Christopher T. Lee
The University of Pennsylvania


Paul's Malakos: Its Evolution from Classical Greece Through the Roman World

"Only a naive and ill-informed optimism assumes that any word or expression in one language can be accurately rendered in another". So writes Boswell in Same-Sex Unions as he comments on a problem nearly as old as literature itself, viz. the art of translation. The authority on the subject, George Steiner, warns us that not only does translation take place when two different languages are involved, but "translation is formally and pragmatically implicit in any act of communication" (Steiner, xii). When Steiner's statement is placed within the context of Boswell, the ability to understand another person, yet alone a text from another time in another language, seems quite a daunting task. Prominent linguists, such as Steven Pinker of M.I.T., provide a glimmer of hope, though. Pinker contends that "the idea that thought is the same thing as language is an example of ... a conventional absurdity (Pinker, 57). Although one word might not directly translate into another language, the principle underlying this word can be readily ascertained. The task is certainly not an easy one, but it is an important one. For it is only by glimpsing into the minds of those who have gone before us that we can understand the foundations upon which our world is erected, and it is only through translation that the grayness of antiquity can be brought into focus.

This study is a study in lexicography which relies upon translation. It aims to trace the evolution of the word malakos from classical Greece into the late Roman world. More specifically though, it traces Paul's malakos from classical Greece into the late Roman world. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul writes, "Do you know that sinners shall not inherit the kingdom of God? ... Neither prostitutes, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thiefs, nor avaricious people, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers shall inherit the Kingdom of God" ( New International Version). John Boswell's watershed study on the understanding of homosexuality in the ancient world, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, takes issue with the inclusion of homosexuals among this group of sinners[1]. Boswell argues against an exorbitant number of respected Biblical translations, including the New International Version, which translate malakoi (the masculine nominative plural of malakos) with arsenokoitai as "homosexuals". It is worth noting that some of these translations go so far as to distinguish arsenokoitai as active homosexuals from malakoi, passive homosexuals. Boswell, however, asserts that malakos should "be translated as either 'unrestrained' or `wanton', but to assume that either of these concepts necessarily applies to gay people is wholly gratuitous" (Boswell, 106). Since Boswell strongly disavows the application of malakos to homosexuality, one must inevitably ask what does the term malakos mean and to whom does it refer? This study seeks to answer these questions through two methods. The first consists of a paper tracing the chronology of malakos from Homer to the third century A.D. The second method involves mapping the uses of malakos in extant Greco-Roman literature and is only available on the World Wide Web. This method resembles a dictionary entry which not only allows the casual reader to open doors and explore new territory but also gives the serious scholar fertile ground to plant new seeds upon.

Before viewing the substantive part of this webpage (i.e. the second method), it may be useful to look at other dictionaries and their mappings of malakos. The celebrated Liddell-Scott Jones Greek-English Lexicon separates the definitions of malakos into three primary categories, viz. soft, of things subject to touch; soft, of things not subject to touch; soft, of persons or modes of life[2]. The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae charts the Latin form of malakos, viz. malacus. It divides the definitions into two categories: mollis, tener, levis and mollis, delicatus. Arndt and Gingrich's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature classifies malakos as soft and effeminate. The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources by Moulton and Milligan contains a brief discussion on Arndt and Gingrich's two classifications of malakos. The work is slightly outdated but useful nonetheless. Finally, the Perseus Project contains a wealth of citations which form the basis for many of the references used in this study. Approximately 200 citations in Greek literature can be viewed with their searching tools[3].

Having made the reader aware of these resources[4], it is now time to view the meaty portion of this study.



Comments? Further insights? Questions? Please send email to ctlee@mail.sas.upenn.edu