Many artists use their medium to express their thoughts or feelings on a particular subject. Often this material has to do with a current event, trend, or mindset that they have noticed. Some choose to portray things in a very realistic light, and others were more inclined to put their own creative spin on an event, exaggerate circumstances or use a sense of humor when demonstrating a likeness.
A number of artists, including writers, in ancient Greece and Rome each used their medium to depict homosexual relationships in their society as they saw them to exist. Some have representations that seem to accurately describe the ideal pederastic relationship while others show same sex desire to be the result of a lack of self-restraint. Still others comically show phallic symbols in place of heads on animals, or as goods in a basket.
Remains of pottery and writing are our major sources for information on ancient views of homosexuality and there are examples from every point along the spectrum in both of these art forms. It is definitely easier to interpret the artists' meaning behind written words than images, but use of color, accessories/ dress, implications of femininity and characters engaging in taboo behavior give us clues as to the intended point of view.
To begin, examples of acceptable same-sex relationships will be discussed and will move toward more questionable behaviors. The term pederasty is used to refer to a same-sex couples comprised of an older male erastes known as the lover and a younger male eromenos, beloved. In contrast to many other societies that have initiations into military, Greece used these couples as an institution for males to become proper citizens; although not all participated in this practice, it seems as though it was the norm.
Ideally, the younger partner would never experience any physical pleasure from this relationship and the elder would only receive pleasure from frottage, particularly intercrural sex or the rubbing of genitals between thighs to the point of ejaculation. No Athenian citizen was to be penetrated under any circumstances; prostitution was legal but required the participant to forego their citizen rights. In images B486 and R520 pederastic couples were shown engaging sexually in proper intercrural position. (Dover) Often these images embellish the thighs and butt to enforce this idea.
[...] This is attributed to the value Socrates (and all model Greeks) would have placed on the mind and soul in addition to, or perhaps over that of the body. Some scenes, depicted visually, of men at symposiums are slightly more questionable; such as R200 displaying two males of similar age together, R295 which shows an older man “seizing a fleeting chance” to grab a boy's genitals. Image R462 appears to be of the day after attending symposium where a youth is attending to a vomiting erastes. [...]
[...] In image R189, a “youth puts a finger to anus of another youth, probably as jocular insult.” (Dover) This is an obvious accusation of the violated youth being katapugon (the penetrated). While penetration is severly looked down upon in ancient culture, it is often the subject of humor as well. In image R414 there appears to be a woman over a basket of phalloi (or possibly olisboi- ancient sex toy, made by leatherworkers of the time) that looks very comparable to the scene of a snake-charmer. [...]
[...] The focus of this particular image is on the two men sharing one of the seven couches that would generally line the walls of the mens' room in a Greek household. Men were free to display their relationships at these private parties, as described in Plato's Symposium as well as Xenophon's work by the same name. While men are often shown embracing in images set inside the walls of the andreon, or men's room, it is unclear if the men would publicly take part in more physical acts. They definitely spoke more openly than usual in the confines of these rooms. [...]
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