Solon - Solon and Athenian Sexuality

Solon and Athenian Sexuality

As a regulator of Athenian society, Solon, according to some authors, also formalized its sexual mores. According to a surviving fragment from a work ("Brothers") by the comic playwright Philemon, Solon established publicly funded brothels at Athens in order to "democratize" the availability of sexual pleasure. While the veracity of this comic account is open to doubt, at least one modern author considers it significant that in Classical Athens, three hundred or so years after the death of Solon, there existed a discourse that associated his reforms with an increased availability of heterosexual pleasure.

Ancient authors also say that Solon regulated pederastic relationships in Athens; this has been presented as an adaption of custom to the new structure of the polis. According to various authors, ancient lawgivers (and therefore Solon by implication) drew up a set of laws that were intended to promote and safeguard the institution of pederasty and to control abuses against freeborn boys. In particular, the orator Aeschines cites laws excluding slaves from wrestling halls and forbidding them to enter pederastic relationships with the sons of citizens. Accounts of Solon's laws by 4th Century orators like Aeschines, however, are considered unreliable for a number of reasons;

Attic pleaders did not hesitate to attribute to him (Solon) any law which suited their case, and later writers had no criterion by which to distinguish earlier from later works. Nor can any complete and authentic collection of his statutes have survived for ancient scholars to consult.

Besides the alleged legislative aspect of Solon's involvement with pederasty, there were also suggestions of personal involvement. According to some ancient authors Solon had taken the future tyrant Peisistratus as his eromenos. Aristotle, writing around 330 BC, attempted to refute that belief, claiming that "those are manifestly talking nonsense who pretend that Solon was the lover of Peisistratus, for their ages do not admit of it," as Solon was about thirty years older than Peisistratus. Nevertheless the tradition persisted. Four centuries later Plutarch ignored Aristotle's skepticism and recorded the following anecdote, supplemented with his own conjectures:

And they say Solon loved ; and that is the reason, I suppose, that when afterwards they differed about the government, their enmity never produced any hot and violent passion, they remembered their old kindnesses, and retained "Still in its embers living the strong fire" of their love and dear affection.

A century after Plutarch, Aelian also said that Peistratus had been Solon's eromenos. Despite its persistence, however, it is not known whether the account is historical or fabricated. It has been suggested that the tradition presenting a peaceful and happy coexistence between Solon and Peisistratus was cultivated during the latter's dominion, in order to legitimize his own rule, as well as that of his sons. Whatever its source, later generations lent credence to the narrative. Solon's presumed pederastic desire was thought in antiquity to have found expression also in his poetry, which is today represented only in a few surviving fragments. The authenticity of all the poetic fragments attributed to Solon is however uncertain - in particular, pederastic aphorisms ascribed by some ancient sources to Solon have been ascribed by other sources to Theognis instead. (See also Solon the reformer and poet.)

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