The Greek word paiderastia (παιδεραστία) is an abstract noun of feminine gender. It is formed from paiderastês, which in turn is a compound of pais ("child", plural paides) and erastês (see below).
Although the word pais can refer to a child of either sex, paiderastia is defined by Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon as "the love of boys," and the verb paiderasteuein as "to be a lover of boys."
|Erastes (lover) and eromenos (beloved) kissing. Detail from the tondo of a red-figure Attic cup, ca. 480 BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Pederasty in ancient Greece was a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male (the erastes) and a younger male (the eromenos) usually in his teens. It was characteristic of the Archaic and Classical periods.
Some scholars locate its origin in initiation ritual, particularly rites of passage on Crete, where it was associated with entrance into military life and the religion of Zeus.
The social custom called paiderastia by the Greeks was both idealized and criticized in ancient literature and philosophy; it has no formal existence in the Homeric epics, and seems to have developed in the late 7th century BC as an aspect of Greek homosocial culture, which was characterized also by athletic and artistic nudity, delayed marriage for aristocrats, symposia, and the social seclusion of women.
Bearded archer greeting a young hunter bearing a chamois, an offering for Hermes Kedritēs. Bronze sheet cut, embossed and chased, Cretan artwork, ca. 670–650 BC. From the Temple of Hermes at Syme Viannou, Crete. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The influence of pederasty was so pervasive that it has been called "the principal cultural model for free relationships between citizens."
Scholars have debated the role or extent of pederasty, which is likely to have varied according to local custom and individual inclination.
The English word "pederasty" in present-day usage might imply the abuse of minors in certain jurisdictions, but Athenian law, for instance, recognized consent but not age as a factor in regulating sexual behavior.
Youth conversing with suitors from the Haft Awrang of Jami, in the story A Father Advises his Son About Love. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As classical historian Robin Osborne has pointed out, historical discussion of paiderastia is complicated by 21st-century moral standards:
It is the historian's job to draw attention to the personal, social, political and indeed moral issues behind the literary and artistic representations of the Greek world.
The historian's job is to present pederasty and all, to make sure that … we come face to face with the way the glory that was Greece was part of a world in which many of our own core values find themselves challenged rather than reinforced.
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Map of "The archaic period in Greece (750 BC – 480 BC)" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)