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Gitone’s magic

My response to Greg Johnson and James O’Meara about the latter’s new book defending homosexuality is available in the addenda to this blog. My article “On classic pederasty” takes issue with them. The Greco-Roman “lover-beloved” institution was not “gay” in the modern sense of the word.

An expanded version of “On classic pederasty” was chosen for my collection of the 2014 edition of Day of Wrath. But I discarded it for the 2017 edition of the same book. However, it can still be read as a PDF: pages that I stole from the now unavailable edition of Day of Wrath:


18 replies on “Gitone’s magic”

I stopped reading this partway through because you’re overlooking a major possible aspect to the question.

There’s a certain scientist blogger with a habit of pronouncing on things he knows not a damn thing about who I will not name so as not to encourage him. On occasion his pronouncements seem to accidentally stumble over one or another apparent truth. In the case of homosexuality, he made the observation that twin studies have established that the incidence in both twins is far lower between twins than what one would expect from a purely genetic cause, while still being higher than the population at large; that human male homosexuality is unusual in that it is an exclusive preference, replacing attraction to women largely or entirely, and thus tremendously harmful to the individual’s chances of passing on the genes which are presumably responsible for the behavior, thus implying they should edit themselves out of the gene pool switly; that the toxoplasma bacterium has already been established as changing the behavior of mice and humans infected with it; and that all these things would be consistent with a disease agent of some sort that causes a change in the wiring of sexual attraction during or before puberty. As homosexuality is almost purely a phenomenon of civilized life – it’s unknown among hunter-gatherers – one might guess that that’s where the pathogen finds transmission easiest.

By the same token, if you don’t want your descendants to be homo, stay away from cities – and most particularly, don’t let homos interact with your pre-pubescent sons.

The Greek descriptions would be consistent with a setting where such a disease was “encouraging” its hosts to enable its transmission more effectively.

If this is a correct diagnosis, then the psychological aspect of it becomes utterly irrelevant. As yet no serious research has been done into the matter – the howls of outrage would be predictable.

I am tempted to delete this comment of mine (and the previous one) since a full reading of this article would reveal that its subject-matter is not exactly “homosexuality” but —how can I put it symbolically?— the caduceus for our race.

I can follow the argument in respect to Visconti’s Tadzio. But Fellini’s Gitone seems deliberately cast and made-up for a decidedly kinky, perverse effect. Just look at the way Fellini makes him open his eyelids and smile. He has a strangely contradictive appeal, evoking attraction and repulsion at the same time. That is at least my reaction. Nonetheless I understand how you see Eros at work in both. Eros is a guide and psychopompos, but also a dark God, close to madness and death.

Watch Fellini’s film a second time… but not all scenes! In 1994 I presented a heavily-edited version of that film in a course given by a filmmaker. I left out every grotesque scene—about 90 percent!—of Fellini-Satyricon to show the students that Fellini mixed the sublime with the grotesque.

Yes: When Gitone appears for the first time in the film, in Vernacchio’s theatre, Fellini purposely mixed the “treasure without prize” (Vernacchio’s words), the ephebe, with the actor Vernacchio himself: a typical grotesque character in most of Fellini films. But if you watch the embedded clip in the main text above you will see that just after Encolpius and Gitone escaped Vernacchio’s theater the intention of the director was to make the sixteen year-old adolescent look stunning indeed. So stunning that three hetero friends— real heteros, no BS!— told me many years ago that because of that scene they… fancied Gitone!

What you say about the smile is true; I’ve removed it at the top of this entry (though it can still be seen in the video clip). That smile was meant to last only a split second in the film, which conveys a different meaning than watching it longer. And of course: in Petronius’ classic Gitone is not Tadzio—whose smile to the poor German professor in Visconti’s film was like the modest smile of the Mona Lisa—but a rather picaresque (not “kinky”) lover of his two friends.

Behold another scene. In it you can see how Gitone and his friends look in action, not merely a stilled photo:


You see that I took my commenter’s name (I use it on CC as well) from the author of Satyricon, as I feel we are living in similar times.

As the translator Julio Picasso says (in Spanish), “There is no better book that this one [Petronius’] to know the mentality of the Roman people, their customs, fashions, their meals, loves, and every day speech.”

I was interested to see the citations of Dover and Lilja – I had not known of those books.

I periodically scan through Thomas K. Hubbard’s Homosexuality in Greece and Rome but I suspect I need to read more before I can offer a meaningful argument.

The first major claim from Hubbard that struck me as relevant was the fact that different ancient cities had different specific taboos and prescriptions for sexual contact. This made for major differences between Athens and Sparta during the time of Socrates, but I don’t know if it had any impact on Rome – possibly Rome was looser.

The second major idea that I take from Hubbard is that only the wealthiest Greeks had the resources to expend on sex as recreation. The lower classes were very willing to censure homosexuality because they simply could not afford to give gifts to gay prostitutes.

However, I am not well-read in these matters, and the blogger Chechar seems to be writing from the basis of many years of study, so I defer to his scholarship.

Well… While in the 1980s and 90s I did indeed read all the books that I cite (of the Satyricon I needed no less than three translations directly from the Latin to clarify some issues) I don’t claim scholarship on this subject. For instance, I have not read Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. But according to an Amazon reviewer it’s refreshing to learn that, like me in my modest piece, Hubbard “effectively demolished the absurdities of John Boswell and David Halperin” and of his “subtle but devastating attacks on social constructionists, extreme feminists, lesbiterians, and Socarides, the other (dying-off) old-time American Freudians, and the child abuse industry”.

Great! Look forward to reading it.

What is totally original is my approach to pederasty from the psycho-historical viewpoint: raising the question whether or not adolescents fared much better in a culture that counted with an (erotic) outlet for what Jung called “dragon mothers”. It’s easy to imagine that an ephebe would prefer conversing at banquets with his friends—even at the risk of facing quite a few “youth lovers”!—than staying at home with a Xanthippe, if we give credit to Xenophon that she was “the hardest to get along with of all the women there are”.

Greetings – I happened to have done an internet search on the name Gitone, and thus found this page. And I’m very pleased to have gotten to read it. I’ve for a long time been fascinated by the concept of erastes-eromenos relationships, as well as the ephebe.

After reading what you have written here about the glorious creature Gitone, I would feel remiss if I didn’t urge you to have a look at another chimerical creature, precisely one of those rarified beings that look like a mixture of humans and angels, like you described above: One young performer named Fyodor Pavlov deserves to be the world’s next Gitone, Tadzio, Ganymede… http://www.baritaria.com

Oops! I saw that link and those two young men would not qualify as “ephebes” according to my (basically hetero) standards. An ephebe according to my own peculiar definition is truly leptosomatic (again, see Gitone’s chest above), and with a face as beautiful as the most beautiful madonnas of thirteenth century paintings. “How gross, compared to them [the medieval madonnas], are the great beauties of other woman-worshiping epochs!”

I know Max Born well. He’s in Spain, has 2 grown girls and still with long term partner, mother of his children. So all of you guys out there who lusted after him – tough!

As a matter of interest, The medieval Japanese had a system of institutionalised pederasty which was rather similar to the ancient Greek one.

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