Roughly 40,000 years ago, a group of people known as the Minoans settled nearby the island of Crete. They were the foundation of what would soon become one of the mightiest civilizations in history – the Ancient Greeks. They quite literally changed the world, leaving a cultural legacy that can hardly be matched, rich in literature, art, theatre, clothing, and Olympic Games. Moreover, we also owe them a great deal for being the ones to introduce the concept of democracy, so prominent in most of the post-WWII countries today.
The Minoans were later preceded by another civilization, called the Mycenaean. Although excellent traders and builders, they were also fine soldiers, having been remembered by history for their participation in the famed battle for Troy. If you’ve taken an interest in the culture of Ancient Greece and, by default, everything that precedes it, it’s undoubted that you’re familiar with Homer’s works – the Iliad and the Odyssey – which tell the tales of the Mycenaean age.
But this is exactly the point I was getting to. So many tales have been told about Ancient Greece (the so-called Dark Ages excluded) and in so much detail, you just have to start wondering: don’t we, perchance, know pretty much everything by now? You can never know everything, my friend. But I’m sure we all know that and no one actually asked themselves that silly question. Not phrased like that, at least. A better rephrasing would be, “Is there anything left that can surprise me when it comes to this civilization?”
The answer is, obviously, yes. So, grab a pen, read ahead the following list about some of Ancient Greece’s strange facts and cross the ones you already knew. So, if you want to have your mind blown by some of the lesser known facts about Ancient Greece, proceed.
Athena V Poseidon: Dawn of Olive Trees
The city of Athens was named after goddess Athena, as you may have figured. But this was the result of a competition. When the Greeks wanted to find a patron deity of the city-state that would be known as Athens, they had two options. Athena, goddess of wisdom and skill, was one of them, with the second being Poseidon, the infamous god of seas.
Cecrops, the first king of the would-be-Athens, asked the two gods to each offer a gift that would prove valuable to the city. Poseidon offered water, which sounded nice at first… until you actually tasted it. Since the water was salty, it was pretty much useless. Athena followed next, gifting the city an olive tree. Given the alternative, Cecrops was pleased and, therefore, granted Athena the honor of having one of the oldest cities in the world named after her.
The downside is that Poseidon wasn’t too happy, cursing Athens to never have enough water and the world to have to suffer from a horrible Percy Jackson movie adaption. One of these is a lie, have fun figuring out which.
Hipster Greek Scuba Divers
Ancient Greeks were scuba diving before scuba diving was even invented. Maybe the term was a bit misused, but one thing was clear – they were one of the first civilizations to really take this whole “underwater exploration” business seriously. Long before the invention of submarines and other inventions that would help humans not die when exploring the vastness of seas and oceans, Ancient Greeks were using barrels and kettles.
Or, better said, inverted barrels and kettles which came to be known as “diving bells.” Someone would patiently sit inside of those bells as their helpful fellows would lower them into the hydrographic abyss. Air was trapped inside of an “air pocket,” something that allowed the divers to repeatedly return and take another big breath without actually returning to the surface. In case you’re in need of a visual reference, Pirates of the Caribbean uses a device that’s as similar as it gets.
This technology has been used around 360 B.C., as recorded by Aristotle. Seemingly, Alexander the Great himself handled a similar submersible for his underwater exploration missions.
Guilt-Tripping Tax Collecting
If there is one thing that Ancient Greeks truly cared about, that’s freedom. It was because of this that they would later create the foundations for democracy, the system that (at least in theory) is explicitly supposed to protect freedom. In fact, Ancient Greece cared so much about its citizens that it refused to implement direct taxes and fees. A city without taxes and fees? Where’s a time traveling machine when you need one?
However, it was still a state-city and state-cities required some sort of funding for their schools, armies, buildings, and so on. This funding mostly came from wealthy families, who paid “taxes of shame.” Sure, there may not have been any written laws stating that you need to pay any fees, but in Antiquity, sometimes ethics and pride outweighed laws. If you had money but didn’t contribute to the well-being of the city, you were pretty much considered a pariah. Many wealthy citizens contributed directly by building temples, schools, and other institutions.
Are you processing this? Ancient Greece had no law codes about taxes and fees, but still had people pay taxes and fees because of ethics, morals, and shame? These days, this sounds like the premise of a utopian science-fiction work of literature.
A godly competition, ancient scuba diving, and shame based tax collecting – these are all real facts. Strange, but real. The list could probably go on forever, given how there’s surely enough material to work with. For instance, did you know that Ancient Greeks thought that beans contained the souls of the dead, so they never ate them? I bet that beans wish they could return to those times of glory when they were as worshipped as cows in contemporary India.
As bizarre as some of these facts are, they barely make up one percent of the huge legacy of Ancient Greece. They may have thought beans were human soul holders, but they also invented theatre and were the civilization that infiltrated Troy by building a giant wooden horse. In fact, all these strange facts, although definitely odd, only manage to make the Ancient Greeks shine more. They had a great mythology, explored the deep sea before Jesus Christ was even born, and managed to have a functioning society that relied solely on morals.
If you ever see me in the street, I’ll be wearing an “Ancient Greece Fan #1” T-shirt.
The annals of history are full of fascinating stories, riveting civilizations, and iconic figures that have shaped the present world, and some other individuals with not a pristine legacy. People that have often achieved (or destroyed) something during their life-time have been immortalized within biographies, studies and historical texts. There has also been a lot of speculation on the subject of famous leaders in history, who also seem to have been gay. Homosexuality in history and religion is not something new. There is even talk about Leonardo DaVinci being gay, since he was arrested at the age of 24 for sodomy (for having sexual relations with a seventeen-year-old boy), or about Jesus, who according to Matt Johns, the author of “Was Jesus Gay?” wasn’t all he was supposed to be. It seems that he had actually had close relationships with men. Scholarly or sacrilegious? It is up to you to decide. One thing is for certain: homosexuality has always been a reality, no matter the time or place. Let’s take a look at a few different cultures and their attitude towards homosexual behavior:
1. Ancient Greece
Considering that in the past decade society has become strangely open to gay couples (especially considering that almost every movie or TV series seems to have some gay couple in it), it is hard to believe that people in ancient times also accepted the concept so openly. Greeks were actually totally cool and accepting towards homosexuality. It was actually believed that relationships between a man and a boy were the purest form of love that existed. According to mythology, the term lesbian also comes from the Island of Lesbos, the birthplace of Sappho, a priestess of feminine love. Also, Spartans, which were probably the manliest of men, also indulged in homosexual activity. It was consider a part of their military training, to have an older lover to train them in the arts of war. Last but not least, Alexander the Great and Hephaiston are without a doubt one of the most popular ancient couples that are suggested to have been an intimate couple.
Other Greek Men Suspected to have been Gay: Socrates, Plato, Euripedes, Sophocles, Anacrean
2. The Bible
The bible is probably the last place where you would be looking for traces of homosexuality, right? As it turns out, it is actually a really good place to start. The most evident traces of homosexuality can be found between David and Jonathon. In Samuel 20:41, there is a mention of David raising out of Jonathon’s place while kissing and weeping together. There is a particular quote in Samuel 1:25-26 that might sound a bit, strange:
“I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.”
While there may have been many people who argued that the two were brothers, and that the Bible says that a man will never be able to lie with a man as with a women, but many things that we would deem unjust now, have been condoned in the Old Testament (a few examples: animal sacrifices, slavery, polygamy, women as property etc.). So the question is, should we take everything that is written in the Bible for granted? Of course, the subject of homosexuality in history and religion is a debatable one, but it at least deserves a thought.
3. Ancient Rome
Number three on our ancient civilizations that had an interesting view on homosexuality is, obviously, Ancient Rome. Needless to say, Romans were open to this concept until Christianity came along. Julius Caesar, one of the most prominent figures in history was said to be every women’s husband, and every man’s wife. Stories also talk about Emperor Hadrian, and Antinous Pius, who were supposedly lovers, and many people actually compared their love to that of Zeus and Ganymede. As far as this story is concerned, there is no need for too much speculation: Hadrian went into a period of intense mourning and grief (that altered the entire continent) after Antinous’s death.
Other Roman Men Suspected to have Been Gay: Horace, Ovid, Virgil (who actually admitted his infatuation for Augustus in a poem), and Seneca.
We hope you liked this article about Homosexuality in history and religion, and we encourage you to share your thoughts. There are many more pieces of information that we could have added to the list, and might continue with a -part 2-.
In Ancient Greek mythology Zeus was king of the gods and, by and large, did a pretty good job of it. Referred to as father even by those gods he didn’t have a hand in conceiving, he overthrew his baby-eating father Cronus and shared the world with his elder brothers Poseidon (who got the world’s waters) and Hades (who was put in charge of the dead and thus the Underworld). However, for all his godliness he had one fatal flaw: women. This, perhaps understandably, pissed off his wife Hera no end, especially considering the irony of her presiding over marriage and the union of the marriage bed. But what were Zeus’s more unusual dalliances? He was a god, after all, and a few dirty weekends disguised as business trips weren’t exactly going to cut it. [Read more…]