What would the Greeks have thought of gay marriage?
Gathering a comprehensive view of the ancient Greeks and, especially, their positions on homosexuality, sodomy, et al. has been challenging for me. Of course, I find their culture fascinating and edifying but in regard to their practice of pederasty am utterly repulsed. While sorting through the historical narratives, which necessarily carry biases, and seemingly contradictory quotes by figures like Plato, I found this article extremely interesting. However, I’m not one to jump aboard any perspective so readily, even if it sounds to my liking: so, while I wholly agree with Reilly’s conclusion that the Greeks would absolutely reject “gay marriage,” I’m not totally convinced by a number of his beginning interpretations. Thankfully, that does not interfere with his actual argument. The only real criticism I have with it is him implying that the gay agenda wants to “propose homosexual relationships as the basis for marriage” in society. This would draw sharp rebuttal from the Left, and I think justifiably because they are, after all, calling (erroneously) for same-sex relations to be recognized as “equal” to natural, man-woman relations. Or, essentially, that sexuality, as society regards it, have no standards whatsoever, which is obviously not the same as homosexuality as a paradigm. Ah, relativism, equality — what’s the difference, right? Anyway, read it for yourself!
The very idea of Nature and natural law arose as a product of this philosophy, whose first and perhaps greatest exponents, Socrates and Plato, were unambiguous in their condemnation of homosexual acts as unnatural. In the Laws, Plato’s last book, the Athenian speaker says that, “I think that the pleasure is to be deemed natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust.” (Laws636C; see also Symposium of Xenophon, 8:34, Plato’s Symposium, 219B-D).
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In the Laws, Plato makes clear that moral virtue in respect to sexual desire is not only necessary to the right order of the soul, but is at the heart of a well-ordered polis. The Athenian speaker says:
“… I had an idea for reinforcing the law about the natural use of the intercourse which procreates children, abstaining from the male, not deliberately killing human progeny or ‘sowing in rocks and stones’, where it will never take root and be endowed with growth, abstaining too from all female soil in which you would not want what you have sown to grow.
“This law when it has become permanent and prevails—if it has rightly become dominant in other cases, just as it prevails now regarding intercourse with parents— confers innumerable benefits. In the first place, it has been made according to nature; also, it effects a debarment from erotic fury and insanity, all kinds of adultery and all excesses in drink and food, and it makes man truly affectionate to their own wives: other blessings also would ensue, in infinite number, if one could make sure of this law” (The Laws 838-839).
The central insight of classical Greek philosophy is that the order of the city is the order of the soul writ large. If there is disorder in the city, it is because of disorder in the souls of its citizens. This is why virtue in the lives of the citizens is necessary for a well-ordered polis. This notion is reflected in the Athenian’s statement concerning the political benefits of the virtue of chastity.
The relationship between virtue and political order is, of course, par excellence, the subject of Aristotle’s works. It was a preoccupation of not only philosophy, but of drama as well. Just read The Bacchae by Euripides. Euripides and the Classical Greeks knew that Eros is not a plaything. In The Bacchae, as brilliantly explicated by E. Michael Jones, Euripides showed exactly how unsafe sex is when disconnected from the moral order. When Dionysus visits Thebes, he entices King Penthius to view secretly the women dancing naked on the mountainside in Dionysian revelries. Because Penthius succumbs to his desire to see “their wild obscenities,” the political order is toppled, and the queen mother, Agave, one of the bacchants, ends up with the severed head of her son Penthius in her lap — an eerie premonition of abortion.
The lesson is clear: Once Eros is released from the bonds of family, Dionysian passions can possess the soul. Giving in to them is a form of madness because erotic desire is not directed toward any end that can satisfy it. It is insatiable. “That which causes evil in the soul” – in which Plato includes homosexual intercourse – will ultimately result in political disorder.
For Aristotle, the irreducible core of a polity is the family. Thus, Aristotle beginsThe Politics not with a single individual, but with a description of a man and a woman together in the family, without which the rest of society cannot exist. As he says in The Politics, “first of all, there must necessarily be a union or pairing of those who cannot exist without one another.” Later, he states that “husband and wife are alike essential parts of the family.”
Without the family, there are no villages, which are associations of families, and without villages, there is no polis. “Every state is [primarily] composed of households,” Aristotle asserts. In other words, without households – meaning husbands and wives together in families – there is no state. In this sense, the family is the pre-political institution. The state does not make marriage possible; marriage makes the state possible. Homosexual marriage would have struck Aristotle as an absurdity since you could not found a polity on its necessarily sterile relations. This is why the state has a legitimate interest in marriage, because, without it, it has no future.