Est. May 2008

16 March, 2014

Representation

I happened to see a reference to this article in a comment thread on a friend's Facebook page regarding homosexuality.  I have to assume the commenter meant this article as a refutation of some of the things being said in the thread; however, the article itself has enough problems to render its use … problematic.


First, the author (or perhaps his editor) titled it ‘The truth about sexuality in ancient Greece and Rome’.  This title hints strongly that everything we’ve heard up to now about homosexuality in Greece and Rome has been wrong.  A powerful statement, which ought to be backed up with references to the sources the author is using to make this claim.

He offers none, which, IMO, is a big mistake.  It takes little effort to read an article like this and conclude that it’s nothing more than ‘pro-gay propaganda’ (especially when it’s published in a homosexual-leaning popular-consumption on-line magazine); providing references at the end – even if it’s just a link-list – would go a ways to stop that initial conclusion.  In this case, we have no idea if the author actually has references, or if he’s just making things up that sound good; we also don’t know whether his sources (if he has them) are, well, for lack of a better term, ‘worthwhile’: if every one of his sources is authored by, say, pro-homosexual authors, that’s going to do nothing but feed the conclusion I mentioned above.

But the author might be explaining the lack of references in this sentence:
Sexuality is a topic often whitewashed out of our history books, and we rarely see the place of LGBT people in the ancient world mentioned in television documentaries.
If the author’s allegation is true – that history books have ‘whitewashed’ out homosexuality – then where is he getting his information?  Obviously, following this statement, he can’t possibly turn to published history, since it’s biased against his case.  That leads to one of two assumptions: the first goes back to the above paragraph – that he’s just making stuff up as he goes along; the second assumption is that he has some heretofore-unknown source of historical literature; if so, he needs to make it available to the world.

That’s two very serious problems with this article, and I haven’t even gotten past the first sentence.

One more for now (I may very well do some research into the authors other ‘historical’ claims later).  The author writes:
Of greater taboo still was for an older man to allow himself to be penetrated by a younger man – the modern word "pathetic" derives from the Latin for such a man
. (emphasis mine)The modern word ‘pathetic’ actually derives from the Greek word ‘pathētikos’, which (according to both Merriam Webster Online and Dictionary.com) means ‘causing feelings of sadness and sympathy: very bad, poor, weak, etc.’ and ‘made or liable to suffer’.  The Latin word, ‘patheticus’ is derived from the Greek, and means the same thing.  Please note that nowhere in the definitions of the word ‘pathetic’ is there any mention of the allegation our author makes regarding the word – not only does he get the meaning wrong, he gets the source of the word wrong as well.

We could jump to conclusions based on these three things and scream, ‘He’s a liar!  He’s got an agenda!  He’s stupid!’, but none of them may apply.  What’s called for here is careful fact- and reference-checking by the reader.  The author may have neglected to provide references, but there are names and ‘facts’ in the article which can be checked out (it took me about five minutes to check the source of the word ‘pathetic’, for example).  That’s what I’ll be doing, off and on, for the time being.

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