovers during his time at the wars. His romantics are considered to be some of the most decorated stories in Greek mythology. Pelops, the king of Pisa, was claimed to have shared ‘Aphrodite’s sweet gifts’ with the god Poseidon himself and as a gift, was taken to Mount Olympus and personally appointed by Poseidon to drive the divine chariot. The Amazonian tribe, the original race of warrior women, only had heterosexual sex once or twice a year- that too for reproductive motive only. In many books it was suggested that they followed the idea of lesbian culture and celibacy for the rest of the year and anybody who broke these rules were punished for the same.
What really surprises me is the fact that even though our world is advancing at a tremendous speed, ancient Athens had a greater acceptance towards homosexuality and various other sexual orientations than we can boast within today’s world religions. Another thing that we notice is how normalized queer characters and their lives are in the greek myths. The fact that these characters were portrayed in such an usual way and their lives were explained in detail without any hesitation is just proof of how accustomed Greeks were to this style of living. Taking another example, if we look at Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister, was considered to be an asexual virgin or according to many scholars, a lesbian with many nymph lovers. Scholars believe that lesbian and gay devotees worshipped her as Artemis Orthia and was seen as the leader of virgins. The abundance of homosexual instances in these tales prove how common and widely regarded these stories were in ancient Greece. Another such instance in Greek mythology was the tale of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite herself. Even though she isn’t prominently identified as a lesbian, Greek poets recited many homoerotic tales about Aphrodite. She was also considered to be the greatest patron and ally for lesbians and homosexuals.
Despite the plethora of references of homosexual relationships between characters, the fact that the media turns a blind eye to queer representation and simply focuses on the orthodox relationships in these stories. Perhaps it is too much to expect from myths which were written ages ago, but the lack of focus on the emotional richness of the diverse spectrum of sexuality during Greek civilization is simply a shame. This makes it all the more harder for the community to flourish. There are very few documentaries or even books which tell us about the nature of relationship between the characters and how queerness actually worked back then.
For example, there are very few stories that really talk about the relationship between Poseidon and Neiretes. Due to the lack of information and the controversies that follow, these stories have never been put out in the open and are one of the lesser known stories of the God of Seas. But then again, the fact that queerness is so openly represented in these legends is already a win for the community and its members. There are still innumerable barriers to break and challenges to overcome for the community as a whole but this representation in Greek mythology is a step in the right direction. The whole idea of homosexuality in Greek mythology proves how same sex relationships aren’t a thing of the recent times but has been prevailing since centuries and will be an important part of our future as well.
I would like to conclude by quoting:
“Funny how we know gay people exist and don’t know if god exists, but deny gay people their rights on the off chance it might anger god off.”