Does sexuality have a past?

From the Greek erôs to contemporary sexuality: a modern question in the ancient world
By Sandra Boehringer

Perspectives on love and sexuality in the Ancient Greek and Roman societies differ greatly from those of contemporary western societies, in that the sexual identity of individuals has little bearing on the characterization of erotic life and pleasure. In ancient poetry (7th–6th century BCE), the poets emphasize especially the effects and the force of eros, referring to the way the lover’s body is affected and the paradoxical sensations he or she experiences (feelings of dissolution, losing oneself, feelings of loveliness). In this context, emotion and desire are the characteristics of love between older and younger men, between women, between a woman and man, without discrimination. In the 4th century, a passage of the Symposium, which has become famous for its portrayal of the figure of the “androgynous”, Plato elaborates a philosophical myth which, far from explaining the origin of anachronistic “heterosexuality” or “homosexuality”, displayes the aspects of an eros as a lifeforce. Looking at the ancient world using the concept of gender as our tool enables us to historicize the categories of sex and sexuality and thus highlight the cultural and constructed dimension – the political dimension – of contemporary sexuality.

  • desire
  • love
  • eros
  • sexuality
  • poetry
  • Alcman
  • Sappho
  • Anacreon
  • Pindaros
  • Plato
  • Antiquity
  • Greece
  • Rome
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