The sexual habits of people in Ancient Greece — from prostitution to pillow talk — are explored in a new book written by Paul Chrystal. Exploring the many layers of sex and sexuality in various Greek societies — from the Minoan civilisation through to Sparta and Hellenistic Greece — In Bed with the Ancient Greeks examines homosexuality, pederasty, mythological sex and sex in Greek philosophy and religion. In the beginning was sex.
Greek women had arranged marriages
S parta. A group of teenage girls are carrying a plough through the night, like a team of oxen. Teenage girls, invol-ved in some kind of ritual, processing towards a mountain ridge. They are singing a beautiful song, a work of art, full of obscure allusions and some familiar names from ancient myths: Helen's devoted twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, "Aphrodita", the goddess of love, the dangerous, teasing Sirens. But now the girls seem to be calling out to each other, strange, old-fashioned names: "Wianthemis", "Philulla", "Astaphis", "Hagesichora". And they are flattering each other - "lovely Wianthemis". No, something more than that.
Illustration by Peter Butler. Along with intellectual accomplishments those of creature comforts represent a second significant benchmark for Greek civilization. By the end of the Hellenistic era Greek or Greco-Roman households attained a standard of comfort and permanence which was unsurpassed until modern times. Solid insulated walls, ceramic roofs, paved floors, interior kitchens, cisterns, and sewerage disposal all made living more tolerable. Every facet of household sanitation and food preparation was done by hand, however, and required significant hours of human labor energy to complete. The evidence indicates that the primary labor contributions to these endeavors, most particularly in the maintenance and development of domestic quarters in Greek society, were performed by women. W e begin the discussion of Greek gender relations, therefore, by contemplating the built environment where Greek women were likely to have spent most of their time.
James Robson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. A new exhibition at the British Museum promises to lift the lid on what beauty meant for the ancient Greeks. But while we gaze at the serene marble statues on display — straining male torsos and soft female flesh — are we seeing what the ancients saw? The feelings that beautiful faces and bodies rouse in us no doubt seem both personal and instinctive — just as they presumably did for the ancient Greeks who first made and enjoyed these artworks. But our reactions are inevitably shaped by the society we live in. Greek attitudes towards sex were different from our own, but are all those myths about the sex lives of the ancient Greeks true?