The best books on sexual relationships in Greek & Roman antiquity

Andrew Chugg Author Of Alexander's Lovers
By Andrew Chugg

Who am I?

When I voyaged into the ancient world in the readings of my youth, it led me to realize that the gay-straight divide in modern perceptions of sexuality and relationships is an artifice. It was constructed by the conceit of the ascetic religions that the only legitimate purpose of sex is the production of children within a sanctified marital relationship. In Antiquity, the divide followed a more natural course between the groups who were the sexually active partners (mainly adult men) and those who were sexually passive (mainly women, youths, and eunuchs). My hope is to disperse some of the confusion that the obscuration of this historical reality has caused.

I wrote...

Alexander's Lovers

By Andrew Chugg,

Book cover of Alexander's Lovers

What is my book about?

Alexander's Lovers reveals the personality of Alexander the Great through the mirror of the lives of his lovers, including his companion and deputy Hephaistion, his queen Roxane, his mistress Barsine and Bagoas the Eunuch. It includes all the intimate details and obscure references that standard modern accounts leave out and reveals a more convincing, realistic, and human picture of the king as opposed to the fake persona of a rampaging conqueror conjured up by many modern accounts. If you would like to get to know Alexander on a more personal level, then this book provides you with a unique opportunity.

The books I picked & why

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The Satyricon

By Petronius, P.G. Walsh (translator),

Book cover of The Satyricon

Why this book?

Who knew that the emperor Nero appointed an Advisor on Tastefulness, who also penned a bawdy and gritty novel about the adventures of several friends in the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD? Fairly few, and the even more surprising fact is that hundreds of pages of his text survive today. You can still read either in Latin or in English translation about two young men proposing to fight for the affections of the youth Giton and you can join them all in a visit to an archetypal Roman brothel. There is nothing else remaining that provides a more direct and authentic insight into daily experiences and relationships in ancient Rome.

The Last of the Wine

By Mary Renault,

Book cover of The Last of the Wine

Why this book?

The most perfect and poetic of Renault’s brilliant series of novels set in ancient Greece, which incorporates a captivating dramatization of the courting rituals surrounding the Athenian gymnasium that then leads into a lingering and lyrical love story. The whole saga is set against the historically accurate and stirring backdrop of the downfall of the Athenian Empire at the end of the 5th century BC.

Beloved and God: Story of Hadrian and Antinous

By Royston Lambert,

Book cover of Beloved and God: Story of Hadrian and Antinous

Why this book?

This book is about the sublimation of an erotic relationship between a teenage boy and the emperor Hadrian that led to the creation of the last classical religious movement of Antiquity. The murky sacrificial drowning of Antinous in the River Nile prompted the emperor in his role as chief priest of Rome to deify the youth, setting up temples in his name and going so far as to define a celestial constellation in his image. Lambert’s posthumously published investigation rigorously rakes through the still glowing embers of this affair to define how it was ignited.

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

By James Davidson,

Book cover of Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Why this book?

Davidson demonstrates that sexual relationships with courtesans and youths in ancient Athens paralleled the markets in other luxuries such as fish and wine rather more than resembling the modern ideal of romantic love. In a society where marriages were mainly business arrangements made between families to ensure the production of legitimate heirs to their estates, such formal relationships were frequently loveless. This led the male partners and those as yet unmarried to resort to employing mistresses, courtesans, and youths as luxurious distractions from the mundane matter of marital maintenance of the bloodline.

Child of the Sun

By Kyle Onstott,

Book cover of Child of the Sun

Why this book?

What would happen if a randy teenage boy became Emperor of Rome after winning a pitched battle against a usurper? Would the magisterial traditions and decorum of the office triumph over adolescent hormones or vice versa? Actually, there is no need to speculate about the answer, because it happened in real life and was recorded in several ancient histories that have come down to us. This novel, though billed upon its publication as erotic, is quite closely based on those histories. Clue: the hormonal impulses of teenage boys are quite hard to suppress.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Rome, satire, and Athens?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece, Thucydides, and Feast if you like this list.