For instance, in ancient Greece, Olympic athletes were required to compete "in the nude." This was because, we were taught, females were not allowed to participate, and the nudeness would allow all present at the games to confirm that they were watching men. By looking at the ding-dongs.
Of course, sometimes you had to take what you were being taught with a grain of salt. We learned about all the ridiculous superstitions, misapprehensions and cruelties that were perpetuated by previous generations (the Earth is flat, cats suck the breath out of babies, slavery is cool), and yet somehow we were supposed to trust that everything our un-savvy teachers were parroting from our textbooks was the unquestionable truth?
Let's return to the example of the ancient Olympics. Even back in high school I didn't quite buy the explanation for the compulsory nudity at the games. The Greeks were pretty sharp cats; did they really think that in order to verify the gender of the participants it was necessary to ban clothing entirely from the games? Was there not some other more pervy motive at hand? I mean, it would have been sufficient to have the athletes step out of the stables or whatever, "drop toga" (as they used to say in ancient Greek frat-houses), turn once around and give a quick show for everybody present in the Acropolis or the Coliseum or the parking lot at the Greek diner or wherever they played the games, then put on a loincloth (or "crotch toga"), and grab a pole. For vaulting, of course.
Ever wonder why the ancient Greeks didn't set any lasting world records? (I know for a fact that they didn't, because I went down to Brooklyn's Borough Hall and checked the records, including the microfiche.) There's a simple reason, and it's not just that the ancient Hellenics lacked the performance enhancements afforded by today's gel insoles: put simply, you just can't run that fast with your big, fat, Greek dangle slapping all around. And wrestling? Forget it—either your wang is going to get squashed into the dirt by a hairy knee, or it's going to wind up as erect as a Doric column, because after all, you're a naked, sweaty, ancient (in a youthful way) Greek trying to wrangle another naked ancient Greek down onto the floor.
Wait, am I saying that everyone in Greece back then was gay? Well, no, not exactly. It's just that the ancient Greeks believed in moderation in all things. Including having sex with young boys. But more of that in a minute. Let me first state for the record: based on the absurd clothing moratorium, I think it's clear that the ancient Greeks were less concerned with spurring athletes on to their best performances than they were with watching glistening, pantsless, perfectly proportioned boys tussling with each other in the sand.
Now, concerning the topics of Hellenic homosexuality, pederasty, and moderation (moderation was the equation, or "Grecian Formula," if you will, by which all aspects of life were kept in balance), the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very enlightening. First of all, the democratically-inclined Grecos were not nearly as uptight about sex as are those of us of Judeo-Christian-Catholo-Puritan heritage: "As has been frequently noted," notes the S.E.P., "the ancient Greeks did not have terms or concepts that correspond to the contemporary dichotomy of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’."
Moreover, for the idealistic, aesthetically-minded Greeks,
Probably the most frequent assumption of sexual orientation is that persons can respond erotically to beauty in either sex. ... Even though the gender that one was erotically attracted to (at any specific time, given the assumption that persons will likely be attracted to persons of both sexes) was not important, other issues were salient, such as whether one exercised moderation.
The old-timey Grecians, you see, were not bothered with arbitrary judgments and Puritanical mores; rather, they were dedicated to the ideals of beauty, truth, and moderation. Which brings us to the young boys.
The cultural ideal of a same-sex relationship was between an older man, probably in his 20's or 30's, known as the erastes, and a boy whose beard had not yet begun to grow, the eromenos or paidika. In this relationship there was courtship ritual, involving gifts (such as a rooster), and other norms. The erastes had to show that he had nobler interests in the boy, rather than a purely sexual concern. The boy was not to submit too easily, and if pursued by more than one man, was to show discretion and pick the more noble one.
I always thought it had to do with a big wooden horse (that's what they done learned us in school!), but apparently "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" was really about older men plying you with farm animals in an attempt to get into your prepubescent crotch-toga.
We frown on such behavior today, especially in public, but if one were so inclined one could excuse the naughty, reprehensible acts of many of our clergy members, Scout leaders, and elected officials by viewing them in the context of this historical continuum. By way of example, one might suggest (though hopefully only for the purposes of comedy, of course), that the practice of Washington D.C. House members having inappropriate contact with Congressional pages is in fact the continuation of one of the earliest traditions of Democracy.
Mark Foley: disgraced perv-wad or champion of true democracy, ancient Greek-style? Tune in next time!