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Crompton+1994+An+Army+of+Lovers

Crompton+1994+An+Army+of+Lovers - Male bonding — Achilles...

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Unformatted text preview: Male bonding — Achilles dressing Patroclus‘ wounds: an example of male love in wartime from Homer's epic poem on the Fall of Troy. ‘Perish miserably they who think that these men did or als make good soldiers has been a controversial issue in many Western countries in the twentieth century. M05t NATO nations accept them in their military establishments: Britain. Turkey and Portugal do men. The question whether homosexu- suffered aught disgraceful’ - Louis Crompton argues that male love and military prowess went hand in hand in classical Greece. ‘ANARMY OF LOVERS’ THE SACRED BAND OF THEBES In the United States homosexuals" right to serve has sparked a heated debate on a national scale, recently resolved in favour of a controversial “don‘t tell‘ policy which allows gays and lesbians to enlist provided they do not divulge their sexual orienta- NUVEMEER [994 , ‘_-_ tion. Given these often negative atti- tudes, it is intriguing to note that in ancient times, one Greek ctsy state actuailpecruited areg'tmefltmf male lovers, the so-called Sacred Band of Thebes. Modern historians, mainly enncerned with the achievements of Athens and Sparta, have paid little attention to their story, but it is a remarkable one, told in some detail by. Plutarch. In ancient Greece. Alcaeus, Anacre- on and Pindar celebrated love between males in lyric poetry. Aeschy- lus, writing of the love of Achilles for Patrodus in his tragedy, The Myrmi- dons, dramatised its heroic possibili- ties. Philosophers hailed maledove-as a sour-egg: inspiration and followed Plato in decffi'fi'gz'or Zeno in approv- ing, its physical expression. Cities with 25 H ISTU RY TO DAY every kind of constitution took notice of its influence and directed it to their own political ends. Oligarchies, where an aristocracy or a wealthy'few held sway, recognised its power to forge bonds between youths and older men- tors within the ruling class. (This was the case in Sparta and in Theognis’ Megara). Democracies like Athens, on the other hand, saw in male love a bul- wark against oppression, and traced the redestahlishment-ofipepuiaeiree- dom to- awfamous male" icouple, the tyrannicides, Aristogiton and Hat-mod- ins. But the major source of its pres- tige was the Greeks.’ conviction that such relanmshtpsmsldsmnmmue- effecdvelyiotmilitarx morale. Homer’s account in the Iliad of Achilles’ devotion to Patroclus - espe- cially his willingness to risk his life in avenging his dead comrade — exer- cised an enduring influence on Greek culture. This was a potent, if leg- endary, tradition of love that inspired valour in battle. But what of real histov ry as opposed to epic poetry? The ear-9 liest documented instance of it’lealisedD homosexual love in a. militant context appears to be an episode recorded by Plutarch. The incident took place in the so—called Lelantine War between Chalcis and Eretria, two cities of Euboea, the island that hugs the east— ern coast of Greece, paralleling the line of the Attic peninsula. Unfortu- nately we cannot date the Lelantine War with any exactitude - historians, guessing, place it about 700 BC. Plutarch, in his ‘Dialogue on Love’, tells us that one side, the Chalcidians, won a victory because of the courage of a general named Cleomachus, who led their Thessalian allies: His beloved was there and Cleomachus asked him if he was going to witness the battle. The youth said he was, embraced Cleomachus tenderly and put on his helmet for him. Filled with ardour, Cleomachus assembled the bravest of the Thessalians about him- self, made a fine charge, and fell upon their enemy with such vigour that their cavalry was thrown into confusion and thoroughly routed. When subsequently their hoplites also fled, the Chalcidians had a decisive victory. it was, however, Cleomachus' bad fortune to be killed in the battle. The Calchidians point to his tomb in the market-place with the great pillar standing on it till this day [i.e. (LADIOOL Plutarch tells us that the Chal‘cidi- ans, before this, had disapproved of pederasty but after this victory they emisusiastically embraced it. By Plato’s day, the idea that love of other men made warriors brave in battle had become a popular cliche in Greek society. It is not surprising, 24 Manly virtues - boxers and wrestlers depicted on an mph-om c550 BC. Athletic and military training in classical Greece was closely aligned with a homoerotic environment which also included the ritual meals or symposia (one such illustrated below in a fresco from the Greek city-state of Paestum) — the occasion on which Plato's Phaedrus praises the concept of an ‘army of lovers‘. therefore, that Plato had Phaedrus, in the opening speech of the Sympo- sium, praise love in this fashion: For i know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover, than a beloved youth. For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would live nobly a that principle, I say, neither kindred, nbr honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest. at such a time; Love would inspire him. Uninformed modern readers, com- ing upon this rhapsocly, are likely to discount Phaedrus’ notion of an army of lovers as a flight of pure fancy. But the fact is that within a decade of Plato’s penning of this speech (usual- ly supposed to have been written about 385 BC) such a military force came into being. The army that incarnatcd Phaedrus’ heroic ideal was, of course, the so- callcd Sacred Band of Thebes. This force, created by the Theban general Gorgidas in about 378- BC, was made up, we are told, of 150 pairs of lovers who at first fought interspersed throughout other regiments. Later, under Gorgidas successor, Pelopidas, they fought as a separate contingent of shock troops. Their success was to make Thebes for forty years the mest powerful state in Greece, and their fate was in the end the fate of Greece itself. Theban tradition easily sanctioned such an institution. Thebes, the prin- cipal city of Boeotia, and fills, the town near Olympia where athletes trained for the games, are repeatedly cited as the two states of the Greek mainland which most unqualifiedly encouraged homosexual relations. Xenophon in his Constitution of Sparta observed that such pairings were transitory at Elis but that at Thebes men and boys lived together in a kind of publicly recognised mar- riage. The cult of Heracles was espe- cially strong in BOeotia. Not surpris- ingly, it was Heracles and his young lover and companion-in-arm's Iolaus who became the patrons of male love at Thebes. Aristotle, in a lost work, described a sacred 'tomb of Iolaus’ in Thebes where Boeotian lovers plight- ed mutual devotion. Plutarch thought the Sacred Band derived its name from this rite, which he notes was still a part of Theban life in his own day some four centuries later. (Two thou- sand years 113.“: changed the moral geography of Europe; male lovers seeking civic recognition of their rela- tionships now find it not in sunny, conservative Greece, but in Norway and Denmark). In 404 the Peloponnesian War had come to an end after twenty-seven wearis‘ome years with the total defeat of Athens by Sparta. Unfortunately, the victors misused the power peace brought them. Sparta wielded its new hegemony harshly, imposing oli- Outrage against oppression: Aristogiton and Harmodios — lovers and role-models for partisans of democracy because of their attempt to overthrow the Athenian tyranny in 514 BC. NOVEMBER 1994 garchic rulers favourable to Spartan interests on states that had formerly had democratic regimes. Among these was Thebes where, in 582, a Spartan commander treacherously seized the citadel and installed new pro-Spartan leaders. Three years later democratic Theban exiles under Peiopidas returned and recaptured the fortress in a daring coup which drove out the Spartans. Conflict with the most formidable military regime in Greece now seemed inevitable. At this crucial juncture Gorgi'das organised the Sacred Band, turning the fantasy of the Symposium into a military reality about Seven years after its writing. Plutarch, who was born and lived in the tiny village of Chaeronea some twenty miles west of Thebes, was par- ticularly interested in Boeotian tradi- tions. Thus it is that his biography of 25 'Hts‘rfix‘t toast 0 Megalopeiis Mm Pelop‘idas gives-us a unique descrip— tion of the Sacred Band. Throughout all his writings Plutarch can be- count ed on to give special attention to. male love affairs: they are a recurrent theme in his Lines and in his moral essays. 'In the ‘Life‘ of'Pelopidas‘ he shows himself Very conscious of the peculiar esteem Thebes granted to these passions, and is at pains to trace their history. Among the various leg- ends of the birth of pederasty (which usually ascribed its introduction either to gods like: Zeus or to culmral heroes like Mines or Orpheus), one story traced its origin to the abduction of the boy Chrysippus by Oedipus.i father, Laius, King of Thebes. Plutarch was clearly unhappyr with this legend, since it made the Theban tradition begin with a brutal rape. He denies that this Was the root of local custom. Instead he makes the institutionalisa- tion- of male love in Thebes a con— scious decision on the part of its civic- authorities. Finding Theb'an' youth unruly and uncouth, Plutarch tells us, the city’s rulers sought to ‘relax and mollify their strong and impetuous natures in earliest boyhood’. To this harmoniOus end, they decided to- trai'n them in. music and ‘give love a conspicuous place in the life of the palaestra [the civic wresding school], thus tempering the dispositions of the young men‘. Gorgidas, the first commander of the Band, must have been killed in some skirmish shortly after its inau- guration, for the next year its leader- ship passed to Pelopidas, the young 26 Theban who had led the exiles in their assault on the citadel. Now under siege by the Spartans, the The- bans at first hesitated to challenge their redoubtable enemies in a formal battle. But having come unexpectedly 'upon a. Spartan force during a recon- noitering. expedition at Tegyrae, Belopidas daringly attacked. Though the Spartans outnumbered them two- or three to one, his spirited leader- ship won the day. Plutarch thought the occasion notable: For in all their wars with Greeks-rand Barbarians, as it would seem, never before had 'Lacedaemonians in superior- numbers have been over-powered by an inferior force, not, indeed, in a pitched battle where the forces were evenly matched. Hence they were of- an irre- sistible courage, and when they. came to close quarters their reputation suf- ficed to terrify their opponents, who also, on their part, thought themselves no match forSpartans with an equal force. This unexpected victory gave the The- bans new hope by suggesting that the Spartans were not, after all, invincible, Plutarch called the undefeated Pelopidas. ‘valiant, laborious, passion- ate, and magnanitn'ous‘. But his fame was eventually eclipsed by another Theban, his friend Epaminondas. Epaminondas‘ life contrasted with Pelopidas’ in several ways. Pelopid-as, though he lived modestly, was wealthy; Epaminondas, despite his renown, remained poor till the day of his death. Pelopidas married and” had children, Epaminondas died a bache. 1011‘. At the time the citadel was seized Epaminondas was looked upon as a scholarly reclusen devOted disciple of the Pythagorean sage, Lysis of Tat- entum, who had settled in Thebes, he divided his time between exercise in the gymnasium, lectures and philoso- phy. He declined to participate in the assassination of the Spartanising The- bans, but once the revolt began he joined Pelop‘id‘as in rte—establishing democracy.. Early in their Careers he bravely risked his life to save his wounded friend. Though they com- peted f0r glory on the same narrow stage they were never rivals, an unusual circumstance among the jeal- nus Greeks. Ep‘aminondas nowdevel- oped into an orator and statesman as well as a soldier. indeed, it was he who, at a general peate conference in 37‘], challenged Sparta‘s overlordship of the Peloponnesus. In retaliation the Spartan king, Agesilaus, angrily excluded Thebes from the peace treaty. Thebes hastily prepared for full-scale war. The battle that tried the issue between Sparta and Thebes was one of the most decisive in Greek hisrory. Pausanias called it ‘the most famous [victory] ever won by Greeks over Greeks’. It took place'at Leuctra in 371. On the battlefield Epaminon'das devised 'a new manoeuvre. He strengthened his left wing‘and, hold— ing his right Wing back, attacked the Spartans obliquely, throwing them into confusion. Then Pelopidas led the Sacred Band to the charge and smashed the squadron commanded by the Spartan eo-k-i-ng, Cleombrotus, who was killed on the field. 'Epaminondas’ current lover, Asopichus, also won fame in the bat- tle. He put up so formidable a fight that, as Pluta'rch relates, a soldier who later dared to engage him in single combat was on this account granted heroic honours by the Phocian's. Their defeat at Leuctr—a desrroyed at a blow. the military supremacy the Spartans had enjoyed for centuries in Greece- In the wake of his victory, Epaminondas invaded the Pelopon- nesus, freed the provinces of Messe- n‘ia and Arcadia from the Spartan yoke, and carried the war into the suburbs of the city; this was the first siege the Spartans had suffered dur- ing the GOG-years since they had occu- pied the Peloponnesus following the Dorian invasion. Thebes was now the leading power in Greece. The victorious Epam-inondas acted with a magn-animity that contrasted strikingly with Spartan tyranny. Though the hegemony of Greece now fell to Thebes, he declined to subject other cities to Theban domination and pillage as the Spartans and Athe- nians had done earlier when they wielded power. No doubt he had the intelligence to realise that the eco- nomic and military resources of Thebes would not have sustained this enterprise. As a result he won a unique fame as a liberator rather than. a conqueror. Classical and modern historians alike have joined to salute Epaminon- das as Greece's greatest warrior- statesman. [t was the opinion of Diodorus Siculus (who wrote in the age of Julius Caesar) that Epaminon- das ‘excelled all Greeks in valour and shrewdness in the art of war'. Diodorus ranked him above Solon, Themistocles, Miltiades, Cimon, Peri- cles and Agesilaus in generalship and reputation: For in each of the others you would discover but one particular superiority as a claim to fame; in him, however. all qualities combined. For in strength of body and eloquence of speech. further- more in elevation of mind. contempt of lucre. fairness. and, most of all, courage and shrewdness in the art of war. he far surpassed them all. Diodorus was a Sicilian Greek and perhaps partial. but his Latin contem— porary. Cornelius Nepos, a man of a totally different traditions, was if any- thing, even more eulogistic. in an essay in his Book of the Great Com— manders Nepos assumes that Roman readers will look askance at Epaminondas’ reputation as a musi- cian and dancer, but begs them to remember that the Greeks esteemed such frivoljties. But he praises with- out apology Epaminondas‘ intellectu- al and athletic prowess and finds he meets Roman standards of temper- ance, prudence and seriousness: he was ‘practised in war, of great person- al courage and high spirit‘ and ‘such a lover of truth that he never lied even in jest'. One part of his character was quite unclassical (if we except Caesar): ‘he was self-controlled, kind- ly and forbearing to a surprising degree’. Nepos acclaims him as one of the few successful Greek military leaders whose integrity was equal to his talent. His contemporary Cicero agreed. Discussing the influence of culture and philosophy on such lead- ers as Pisistratus, Pericles, Timotheus and Agesilaus in his De Oratore. Cicero hailed Epaminondas as ‘per- haps the most outstanding figure in Greek history”. Theban pre-eminence lasted only as long as Epaminondas lived. Pelopi- das had led a force north to free the people of Thessaly from the vicious (Right) The hero’s farew'vell — an illustration from a 5th-Ccntury BC amphora now in the Louvre. (Below) An illustration of hopljt'es from a funeral stele. Theban success with the Sacred Band may have been a combination of its tightly-knit nature but also Epamlnondas' development of new battle tactics. Ni iVEMBER l 994 27 HISTORY TODAY tyranny of Alexander of Pheras. Dar- ing as ever, he was killed in 364 in a rash attempt to engage Alexander in single combat. The Thessalians mourned, and granted their would-be liberator heroic honours. In the meantime the weakening of Sparta left the PelopOnnesus in turmoil. Rival factions in Arcadia summoned Thebes and Sparta to. their aid and Epaminondas once more found him- self face to face with his old foes at Mantinea in 362. His brilliant strategy again routed the Spartans, but at a fatal cost. Diodorus tells a story of his death. Pierced by a spear, he was told he would die when the point was withdrawn from his chest. After con- versing with his friends, he said “It is- time to die’, and ordered them to withdraw the weapon. Another lover of Epaminondas, Caphisodorus, also died at Mantinea; the two dead heroes were buried together on the battlefield. The Theban Sacred Band survived for exactly four decades and then. met its nemesis in Philip of Macedon. There is kind of irony in this finale, for a crucially formative period of Philip‘s own youth had brought him into inti- mate contact with the Band. As a young prince, Philip had been sent to Thebes in 567 at the age of fifteen as a hostage by Pelopidas and remained there for three years. This was shortly before the battle of Mantinea at a time when Thebes was at the height of her prestige. Philip must have been stirred by the victories of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, and fascinated by their new fighting methods. He later revolu- tionised military tactics by adapting them to his own purposes. Dio Chrysostom even links him intimately to the Sacred Band by making him the beloved of Pelopidas. Perhaps he was, or perhaps this is a purely honorific 28 (Left) Courageous warrior and gentle lover: a 1 mil-century engraving of Epaminondas. (Right) The Sacred Band‘s last resting- place: the memorial erected on the battlefield at Chaeronea and under whose base were found shields inscribed with the names of the Ioverswho fought together. assumption in accordance with the Hellenic motto,. cbercbez I’amam. At any rate, Pintarch says Philip lived not with Pelopidas but in the house of Pammenes, the general who was to assume leadership of the Theban army after the death of Epaminondas. Pammenes was an enthusiastic advo- cate of the Greek theory of military discipline that underlay the organisa- tion of the Sacred Band. In Homer the aged commander Nestor had been represented as organising the fighting units of the Greek army by tribes, as the most effective way of utilising group loyalties. Plutarch quotes Pammenes’ criticism of this arrange- ment: For tribesmen and clansmen make little account of tribesmen and clansmen in times of danger; whereas, a band that is held together by the friendship between lovers is indissoluble and not to be broken, since th...
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