Charting a history of homosexuality through the ages, Richard Coles visits Greece to rediscover the ancient culture in which homoerotic love was part of a social code.
In the second programme in Radio 3's landmark series telling the global story of gay identity, Richard Coles travels to Greece to re-discover the ancient culture in which homoerotic love was part of a social code.
Alongside exploring familiar and, according to modern scholarship, hopelessly over-simplified images of pederastic relationships between older and younger men Richard travels to the plain of Chaeronea where the famous Sacred Band of Thebes fought and died. The Band, a military unit made up of same-sex lovers, were wiped out in combat against the Macedonian forces of Philip and his son Alexander in 338BCE. The Lion monument that overlooks the site of the slaughter speaks of an attitude towards the Sacred Band at odds with our modern feminised view of homosexuality.
Richard then explores the impact of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions beginning with the Mosaic laws of Judaism. The fierce prohibition that 'thou shalt not sleep with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination' has echoed down the centuries. Equally the Qur'an stories of Lot and his rejection by the people of Sodom appears unequivocal. But how did the early Islamic, Judaic and Christian societies react to these texts and what are we to make of the Hebrew and Arabic homoerotic poetry of the early medieval period?
Christianity seems to have been the most enthusiastic critic of same-sex relations but even here the judgements and images are rarely as clear cut as the Biblical call for the death sentence for transgressors.
Producer: Tom Alban
First broadcast in September 2011.