The short biographies included in this page, were originally published in the chapter titled "People", of the "Alyson Almanac" "The Fact Book of the Lesbian and Gay Community", (Alyson Publications) 1994-1995 edition. Of the chapter's "concise biographies of some 275 colorful personalities from the past and present", 11 were directly or idirectly related to Greeks and have been copied here (without prior permission).
A list similar to the one of the "Alyson Almanac" had been published in the three issues of the now-defunct greek language gay magazine "Gay", some years ago.
Here is another web page listing famous homosexuals from history.
The modern distinction between homosexual and heterosexual has not existed in most times and
cultures. Many individuals listed here would not have considered themselves to be gay, or
lesbian, or bisexual - for many, that terminology did not even exist. But in reclaiming a
history that has generally been hidden, it's valuable to know how wide spread same-sex
relationships have been in human history.
The gay or bisexual orientation of most individuals listed here is well established. For a few, the evidence is circumstancial or open to question; these cases are indicated in the text.
AGATHON. (445?-400? B.C.E.), Athenian dramatist. None of Agathon tragedies have survived, but the dramatist himself earned a place in literary history in 416 B.C.E., when a banquet at his home served as a basis for "The Symposium", Plato's famous selebration of homosexual love. He is also noteworthy as history's first recorded example of a stereotipically effeminate homosexual; he was portrayed in that role in Aristophanes' comedy "The Thesmophoriazusae".
ALCIBIADES (450?-404? B.C.E.) Athenian General. Born into a wealthy family and endowned
with great beauty, Alcibiades gained a reputation early in life for arrogance and unruly behaviour.
As a teenager, he met Socrates, was captivated by the philosopher's questioning of accepted wisdom,
fell in love, and attempted to seduce the old man. The seduction scene in Plato's "Symposium" is
based on this incident.
In the ensuing years, Alcibiades became active in the politicaland military affairs of Athens, then switched allegiance to the rival city-state of Sparta. He was run out of Sparta by its king following rumors of an affair between Alcibiades and the queen, and transfered his loyalties to the Persians. A few years later he returned to Athens, where a right wing coup had replaced his former enemies with allies, and was briefly made general and ruler of the city. He lost his position following a military defeat in 406 B.C.E., after which the Spartan and the Persians, worried about where he might turn up next, had him murdered.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT (July 20? 356-323 B.C.E.) Macedonean King. Alexander III became king
of Macedonia at the age of twenty, and soon thereafter began his campaign to conquer the known
world. He quickly subdued Greece, to the south of Macedonia, then began persuit of the immence
Persian army, which he overwhelmedin 330 B.C.E. By the time of his death seven years later,
Alexander had taken his campaign as far as India, deliberately mixing Greek culture with Asian
culture, and Greek blood with Asian blood, as he went.
For most of his life, Alexander's closest friend and colleague was Hephaestion, although there is no clear proof that their relationship was sexual. Alexander's sexual relationship with the goung eunuch Bagoas is more clearly documented, and served as the basis for Mary Renault's engaging novel "The Persian Boy".
ANACREON (582?-485? B.C.E.) Greek poet. Anacreon was a prominent figure in ancient
Greece, first in Samos then in Athens. Little of his love poetry has survived, but it seems to
have dealt mainly with boys. One fragment, that suvived only because it was used in the middle
ages to illustrate points of Greek grammar, contains the lines:
I love Cleobulus
I dote on Cleobulus
I gaze at Cleobulus
The eighteenth century saw great interest in English imitations of Anacreon. One result was a popular song, "Anacreon in Heaven", which later supplied the tune for the American national anthem.
BYRON, Lord (GEORGE GORDON) (Jan.22, 1788-Apr. 19, 1824), British Poet. Byron was the
leading poet of the romantic period. His epic satire "Don Juan" is considered his masterpiece;
but he is also known for his "Childe Harold" and "Manfred".
Byron's life was filled with lovers of both sexes. As a seventeen year old student at Trinity College, he fell in love with John Eddleston,a choir boy of the same age. Byron wrote that "I certainly love him more than any human being". Some biographers have dismissed this as a platonic infacuation, but there is less uncertainty surrounding Byron's 1811 relationship with Nikolo Giraud, a youth of mixed French-Greek blood whom Byron described as "the most beautiful being I have ever beheld". They were inseparable for a time, and Byron consulted a doctor about a relaxation of the sphincter muscle that was giving Giraud trouble.
Byron's many other liasons included one of his half-sister Augusta; when this relationship was criticised as incestuous, he explained, "I could love anything on earth that appeared to wish it". He married in 1815 but separated a year later; relationships with a beatiful italian noblewoman, and with another handsome greek youth, followed. Parts of Byron's life will remain unknown; although he wrote his memoirs and entrusted them to his friend Thomas Moore, they were considered too scandalous for publication after his death and were burned.
CAVAFY CONSTANTINE (Apr. 17, 1863- Apr. 29, 1933) Greek poet. By developing his own
individualistic style of poetry, Cavafy became one of the West's most important poets. Most
of his best work, however was written after he turned forty - and published only after his death.
Though he was Greek, Cavafy never actually lived in Greece. He was born and died in the Egyptian town of Alexandria. As a young man there, he often visited male houses of prostitution. He bribed his servants to ruffle up his sheets at night so his mother would not realize he had not been home.
DEMOSTHENES (384- Oct. 12, 322 B.C.E.) Athenian orator. The leading orator of the ancient
world begun his career with a speech against his guardian, who had attempted to steal his
inheritance. Success in that case encouraged Demosthenes to persue public speaking, and he is best
remembered for his orations against Philip of Macedonia, which gave birth to the word "Philipic".
According to the legend, Demosthenes was bothered by a stammer in his youth. To cure it, he practiced speaking with beach pebbles in his mouth, and to gain lung power, he rehearsed poetry while running uphill. Although married, Demosthenes was reported to have had several male lovers.
HADRIAN (Jan. 24?, 76-Jul. 10, 138) Roman Emperor. Orphaned at the age of ten, Publius
Aelius Hadrianus was adopted by the future emperor Trajan, whose wife Plotina became especially
fond of the boy and took responsibility for his personal development. In 94, Trajan became emperor
and designated Hadrian as his heir. Upon Trajan's death in 117, Hadrian was crowned emperor.
Hadrian proved to be one of Rome's better emperors. He instituted welfare payments for poor children, reduced taxes, codified the laws and enacted legislation against the mistreatment of slaves. In about year 124, Hadrian met and fell in love with Antinous, a greek youth of great beauty. For six years the two were inseparable. In 130, on a trip to Egypt, Antinous drowned in the Nile. According to one widely believed account, an oracle had foreseen Hadrian's death and Antinous deliberately sacrificed himself to let Hadrian survive in his place. The grief stricken Hadrian deified Antinous, but never fully adjusted to the loss. Hadrian deteriorated, both phisically and mentally, until his own death eight years later.
PLATO (427?-347? B.C.E.) Athenian philosopher. The most famous student of Sokrates, Plato
founded his own school, The Academy, where he taught philosophy and mathematics. It became
the first university in Europe, and provided a basis for Plato's vast influence through the ages.
As a youth, Plato was actively homosexual and had a number of male lovers. In the "Symposium", to illustrate the highest kind of love, Plato drew his examples solely from homosexual love.
SAPPHO (610-580 B.C.E.) Greek poet. The first person in the Western world known to
depict romantic love was the poet Sappho. Her beautiful poetry won praise both from her
contemporaries and from later generations; Plato called her the "Tenth Muse". Most of her poetry
was destroyed centuries later by church authorities, and omly an estimated one-tenthieth of her
total output remains.
Sappho spent most of her life on the greek island of Lesbos, where she run a girls' school that taught poetry and writing. She drew lovers from both sexes, and had a child, but from her own time onward, Sappho was especially remembered for romances with her students. Today, two words synonymous with love between women - sapphism and lesbian - are derived from her name and that of her island.
SOCRATES (469?-399? B.C.E.) Athenian philosopher. Although he received only a limited
education in his youth, Socrates taght himself geometry, astronomy, and philosophy. At
one point he claimed to have received a divine commission to expose ignorance and promote
intellectual and moral improvement, and he eventually earned a reputation as the wisest
man in Greece. In 399 B.C.E., charges were brought against Socrates for "denying the gods
recognised by the state" and "corrupting the young". He was found guilty, and sentenced to death.
Socrate's passion for beautiful boys became proverbial after his death; for many years the term "Socratic love" served as an euphemism for homosexuality. His most famous lover was the Athenian statesman and general Alcibiades.
In the chapter "Highlights of Our History" of the same book (the "Alyson Almanac"), a few more Greeks are mentioned. Here are the relevant passages:
c.730 B.C.E.: "Krimon warms the heart of Simias" This personal revelation is one of several lines of homosexual graffity, dating back perhaps to the time of Homer, that constitute one of the earliest known uses of the greek alphabet.
594 B.C.E.: Solon is elected ruler of Athens, and is empowered to write a new code of law. He declared the death penalty for any unauthorised adult male who mingled in a school-yard with boys before the age of puberty. Yet he hed no problem with relationships involving older youths; his own poetry includes such homoerotic lines as "boys in the flower of their youth are loved".
580s B.C.E.: Sappho's famed girls' school flourishes on the isle of Lesbos. Her exquisite love poems to students are the earliest known lesbian writings.
c.393-387 B.C.E.: Plato writes "The Symposium", "Phaedrus", and other works celebrating homosexual love.
c.371 B.C.E.: The Sacred Band of Thebes forms in Greece. This military unit, consisting of 150 male couples, was based on the belief that men fighting alongside their lovers would die rather than shame one another. The Sacred Band was annihilated thirty-three years later by Phillip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Geat, at the battle of Chaeronea.
1073: All known copies of Sappho's lesbian love poems are burned by ecclesiastical authorities in Costantinople and Rome. As a consequence, today we have only one twentienth of Sappho's total output, and even that exists only because of an 1897 archeological discovery. [...]
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