Women in Ancient Greece were sequestered with each other, and men with men. In this homosocial environment erotic and sexual relationships between males were common and recorded in literature, art, and philosophy. Hardly anything is recorded about homosexual activity between women. Nevertheless, there is some speculation that similar relationships existed between women and girls.
Much of the daily lives of women in ancient Greece is unknown, specifically their expressions of sexuality. Although men participated in pederastic relationships outside of marriage, there is no clear evidence that women were allowed or encouraged to have same-sex relationships before or during marriage as long as their marital obligations were met.
Women who appear on Greek pottery are depicted with affection, and in instances where women appear only with other women, their images are eroticized: bathing, touching one another, with dildos placed in and around such scenes, and sometimes with imagery also seen in depictions of heterosexual marriage or pederastic seduction. Whether this eroticism represents an accurate representation of life in ancient Greece is unknown.
There are a few sources available to us however, here is an excerpt of a play by the poet Lucian of Samosata (CE 125 – after CE 180) which illustrates a view on lesbianism in ancient Greece:
I love you as much as I love any woman, but she’s terribly like a man.
I don’t understand what you mean, unless she’s a sort of woman for the ladies. They say there are women like that in Lesbos, with faces like men, and unwilling to consort with men, but only with women, as though they themselves were men.
It’s something like that.
Well, tell me all about it; tell me how she made her first advances to you. How you were persuaded, and what followed?
She herself and another rich woman, with the same accomplishments, Demonassa from Corinth were organising a drinking party, and had taken me along to provide them with music. But, when I had finished playing, and it was late and time to turn inand they were drunk, Megilla said, “Come along Leaena, it’s high time we were in bed; you sleep here between us.”
And did you? What happened after that?
At first they kissed me like men, not simply bringing their lips to mine, but opening their mouths a little, embracing me, and squeezing my breasts. Demonassa even bit me as she kissed, and I didn’t know what to make of it. […] “And do you find these desires enough?” said I. “If you don’t believe me Leaena,” said she, ” just give me a chance, and you’ll find I’m as good as any man; I have a substitute of my own. Only give me a chance, and you’ll see.”
Well I did, my dear, because she begged so hard and presented me with a costly necklace, and a very fine linen dress. Then I threw my arms around her as though she were a man, and she went to work, kissing me, and panting, and apparently enjoying herself immensely.
What did she do? How? That’s what I’m most interested to hear.
Don’t enquire too closely into the details; they’re not very nice; so, by Aphrodite in heaven, I won’t tell you!
- Lucian of Samosata, Dialogues of the Courtesans (Section 5; Leaena and Clonarium)