LGBT themes in classical mythology

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Greco-Roman mythology features male homosexuality in many of the constituent myths. In addition, there are instances of cross-dressing, and of androgyny which in post-1990s gender terminology has been grouped[according to whom?] under the acronym LGBT.


These myths have been described as being crucially influential on Western LGBT literature, with the original myths being constantly re-published and re-written, and the relationships and characters serving as icons.[1] In comparison, lesbianism is rarely found in classical myths.[2]


Homosexuality and bisexuality[edit]

Dionysus, a god gestated in the thigh of his father Zeus, after his mother died from being overwhelmed by Zeus's true form, has been dubbed "a patron god of hermaphrodites and transvestites" by Roberto C. Ferrari in the 2002 Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.[3] Other gods are sometimes considered patrons of homosexual love between males, such as the love goddess Aphrodite and gods in her retinue, such as the Erotes: Eros, Himeros and Pothos.[4][5] Eros is also part of a trinity of gods that played roles in homoerotic relationships, along with Heracles and Hermes, who bestowed qualities of Beauty (and Loyalty), strength, and eloquence, respectively, onto male lovers.[6] In the poetry of Sappho, Aphrodite is identified as the patron of lesbians.[4]

Transgender and transsexual[edit]

The sex-change theme also occurred in classical mythology. The reason for the transformation varies, as in the case of Sypretes (Συπρετεσ) or Siproites (Σιπροιτεσ), a hunter from Crete, who was transformed to a woman by Artemis after having seen the goddess bathing/nude.[29][30]

There was also a motif of a woman needing to disguise herself as a male and later being transformed into a biological male by mysterious forces (mainly the gods). In the cases of Iphis and Leucippus, the woman's mother was pressured (by her husband) to bear a male child so the protagonist was forced to impersonate a male from birth. Later in life, manhood was granted through the blessing of a deity (Juno/Hera in Iphis' case and Leto in Leucippus').

Caeneus and Mestra, each of who was a mate of a god (Caeneus was a rape victim of Poseidon/Neptune and Mestra was a lover of Apollo), were granted manhood by the said god. Mestra, however, had the ability to change her shape voluntarily, instead of staying in male form like Caeneus and other instances above.

Tiresias, on the other hand, became female because he struck a couple of copulating snakes, displeasing Hera, who punished him by transforming Tiresias into a woman. Later the sentence was remitted, due to either trampling on the mating snakes or avoiding them, and she became male again. In another version, Tiresias' sex-change was caused by an argument between Zeus and Hera, on which they debated whether a male or a female had greater pleasure in sex, so they transformed him to a female to experiment.

Androgynes and intersex[edit]

Aphroditus was an androgynous Aphrodite from Cyprus, in later mythology became known as Hermaphroditus (also the namesake of the word hermaphrodite) the son of Hermes and Aphrodite.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pequigney, Joseph (2002). "Classical Mythology". p. 1. Archived from the original on April 15, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  2. ^ Compton, p. 97, "Rome and Greece: Lesbianism"
  3. ^ Ferrari, Roberto C. (September 19, 2002). "Subjects in the Visual Arts: Dionysus". Archived from the original on July 12, 2009. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Conner & Sparks (1998), p. 64, "Aphrodite"
  5. ^ Conner & Sparks (1998), p. 133, "Erotes"
  6. ^ Conner & Sparks (1998), p. 132, "Eros"
  7. ^ a b Pequigney (2002), p.5
  8. ^ Penczak (2003), p. 17
  9. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus II.38.2
  10. ^ Conon, 33
  11. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.13.4–5
  12. ^ Ovid's Metamorphoses, 10
  13. ^ a b c Pequigney (2002), p.2
  14. ^ Virgil, Aeneid, 391-394
  15. ^ a b c d Pequigney (2002), p.4
  16. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2, 367 sqq.
  17. ^ a b c Pequigney (2002), p.3
  18. ^ The seduction of the Mediterranean: writing, art, and homosexual fantasy - Page 231 by Robert Aldrich
  19. ^ Madness unchained By Lee Fratantuono; p.139
  20. ^ Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses, 8
  21. ^ Ovid's Metamorphoses, 4
  22. ^ Pseudo-Hyginus, De Astronomica 2.12.
  23. ^ Classical mythology By Helen Morales; p.93
  24. ^ Aelian, On Animals, 14. 28
  25. ^ Sotades By Herbert Hoffmann, p.16
  26. ^ The Vatican Mythographers By Ronald E. Pepin; p.17
  27. ^ a b Pseudo-Apollodorus, 1. 3.3.
  28. ^ Downing, p.198
  29. ^ Antoninus Liberalis, cited by Francis Celoria. The Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis: A Translation with Commentary, pp.71.
  30. ^ Orion: The Myth of the Hunter and the Huntress, pp.125-126. University of California Press.