(Socrates:)  Do you know of greater or keener pleasure than that associated with Aphrodite?

(Glaucon:)  I don’t, he said, nor yet of any more insane.

S:  But is not the right love a sober and harmonious love of the orderly and the beautiful?

G:  It is indeed, said he.

S:  Then nothing of madness, nothing akin to license, must be allowed to come nigh the right love?

G:  No.

S:  Then this kind of pleasure may not come nigh, nor may lover and beloved who rightly love and are loved have anything to do with it?

G:  No, by heaven, Socrates, he said, it must not come nigh them.

S:  Thus, then, as it seems, you will lay down the law in the city that we are founding, that the lover may kiss and pass the time with and touch the beloved as a father would a son, for honorable ends, if he persuade him.  But otherwise he must so associate with the objects of his care that there should never be any suspicion of anything further, on penalty of being stigmatized for want of taste and true musical culture.

G:  Even so, he said.

S:  Do you not agree, then, that our discourse on music has come to an end? It has certainly made a fitting end, for surely the end and consummation of culture is the love of the beautiful (Republic III 403a-c).


Ah, my friends, how difficult it seems to ensure that the working of an institution shall be as unquestionable as its theory!  Presumably it is with states as it is with human bodies – one cannot prescribe one definite treatment for one subject which involves no physically injurious consequences along with its beneficial effects.  For example, these physical exercises and common meals you speak of, though in many ways beneficial to a city, provide dangerous openings for faction, as is shown by the cases of the Milesians, Boeotians, and Thurians.  And, in particular, this practice is generally held to have corrupted the ancient and natural rule in the matter of sexual indulgence common to mankind with animals at large, and the blame for these corruptions may be charged, in the first instance, on your two cities and such others as are most devoted to physical exercises.  Whether these matters are to be regarded as sport, or as earnest, we must not forget that this pleasure is held to have been granted by nature to male and female when conjoined for the work of procreation; the crime of male with male, or female with female, is an outrage on nature and a capital surrender to lust of pleasure.  And you know it is our universal accusation against the Cretans that they were the inventors of the tale of Ganymede; they were convinced, we say, that their legislation came from Zeus, so they went on to tell this story against him that they might, if you please, plead his example for their indulgence in this pleasure too.  With the tale we have no further concern, but the pleasures and pains of communities and of private lives are as good as the whole subject of a study of jurisprudence. (Laws I 636a-d)

That was exactly my own meaning when I said I knew of a device for establishing this law of restricting procreative intercourse to its natural function by abstention from congress with our own sex, with its deliberate murder of the race and its wasting of the seed of life on a stony and rocky soil, where it will never take root and bear its natural fruit, and equal abstention from any female field whence you would desire no harvest (Laws VIII 838e-839a).

In his ‘Laws’, specifically in Book VIII, Plato, through the character of the Athenian, denounces sexual profligacy and liscentiousness of all sorts, including fornication outside marriage and homosexuality. Of the latter he says –

In a State such as this, how will the young abstain from those desires which frequently plunge many into ruin…If we were to follow in nature’s steps and enact that law which held good before the days of Laïus, declaring that it is right to refrain from indulging in the same kind of intercourse with men and boys as with women, and adducing as evidence thereof the nature of wild beasts, and pointing out how male does not touch male for this purpose, since it is unnatural, …shall we not plainly wish that the kind of love which belongs to virtue and desires the young to be as good as possible should exist within our State.

I maintain that our regulation on this head must go forward and proclaim that our citizens must not be worse than fowls and many other animals which are produced in large broods, and which live chaste and celibate lives without sexual intercourse until they arrive at the age for breeding; and when they reach this age they pair off, as instinct moves them, male with female and female with male; and thereafter they live in a way that is holy and just, remaining constant to their first contracts of love: surely our citizens should at least be better than these animals…..

The things I now mention are, perhaps, like the visionary ideals in a story; yet in very truth, if only they were realised, they would prove a great blessing in every State. Possibly, should God so grant, we might forcibly effect one of two things in this matter of sex-relations, — either that no one should venture to touch any of the noble and freeborn save his own wedded wife, nor sow any unholy and bastard seed in fornication, nor any unnatural and barren seed in sodomy, — or else we should entirely abolish love for males, and in regard to that for women, if we enact a law that any man who has intercourse with any women save those who have been brought to his house under the sanction of Heaven and holy marriage, whether purchased or otherwise acquired, if detected in such intercourse by any man or woman, shall be disqualified from any civic commendation, as being really an alien, — probably such a law would be approved as right. So let this law — whether we ought to call it one law or two — be laid down concerning sexual commerce and love affairs in general, as regards right and wrong conduct in our mutual intercourse due to these desires.Plato:Laws, Book VIII (835b – 842c)

In the first sentence quoted, Plato is decrying the sexual liberality which is too obvious in Greek society. He goes on to argue that there are unwritten rules, or laws, about what is sexually taboo, specifically incest and homosexuality, about which people have a natural revulsion. He then likens the concept of a natural revulsion for something to its operating as an unwritten law. However, the unwritten laws are often ignored and he wishes to give the unwritten law the full weight of written law. He concludes that the weight of popular opinion will see the Law enacted and enforced.

Nor was Plato alone. His views reflected those of his teacher, Socrates, and were in turn reflected by his student, Aristotle. Aristotle wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics, at 1138b30 that homosexuality was ‘brutish’ and beyond the limits of vice.

I’ll also mention the Greek playwrite Aristophanes, whose plays mercilessly portrayed the submissive partner in same sex acts as depraved, corrupted and decadent. His plays were written for public audiences and are thought to represent popular opinion.