The Religious-Social Constraints on Sexuality in Fifth Century Athens and Crete and How They Manifest Themselves

Student Author(s)

Claire Trivax

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Stephen Maiullo

Document Type


Event Date



Experts in human sexuality have theorized that a person’s sexual orientation is the result of a number of biological and social factors. Our sexuality is partly determined by biology, but another component determines how that sexuality presents itself in society. For example, in our society, a homosexual cultural construct placed on heterosexual relationships creates: “bromances” and “girl crushes.” This is where men and women have intimate relationships with their same gender replacing physical intimacy with emotional. The main focus of this paper is to understand and probe the extent to which religious practice controlled, regulated, and determined sexual behavior in fifth century Athens and Crete. I will examine two main bodies of evidence: vase paintings and mythological literary texts. The vase paintings show scenes of pederastic relationships between men and young boys. The two myths of Zeus and Ganymede and Apollo and Hyacinthos depict pederastic relationships between the gods and young boys. I will use this to argue that the ancient Athenians used these myths as a model to express their sexuality in similar ways. Also, I will show that the Cretan rituals and Dionysian religious festivals were various manifestations of sexuality. My conclusion is that the Ancient Athenians and Cretans used the Gods and their religious festivals as anthropomorphic models for expressing their sexuality and those religious-social constraints on sexuality play a major role in the overall cultural shaping of sexuality. Through adducing myth as a viable model for sexual behavior and emphasizing religion as a major component in shaping sexuality, I add to existing analysis of sexuality from social theorists such as Michel Foucault.


This project was supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts & Humanities at Hope College.

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