On September 23, we are told about a sign of change that the New York Times obviously approves of. The editors of the Loeb Greek and Latin classics (published at Harvard) are now offering translations of ancient authors that do justice to their homoerotic interests. Though the account makes it appear that the new enlightened editors are at last honoring James Loeb, the founder and patron of the series who had no use for “bowdlerized” translations, these comments are both vacuous and hypocritical.
The media and the filmmakers doctor reality incessantly to make it fit their escalating ideological agenda. Thus in films we hardly ever see blacks committing violent crimes in inner cities, while media reports of black and Hispanic riots typically attribute them to economic oppression and white racism. Note also the cloying way homosexual activists are presented in the Times, unlike such predictable heavies as (non-leftist) Southern whites, non-media big business, and Christian traditionalists. If disclosing the full truth is what the past Loeb editors failed to do, their sins fall far short of those committed by our national press, including the Times.
The two ancient authors mentioned in the news item whose homoerotic interests had been allegedly hidden by prudish or mendacious translators, Aristophanes and Plato, are bad illustrations for a questionable argument. Aristophanes, in his plays, reported the “bawdy” humor surrounding Athenian pedophiles, but it is doubtful this playwright had any sympathy for the libertines featured or ridiculed in his work. A critic of Socrates, whom he thought was corrupting Athens’s youth, Aristophanes detested non-traditional morals and beliefs and never, as far as I know, treated homoeroticism in a favorable light. Moreover, Plato was so critical of homosexual acts that he made them a capital offense in The Laws. Though the accuracy of this harsh judgment has been subject to dispute by politically correct classicists, most famously Martha Nussbaum, it is hard to read the disputed text without agreeing with the established translation. When the Eleatic Stranger, who leads the conversation, concludes that homosexuality is para phusin, he does mean what he says, that the act is “against Nature.”
Plato’s Symposium is another case in point, a now misrepresented text that offers negative judgments about homoerotic relations. Here the future political adventurer and self-absorbed pedophile Alcibiades recalls a night spent sleeping next to Socrates. This deeply ascetic teacher resisted his advances and acted in such a manner as would “befit a father or older brother.” Alcibiades and the other former symposiasts testify to Socrates’s efforts to contrast homoerotic passions to the yearning for a “higher beauty” that is spiritual.
If gay activists and their media boosters are looking for a usable past, they might try such plausible candidates as Ernst Roehm’s Brown Shirts. On the other hand, misrepresenting the intentions of respected ancient authors does have its propagandistic advantage, especially if scholars can be browbeaten or rewarded into going along.October 4, 2000
Paul Gottfried is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.