Friendship in Ancient Greece
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Greek Friends

People call this "After the Party": the boy's puking on a slave

Among the Greeks, teenaged boys and young men often became very close friends. This was a way for teenaged boys to learn how to behave around grownups, and it was a way for young men to have close friendships and even romantic relationships, when they were not allowed to hang out with girls at all. This was especially true in Athens and Thebes, though other Greek towns also had such friendships.

When a boy was about fifteen, he might notice that the young men of his town, in their twenties, were starting to take an interest in him and trying to make friends with him. An older boy might talk to him after school, or show him a wrestling trick in the gymnasium, or invite him to a party, or take him hunting.

A party with several men and boys attending
(Southern Italy, about 470 BC)

If the younger boy also liked the older one, the two of them might become friends. Some boys never did have a special friend like this, just as some girls today never have a high school boyfriend, and may not ever want one. Other boys had many friends (though this would make people talk about you and say mean things). Some boys did form very close friendships, though, which sometimes lasted for the rest of their lives. Usually the boys' parents encouraged these friendships, if the other boy seemed like a good person, just as most people's parents today are happy if their kids have close friends, whether they are boys or girls.

nude boy bent over throwing discus
A gift from an older boy to a younger one:
the cup says the boy is "kalos" -
beautiful (Louvre, 400s BC)

But sometimes the older boy might want to go further; he might want to make this into a sexual relationship. Then most parents thought that was not right, just as today most parents think dating is okay, but not sex.

After a while, the boys would grow up. The older one would get to be about thirty, and he would get married. By now the younger one would be in his twenties, and so he would find a new friend among the younger boys, the teenagers. And then after more time passed, he would get to be about thirty too, and he would get married. Sometimes the boys would stop being friends when they grew up, but often they stayed good friends, and helped each other out in politics or in business, as college roommates often do today.

More about ancient Greek schools

Bibliography and further reading about friendship in ancient Greece:

Eyewitness: Ancient Greece , by Anne Pearson. Easy reading.

Ancient Greek Children (People in the Past Series-Greece), by Richard Tames (2002). Easy reading.

Greek Homosexuality, by K.J. Dover (1989). Adult theme...

More about ancient Greek schools
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 30 March, 2017