From the logical to the downright odd – some are
With how much praise and attention ancient Greece gets in modern schools, people might think that the ancient people along the Mediterranean were a bunch of forward-thinking, noble people who spend all morning fighting for glory and all afternoon arguing the true meaning of beauty. However, while those activities probably happened occasionally, they were certainly not in the majority. What you more often got in ancient Greece was…
The Greeks were not a modest people. Between public baths and wrestling matches, there were an awful lot of tunic-less people around. In particular, the Greeks practiced public nudity while exercising or competing in sports. The Greek word “gymnasium” literally means “a place to train naked.”
This would make most of us very uncomfortable. Pederasty is a practice where young boys would join in sexual relationships with older men, who in turn would mentor the boys.
This may have been partly to do with a medical belief at the time that the careless loss of semen weakened a man. So, as the idea went, if the semen were to go to a young man…
You see why it would be uncomfortable. However, this is not an entirely sexual relationship. It is mentioned in Plato’s The Symposium, which depicts several men discussing love. One, named Pausanias, declares that there are two kinds of love, a baser kind and a heavenly kind. The baser, he says, is the search for sexual gratification from women and boys. The heavenly kind, he asserts, is directed toward young men, and has more to do with forming lifelong relationships which honor the partner’s intelligence. A later speaker named Alcibiades reveals that Socrates (the famous philosopher was also present at the symposium) seemed mad for beautiful boys.
Setting aside the whole semen theory, Greek medicine was a bit trial-and-error. To begin with, ailments were considered punishments from the gods, and healing was a gift from them. Later, the theory of the “humors” became more popular, where people believed that the body had supplies of four materials in the body: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. If these were out of balance, they thought, then sickness would result. Common remedies included purging to equalize the humors – bloodletting, intentional vomiting, laxatives, intentional extra urination, and enemas.
Life without birth control can be difficult for women, especially in a time where it was perfectly normal for men to have mistresses outside of their marriage. So, the ancient Greek woman had a few options. First, they could cause an abortion, through the use of herbs. This was pretty popular – through over-harvesting, the main abortion-plant (silphium) was driven to extinction. If the baby were born, sadly, many women would use the Hansel and Gretel method – take the child into the woods, lay it on the ground, and leave it.
The practice of exposing unwanted babies was especially bad in Sparta, where the desire to be constantly ready for war lead to the untimely death of any baby that seemed sickly or not strong enough to be a good warrior.
Athenian men did not seem to have a very high opinion of women. Aristotle (the most famous Greek) once said that man is, by nature, superior to women. Therefore, he concluded, it is natural for men to rule, and women be ruled. However, Aristotle cannot be entirely blamed. In Greek myth, the first woman, Pandora, was made as a punishment for mankind for the theft of fire from the gods.
Some held the belief that virginity could cause girls to have self-destructive hallucinations, and therefore should be married off early. This was somewhat tied to the “four humors” theory, with the idea that women absorbed more water into the blood than men, and menstruation was the body’s way of relieving the excess. Early intercourse was supposed to open the entrance to the womb and allow the blood out.
A few other theories included the idea that a pregnant woman with “bad color” would certainly have a girl, and that sickness in early pregnancy would be worse if the child was a girl.