You know, it’s been a pretty damn gay E3 this year. We’ve seen girls kissing in the Last of Us 2, and more than a few games just out and out saying “Yeah, romance whoever you want, it ain’t no thing!” And since E3 is happening during Pride Month, it also means that games are now officially gay, in the best possible way.
Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
But – OF COURSE – there’s been more than a little inflammatory discourse around… Well “WHY?!?!” these dudes (and they're almost all dudes) cry. One line of response caught my eye in particular – the cry from an admittedly small group of gamers decrying the historical accuracy of the characters in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey being allowed to romance their own gender.
Yep. There are people who think there was no TEH GAY in Ancient Greece. Oh, my sweet Summer fucking children, how wrong you are.
But hey! This is great for me, as it gives me a chance to talk about the great queers of antiquity. Which I do a lot anyway, but now it’s because video games!
Alrighty – let’s get homo.
The Sacred Band of Thebes
Seen the movie 300? The big butch Spartan one with all the hot guys killing Persians for days on end? Well, those guys WISH they were as cool as the Sacred Band – another 300 dudes that were the elite core of the Theban army during the 4th century BC.
And the whole unit was made up of lovers.
Yep, 150 male pairs, madly, passionately, unapologetically in love with the guy next to them in the shield wall. Highly trained and motivated, the unit often fought in the front ranks of the army, its soldiers willing to die for each other – for love, not just duty.
In fact, they often tangled with the Spartans – encounters which the Sacred Band often won, either by being just as disciplined and skilled, or through simply being cool. During one engagement, as a heavier Spartan force approached the Theban line, the Sacred Band simply grounded their spears and rested their shields on the ground, a kind of “yeah, sure, come at me, bro, we're here” which saw the Spartans rethink their approach.
The Band was finally destroyed outright by Philip of Macedon. But they stood their ground and died, rather than flee, and Philip was so impressed by their bravery that he wept. Of these hard, gay motherfuckers, Philip had only this to say:
“Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.”
And speaking of Philip of Macedon…
Alexander the Great
Here’s a potted history of Philip of Macedon’s over-achieving son. King of Macedon, then unites Macedon, then fucking rolls right over Persia, marches into India, never losses a single battle – he fought well over a dozen – until his own army got jack of it all and revolted. He slowed down, got into nation building, and then died at the age of 32, possibly poisoned, possibly just sick from all that spicy foreign food.
Also, he was pale-skinned, rather attractive, possessed of an obvious genius, and had one blue eye, and one dark eye. He was basically David Bowie with a sword.
And like David Bowie, the great general was likely queer as heck, and quite possibly bisexual. He and one of his closest generals – Hephaestion - visited and garlanded a shrine to Achilles and Patroclus, heroes of the Trojan Wars, and Aristotle said of the two young men that they were "one soul abiding two bodies.” Alexander was also known to be rather fond of a eunuch called Bagaos, so much so that his own troops were known to call upon Alexander to kiss the beautiful young man. And there were a number of women, too, and no one really seems to call Alexander on it.
I guess it’s good to be the King.
Achilles and Patroclus
The film Troy hints at it, the more recent Netflix production Troy: Fall of a City makes it more explicit, but one of THE great romances of ancient times is that between the god-like warrior Achilles, and his cousin, Patroclus. When Achilles gets jack of the fighting before Troy, Patroclus – who wants to fight and make a name – continues on in his stead, and is slain by the Trojan hero Hector… And so Achilles loses his shit. Grief, gnashing of teeth, cries of revenge… The death of Patroclus stirs on Achilles to his own untimely end.
But is it gay?
Well. Homer never said so, but never denied it, either, despite many of his countrymen just assuming the pair to be lovers. And Homer also uses very similar language in depicting the way Achilles grieves for Patroclus compared to the way Andromache grieves for her husband, Hector (who Achilles REALLY does a number on, holy shit, slow your roll, Achilles!). Both also took women for lovers, but that’s neither here nor there.
But remember, this is living literature, and when Aeschylus, Plato and Aeschines went on to write of the Trojan Wars, it was heaps gay. It’s a debate that exists today, but what matters is that it’s still a point of discussion and interpretation, and a perfectly valid one in any medium - literary, visual, and gaming.
(hint: far as I’m concerned? HEAPS BISEXUAL)
I’ve been sticking with Ancient Greece up to this point, but Elagalabus is just too queer to ignore, and they still belong to the ancient world. Elagabalus ruled Rome in the 3rd century AD, and was not only queer, but also considered to be transgender by many modern historians. Often still referred to in the masculine by most commentators, I’ll add just this – not only was Elegalabus willing to fuck just about anyone who took their fancy (and as Emperor, they had a LOT of opportunities to exercise that prerogative), the contemporary historian Cassius Dio also noted that Elegalabus offered a whole tonne of cash to any physician that could give them female genitalia.
So yeah, pretty much queer as all get out no matter how you look at it.
Also, fond of a really extra party...
Back to the Greeks, and back to the woman who gave her name to the very practice to Sapphic Love. And while many of our Great Gays of History come with a certain level of interpretation, Sappho brooks no such thing. She wrote nearly 12,000 lines of love poetry to women. We still have 600 of them
While a dyke of some note, she’s also not an outlier. Sappho lead a social group known as a Thiasoi, an educational community for women where it was also expected that students and teachers would be lovers.
Being a game, Assassin’ Creed Odyssey is almost certainly full of historical inaccuracies. As I often say, if accuracy is what you want, read a history book – everything else puts entertainment first, and that's no bad thing.
But my point is this – if your complaint about the game’s depiction of queer relationships is based upon it not being accurate for the ancient world, then let me tell you - that aspect of the game is likely the single most accurate thing about it.
I mean, be a bigot if you want, I guess. But at least admit it – don’t hide behind a history you’re clearly ignorant of.