Site of the Mycenean citadel of Cadmus (legendary personification of the Semitic peoples of the East), Thebes was the capital of Boeotia in central Greece in classical times.
The Theban cycle, celebrated by Sophocles and other writers, offers several salient erotic themes. Cadmus' descendent Laius, warned by an oracle that his son would slay him, forewent sex with his wife Jocasta. Unaware of the danger and frustrated, she got him drunk, had intercourse with him, and in nine months produced the infant Oedipus, whom he ordered to be exposed. Laius was then exiled to the Peloponesus. Exclaiming "nature compels me," he then raped Chrysippus, his host's 12-year old son, causing a curse to follow him to his Thebes when he returned. Oedipus, saved by a shepherd, grew to manhood, slew his father whom he did not recognize in distant parts, and came to Thebes. Here he ended the plague, married the widowed Jocasta, and sired children by her to begin a new round of tragedies including the execution of his daughter Antigone by her uncle Cleon for burying her rebel brother.
After Crete and Sparta, from which institutionalized pederasty was imported about 600 B.c., Thebes became the place Greeks most often named as the locus for the formalized of pederasty. In Plators Laws, the Athenian declares that in Elis and Boeotia (including Thebes) they practiced pederasty uninhibitedly, each adult male living together with the boy he loved. The greatest pederastic poet, Pindar, resided in Thebes. When Alexander the Great destroyed the rebel city, he left Pindar's house standing to demonstrate his love of culture. After Sparta and Athens exhausted each other in the great Peloponnesian War, Pelopidas and Epaminondas, in exile in Athens, formed an aristocratic conspiracy to liberate their city.
Bravely surprising the Spartan garrison, they organized the Sacred Band (later copied by the Carthaginians) of 300 pairs of lovers, which defeated Sparta at Leuctra (371 B.C.) and Mantinea (362 B.C.] and liberated Messenia, ending Spartan hegemony. Epaminondas was slain at Mantinea with his second emrnenos (beloved) bravely falling at his side. During the three-comered struggle that ensued between a leaderless Thebes, a crippled Sparta, and an Athens that had not fully recovered from the Peloponnesian War, Persians interfered and Macedonians encroached. The Greeks were defeated at Chaeronea in 338 B.C., when the Sacred Band died fighting to the last man, and even Philip of Macedonia, the victor, paid tribute to their valor: "Let no man speak evil of such heroes."
Plutarch, a hereditary Theban noble who held a priesthood at Delphi, recorded the careers of notable pederasts in his Parallel Lives of Famous Greeks and Romans, and his Dialogues on Love debated the relative merits of women and boys.
The ancient city of Thebes possessed two gymnasia, one dedicated to Heracles, the other to Iolaus, often regarded in classic times as his erornenos. At the latter place pairs of male lovers were accustomed to pledge their troth. About three miles outside the city lay the Kabeirion, the shrine of a mystery cult revolving around the god Kabeiros and his Pais ("boy"); here modern archeologists have found votive offerings depicting a man and a boy, who is often portrayed holding an animal - a traditional courtship gift.
Nancy H. Demand, Thebes in the Pifth Century, Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
William A. Percy