When I started writing Pantheon, I knew I wanted to give equal time to a variety of sexual expressions. The ancient world operated under different sexual constructions than we do today, and most of the gods of myth had same-sex encounters:
In contemporary Western society, we base our division of sexual categories on the axis of same versus other. Our primary division rests on the genders of the people involved… The ancient world, both Greek and Roman, did not base its classification on gender, but on a completely different axis, that of active versus passive… Simply put, there was no such emic, cultural abstraction as “homosexuality” in the ancient world. The fact that a man had sex with other men did not determine his sexual category. Equally, it must be emphasized, there was no such concept as “heterosexuality.” The application of these terms to the ancient world is anachronistic…
– The Teratogenic Grid, by Holt N. Parker
Therefore, when importing the gods of the ancient world into the modern era, their actions and attractions often seem downright bisexual to our modern constructs.
In Pantheon, the clearest illustration of this is Dionysus’ activity with both Peter and Anna. Both members of that couple are able to freely enjoy Dionysus’ stunning body, albeit in different ways reflecting their own personalities. While this ultimately backfires on the former god, it illustrates his egalitarian approach to bodily pleasure.
Additionally, the guests of Aphrodite’s party/orgy in Rome experience a disregard for gender akin more to their position along an invisible Kinsey spectrum. Thomas remains interested only in Massimo, while Massimo is able to enjoy both him and Contina. Anne is able to incorporate another woman, but is mainly focused upon her sexy waiter. Beatrice is only concerned about the other men, while Sashi is focused primarily upon his goddess (although attention from a rogue male brings up a connection to the “Virgil of the seminary”, a play upon the suspected sexuality of that ancient author).
It is Apollo and Artemis who represent the divine characters most oriented toward their own gender in the novel.
In the Apollo chapter, I wanted to write a romantic same-sex story loosely based on a few of Apollo’s myths (especially Cyparissus, who of course became David, the “beloved”). It took on some tropes of gay-themed fiction, including the Drag Queen with the heart of gold (Diva), which I tried to push in new directions. However, I also did not want to disregard some of the issues modern American gay people have to navigate (especially in the south).
While Artemis does not spend much time among humans, much preferring the solitary wilds of Africa, when she does, her nymphs always attend her. During their duel, Poseidon attempts to use this against her in the strip club, but she eventually has the last laugh by throwing his sexuality back at him.
As for the humans not involved in relationships with the gods, Robert’s sexuality will be most important in the second novel in the series, Gigantomachy. In Pantheon he asks his mother Hera:
“You know I’m gay, don’t you?”
“You mean that you sleep only with men?”
Robert chuckled once. “That’s one way to put it.”
Hera nodded. “Yes, I know. I have known that for a very long time.”
“And you’re not upset?”
“Of course not.”
Robert sighed. “Figures. I couldn’t even rebel against you with that.”
Henry and Allan, the priest and his boyfriend from the Athena story, are forced to deal with the modern religious baggage that attends homosexuality today. In fact, Athena uses her skills of logical argument to make mincemeat of all of these religious objections that are usually trotted out by uninformed Christians. Henry and Allan are ultimately able to find peace together through their love.
And then there is Malcolm. Poor Malcolm, who just wants to be swept off his feet into a serious romance, but has the misfortune to fall for the very un-serious Hermes. It doesn’t help matters that the former god manipulated Malcolm’s same-sex attraction for his own purposes. Of all of the gay characters, he is the most insecure.
Finally, Gruag the lesbian poetess has a minor role in Pantheon, but will also have a larger part in Gigantomachy. After she parted with Hermes, she had an interesting experience that the second book in the series will explore in more detail.
(Some readers have asked me if Nikolaus from the Ares chapter was gay. I think he probably was (like a German Wilfred Owen). It can be argued that with Nikolaus, Ares finally had the ability to develop an emotional connection with a human, however he refused. Ares does not have much depth.)
Next up: The Straight Characters in Pantheon