And now for something really different, as they used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus: a guest blog with satirical verse grounded in the classics. Just to get the ball rolling, here is a stanza of introductory doggerel from me:
Is buggery our birthright?
No, let’s keep a boy’s arse tight,
Says our guest blogger today,
Delight in his body but not in that way!
Andrew Calimach is a Romanian-American author and descendant of the Calimachis, an old Moldavian ruling family. His research into the homoerotic domain of Greek mythology was published in 2002 under the title Lovers’ Legends: The Gay Greek Myths. The work was widely reviewed, nominated for the 2003 Lambda Literary Award, and later published in Bucharest as Legendele iubirii. He was a friend, neighbor, and coreligionist of the poet and boy-lover Allen Ginsberg; both of them were students of the Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Andrew’s articles have appeared in THYMOS: Journal of Boyhood Studies, in E.R.O.S. journal, and other publications. Over to Andrew:
Blaming the Greeks for our folly
What does my long poem (part of which appears below) about the Greeks and buggery have to do with the struggle to liberate the way we think about the sexuality of adolescent boys in encounter with adult men? I mean it to show that this is a topic that has occupied men’s minds for over three thousand years. Oddly, the old lessons have been forgotten, and we are engaged in doing the very opposite of what the wise heads of old advised. We are following a path diametrically opposite to the one that led to a brilliantly successful tradition of ethical boy love that lasted a millennium or more.
Though their point of view was mostly pre-scientific, the Greeks reached a conclusion very similar to the position that most medical professionals hold today, namely that anal sex is a very risky proposition. What we today frame in epidemiological and traumatological terms, and what we constrain by means of legislation, they phrased in terms of honor, and constrained by means of ethical teachings. Cultured Greek gentlemen despised any form of penetration of one male by another, while admiring and pursuing loving erotic relations short of penetration between men and adolescent boys. Today we live in a world the Greeks would see as topsy-turvy, where buggery is casually accepted, but erotic relations between men and adolescent boys, even though partially legal, are frowned upon. Might there be a causal link here?
Why am I making my argument in verse? First, it is a way to leap over my instinctive wordiness, probably the result of a youth misspent reading all the novels of Jules Verne, that paragon of non-laconic speech. Secondly, it is an attempt to inject a bit of humor into an overly serious discussion. Finally, how else to make accessible an argument that starts with the classics and ends with the dystopian future (to say nothing about the dystopian present) without putting to sleep 99% of the audience?
What am I versifying about? To be precise, it is about the big lie that the Greeks buggered boys en masse. Who cares? We should all care about that, as it is one of the cornerstones of the edifice that has become the gay world of today, one that does not serve the best interests of those boys who feel that touch of desire in their hearts and have no choice but to fall into either the gay or the straight camp. Should they fall into the gay camp, they would be hard pressed not to end up buggered or buggering. Not that we should go back to hanging sodomites. It is just that presently there is a presumption that buggery IS gay sex, and the big lie about the Greeks is one of the foundations of that juggernaut of cultural conformism called “being gay.”
Who did the big lie start with? The professors, of course, who, like the rest of us, have their own emotional baggage and personal agendas to color their perspective on the Greeks, and what they teach the rest of us about them::
What is the cause the bookish philologue
Holds that the Greeks were by their bent abusive?
And wherefore the hoary pedagogue
Strains to persuade us that they were intrusive?
Does search for truth inspire these academics?
Does love of learning lead them the Greeks betray?
For some it’s pure bigotry systemic,
While others in plain sight argue pro se.
The straights of dominance accuse the Greeks
While the gays flail desperately for a foil.
Antiquity, they preen, of abuse reeks,
Unlike us modern wags, so don’t recoil. . . .
What were the Greeks really like?
Men who rough plough and sword first cast aside
And to the Alps of knowledge strove to stride,
Stripped off their robes and showed themselves undressed
And naked exercised and learned and taught,
Not by some primitive impulse possessed,
But so that by their eyes truth naked might be caught.
Thus out of vision grasped by men farsighted
The flames of art and science first ignited.
From their hands mute stone first stirred to life;
From their stages theater laughed and cried;
Their minds, searching to end brute toil and strife,
To tame men’s savage ways, a subtle path descried.
That path was love, yet not love reproductive,
But a new love, of supermen productive,
And friendships firm, that made strong tyrants quake.
Thence modern man was born, from this found truth:
Man callow lives and dies, lest through man’s love awake.
Thus Greeks their glory won, through man’s love for a youth.
In wise men’s hands this love was no rank scourge
For it was wrought in the same genius forge
Whence came all truth that Hellas yet does teach.
Heart’s primal path it blazed, two bloods to bind,
Yet well limned honor’s boundaries not to breach,
Guarding body pristine, while ennobling the mind. . . .
Who says so? The Greeks themselves, whose comments indicating that they viewed anal sex as abuse I proceed to quote below, with proper footnotes (on my website) for those who are curious and interested. Am I fool enough to claim that the Greeks never buggered boys? Not at all. My only claim is that they knew the difference between ethical love and abusive passion, both of which coexisted then, as they still do today.
Aesop man’s greed and foolishness did skewer,
Here fabled Zeus helped him to ford a sewer:
“Fair goddess Shame defied the Olympic king
And warned that she would fly from men, unchained,
Should Eros from behind try entering.”
Shameless such men by Aesop were ordained.
Hear now Plato, whom Ganymede inflamed
And verses penned his boyfriends, not some dame.
His peals of laughter roll from the tomb’s night
Mocking those men who restraint lack in bed
And his sharp words chide them in black and white:
“Why lurch you on all fours to mate like quadrupeds?”
“You men fancy yourselves of noble stock?
You’re nought but piglets scratching ’gainst a rock.”
Thus Socrates, whom boyish charms entranced.
Thus, since our world was new, the blame in fact
Was not sweet love that man for youth advanced
But the blind urge to barge up his digestive tract.
Plato, when forging man’s ideal laws
Hymned love of lads unmarked by vulgar flaws.
The Spartan foes and myth-weaving Cretans
He put in pillory to make example:
“They sow their seed on barren rocks, like cretins,”
Though well he knew those tribes debauch did not sample.
Speak, O captain of philosophy’s seas,
Futtering males you dubbed mental disease.
Yet, Aristotle, your loves’ names fill a book!
Yet, jibed you, only blind men crave not beauty!
How then, in youth, for lover Hermias you took,
And your acolytes embraced as sacred duty?
“Only such men are ill who their beloveds hurt.
A male to top? That’s tantamount to chewing dirt.
But moderate men have leave to taste love’s pleasure.
My son, Nicomachus, exampled my views:
After my death, his life my own did measure,
When my friend Theophrastus for lover he did choose.”
The amphitheater of the Athenians
Thrums still with their laughter and opinions.
Upon its stage of comical reflection,
That oafish lout who his loved boy belittled,
Aristophanes netted for his collection,
Pinning that insect under the tag, “dung beetle.”
Speak, old Aeschines, you fiery orator,
Athenian lads you courted and adored.
But you knew chaste from vicious love of boys.
Before all Athens, one you named a whore:
Timarchus, his honor squandered as men’s toy,
You brought to ground for flinging open his back door.
And say you more, in this Areopagus?
The ancient lore of love would you teach us?
Then pray, make known to all, what kind of man
A woman makes of his beloved male?
“Two stains mark out for us that noisome clan,
Brutal are they, uncultured too, beyond the pale.”
And Plato drains his cup of wine to add:
“Lovers divine can be, as well as bad.
When looking for a tender friend, chase not
Some stripling, seek one who‘s old enough to think.”
And Xenophon the crucial point has wrought:
“You must have leave from the boy’s sire, in ink.”
There is more to recount about the views of the Greeks regarding the undesirability of buggery, and the poem leaves no gravestone unturned, but here I shall skip ahead to address the present gay reality, that liberates the anuses of a few while imprisoning the hearts of the many:
There is no freedom nor shall there ever be
Till boy with boy hand in hand can be free.
The few flaunt license, the rest in shame hide.
To say “It gets better” is a sad lie,
See youth after hurt youth leap into suicide,
Their parents want to know, how many more must die?
Thus pressed, the ranks of these eclectic
Protest, “The feeling is electric,”
And pledge to Socrates allegiance.
In vain they claim to hang with that Greek cat,
They’re just Romans flying a flag of convenience,
Loath to hoist their own “Asinus asinum fricat.”
Like the feeble who lonely solace find
Beguiled by poppies that entrap the mind
These wights cling fast to thrills they deem a treasure.
The learned trade the pleasant for the good,
And just as reason deems opium a fool’s pleasure
The Greeks to shun this folly understood.
Wrath told leads me past anger into sadness
To muse upon the random ways of madness.
How blind belief in this dead end of lust
Has robbed all men of love that might have been.
Instead up rise hard walls of fear and disgust
And young and old esteem the tender touch unclean.
Homophobia is not in the past, it is more rampant than ever, and much of it is driven by instinctive disgust at practices that are inherently unclean. Of course, that disgust is partly a projection, since at least half of the men who bed women at some point turn that woman over and have with her as they would with a boy. Does that disprove the dynamics of hate against men who love men or who love boys (of legal age of course)? I think not. Nonetheless that homophobia, which is ultimately self-hate, may well destroy us all and the world with it. Hence the end of the poem, forgive the gloom and doom please:
Sage Aldous must be turning in his grave,
For he was right, this new world is not brave.
To mimic boys gay men now depilate.
You should be proud your hearts yearn for the young,
But lest you rightfully be thought a renegade
Turn wisdom’s river to flush out Augean dung.
A better man would keep anger within,
But I… I would not know where to begin.
Long I’ve laboured ’neath this burden not mine
And paid with loves lost for gay lib’s shrill chant.
It’s too late now to tell where lies the boundary line
Between that which I am, and a prisoner’s rant.
But no one wants to hear this dialectic
Why, my gay pals wax downright apoplectic.
Dear friends, you’ll have no more need of gay pride,
—Look, nor history nor sense offer refuge—
All that you need do is cast your gay shame aside:
Cease drowning mankind under buggery’s deluge.
The lid of time swings shut, the Greeks are gone,
Upon our orb we’re once again alone.
From modern heights we disdain Greeks as rakes
Against whose sins our mores pretend defense.
Yet, in our haste to rise above their mistakes,
We’ve killed what made them great, and saved what gave offense.
And therein the irony does lie
Keep the bathwater, let the baby die.
But for this murder we’ll all pay the price.
Male love repressed morphs into brutish need
From glut of couplings we then multiply like mice
Till pillaged Nature break beneath the human breed.
Nor ask why leering dawns this new dark age,
This maelstrom of materialistic rage,
When in our hearts this unvoiced void does gape,
When mangled Eros hobbles on one leg,
When man’s reduced to matrimonial ape,
And his sole destiny? Filthy lucre to beg.
So here you have a summary of a poem that is itself the summation of the article preceding it, that sets out the argument in its full panoply. Its title is Pinning Anal Sex on the Greeks: A Millennial Slur”. For those interested in reading it, you will find it at my Academia.edu page in its totality. Comments and replies are welcome (to firstname.lastname@example.org ) but to keep my own workload to manageable dimensions, kindly submit them in verse.
TOC adds: Alternatively, or in addition, comments in prose may be submitted to this blog in the usual way!
Perhaps I should also take this opportunity to say that thanks to sterling work by David Kennerly I now have user-friendly compressed audio versions of my interview with Testimony Films, originally commissioned for Channel 4’s The Paedophile Next Door. I expect to be providing a link shortly, with further comments. The sound quality is good and the interview remains uncut.