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Many of the most famous names to come down to us in history from the Greek world have been same-sex attracted – from bisexual Alexander the Great whose father Phillip destroyed the all-gay Sacred Band of Thebes to the philosophers Plato and Socrates.Few lesbian voices come to us from the ancient world but the lyric poet Sappho is a notable exception and her love poems for other women speak down to us through the ages.There was no taboo on it occurring between men and women and it was the most reliable form of contraception available so would have been a regular part of the sex lives of any married couple.

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But as both societies were intensely patriarchal what was important in sexual relationships was the status of who did the penetrating and their age.

In this world the notion of sex between two grown men was deeply taboo as it was seen to reduce the passive partner to the level of a woman.

Heartbroken, Hadrian had Antinous declared a god, built temples to him all over the empire, named a star after him and built a city in Egypt, Antinopolis, in his honor.

When the Roman Empire became Christian the temples of the cult of Antinous were destroyed – though many of the statues ended up in the Vatican art collections where they were seen by the artist Raphael, who used his likeness when painting angels as his model of male perfection.

Indeed if the Greeks and Romans did not outlaw it, it was because the shame of the act was punishment enough – though the weight of shame fell mostly on the penetrated.

Last modified 07-Nov-2019 15:03