Greek Philosophers Who Shaped The World
The Greeks gave sexual matters a fair amount of attention. Men raised monuments to their genitalia and had sex with the sons of their friends.
Some had slave lovers. Naughty images were featured on vases and drinking cups. Sexual themes were common
The Greek gods realized that sex was the driving force behind all things. According to Herodotus, “the Athenians were first to make statues of Hermes with an erect phallus.
Hippocrates was one of the first to advise men to preserve their semen to boost vitality. The Greek poet Hero wrote in the 4th century B.C. that a man’s sex drive decreases in the late summer when “goats are the fattest” and “the wine tastes best.”
in Greek drama and actors routinely wore conspicuously short costumes with massive woolen phalluses hanging out the bottom. The word “ecstacy comes from the Greek word “ ekstasis” , which means to “stand forth naked.”
As the COVID-19 crisis stretches on, we’re seeing more conflict, more protests and particularly more online rancor in the debate over how
— and if — public officials should “open up” society or government restraints on gatherings, from bowling leagues and bars to religious services and retail stores.
The First Amendment’s protection for free speech covers most of what we may say, whether it’s impolite, insulting, biased or uplifting, even commentary or forcefully expressedopinions that most of us would find repulsive or repugnant.
But one area not protected as free speech is called a “true threat,” words that cause a person to fear for their safety or life.
In a crisis, we may find things we say are taken in a different context by police, prosecutors and juries than at other, less stressful times.
Unfortunately for those trying to measure their own remarks, setting out a precise definition for what constitutes a true threat has flummoxed even the U.S. Supreme Court.The result is a division of opinion in federal and state courts across the country.
Toss in the new machinations of social media, which remove the element of face-to-face confrontation,
but also provide a degree of anonymity — and lack of restraints — and the lines dividing protected and unprotected speech blur even more.Speech threatening bodily harm made to a specific person standing in front of you while you have a weapon —
for example, holding a knife and saying “I have a knife and I’m going to cut your throat” — leaves little doubt that it’s a true threat.
But what if the person at whom those same words are directed isn’t nearby when the remark is made, but sees
it hours or days later on social media? What if the speaker sets the words to music, posts the statement as part of a YouTube video and later claims it was just a form of anger control therapy —even if the intended “target” (think you or me) took the threat seriously?
For many years, evidence that a statement could be judged as putting any “reasonable person” in fear was enough to support a conviction in many courts. But in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court,
in Elonis v. United States, focused on the intent of the person making the statement, effectively saying that consideration was important — and perhaps essential —when deciding if the speaker was indeed issuing a “true threat.
But the high court didn’t set out any means of measuring intent, leaving things hanging. Two years later, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrot
e, in Perez v. Florida, where the court refused to reconsider the conviction of a man who threatened to blow up a liquor store,
that while “states must prove more than mere utterance of threatening words, some level of intent is required
—(and) the Court should also decide precisely what level of intent suffices under the First Amendment,” noting that did not happen in Elonis.
All of that leaves many of us subject to state laws that don’t include a requirement to consider what we might meanwhen we say it, just how a “reasonable person” would feel about our words. Got enough money or time to get
to the Supreme Court? Such a conviction would seem likely to be thrown out.
Not the “bright line” between right and wrong that we should expect to see when it comes to criminal prosecutions.Case in point: According to Kentucky’s Lexington Herald Leader, Louisville lawyer
James Gregory Troutman, 53, was charged April 22 with “terroristic threatening” for two Facebook posts directed at Gov. Andy Beshear.
“Maybe some should ask Beshear in a press conference about his thoughts on William Goebel,”
Troutman was reported by police to have said in a post, “For those of you who don’t know the history … it’s a good read.” Goebel,shot to death in 1900, in is the only serving U.S. governor ever assassinated
Police said Troutman also later posted, in a Facebook exchange about Beshear ordering photos to be taken of license plates of churchgoers flouting social distancing orders,
“With any luck the gov will be the one at whom the shooting will be directed.”Police said Troutman was “threatening to commit a crime likely to result in death or serious physical injury to the Kentucky governor.”
But Troutman’s lawyer said the man “didn’t say he was going to kill him.
If you were sitting on a jury considering the charges against Troutman, a 1969 Supreme Court decision in Watts v. United States might help you decide.In that Vietnam War-era case, a protester was charged with threatening President Lyndon Johnson for telling a rally that
“if they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ.”
The court later decided that Watts “had engaged in a crude form of political hyperbole rather than utter a true threat.”
The justices identified what later came to be known as the Watts factors: The context in which the words were spoken,the reaction of those who heard the remarks and the certainty of the remarks
They noted that Watts made his statements during a political rally, that those who overheard his remarks laughed and his statement was conditional rather than definitive.
Still today, some lower courts use the Watts factors to determine whether speech crosses the line into the realm of true threats, Freedom Forum First Amendment Fellow David Hudson notes
Another kind of hyperbole: Wishing that a meteor will fall from the sky and injure or kill a certain person may well be what most of us would find hateful and morally wrong, but it’s safely protected under the First Amendment
On the other hand, the Supreme Court found in 2003, in Virginia v. Black — perhaps its most direct ruling about “true threat”— that the state of Virginia could prosecute people for cross burning intended to intimidate or instill fear in others. Dissenting voices said cross burning is always unprotected speech since
it can have no effect other than intimidating others, but the court’s majority did not agree. Again, the intent of the speaker, as in Elonis, rather than the meaning to those receiving the message, was held most significant
The Greeks believed that the root of purple-flowered mandrake was an aphrodisiac. The root is shaped like a pair of human legs. The Romans and Greeks regarded garlic and leeks as aphrodisiacs.
Truffles, artichokes and oysters were also associated with sexuality. Anise-tasting fennel was popular with Greeks who thought it made a man strong. Romans thought it improved eyesight.
Ray Tannahill wrote in the “ History of Sex” : “Masturbation, to the Greeks, was not a vice but a safety valve, and there are numerous literary references to it…Miletus, a wealthy commercial city on the coast of Asia Minor,
was the manufacturing and exporting center of what the Greeks called the “ olisbos” , and later generations, less euphoniously, the dildo..
.The imitation penis appears in Greek times to have been made either of wood or pressed leather and had to be liberally anointed with olive oil before use
…Among the literary relics of the third century B.C., there is a short play consisting of a dialogue between two young women,
Metro and Coritto, which begins with Metro trying to borrow Coritto’s dildo. Coritto, unfortunately, his lent it to someone else, who has in turn lent it to another friend.
Sex and Religion in Ancient Greece
Greek pilgrims are said to have visited a temple in Corinth dedicated to Aphrodite and cavorted with prostitute-priestesses there. Strabo wrote in 2 B.C.: “
The temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it employed more than a thousand hetairas, whom both men and women had given to the goddess.
Many people visited the town on account of them, and thus these hetairas contributed to the riches of the town: for the ship captains frivolously spent their money there, hence the saying: ‘
The voyage to Corinth is not for every man’. (The story goes of a hetaira being reproached by a woman for not loving her job and not touching wool, and answering her:
‘However you may behold me, yet in this short time I have already taken down three pieces’.)”
The Greek creation story emphasizes the creation of gods not the creation of the Earth and has a lot of sex in it.
The Greeks believed that love and sex existed at the beginning of creation along with the Earth, the heavens, and the Underworld . Chaos,
apparently the first Greek celestial being, was a goddess who beget “Gaia, the broad-breasted” and “Eros, the fairest of the deathless gods.”
Chaos also gave birth to Erebos and black Night. These two offspring mated and gave birth to Ether and Day. They in turn gave birth to the Titans.
The Titans existed before the gods. They were the sons of the heaven and earth. Cronus , the father of Zeus was one of the Titans. He castrated his father, Uranus,
and out his blood emerged the Furies, the Giants and the Nymphs from the Ash Trees.
Aphrodite arose from the discarded genitals. The god’s lovemaking positions were also a little weird. Tartarus, the goddess of the Underworld , made love with
Typhoeus while he was one her shoulders with his hundred snake heads “licking black tongues darting forth.” [Source: “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin,μ]
The justices did offer this definition: True threats are “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group.”
Adding to the conflicted legal views over true threats was the 2019 refusal by the justices to consider an appeal by Jamal Knox, a Pittsburgh rap music artist convicted over lyrics in a song “Fuck
the Police,” recorded in 2012 while facing weapon and drug charges. The song named arresting officers and included lyrics saying, “
Let’s kill these cops cuz they don’t do us no good / pullin’ out your Glock out ’cause I live in the ‘hood” and “I’ma jam this rusty knife all in his guts and chop his feet … your shift over at 3 and I’m gonna fuck up where you sleep.”
Critics of Knox’s conviction note that other more widely recognized artists have used similar statements in their music without prosecution and that local courts generally don’t understand the role of rap music in urban culture.
Officials cited Knox’s specific identification of the officers and in 2018 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said his lyrics were threats, not “political, social or academic commentary, nor are they facially satirical or ironic.
From armed protestors confronting state police officers in the Michigan capitol building to armed revelers at a Texas bar arrested in a SWAT raid, from angry crowds outside a number of gubernatorial residences to violent words on social media, the potential for threating actions and actual violence today is higher than ever.
So how to judge whether your words, expressive conduct (such as marching with signs or weapons) or violent social media posts are protected speech?
Colleagues at the Freedom Forum’s education unit provide a lesson plan — for free — to help you navigate those First Amendment “true threat” waters: In “You Can’t Say That?!” you will learn about restrictions to freedom of speech in public life and the court cases that determined when and why those limits apply.
Bottom line: In the U.S., the First Amendment certainly protects your right to speak. But there’s no absolute protection from the effects of what you say — particularly when those words may put a specific person in fear of injury or deatht.
Diogenes – The Cynic
One of the most extreme ancient Greek philosophers was Diogenes, the founder of the Cynic school. Influenced by Socrates, Diogenes pursued a life of virtue. However, his methods were vastly different from those of other philosophers.
Diogenes believed that by rejecting material possessions and committing to an ascetic life of poverty, one could be free of social expectations and politics. He advocated living a life ruled purely by natural impulses without restrictive social conventions. For Diogenes, “he has the most who is most content with the least.”
Often mocked by other ancient Greek philosophers, the Cynics got their name from the Greek word “kunikos” which translates as “dog-like.” In many ways, this was true. Diogenes argued that we should live according to our natural animal state and allow ourselves to be governed by the rhythms of nature.
But being free from social conventions and expectations, Diogenes did not care what others thought of his philosophy. Famously, Alexander the Great sought out Diogenes and asked if there was anything he could do for him. The Cynic merely looked at the young conqueror and requested that he stop blocking his sunligh
Zeno Of Citium – First Of The Stoic Greek Philosophers
One of the most widespread schools of thought founded by the ancient Greek philosophers was Stoicism. This practical philosophy was first developed by Zeno of Citium. Zeno studied under Diogenes the Cynic but took issue with some of his mentor’s more extreme ideas. So, he struck out on his own.
The main tenet of Stoicism is accepting what is not under your control. Zeno believed that by accepting what was not in our power we could dedicate our attention to what we did have power over.
He believed in a divine “Logos” or lawmaker who presided over natural laws. Humans, Zeno argued, had been given free will.
By using our free will to accept what we cannot control, Zeno believed that we could work towards cultivating a “life in accordance with nature”.
This refers both to living in harmony with the natural world and accepting our inherent human nature. In both instances, we should accept both the good and bad aspects of life.
Stoicism was developed further by Greek philosophers like Chrysippus but truly began to flourish during the Roman period. The famous philosopher-emperor
, Marcus Aurelius, was a student of Stoicism along with writers such as Epictetus and Seneca.
A brief history of sex and sexuality in Ancient Greece
Pederasty in Greece probably originated with the Cretans. Cretan pederasty was an early form of paedophilia that involved the ritual kidnapping (harpagmos) of a boy from an elite background by an aristocratic adult male, with the consent of the boy’s father.
This adult male was known as philetor, befriender; the boy was kleinos, glorious. The man took the boy out into the wilderness, where they spent two months hunting and feasting
with friends learning life skills, respect and responsibility. It is generally assumed that the philetor would begin having sex with the boy soon after taking him out into the wilds.
If the boy was pleased with how this went he changed his status from kleinos to parastates, or comrade, signifying that he had metaphorically fought in battle alongside his philetor; he then went back to society and lived with him.
The philetor would shower the boy with expensive gifts, including an army uniform, an ox to be sacrificed to Zeus, and a drinking goblet – a symbol of spiritual accomplishment.
At the same time, according to the geographer Strabo, the boy then had to choose between continuing with or putting an end to the relationship with his abductor, and whether to denounce the man if he had misbehaved in any way.
Our earliest evidence for ancient Greek sexuality comes with the Minoans (approximately 3650 to 1400 BC). Women at this time were only partly dressed – the main items of clothing were short-sleeved robes that had layered, flounced skirts; these were open to the navel, leaving the breasts exposed. Women also wore a strapless fitted bodice, the first fitted garments known in history.
Women were typically depicted as having a tiny waist, full breasts, long hair and full hips: to our eyes and ears this is sexually charged and provocative, but to a Minoan probably not so. On the contrary, the voluptuous figure may have been a means by which women, and their artists, expressed their gender and status rather than male artists simply idealising female sexuality for their own delectation, satisfying a prurient male voyeurism. Women in Minoan Crete, it seems, were able to celebrate their femininity.
The body shape described above re-emerged during the mid-late 1800s, when women laced themselves into tight corsets to make their waists small and wore hoops under their skirts to exaggerate the proportions of their lower body.
Satyrs and satyriasis
Satyrs, depicted in Greek mythology as beast-like men with a horse’s tail, donkey’s ears, upturned pug nose, receding hairline and erect penis, have a reputation for being inveterate masturbators with a penchant for rape, sodomy and necrophilia.
A satyr was a true party animal with an insatiable passion for dancing, women and wine. Satyrs were experts on the aulos,
a phallic-shaped double reed instrument; some vase paintings show satyrs ejaculating while playing, and one even shows a bee deftly avoiding the discharge in mid-flight.
Another vase illustrates a hirsute satyr masturbating while shoving a dildo of sorts into his anus.
Apart from inspiring some wonderful depictions on ceramics, satyrs have left us the word satyriasis, which means hypersexuality –
classified today in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as satyriasis in men and as nymphomania in women (in 1951 it was still listed as a “sexual deviation”).
The word satyriasis appears frequently in the works of medical authors of the Roman empire who describe a condition no doubt prevalent for centuries previously. For example, Soranus contends that the “itching” felt in the genitals that makes women “
touch themselves” increases their sexual urge and causes “mental derangement” and an immodest desire for a man. Greek physician Galen called it “uterine fury”, furor uterinus.
Greek Philosophers Who Shaped World
The foundational ideas laid down by great thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle still influence our understanding of the world today.
These brilliant scholars began to use reason and logic to try and unravel the workings of the cosmos.
They also explored the intricacies of human morality. But who were these ancient Greek philosophers? And what were their key ideas?
From presocratics like Thales of Miletus through to Plato and Aristotle, we’ll discuss the famous thinkers that guided philosophy
and science for thousands of years. We’ll also explore the three main schools of Hellenistic philosophy and the founders that governed philosophy after Alexander the Great.
Here are the nine most famous Greek philosophers who shaped the world for centuries.
Thales Of Miletus – First Philosopher
During the 7th Century BC, philosophy dealt more with natural science rather than moral questions.
One of the first Greek philosophers to concentrate on scientific thought was Thales of Miletus.
Thales was born around 624 BC in the city of Miletus in Asia Minor and was part of the new wave of thinkers trying to determine how the cosmos was constructed.
This was the philosophical branch of metaphysics. Thales was a Monist, meaning that he considered a single element to be the main building block of the cosmos.
Thales reached this hypothesis by considering what a cosmological building block would need to be.
He determined that it should be capable of changing and moving. It had to be essential to life and it had to be something that every part of the universe could be made from.
In his observations, Thales decided that water could fill all these criteria.
Thales was one of the first thinkers who began to consider explanations about the natural world that didn’t rely on the Gods.
This early form of rational reasoning made Thales one of the most influential Greek philosophers. He founded the Milesian School,
and his successors eventually taught pupils like Pythagoras
Diogenes of Sinope (l. c. 404-323 BCE) was a Greek Cynic philosopher best known for holding a lantern (or candle) to the faces of the citizens of Athens claiming he was searching for an honest man. He rejected the concept of “manners” as a lie and advocated complete truthfulness at all times and under any circumstance.
He was most likely a student of the philosopher Antisthenes (l. 445-365 BCE, who studied with Socrates) and, in the words of Plato (allegedly), was “
A Socrates gone mad.” He was driven into exile from his native city of Sinope for defacing currency (though some sources say it was his father who committed the crime and Diogenes simply followed him into exile).
He made a home for himself in Athens in the agora, living in a rain barrel and surviving off gifts from admirers, foraging, and begging.
Diogenes famous “search for an honest man” was his way of exposing the hypocrisy and sham of polite societal conventions.
By holding a literal light up to people’s faces in broad daylight, he forced them to recognize their participation in practices that prevented them from living truthfully.
He inspired others to follow his example, most notably Crates of Thebes (l. c. 360 – 280 BCE) who studied with him. Diogenes is still highly regarded in the present day for his commitment to truth and living according to his beliefs.
Diogenes came to Athens where he met Antisthenes (one of many of Socrates’ students who established his own school) who at first refused him as a student but, eventually, was worn down by his persistence and accepted him.
Like Antisthenes, Diogenes believed in self-control, the importance of personal excellence in one’s behavior (in Greek, arete, usually translated as `virtue’), and the rejection of all which was considered unnecessary in life such as personal possessions and social status.
He was so ardent in his beliefs that he lived them very publicly in the market place of Athens. He took up residence in a large wine cask (some sources claim it was an abandoned bathtub)
, owned nothing, and seems to have lived off the charity of others. He owned a cup which served also has a bowl for food but threw it away when he saw a boy drinking water from his hands and realized one did not even need a cup to sustain oneself.
Pythagoras – The Father Of Mathematics
Pythagoras was part of the next wave of presocraticGreek philosophers and he is thought to have been born on the island of Samos in 570 BC.
Pythagoras believed mathematics offered a harmonious and rational way of explaining the workings of the cosmos.
He hypothesized that everything in the universe was governed by the principles of mathematics
and considered the discipline to be the foundational model for philosophy. He discovered the complex relationships between numbers
in the form of proportions and ratios, a line of thinking that was reinforced by his observations of sound and harmonics.
Pythagoras studied geometry and made several stunning discoveries that would eventually influence architecture and mathematics for thousands of years.
He was one of the first ancient Greek philosophers to use deductive reasoning to make his conclusions, which was a monumental shift in how thinkers formed theories.
Pythagoras’ methods influenced later Greek philosophers such as Plato, and Pythagoras founded his own academy in Italy.
This took the form of a commune but may have been seen as a cult, as Pythagoras imposed strict rules about diet and behavior.
The Pythagoreans attached spiritual significance to numbers, and Pythagoras may have considered his philosophical revelations to be divine insights
Protagoras – The Relativist Greek Philosopher
One of the first Greek philosophers to shift focus from the natural world to human issues was Protagoras. Born in 490 BC, the year of Darius the Great’s failed conquest of Greece, Protagoras became a legal counselor during Athens’s golden age. He even became an adviser to Pericles.
Protagoras’s experience as a lawyer taught him a fundamental principle; every argument has two sides, and both may hold equal validity. This introduced the idea of subjectivity to the concept of belief.
For Protagoras, it was the character of the person who held a belief that determined its worth. To illustrate this, he coined the phrase “man is the measure of all things.”
Because he believed that everything was relative depending on your individual point of view, Protagoras considered that absolute truth was unattainable.
This is because what one person might consider to be true, another will believe to be false. Protagoras also believed this dichotomy was present in questions of good and evil.
This is the founding principle of Relativism and it was perhaps the first time that an ancient Greek philosopher had examined issues relating to human behavior and morality.
Socrates – The Father Of Western Thought
Socrates is one of the most famous Greek philosophers in history, and his thirst for knowledge changed the course of philosophy forever. Socrates was born in 469 BC and he served in the Peloponnesian War.
Socrates believed that knowledge was the ultimate good and that pursuing knowledge was vital to living a good, virtuous life. Socrates argued that good
and evil were absolute and that only through pursuing knowledge can we learn the difference. To Socrates, ignorance was the ultimate evil.
Socrates developed the Socratic Method, which involved taking someone’s basic idea and asking a series of questions to expose any contradictions or flaws.
Socrates hoped to examine everyday concepts that people took for granted so that he could gain valuable insights.
This inductive examination didn’t always go down well, and Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens. During his trial, Socrates accepted the guilty charge rather than embracing ignorance. He declared that
“the life which is unexamined is not worth living” before drinking hemlock poison.
Socrates’s ideas endured because his pupil, Plato, made Socrates the central character of his dialogues.
Through these writings, the Socratic Method survived to become the core tenet of scientific reasoning for centuries.
Plato – The Most Famous Ancient Greek Philosopher
Alongside Socrates, Plato was a founding figure of Western thought. Born in 427 BC, Plato was a prolific writer. Through books like the Republic and the Symposium and the founding of his Academy, Plato’s ideas survived to influence generations of thinkers.
Plato theorized that a transcendent World of Ideas contained the perfect Forms of every object on Earth. When we see a table in our physical world, it is an imperfect copy of the Form of a table. To illustrate this, Plato used the “Allegory of the Cave.”
A group of humans are imprisoned in a cave. Behind them blazes a fire that casts shadowy objects onto the wall in front of them while hiding the true Forms of the objects themselves.
These illusions represent our fallible human senses, but Plato believed that our knowledge of Perfect Forms was also innate to us. It was only through reason that we could unlock this true knowledge.
Plato believed that this contrast between the Ideal Forms and our imperfect copies also applied to concepts such as Goodness and Justice. Plato suggested that using reason to reveal the perfect Form of Goodness, instead of our imperfect copy, was the ultimate purpose of philosophy
Aristotle – The Greek Philosopher Who Tutored Alexander
At 17 years old, Aristotle studied under Plato at the Academy. After disagreeing with some of Plato’s ideas, Aristotle left to form his own school, the Lyceum. He also tutored Alexander the Great and was one of the first ancient Greek philosophers to have his ideas translated into Arabic.
Like Plato, Aristotle wanted to figure out how we attain knowledge. However, Aristotle rejected Plato’s theory of the Forms in favor of a more empirical approach. Aristotle believed we gain knowledge from the evidence that we observe in the world around us.
Aristotle theorized that when we observe a dog, we take note of the common characteristics it shares with other dogs. He also developed a form of logic called the “syllogism” to analyze two or more ideas to generate a conclusion. He saw this as a product of mankind’s innate ability to use reason which separated us from other animals.
Aristotle was also concerned with the purpose of things and how we could lead a good life. He argued that when we recognize our positive characteristics, we should use them to pursue virtue and achieve our potential. According to Aristotle, this would bring us happiness and constitute a “good” life.
Epicurus – The Seeker Of Tranquility
After the death of Alexander the Great, the focus of philosophy moved away from epistemology and metaphysics and instead focused on personal ethics. Philosophical schools sprang up across the Hellenistic World. One of these was T
he Garden, founded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus.
Epicurus saw pleasure as the ultimate example of good, while pain was the foremost example of evil. Concepts such as justice and virtue come from pleasure. Epicurus believed that we should focus on maximizing pleasure in our lives whilst avoiding pain.
The ultimate goal was to achieve tranquility, or what Epicurus called “ataraxia.”
Opponents of Epicurus denounced him as a seeker of hedonistic and immoral pleasures. On the contrary, Epicurus considered friendship to be the highest form of pleasure. Epicurus’s followers weren’t
just students, but friends as well, sharing a simple life of easily sustainable pleasures. Ethically, Epicurus believed that to live a pleasant life, one had to be honorable, just, and wise.
Epicurus saw the fear of death as the main opposition to a life of pleasure and tranquility. He argued that we need not fear death because there is no pain involved on either a conscious or physical level. We simply cease to exist.
Effeminacy and cross-dressing
Effeminacy in men was considered beyond the pale – para phusin or “outside nature”. It implied passivity and receptiveness, epithumein paschein – both weaknesses contrary to the proper sexual conduct of the Greek male who ought to be virile, dominant, penetrating and thrusting.
Cross-dressing had some surprising advocates. The heroic alpha-male Hercules, according to the Roman poet Ovid, indulged in a bout of cross-dressing with Omphale [queen of Lydia to whom
Hercules was enslaved] Hercules put on Omphale’s clothes and Omphale dressed up in typically Herculean lion skin and wealded his club, which was symbolic of manhood and power. Surprisingly, perhaps, “
lion-hearted” Achilles too was not averse to a spot of dressing up in women’s clothes, if it saved him from the call-up for the Trojan war
Pseudo-Apollodorus, in the Bibliotheca [a compendium of Greek myths and heroic legends], tells us that to help her son dodge the draft Thetis [Achilles’ mother] concealed him at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. Disguised as a girl Achilles lived among Lycomedes’
daughters under the pseudonym Pyrrha, the red-haired girl. Achilles raped one of the daughters, Deidamia, and with her fathered a son, Neoptolemus.
Odysseus was told by the prophet Calchas that the Greeks would not capture Troy without Achilles’ support, so he went to Skyros masquerading as a peddler selling women’s clothes and jewellery with a shield and
spear secreted in his wares. Achilles instantly took up the spear; Odysseus saw through his disguise as Pyrrha and persuaded him to join the Greek forces.
Another famous alpha male, Julius Caesar, was also involved in cross-dressing: apparently, aged 20, he lived the life of a girl in the court of King Nicomedes IV and was later referred to behind his back as the ‘queen of Bithynia’,
and “every woman’s man and every man’s woman”. Suetonius described his long-fringed sleeves and loose belt as a bit odd, prompting statesman and dictator Sulla to warn everyone to “beware of the boy with the loose belt”.
To the ancient Greeks masturbation was a normal and healthy substitute for other sexual pleasures – a handy ‘safety valve’ against destructive sexual frustration.
This may explain why there are so few references to it in the literature: it was common practice and did not merit much attention. Nevertheless, it may well have been deemed,
publicly at least, to be the preserve of slaves, lunatics and other people considered to be lower down the social pecking order. Elite opinion would have regarded it, literally,
as a waste of time and semen, since it was one of the prime cultural responsibilities of the Greek male to further the family line and extend the oikos, the household.
One term for masturbation in ancient Greece was anaphlao, a verb that comic playwright Aristophanes disparagingly used to describe the Spartans, who were “wankers”, in his comedy Lysistrata.
The decidedly odd Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic routinely masturbated in public and defended his actions by saying “If only it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing my belly”. Interestingly,
Diogenes attracted censure not just for masturbating in public but also for eating in the agora – indicating perhaps that masturbating in a public place was regarded as no more serious a crime than eating in a public place.
Other ancient civilisations celebrated masturbation too. For example, a clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from Malta shows a woman masturbating.
In ancient Sumer [the first ancient urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq] masturbation
– either solitary or with a partner – was thought to enhance potency. In ancient Egypt male masturbation when performed by a god was considered a creative or magical act:
Atum was said to have created the universe by masturbating, and the ebb and flow of the Nile was attributed to the frequency of his ejaculations. Egyptian Pharaohs were required to masturbate ceremonially into the Nile.
Achilles and Briseis
Epic [the Iliad] gives us one of our earliest surviving expressions of heterosexual love;
it comes from a rather surprising source – from battle-hardened, Homeric war hero, alpha male Achilles.
Achilles uncharacteristically wears his heart on his sleeve when he reveals how much he loves Briseis in Book 9 of the Iliad, referring to her as if she were his wife.
The beautiful and intelligent Briseis first encountered Achilles when he ruthlessly slaughtered her father, mother, three brothers and husband during a Greek assault on Troy, before taking her as war booty.
Achilles wiped out Briseis’ family so that she was utterly bereft and had only him to focus on.
To Achilles it was simply the right and decent thing to do to love your woman – an attitude, of course, that may have been at odds with some of the male audience members of Homer’s epic over the years.