Films like 300 and Troy depict awesome Greek warriors slashing their enemies in battle, but did you know Leonidas and Achillies had a freaky side? Sexuality was everywhere in the ancient world, from pornography on pottery to sex with satyrs. The Greek view on sex is much different from our own today, with many seemingly bizarre practices from our modern perspective. Greek openness on sex, homosexuality, and relationships created a much different culture than our own; here are 10 weird, or weird to us, sexual things the ancient greeks did:
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10 Very, Very Weird Methods of Contraception
Today, scientific advancement has made birth control methods more effective and safe than ever. In ancient Greece, couples sought to limit family size through bizarre beliefs and pseudoscience. One popular method was having the female partner sneeze and drink something cold after having sex, I am not sure how this was supposed to work but rest assured this is not an effective method of contraception. Another method involved a woman attempting to block her cervix with a block of wood, this one doesn’t sound very pleasurable. One surprisingly effective method the Greeks used was consuming large amounts of dates and pomegranates before and after sex. Modern studies have actually shown that dates and pomegranates do in fact decrease fertility, but I recommend consulting your physician on some more modern and less nonsensical forms of protection.
In case you would prefer to use an ancient Greek method of contraception, here are some recommended instructions from the physician Soranus: “hold her breath, draw her body back a little so the semen cannot penetrate into the uteri, then immediately get up and sit down with bent knees, and this position provoke sneezes”.
9 Public Masturbation was a Meme
In the modern world, the general consensus is that masturbation is best left to the privacy of your own home. In Ancient Greece, public masturbation was used by the infamous philosopher Diogones to fight the power. Diogones, the founder of cynicism, lived in a barrel and was called a dog by many of his critics. When someone finally scolded him for his habit of public relief, Diogones responded: “If only it were so easy to soothe hunger by rubbing an empty belly”.
In Aristophones’ famous comedy Lysistrata about women withholding sex from men in order to stop war, the Spartans are roasted for their enthusiastic engagement in self pleasure. It is fitting that the appeal of a Spartan herald with a large erection begins the peace talks. We can only wonder if the events in Lysistrata worsened the Spartan’s dependence.
8 Kissing Women was Considered Weird
With some of the strange items on this list, one may wonder why the seemingly normal practice of kissing was considered weird, at least under certain circumstances. Kissing as a form of greeting was normal, even when greeting those who you had just met. Many men would greet their peers with a kiss on the hand, the cheek, the lips prior to important business meetings. We can only imagine modern politicians swapping the traditional handshake with stealing a quick kiss on the lips.
Kissing your wife however, a common practice today, could be considered a sign of weakness for a man. The famous Athenian general Pericles was criticized for frequently kissing his wife on the lips in public. This is primarily because a kiss signified equality between two parties, and women in most Greek city-states were not equal to men. This also gave the impression that Pericles could be taken under the control of his wife, likely rooted in the sexist trope in Greek literature of the evil seductress.
7 State Sponsored Prostitution
It may be difficult to imagine presidential candidates debating rates in state run prostitution rings, but in ancient Greece, prostitution was legal and was in some cases run by the state. Athenian lawmaker Solon regulated prices in state sponsored brothels. These brothels had both female and male sex workers, the latter primarily servicing older male clients. These establishments would apparently offer many cheap rates compared to those prostitutes on the streets, who cleverly would wear sandals which would leave an imprint reading “follow me” on the ground. High class citizens did have some options at the public brothel however. These patrons could sign a contract with a mistress, workers who were skilled in pleasing men both physically and with their superior wit. Solon would fittingly use the tax revenue Athens gained from these public brothels to build a temple to Aphroditie, the goddess of love and pleasure.
6 Pederasty Was Normal
An unfortunate reality of Spartan culture was that older men often took advantage of young boys during their military training. The prevalence and acceptance of these relationships are debated, but many young boys were taken advantage of by their training mentors. At the age of seven, Spartan boys were taken from their homes and put into state sponsored military training in the Agoge. This included rigorous military training and the boys developing skills for their lifelong profession as warriors. In many cases, these boys first sexual partners were their male peers in the Agoge. Same sex partners were normal and encouraged in Greek society, and seen as a sign of male comrodary. Accounts differ on the acceptance of male mentors engaging in relationships with students. Some state that it was considered acceptable if the relationship was not only built on physical pleasure, while others state that once a boy reached puberty all relationships were acceptable. The true prevalence and normalcy or these relationships will likely be lost in history.
5 Drawing Penises Literally Everywhere
Today this form of art is generally reserved for the men’s bathroom. Most people are aware of the prevalence of nudity in Greek statues, and the pride Greeks had in their art. One Athenian statesman was even executed for allegedly chopping off Hermes’ member on an important statue. Greeks would even slap a random phallus on the pillar of a bust. But statues were not the only medium of expression Greeks would use to show wangs to the world. Skilled artists would depict fallacies everywhere from public art works to wine glasses. Drunk Greeks probably found these images hilarious when drinking from such Kylixs during the famous symposium or wine drinking parties. One vase even depicted a woman tending to a crop field of phallaces. No matter how strange the Greeks were, no one can deny their sense of humor.
4 Religion and Sex
Greek polytheism was primarily built around practitioners paying homage to various gods through sacrifice and other methods of veneration. Aphrodite, the god of procreation and pleasure, was often appealed to for matters in the bedroom. The origin story of Aphrodite itself is strange. In Greek Myth, she rose from foam that was made in the ocean after Uranus’ genitalia fell into it, her name meaning foam-arisen. Aphroditie’s sexuality and beauty is a primary subject in Greek mythology, committing adultery with many men. She is well known for her role in the Judgement of Paris and starting the Trojan war, showing her volatile personality and vanity.
One particularly strange episode involving Aphrodite in mythology happened when a man named Glaucus insulted her. She responded by feeding his horses magic water, causing them to turn on him during a chariot race. Glaucus was crushed to death, and his horses proceeded to eat him. Nice.
3 Adultery was Far Worse than Rape
With Greek sexual openness in mind, the strictness around unfaithfulness in marriage may seem strange. In fact, seducing another man’s wife was considered worse than rape. The reason for this is due to the belief that a woman was the “property” of a man. This meant that committing adultery was a form of stealing. Sexual assault was also considered immoral, but if the woman was unmarried it was not considered as serious a crime. Sexual assault is common in Greek mythology with many gods deceiving women and impregnating them. According to the historian Herodatus, adultery needed avenging by the man, while assault did not, resulting in greater severity placed on it. A man who caught another man with his wife was able to inflict any punishment on him. This ranged from public humiliation to murder.
2 Wild Drinking Parties
The Greeks loved their wine. The symposium was an important part of Greek culture. Between 14 and 27 men reclined on pillowed couches in an inner room, and served as a forum for intellectual discussions. Many famous works of literature depict these complex philosophical discussions at the symposium, including Pato’s Symposium. In reality, the symposium could become far less civil than its depiction in literature. Drunken madness could ensue, with large amounts of alcohol, drinking games, and drinking songs. Musicians and other performers were often hired for the symposium, who could end up performing sexual favors for guests. Although women generally were not allowed at the symposium, high scale prostitutes were sometimes hired for guests.
1 Making Your Wife More Masculine to Appear Attractive
As previously mentioned, Spartan boys frequently had their first relationships with other boys in the Agoge. Therefore, it is only natural that a Spartan man should force his new bride to shave her head and appear more masculine before having sex with her to appear more like those previous partners… wait what? Yes you heard that correctly, Spartan women would wear mens clothing and have their heads on their wedding days in order for their husbands to transition from same-sex to heterosexual relationships. The transformation for a woman to resemble a man was often undertaken by a bridesmaid or servant, a far cry from the modern wedding day makeover.
Men would then be forced to sneak into their wives homes in order to consummate the marriage. This was thought to increase the sexual desire between husband and wife. The bride would be laid in bed with a man’s cloak and sandals in the dark. Her new spouse would then sneak into her room during the night and capture her. With the other items on this list, kidnapping your wife dressed in male drag out of her parents house really doesn’t sound too bad.
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