Lesbianism in Ancient Greece


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.

Aphrodite on a swan. Tondo from an Attic white...

Aphrodite on a swan, in Kameiros, Rhodes.

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:

Leaena
I love you as much as I love any woman, but she’s terribly like a man.

Clonarium
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.

Leaena
It’s something like that.

Clonarium
Well, tell me all about it; tell me how she made her first advances to you. How you were persuaded, and what followed?

Leaena
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.”

Clonarium
And did you? What happened after that?

Leaena
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.

Clonarium
What did she do? How? That’s what I’m most interested to hear.

Leaena
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)

See other: Hall of Fame Posts

See other: Admin’s Choice Posts

Priapus


Priapus, in Greek religion, a god of animal and vegetable fertility whose originally Asian cult started in the Hellespontine regions, centring especially on Lampsacus.

English: Fresco of Priapus, Casa dei Vettii, P...

Fresco of Priapus, Casa dei Vettii, Pompeii

He was represented in a caricature of the human form with an enormous phallus. An ass was sacrificed in his honour, probably because the ass symbolized lecherousness and was associated with the god’s sexual potency.

He was also honoured as the protector of sheep, goats, bees, the vine and of all garden produce.

In Greek mythology his father was Dionysus, the wine god; his mother was either a local nymph or Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Statues of Priapus were often hung with signs bearing epigrams, collected in Priapeia, which threatened sexual assault towards transgressors of the boundaries that he protected:

‘I warn you, boy, you will be screwed; girl, you will be fucked; a third penalty awaits the bearded thief. If a woman steals from me, or a man, or a boy, let the first give me her cunt, the second his head, the third his buttocks. My dick will go through the middle of boys and the middle of girls, but with bearded men it will aim only for the top.’

Williams. C.A. 1999. Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity, Oxford University Press. p. 21

In Hellenistic times Priapus’ worship spread throughout the ancient world. Sophisticated urban society tended to regard him with ribald amusement, but in the country he was adopted as a god of gardens, his statue serving as a combined scarecrow and guardian deity. He was also the patron of seafarers and fishermen and of others in need of good luck; his presence was thought to avert the evil eye.

In later antiquity, his worship meant little more than a cult of sophisticated pornography.

Anasyrma


Anásyrma or anasyrmós is the gesture of lifting up the skirt. It is used in connection with certain stories in Greek mythology, religious rituals, eroticism, and lewd jokes.

Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914),

A statue of Aphrodite Kallipygos

The term is used in describing corresponding works of art. Anasyrma differs from flashing, a physically similar gesture as an act of exhibitionism, in that an exhibitionist has an implied purpose of his/her own sexual arousal, while anasyrma is only done for the effect on the onlookers.

Anasyrma may be a deliberately provocative self-exposing of one’s genitals or buttocks. The famous example of the latter case is Aphrodite Kallipygos ‘Aphrodite of the beautiful buttocks’. In many traditions this gesture also has an apotropaic character, as a mockery towards an enemy.

See other: Hall of Fame Posts