Dec 10, 2012

The Greeks Had a Word for It

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I loved the beefcake potential of Greek myths:
Jason and the Argonauts
Clash of the Titans (about Perseus)
Michael Forest played Apollo on an episode of Star Trek.

 Casper the Friendly Ghost visited the Elysian Fields, an island in the sky inhabited by Apollo, Hermes, Zeus, and Pan, all with teen-idol cute faces and beautifully sculpted physiques.

And Hercules in cartoon (The Mighty Hercules), in Italian sword-and-sandal epics starring Steve Reeves, in comic books (Adventures of the Man-God Hercules).

There weren't many toys.  No action figures (this was before the 1997 Disney version). The syndicated tv series Sons of Hercules (1965) spawned a puzzle with a muscle hero apparently being kicked in the crotch (if you put it together in just the right way, those hooves looked like something else).  And a board game with two nearly naked heroes pairing off in a Roman arena.

But the books that I picked up at garage sales and library discard sales were great.  They usually had amazingly buffed gods and heroes on the covers.

Mythology, by Thomas Bulfinch, depicted a slim, bare-chested Icarus, wings spread, flying too close to the sun.

Gods, Heroes, and Men, by W. H.D. Rouse, depicted Icarus again, but this time his bronze, muscular body is falling out of the wispy lavender stuff he uses for clothing.  Were they expecting gay kids to be the primary audience?

Edith Hamilton's Mythology depicted a bronze, amazingly ripped Perseus, completely naked, with a phallic sword rising. The logo said it was from a statue by Benvenuto Cellini.  So if I went to wherever the statue was displayed, I could see the parts that the sword was hiding!

Unfortunately, the texts inside closeted the gods and heroes, emphasizing their heterosexual loves and demoting their many, many same-sex loves to mere friendships, if they were mentioned at all.  My high school class in Greek Mythology and my college class in Greek Literature did the same, joyfully erasing same-sex experience from the ancient world.