Why were there (apparently) more homosexual men in Ancient Greece than today?

In traditional Modern Greek society, there was a stigmatised group of gay men: poustides.

In traditional Ancient Greek society, there was a stigmatised group of gay men: kinaidoi.

The stigma in antiquity was more about being a bottom (i.e. about power) than about having sex with males per se.  What was not stigmatised was homosexual activity with boys (which did not necessarily include full-on intercourse), as part of a mentor-like arrangement.

The stigma in Ottoman Greece was certainly etymologically about being a bottom: πούστης < Turkish puşt was a bottom, κωλομπαράς “arse-fancier” (Greek–Persian blend) was a top. Quite possible that in traditional Greek society both roles were stigmatised, haven’t studied it in depth.

But there were homosexual men in Ancient and in Modern Greece, and I don’t see a particular reason to think there were more gays in antiquity. A particular, quite regimented set of behaviours, which was as much about mentoring and social alliances as it was about sex, was licensed. That didn’t mean Ancient Athens was Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Animal Sanctuary. 

To my amusement: Greeks in the 60s were convinced London was Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Animal Sanctuary. Because Britain moved early to decriminalise gay sex.

What are some suboptimal design decisions of Esperanto?

I really don’t like this kind of question. As many on Quora and outside Quora have said, optimal design is not how a language prevails; language typology is not about better and worse but different; and the defensive Esperanto assertion that Esperanto has an internal cohesion is quite true.


That said, if there is a point in debating Esperanto design (which I dispute), the most questionable features are:

  • The diacritics. It’s a solution that makes sense if you live in Poland, but it’s been a burden.
  • The accusative. I *love* the free word order of Greek, and I love that it shows up in Esperanto. But it’s an unnecessary burden for learners of caseless languages.
  • The neurotic avoidance of polysemy, which has led to some quite artificial differentiations of stems (sento/senso/senco from the beginning, but it got much worse).
  • Inventing aspect distinctions, and not having the linguistic sophistication to realise it and document it. Three decades of argument between the atistoj and the itistoj could have been avoided.

I’m not perturbed by definiteness or number-marking, or the deprecation of ci “thou” (which happened at the last minute before publication). I’m very happy Esperanto didn’t go the way of Occidental, and prioritised schematism over naturalness: if I want Italian, I know where to find it.

There’s been much moaning over the mal– words; Orwell lampooned them in Newspeak; Ido got rid of them; and the dirty secret of the “poetic” replacement words in Esperanto is that they are Ido words, introduced by former Idists. They don’t bother me either: once you learn them, you internalise them.

And Zamenhof dealt as well as anyone could with the deluge of reform proposals. Much of this had already been brought up in 1894.

What are some signs of Venetian and Genovese influence in the Greek islands (and Cyprus)?

Not aware of any Russian influence; 7 years was short, and I’m not aware that the Russian presence was substantial. The British did leave behind ginger beer and cricket.

Venetian and Genoese influence that I know of includes:

  • Substantial Italian, Venetian and Genoese lexicon in the dialects of the Greek islands. When my grandmother told us off for being noisy, she’d tell us not to make ντραβάγια [dravaʝa]. That word is just travaglia: travail.
  • On Crete, Venetian-era fortifications. The huge land walls around Iraklion had to withstand a twenty-year siege. In my home town of Sitia, the Venetian fortress (Kazarma: Cas’ Arma) is still the most prominent landmark. It helped that the town was depopulated for two centuries afterwards.
  • The  literature of the Renaissance was substantially based on Italian models. The only enduring legacy of that was Erotokritos, which was popularised as a chapbook, and is still sung on Crete (there are accounts of people who had memorised all 10,000 verses). It also became a distant ideal for Modern Greek literature, of what could have been if the pedants had not gotten their way.
  • In the Ionian islands: Western style folk music, including barbershop-style harmonies, and mandolins. Unsurprisingly, when I was a kid and Greek TV featured folk music from throughout Greece, Ionian Islander music was not included. Did not fit the stereotype.
  • Greek Catholicism, although that’s limited to only a couple of islands (Syros being the main instance).

To whom Constantinople and Byzantium legacy belong to, Greece, Turkey or Bulgaria?

To anyone who claims it.

I mean, seriously, what are you going to do? Sue the claimants you don’t like in the Hague?

It belongs to the Greeks, who continue to call the City Constantinople and the empire Byzantine, Andrew Baird nothwithstanding, whose literary and church culture is suffused with Byzantium, and whose language if not range of ethnicities came to coincide with Byzantium’s.

It belongs to the Turks, who see the remnants of Byzantium all around them in İstanbul, and whose Ottoman forebears assumed both the mantle and many of the institutions of the Empire of Rum.

It belongs to the Bulgarians, at least in part, because their Orthodoxy was, for the better part of a millennium, Tsarigrad’s—even if Krum did drink wine out of Nicephorus’ skull, and Basil made has name as the Bulgar-Slayer.

It definitely belongs to the Russians, who saw themselves as the Third Rome for centuries.

I’m reminded of one of the many pointless disputes on who claims whom as theirs in Greek history. The target of the dispute was the military feats of the Souliotes: Orthodox by creed, Albanian by language. Who got to claim them?

A Greek author could be expected to say “Obviously us”, but the Greek author in question (who was an Arvanite) had exactly the right answer, even if it was intended as a dodge.

Their legacy was for the whole world.

How come the concept of ‘homosexuality’ was not known in Ancient Greece (if it was in the Bible itself)?

Paul refers to ἀρσενοκοίτης, “sleeping with men”, which is an expression for the concept of homosexuality. Predating the modern term homosexuality. And indeed, which might well be rendered as “homosexuality”, even though it was not the word that Ancient Greeks used. There is a contrary opinion that it refers specifically to temple prostitution in Leviticus; but I find that unconvincing: I have no problem believing that Paul was anti-gay.

See the diversity of opinions in Homosexuality in the New Testament.

So the Greek of the Bible doesn’t use the Modern Latin-derived word homosexuality, just as it doesn’t use the Modern Latin-derived word crucifixion. But it certainly uses a reference to homosexual practices, in a negative sense. And so did Ancient Greeks; kinaideia, for example. (For the difference between negative and positive references to homosexuality, see e.g. Nick Nicholas’ answer to Why were there (apparently) more homosexual men in Ancient Greece than today?)

Do libraries have enough shelf space for all of their books at once?

Do libraries have enough shelf space for all of their books at once?

No. They have offsite stacks. Where books go so you’ll never find them again (unless they were really, really well catalogued; and even then, it’s not the same as browsing shelves).

University libraries have peaks and troughs of demand, and in the trough, there will be enough room for books on the shelf…

… and if there isn’t, that’s when more books are sent to the stacks.