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

Chapter 7 - IT'S RELATION TO CIVIC LIFE AND RELIGION | Comment and Feedback

Forward to Chapter 8 - The Samurai of Japan: and their Ideal

But more has to be said before the full scope of the Dorian solution can be recognised. It is quite in keeping with what we know of the hardihood, public spirit, military prowess, and so forth, of the Doric race, to find that in the matter of this love between an elder warrior and a younger it was not the epithet ***** which was the coveted one, but ****** - not to be "beautiful" or "handsome", but to be "worthy", "brave", "efficient." This last was the decisive thing. (Footnote 1) The Athenian and other peoples, with greater refinement and artistic sense, might worship beauty and indulge in a kind of luxurious contemplation of it; ***** * ****, "fair, fair is the youth," is their constant refrain in epigram and inscription; but to the Dorian it was valor, efficiency, which drew his admiration.

It is like the difference between the Doric architecture and that of the Ionians or Corinthians. There is a certain severity about the first-mentioned - an absolute adaptation to use, and freedom from superfluous ornament. The sense of public life, in fact, and of dedication to the common weal, was so strong among the Dorians - as we see in many other ways - that it deeply coloured their love-relations, and gave the latter a scope and a purpose considerably beyond that of personal gratification. The normal marriage, as we have already seen, was regulated in the interests of the State; and so too, the love between men and youths, instead of sinking as it did among some peoples into a dilettante affair and matter of private indulgence, was lifted into an important institution in the interests of general education and militarism. The love was not by any means - as a score of passages show - a purely ideal or abstract sentiment; but what is interesting to us is the splendour of the result which was evolved out of its comparatively coarse and sensual roots.

"The Dorians,"

says Bethe,

"regulated the love-relation of the man to the youth in fixed forms, and dealt with it quite openly and with honorable seriousness, as deeming it an important institution under the aegis of the Family, the Public, the State, and Religion. Everywhere among them - in Sparta, Crete, Thebes, or wherever anything more than the mere fact has come down to us - we clearly discover that paiderastia was among the ruling class the foundation of all training towards ***** (courage, virtue), in other words, towards manly efficiency such as shows itself principally in war, and the cultivation and preservation of the same. For to a point beyond this somewhat narrow and mediaeval conception of virtue, the Dorian States never attained, and could not well attain, as long as their outlook on life remained. The highest ethic and wisdom that Theognis had to offer, he was fain to put into words of counsel to a beloved youth who should be the inheritor of his ******"

"In Sparta,"

he continues,

"the lovers were so far responsible for their loved ones that for any dishonorable conduct of the latter they - not the latter - were punished. And it was the lover, as well as the youth's relatives, who represented the beloved in all affairs in the Agora - to which indeed the latter was not admitted till his 30th year. So that in fact the Erastes is put legally on an equal footing with the father and elder brothers of the Eromenos - indeed, even above them, since he bears a responsibility for him which the latter's family does not undertake."

Speaking further of the custom of placing lover-pairs together in the battle-ranks, Professor Bethe says that the reason for this is obvious:-

"Any conduct that was not in accordance with the chivalric sense of honour was barred on the one hand by the anxiety of the man to be a model to his beloved of true ******, and no less by the latter's consciousness of his duty to show himself worthy of his lover."

And then he quotes the well-known words of Phaedrus in Plato's Banquet:-

"I say, then, that if a man who loves should be discovered doing anything dishonourable or through fear suffering the same without resistance, he would not be so shamed or pained before his own father or companions, or any one else, as before his beloved youth. And we see the same with regard to the youth, that he throws disgrace especially on his lovers when he is discovered in any dishonour."

J. Addington Symonds has a very interesting essay, (Footnote 2) in which he compares the love-ideal of mediaeval and feudal Europe with that of ancient Greece. Both loves became recognised and accepted institutions, and both had the same social purpose, namely the formation of the perfect knight - the embodiment of honour and bravery. But in the first case it was the devotion to one fair lady - and through her to all the suffering and oppressed women-kind; and in the second case it was devotion to some youth, and through him to the whole commonwealth - which led to this result. In both cases the love was apart from and outside of ordinary matrimony. The mediaeval knight might be duly married, but what inspired his romance and heroism was worship of some lady - who was probably the wife of another; and the Dorian knight no doubt had a wife and children at home, but the love which spurred him to his deeds of bravery was for the younger comrade who stood beside him in the ranks. The direct incitements were, in both cases, the same.

"Just as in the 12th and 13th centuries,"

says Bethe,

"the lady sends her warrior suitor from one love-ordeal to another, so does Konon tell of a Cretan youth (Leucocomas, he calls him) who tests his lover (Promachos) with great and dangerous encounters. Such stories are not by any means later growths; they were the commonly accepted view of the matter in the 5th century, B.C., certainly in the 6th. For the contemporaries of Aeschylus and Pindar were hardly able to think of warrior-pairs like Achilles and Patroclus, Theseus and Peirithous, Herakles and Iolaus, otherwise than as pairs of lovers."

Thus it was largely for the purpose of spreading a high standard of public honour, bravery, and efficiency, that military comradeship was encouraged among the Dorians. It worked powerfully among the boys and youths, who aspired to become men, and especially to be loved by some heroic warrior; (Footnote 3) and it had a deep influence on the men, who (referring again to the extract from Strabo) would be well received by the boy's relations if of good name and fame, but rejected if "unworthy." Remembering that the Dorian polity was an aristocracy, in which families of good name and tradition had a great sway, we see how it was that to become the ******** or squire of a well-known warrior, was to become at once, ******** or distinguished, to wear a distinctive dress, and to pass into a good social position; while on the other hand, for a man to have his advances towards a youth refused by the relations was to suffer the deepest of insults.

We have thus seen that the education of the youths, the honour and fair name of the men, efficiency in battle, and the safety of the State were all involved in the Dorian Custom of military comradeship. It is needless, therefore, to remark that religion was also involved; for in the old pagan world every great social custom was identified with or sanctioned by religion.

With regard to this point the remarkable investigations of Hiller von Gaertringen, a few years ago in the island of Thera, in the Aegean Sea, yield important evidence. As we have already said, the Dorians on their immigration settled not only in various parts of Greece, but in the islands of the Aegean and in Crete. One of these islands was Thera (or Santorin), and it became an important centre - a holy place and resort of the Dorian tribes, with temples and dancing and running grounds. (See Thera, by Hiller von Gaertringen (3 vols., Berlin, 1899). At some early period it had been occupied by the Phoenicians; but Strabo calls it "a colony of the Lacedaemonians, and the mother-city of the Cyrenians;" and there seems little doubt that it was colonised from Sparta, and that afterwards it sent out a colony to Cyrene in Africa. As this latter event took place about 630 B.C., it seems probable that the former was not later than 700 B.C. Here, then, on one hill on this island are the remains of temples and holy places - sacred to Apollo (Karneios and Delphinios), to Zeus, Athena, Artemis, and others; and close at hand an old circular structure and a natural cavern,

"both of which were later united by the Gymnasium-building, and were clearly at that early period dedicated to the Dorian athletic exercises and dances of youths."

[Bethe, p. 450.]

Less than a stone's throw from these, on the side of the sacred mountain itself, are (as Hiller found and copied) a quantity of very archaic inscriptions, at least as old as the 7th century, B.C., deeply chiselled in the rock (as it were for all time) in letters four to six inches long, and celebrating the names and the betrothals of comrades. (Footnote 4) We are accustomed, in the modern world, to see love-inscriptions on trees and even rocks, of feminine names; but here we have the names of youths and men. Let us give Hiller's own words:-

"At first we find the simple names, like Aglon, Maisiadas, Kikinnios, Arasimandros, Biaios, Euryteles, Tharres, and many another. But soon we find the same with additions: 'Moniadas is the first' - 'Ainesis was brought up by the Graces' - 'So and so is good, so and so is good (*****).'"

[Thera, vol. iii., p. 67 et seq.]

Leaving Hiller for a moment, it is interesting to see here, what we noticed before, the admiration of this people for "goodness," valour, efficiency, rather than for beauty. The epithet .***** in this collection hardly appears more than once, but the epithet ****** over and over again, sometimes alone, as Laqudidas agathos or Telekrates agathos, sometimes in praise of their dancing, as:- ******** ***** ******* ***, or ******* ******* *******.

Continuing, then, Hiller says:-

"But presently the inscriptions speak more plainly. We find not only praise of the best dancer, but also direct evidence of the love of youth in quite sensual form - over which later ages sought to draw a veil. For evidence of this, I refer to the classic examples, I.G. xii., 3, 536-540. They prove to us the rude habits of the Dorian settlers, and they show also their total absence of prudery, and an entirely different sentiment on these subjects from what afterwards prevailed."

Among the examples referred to are for instance 536, saying that Pheidippidas was united to Timagoras, or 537 (also quoted by Bethe), saying:-

"Here in these sacred precincts, with invocation of the Delphinian, Krimon was united to the son of Bathycles." (Footnote 5)

In the latter, the solemn appeal to the Delphinian Apollo (*** **** ******) assures us of the religious character of the betrothal; and others of the inscriptions contain similar dedications. Hiller himself says:-

"Of the various lovers one invokes Apollo, (Footnote 6) another Delphinios - that is Apollo again - as witness that he has fulfilled his proper duty."

Ordinary marriage between man and woman has, of course, in all ages and among most peoples, been made a religious institution, and has been ceremonially sealed in the presence of the deity and with the invocation of his name - as in our Christian churches; but it is strange to find here a similar ritual between men. Yet, as a matter of fact, even to-day, in Albania, and under the protection of the Greek Church, something of the kind - as already mentioned - continues. Hahn, in his Albanesische Studien, says that the Dorian customs of comradeship still flourish in Albania

"just as described by the ancients,"

and are closely entwined with the whole life of the people. (The elder lover instructs and, when necessary, reproves the younger, follows him jealously about, fights duels on his behalf, protects him, makes him presents of various kinds, and so forth.) And he describes, in some detail, the church ceremonial attending the brotherhood-union of two men. And Dr. P. Naecke, reporting information received from Albania, says:-

"The Skipetars (North Albanians) entertain for handsome youths a quite enthusiastic love. Their passion and jealousy is so strong that even to-day sometimes a case of suicide on that account will occur. . . . . Further, it is quite true that the brotherhood-unions when taking place are blessed by the priests - the two partners sharing the Eucharist immediately after. With the Turks the ceremony is different. My landlord (a Christian) in Ochrida sealed blood-brotherhood with an Albanian Moslem (Gega). The two made incision in each other's fingers, and sucked drops of each other's blood. Henceforth one must stand by the other in life and death; and for the Christian landlord that is a valuable guarantee."

[In the Jahrbuch fur Sexuelle Zwischenstufen, vol. ix., p. 328.]

The latter part of this passage is interesting as showing how in Albania, though the blood-brotherhoods may be sanctified by some kind of religious ceremonial, they still in some cases overpass the ordinary religious barriers - as between Christian and Turk. And Hahn, again, in his book, says that religious differences do not form a bar. The Turk loves the Christian, and the Christian the Turk, and many a Christian has gone over to Islam because his beloved had promised, on this condition, to be subject to him.

Here then, it would seem, at Thera there was a celebrated holy place and rendezvous of the Doric race, (Footnote 7) and hither, at festival periods, crowds would come; - comrade-pairs would ratify their alliances in the temple-precincts, and lovers would inscribe the names of their beloved on the rocks.

If this was the case at Thera, would there not be other places, we may ask, where similar ceremonies took place? And Professor Bethe, with great plausibility, suggests that there were.

"I do not doubt,"

he says,

"that starting from the above solid evidence we can also interpret that custom of the Thebans which lingered still in Aristotle's time, and attracted his attention. 'On the grave of the hero Iolaus,' he wrote, 'lovers and their beloved youths still pledge their troth with one another;' (Footnote 8) and Plutarch adds: 'because Iolaus was the favorite of Heracles, and for that reason took part in his battles as his squire.' In Thebes no doubt at that time folk would be satisfied with a festal symbolical ceremony, corresponding to betrothal before divine witnesses. But originally in Thebes, even as in Thera, the act must have been carried out right on the holy place in the presence of the heroic prototype and patron of comrade-love. To understand the meaning of the name, The Sacred Band, from the sacredness of these comrade-alliances is now easy."

[Bethe, op. cit., p. 450.]

Further he suggests that the competition which yearly took place among the youths at the tomb of the great hero and lover, Diocles, in Megara - and which is known to us through Theocritus (Idyll xii.) - had a similar origin; and represented the survival of actual betrothals which once were celebrated there, as at a holy place. There is certainly something very grand about this whole conception and manifestation of the Uranian love among the Dorians.. The wonderful stories - treasured in the hearts of the Greek peoples for centuries - of heroic bravery and mutual devotion inspired by it; the high seriousness with which it was cultivated both as a political safeguard and as a means of the education of youth, the religious sanction and dedication to the gods, and withal the absolute recognition of its human and passional origin, cannot fail to make us feel that here was a great people with a unique message for the world. Certainly we shall never in modern times understand this love until we realise this quality of it and its immense capabilities.

The modern peoples, it must be said, seem to have a strangely low estimate of love in general. Even the quite normal love between man and wife - though recognised as the foundation of the family, and contributing somewhat to the education of children - does not often figure as an inspiration to political life or to public service; and certainly, in the public mind, has no great association with religion. Indeed the physical circumstances of marriage are generally looked upon as repugnant to religion, and the sexual relation between man and woman as in itself unclean, and by no means to be thought of in connection with a church or other consecrated place or the divinity that may dwell there. Yet we know that this low estimate has not by any means been universal. It seems to mark a certain period, and to characterise certain races in the evolution of humanity. The Jewish peoples - perhaps by way of protest and reaction against the excesses of the surrounding Syrian tribes - insisted on a complete divorce between sex and religion; and that alienation of the two has lasted on down the Christian centuries. But in much of the old pagan world it was just the contrary. Sexual rituals were an intimate part of religion; and the wonder and glory of sex were a recognised manifestation of divinity. In India, even to-day I believe, ordinary marriages are sometimes consummated within the temple-precincts; women who wish for children pay their respects in a very practical way to the lingams or phallic emblems in the sacred cloisters, just as they did in earlier times to the priests themselves, representing the gods; and the devadasis, or girls who dance before the divinities, are still treated with honour and a certain reverence, though their sexual functions in connection with the temple services, dating from thousands of years back (but now largely discontinued), are well-known. In the temples of Syria, and in other cases - some of which have just been touched upon in the first paper in this volume - a similar rapprochement between sex and religion existed.

In all these cases it has been the usual criticism of the votaries of Christianity to say that this connection or rapprochement only proves how unworthy and debased and merely sensual the religions of the old world were. But does this conclusion follow? Doubtless in cases these worships were unworthy and debased. But would not the argument be equally valid if it were said that our conclusion that religion was soiled by its contact with sex only proves how unclean our conception of sex is? In the Upanishads of India - a series of writings, which perhaps show the high-water-mark of the religious sense in any age of the world - the perfectly naive, direct and open way in which the physical facts of human love are brought into direct touch with the supreme inspiration of the religious consciousness affords to us a profound lesson, which we should do well to bear in mind. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad - one of the finest of the Upanishads - there is a passage in which instruction is given to the man who desires a noble son as to the prayers which he shall offer to the gods on the occasion of congress with his wife. In simple and serene language it directs him how

"when he has placed his virile member in the body of his wife, and joined his mouth to her mouth,"

he should pray to the various forms of deity who preside over the operations of nature: to Vishnu to prepare the womb of the future mother, to Prajapati to watch over the influx of the semen, and to the other gods to nourish the foetus, etc. (Footnote 9) How far all this seems from the modern mind, how alien, how profane!

Yet the gross details of physical union were obviously not unclean to the writers of this and similar passages in the Upanishads. There is indeed, for instance, not a little reason for thinking that many of the early peoples regarded the semen as the vehicle and special condensation of the soul. (Footnote 10) The soul was transferred to the woman, perhaps for re-embodiment in the child, perhaps for union with and reinforcement of her soul.

And it must be confessed that in view of all the conclusions of modern thought and science, such a theory, if not by any means to be considered valid or even adequate, does at any rate appear a natural and not impossible one. To such people, then, the so-called physical union was in very truth and reality a sacred affair taking place in the presence of the gods, and vouched for by the amazing inspiration and revelation of the passion of love itself.

And leaving aside this special theory with regard to the semen; we to-day can see that in the more subtle and refined intimacies of lovers in caresses and embraces, and in the silent influences of mere presence and nearness, there do pass over from one to the other elements of character, shades of feeling and disposition, and something indeed of the nature of the soul. That well-known and fine epigram of Plato conveys this very idea

"Thee as I kist, behold! on my lips my own soul was trembling;
For, bold one, she had come, meaning to find her way through."

And yet, strangely enough, while this is recognised, there is little sense in modern times of the sacredness of love, even in its most gracious forms, nor any inclination to connect it with religion. The marvellous and mysterious process by which the soul, the very inner being, of one person passes over and transfuses that of another, seems to be passed by or treated as something unworthy. How vulgar - if one may use the word - is our current conception of these subjects!

However, with the modern world - except for the purpose of illustrating certain points - we are not here concerned. The point which I wish especially to illuminate is that love in its more serious aspects was recognised in the old world as having influences on character so deep and solemn that they brought it into close touch with religion. We have seen in the Dorian institution that the love between a man and a youth was largely encouraged on this very ground - of the communication of character, virtue, ******. For a valiant warrior not to have a youth attached to him as squire or favorite was disgraceful, or even punishable, because so the contagion and inheritance of his valour would be lost. [See Aelian, 8,iii.10.] We have seen above, in the account of Ephorus in Strabo, that the relatives would enquire most closely about the honour and bravery of such a lover before surrendering their boy to him. On the other hand, Plutarch, in his Lycurgus (c. 18), says:-

"It is a thing remarkable that their lovers had a share in the young lad's honour or disgrace: and there goes a story that one of them was fined by the magistrates, because the lad whom he loved cried out effeminately as he was fighting. . . . And though several men's fancies met in one person, yet did not this cause any strangeness or jealousy among them, but was rather the beginning of a very intimate friendship, whilst they all jointly conspired to render the belov'd boy the most accomplished in the world."

Such a contagion and identification of the sense of honour between two persons could obviously only come about through a deep and heroic love between them; and when such love ramified widely, as indicated in the last quotation, from one to another through the land, and when the standard of honour concerned was the welfare of the country - then clearly the "soul" transmitted by means of the love-relation was not merely the soul of any one individual concerned, but was the Soul of the People - that is, in other words, the inspiration of their religion.

How far the primitive Dorians, beneath their strange customs and quasi-religious rites, may have had an inkling of this truth, it might be difficult to say. Probably no very reasoned perception of it, but rather a kind of sub-conscious intuition. Anyhow, the love-customs of a people whose career was so splendid, and who exercised such a profound influence upon the other Greek peoples, and so on the rest of the world, cannot but be deeply interesting to us moderns - despite such elements of crudeness and barbarism as are certainly to be found among them.


  1. See the quotation above (ch. V) from Strabo: "They do not regard as an object of affection a youth exceedingly handsome but him who is distinguished for courage and decorum (****** ** *********)." - Return
  2. The Dantesque and Platonic Ideals of Love, in the Key of Blue (John Lane, 1893). - Return
  3. See Aelian 7, iii., 12 - who says that the Spartan boys would beg a man ********* ******* - Return
  4. See for these, H. von Gaertringen, I. G., xii., 3,536-601, etc. - Return
  5. ********* ***** ******* ***, and ******* ******* *******. These inscriptions are in an archaic script which cannot exactly be reproduced here, but the readings given are as near as available in the later alphabet - a modern "h" being used for the old Greek aspirate. - Return
  6. With regard to this invocation of Apollo, see above, ch. i.. Apollo was the special god of comradeship; as Deiphinios he was the source of divination; as Karneios he links on to the Syrian Ashteroth Karnaim, the feminine principle. Nor must it be forgotten that Thera had already been at an earlier date a Phoenician or Syrian colony, and that here was a point of contact between the Dorian and the Syrian festivals. - Return
  7. Thera, in fact, occupied for the Dorian Greeks much the same position as Delos did for the Ionians: of which Mr. H. B. Cotterill (Ancient Greece, p. 152) says, "This island, lying in the midst of the Cyclades, which offer easy transit between Greece and Ionia, was in early times an important entrepot. It was also the religious centre of the Ionian world, famed as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo and for the most ancient oracle of the god. Every fifth year the birth of the twin deities was celebrated with magnificence amid a great concourse, vividly described in the ancient Hymn to Apollo: 'Hither gather the long-robed Ionians with their children and chaste wives. They wrestle, they dance, they sing, in memory of the god. He who saw them would say they were immortal and ageless, so much grace and charm would he find in viewing the men, the fair-girdled women, the swift ships, and riches of every kind.' These festivals seem to have been accompanied by contests in music and poetry." - Return
  8. See Plutarch's Pelopidas, ch. xviii. - Return
  9. See Love's Coming of Age, by E. Carpenter, p. 17. - Return
  10. See Bethe, op. cit., p. 464 et seq. - Return

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