A Study in Social Evolution
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

Part II - The Intermediate as Warrior


Forward to Chapter 6 - The Dorian Comradeship in relation to the status of Women

IN the preceding chapters, especially the earlier ones, we have seen how, among a vast number of primitive peoples, the Uranian temperament and tendency has contributed to the cultivation of divination and prophecy, religious ceremonial, song, dance, literature, medicine, and so forth. We inferred a priori that the man of those days who experienced a distaste for warfare and the chase would not unnaturally discover other fields of activity, and develop these milder arts and crafts of life, and we found that as a matter of fact this commonly happened. Such a man was no doubt in some cases "effeminate," as we should say: but where not exactly that, he was, at any rate, a trifle more feminine than his quite normal brother - and hence the differentiation in his pursuits.

We have now, however, to see that among some early peoples the Uranian temperament favored a quite different development; it took on a much more masculine character, and led to the formation of military comradeships of a passionate kind which, instead of discounting, immensely strengthened the warlike ardour of the people concerned, and confirmed their success in campaigns and conquests. The homosexual tendency, in fact, among such peoples, instead of urging towards effeminacy, worked greatly in the opposite direction. It bred ideals of heroism, courage, resource, and endurance among the men, and exalted these virtues into the highest place of public honor. Such was the case among the Dorian Greeks of the 7th century or so, B.C. - of whom I am treating in the present section; and such also seems to have been the case among the Japanese Samurai of the 12th, 13th, and later centuries, A.D., whom I shall deal with presently. In a lesser degree, too, there is evidence of a similar tendency among some other tribes and peoples.

The chief modern accounts of the Dorian Military love are to be found in the History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, by C. 0. Muller, (Footnote 1) and in Professor E. Bethe's long treatise, Die Dorische Knabenliebe, printed in Frankfurt in 1907. (Footnote 2) John Addington Symonds also, in his A Problem in Greek Ethics, pp. 23, 24 et seq. of the original edition (1883), gives a sketch of the subject and his views about it.

Website Editor's note - For more on John Addington Symonds, including the full text of "A problem in Greek Ethics" see Rictor Norton's Symonds website (

It seems that the rough and warlike tribes of the Dorians, descending into Greece from Doris and the mountains of the north and west at an early period, probably before 800 B.C., subdued and enslaved the former inhabitants as they came, and largely introduced their own institutions into the countries which they occupied. They spread thus over Sparta and a large part of the Peloponnesus, through the southern archipelago of the Aegean to the coast of Asia Minor, and finally to the island of Crete, in which latter place their customs were preserved for a long period in primitive integrity.

Chief among such customs was this one of military comradeship or paiderastia. The Greek word ******** (literally "boy-love") had apparently a wide range of meaning. For a full understanding of it, J. A. Symonds' Problem in Greek Ethics may with advantage be consulted. The term seems to have applied generally to the love of an elder comrade for a younger; but as far as it referred to or originated from the military relationship it is evident that our word "boy" is hardly appropriate. Clearly the younger had to be of sufficient age or physical stature to bear arms effectively; and his commonly used name ****** or ******** - the "stand-by" or "stander-by" - is a good indication of his function and utility. He corresponded in fact, in many respects, to the squire who attended on the mediaeval knight; and while such a squire might often be quite youthful, we do not exactly think of him as a "boy." The difference of age therefore in this military comradeship might be slight or negligible, or in cases it might be considerable.

Editor's note - the convention (*******) will be used by me to indicate where Carpenter has used greek text which I cannot (yet) reproduce in this website.

Again, this kind of love was apparently always conceived of as having an element of physical passion in it - though this element might, of course, be quite slight, or it might be dominant and engrossing. Historically speaking, too, and in different periods and connections, the meaning of the term varied; if it indicated originally the rather heroic devotion of comrades to each other in campaign and warfare, it branched out later into other fields of life, and was adapted to the more spiritual relationship commended by Plato - the philosophia combined with paiderastia of the ideal man - or again to the frankly sensual attachment described in passages of the Greek Anthology. The word consequently has a rather extensive connotation.

In the present paper I incline to use both words, "comrade-love" and "paiderastia," to denote the Dorian relation, bearing in mind, of course, that a difference of age is generally understood, and using the latter term rather more for the physical and ceremonial side of the attachment, and the former rather more for the emotional and social bond - but without pressing this distinction too closely or persistently. And it might be helpful here to remind the reader, who is troubled as to "where to draw the line" in estimating this kind of love - and in order to help him towards an understanding of the whole subject - that the painful rending-asunder and divorce of the "spiritual" from the "physical," which so vexes the modern mind, had probably but small place in the minds of many earlier peoples, like the Dorians, whom we are now considering.

I cannot perhaps do better by way of description of this institution than to quote the careful account of it both in Sparta and in Crete given by C. 0. Muller in his great work. He says :-

"At Sparta the party loving was called ******* and his affection was termed a breathing-in or inspiring (*****); which expresses the pure and mental connection between the two persons, and corresponds with the name of the other, viz..*****., listener or hearer. Now it appears to have been the practice for every youth of good character to have his lover; and on the other hand, every well educated man was bound by custom to be the lover of some youth. Instances of this connection are furnished by several of the royal family of Sparta; thus Agesilaus, while he still belonged to the herd (*****) of youths, was the hearer (*****) of Lysander, and himself had in his time also a hearer; his son Archidamus was the lover of the son of Sphodrias, the noble Cleonymus; Cleomenes III. was, when a young man, the hearer of Xenares, and later in life the lover of the brave Panteus. The connection usually originated from the proposal of the lover; yet it was necessary that the listener should regard him with real affection, as a regard to the riches of the proposer was considered very disgraceful; sometimes, however, it happened that the proposal originated from the other party. The connection appears to have been very intimate and faithful; and was recognised by the State. If his relations were absent, the youth might be represented in the public assembly by his lover; in battle, too, they stood near one another, where their fidelity and affection were often shown till death, while at home the youth was constantly under the eyes of his lover, who was to him as it were a model and pattern of life; which explains why, for many faults, particularly for want of ambition, the lover could be punished instead of the listener. . ."

"This ancient national custom prevailed with still greater force in Crete, which island was hence by many persons considered as the original seat of the connection in question. Here, too, it was disgraceful for a well-educated youth to be without a lover; and hence the party loved was termed ******, the praised; the lover being simply called *****.

History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Book iv., ch. 4, p. 6; see also E. Carpenter's Iolaus, pp. 16-19.

Of the institution in Crete - of which the tradition still existed in his time - Strabo, in his Geographica, gives a detailed account. And his account is particularly interesting on account of the similarity of the uses which he describes to the custom of ordinary marriage-by-capture, with which all students of primitive society are familiar. Quoting from Ephorus, who wrote about 340 B.C., Strabo says :-

"They have a peculiar custom with respect to their attachments. They do not influence the objects of their love by persuasion, but have recourse to violent abduction. The lover apprises the friends of the youth, three or more days beforehand, of his intention to carry off the object of his affection. It is reckoned a most base act to conceal the youth, or not to permit him to walk about as usual, since it would be an acknowledgment that the youth was unworthy of such lover. But if they are informed that the ravisher is equal or superior in rank or other circumstances to the youth, they pursue and oppose the former slightly, merely in conformity with the custom. They then willingly allow him to carry off the youth. If, however, he is an unworthy person, they take the youth from him. This show of resistance does not end till the youth is received into the Andreium (men's quarters), to which the ravisher belongs. They do not regard as an object of affection a youth exceedingly handsome, but him who is distinguished for courage and modesty (decorum). The lover makes the youth presents, and takes him away to whatever place he likes. The persons present at the abduction accompany them, and, having passed two months in feasting and the chase (for it is not permitted to detain the youth longer), they return to the city. The youth is dismissed with presents, which consist of a military dress, an ox, and a drinking-cup; the last are prescribed by law; and besides there are many other very costly gifts, so that the friends contribute each their share in order to diminish the expense.

"The youth sacrifices the ox to Jupiter, and entertains at a feast those who came down with him from the mountains. He then declares concerning the intercourse with the lover whether it took place with his consent or not, since the law allows him, if any violence is used in the abduction, to insist upon redress, and sets him free from his engagement to the lover But for the beautiful and high-born not to have lovers is disgraceful, since the neglect would be attributed to a bad disposition.

"The Parastathentes, for this is the name which they give to those youths who have been carried away, enjoy certain honors. At races and at festivals they have the principal places. They are permitted to wear the stole, which distinguishes them from other persons, and which has been presented to them by their lovers; and not only at that time, but in mature age, they appear in distinctive dress, by which each individual is recognised as Kleinos, for this name is given to the object of their attachment, and that of Philetor to the lover. These, then are the usages concerning attachments."

Strabo, Book x., ch. 4, p. 21 (Bohn's edition of the classics).

And C. 0. Muller, continuing the passage I cited before, says:-

"Institutions so systematic and regular as these did not exist in any Doric State except Crete and Sparta; but the feelings on which they were founded seem to have been common to all the Dorians. The loves of Philolaus, a Corinthian of the family of the Bacchiadae, and the law-giver of Thebes, and of Diodes, the Olympic conqueror, lasted until death; and even their graves were turned toward each other in token of their affection; and another person of the same name was honored in Megara as a noble instance of self-devotion for the object of his love."

With regard to the genesis of the institution, J. Addington Symonds, in his Problem in Greek Ethics (original edition, 1883, p. 23), says:-

"It has frequently occurred to my mind that the mixed type of ******* which I have named Greek Love, took its origin in Doris. Homer, who knew nothing about the passion as it afterwards existed, drew a striking picture of masculine affection in Achilles. Friendship occupies the first place in the hero's heart, while only the second is reserved for sexual emotion. Now Achilles came from Phthia, itself a portion of that mountain region to which Doris belonged. Is it unnatural to conjecture that the Dorians in their migration to Lacedaemon and Crete, the recognised headquarters of the custom, carried a tradition of heroic ******* along with them? If so, the circumstances of their invasion would have fostered the transformation into a tribal institution. They went forth, a band of warriors and pirates, to cross the sea in boats, and to fight their way along the hills and plains of Southern Greece. The dominions they had conquered with their swords they occupied like soldiers. The camp became their country, and for a long time they literally lived upon the bivouac. . . . Fighting and foraging in company, sharing the same wayside board and heathstrewn bed, rallying to the comrade's voice in onset, relying on the comrade's shield when fallen, these men learned the meanings of the words **** and *****. To be loved was honorable, for it implied being worthy to be died for. To love was glorious, since it pledged the lover to self-sacrifice in case of need."

Professor Bethe, in his article on Die Dorische Knabenliebe, to which I have already alluded, says (p. 447) :-

"Among the Dorians, although the practice was no doubt sensual, paiderastia (footnote 3) was not by any means a crime; on the contrary, it was, or could be, or aspired to be, the most complete imaginable union and mutual devotion of two tribesmen, out of which sprung abundant noble impulses towards the perfection of each individual in rivalry with the other, and the most absolute surrender for the sake of the loved one in every danger, and even to death in the very bloom of life. So that the true ideal of military comradeship and high endeavor was realised in these lover-pairs, who cherished these ideas and sealed them with their blood. And the number of such has certainly been anything but small. Is it not the most wonderful phenomenon in the history of human culture?"

The closeness of the alliance, moreover, is indicated in the foregoing quotation from Strabo, which shows, as we have seen, that certain formalities attending it precisely resembled the primitive rites of ordinary marriage, in the well-known form of "Marriage by capture." And this fact - as Bethe and others have observed - suggests the great antiquity of the institution and also its wide ramification. Professor Bethe indeed says :-

"Consequently the custom must date from a high antiquity, and since certain traces of it in Corinth and Boeotia coincide with the practice in Crete, I think the conclusion is not too rash that not only there but among all the Dorians these same forms once prevailed, and that therefore they date back even to the time before the Dorian immigration, or at any rate before their dispersal."

The remarks of Strabo above refer especially to Crete, but we have just seen that some indications of a marriage-ceremonial were to be found in Corinth and Boeotia; and it is interesting to note that in Albania - which is the very land from which the Dorians probably came - a marriage-ceremonial still lingers on to-day and is perfectly recognised as customary between a man and a youth who are attached to each other. (footnote 4) Anyhow, whether the formalities of marriage were observed or not, the general institution of military comradeship, as we have described it, spread far and wide among the Greek peoples, and immense importance was attached to it. It became a sort of foundational element in their life, a publicly recognised source of political and social activity, an incentive to soldierly valour, and a bulwark of security to the state, an inspiration to art and literature, and a custom consecrated by religion and divine approval. Innumerable stories and legends - whether of

"Harmodius and Aristogeiton who slew the despot Hipparchus at Athens; of Diodes and Philolaus, who gave laws to Thebes; of Chariton and Melanippus, who resisted the sway of Phalaris in Sicily; or of Cratinus and Aristodemus, who devoted their lives to propitiate offended deities when a plague had fallen on Athens,"

[See Studies of the Greek Poets, by J. A. Symonds, vol. i., p. 97.]

testify to the profound interest felt in the subject. And similar stories (footnote 5) from Sparta, from Chalkis, from Elis, Eubcea, and other places, show how wide and universal was the impression. As far back as the time of Solon at Athens, the inspiration of paiderastia had taken such hold, and was felt to be so thoroughly honorable, that even he, Athens' great and wise law-giver, wrote poems in praise of it, and in his laws placed the pursuit of it and of athletics on a par, as worthy of, and to be encouraged in free men, but as forbidden to slaves. (footnote 6) Aeschylus and Sophocles did not disdain to make comrade-love the theme of two of their tragedies - the Myrmidones and Niobe respectively - nor is evidence wanting that they personally favored it themselves; and Plato, of course, makes it the corner-stone of much of his philosophy and of more than one of his dialogues. Plato's strong and weighty verdict on the value of this bond - a verdict which was apparently a reflection of a good deal of current opinion - is given in the speech of Pausanias in the Symposium, in the form of a rebuke against those peoples who did not honor the love:-

"In Ionia and other places, and generally in countries which are subject to the Barbarians, the custom is held to be dishonorable; loves of youths share the evil repute of philosophy and gymnastics, because they are inimical to tyranny; for the interests of rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, - which Love above all other motives is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by experience."

Finally, the splendid heroism of the Theban band, composed solely of lovers - which perished to a man at Chaeronaea, B.c. 338, in the last battle of Greek Independence, against the huge army of Philip of Macedon - set a kind of seal to the great tradition of Greek military comradeship, and marked it with an ineffaceable impression of grandeur.


  1. 2 vols., translated from the German by G. Cornewall Lewis (John Murray, 1830). - Return
  2. In the Rheinisches Museum, vol. lxii., pp. 438-475. - Return
  3. Muller maintains the general chastity of the institution, quoting Xenophon and others; but Bethe contests this, referring to Plato (the Laws) and Aristotle (vol. ii. 10), where it is suggested that one of its objects was the prevention of overpopulation. Probably in this, as in other such cases, it is impossible to make any very definite statement. Whatever general theories there might be, practice would vary widely from place to place and from people to people, and public opinion would do the same. - Return
  4. See Hahn's Albanesische Studien, vol. i., p. 166, where considerable light altogether is thrown on the Dorian comradeship. - Return
  5. See Plutarch's Eroticus, his Lives, etc. - Return
  6. See Plutarch's Solon, ch. i. - Return

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