Greek homosexuality has been set upon a pedestal, deemed a worthy and respectable model for romance by philosophers, writers and lovers alike. The reality is, though, that love and sex for the queer community owe more to the ancient Romans. Their approach was grittier, dirtier and sometimes just as romantic. However, it’s an outlook on sex and love we are only now coming to embrace.
Ancient Greece’s appeal to gay men is much better known. Pioneering activists such as John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) and George Cecil Ives (1867-1950) turned to Greece as a respectable model. It offered them a legitimising precedent for elevated and spiritual love between men. They found this through platonic philosophy and historical and mythical examples of devoted lovers.
Greek love is celebrated in their work for “sublimity” and “aesthetic” appreciation of male beauty. However, when describing Roman love and erotic practices, words such as “gross”, “obscene”, and “lust” abound. To them, Roman homosexuality was not expressed with romantic love, but with riotous orgies. It is often linked to the notorious emperor Nero; a hedonistic ruler who married both women and men. He was a man who is believed to have enjoyed penetrating as much as he enjoyed being penetrated by his well-endowed husband.