Agathias and Paul the Silentiary

Erotic epigram and the sublimation of same-sex desire in the age of Justinian

Authored by: Steven D. Smith

Sex in Antiquity

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415519410
eBook ISBN: 9781315747910
Adobe ISBN: 9781317602774


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Around the middle of the sixth century CE in Constantinople, the poet and lawyer Agathias of Myrina composed the following verses denouncing male same-sex desire: 1 αὐτή μοι Κυθέρεια καὶ ἱμερόεντες Ἔρωτες τήξουσιν κενεὴν ἐχθόμενοι κραδίην. ἄρσενας εἰ, σπεύσω ϕιλέειν ποτέ, μήτε τυχήσω μήτ’ ἐπολισθήσω μείζοσιν ἀμπλaκίαις. ἄρνια θηλυέερων ἀλιτήματα κεῖνα κομίσσω, καλλείψῳ δὲ νέους ἄϕρονιι Πιτταλάκῳ.

Cythereia herself and the Loves that excite desire, in their hatred of me, will melt my empty heart. If I am ever eager to love males, let me not succeed and let me not slip in these greater sins. Sinning with the opposite sex is enough: that I’ll take, but I’ll leave youths behind for foolish Pittalacus.

(AP 5.278 Agathias)

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