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Wilson, E., Jr. (1990). Eros and Sexuality in Antiquity Book Review Essay on Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. Psychoanal Q., 59:75-101.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 59:75-101

Eros and Sexuality in Antiquity Book Review Essay on Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

Emmett Wilson, Jr., M.D.

An intense interest in the role of sexuality in antiquity has occupied scholars from many discipline over the past decade. In this review on Eros in antiquity, I shall examine some recent discussions of the role of homosexuality in ancient Greek culture. A selection of five studies will provide an opportunity to explore the major themes, problems, and controversies involved in this aspect of Greek civilization.

For much of classical scholarship during the past hundred years, the proclivity of the ancient Greeks for certain forms of homosexuality has been, depending sometimes upon the classicist's own sexual preference, a source of embarrassment or inspiration, of attraction or repugnance. Classical scholarship, in the broad sense of an understanding of Greek culture, has suffered accordingly. The great German classicist, Wilamovitz, wrote of the "degenerate" character of the pederasty practiced in that culture. Jowett's translations had made Plato sound like a priggish homoerotic English schoolmaster struggling with attempts at sublimation. Some translators went to the other extreme and, in delicately distorted renditions of Greek poetry, read homosexuality into or reconstructed it from the most fragmentary of fragments. Discreet "studies" in Greek ethics, such as that of Symonds (1901), were nothing more than tracts proclaiming boy love as the cause of the brilliance of Greek civilization. A certain prudery and a priggishness were often rampant in classical scholars' evaluations of ancient Greek homosexuality.

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