Dover's Greeks

From William A. Percy
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This letter was published in TLS Feb 16, 2007 issue.

Sir,- In a dramatic and provocative review of Gay Life Culture: A world history edited by Richard Aldridge (January 5), Richard Davenport-Hines understood that Lewis Crompton demolished Foucault's "spurious idea that 'the sodomite had been a sinner' until the 1870's and then became 'a species'". What Davenport-Hines failed to grasp, in quoting Kenneth Dover approvingly, was that Crompton also demolished Dover's denial that Greek erastes often educated and even inspired their eromenoi:"Ancient Greeks...practically all of them [would have said that] enjoyment of both males and females affords a richer and happier life than enjoyment of either males or females". By over-privileging erotic vase paintings, the sarcastic parodies of comedians, and a seamy sex scandal treated at extraordinary length in a whole chapter about one oration, and virtually ignoring all of the far more numerous and weighty texts that extolled the pedagogical and social value of intergenerational homosexual love, Dover denigrated Greek pederasty.

Dover's homophobia was fully documented in an article in Past and Present, LXX (February 2001), "Dover, Foucault, and Greek Homosexuality: Penetration and the truth of sex", by James Davidson. Some essays in Gay Life and Culture, in fact, back up Crompton in his critique of Dover, as well as of Foucault, adding material on cultures that even Crompton didn't exploit.

William A. Percy
Department of History, University of Massachusetts

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