I’m not gonna lie: during my high school years, ancient Greece was my ace in the hole to win the discussions with homophobes. I mean, dear Xx_WhitePride86 going on hating on the forums, aren’t you having a little hard time trying to convince me “gays ruined the society” while one of the flourishing eras of history was known to be queer-friendly?
Still, there was a big hole among the evidence in my favor: theater. Classic-era theater seemed not to have a place for homosexual or bisexual heroes, who, on the other hand, were more than frequent in poetry and epic. Not that my pal Xx_WhitePride86 actually cared. I must confess I was still quite upset about it.
The book Homosexuality in ancient Greece (1979), by K.J. Dover, contains long and deep analysis on the few known fragments of ancient poetry, such as Theognis’ ones for his lover Cyrnus and Anacreon’s for Bathyllus, mentioning theater little to zero. It’s nonsense to think that homosexual love was widely accepted but not represented on stage, keeping in mind the Greeks considered theater as a tool to promote the society’s values, central in raising citizens, who even had the duty to attend to some shows.
Actually, among the great dramatists, the one who went the closest to talking explicitly about homosexuality was Euripides. But he didn’t do that as a dramatist, but as a character in the play Thesmophoriazusae by Aristophanes, who used to make fun out of notable people in his works. The lines the playwright from Athens makes him say are directed to his colleague Agathon, and by reading them with the current sensibility, they look like an article published in The Sun.
So the tables have turned? Greek theater didn’t just support LGBT+ issues, but was homophobic too?
A recent publication of the well-known Carleton College says: no. The digs to the poor Agathon weren’t on his sexual preferences, but about his feminine look and his ‘passivity’, both sexual and emotional. This alone would be enough to say Aristophanes was not a homophobe; we could, at least, say he was the produce of a macho, patriarchal society. Still, let’s not forget comedy has, as a genre, often no heroes the audience identifies its values with. Euripides and the even more ‘bigot’ kingsman are ridiculed several times, sometimes for their very obsession with masculinity.
So, it looks like between the 4th and the 5th century B.C., homosexuality was accepted enough to even joke about it. The first LGBT+ dramatist in the book, as far as we know today, wrote comedies. That’s why the inspiration we hand out this week to the prize’s participants is: can we talk about rights, homophobia, and discrimination, even by getting a laugh from the audience?