Now that her first book with Dreamspinner Press, A Spartan Love, is about to be launched, I asked her along to give us some background. As I beta read the story, I know most of this gets covered in the plot, but I thought it would be a good opportunity for us all to take a little history lesson to get us in the mood.
Hi Kayla, welcome to my interviewing chair!
KJ: Hello AB! I'm glad to be here.
AB: Historical gay romances are always a challenge because the prevailing attitudes of the day concerning men having sex with other men has changed over time. Authors wanting to be true to an era have to educate as well as enthrall . Because I beta read for you, I know the effort you put into ensuring "A Spartan Love" is an enjoyable HFN MM romance while still remaining as true as you could to history.
What, to you, was the most basic difference between ancient times and now?
KJ: That Greek men had sex with whomever they pretty much wanted. The concept of consent is a modern standard. Fidelity was only for a man's wife. Meaning she was his property/chattel and would keep herself pure for him. He was under no such constraints.
Women were kept secluded in their homes to ensure this. Most were married at thirteen to men older than they were, merely changing ownership from their fathers to their husbands.
However, a man could have as many lovers as he wanted. There was no shame attached to visiting any of the many brothels in his city. Brothels were "staffed" with women and young men.
KJ: Many city-states allowed the institution of pederasty. The original meaning of the word was mentorship not the connotation of "sex with boys" that it has developed over the years. An older male would mentor a beardless youth. It was a form of social networking that allowed for a sexual relationship.
AB: According to Wikipedia: "The ancient Greeks did not conceive of sexual orientation as a social identifier as modern Western societies have done. Greek society did not distinguish sexual desire or behavior by the gender of the participants, but rather by the role that each participant played in the sex act, that of active penetrator or passive penetrated. This active/passive polarization corresponded with dominant and submissive social roles."
KJ: Exactly, however, even then, the sexual aspects were strictly codified. The youth had to be beardless (not yet a man) because he was in the submissive role. They couldn't be equals. A man choosing to be subordinate to another man was considered womanish.
There was no penetration because penetration was for inferiors: woman and slaves. So any sexual activities were intercrural. Literally between the thighs, not a euphemism for penetration.
AB: It sounds like there were pretty narrow guidelines when this could happen then?
KJ: Yes. The relationship was intended to end when the youth grew a beard and became a man. But sometimes the relationship would continue and was tolerated. However if one partner allowed penetration, he was often ridiculed for making himself a woman.
KJ: No, Sparta was different. Lycurgus the Lawgiver made many changes to the laws of Sparta and set the city-state apart from the rest of the Hellenic world. There were no brothels in the polis. In his opinion, in order to breed a strong race, if the men had time for sex, they needed to be fathering sons. Women were not chattel. They could own and run their own households. And they were not permitted to wed until they were twenty as they needed to bear strong sons.
The Spartans probably once practiced pederasty, but Lycurgus outlawed the previously allowed sexual aspects. Some Greeks didn't believe this because it was a fundamental social practice in their poleis. But Xenophon, who sent his sons to take part in the Spartan education system, refutes this. He states clearly that the relationship in Sparta was of a foster father or older brother to a son/younger brother. And thus was not sexual.
AB: I gather you researched this pretty thoroughly. I've done some Googling and see that translations still survive of many texts of writers from this era.
KJ: No one will be able to say I didn't do my research, sometimes at the expense of my writing time. For example, Xenophon in his Constitution of the Lacedaimonians Chapter 2 Section 14 said the following about pederasty in Sparta, (quoting Lycurgus’ teachings): “But if, as was evident, it was not an attachment to the soul, but a yearning merely towards the body, he stamped this thing as foul and horrible; and with this result, to the credit of Lycurgus be it said, that in Lacedaemon the relationship of lover and beloved is like that of parent and child, or brother and brother where carnal appetite is in abeyance. I am not surprised, however, that people refuse to believe this. For in many states the laws are not opposed to the indulgence of these appetites.”
As he is the only ancient author with firsthand knowledge of the Spartan system, his statements carry more weight than other writers with their anti-Sparta sentiments who had never traveled to the city-state. He was also an Athenian and thus raised within the pederastic system so would see no reason to downplay the sexual side of things in Sparta.
KJ: You're not kidding. Everyone has an agenda. Some are just more subtle about it.
But the one thing all the city-states held in common was their belief that the social status of the various men played a role. One reader of the Apollo's Men series commented that the "sex was political". I had never thought of it in that fashion, but he was correct. Who could do what to whom is all based on their respective social status.
AB: What do you mean by political?
KJ: An adult male (citizen) outranks a youth (soon-to-be-citizen) who in turn outranks a free woman (non-citizen chattel) who outranks a slave (non-citizen chattel). While a woman outranks a slave, the slave enjoys more real freedom than the free woman does. A slave can leave the house and be seen by men other than their father, brother, husband or son.
So the adult male can "penetrate" anyone below him. Although the youth, as a future citizen, can only be figuratively penetrated, ie intercrural.
KJ: Prince Alexios as a youth was permitted to play around with pretty much anyone he wanted, as long as he was the "dominant" partner. The sole exception being he couldn't even have intercrural sex with just any adult male citizen. He was expected to choose one man to be his mentor. Being the plaything of multiple men was frowned upon and in some city-states could cost him his citizenship. Being a kept boy was shameful.
Galen was a slave, chattel. When it came to free men, he had no say in who might use his body. In fact, because of his beauty, Alexios' father King Demetrius often sent Galen to warm his guests' beds.
Alexios discovers this and takes Galen to his bed. Then the prince does something completely unacceptable, he starts to fall for Galen. It was socially acceptable to screw your slave, but not to love him.
AB: Once Galen became a free man, the whole situation changed didn't it?
KJ: Yes, once he was no longer a slave, he couldn't be treated like one. He still wasn't Alexios' equal, but he wasn't an inferior to be penetrated.
The change in their relative statuses placed a lot of strain on their relationship initially. Galen no longer had a framework from which to understand how they should interact. Before, he had belonged to Alexios in every meaning of the word. When Alexios freed him, it was like being cut adrift. Galen lost that sense of belonging and had to discover a way to regain it. Which was further complicated by Alexios' reluctance to penetrate him now. So he felt abandoned as well.
KJ: Yes, when King Lykos claimed his rights as Alexios' mentor, it drove an even bigger wedge between the young lovers. Galen was exceedingly jealous of any time Alexios spent in Lykos' embrace. Alexios' behavior was socially correct. His relationship with his mentor involved sex and as a man the concept of fidelity was completely foreign.
It required an outside threat to help pull them back together. But Alexios' desire to protect Galen overcame much of this.
AB: Tell me a bit more about that often misunderstood mentor relationship.
KJ: Erastês is the title for the older man (mentor) in a pederastic relationship. It means "lover". Erômenos is the title for the youth and means "beloved". But not every pederastic pair were lovers. Statistically speaking, the numbers of couples who would now be considered gay would have been low. Even with bisexual individuals and the probably more prevalent "bi-curious" men thrown in, the sexually active pairs would likely have been less than half of all pairings.
So even though the terms lover and beloved were used, they didn't necessarily mean any given couple were in love.
When the pair was sexually active, penetration was not officially permitted. All such activity would have been intercrural. The older man would have placed his penis between the youth's thighs and rubbed off on him. Remember penetration was degrading and only for women and slaves. I'm sure that it happened, but it wasn't condoned.
Because Alexios is a prince and future ruler, he couldn't be treated in that fashion. His mentor King Lykos behaved like a gentleman and only practiced intercrural sex with him. However, Apollo as a god could—and did—demand more of him. The god is the only one who penetrated the prince.
KJ: The brothels of the ancient world were staffed by slaves. Slaves who had no say in how their bodies were used. Young men as well as women could find themselves in a brothel, satisfying the cravings of the men of that city. The young men often—willingly or unwillingly—shaved to prolong the illusion of youth. After all, even the Greeks thought men with hairy faces and limbs were abhorrent.
When Prince Lykos (later King Lykos in Alexios' Fate) comes across Kas, bandits are trying to capture him so they can sell him to a brothel. Lykos with the aid of his Persian guide defeat the bandits and rescue Kas.
Kas has always been attracted to men. When Lykos comes to his aid, Kas is smitten. While treating the young warrior's wounds, Kas allows his desire free rein and plots how best to find his way into Lykos' bed.
In the end, they learn more about each other and true affection draws them together.
KJ: Think natural born enemies like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Nag from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
The sexual politics here are even more convoluted. Andreas as the older man should play mentor to Theron, the beardless youth. But due to social status and natural inclination, Theron would never allow this.
Thus they are forced to define themselves and their "relationship" outside the norms for their era.
AB: But what about the well known examples? Achilles and Patroclus, Alexander the Great and Hephastion?
KJ: Achilles and Patroclus may or may not have been lovers. There is a fair bit of debate over that. You may have noticed that Achilles was prone to fits of drama. He gets all pouty and sits back while the rest of the heroes fight at Troy because Agamemnon took a girl away from him. So might he go all berserk because Patroclus was killed? Yes, I think he would have. Regardless of if they had only been childhood friends instead of lovers.
Alexander the Great was a Macedonian. But he would have been strongly influenced by the neighboring Greeks; even the Romans copied much of Greek society. Even going so far as to steal and rename their gods. No one doubts Alexander had male lovers.
But as with most Greek men, Alexander took wives and fathered at least one heir as was his duty.
AB: So within one country and the surrounding areas it was all political. But what about the outside world in that era? Sounds like there was a huge variation in acceptance of men having sex with men, wasn't there?
KJ: Very much so.
In Athens, men prayed that their sons would be beautiful and draw many suitors.
In Crete, men sought the father's permission to "kidnap" their sons and carry them off. In this island kingdom, a sexual relationship was more common than elsewhere. Perhaps to keep horny teenagers from bothering the girls or even to limit population growth.
In Sparta after Lycurgus' constitution, the relationship loses its sexual overtones and become more acceptable by modern mores.
AB: This then brings us back to the problematical aspect that history belongs to the conquerors. There were even differences of opinion about the Spartans back then. Which source did you use to base your world building on?
The only ancient author I could find that had firsthand knowledge of Sparta, and wasn't anti-Sparta, is Xenophon. His sons grew up in the harsh Spartan educational system known as the agōgē. As none of the other ancient authors whose works are extant had visited Sparta, I took their writings with a grain of salt.
AB: I'm impressed that you took all this to heart and didn't just have two guys fucking like rabbits. Why didn't you?
KJ: I minored in Classical History so I had enough background information to know this was unlikely. I remembered that helots and kryptes had no common ground. They lived in the same city-state, but that was the extent of it. Plus the most offensive forms of cursing/obscenity involved penetration.
So I thought if I could manage to make something out of a situation like that, I would have historical bragging rights.
Of course, this resulted in ungodly amounts of research before I could even start. A bonus, in and of itself—I love the ancient world and research. I've made this story as historically accurate as I could because I hate to be wrong.
Please don't anyone take that as a challenge.
You've just done an extended blog tour and dropped snippets of information about other facets of the story, so I encourage readers to check them out. But the overarching theme between all your books and the world you are building is their belief that gods rule their lives. In "Alexios' Fate" Apollo's attention was drawn by a boast the prince's father made. In the next short story, "496 BC" they're taking a prophet to Delphi on Apollo's orders. In "A Spartan Love" Apollo becomes aware of Andreas when he calls on him for help. In all cases, you've written in the god as if he existed. Why?
KJ: Because that is the world Andreas believes he lives in. Read the Iliad and The Odyssey. The gods and goddesses march across the pages larger than life. They are an integral part of life and the world.
I couldn't write an epic and leave them out.
The Greeks had a very different vision of what the gods were. The gods were anthropomorphisms of important concepts or forces of nature. They were frequently prone to all the flaws that plague humans—anger, greed, lust. They were not omniscient. They only knew what they had seen or been told, allowing mortals to sometimes escape their wrath or even trick them. They were bound by the same social rules as the humans who worshiped them.
Many cultural responsibilities derive from the fact that the gods move at will through the world. Failure to offer hospitality to the stranger at your door might result in offending a god in disguise.
AB: So, they were always a little fearful that the people they interacted with could be gods in disguise. Even if they asked them if they were and were told they weren't, they were never sure, because a god would say that, wouldn't he? It must have had a lot more impact than doing things because of where they might end up in the afterlife if they didn't treat people right.
That's probably a big difference to get our heads around.
How difficult did you find researching the day to day details of life in those times? I remember we spent almost a day discussing whether the door hinged in or out and ended up with it on a pivot.
Very few authors wrote of their day-to-day life. It's a subject that was taken for granted by both the author and any contemporary readers. The Spartans were even worse than the rest of the world when it came to writing anything down. They were laconic by definition and only made records of the truly important stuff. Needless to say, I’ve found it difficult to find written proof of certain aspects of the Spartans’ lives. Wherever possible, I’ve stuck to verifiable facts. However, that has left a lot to speculation. If I needed to fill in some gaps, I chose to follow the practices common in the rest of the Greek world.
Most of what is known comes from cities and city-dwellers. Andreas is a rural, agrarian slave so very little is known about what his life would have been like.
KJ: That GoogleEarth is your friend! I was able to look at the terrain from practically ground level. There were also numerous blogs and travel sites for additional views of the landscape/geography.
Andreas would have lived in a wooded area of the foot hills leading up to the Taygetos mountain range. He and his ancestors would have cleared land where they could. Over the centuries, the land has become less fertile. But goats can eat pretty much anything.
AB: What sparked your interest in Ancient Greece and Sparta?
KJ: I've always loved ancient history. I read the myths of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians as a child. Then when I attended Case Western Reserve University, I had to take some humanities as part of my curriculum and I chose to minor in Classical History.
There is something amazing about listening to your instructor read the beginning of the Iliad in the original Greek. And he had a flair for it, proclaiming the bard's words in a booming voice.
AB: I believe you have other books planned in your Apollo's Men series. Can you tell me a bit about them?
KJ: Well, first there is Alexios' Fate and 496 BC as well as a third book, Tempting Fate, in that story arc.
A Spartan Love is the first story in a new story arc in the Apollo's Men series. The following books, A Tested Love and A Shared Love, have already made it to the second draft stage. The subsequent books follow Andreas and Theron as their relationship evolves.
I can't say much more than that without giving a major spoiler for A Spartan Love.
KJ: Andreas needed someone to talk to. He doesn't speak to Theron until Chapter Seven. No one could expect him, or a reader, to go that long without significant dialog.
Of all the possible pets a Greek might have kept, a ferret offered the most opportunities for interaction as well as being quite the character. Plus we had one when I was a teenager, so I had some idea of how they would act, smell and move.
Besides Ictis is just too cute for words.
An interesting side note: Ictis more or less means "ferret" in ancient Greek. I guess Andreas wasn't feeling imaginative the day he named him.
AB: Well, I for one am interested in seeing where this story leads. I really enjoyed being part of the two men's journey so far and hope readers agree with me. It's been fascinating learning a little more about the background to writing your series. Thank you for your time.
KJ: Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I hope everyone enjoys A Spartan Love.
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