Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths
"Young adults will learn about mythology with new insights. Will appeal to all lovers of myth"
— School Library Journal
"We always knew the Greeks were that way; this long-overdue book entertainingly explains just why."
— The Advocate
"Engrossing. Calimach draws on his formidable research skills to uncover myths until now whitewashed. Compelling reading for all."
"Calimach has done something very important here. There are valuable lessons in this collection even for those with a lot of knowledge about mythology. This is an attractively packaged, delightful collection of well selected and presented stories, filled with wonderful images from ancient art."
— Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"Calimach retells the stories without prurience and without shame."
— assemblage (UK)
Refreshing . . . a sheer pleasure. Read it, and read it again."
— Gay & Lesbian Humanist (UK)
"What fun – the naughty bits are back. Breezy but learned collection."
— Lambda Book Report
"A shame to consign this book to the closet. It's ideal for the library at any secondary school."
— 3rd Stone Archeology & Myth (UK)
"Calimach lets the myths speaks for themselves. Attractive and readable."
— The Small Press Book Review
"Truly a labor of love, and essential reading."
— Gaytoday—badpuppy.com more
"This book is a gift from the gods! A lovingly polished oeuvre—emphatically a book to buy and to prize."
"Superbly illustrated and an inspiration to anyone looking for a 'myth' to live by."
— Living Traditions Magazine (Australia)
"Magical reading. Don't expect to find it in your library, though."
— Scarlet Street Magazine
"One of the most entertaining reads you could ask for, and easily the most impressive volume of its sort."
— White Crane Journal
"Such a valuable contribution. Finally, the truth behind the myths."
— The Letter, Louisville, KY
"Bravo! This fascinating and astonishing book, suitable for everyone, is an excellent read."
— A Storyweaver's Book Reviews
"Literary flair and faithfulness to the original tales. Beautifully presented."
— The Guide
"The stories make thrilling reading . . . The debate is equally fascinating, and remarkable."
— Echo Magazine
"Calimach reveals for us who grew up with Edith Hamilton and Robert Graves just how subtly and deliberately they have suppressed that which was passionately homosexual."
"Lovers' Legends packs a lot of punch into a small space."
— Green Man Review
It's a truism that history was written by the victors, that what really happened can only be - to use a modish term for an old phenomenon - the work of a spin doctor, learned though he or she may be. Orwell wrote in 1984: 'Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'
Such is the case with gay erotic love in history, whether we're dealing with the sonnets of Shakespeare or male love in classical Greece: references and allusions have been deftly obscured by those for whom such abominations are un-Christian or just plain wrong.
Thank goodness fragments of ancient tales remain, in plays, in stories, often in their original form, for scholars to revisit - preferably scholars who don't take their bibles along for bedtime reading (unless it's scholarly reading for rational aims!).
'At a time when young adult novelists, refreshingly, have acknowledged their readers' interest in matters of romance and sexuality, high school and college students who are introduced to mythology continue to be offered tales that have been fig-leafed as effectively as Victorian statues,' writes Heather Elizabeth Peterson in an afterword to this refreshing collection of Greek myths with their fig leaves duly - and rightly - removed.
Amusingly, Peterson - who appears in the acknowledgments also, but of whom we hear no more - quotes from a 1967 book by Bernard Evslin, Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths (Four Winds Press), which renders the story of Narcissus. As Narcissus gazed into the pool, writes Evslin, the face he saw there - 'the most beautiful face he had ever seen' - had a 'nimbus of light behind it so that the hair was blurred and looked long - like a girl's. He knew that he could look upon this face forever. He put out his hand to touch her.'
Calimach's version has our hero going mad with desire, then, realising that the image is his own, bemoans his lot: 'You are none other than myself, aren't you? What cruel longing is this, that longs for that which never left, and turns wealth to poverty?'
Narcissus tears his hair and claws his face and chest in his anguish and then looks back at the image, itself ragged and dishevelled, and sobs helplessly: 'I love you! I love you!'
Note here that we do not see Narcissus as narcissistic - not in the sense that we mean nowadays, the sense in which one is in love with oneself - but as being in love with another male who just happened to be himself.
While this is a scholarly work (although Calimach says he's no classicist), containing the usual apparatus of the academic historian, such does not detract from the sheer pleasure of reading the stories themselves. Don't feel you have to read the references - but they're there in case you need them.
The loves of all the gods and heroes we've heard of— and maybe some we haven't—are summed up on page 4, before Calimach begins on the tales themselves, which are gathered from fragments of various ancient texts. Apollo, patron of culture and protector of the young, he says, was the champion of male love. “Besides Hyacinthus, Cyparissus and Orpheus, he had many beloveds whose stories have been lost.”
Then there is the first god ever to love a man: Poseidon, “who loved Pelops, and perhaps also Kaineus, to whom he granted invulnerability.”
He goes on to list Zeus himself, who was “set on fire by the sight of Ganymede's thighs” (and who wouldn't be, looking at the statue pictured on Page 5?); Hermes, who “had his beloved Antheus;” Pan, whose boyfriend was Daphnis, “whom he taught to play the panpipes;” and Dionysus who loved Ampelos.
We all know how male love was treated in the times of Classical Greece. Weren't we all taught at school? Weren't we told how adult lovers pursued teenaged beloveds? (Pp. 2-3), and how “male love was held to be an apprenticeship for manhood, a way to learn about warriorship, culture, and proper behavior” (P. 3)? No? Perhaps not. Whether our knowledge of human relationships in those times came from Victorians writing in books, or late-twentieth-century teachers with Victorian ideas, our learning was well and truly “fig-leafed.”
Calimach's tour of the loves of the gods and heroes is a minor tour de force. Read it, and read it again. Then dip in some more, as the fancy takes you. (And remember that words such as "gay" and "homosexual" would not have been known to the Greeks of classical times; indeed, the very concept of homosexuality would not have entered a classical Greek's head: these things just were.)
—Andy Armitage, Gay & Lesbian Humanist (UK), Winter 2002 back
What fun—the naughty bits are back in those otherwise starchy Greek stories. In Andrew Calimach's breezy but learned collection of myths (“restored and retold,” it says on the cover), Hercules has any number of beautiful boyfriends but loved Nestor best, Zeus was set on fire by the thighs of Ganymede, and Apollo was the champion of male love. But there's more than saucy legend-telling here. Calimach frames his recasting of Greek myth, credibly so, with serious research—in fact, one third of the book contains extensive notes on sources and illustrations, as well as a detailed bibliography and a generous glossary—and with a free-wheeling classics-based discussion on the virtue of the love of men for youths.
— Richard Labonté, Lambda Book Report, January 2002 back
They've outed Heracles! How can we ever tell Disney? There's some surprising news about Orpheus, too. And Apollo. Andrew Calimach has certainly done his homework in this survey of the ancient world, where it seems that it wasn't just the Flintstones who had a gay old time. As a new insight into familiar names, this has a certain curiosity value, but there's more to it than that. Calimach is writing to put the record straight (so to speak). Nine myths which have been literally emasculated by the censors are presented here in their authentic form, telling of the love of men for men. The whole is framed by a translation of Lucian's dialogue in which two lovers, one advocating desire for women and the other for boys, are pitted against each other in a rhetorical dispute. The retellings are meticulously sourced, so if you want to do some disputing on your own account, the information is ready to hand. But - give or take a weakness for shamanic readings of the early myths, which is nothing to do with sexuality - he seems to have got it right. Obviously this work is aimed at the pink market, but it would be a shame for it to be consigned to the closet bookshelf. Love is love, after all, whoever is involved, and the questions raised in these myths are universal. What is the relationship between the erotic and the spiritual? Is sex there to make children, or to deepen a relationship? Should teachers sleep with their pupils? It certainly makes you think, which is what education is all about. In fact, this would be an ideal volume for the library at any secondary school - don't worry, there's nothing in it to raise a blush on the most beardless cheek. In our society, that's the last place where it will be found. The Greeks thought otherwise.
— Jeremy Harte, 3rd Stone Archeology & Myth (UK) back
The place of homosexuality in ancient Greek culture has become a part of the seemingly endless controversies of modern society regarding homosexuality. In an attractive volume with many pictures of related works of Greek sculpture, paintings on pottery, and other art works, Andrew Calimach presents nine Greek myths dealing directly or tacitly with homosexuality plus chapters on various facets of love explored by the Greek author Lucian. Calimach does not use the myths in an argument supporting homosexuality, but rather lets the myths speaks for themselves concerning the place and to some degree the role of homosexuality in ancient Greek culture. As a reading of the myths shows, male homosexuality was a natural and accepted part of the culture. It could be a part of the relations between men and was undeniably a facet of the warrior ethic. And male homosexuality did not preclude sexual attraction between a man and a women, but rather was an inherent part of the nature of love playing a part in relations between individuals and aspects of society and its unity. Calimach's renditions of the Greek myths of Tantalus, Pelops, Orpheus, Hercules, Apollo, Narcissus, and other figures is an attractive and readable introduction to these colorful tales which are a part of the basis of Western culture.
— Henry Berry, The Small Press Book Review back
Half the world knows about "Greek love": homoerotic relations between adult men and adolescent boys. As reflections of the Hellenic spirit, the gods and heroes of classic Greek mythology were also "Greek lovers".
But homophobic posterity has censored the ancient myths, "straightening" them out beyond recognition. Those of us who grew up on Thomas Bulfinch or Edith Hamilton know all about Zeus's stormy marriage to his sister Hera but little about his passion for the handsome Trojan prince, Ganymede.
In Lovers' Legends, The Gay Greek Myths, Andrew Calimach has restored and retold some of these ancient myths. "The stories in this collection," writes Calimach, "restored from original sources in translation, outline the archetypal territory of Greek male love, as well as the boundaries crossed only at risk of divine retribution. We know of many more such tales, but they, as countless other treasures of ancient Greece, have been lost or destroyed."
Among these timeless tales of gods and their beloveds are the stories of Poseidon and Pelops, of Hercules and Hylas, of Apollo and Hyacinthus, of Achilles and Patroclus and, of course, of Zeus and Ganymede. Each story is annotated and illustrated with ancient art. Interspersed among the myths is a running dialogue, "Different Loves" ("Erotes") by Lucian of Samosata, which compares and contrasts heterosexual love with the love of boys.
Lovers' Legends, The Gay Greek Myths is truly a labor of love: "Ever since I first got wind of these myths, I wanted to read them in full, to savor their rich flavor. But whenever I reached out for this or that compilation, I was disappointed to find scant, if any, mention of male love.
"Finally, I decided to gather the stories myself, despite being unfamiliar with the classics, an experience a lot like that of 'a blind man finding a jewel in a heap of dust.' I can only hope that my amateur effort will inspire someone better qualified to do justice to these important and beautiful myths, cornerstones of the gay canon."
Lovers' Legends is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the origins of the western homosexual tradition.
— Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook, Gaytoday.badpuppy.com back
Hoi polloi never learned Greek: for us, this book is a gift from the gods! It explains all the things you never dared to ask about the so-flawed heroes of antiquity and their passionate, vengeful deities.
Calimach starts by explaining that couples regularly consisted of a lover who was senior to his "beloved charioteer." Then we hear the stories of Tantalus and the Olympians, of Pelops, who had been taught by Poseidon to drive a chariot as only a god might, of Laius and Goldenhorse, of Zeus and Ganymede, of Hercules and Hylas, of Orpheus ("who was priest of Dionysus. . . [who] was a son of the God of Heaven, fathered on a virgin, appointed by his father to be king over mankind, whom he came to liberate"), of Apollo and Hyacinthus, of the arrogant Narcissus, and of Achilles, who, unusually, was younger than Patroclus. These stories are interweaved with the great debate on "Different Loves", hetero-and homo-sexual.
The text is illustrated with many excellent reproductions of Greek artefacts, and supported by admirable scholarly apparatus - notes and sources for text and illustrations separately, a glossary that is also an index. The text begins with Allen Ginsberg's poem "Old Love Story" and is followed by an afterword, lamenting how woefully the legends have been mutilated in the past, and a Storyteller's Postscript. Calimach tells us nothing of himself but that he spent his early years in a dictatorship and is a parent -we can well believe that, if he is now middle-aged, he is an heir to the poet he cites on six occasions, Callimachus.
It is difficult to find any fault with this lovingly polished oeuvre, so I pick apart the subtitle, The Gay Greek Myths. Among us, gay, connotes, above all else, freedom (think TWINKS - two incomes, no kids) but in the classical era one man would own the other, or at least support him.
This is emphatically a book to buy and to prize - we might even look forward to a coffee-table edition, with the illustrations even more glorious.
— B.W.F., Rapport back
The world lives on stories; we all need our own myths from which to weave the fabric of our lives. When a culture suppresses difference, its mythic and real life suffers, so one of the important roles for the gay person is to revision the ancient myths in a way that reflect our experience. The Greek myths are important as they have many homoerotic elements, they embody many of the motifs needed in our myth deficient culture. Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths restores nine Greek myths so they can once again express their same sex erotic elements. The stories are accompanied by a fresh rendering of Lucian's "Different Loves," an ancient and still very relevant debate on gay vs. straight love. The book itself is superbly illustrated with examples of classic art, well supported with notes, and provides a fresh approach to Greek classics that is especially relevant to teachers and students of gender studies and humanities. At the same time it will be an inspiration to anyone looking for a myth to live by and will be of great interest to all gay and lesbian people.
— Dharma Sivan, Living Traditions Magazine 3/2002 (Australia) back
Here's a book with all those naughty things teachers, librarians and all those mildewed sculptors of the adolescent mind did not want us to read back in our halcyon school days. Andrew Calimach's Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths returns the stories of Hercules and Hylas, Zeus and Ganymede, Apollo and Patroclus, and Narcissus and, uh, Narcissus, to their original gay glory, walking a fine line between restoration and proselytizing—not for man/man sex, but for the considerable no-no of man/boy sex, the touchy subject matter of many of these tales. To do otherwise—to judge, condemn and censor—would be to treat these tales no differently than they've been treated for ages, but Calimach doesn't take advantage of the situation as a slim excuse to justify modern-day sex practices.
It's just as well, too, because how many likely lads are liable to be carried off these days by a Greek god disguised as an eagle, or can expect to see Orpheus—you'll pardon the expression—ascending?
Of particular note to fantasy film fans is the legend of Hercules and Hylas, which takes place during the period dramatized in the Ray Harryhausen classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). In the film, Herc meets Hylas just before embarking on the voyage, when the young man beats the beefcake brute at discuss throwing. They become companions, but then Hylas is crushed—not by his pal's tender embrace, since they are just good friends, but by a mile-high bronze titan named Talos.
How does this differ from the restored legend? Well, aside from the fact that Hercules is given Hylas as a peace offering after a battle, that they fall in love while Hercules trains Hylas to be a warrior, that they've been together for years when they first board the Argo to search for the Golden Fleece, and that Hylas is dragged into a pool by a nymph as Hera's revenge against Hercules, her hubby's bastard son . . . well, nothing.
Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths, though sometimes too floridly written, makes for magical reading. Don't expect to find it in your library, though.
— Drew Sullivan, Scarlet Street Magazine #44 (USA) back
There's a scene in Maurice, E. M. Forster's posthumous novel about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, where he's in a Cambridge tutorial with other students. The professor refers to the Myth of Ganymede as the "unspeakable vice of the Greeks." Alas, this seems to be the overall atmosphere surrounding the gay content of the world's oldest literature. The legacy of different mythologies have guided our understanding of history and culture. It's influenced storytellers since time immortal. Richard Wagner, for example, used Norse mythology to create his epic opera cycle, The Ring of the Niebelungs. Shakespeare, Bullfinch and Edith Hamilton are among those who've tried placing classic mythology into perspective. The genius of Hollywood special effects, Ray Harryhausen created unforgettable mythological images for such films asThe Seven Voyages of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. The gay content, that "unspeakable vice of the Greeks," seems to have escaped all of these artists. Now, with his book, Lovers' Legends, the Gay Greek Myths, Andrew Calimach has returned the gay aspects of traditional Greek mythology to their rightful place, and placed them in a modern perspective.
Framed by passages from Different Loves, Lucian's ancient debate between Theomnestus, a straight nobleman and his friend, Lycinus, and illustrated with photos of classical statues and reliefs, Lovers' Legends is easily the most impressive volume of its sort. Among the myriad of topics, Calimach addresses is the development of the Olympic games based on the legend of Tantalus. With Pelops as his protagonist, Calimach extends and develops this legend, including his experiences with Laius and Goldenhorse, into a fully realized classic drama. He finds the truths in the tales of Zeus and his favorite male lover, Ganymede, and Zeus' mortal son, Hercules, the hero who loved the handsome Hylas. Through Calimach's immaculate research, we learn that before he met Eurydice, Orpheus, playing his lyre, serenaded the Argonauts. It's only after his disobedience leaving the underworld that we learn about Zeus' plans to punish Jason and Medea. We also learn that Orpheus was beheaded and that head was buried by the men who lived on Lesbos. The myths of Apollo and Hyacinthus, Narcissus, Achilles and Patroclus. Something else, however, sets Lovers' Legends apart from previous volumes of mythology. That's Calimach's remarkably fresh, yet easygoing storytelling abilities which makes this one of the most entertaining reads you could ask for. Lovers' Legends, The Gay Greek Myths is Andrew Calimach's first publication, but, it will certainly be exciting to read his other work when it's published.
— Steven LaVigne, White Crane, Journal of Gay Men's Spirituality back
I feel cheated. I feel robbed. During early puberty as I began my long struggle with self-acceptance, I dove into books on Greek and Roman mythology, more as an escape than for any other reason. For awhile, Edith Hamilton's classic treatment was my bible. I couldn't get enough of those electrifying tales of heroism, love, passion, and adventure. The battles between Zeus and Hera alone were ten times better than anything Grace Metallious was writing about in Peyton Place. Little did I suspect that one of those battles revolved around Zeus' passionate affair with the fair boy, Ganymede. Nor did I know that Orpheus' passion for Eurydice was an aberrant fling and that most of his love songs were directed to men. And no one — certainly not Edith — explained that Narcissus fell in love with his own image not because it looked like a girl (the traditional, acceptable, altered version), but because it looked like him: a guy! That should have been obvious, but then western civilization has often been in denial about homosexual love. Had I known how acceptable man-to-man love was to the ancient Greeks, I might not have had to endure ten years of depression, self-hatred, and cataclysmic moral struggle. But until 1969, few writers dared discuss it casually. Whitewash must have been cheap: western civilization used it lavishly to cover up any hint of such love. They really dared not give it a name. That's why Andrew Calimach's easy-to-read retelling of the various gay-tinged Greek myths and legends is such a valuable contribution. Finally, the truth behind the myths that have grown up around the myths. One of his most noteworthy insights is the way in which humanity was often directly affected by the powerful love between two men or, more commonly, a god and his man. For instance, did you know that when Zeus took up with Ganymede, Zeus' wife Hera got so jealous she instigated the Trojan War? I didn't. Then, there's Orpheus, who wrangled his way on board the Argo after seers warned the crew (who mocked him as a weakling) that they wouldn't make it back alive without him. Of course, he fell in love with a flirtatious boy, Calais, who often took to the air, then swooped down into the ship to steal kisses from other sailors. At the crucial moment as Jason and the Argonauts crept toward the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece, Orpheus started strumming his lyre. Mesmerized, it curled up and fell asleep, making Jason's job a lot easier. Too bad the version I read back in high school didn't make it clear that a gay man saved the day. And funny, I don't remember anyone talking about Calais. Interlaced among the tales is a long-forgotten debate between two philosophers — one straight, one gay— over which kind of love is better: the love of a man for a woman, or the love of a man for another man. The straight man's criticisms of homosexuality bare astonishing similarity to some of the things fundamentalist Christians are saying today. The more things change... If there's any fault, it's the author's occasional, cute punctuations of the text with slang. I cringed when he noted that someone "hightailed" it a couple of times. In describing Narcissus' first reactions to his own image, Calimach has the lad thinking "what a dish he was!" Awful! Fortunately such slangisms are few and far between and easily overlooked. Calimach's book is a refreshing new take on the old Greek myths. Any gay man who's ever felt a thrill at those marvelous old tales should take a second look at them. What you didn't know back in high school may astound you now. Andrew Calimach. Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths. New Rochelle, NY: Haiduk Press, LLC. 179 pages with copious notes, photos, glossary, and bibliography. ISBN 0-9714686-0-5. Available in the region at Carmichael's, Outloud! Books & Gifts, Out Word Bound, Pink Pyramid, Planet Proud, and other fine stores. Also in the Williams-Nichols Collection at the University of Louisville.
— David Williams, Editor The Letter, a GLBT newspaper published in Louisville, KY and distributed in eight states and five major regional metropolitan areas (Louisville, Lexington, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Nashville) back
LOVERS' LEGENDS by Andrew Calimach is an excellent read depicting nine gay Greek myths in short story format. This book collection is generously illustrated using Greek gods and heroes, such as Achilles, Hercules, and Orpheus, whose sexual preferences were of the same sex. Mr. Calimach has retold these stories using sources in translation from ancient records. LOVERS' LEGENDS shows that Andrew Calimach has performed some serious research to write this fascinating book, which has an assortment of interesting notes along with maps, an index, and a glossary. I learned quite a bit by reading this astonishing book—even though my cheeks turned red in some spots. This book would make a great addition to any library or public book service, and it is a must for individuals interested in learning more about ancient Greek homosexuality. I applaud Mr. Calimach on his efforts for publishing a well-written book that most people now-a-days (even though most Americans think they are "all right" with homosexuality) would be too embarrassed, or skittish to ask. Bravo! I thoroughly enjoyed LOVERS' LEGENDS, suitable for everyone, by Andrew Calimach and I recommend this beautiful book that is amply laden with enchanting ancient art. Read the true story of Hercules and his lover Hylas, or of Zephyrus and Hyacinthus. You'll be glad you did. Andrew Calimach is an independent scholar who writes about gender studies and social issues. Mr. Calimach divides his time between Europe and North America and is continuously researching the history of same sex love.
— Jennifer LB Leese, A Storyweaver's Book Reviews back
For millennia, the legacy of ancient Greece served as counter to the Judeo-Christian West's hostility to homosexuality. But the story of Zeus and Ganymede aside, the Greek myths don't exactly roll off the tips of contemporary queers' tongues. With literary flair and faithfulness to the original tales, Andrew Calimach's Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths presents the Greek myths relating to male love. There's Ganymede and Zeus, of course, and Achilles and Patroclus, but also some you probably haven't heard. Did you know that Pelops — who gave his name to the Greek archipelago — was pieced together by the gods for his beauty after being slain and boiled for a banquet by his father?
Throughout, Lovers' Legends points up ancient Greek preoccupations — fear of effeminacy, the importance of moderating the passions, the ways being loved by a man could serve a youth's burgeoning masculinity, and the compatibility of same — and opposite-sex love.
Lovers' Legends is beautifully presented, illustrated with painting and sculpture inspired by the stories it retells. And accompanying essays consider how Greek myths — with their rapes, incest, betrayals, and murders — connect with the human imagination and spirituality.
— Bill Andriette, The Guide back
In Lovers' Legends, Andrew Calimach strips away centuries of obfuscation and revisionism regarding the fabled behavior of those Greeks of myth and legend, and he attempts to give us the unbiased skinny on who did what to whom. The much vaunted male-male love at the core of ancient Greek civilization is all-too-often presented through a haze of delusional bliss. (By today's standards, most of those relationships would be like the ones making the daily news regarding priests in the Roman Catholic Church.) Adult Greek men who loved other adult Greek men were despised; what was prized was a mentoring relationship, "an apprenticeship to manhood," – which was often sexual – between a man and a boy. Once that boy sprouted facial or pubic hair, the relationship became a no-no. But sexuality was no less fluid then than now, and various practices and affections found different degrees of acceptance.
Calimach presents, as far as his research allows, the "original" versions of myths, which depict male-male bonding, devoting individual chapters to the immortal sagas of Narcissus, Zeus and Ganymede, Apollo and Hyacinthus, Hercules and Hylas, Achilles and Patroclus, and others. Interwoven with these stories is the record of a 1,700-year-old debate, between Lycinus, Charicles, Callicratidas, and Theomnestus (mortals) on whether male-male love is superior to male-female love. Photographs of Greek art illustrate the various stories, which are amply annotated, and there is a glossary of names and places, indexed to the text. Heather Elizabeth Peterson, in an afterword, comments on the sacred and profane natures of male love, with a warning to avoid viewing (and judging) ancient relationships through the lens of modernity. And Calimach, in a postscript, regrets the loss of the record of women's love for women, which we are told was generally deplored as vile, observing that, "Their history has been even more thoroughly effaced than that of male love, because their oppressors were usually as close as the same bed ... and always the ones in power."
If there's a flaw in Lovers' Legends, it is Calimach's fondness for a modern vernacular that does not suit its ancient subject. Phrases like "turned tail," "never made it back," "to top it off," "what a dish" and others strike a discordant note. But the stories make thrilling reading, and, if you have some previous knowledge of the characters and their histories, are all the more rewarding. The debate is equally fascinating, and remarkable for the balanced argument it presents for all sides of the issue — though you will have to read it to see who "wins."
— Ken Furtado, Echo Magazine back
"Adult/High School--A lavishly illustrated collection of nine myths restored from primary (and often fragmentary) sources and presented with the full view of the sexuality that pervaded Greek life. Woven between sections of the myth is a dialogue from more than 1700 years ago that is an unabashed comparison of the love of men versus the love of women. This gives rich context for the fullness of the stories that are here told with interpretations that bring the homoerotic content to light as part of the world of humans and gods. Male love was held to be an apprenticeship to manhood, a way to learn about warriorship, culture, and proper behavior. Sex wasn't gay or straight; it just was.
Young adults will have an opportunity to learn about mythology with new explications and insights. Not only of interest to the gay community, the book will appeal to all lovers of myth as it is a work of considerable scholarship suitable for use in courses on gender studies or Greek history and culture. Heavily illustrated with photographs of ancient art and elegantly printed, it provides notes, a map, bibliography, and an indexed glossary. A study guide is being prepared to support this text in educational settings."
— School Library Journal, December 2002 back
And the Greeks had a word for it... paiderastia ("pederasty", "fancying youths") was a central feature of Greek civilisation, earning it a reputation from which it has still not fully recovered. "The unspeakable vice of the Greeks" (as E M Forster made a fictional professor describe it in Maurice) has been the object of ridicule, opprobrium, censorship and innuendo since we first hear of it in Classical Greece. While many contemporary gay men think of Ancient Greece as an idyllic time for unbridled homosexual behaviour, the truth (as ever) is much more complex and - dare I say it? - interesting.
The study of male homosexuality in Ancient Greece only began in the 1970s, particularly following the publication of Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality in 1978. This book helped to strip away many of the misconceptions about same-sex love in the Classical world that had grown up during the nineteenth century and that were becoming commonplace with the growth of the Gay Liberation movement from the late 1960s. What Dover sought to demonstrate was that in Classical Athens, there was an institutionalised form of same-sex behaviour, whereby an older man (the erastes, "desirer") is inflamed with passion for a youth (the eromenos, "the desired") and eases his path into full adult life. He suggested that this almost ritualised "education" of the youth might have deeper roots in a Primitive Indo-European initiation rite that has left traces in other cultures.
Whilst Dover's work remains the starting point for any exploration of sexuality in the ancient world, the study of the history of sexuality has moved on since his day. Sexuality is now seen as something that is socially constructed, that has little to do with biological imperatives and it is in this light that Greek paiderastia is now interpreted. I am unconvinced by many aspects of social constructivism, particularly in the light of genetic and genealogical studies that are beginning to suggest that male homosexual behaviour, at least, has a biological component, but this is not an argument central to Calimach's book. Andrew Calimach has set out to rectify what he sees as a major omission in the way we read Greek myths: that there is "scant, if any, mention of male love" (page 118), despite the common perception that they are full of such stories. He points out that many of the stories dealing with paiderastia survive only as "fragments, occasionally conflicting ones, scattered throughout surviving ancient texts" (page 118) and accordingly sets out to reconstruct the original forms of those stories. Using the hints from authors as widely-spaced in time as Homer (perhaps seventh century BCE) and Stobaeus (fifth century CE), he attempts the difficult task of giving shape to narratives that are only alluded to by the ancient authors, who had no need to spell out all the details that were familiar enough to their audiences.
He focuses on nine stories (Tantalus, Pelops, Laius & Chrysippus, Zeus & Ganymede, Heracles & Hylas, Orpheus, Apollo & Hyacinthus, Narcissus and Achilles & Patroclus), interspersing them with extracts from the dialogue Erotes wrongly attributed to Lucian of Samosata. The sources for each story are detailed in the critical notes; in the notes to the story of Zeus and Ganymede, most of the original sources are quoted in full "to better illustrate the process by which all the present stories were restored" (page 134).
Some of the stories are familiar enough. The tale of Zeus and Ganymede has inspired writers since the anonymous seventh-century author of the so-called "Homeric Hymns", while Achilles and Patroclus are familiar from the Iliad (and it must be mentioned that theirs is an example of something other than paiderastia , as Achilles is the younger of the two but the dominant partner, something that gave Classical commentators a bit of a problem). The story of Narcissus is a good example of how a story can be given a new dimension by bringing out the homoerotic aspects. In an Afterword to the book, Heather Peterson quotes Bernard Evslin's version of the story (from Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths, Evslin 1967) in which Narcissus sees a beautiful face "like a girl's" and silently alters the gender of the reflection so that he reaches out "to touch her" (page 115). Calimach does no such thing. For him, the reflection that startles Narcissus is of "the most gorgeous guy he had ever seen" (page 96).
Other stories are less well known, or, at least, their homoerotic content is generally overlooked. In the story of Tantalus, for instance, little is usually made of how the king's son is transformed from a plain youth to a beautiful one after Zeus restores the sacrificed child and is then abducted by the aroused Poseidon. The love of Heracles (Latinised by Calimach to Hercules) for Hylas has a curious historical parallel in the love of Hadrian for Antinous, but is something that the musclebound hero of the television series is unlikely to experience in front of a teenage male audience.
The stories are given a new twist through Calimach's reconstructive approach, which not only pieces together the surviving fragments but also amplifies them with details not in the originals. In some ways, it reminds me of Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare: the outline of the story is there in the original, but many of the details that we often feel we deserve are missing, so the author adds them. It is probably important to do this today, in a society where the Greek myths are no longer widely known, and where education and television often aim to show how people in the past were "just like us" whilst glossing over the essential strangeness of other cultures.
The decision to include passages from pseudo-Lucian of Samosata's Erotes almost as a refrain between groups of stories was, I think, a good one. It shows that paiderastia was a contentious issue, even in the ancient world. It brings in false arguments that still have resonances today (animals don't engage in homosexual acts, youths are debauched into homosexuality, that only love for women can endure) and highlights the ancient world's horror of lesbianism. Calimach points out (page 120) that the history of lesbianism has been so well suppressed, that we are in no position to attempt anything like the retelling of stories dealing with female homosexuality (if any even existed). The poetry of Sappho, for instance, was highly regarded and well known in the ancient world and it was deliberate suppression in the Middle Ages, when Pope Gregory VII ordered the burning of her works, that means we now possess only fragments. Calimach retells the stories without prurience and without shame. He presents male love as an entirely natural part of the Greek world and as something that gives no cause for concern, which is surely how they were originally told. Darker elements - such as the tearing of Orpheus limb from limb by the Thracian women - are not portrayed as an effect of homophobia, but of sins such as jealousy. Treating paiderastia as a natural phenomenon in this way is important to set the stories in their historical context, and Calimach does it well.
That said, some parts of the book grate, especially the colloquialisms that occasionally appear, especially when set against conventional Graecisms such as "tawny-winged son of the Thracian North Wind" (page 67). For instance, when Dione learns that her son has been sacrificed, she is told that "the gods had divvied up the morsels" (page 16) . It is as if Calimach cannot decide whether to be contemporary and chatty or formal and Homeric. The numbering of lines appears somewhat pretentious and even slightly dishonest, as if we are reading a Loeb-style translation of genuine ancient texts. And why do we have Hercules, rather than Heracles, when we have Zeus, not Jupiter?
These are picky little points, though. It is a valuable exercise to restore stories that have not just been forgotten, but actively suppressed (no Classical Greek plays on homoerotic themes survive, although we know that they existed, such as Aeschylus's Myrmidons) and it helps to enrich our understanding of Classical Greek culture. These are stories that were familiar in the ancient world and they deserve their place in the history of western literature and thought.
--assemblage (UK) back
There was a time in schools when Latin and ancient Greek were very much a part of a young person's education, and their cultural values seeped in along with the language, with one notable exception: the acceptance of homosexuality as a part of the human experience. Often, so-called "offensive" passages were trashed as a flaw or not even translated. The stories of gods and heroes of the ancient world, which are still so much a part of our heritage, likewise have over the centuries been cleaned up, purged of homosexuality (Disney's "Hercules" is only the most recent of these deliberate expurgations). In this collection, though, we have redress: Among others, Orpheus is once more reunited with Calius (not just Eurydice), Zeus with his boy-toy Ganymede, and Achilles with his lover Patroclus. Even Narcissus is shown to have actually been enamored of the beautiful male he sees in the water rather than just falling in love with himself (his tragedy is not so much self-love as that he can never truly unite with the man he loves). Calimach reveals for those of us who grew up with Edith Hamilton's and Robert Graves' famous versions of the myths just how subtly and deliberately they have suppressed that which was passionately homosexual by turning them into buddy stories when they have always been so much more. The author's demotic style of narration might displease a scholar for its lack of polish and erudition, but it does serve to make the myths lively and fresh, and might result in a wider reading. His retellings, or more accurately, reinstatements, of the gay content in these tales for a general rather than an academic audience is a useful addition to the ongoing battle to put the enormous gay contribution back in world history.
— H.E.B, Frontiers back
In an attractively packaged, slim volume Andrew Calimach (AC) weaves together the key Greek myths and legends about love between men. He interweaves the stories with the debate on the virtues of heterosexual vs. homosexual love, traditionally attributed to Lucian of Samosata entitled "Erotes," or as AC puts it, "Different Loves." The result is a delightful collection of stories that serves to emphasize both the aspects of love that the ancient Greeks valued and the important role that homosexual attraction and consummation played in the narratives that captured the attention and the imagination of the first Western audiences. The book is aimed particularly at the non-specialist, but the nature of the compilation will please even experts in mythology who seek a new way of seeing the old material.
First I will address a few minor faults. The work is described as a restoration and retelling; the stories are, "restored from original sources in translation" (4). However, AC nowhere explains his methodology in choosing translations or versions of the myths. The bibliography makes it clear what translations he refers to in general, and he includes the primary sources for each story in the endnotes, but a person wishing to learn from AC the process of bringing such a wide array of materials together gets little or no help in this matter. A bit more on his choices and decisions would have been a valuable addition for interested readers. Also, the first section of the book is called "Beloved Charioteers," whereas it would have been better called, simply, an introduction. Here he mentions charioteers as one form of male companion in the ancient world, but he makes many other points as well: the meaning of the word "myth," the overall nature of homosexual love and homo-eroticism, and the degree of cultural acceptance of homosexual love in the ancient world. He also would have served his readers well had he informed them that he interweaves the stories with the philosophical debate "Erotes." The first part of the debate begins the text, and the brief 3-line introduction to the debate does not do enough to inform the reader that the myths and legends are on the way. A simple warning from AC in the introduction could have cleared all this up in an instant.
That said, the stories AC chooses are well selected and presented. He first presents the introduction to a debate on the proper form of love between Charicles (of Corinth) and Callicratidas (of Athens). The debate is reported by Lycinus to his friend Theomnestus, who wonders who is better: the lover of boys or he who delights in women. From there AC guides us to the story of Tantalus from which arises the love-story of Pelops and Poseidon, which then leads to the story of Pelops in Pisa and the chariot race between Oinomaus and Pelops and the treachery surrounding the deeds of Myrtilus. In the story AC reminds us that it was Myrtilus who called down the curse on the house of Pelops, the house of Atreus. The next story is of Laius and Chrysippus (illegitimate son of Pelops), whom AC charmingly calls "Goldenhorse." It was for love of Goldenhorse that Laius, future father of Oedipus, incited Pelops to wage war on Thebes. Again, AC reminds us that it was Pelops' curse that drove the insidious actions that nearly brought the downfall of Thebes and that inspired the catalog of psychiatric complexes recognized by Freud.
The second part of the debate appears as a divider of the stories. The debate begins with Charicles defending heterosexual union. The arguer pulls no punches, and AC is wise and provocative to include this argument without doctoring it to any queer advantage. The debate continues in later sections of the book, and the counter-argument, in favor of homosexual love, clearly wins, proving the point that argument is a contest and even a clever argument can meet its match. The stories then proceed with Zeus and Ganymede, (and the story reminds us of the hefty price the Trojans paid for the love between Zeus and their prince), Hercules and Hylas, Orpheus and the boys of Thrace, and the other tales surrounding the life of Orpheus.
AC has done something very important here. Many people might never before have associated the key narratives of Greek mythology (the curse on the house of Atreus, the curse on the house of Laius, the Trojan war) to specific events brought about by homosexual love. As AC writes in his postscript, it has too often been the tendency of myth compilers to sanitize the texts, to alter them "in deference to modern sensibilities" (118). He goes on to condemn the "pantheon of emasculated gods and heroes" produced for young readers (120). There are valuable lessons in this collection even for those who have a lot of knowledge about mythology. Traditionally much attention is paid to the straight hero (or his straight version): Paris (and Helen), Jason (and Medea), Theseus (and Ariadne), and Orpheus (and Eurydice), whereas the homosexual stories that AC compiles turn out to be as important, if not more so, to the literary heritage that spins off of the mythological canon. "Myth," AC writes, "at once primitive and sophisticated, is a pedagogy as well as a psychology" (120). As one begins to see these stories at work effecting (and affecting) Western attempts to articulate thought and action, AC's words gain clarity and significance.
The debate breaks in again and Callicratidas presents his defense of homosexual love. It is an eloquent argument that appeals to the philosophic over the pragmatic, to beauty over nature. Part of his argument includes a critical assessment and overall rejection of female beauty or female capability for virtue. In the final section of the debate Lycinus, the referee, concludes with the statement, "in truth virtue does not reach perfection among women. So do not be angry, Charicles, if Corinth yields to Athens" (111). The misogyny inherent in these texts is something AC avoids except to acknowledge the male-dominated aspect of ancient society (3) and the absence of narratives involving the love of women in his collection (120). In short, AC's book is not one from which to gain a well-rounded critique of ancient Greek society, or of homosexual love in the ancient world.
The stories proceed with Apollo and Hyacinthus, Narcissus, and Achilles and Patroclus. The final part of the debate then appears, followed by an afterword by Heather Elizabeth Peterson (who this person is; we are not told), a storyteller's postscript and the acknowledgements. The end of the book contains notes and sources for each story, illustration sources, a bibliography, and an indexed glossary. As to the aesthetic aspects of the volume, the collection is filled with wonderful images from ancient art: vase paintings, mosaics, sculpture, and gems are inserted to illustrate the stories as they occur. The illustration sources in the back are helpful and complete, including location and provenance.
The book is dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, and the first two pages of the text showcase the 1981 poem "Old Love Story" (originally published in the 1986 collection entitledWhite Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 (HarperCollins)). The poem surveys the loves of men throughout history, from Zeus and Ganymede, Hadrian and Antinous, to Michelangelo's male models and Wilde's Bellboy. The poem ends with the famous last lines, "I want people to understand! They can! They can! They can! / So open your ears and hear the voice of the classical Band." Ginsberg's poem was written just before the AIDS epidemic burst forth into global awareness, when the emerging gay community was more carefree than would be the case a very few years later. This placement of Ginsberg's poem at the beginning of AC's book transports the reader to a period when the insistence among gay men and women in the U.S., as shown in the Stonewall riots of 1969, was that mainstream culture acknowledge, let alone accept, the presence of gay people in this country. Thus AC's enjoyable book is also a reminder that there is a lengthy tradition of celebrating love between men that is entirely independent of current concerns about health and sanitization.
Notes: 1. Lucian of Samosata is not now believed to be the author of this dialogue. M. D. Macleod, in his introduction to the dialogue in the Loeb edition of 1967, asserts that stylistic matters point to another, unknown, author.
— Reviewed by Teresa Ramsby, University of Massachusetts Amherst(email@example.com) Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.04 back
“After a smattering of mythology in childhood, usually introduced through Disney vehicles like Hercules, some formal study of the ancient tales is undertaken in high school. Students reluctantly throw Edith Hamilton's Mythology into their backpacks and try to memorize the differences between Atreus and Aeneas. Perhaps in the future, students won't work so hard to keep the gods straight because, well, they weren't.
In Calimach's engrossing work on the sexual details that Hamilton left out, the gods are freshly illuminated, and their stories made richer and more homoerotic. A freelance journalist, Calimach drew on his formidable research skills to uncover some of the myths that have been whitewashed, with all mention of homosexuality removed. Drawing from ancient texts, he retells several myths, including Pelops, Ganymede, Orpheus, Hyacinthus, and Patroclus, detailing how gods like Zeus and Apollo loved them.
The story of Hercules and Hylas is one that would certainly never be even mildly suggested by Disney. That, Calimach maintains, is one of the tragedies of current scholarship in mythology; that Hamilton and others have essentially put a fig-leaf over the truth, downplaying or excising any romantic relationships between men in the Greek myths. In a passionately written afterword, the author explains why he worked so diligently to bring the true stories to light: “One can only wonder whether these once-sacred stories might be even more popular in their authentic forms, and whether, by discovering in them the full spectrum of desire, our children might grow up more tolerant of each other, and richer in self-esteem and self-acceptance.”
Although this revealing collection will find its most eager audience in gay studies and mythology buffs (a forthcoming study guide encourages its use in a school setting), it deserves a wider audience than that. Calimach's honest presentation and gentle treatment of the original tales makes it compelling reading for anyone who's ever dreamed of a trip to Olympus.