One area where we see this change is in the social importance that is given to marriage and the family. Today we take it for granted that the family is the institution entrusted with the care and rearing of children. Incredible as it seems, the family was not very important in ancient Greece. In fact, Plato proposed an abolition of marriage and the family, envisioning a republic in which the whole business of procreation and care of the young was turned over to the state.

Aristotle, more prudent than Plato, recognized the need for the family. At the same time he described the family as an infrastructural good. Of course family is necessary for the good life, just as it is necessary to eat and sleep every day, but for Aristotle a life devoted to the family is neither a complete nor a noble one. The Greeks viewed the family almost exclusively as a vehicle for procreation. Most marriages were arranged, and the husband and wife were not even expected to be friends. Indeed Aristotle thought women largely incapable of friendship, and he certainly did not expect wives to relate to husbands on a plane of equality. The unimportance of romantic love in ancient Greece can be verified from the fact that of the three dozen or so Greek tragedies we possess, not a single one has love as its subject.

Eros was a powerful force in ancient Greece, but it expressed itself mainly in homosexuality. The practice was common in Athens, but the Spartans were especially notorious for it, encouraging it in their gymnasiums and using homosexual attachments to build solidarity among soldiers in war. Historian Michael Grant writes that Eros was also the basis for the practice of pederasty. He notes that sexual relations between men and boys were “far more favored than homosexual relations between men of the same age.” The ancients also erected an educational philosophy based on pederasty. As historian K. J. Dover describes it, the man always played the active role and the boy the passive role. The whole project was conceived of in terms of an exchange; the young boy agreed to sexualrelations with an older man and in return he received knowledge and tutoring.