Andrew Calimach’s sexual awakening came at a queer time: while at amuseum with his parents.
The family had fled communist Romania and found themselves in Rome, where the 13-ish Calimach felt his first gay pang:
I remember standing in a museum in Rome, maybe the Villa Borghese, staring at this ancient bronze statue of a boy about my own age, naked, pulling a thorn from his foot. I remember my parents trying to drag me away, and me staring and staring, desiring that naked boy.
Hungry for more, the lustful Calimach soon heard murmurs of homo-flavored Greek myths, which only fueled his pubescent curiosity. But, alas, those myths were buried, censored or simply destroyed. It was around that time, Calimach tells our editor, that he decided to dig up the long-lost tales of love and spread the love. And, after about forty years and inmeasurable determination, Calimach published Lovers’ Legends: The Gay Greek Myths.
More than just ancient masturbatory material, Calimach found romantic tutorials. The 55-year old historian tells our editor, “The more I study these myths, the more I see in them the Greek’s loving guidance: how to love, how to be loved, how not to hurt your lover…” Calimach also gives us the scoop on communism’s positive attributes, why he never came out to his parents and how pederasty still exists. After the jump, of course…
[Image: Lovers Zeus and Ganymede sleep while Prometheus, that bastard, steals the Gods’ fire.]
Andrew Belonsky: First, Mr. Calimach, can you describe growing up in communist Romania?
Andrew Calimach: For a child, communism was not such a bad thing. There was no crime because police were everywhere, so I could go everywhere alone. Another plus was being politically conscious at a young age. It made me more aware of injustice, hearing all the government lies and propaganda.
That consciousness also helped me cut through a lot of trips, like patriotism, or sports fandom. And the state atheism helped free me of religion, as did my parents. You might say that I grew up free of myths, in the bad sense of the word. In exchange, I read a lot of the “regular” Greek myths – and anything else I could get my hands on, especially folk tales.
We did lack one thing – freedom. People told political jokes like, “They say that capitalism is on the edge of the precipice.” “What is it doing there?” “Looking down at communism.” But you had to tell them in secret – if you got caught your parents could go to jail. I remember one day the teacher was late for class and we were all sitting around with nothing to do. One kid in the back piped up: “I know a political joke!” Everybody in the class turned around and went “Shhhhhh!” We left the country just in time, when I was twelve. There comes a time when you do not want to be shushed any more.
AB: What was the transition like for you? Moving to America, that is?
AC: It was not as abrupt as you might think. We spent half a year in Italy before coming here. That was a very liberating time – all that ancient art pouring into me, together with my budding adolescence, definitely began to open my eyes to my own sexuality. I remember standing in a museum in Rome, maybe the Villa Borghese, staring at this ancient bronze statue of a boy about my own age, naked, pulling a thorn from his foot. I remember my parents trying to drag me away, and me staring and staring, desiring that naked boy.
Then, when we came here, I started getting these crushes on other boys, but nothing ever came of it, I was too afraid, I did not know what to do, how to do it.
AB: And how old were you when you came out?
AC: I was in college, that was the first time I ever mentioned to anybody else that I liked other boys. I held that secret in for so many years, it almost drove me crazy. Not being able to be who I was, or to live out my desires was a kind of living death. When I remember that, I can understand why so many gay kids try to kill themselves.
AB: How did your parents take your coming out?
AC: My father died when I was still young, so he and I never had a chance to work that through. With my mother I never discussed homosexuality until quite late, a year or so before her death. I remember her saying something homophobic, and my retorting that the Greeks thought highly of it. Her reply, “I don’t care what the Greeks did, it still is an ugly thing.” I left it at that. It was not my business to convert my seventy-year old mother, and I did not need her approval to have a fulfilling erotic life. She had done enough good things for me already.
AB: What’s the importance of myths? Why do we have them or need them?
AC: Myths are the very foundation of culture. We mold ourselves to the myths we read and hear; we live through them. We become them. If you look at a child growing up today, he is constantly being exposed to the myth of boy-girl romance. It can be in a story, it can be in a movie, it can be in a commercial – but when it comes to boy-boy romance, there is a huge gaping hole. Utter silence!
But children will have those feelings anyway. Why should they be left without guidance? What is the meaning of culture if not the evolution of human thought and behavior? Love has a culture, too. Why should boys who love other boys have to build up a culture from scratch every time? So you might say that the importance of these myths in particular is that they return to the missing half of our love culture. And not just for gay people, for everyone with the courage to face that side of themselves.
Maybe if I had read these myths when I was young, I would have been known how to show my love and live my love in ways that I simply was not able. The more I study these myths, the more I see in them the Greek’s loving guidance: how to love, how to be loved, how not to hurt your lover or beloved. On a deeper level, there are spiritual teachings there as well, about the importance of surrendering the self in order to be fully yourself, but that is another topic.
AB: What’s your opinion of pederasty – that is, the social institution in which younger men were paired with older men?
AC: That is a loaded question. The word “pederasty” has been misused in so many ways. People today think of pederasty as an illegal act with an underage child. If we look at the Greeks, we see that they loved law, they saw it as the only thing that separated civilization from barbarism. The pederasty they admired was lawful pederasty, between a man and a youth who had come of age. There is no real difference between our cultures as far as that goes – they had an age of consent; we have an age of consent. If anything, they were more protective of their children than we are: inferior people were not allowed to become their lovers, anal sex was not supposed to take place, and the father kept an eye on things.
So if you are asking me what I think of lawful pederasty today – that which takes place between an older man and a much younger beloved who is of age, something that is legal today everywhere – I will say that it can be wonderful and empowering and enlivening for both.
There is a real magic to a relationship between unlike partners, between lovers who are able to leap that gap between the generations, and who complement each other instead of just mirroring each other. Oscar Wilde, when he was in the dock at Old Bailey, said it very well: it is the love between a younger and an older man, when the older one has wisdom and culture, and the younger has the all beauty and energy of youth.
AB: I’m 26 – so, if I were dating a fifty or forty year old man – would that be pederasty? Is it the age or the dynamic that makes a relationship pederastic?
AC: Well, Bosie, Oscar Wilde’s beloved, was in his early twenties, if I am not mistaken. And Oscar certainly thought their relationship was pederastic, as did Bosie. And if you look at most of the youths depicted on the Greek pederastic vases, these were not scrawny kids, they were well developed young men.
Yes, we should probably say that it is the difference in age that creates that dynamic, but it is not necessary, and probably not desirable, especially if that difference is so great that underage youths are involved.
There has to be a certain consciousness there too, that dynamic you point to: there has to be a certain kind of nurturing and generosity on the part of the older lover, a certain melting of the heart. And the youth too has to be devoted – it really is a two-way thing. If you do not have reciprocity, you do not have pederasty. You have something else.
AB: How did you go about gathering the information and putting all the pieces together to compile your book?
AC: Most of the stories of Greek mythology that we come across in books and movies have not been preserved whole, but were pieced together from fragments found here and there, some written hundreds of years apart. It was no different with these stories. It just so happens that nobody had done that yet – the stories were too embarrassing and too dangerous to one’s academic career. But the times have changed, and I think it is simply an idea whose time has come. If I had not done it, someone else would have. It is like that with ideas.
There is an exact replica, originally made in Italy and transported to the U.S., of the statue Andrew Calimach describes in my high school auditorium in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was so cool to read about Calimach’s story and how he saw the original as a child. Seriously, my high school, built by the widow of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds (Camel cigarettes, you know?), spared absolutely no expense or frill when being furnished.
I hope this book and indeed this author gets queers thinking about two things:
1. Apart from the mythological queerdom of Ancient Greece, sexual relationships between younger and older men were an integral and dynamic force in society: succesful relationships rooted in mutual and community responsibility.
2. The need to abolish arbitrary and unrealistic age-of-consent laws, as defined by our deeply homophobic cultures which use it as the ultimate weapon to keep queers “in line” by allegedly “protecting children”.
Queers of all ages need to clearly understand that legally cutting the heart out of the current toxic, sick and hateful U.S.-style pedophile witch-hunts is fundamental to cutting out the homohatred which is being learned by adolescents in school, as taught by so-called “protectors” and policed using cut-off ages which are not remotely appropriate to sexual or emotional development or decided upon with input from the age group(s) being “protected”.
This is not an issue to be danced around or denied out of fear of being labelled as pro-pedophile. It’s the core issue which needs to be attacked head-on in order for us to once and for all gut the power of those who will always criminalize us with the most devious methods they can use.
What a wonderful interview, thanks for sharing with us!
I can’t wait to read the book “Lover’s Legends” myself, now. And I appreciate Calimach’s words of wisom regarding the rather taboo topic of androphile relationships that have an age gap. Without too much detail, I know that when a young man can find wisdom and mentorship with older partners who provide guidance, it can be a wonderful force in one’s life.
It’d be nice to see the Greek myths without all the gay stuff censored.
However … I really doubt the myths were meant as a guide to loving, or how to love, or how to not hurt your lover. That’s putting a bit too much modern new age / Hallmark spin on things. Read Homer: Mortals who loved the gods suffered and came to bad ends.
wow. you guys have great stuff! I really enjoyed reading this…thank you.
I am confused by this author’s position on pederasty. It seems nonsensical and yet I have heard great praise for his scholarship from those whose opinion I respect. I am yet to read it myself.
Pederasty is not defined by mere age-gap; it involved in Classical Athens relationships between boys who were usually no older than seventeen, the beloved, and his elder lover who was usually within his early and late twenties.
It is precisely the adolescent/young man ritual that defines pederasty, as it was one of enculturation through mentorship into manhood; it was formative by the very power of its fleeting nature. An exclusively oriented pederast today is attracted primarily to boys, I would think, and not men. So should it be allowed for a man of twenty-five to love a boy of fourteen? Or should it not? Pederasty does not just mean ‘age-gap’ and if it does then the word has lost all its meaning. Clearly, an age of consent of fourteen in Germany would not preclude such a relationship from gaining a sexual expression, but in America it most certainly would; and anyway, the underlying ethos is forgotten and, even notwithstanding legality, relationships between different age groups are frowned on. Clearly the Greeks admired laws, yes, their own laws, for sure, but would have disagreed with American sexual legislation.
So it seems a bit of a get-out answer to Me. But then I haven’t read the book so I am merely saying what I read here.
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