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Mentorship in the Education of Males

Young men from prosperous families traditionally acquired the advanced skills required for successful participation in the public life of Athenian democracy by observing their fathers, uncles, and other older men as they participated in the assembly, served as councilors or magistrates, and made speeches in court cases. The most important skill to acquire was an effective style in public speaking and persuasive argument. In many cases, an older man would choose an adolescent boy as his special favorite to educate.1 The boy would learn about public life by spending his time in the company of the older man and his adult friends2. During the day, the boy would observe his mentor talking politics in the agora,3, help him perform his duties in public office, and work out with him in a gymnasium4. Their evenings would be spent at a symposium5, a drinking party for men and “companions6,” which could encompass a range of behavior from serious political and philosophical discussion to riotous partying.

Homosexuality and Mentorship

The mentor-protégé relationship7 relationship between an older and a younger man could include homosexual love as an expression of the bond between the boy and the man, who would normally also be married. Although homosexuality between women, as between men outside a mentor-protégé relationship, was not socially acceptable, the homosexuality between older mentors and younger protégés was generally accepted as appropriate behavior so long as the older man did not exploit his younger companion physically while neglecting his education in public affairs. Athenian society therefore encompassed a wide range of bonds among men, ranging from political and military activity, to training of mind and body, to sexual practices.

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