All right, we're going to tackle this before it gets picked up and you, as a Hellenist, find yourself without an answer. A summary of the issue at hand: A group of students at the University of Texas are calling for the firing of a classics professor who has written extensively on pederasty in ancient Hellas. Students claim Thomas Hubbard’s academic work “advocates for violent crime against teen boys” and is being celebrated in online communities that promote pedophilia. Read a whole, long article summarizing it all here.

So, pederasty. Yes, it existed. Yes, it often included sex between an adult male and a teenage male. Yes, technically, that makes it pedophilia. Do I condone it? No. Was it part of ancient Hellenic culture? Yes. Is it something any true Hellenist should want to bring back? Hell no! And if anyone ever uses ancient Hellenic culture as an excuse to break a modern law, they are missing the point of Hellenism.

So, now, let me explain pederasty so you can explain it to others, and tell you how modern Hellenist views these practices.

Hellenic society revolved around the household, and the household was founded upon the husband and wife. The ancient Hellenes knew of no other household foundation as this combination alone produced children. As many children died of illness, accidents and war and the continuation of the family line was one of the--if not the--most important desire and responsibility of every citizen. 

The ancient Hellenes seemed to have viewed all social interactions (so male-male, female-female and even male-female interactions) not only through a gender filter but also through a power filter. Male citizens had more power than slaves, for example, and female citizens had more power than male slaves, even though women were bound by other social structures than any man was. Older men had more power than younger men and the same held true for women. Married people even had more power than unmarried people. Gender was, if you will, merely a factor in the equation of who had more power during the exchange.

The one with more power was the active party and he (or she) was to be obeyed. When it came to the law, this partner was punished less severely for a crime both partook of (like adultery)--the complete opposite of how we'd view it today. The passive party was usually younger, a slave, or a woman. 

This power equation also dictated sexual relations. The ancient Hellenes viewed male-female relationships not solely as defined by gender but as a relationship of active versus passive and applied that theorum to male-male (and most likely female-female) relationships as well. One partner was always the clear submissive and became, through that, the 'female' while the other always assumed the active role and through that became the 'male'. They equated any relationship that applied these roles and rejected (heavily!) any that did not. And they did not consider these relationships true relationships in a marriage sense because, as I said above, a household could not be formed around it as the union could not provide children--which was the main function of a marriage.

Pederasty was a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male and a younger male usually in his teens, and was practiced mostly in the Archaic and Classical ages of Hellenic history. The courtship of the younger male (although the age difference could be neglectable in some cases) started with a ritual abduction of the younger male. The older male selected a youth and enlisted the chosen one's friends to help him, and carried off the object of his affections to his andreion, a sort of men's club or meeting hall. The whole group spent one or two months out in the countryside where they feasted, hunted and simply spent time together, enjoying life.

The next step in the process was to court the youth with gifts. Three gifts were traditional: military attire, an ox, and a drinking cup, but the youth most certainly received more expensive gifts. When the youth returned to the city, the ox was sacrificed to Zeus and the youth and his friends feasted. The young man also received special clothing that in adult life marked him as kleinos, 'famous, renowned.' The young man was called a parastatheis, 'he who stands beside', and served as cup bearer for the older male, the philetor, during meals in the andreion. Sex was part of this relationship, although the younger male rarely carried any love for the older male. Semen was said to transfer wisdom, so this is why younger boys accepted the practice. The rise in status also helped. There was a female version of this practice, but it's much less documented.

In ancient Hellas, what mattered was the role you played in bed. The males, especially when older or higher up in the hierarchy, were supposed to be the dominant ones, the active ones, while the women, the young, and those lower in the hierarchy, the passive ones. Because of the age difference and the difference in social standing, the young male assuming a passive role was permitted in pederasty, but a grown man assuming that role was a social and sexual taboo. 

Taboos say a lot about a culture and the people in it. The boundaries of what is, and what is not, socially accepted bind people together. They also give clues about Hellenistic Reconstruction. I have said before that reconstruction separates religion from culture, but when reconstructing a religion where religion defined the culture, one is invariably bound to it by some extend. While pederasty was a big thing in ancient Hellas, no one is saying we need to bring it back today. There are laws against it, and those are justly in place.

Pederasty played a social role in ancient Hellas. It provided boys with a mentor, it allowed them to make friends in high places, for many, a pederastic relationship was the only way to qualify for military service, which was an all but mandatory part of being a citizen. None of these reasons exist today and so there is absolutely no reason to bring the practice back. Anyone who uses the ancient practice of it as a cover for sexual wrongdoings today is not a member of our tradition.