Today I will discuss how Zeus relates to issues of gender and sexuality.
I don’t think Zeus gives a fuck – pun may be intended – about it. The myth of Ganymedes attests that Zeus had no qualms about taking male lovers. Zeus also seems to care more for one’s adherence to ethics and virtues, one’s honourableness, than who one sleeps with (other than when it breaks marital fidelity in case of women, or by sleeping with married women of a higher social station than oneself, more on that later).
Sexuality and gender identity were not categories the ancients thought in, both being rather recent ways of thinking about human sexuality and gender. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind several things in regards to homosexuality and gender in antiquity: it was mainly determined by one’s genitals, acting contrary to it was considered shameful and relegated one to the margins of society, marriage was purely for producing legitimate heirs for the husband to continue the family line and pass down inheritance, women were supposed to be faithful to their husbands and not sleep around with anyone (though if a husband was away on a war campaign for a long time it would probably be more accepted that the wife slept with other women, as this would not result in illegitimate children), and men could sleep around with anyone beneath their own social station.
Typically, that last scenario takes the form of a pederastic relationship with an elder lover/erastes who takes up the active role, as penetrating is manly and thus unsuited for the elder partner, and a younger beloved/eromenos, who takes up the passive role, as being penetrated is “lesser” and thus suited for the lesser partner in the relationship, like a wife or eromenos. This is all according to ancient ideas, by the way, I am not endorsing them in today’s world, I’ll get back to that.
This, at least, was the way it was in ancient Athens, but several things indicated other places in the Hellenic world had different ideas about it. Pederasty, for example, was forbidden by Spartan law in the military, to avoid commanders playing favourites with their soldiers. On the other hand, Thebes had a Sacred Band (Ἱερὸς Λόχος, Hieros Lokhos) of elite warriors consisting solely of homosexual male couples, consisting of an elder erastes and a younger eromenos. The idea behind this was that lovers would fight even more bravely so as not to appear weak or unmanly to their lover, as well as fight even more fiercely to protect their lover. Ploutarkhos writes that the appellation “sacred” stems from sacred vows exchanged between the lovers at the altar of Iolaos, one of the lovers/eromenoi of Herakles. And on the Aegean island of Astypalaia, a graffiti was discovered carved in rock, depicting a phallus and the message “Νικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίονα” meaning “Nikasitimos mounted Timion”. It is believed that the location, at the northwestern tip of the island, was near a soldiers garrison. This is the oldest homoerotic graffiti in the world that we know of and is unique in that it not only refers to sexual desire, but to the actual sexual deed itself.
On the Aegean island of Astypalaia, a graffiti was discovered carved in rock, depicting a phallus and the message “Νικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίονα” meaning “Nikasitimos mounted Timion”. It is believed that the location, at the northwestern tip of the island, was near a soldiers’ garrison. This is the oldest homoerotic graffiti in the world that we know of and is unique in that it not only refers to sexual desire, but to the actual sexual deed itself.
So far for ancient thoughts on the matter, now let’s see how it compares to modern ideas. Where the ancients viewed marriage as between a man and a woman specifically for the purpose of procreating with legitimate heirs to the husband as result, this would make marriage equality moot to the ancients. Nowadays, however, despite the protestations of fundamentalist Christians or Muslims, marriage in the Western world is viewed as a bond between two people, regardless of whether they produce offspring or whether they even want offspring. Thus the ancient attitude is irrelevant to us. Marriage isn’t about procreation, so there is no point to preventing same-sex couples from marrying beyond antiquated ideas among conservatives clinging to outdated modes of life. This has led to marriage equality in many Western countries, most recently Germany. We can only hope Australia soon joins the ranks after their ridiculous and time-wasting postal plebiscite on the matter.
Ancient ideas about the superiority of the active, penetrating role and the lesser, passive role are equally outdated. Surprisingly, they do remain firmly in place in the gay and bi male community, out of all places, with fem-shaming and bottom-shaming as a result. Going into this would lead too far astray from what I’m actually writing about, but you can check out the documentary Queer Britain on BBC Three’s YouTube page, which addresses this issue and others.
What I want to say is this: we have started defining sexuality and gender identity in different ways that the ancients did, to better understand and describe the world, and for people who are not heterosexual or cisgender, to better define ourselves. Recognising these parts of human nature, our increased and better understanding of human sexuality and gender necessitates us to think about it differently than the ancients did than the ancients could. We cannot resort to the ancients’ ideas about these subjects because we know better, and shouldn’t try. There is no shame in being a feminine or effeminate man, being a masculine women or tomboy, to prefer being a bottom, to be born in the wrong body, to identify as something in between the two genders our society has long held up as the only two in existence, etc. Even if such antiquated attitudes still linger or persist, we know better. And in my opinion, so do the Gods, and in this case, so does Zeus.
Zeus if Father to all. Everyone is His subject, in His care, and I don’t think sexuality or gender means a damn thing to Him.
I know I kind of went on a rather wide tangent, making this post more into a short essay on ancient and modern views of sexuality and gender, but I thought it necessary. I am also aware I have mostly addressed cisgender homosexuality in this post, which is what I am most familiar with. This is because, while I know of some issues faced by and peculiar to female homosexuals, or trans people of all genders, I feel less comfortable talking about those because I am not a member of any of those communities and thus would be less ideal to formulate those issues and discuss them confidently. Whence my sticking mostly to my own community, cisgender homosexuals.