Here’s a little something from the archives…

Lambda Warriors: Spartans – Soldiers – Lovers
by Bain Pavay (Issue 02/Volume 02 – April 2008)

The lambda symbol seems to be one of the most controversial of symbols in regards to its meaning. There are many opinions as to why the lambda was chosen as a gay symbol and what it really means. But what is rather fascinating is that the gay warriors, the Spartans, who carved this symbol into their battle shields. The ancient Greek Spartans believed the lambda meant unity. Ancient Greeks placed the lambda on shields of Spartan warriors, who were often paired off with younger men in battle. The theory was that warriors would fight more fiercely knowing their lovers were both watching and fighting alongside them. Spartan males were trained from birth to be functioning members of an armed camp. Spartan infants were assessed by the state at birth as to whether they had the robust qualities required to become warriors. Weakling infants were left in the mountains to die. Some were rescued by farmers, but most perished, thus preserving the strong, fit bloodline of the Spartans. Surviving males were thrust into military training at age seven. They were made to endure the cold, either naked or with very little clothing, and fed only watery broth and roots or scraps. Spartan boys were encouraged to steal food from local farmers. The idea was that the boys would be forced to be clever and this would help them in foraging when, as soldiers, they later took part in warfare; while the self-denial imposed on the youth was designed to toughen bodies and make Spartans indifferent to hardship. One leader instituted the practice of scourge bearing wherein older boys were given whips to terrorize younger boys to teach the virtue of obedience. This may have been one of the originating factors that would later be considered as one of the precursors to the master-slave sexual relationship later on. It was also taught that it was the obligation of older military males to introduce their wives to younger, more vigorous male sexual partners for purposes of breeding. Again, we can see that strong male infants were important; but this also brings in the idea of multiple sexual partners.  At age 20, Spartan boys became warriors. Upon reaching adulthood or age 30, the Hoplite was entitled to an equal share in Spartan agricultural land, land that was actually farmed by helots. Now, too, as an equal, the adult warrior could live at home with his bride although he continued to eat in a shared, military mess hall. At age 60 his term of military service ended. Oddly, however, despite the ultra-masculinity of Spartan values, it is believed that homosexuality was somewhat widespread.  Furthermore, there were no white gowns at a Spartan marriage ceremony; rather she was abducted and sexual relations were to be carried on in a clandestine manner. Her husband was taught that to be seen going and coming from his wife was disgraceful; therefore, it was said that some men often saw their first child before gazing upon the face of their wives. Spartan men were required to marry at age 20 after completing the crypteia. A Spartan wedding was not highly ritualized and consisted of the intended bride being abducted with simulated violence. After the wedding night the husband remained living in his barracks and would have no further contact with his wife except for the purpose of procreation. This was ritualized with the wife having to shave her head and dress in male clothing while the husband would wait until his battlemates had gone to sleep before leaving the barracks to do his duty and then returning before they were aware of his absence. In antiquity it was thought that a youth was expected to find himself an older lover, and that pederasty, a social practice common throughout most of Greece, was especially so in Sparta, they were the best army in the world where the ephors fined any eligible man who did not have chaste relationships with youths. However, according to one author, an examination of the historical details reveals that “references to particular homosexual attachments of Spartans are conspicuous even by Greek standards”. What can we learn from Ancient Greece as modern gay men?  Greece has long been portrayed as a homosexual paradise for today’s modern gays and lesbians.  2300 years ago men in Greece had wives, mistresses, and lovers of either gender.  The most famous historic gay culture, Greek society normalized same-sex love among its male and female members.  Homosexual relations were believed to be above the lower classes, reserved for middle class and aristocracy.  Ancient Greek culture honored gay relations as a flourishing empire; a period when Lambda warriors, an army of homosexual male soldiers, successfully conquered neighboring lands. Ancient Greeks were pagan and deeply religious, truly believing that by exceeding feats of the gods they could become gods themselves. Delving into the world’s queer history, early accounts of same-sex relationships come from Ancient Greece.  Such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman but occurred before and beside it.  The relationships were typically pederastic and it would be less common for a man to have a mature male mate (though some did): typically, a man would be the “erastes” (lover) to an adolescent “eromenos” (loved one). In this relationship it was considered improper for the adolescent to feel desire, as that would not be masculine. Driven by aspiration and admiration, the elder of the two would devote himself unselfishly to providing all the education his young man required to thrive in society. The Greek symbol lambda was emblazoned on the shields of Spartan warriors in ancient Greece.  While the city-state is famous for its legendary battle prowess, it is also notable for its practice of pairing experienced soldiers with young new recruits for both training and sex. The lambda was co-opted by gay activists during the 1950s and 1960s. While its usage is down somewhat, it is still sometimes favored by collegiate gay men today for its wry commentary on Greek fraternity traditions and is still used as an identifier from one homosexual to another.

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