A Problem in Greek Ethics (book)

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A problem in Greek ethics, being an inquiry into the phenomenon of sexual inversion; addressed especially to medical psychologists and jurists, by John Addington Symonds, (private imprint, 1901), is a classic, ground-breaking book, of which only one hundred copies were printed for private circulation, and which first introduced the term "homosexuality" in print. Symonds was the original "pederast apologist", and explored his interpretations of the development of Greek pederastic morality, quoting from many ancient Greek sources. He was one of the first to use the terms "boy love" and "boy lover" in print.

The term "pedophile" did not yet exist in the English language when this book was originally published - the term would not be invented until years later by the German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 12th edition of his book, Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study) which covered Non-Psychopathological Cases and Psychopathological Cases, in which latter subsection the term paedophilia erotica is used for the first time.

As the book was never copyrighted (copyright could not even be applied for), it has been reprinted by numerous publishing houses, and is available from many sources. The edition linked to here was carefully proofread and prepared as a .PDF file by a concerned and dedicated BoyLover (at a great expense of effort) from the archive.org copy.

The following is from Amazon.com:

"[...]introduction of paiderastia is ascribed to Orpheus. It is clear from these conflicting theories that the Greeks themselves had no trustworthy tradition on the subject. Nothing, therefore, but speculative conjecture is left for the modern investigator. If we need in such a matter to seek further than the primal instincts of human nature, we may suggest that, like the orgiastic rites of the later Hellenic cultus, paiderastia in its crudest form was transmitted to the Greeks from the East. Its prevalence in Crete, which, together with Cyprus, formed one of the principal links between Phœnicia and Hellas[...]".

The following information is from a BoyChat post, (Link)

Posted by Randy on 2013-December-17 11:02:42, Tuesday





  • I. INTRODUCTION: Method of treating the subject.
  • II. Homer had no knowledge of paiderastia — Achilles — Treatment of Homer by the later Greeks.
  • III. The Romance of Achilles and Patroclus.
  • IV. The heroic ideal of masculine love.
  • V. Vulgar paiderastia — How introduced into Hellas — Crete — Laius — Themyth of Ganymede.
  • VI. Discrimination of two loves, heroic and vulgar. The mixed sort is the paiderastia defined as Greek love in this essay.
  • VII. The intensity of paiderastia as an emotion, and its quality.
  • VIII. Myths of paiderastia.
  • IX. Semi-legendary tales of love — Harmodius and Aristogeiton.
  • X. Dorian Customs — Sparta and Crete — Conditions of Dorian life—Moral quality of Dorian love — Its final degeneracy — Speculations on the early Dorian Ethos — Bœotians' customs — The sacred band — Alexander the Great — Customs of Elis and Megara — Hybris — Ionia.
  • XI. Paiderastia in poetry of the lyric age. Theognis and Kurnus — Solon — Ibycus, the male Sappho — Anacreon and Smerdies—Drinking songs — Pindar and Theoxenos — Pindar's lofty conception of adolescent beauty.
  • XII. Paiderastia upon the Attic stage — Myrmidones of Æschylus — Achilles' lovers, and Niobe of Sophocles — The Chrysippus of Euripides — Stories about Sophocles — Illustrious Greek paiderasts.
  • XIII. Recapitulation of points — Quotation from the speech of Pausanias on love in Plato's Symposium — Observations on this speech. Position of women at Athens — Attic notion of marriage as a duty — The institution of Paidagogoi — Life of a Greek boy — Aristophanes' Clouds — Lucian's Amores — The Palæstra — The Lysis — The Charmides — Autolicus in Xenophon's Symposium — Speech of Critobulus on beauty and love — Importance of gymnasia in relation to paiderastia — Statues of Erôs — Cicero's opinions — Laws concerning the gymnasia — Graffiti on walls — Love-poems and panegyrics — Presents to boys — Shops and mauvais lieux — Paiderastic Hetaireia — Brothels — Phædon and Agathocles. Street-brawls about boys — Lysias in Simonem.
  • XIV. Distinctions drawn by Attic law and custom—Chrestoi Pornoi — Presents and money — Atimia of freemen who had sold their bodies — The definition of Misthosis — Eromenos, Hetairekos, Peporneumenos, distinguished — Æschines against Timarchus—General Conclusion as to Attic feeling about honourable paiderastia.
  • XV. Platonic doctrine on Greek love — The asceticism of the Laws — Socrates — His position defined by Maximus Tyrius — His science of erotics — The theory of the Phædrus: erotic Mania — The mysticism of the Symposium: love of beauty — Points of contact between Platonic paiderastia and chivalrous love: Mania and Joie: Dante's Vita Nuova — Platonist and Petrarchist — Gibbon on the "thin device" of the Athenian philosophers — Testimony of Lucian, Plutarch, Cicero.
  • XVI. Greek liberty and Greek love extinguished at Chæronea—The Idyllists — Lucian's Amores — Greek poets never really gross—Mousa Paidiké — Philostratus' Epistolai Erotikai — Greek Fathers on paiderastia.
  • XVII. The deep root struck by paiderastia in Greece — Climate — Gymnastics — Syssitia — Military life — Position of Women: inferior culture; absence from places of resort — Greek leisure.
  • XVIII. Relation of paiderastia to the fine arts — Greek sculpture wholly and healthily human — Ideals of female deities — Paiderastia did not degrade the imagination of the race — Psychological analysis underlying Greek mythology — The psychology of love — Greek mythology fixed before Homer — Opportunities enjoyed by artists for studying women — Anecdotes about artists — The æsthetic temperament of the Greeks, unbiased by morality and religion, encouraged paiderastia —Hora — Physical and moral qualities admired by a Greek — Greek ethics were æsthetic – Sophrosyne — Greek religion was æsthetic — No notion of Jehovah — Zeus and Ganymede.
  • XIX. Homosexuality among Greek women — Never attained to the same dignity as paiderastia.
  • XX. Greek love did not exist at Rome — Christianity — Chivalry — The modus vivendi of the modern world.
  • Footnotes


The following treatise on Greek Love was written in the year 1873, when my mind was occupied with my Studies of Greek Poets. I printed ten copies of it privately in 1883. It was only when I read the Terminal Essay appended by Sir Richard Burton to his translation of [the Arabian Nights] in 1886, that I became aware of M. H. E. Meier's article on Pæderastie (Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopædie, Leipzig, Brockhaus, 1837). My treatise, therefore, is a wholly independent production. This makes Meier's agreement (in Section 7 of his article) with the theory I have set forth in Section X. regarding the North Hellenic origin of Greek Love, and its Dorian character, the more remarkable. That two students, working separately upon the same mass of material, should have arrived at similar conclusions upon this point strongly confirms the probability of the hypothesis.


Description of the author

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) was considered the first and foremost 19th century British homosexual writer to"put the facts on record." He will always be renowned for his monumental seven-volume Renaissance in Italy, the first full-scale study of the subject in English. His A Problem in Greek Ethics was first written in 1873 and first published in 1883 in an edition of only 10 copies, and comprised the earliest published defense of homosexuality in the English language. Symonds here reviews the development of homosexual activity in ancient Greece. Poet, essayist, and literary historian, he delved into every field of the humanities. The present work led to a collaboration with Havelock Ellis in the first volume of Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Symonds is remembered for his untiring efforts to loosen the restraints on homosexuals in England, and his Memoirs are the only diary of a Victorian homosexual of his stature.


from http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/275625318

Very dated in terms of archeology and worldview, but good content. Claims that most systems of Greek ethics are at their cores, aesthetic. And that ancient Greeks considered young boys aesthetically superior to women or adult men, so pederasty was accepted/glorified. Makes me wonder about how malleable peoples brains are/how temporally subjective human psychology is. By our standards they were all being sexually abused, but did they exhibit the symptoms we would associate with sexual abuse?

Also has some interesting stuff about the role of family, bisexuality, lesbianism, etc, in ancient greece as well as certain excerpts or retellings of greek myths/poems relating to sex and gender.

However due to the age it is annoying at times. He over-relies on the epics as sources about ancient-ancient greece, and would probably be considered sexist and homophobic by modern standards (though in his time he apparently argued for legalizing homosexuality, so yup)

Publisher's Description

  • From Credencys Solutions:
A Problem in Greek Ethics by John Addington Symonds An early psychological study of sexual perversion among the ancient Greeks. The author pays special attention to male and female homosexuality and pederasty. He also discusses at length the laws regulating these practices and the philosophical justification for permitting them. THIS TITLE IS CITED AND RECOMMENDED BY: Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. About the Author: "Symonds was born at Bristol. His father, the senior John Addington Symonds, MD (1807-1871), was the author of an essay on Criminal Responsibility (1869), The Principles of Beauty (1857) and Sleep and Dreams (2nd ed., 1857). Considered delicate, the younger Symonds did not take part in games while at Harrow School and showed no particular promise as a scholar. At Harrow he was exposed to the sexualized atmosphere of the English public school of his time, which he found repulsive and which he was to describe later in his memoirs: "Every boy of good looks had a female name, and was recognized either as a public prostitute or as some bigger fellow's 'bitch.' Bitch was the word in common usage to indicate a boy who yielded his person to a lover. The talk in the dormitories and the studies was incredibly obscene. Here and there one could not avoid seeing acts of onanism, mutual masturbation, or the sports of naked boys in bed together." In January 1851 Symonds received a letter from Alfred Pretor, a friend of his, in which Pretor told him he was having an affair with their headmaster, Charles John Vaughan. Symonds was shocked and disgusted, feelings complicated by his growing awareness of his own homosexuality. He didn't mention the incident for eight years until, in 1859, he blurted out the whole story to John Conington, the Latin professor at Oxford. Conington approved of romantic relationships between men and boys, having earlier given Symonds a copy of Ionica, a collection of thinly disguised homoerotic verse by William Johnson Cory, the influential Eton Master and advocate of pederastic pedagogy. Nonetheless, Conington encouraged Symonds to tell his father, who subsequently forced Vaughan to resign. Pretor was disgusted with Symonds' part in the whole affair, and never spoke to him again. In 1858 he proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford as a commoner but was elected to an exhibition in the following year. In spring of that same year he had fallen in love with Wilie Dyer, a Bristol choirboy three years younger than himself. They engaged in a passionate but chaste love affair that lasted one year, being broken up by Symond's father. Their friendship continued for several years afterwards."

Also available as an Android app for 99cents from Amazon.com

Boy-love goes way way back.

And the author?

He Was One Of Us!

-- Randy

(Link to source of the above)


  • This edition is a proofread and corrected edition from which the text may be copied; the file size is 488Kilobytes:

See also

External links

  • A problem in Greek Ethics may also be read on-line, at the following links:
  • An annotated edition, comparing earlier and later versions, with corrections:
  • The original scanned edition (2.1MB in size) may be downloaded at the following link (NOTE: the other formats available from archive.org have not been properly proofread, and contain many errors.)
  • The main archive.org page on the book (other formats available, but containing many errors):
  • Psychopathia Sexualis, with especial reference to the antipathic sexual instinct, a medico-forensic study, by Richard von Krafft-Ebing (apparently the 12th edition):
  • Color reproduction, 33.0 M
  • (Black-and-White reproduction, 29.3 M)
  • Wikipedia article on Richard von Krafft-Ebing
(Copy/paste the following into your browser address bar) www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard von Krafft-Ebing
Krafft-Ebing extracts (pp. 1-22, 407-430) from his work Psychopathia sexualis (7th edition, 1892)