The ‘Pretty Boy’: Applying Sedgwick into the Kritios Boy

Camille Paglia mentions in the section Pagan Beauty from her book Sexaul Personae: Art & Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson of the Kritios Boy. She said that the Kritios Boy is a mix of the Apollonian and Dionysian concepts: he’s the muscle structure of a man, yet has dewy girlishness of a woman. Back in ancient Greece,  homosocial and homosexuality weren’t so bothersome compared to today in some communities.  Older men taught these young boys, at the time women were denied a right to be educated. What’s to do with queer studies? The author will do some application with  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick‘s essay Between Men.

Sedgwick explains of the concept of the male homosocial desire, which is marred by homophobia, fear and hatred for homosexuals; she then also notes that ‘Our own society is brutally homophobic; and homophobia directed against both males and females is not arbitrary or gratuitous, but tightly knit into the texture of family, gender, age, class, and race relation.’ She then makes note of K.J. Dover‘s study Greek Homosexuality and puts further stress that homosexuality among men then was widespread, illicit and somewhat influential (for some parts) in Greece in the ancient times. She said that the pursuit of the young boy, on the verge of manhood, by an older man is stained with  stereotypes that come with romantic heterosexual love (conquest, ‘cruel fight’, etc.), but she also pointed out that this usually doesn’t last long, for the boy will become a man soon. Still, she stated that it had a powerful effect in a boy’s education: with Dover quoting from Pausanias in Plato’s Symposium, ‘that it would be right for him (the boy) to perform any service for one who improves him in mind and character.’ It’s relationship of mentor-ship.

Back to Paglia’s observation of the Kritios Boy & the beautiful boy. Paglia made a similar observation of male homosocial desire, saying the beautiful boy is desired yet he never desires for love, an adolescent stuck in between a female past and a male future, a girl-boy, as she described him with his masculinity blurred like a clouded fragment of ancient glass. She then compares him to other statues of the time and discovers similar features in them: ‘These youth have a distinctly ancient Greek face: high brow, strong straight nose, girlishly fleshy nose, full petulant mouth, and short upper lip… the face of Elvis Presley, Lord Bryon, and  Bronzino’s glossy Mannerist blue boy.’ She also quotes Sigmund Freud who too observed the androgyny of the Greek adolescent: ‘Among the Greeks, where the most manly men were found among inverts, it is quite obvious that it was not the masculine character of the boy which kindled the love of man; it was his physical resemblance to woman as well as his feminine psychic qualities, such as shyness, demureness, and the need of instruction and help.’ But alas, she also made disturbing observations of the bad notion of boy-love in the present day, saying that is now not only scandalous and a criminal offense, but, somehow, a bad taste in its self; yet beauty has its own laws that are far inconsistent with Christian morality.

What Paglia and Sedgwick observed is quite interesting: the beautiful boy is androgynous, and  does really attract homosocial desire of a man of the time, all because of his mistaken physical appearance of a woman, or, girl and his ‘feminine’ psychic qualities reflecting from him.  Back then in Ancient Greece, it was a common thing  for boys to be taught by older men; in exchange, these boys give them emotional stability. Today, it is seen as a morality crime. They must have agreed that one thing is certain: the  beautiful boy is now in moral scrutiny of the present day. Many religions (mostly Judeo-Christian religions) have teachings against homosexuality.

The author has known of some well-known LGBT personalities and persons whose names, for privacy reasons, are not mentioned but should be acknowledged.  She also knew of a childhood celebrity crush who has gay friends since childhood, and was awfully  disturbed by hurtful insults thrown in (high) school, though she isn’t really sure if he was the target, though his gay friends were obviously hurt, and has, ever since, worked with US-based help hotline LGBTQ-oriented organization The Trevor Project for a few years (and counting).

Hopefully, this article can help others in understanding the existence of the brutally hurt LGBT community, and why are they despised by society, and that it has connections from way back to Ancient Greece, where it has to do with a young boy’s education of their time.


Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Paglia, Camille. “Pagan Beauty.” Sexaul Personae: Art & Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New Haven: Random-Vintage, 1990. 99-139.


2 thoughts on “The ‘Pretty Boy’: Applying Sedgwick into the Kritios Boy

  1. Nice blog and nice presentation of a touchy subject. Please allow me, as an Old White Male, to square the issue with a quote from Gore Vidal.

    Like Paglia, Vidal is an equal-opportunity homosexual with a difference. He’s not an egalitarian; he’s a staunch elitist. I think that Oscar Wilde had the same elitist orientation that trumped sexual orientation. In any case, Vidal makes it clear that Christianity, which inherited its intolerance from Judaism, turned heterosexuality into an absolute value. Whereas for the Greeks and Romans, sexual preference was irrelevant just as long as one produced sons to govern the next generation. They would laugh at feminism. They would laugh at gay marriage. They weren’t liberal so much as different from any so-called civilization that exists today.

    “Now it is an underlying assumption of twentieth-century America that human beings are either heterosexual or, through some arresting of normal psychic growth, homosexual, with very little traffic back and forth. To us, the norm is heterosexual; the family is central; all else is deviation, pleasing or not depending on one’s own tastes and moral preoccupations. Suetonius reveals a very different world. His underlying assumption is that man is bisexual and that given complete freedom to love – or, perhaps more to the point in the case of the Caesars, to violate – others, he will do so, going blithely from male to female as fancy dictates. Nor is Suetonius alone in this assumption of man’s variousness. From Plato to the rise of Pauline Christianity, which tried to put the lid on sex, it is explicit in classical writing. Yet to this day Christian, Freudian and Marxian commentators have all decreed or ignored this fact of nature in the interest each of a patented approach to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    • I’m actually a straight person who knows that the LGBT community does exist and a Christian who studies two Catholic schools and a Protestant school. True that Christianity (& other religions, & possibly some theories & studies) does bash the LGBT community like a bully at times, even in the Philippines which has a ‘conservative’ atmosphere in Catholicism.
      Ironically, there are many LGBTs who’re more devout Catholics (or insert whatever religion or faith you can imagine), like local celeb John ‘Sweet’ Lapus, who’s a graduate from University of Santo Tomas (the same school where I’m currently enrolled), than most, if not all, straight Filipino Catholics (or whatever faith or religion that has existed).

      Sad reality these days… That’s one of the reasons I wrote this article applying Sedgwick into Paglia’s observation with the Kritios Boy.

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