or, more importantly, 

'This is Sparta!'… Or is it? Pederasty, Historical Erasure, and Western Orientalism

I. Introduction

            Throughout its history, Sparta has held a rather curious position in Western political and historical discourse.  Whilst occupying a space within the modern conception of the Greco-Roman world, Sparta does not seem to hold the same position as Athens within the imagination of Western thinkers.  As Elizabeth Langridge-Noti asserts, Sparta fascinates the West, “both as a place with a common past and a place that is different enough to insist on distance and a certain mystique” (751).  A large portion of this Spartan mystique is due to the lack of viable sources of knowledge surrounding the polis. The bulk of what is known about the city-state has been communicated by non-Spartan citizens, immediately piquing the modern critic’s interest in constructing the most viable depiction of life in this complicated polis.   

            This lack of information has also, unfortunately, led to a number of historical distortions, beginning with the earliest accounts of the polis and lasting well into modern interpretations.  One of the many misrepresentations surrounding life in Sparta is the discourse surrounding homosexuality and the institution of pederasty within this city-state.  My research aims to look at the way in which pederasty, an integral institution within the Spartan city-state, has been erased in modern representations, further establishing a division between modern, accepted forms of identity in contrast to a perceived backwardness of thought that characterizes “the other.”  I will primarily contrast ancient author’s depictions of Spartan pederasty, which were mostly favorable, to a modern historical erasure, prevalent in the popular film franchise, 300. 

II.  Sparta and the Institution of Pederasty

              Although information regarding Greek homosexuality and pederasty is both varied and scant, most sources agree that pederasty as an institution began in the polis of Crete.  Aristotle, in his Politics, tells us:  “The Cretan lawgiver regarded abstemiousness as beneficial and devoted much ingenuity to securing it, as also to keeping down the birthrate by keeping men and women apart and by institutionalizing sexual relations between males” (qtd in Percy 59).  Sparta, the Dorian neighbor to Crete, began settling the island towards the end of the eighth century, establishing a series of cultural interactions and adoptions.  As Aristotle states, Crete not only had legalized homosexuality, but also had infused the practice into the wellbeing of the state and its constitution.  Lycurgus, lauded as the forefather of the Spartan constitution, was thought to have studied in Crete before introducing his famous reforms.  Thus, the institutionalization of pederasty can be traced to a Dorian cultural exchange between Crete and Sparta towards the end of the eighth century, becoming a catalyst for the famously heroic Spartan military (Percy 69-72).

            The introduction of pederasty as a national institution is firmly stated in the Spartan Eunomia, which has become the term given to the entirety of Sparta’s political system.  The Eunomia laid out the number of hoplites trained in warfare (typically between 9,000 to 12,000), their relationship with the helot slave class, and the guidelines surrounding Sparta’s highly regimented military structure.  The institutionalization of the Spartan military system directly follows the destruction of the Second Messenian War, as the Spartans sought to control their current populace and guard against possible helot rebellions.  At the age of seven, boys were enrolled in military companies, where they trained together to become the most dangerous hoplite army in the Aegean (Percy 72). 

            Spartan military training and hoplite warfare itself reinforced the institution of pederasty, as it became necessary for the survival of the Spartan polis.  Author William Percy summarizes it best, asserting:

Spartans sought to produce heroes who would fight unflinchingly in the phalanx.  The inspirer’s primary duty was to instill courage, loyalty, patriotism, and endurance in his listener.  A worthy and dedicated lover also inspired by example.  During battle, the peril, anguish, din, confusion, and blood put almost unbearable strain on the hoplite.  His chances of surviving the lethal clash of the phalanxes greatly increased if his fellows held steadfast, each protecting his own left and the exposed right side of his neighbor (87).

             The Spartan institution of pederasty thus greatly increased the ties between these hoplite soldiers, a necessary bond for the system of warfare in which they were fighting.  Plutarch writes of the shame-based system that governed the relationships between these lovers and their duties on the battlefield, asserting: “Lovers shared in the reputation of their boyfriends, whether good or bad… And it is said that once, when a boy uttered a dishonorable sound in a fight, his lover was fined by the magistrates” (qtd in Hubbard 69; Lycurgus 18.4).  As such, the Spartan institution of pederasty was seen as a necessary tool for governing the relationships between men in Spartan and as a means of ensuring bravery and success on the battlefield.  

            Perhaps the earliest example of this type of Spartan lover-fighter bond is the relationship between Pausanias (famous for his victory at Plataea in 479), and his eromenos Argilius.  The ancient historian Thucydides writes of the relationship between the two, stating that Pausanias is betrayed by his eromenos  (See Thucydides 1.132).  It is hard to know how sensual these relationships truly were, given the lack of trustworthy and viable sources. Writers like Xenophon and Plutarch, however, write of the inherently chaste nature of the pederastic relationship, asserting that any sexual behavior between the two was akin to incest between father and son.  For instance, in Xenophon’s Symposium, the character Socrates maintains:

The Spartans, who believe that, if a man so much as entertains a carnal desire, he can no longer attain any truly good object, train their favorites to such a perfect pitch of bravery that even among strangers, even if they are not stationed in the same rank as their lovers, they are just as much ashamed to desert the comrades at their side.  This is because the goddess that they believe in is not Immodesty but Modesty (Symposium, IV, 23).

Additionally, Xenophon writes, in his Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, that, “if… someone seemed to lust after a boy’s body, he laid down that this was the most shameful of all things” (qtd in Hubbard 68; 2.12-2.14).   While the sources surrounding approved sexual behavior between the eromenos and the erastes is contested, the above evidence points to the vital importance of these systems within the Greek poleis as an organizing and defining part of citizenship.

III. Ancient Sources, Modern Sources & Historical Erasure

            Although the sources surrounding Spartan pederasty are scanty and inconclusive, they provide readers with an interesting look at the way in which Sparta was conceptualized in the minds of prominent Athenian historians.  William Percy speaks to these authors, asserting that each has their own inherent bias surrounding the Greek polis.  Xenophon, for instance, was thought to be an awed admirer of Sparta, and as an Athenian aristocrat idealized the oligarchic nature of the polis in contrast to Athens, which he deemed too democratic for its own good.  Thucydides, the historian noted for outlining the Peloponnesian War, is much harsher on Sparta as a state itself, yet does not fault the city for its institution of pederasty.  On the contrary, he speaks to the nature of these relationships in multiple chapters of his history, pointing to its prevalence in both Athens and Sparta (i.e. 1.132, 6.54.1-4, 6.56.1-59.2).  Central to the ancient sources surrounding Sparta is the pervasiveness and significance of their pederastic institution, which is evident in texts ranging from the philosopher Plato to the comedian Aristophanes to the historian Plutarch (Percy 74-75). 

            Although these texts may differ in terms of audience and purpose, each text makes mention of this institution without outright scorn or contempt.  It is important, however, to understand that these sources are not themselves without historical distortion, as historian Paul Cartledge makes clear in his assertions surrounding Plutarch and Xenophon, who he classifies as, “purveyors of the ‘Spartan mirage’ – the partly distorted, partly imaginary picture of Sparta that its non-Spartan admirers needed and wanted to believe represented the reality” (93).  It is important to understand that these authors too had their own inherent biases and purposes in depicting Sparta in this way.  Following these early ancient texts, however, the topic of Greek pederasty almost completely disappears from the contemporary zeitgeist.  Critic William Percy speaks to this disappearance, stating:

Most books on Sparta published in English sidestep the subject, including works by K.M.T. Chrimes (1949), G.L. Huxley (1962), and W.G. Forrest (1968).  Both the old and new edition of the massively detailed Cambridge Ancient History avoid discussing it.  H. Mitchell shrank from it: ‘This aspect of Greek morals is an extraordinary one, into which, for the sake of our own equanimity, it is unprofitable to pry too closely’” (75).

The exception made is author Paul Cartledge, who writes of this historical discrepancy in 1980 as a product of authors shying away from the controversial issue up until this time, when the AIDS epidemic and concern over homosexuality finally demanded its space in the public sphere (92). 

            Aside from the moral and religious concerns over pederastic institutions, the question of historical erasure becomes incredibly important in understanding modern representations of Sparta. The exclusion of Spartan pederasty in any contemporary study of Sparta becomes a deliberate and contrived maneuver on the part of the author, aimed at creating an incomplete and distorted version of Sparta’s historical truth.  Turning our attention to Edward Said’s Orientalism, and its manifestations in the popular film franchise 300, it becomes clear that the historical erasure at play is made with a conscious effort to distort Sparta’s history against an Oriental “other”. 

IV. Orientalism and Zack Snyder’s 300

            In his famous discussion of the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said asserts, “Orientalism is… a collective notion identifying ‘us’ Europeans as against all ‘those’ non-Europeans… the idea of European identity as a superior one in comparison with all the non-European peoples and cultures” (Said 7). Following the theory set out by Said, the depiction of an “other” serves the West as a, “contrasting image, idea, personality, and experience” (Said 2).  Thus, in defining “the other,” this discourse provides a means of identifying oneself, a much-needed aspiration for self-definition and identity in the West. 

             Although Edward Said’s research is primarily concerned with the West’s interpretation and subordination of Islamic culture, his research can be applied to shed light on the way in which Sparta has been used as a foil for Athens and the “West” throughout its history.  Utilizing Said’s notions of otherized distinctions, ancient Greek sources can be primarily conceptualized in two major ways, mainly an us/Athens and them/Sparta, or as an us/Greeks and them/Persians dichotomies.  Throughout the Persian Wars, the distinction follows closely to Said’s East/West dichotomy, as the Greeks attempted to define themselves against the approaching Persian threat.   For instance, Herodotus writes of the Trojan War, stating that the customs of the “Asiatics” took the abduction of women differently from the Greeks:

The Asiatics, according to the Persians, took the seizure of women lightly enough, but not so the Greeks: the Greeks, merely on account of a girl from Sparta, raised a big army, invaded Asia and destroyed the empire of Priam.  From that root sprang their belief in the perpetual enmity in the Greek world towards them – with the Persians possessing Asia and its various barbarian peoples, and thinking that Europe and the Greeks being distinct from them (qtd in Yang 118).  

Once the Persian threat was quelled, primarily through the Spartan defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE and then the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE, ancient Athenian writers began to draw distinctions between themselves and the Spartans, who became their new enemies in the Peloponnese. For instance, Thucydides, in his History, initially recounts the cause of the Peloponnesian War, which he determines, “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable” (1.23).  Throughout much of his History, the author is concerned with drawing lines between Sparta and Athens, both in their political systems, military practices, and customs.  It is important to note, however, that the author does not seek to draw this distinction based on the Spartan pederasty, as Thucydides was well aware of the prevalence of pederasty in his own city-state of Athens.  

            This otherized mentality is important in understanding a later, contemporary erasure of Spartan pederasty in historical discourse.  Contemporary authors, unlike their ancient predecessors, attempt to uphold this dichotomy in an us/them, West/East binary by drawing a distinction between their own moralized contemporary identity and a supposed backward and otherized identity.  Zack Snyder’s 300 becomes the ultimate expression of this historical erasure, both in terms of Edward Said’s Orientalism and the modern erasure of pederasty.  Based on Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel, 300 outlines the Battle of Thermopylae, a historical battle in which an army of 300 Spartans defeated the mammoth force of the Persian Empire.  The movie was a huge international success, taking in over $70 million dollars at the box office on its opening weekend. 

            The movie is a highly stylized film, shot in an almost computer-graphics grain that highlights the starkness of the Spartan landscape and the brutality and masculinity of the Spartan army.  At the forefront of the film is Leonidas, the general and king of Sparta at this time.  Leonidas is the ultimate example of this idealized masculinity, as he is at the peak of physical condition and always flanked by his beautiful and sexualized queen, Gorgo (See figures 1 and 2).  The character of Leonidas is sharply contrasted with the image of Persian king Xerxes, who is ethnically dark and feminized with heavy eye makeup and jewelry (See figure 3).  Aside from the obvious racialized binary within these portrayals, the dichotomy between masculinity and femininity seems to occupy the next available polarization between the two.  In looking solely at the images presented within the movie, it is clear the importance of creating the Persian as “the other”.  However, in order to do so, the filmmakers must also fashion the Spartans as easily identifiable with Western audiences.  The Western audiences must be able to identify completely with these characters, therefore erasing any space for the institution of pederasty.

            Pederasty is almost completely invisible throughout the film, and is only briefly mentioned in a snide remark from Leonidas about the Athenians.  In responding to the Persian envoy’s request for submission, Leonidas comments, “Submission? Well that’s a bit of a problem. See, rumor has it the Athenians have already turned you down, and if those philosophers and, uh, boy-lovers have found that kind of nerve, then…”  In situating the Athenians as boy-lovers, the Spartans once again create an us/them binary, placing pederasty and homosexuality on the Athenians and away from the Spartan identity.  The film does, however, include strong themes of brotherhood and camaraderie that was prevalent at this time; for instance, when Xerxes asks, “How can you stand against me, when I would gladly kill any one of my men for victory?”, Leonidas replies, “I would die for any one of mine.”  However, instead of accurately basing these ties in the pederastic institution, they are situated along Western idealized notions of nationalism, pride, and bravery.  The historical erasure of pederastic institutions represents the filmmaker’s attempt to situate the Spartans in a way that could be identified with by Western audiences.  The audience is made to sympathize and relate to the Spartan warriors, in direct opposition to the Persian forces.  A result of this attempt is the erasure of Spartan pederasty, which directly clashes with approved and popularized notions of Western character.

V. Conclusions

       Notions surrounding Sparta’s place within the Western zeitgeist are often troubled to accept homosexuality and pederasty, which is still conceptualized as popularly opposed to contemporary Western morals.  Ancient Greece, which is often seen as the foundation for contemporary Western politics and thought, is often reimagined in a way to erase these concerns, allowing for a distorted yet accepted picture of the West’s foundation.  In looking at the prevalence of Spartan pederasty and ancient writer’s readiness to accept this institution, the lack of modern information and studies surrounding these practices come to resemble a form of historical erasure. 

        In order to remedy the discrepancy between unaccepted ancient institutions and accepted current institutions, Western scholars have had to eschew any sort of interaction with Greek pederasty, which is highlighted in the lack of twentieth century research. This historical erasure is fully exemplified in popular culture, in which historical erasure is necessary to retain arbitrary barriers between an us and them dichotomy.  The East, in effect, becomes an otherized discourse through which acceptable and unacceptable cultural norms can be established, further solidifying an accepted Western identity.  This binary is particularly salient in the popular film franchise, 300, which gives audiences a historically distorted and incomplete picture of life in Sparta.  In order to uphold the dichotomy between Sparta and its Persian aggressors, the filmmakers must historically erase the institution of pederasty, contrasting accepted Spartan cultural norms with those of their Persian enemies.  The inherently Greek institution of pederasty thus becomes incompatible with Western notions of identity, causing a process of historical erasure in order to retain arbitrary structures of hegemony between the East and West. 

Figure 1. 300’s Leonidas

Figure 2. 300’s Leonidas and Gorgo

Figure 3. 300’s King Xerxes

Sources

Cartledge, Paul. Spartan Reflections. Berkeley: U of California, 2001. Print.

Hubbard, Thomas K. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents. Berkeley: U of California, 2003. Print.

Langridge-Noti, Elizabeth. “”This Is Sparta”: Recent Publications on Sparta and Laconia.” American Journal of Archaeology 116.4 (2012): 751-55. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3764/aja.116.4.0751?ref=search-    gateway:850d170d3808854c44495fea07d45d04>.

Percy, William A. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1996. Print.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.

Thucydides, Robert B. Strassler, and Richard Crawley. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. New York: Free, 1996. Print.

Yang, Huang. “Orientalism in the Ancient World: Greek and Roman Images of the Orient from Homer to Virgil.” The Historical Journal 1 (2006): 115-29. Web. <http://www.waseda.jp/prjmed_inst/bulletin/bull05/05_15hua.pdf>.

We were able to choose a topic for our final paper in my Socrates class, and I chose to talk about eroticism and pederasty in Plato.  Below is my final paper if anyone would like to take a read! 

The Deconstruction of Erotic Hierarchies in Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium

I. Introduction

            In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates declares, “The only thing I say I understand is the art of love” (177e).  This assertion is a large departure from Plato’s Apology, in which the philosopherultimately roots wisdom in his own understood ignorance (23b).  Socrates’ techne erotica, or erotic art, becomes one of the many concerns for Plato’s body of work, in which the term erōs refers to the intimate and romantic love of a pederastic relationship. The etymological origins of philosophy, derived from Greek words philia (love) and sophia (wisdom), aptly summarizes the connection between these two interests, as an inherently erotic desire for knowledge plays a major part in all philosophic endeavors.  As such, Plato’s characterization of Socrates inevitably contains an erotic quality that colors much of the writings surrounding the infamous philosopher.  The nature of love and eroticism, as explored in both characterization and content, plays a major role in two texts dedicated to the topic of erōs, the Phaedrus and the Symposium. 

             The Greeks commonly employed two words meaning “love,” the first, erōs describes, “an intense attraction to something or someone,” while philia referred to a, “deep fondness and affection.”  Ancient Greek texts extensively utilized the expression erōs in an all-encompassing manner, not solely in reference to human relationships, but rather as, “the motivating force behind everything.”  Additionally, Erōs was personified as a god, and as Hesiod remarks, was “the most beautiful of all immortals” (Vrissimtzis). Erōs almost exclusively described the relationship between two men, which often manifested itself in the institution of pederasty.  The notion of eroticism espoused by Plato, which is a heavily desire-based relationship amongst his characters, is primarily utilized to shed light on the many philosophical concerns, including the relationship between virtues of beauty, truth, goodness, and wisdom.   For Plato, erōs becomes the link between beauty, desire, and wisdom, as it connects a romance-based human desire to the knowledge-based philosophical endeavor.  The nature of Greek pederasty, which is both desire- and knowledge- based, provides the means by which Plato is able to relate these complicated notions, and depict their importance to his readers.  As such, the concept of erōs and eroticism itself becomes one of the major facets of multiple Platonic dialogues. 

            Plato’s Phaedrus, a conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus, speaks to the complicated nature of erōs and the connection between the lover and the philosopher.  Plato’s Symposium also concerns itself primarily with eroticism, as the character of Socrates becomes emblematic of the god-like Erōs himself.  In both works, Plato’s representation of erōs is a marked departure from its pederastic manifestation.  Plato approaches the topic of erōs and separates it from its pederastic context, breaking down a number of hierarchical power distinctions that limit the scope and availability of divine erōs.  In doing so, philosophy gains a new inclusivity and accessibility that is not afforded by the contemporary zeitgeist. The Symposium becomes the greatest realization of this purpose, as it fully deconstructs binary oppositions and actualizes the goals of the philosopher through the characters within the dialogue.  Through these deconstructions, the character Socrates becomes the eromenos to Alcibiades’ erastes, as Plato simultaneously aligns the goals of philosophy with those of sexual and erotic desire.

II. Dichotomies and Power Hierarchies within Pederasty

            In looking at the nature of erōs within these Platonic dialogues, it is first necessary to understand its real-world manifestation in classical Athens at this time.  As previously discussed, erōs in its interpersonal context exclusively referred to the institution of pederasty, a sexual and educational relationship between an older Athenian elite male and his younger beloved.  An older man, from his early twenties upwards, (known as the erastes) was expected to take a young adolescent boy (his eromenos), to both establish bonds and to pass down the rituals and ideals of the kalos k’agathos (or beautiful and good).  The institution of pederasty thus held both a sexual and political function, as it primarily afforded elite Athenian male citizens a means by which to confer the ideals of the state on their younger prodigy (Percy 1-2).   It is this educational feature that allows Plato the means by which to relate the desire between two men to the philosopher’s desire for knowledge and wisdom, as the pederastic relationship provides a ready allegory.

            Although pederastic relationships in ancient Athens were tremendously common among Athenian elites, the sexual nature of the relationship between the erastes and eromenos has been highly debated for a number of years. In its idealized form, the eromenos was assumed to submit himself completely to the desires of the erastes.  Paradoxically, the eromenos was to remain both chaste and modest in the presence of one’s erastes.   The comedian Aristophanes, in his play the Clouds, caricatures this paradoxical system through the mouthpiece of the “Better Argument,” stating, “No boy then would dare anoint/ himself below the belly-button: thus their genitals were dewy and downy, like a succulent peach” (975-980).  Aristophanes pokes fun at the beliefs of the “Better Argument,” ironically opposing their pederastic tendencies with their characterization of the “Worse Argument”’s provocativeness and femininity.  While the “Worse Argument” is criticized for acting promiscuously and shamefully, the “Better Argument” lauds piety and virtue, while at the same time coming across to the audience as completely boy-obsessed and inappropriate.  Aristophanes’ irony represents a fundamental problem for these Athenian elites, which was how to keep the pederastic relationship, an inherently sexual and erotic relationship, within the realm of piety.

            The Athenian institution of pederasty remained a popular and accepted practice through a constructed set of norms surrounding appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior.   The philosopher Xenophon comments on this dynamic, as his character Socrates asserts, “A boy does not even share the man’s enjoyment of sexual intercourse as a woman does: he is a sober person watching one drunk with sexual excitement (260).”   Socrates’ speech in the Dinner Party presents to its audience an idealized picture of the pederastic relationship, in which the paradox between the boy’s sexual submission and his chastity is mediated.  The boy remains chaste and beautiful as long as he lacks sexual desire and satisfaction within the union. This itself becomes a hierarchy of sorts, in which the boy, although a participant in the sexual act, is unable to take any pleasure within the union, for fear that the relationship would be seen as improper.  Additionally, these relationships were lauded as part of a “divine erōs,” revered by the gods and the source of ultimate guidance and wisdom.  By separating this “divine erōs” from the “pleasure-driven erōs” of a shameful impiety, the institution of pederasty was able to retain its pious credibility and existence.

               Although the sexual relationship between the boy and his lover is contested, there are essential asymmetrical characteristics of these pairings.  First and foremost, the erastes is opposed to his eromenos in terms of age.  Secondly, the pair differs in terms of physical beauty, with the eromenos’ youthful beauty in opposition to the erastes’ fading physique. Thirdly, there seems to be a distinct hierarchy in the sexual relationship between the boy and his lover, as the boy submits willingly to his partner, yet feels no sort of sexual satisfaction in the consummation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the erastes provide what Lear and Cantarella describe as, “experience in every field, assuming in their encounters a formative role at the moment in which the boy—a potential citizen—prepared himself to become an actual citizen” (2).

            Given the asymmetrical nature of the pederastic relationship, it becomes increasingly common to ascribe diametrically opposed systems of meanings to this Greek manifestation of erōs.  Perhaps the most salient binary is between the active and passive players within this system. Although debated as to whether the eromenos was truly a passive participant in the sexual relationship, it has been well documented in both ancient texts and artistic representations that, overall, the eromenos occupied a more passive position than his older erastes, while the erastes was required to impart important teachings on Athenian identity to his younger, beautiful partner. This passive and active binary was created and sustained as a way to protect the chastity of the younger boy and the credibility of his older lover.  Turning to Plato’s Phaedrus, the reader is able to see the character of Socrates exploring and subsequently deconstructing these hierarchies of meaning, creating an important link between philosophy and erōs.  

III. Plato’s “Diairesis” in the Phaedrus 

            Plato’s Phaedrus, structured as an unmediated conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus, primarily concerns itself with issues surrounding erōs and rhetoric.  The dialogue begins with Phaedrus reciting Lysias’ speech, which seeks to prove that it is better to show favor to a non-lover, as opposed to a lover.  Lysias asserts,

It’s proper, I suppose, to grant your favors to those who are best able to return them, not to those in the direst need—that is, not to those who merely desire the thing, but to those who really deserve it—not to people who will take pleasure in the bloom of your youth, but to those who will share their goods with you when you are older (233e-234a).

Immediately, the reader is presented with a binary between the lover and the non-lover, as Lysias tries to prove that friendship with the non-lover demonstrates moderation and objectivity and reaps the most rewards.  Socrates’ first speech operates along the same dichotomous approach, yet he draws the line between two ruling principles within the human psyche: “our inborn desire for pleasures” and “our acquired judgment that pursues what is best” (237d).  Thus, Phaedrus’ two opening speeches both operate along these binary oppositions, in which a distinction is constructed between notions of modesty and impropriety, judgment and desire, and control and madness. 

            Upon making his first speech, Socrates is interrupted and instructed by his daimôn, or spiritual guide, that he has acted impiously towards the deity Erōs.  Socrates traces his impiety to attributing negative qualities to the god of Love, stating, “If Love is a god or something divine – which he is – he can’t be bad in any way; and yet our speeches just now spoke of him as if he were” (243d-e).  Once again, Socrates’ reasoning is operating along strict hierarchies of good/bad, relegating the gods to a singular nature; this characterization of the gods allows for no middle ground, as the deities must be beautiful and good, or else they are ugly and bad.  Subsequently, Socrates directly addresses the nature of these binaries, and the role they play in his speechmaking, asserting:

This, in turn, is to be able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do. In just this way, our two speeches placed all mental derangements into one common kind. Then, just as each single body has parts that naturally come in pairs of the same name (one of them being called the right-hand and the other the left-hand one), so the speeches, having considered unsoundness of mind to be by nature one single kind within us, proceeded to cut it up—the first speech cut its left-hand part, and continued to cut until it discovered among these parts a sort of love that can be called “left-handed,” which it correctly denounced; the second speech, in turn, led us to the right-hand part of madness; discovered a love that shares its name with the other but is actually divine (265e-266a). 

Socrates praises this approach as a method of collecting and then dividing different ideas, the dissection of which creates binary dichotomies that are clearly distinguishable.  James Philip describes this method, known as diairesis, as having two parts: the first of which is collection, or a “general survey” of a given topic, and then division, in which two equal parts (noted by Socrates as the “right-hand” and “left-hand”) can be extracted from within this collection (338).  In doing so, the philosopher is able to create a well-ordered taxonomy of meanings to reach essential truths regarding the essence of virtues and other items. 

            Although Socrates informs Phaedrus, “I am myself a lover of these divisions and collections, so that I may be able to think and to speak,” (266b) his ultimate definition of erōs simultaneously upholds these distinctions while teaching moderation within eroticism.  Along these binary lines, Socrates separates the subject of the human soul and erōs with his charioteer allegory, in which two horses rule the soul, one of which is beautiful and good, and other of which is neither.  The good and beautiful horse prevents the charioteer from, “jumping on the boy” (254a) due to its, “sense of shame” (253e).  The other horse, however, does not respond to the charioteer and instead aggressively attacks the boy and suggests to him, “the pleasures of sex” (254b).  The beauty in the young boy, which itself is a lesser manifestation of the form of Beauty, causes the charioteer to recollect Beauty itself, and through this recollection he is able to, “stand on the sacred pedestal next to Self-control” (254b) and govern his desires, cultivating the virtues of a philosopher and ascending to the realm of the Forms.  Socrates therefore both reinforces a good/bad binary while at the same time instructs his readers towards a balancing sort of harmony in between these states of goodness and badness.   As the charioteer battles his good horse and his bad horse, he attempts to remain in moderation of both, falling somewhere in between both of these extremes, thereby deconstructing the dichotomy that Socrates has been constructing.

            Additionally, Plato’s dialogue on love is important as it relates to the hierarchical issues present in the typical pederastic relationship. In a romanticized pederastic relationship, the eromenos does not feel any sort of desire or love in response to the overwhelming desire of his erastes, allowing for sexual consummation without risking the boy’s reputation.  Socrates draws attention to this asymmetry in the Phaedrus, when he asks Phaedrus, “what comfort or pleasure will the lover give to him (the younger) during all the time they spend together?” (240e). Socrates’ second address on the topic of love, however, presents an entirely different picture of the subject.  He asserts that the love between the pair flows from the lover to his beloved, yet the beloved’s soul is also filled with a “backlove” in return, in which the boy, “does not realize that he is seeing himself in the lover as in a mirror.” He comments that the boy’s love, although unrealized and unnamed, has a desire, “nearly the same as the lover’s… he wants to see, touch, kiss, and lie down with him; and of course, as you might expect, he acts on these desires soon after they occur” (255d-e).  Furthermore, this dialogue is completely unmediated, creating an intimate and sexualized dialogue between Phaedrus (who is repeatedly referenced as young) and Socrates himself.  The outside setting of the text carries with it certain erotic undertones, as well as the nature of the conversation between the two characters.  Just as Socrates is proposing some sort of mutualistic relationship between the erastes and eromenos, Plato’s dialogue is constantly figuring the two in these separate roles, mediating their distinction at the close of the conversation when the pair leaves the countryside, “as friends” who, “have everything in common” (279c). Thus, just as Socrates’ depiction of the charioteer allowed for some mediation between the binary opposition of goodness and badness, his depiction of the relationship between the erastes and eromenos (as portrayed by Socrates and Phaedrus themselves) allows for a mutual desire between the two, turning the once-passive beloved into an active participant in the relationship.  

IV.  Diotima’s Teachings in the Symposium

            In Plato’s Phaedrus, the philosopher constructs a binary within Socrates’ initial conception of erōs and the art of philosophy in general, which is subsequently deconstructed in his conversation with Phaedrus.  The conversation ends with both interlocutors as equals, favoring moderation within eroticism rather than the binary distinctions upon which the dialogue began.  Plato’s Symposium collapses these binaries in a similar manner, constructing and then ultimately deconstructing the foundations upon which the erotic dichotomy is built.  Unlike the Phaedrus, in which Socrates and Phaedrus leave the countryside as equals, Plato employs constant role reversals throughout the Symposium to break down erōs’ arbitrary barriers, blurring the distinction between the active erastes and the passive eromenos.  In doing so, Plato is able to connect his ideas surrounding erōs to the greater philosophical endeavor, calling every person to participate in the art of philosophy.  

            Plato’s Symposium, unlike the Phaedrus, takes place at a dinner-party, and is organized as a sequence of speeches made in praise of the god of Love.  Phaedrus begins the series with a number of historical and mythological examples to support a shame-based society made up of pairs of lovers.  The use of Phaedrus as a character in both speeches draws the readers to view the speeches in relation with one another, understanding their connection and parallel goals.  Although Phaedrus’ oration does not initially draw any dichotomies within erōs, his speech is largely concerned with the benefits of this institution, with its militaristic and educational facets outweighing any other type of relationship.  Pausanias, the implied erastes of the younger Phaedrus, makes a speech outlining a distinction between two Aphrodites, the Heavenly Aphrodite and the Common Aphrodite.  The Heavenly Aphrodite, or Aphrodite Urania, springs between two men, and is a relationship based on intelligence, propriety, and the beauty of the soul.  Common Aphrodite, on the other hand, is solely based on sex and lust, and is concerned with outside beauty as opposed to the beauty of the soul.  Pausanias’ speech thus sets up a distinct binary that exists throughout much of the speeches given on love at the Symposium, and resonates with the goodness/badness dichotomy of the Phaedrus.  It is possible that Plato is attempting to discredit this initial pair of speakers, as their characterization as a lover and a beloved seem to impede upon the goals of their speeches.  While Phaedrus, the younger eromenos, lauds the system as the ultimate building blocks of a successful polis, Pausanias attempts to defend the system against any others who might discredit it as impious.  In making known to readers the relationship between the two, Plato’s characters lack credibility in their speeches, thus initially inviting readers to be critical of any understanding of erōs.

               Following Pausanias’ speech and an outbreak of hiccups from Aristophanes, Eryximachus, the physician, draws a similar distinction between what he determines as “healthy love” and “unhealthy love.”   Once again, this dichotomy becomes one of the most salient features of the opening speeches, as Phaedrus, Pausanias, and Eyximachus attempt to create a dichotomous representation of love, in which the aims of a pederastic relationship fall under the scope of heavenly and good love, which nurtures the soul towards wisdom and beauty.   Following Eryximachus’ speech, Plato figures Aristophanes within his series of speeches, having the comedian recall a highly entertaining myth surrounding the creation of man and desire.  In the story, men and women are split in two, and erōs becomes a search to become whole again, whether homosexually or heterosexually.  Aristophanes’ speech is a radical departure from the other orations in both form and content, as the comedian directly refutes the passive role of the eromenos:  “While they are boys… they love men and enjoy lying with men… those are the best of boys and lads, because they are most manly in their nature” (192a).  Rather than chastely accepting their position as an unsatisfied sexual tool, the young boys who desire men, and therefore reject their role of passivity, “are bold and brave and masculine” (192a).  Aristophanes’ speech thus becomes a rather radical commentary on the issue of erōs, as he begins to break down the active and passive roles of the accepted pederastic institution.  Plato, who foresees the audience as hearing Aristophanes’ speech as a comedy, has the poet constantly plead, “don’t make a comedy of it,” (193d) drawing the reader to take a closer look at the comedian’s words.  Aristophanes’ speech, although the most imaginative and entertaining of all the speeches, plays an important role, as it begins to question the dichotomies of the previous speeches and stands in contrast to the interlocutors’ conception of erōs.

            Agathon, who speaks just before Socrates, offers an attractive ode to the god of Love, contending that Erōs is both beautiful and good.  Following Agathon’s oration, Socrates begins his speech with a rather characteristic cross-examination of Agathon’s claims.  Reducing Agathon to a concession of ignorance, as he comments, “It turns out, Socrates, I didn’t know what I was talking about in that speech,” the philosopher proves to Agathon that the god of Love is neither beautiful nor good (in direct contrast to his statement in the Phaedrus 243d-e).  Socrates, however, admits to the young tragedian that he was, “very similar to Agathon in the way” he previously thought about the god of love.  It is from this point onwards that Socrates recalls a conversation he had with a wise woman from Mantinea, Diotima, who showed Socrates the true meaning of erōs.  Contextually, the dialogue concerns itself with Diotima’s aversion to binary constructions; while at the same time their conversation implicitly breaks down the asymmetrical nature between the two.  Thus, Diotima’s speech breaks down the dichotomous system to which Socrates’ and the other symposium-attendees subscribe, creating a link between a new definition of erōs and the philosophical project.

             Socrates and Agathon’s discussion about the tragedian’s ode mirrors the opening dialogue between Diotima and Socrates, as she proves to the philosopher that Erōs is neither beautiful nor good.  She does not, however, construct a diairetic binary in discussion the nature of love; rather, she contends: “Then don’t force whatever is not beautiful to be ugly, or whatever is not good to be bad.  It’s the same with Love: when you agree he is neither good nor beautiful, you need not think he is ugly and bad; he could be something in between (202b).”  Socrates, who Plato portrays as utilizing diairesis throughout much of his philosophical career, now abandons this dichotomous procedure in order to better explain the nature of love.  Additionally, Diotima characterizes the god of Love as a completely in-between being: he is searching for beauty and goodness, and therefore does not fully possess these things; he is neither a god nor human, but rather a spirit; and is in between both wisdom and ignorance (202-204).  The characterization that Diotima thus gives to Love is extremely important in terms of the previously established binary: is neither good nor bad, beautiful nor ugly – rather Erōs is in between these things, much like the philosopher attempting to attain true knowledge.

            In addition to her characterization of Erōs itself, Diotima goes on to describe the relationship between the erastes and eromenos, which she transforms into a mutualistic, active relationship that allows for the attainment of philosophical goals.  She describes the lover as someone who is in search of the form of Beauty to bring forth through reproduction the immortality of wisdom and virtue.  The eromenos thus provides for the erastes the Beauty, which becomes to means to bring forth these intellectual truths.  The erastes, in turn, is pregnant in his soul with the quest for wisdom, and in turn influences the eromenos on his own search for truth and knowledge.  Thus, rather than the hierarchical and sexual relationship espoused by past speakers, Diotima, and thus Socrates, espouse a rather revolutionary erotic system, in which the eromenos has an indispensible role in the aims of philosophy.  Love is aimed towards an understanding of the form of Beauty (an inherently philosophic endeavor), which can only be accomplished through exposure to the beauty of one’s eromenos (210-212).  Rather than a hierarchical and dichotomous relationship between the lover and the beloved, Socrates’ oration espouses a rather cooperative sort of teamwork towards these goals. 

V. Alcibiades and Socrates     

            At the close of Plato’s Symposium, Alcibiades, Socrates’ former eromenos, drunkenly enters the event and makes his own speech, both insulting and revering Socrates at the same time.  Alcibiades’ speech becomes the climactic counterpoint to the resolution of the symposium, as his drunken rant stands in stark contrast to the organized, sober orations of previous interlocutors.   Alcibiades begins his speech by comparing Socrates to Silenus, a satyr who served under Dionysus; commenting that he both looks and acts like a satyr, for he is, “impudent, contemptuous, and vile” (215b).  Alcibiades’ narrative then shifts, however, to praising Socrates’ speeches, which cause Alcibiades to be “beside himself” (215e).  It is “this satyr’s music” that causes Alcibiades’ shame, as he laments, “I can’t live with him, and I can’t live without him! What can I do about him?” (216c) 

            Alcibiades goes on to describe the relationship between himself and Socrates, commenting, “all I had to do was to let him have his way with me, and he would teach me everything he knew” (217a).  Alcibiades thus aptly describes the goals of the pederastic system.  The young eromenos, in this case Alcibiades, must let his erastes, or Socrates, “have his way” with the passive Alcibiades; and in return, Socrates should teach Alcibiades his wisdom.  Socrates, however, chooses not to consummate the relationship with Alcibiades, forcing Alcibiades to actively seek out a sexual relationship with the philosopher, and therefore causing his own shame.  Alcibiades is under the impression that in submitting to Socrates’ sexual desire, in return he will receive some sort of philosophical knowledge.  Socrates, however, spurns Alcibiades’ advances, commenting that in submitting to Alcibiades, he will be receiving, “the merest appearance of beauty” in exchange for, “the thing itself” (218e). 

            This scene acts to further highlight Socrates’ major teachings throughout his oration.  Alcibiades’ ultimate shame is in becoming the erastes to Socrates’ eromenos.  Rather than passively accepting the advances of an older man, Alcibiades must try to seduce Socrates and thus becomes the erastes in the relationship.  Alcibiades, who relies completely on the erastes/eromenos dichotomy, is unable to function in his new role as an eromenos, and thus fails in his philosophical endeavors.  Although “struck and bitten by philosophy” (218a), Alcibiades is unable to break out of these binary constructions towards a cooperative philosophical goal.  Plato thus utilizes the role reversal between Alcibiades and Socrates as a final example of his teachings surrounding erōs and philosophy.  The drunken and obnoxious Alcibiades becomes a foil for Socrates, whose conception of erōs allows for proper philosophical thought and practice.  

VI. Conclusions

            The ancient Greek conception of erōs has a highly complicated and multivalent set of meanings, customs, and manifestations.  The Platonic dialogues are primarily concerned with erōs’ pederastic manifestation, as the educational and romantic nature of the institution allows for a wider discussion of multiple issues.  Plato is able to utilize eroticism as a means of linking romantic endeavors with those of a philosophical nature, as pederasty linked homosexual relationships with early Greek education.  Plato reaches this connection through his discussion of erōs, in which the character of Socrates deconstructs the power dynamics inherent within these relationships and instead moves the participants to an active role in philosophy. Plato breaks down the active and passive roles within the pederastic relationship in order to make this desire for philosophy accessible to all.  Whereas pederasty espouses an asymmetrical and hierarchical relationship between two males, the character of Socrates, in both his relationships and orations, breaks down these notions, allowing for everyone to participate in philosophy.  It is in breaking down these power hierarchies that the goals of erōs and philosophy are aligned; the philosophical endeavor becomes an inherently erotic act, with collaborative effort and desire of all those involved.  

            Plato’s Symposium is organized as a series of speeches made in praise of the god of Love, as each attendee imparts their own nuanced view towards the multivalent nature of the god.  Each oration takes a different approach towards the subject, with the authors’ identities coloring much of their discourses’ functions.  Socrates’ speech, his own recollection of a discussion with Diotima, carefully addresses and revises each of the past orations, thus becoming the apex of the Platonic text.  As such, Socrates’ oration becomes the ultimate representation for Plato’s own views towards the topic of Eros, and primarily how this relates to past Platonic ideas of the Forms and the nature of philosophy.  Plato carefully constructs Socrates’ speech as a corrective counterargument to the previous dichotomous portrayals of Eros, coming to astute conclusions about the nature of Love and its relationship to Socrates and his own philosophic endeavors.

            Socrates begins his speech with a rather characteristic cross-examination of Agathon’s claim that the god of Love is both beautiful and good, reducing the previous speaker to a concession of ignorance: “It turns out, Socrates, I didn’t know what I was talking about in that speech” (201c).  From this point, Socrates launches into the memory of his talk with Diotima, a memory that both implicitly and explicitly touches on the claims of previous speakers.  For instance, Phaedrus, in his speech, comments on the bravery of Alcestis and Achilles as exemplary of the honor given to Love, as they gave their lives for this heavenly deity.  Diotima, however, corrects Phaedrus’ claim, commenting that these heroes were more concerned with “immortal virtue and glorious fame,” rather than for the sake of love (208d).  Similarly, Diotima comments on the myth espoused by Aristophanes, stating, “According to my story, a lover does not seek the half or the whole, unless, my friend, it turns out to be good as well.”   In doing so, Diotima suggests that love attempts to gain not what belongs to a person but rather is focused upon what is good.  In looking at Socrates’ discussion with Diotima, the reader initially recognizes the conscious critiquing and revising of past speeches, rendering Socrates’ oration as the crux of Plato’s dialogue.  

            Perhaps most apparent in the earlier speeches of the dialogue is the orators’ insistence upon creating a binary distinction between the conflicting nature of Love.  This idea is mostly articulated in Pausanias’ speech, as he makes the distinction between a Heavenly Aphrodite and a Common Aphrodite.  Heavenly love concerns itself with the soul, honoring the partnership between two men and the intelligence and wisdom to be gained, whilst common love concerns itself with the vulgarity of lust for the body (181b).  This dichotomy exists throughout much of the speeches, as the speech following Pausanias, given by Eryximachus, draws a similar distinction between healthy love and unhealthy love (186b-c).  The hierarchical dichotomy between good/bad love also manifests itself throughout much of the power relationships between the symposium attendees, as emphasis is given to the pederastic relationships amongst the speakers.  For instance, the reader is told that the young Phaedrus is the eromenos (or beloved) of Pausanias (his erastes, or lover).  Additionally, there is a conflict following Socrates’ speech, as Alcibiades recounts the shame he suffered at the hands of his erastes, Socrates, whilst attempting to gain the favor of the younger Agathon.  Thus, a large emphasis is placed on the binary relationship between heavenly and shameful love, while at the same time this “heavenly love” manifests itself in relationships with dichotomous power hierarchies.  

            It is in light of these power hierarchies that Socrates’ dialogue with Diotima truly becomes a critique of the other speakers.  The reader can initially see Diotima’s dialogue with Socrates as an inversion of typical power structures, as Diotima takes the place of Socrates in teaching the philosopher about Love.  She begins her discussion by making a claim against these dichotomous binaries, asserting: “Then don’t force whatever is not beautiful to be ugly, or whatever is not good to be bad. It’s the same with Love: when you agree he is neither good nor beautiful, you need not think he is ugly and bad; he could be something in between (202b).”  Diotima fashions Love as a completely in-between being: he is searching for beauty and goodness, and therefore does not fully possess these things; he is neither a god nor human, but rather a spirit; and is in between both wisdom and ignorance (202-204).  Diotima goes on to describe the lover as someone who is in search of the form of Beauty to bring forth through reproduction the immortality of wisdom and virtue.  The eromenos thus provides for the erastes the means by which to bring forth these intellectual truths, as the erastes is pregnant in soul.  Rather than the hierarchical and sexual relationship espoused by past speakers, Diotima, and thus Socrates, espouse a rather revolutionary erotic system, in which the eromenos has an indispensible role in the aims of philosophy. Love is aimed towards an understanding of the form of Beauty (an inherently philosophic endeavor), which can only be accomplished through exposure to the beauty of one’s eromenos.  Rather than a hierarchical and dichotomous relationship between the lover and the beloved, Socrates’ oration espouses a rather cooperative sort of teamwork towards the goals of philosophy.

            Diotima’s new definition of Eros, as espoused by Socrates, thus sheds light on the interaction between eroticism and philosophy.  Love is a necessary part of the philosophical endeavor, as it is through the relationship between the eromenos and erastes that the erastes is able to gain knowledge of the forms.  This point is further explicated at the end of the dialogue, as Plato figures Alcibiades as the foil to this idea.  The role reversal between Alcibiades and Socrates figures Socrates as the eromenos.  Alcibiades, however, is unable to fulfill the role of the philosopher, as he is unable to accept the nonsexual relationship with Socrates.  As such, he becomes the babbling, shameful drunk at the close of Plato’s discourse, figured as the complete opposite to the chaste relationship between Socrates and Agathon.  Plato is able to address and correct common notions surrounding Love by situating Socrates’ speech in this manner whilst also directly referencing ideas from the other speakers.  Socrates’ dialogue with Diotima thus becomes the ultimate expression of Plato’s own views, as the oration breaks down the power structures involved in erotic love and instead situates the topic in relation to philosophy.  

Hi! So I am taking a class this semester called “Inventing Socrates” (which I highly suggest to anyone at Tulane), and we have been reading a lot of Plato… which means….. We have been talking a lot about the subject of Eros and pederasty! So, I thought it would be a cool idea to post my recent response paper on Plato’s Symposium here on the blog.  

It’s a pretty long read, but essentially I am arguing that Socrates’ speech (and Diotima’s dialogue) destructs the binary hierarchies of eros portrayed by the other speakers, and thus brings erotic and philosophical endeavors together. 

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Although information regarding Greek homosexuality and pederasty is both varied and scant, most sources agree that pederasty as an institution began in the polis of Crete.  Aristotle, in his Politics, tells us:  “The Cretan lawgiver regarded abstemiousness as beneficial and devoted much ingenuity to securing it, as also to keeping down the birthrate by keeping men and women apart and by institutionalizing sexual relations between males” (qtd in Percy 59).  Sparta, the Dorian neighbor to Crete, began settling the island towards the end of the eighth century, establishing a series of cultural interactions and adoptions.  As Aristotle states, Crete not only had legalized homosexuality, but also had infused the practice into the wellbeing of the state and its constitution.  Lycurgus, lauded as the forefather of the Spartan constitution, was thought to have studied in Crete before introducing his famous reforms.  Thus, the institutionalization of pederasty can be traced to a Dorian cultural exchange between Crete and Sparta towards the end of the eighth century, becoming a catalyst for the famously heroic Spartan military (Percy 69-72).

The introduction of pederasty as a national institution is firmly stated in the Spartan Eunomia, which has become the term given to the entirety of Sparta’s political system.  The Eunomia laid out the number of hoplites trained in warfare (typically between 9,000 to 12,000), their relationship with the helot slave class, and the guidelines surrounding Sparta’s highly regimented military structure.  The institutionalization of the Spartan military system directly follows the destruction of the Second Messenian War, as the Spartans sought to control their current populace and guard against possible helot rebellions.  At the age of seven, boys were enrolled in military companies, where they trained together to become the most dangerous hoplite army in the Aegean. 

Spartan military training and hoplite warfare itself reinforced the institution of pederasty, as it became necessary for the survival of the Spartan polis.  Author William Percy summarizes it best, asserting:

Spartans sought to produce heroes who would fight unflinchingly in the phalanx.  The inspirer’s primary duty was to instill courage, loyalty, patriotism, and endurance in his listener.  A worthy and dedicated lover also inspired by example.  During battle, the peril, anguish, din, confusion, and blood put almost unbearable strain on the hoplite.  His chances of surviving the lethal clash of the phalanxes greatly increased if his fellows held steadfast, each protecting his own left and the exposed right side of his neighbor (87).

The Spartan institution of pederasty thus greatly increased the ties between these hoplite soldiers, a necessary bond for the system of warfare in which they were fighting.  Perhaps the earliest example of this type of Spartan lover-fighter bond is the relationship between Pausanias (famous for his victory at Plataea in 479), and his eromenos Argilius (See Thucydides 1.132).  It is hard to know how sensual these relationships truly were, given the lack of trustworthy and viable sources (Percy 88).  Although the sources vary, there were certain norms surrounding penetration, sexual acts, and relations with women – all of which I will be exploring in my next post (thus 10x more interesting than this obligatory history)! 

Source credit - 

Percy, William A. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1996. Print.

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People seem incredibly confused when it comes to the topic of Sparta.  For good reason, as Sparta was an incredibly closed-off society with little-to-no writings available for modern study. The best/funniest examples I found to voice this confusion is from Yahoo! Answers - These sorts of questions highlight the depth of frustration and bewilderment surrounding Sparta -

Were Those Spartans Depicted in ‘300’ All Homosexuals in the Real World? 

Why Do Some Gay People Say that the Spartans were Gay? 

The Spartans were… HOMOSEXUALS?!?!?

Is it True that in Sparta Homosexuality was Punishable by Death or Exile? 

Jokes, ignorance, and homophobia aside, most people are generally in the dark when it comes to their assumptions surrounding Sparta.  Compounded with the incredibly popular ‘300’ movie franchise, Sparta becomes a maelstrom of contradictions.  As such, I hope in the next couple of blog posts to shed some light on Sparta - both in terms of societal structure and its interaction with sexuality.  By rewatching ‘300’ (which was painful), I will attempt to highlight some interesting cinematic choices that revision the Greek city-state, creating the false-perception that dominates today’s discourse surrounding the polis.   

CREDIT