Malakia (effeminacy)

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In Greek society, effeminacy (Greek: ἀνανδρίαanandria; μαλακία – malakia; Latin: mollites) was a term applied to men who were perceived as having the quality of unmanliness, softness or delicacy, shown by moral weakness, cowardice or a lack of perseverance. It was a condition of failure to live up to the ethical and social standards expected of a male citizen. It could also refer to races, cultures, and societies as a whole.

The Greek word for an effeminate man is μαλακόςmalakos (literally "soft"), which is still used in modern Greek in that derogatory sense.[citation needed] Another Greek word for an effeminate man was ἀνδρόγυνοςandrogynos (the origin of English androgyny). It is made up of two Greek words: ἀνήρanēr "man" and γυνήgynē "woman". It literally means "man-woman".

The English word comes from the Latin, ex, meaning "out", and femina, meaning woman. It generally means "being like a woman" metaphysically. From classical antiquity, this meaning of effeminacy passed into Christianity through the Bible and affected Western culture especially English and Victorian Culture. This reflects the gender connotations the concept (and especially the word "androgynos") had in classical Greek society, where women were seen as naturally subordinate to men. However, it may also carry connotations of sexuality which were not present in the Greek concept. Homosexual relationships were not considered indicative of effeminancy, and were sometimes seen as essential to the proper development of a male citizen (like the relationship between as erastes and eromenos).

Ancient and Hellenistic Greece

Literary sense

In common literary prose, the term malakos is an adjective applied to things:

  • "Nay, bespeak thou him with gentle words; so shall the Olympian forthwith be gracious unto us."[1]
  • "Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses." (Matthew 11:8; similar passage at Luke 7:25.)

Philosophical sense

To the Greeks, men could be made either manly or effeminate. The Socrates character in Plato's The Republic observed that "too much music effeminizes the male";[2] "…when a man abandons himself to music to play upon him and pour into his soul as it were through the funnel of his ears those sweet, soft (malakos), and dirge-like airs of which we were just now speaking…".[3] Music softens the high spirit of a man but too much 'melts and liquifies' that spirit making him into a feeble warrior. For Socrates, the guardians must be trained right "lest the habit for such thrills make them more sensitive and soft (malakoteroi) than we would have them."[4]

Aristotle writes that "Of the dispositions described above, the deliberate avoidance of pain is rather a kind of softness (malakia); the deliberate pursuit of pleasure is profligacy in the strict sense."[5]; "One who is deficient in resistance to pains that most men withstand with success, is soft (malakos) or luxurious, for luxury is a kind of softness (malakia); such a man lets his cloak trail on the ground to escape the fatigue and trouble of lifting it, or feigns sickness, not seeing that to counterfeit misery is to be miserable."[5] and "People too fond of amusement are thought to be profligate, but really they are soft (malakos); for amusement is rest, and therefore a slackening of effort, and addiction to amusement is a form of excessive slackness."[6]Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, Loeb vol 73, VII vii 7; pg 417.</ref>

A writer of the peripatetic school (c. 1st century BC or AD) elaborated a little more on Aristotle by labeling effiminacy as a vice. He writes that "Cowardice is accompanied by softness (malakia), unmanliness, faint-heartedness."[7] It was also a concomitant of uncontrol: "The concomitants of uncontrol are softness (malakia) and negligence."[8]

It had educational implications for the Greek paideia. Pericles in his famous Funeral Oration said that the Athenians "cultivate… knowledge without effeminacy (malakia)".[9] This statement and idea of education without effeminacy was visible in the educational philosophies of Victorian England and 19th century America.

Effeminacy in Ancient Greece had political implications as well. The presence or absence of this character in man and his society determined if his society was free or slavish. The Greeks applied this term to the Asiatics because they always lived under tyranny.[10] To the Greeks, however, their own self-government was seen as a product of their manliness (see The Kyklos).

Herodotus recounted an incident that happened in Asia Minor. This was an appeal from King Croesus, the king of Lydia to the Persian King. The Persian king wanted to kill all the males to keep them from revolting and what the defeated king proposed was to inculturate softness in order to make the people docile and servile; effeminacy was seen as the mark of a slave. These men are to be softened.

But let the Lydians be pardoned; and lay on them this command, that they may not revolt or be dangerous to you; then, I say, and forbid them to possess weapons of war, and command them to wear tunics under their cloaks and buskins on their feet, and to teach their sons lyre-playing and song and dance and huckstering (the word "retail" in one translation). Then, O King, you will soon see them turned to women instead of men; and thus you need not fear lest they revolt.[11]

The Greek idea of mechanical trades as incurring effeminacy of their laborers was spoken by Xenophon:

Men do indeed speak ill of those occupations which are called handicrafts, and they are rightly held of little repute in communities, because they weaken the bodies of those who make their living at them by compelling them to sit and pass their days indoors. Some indeed work all the time by a fire. But when the body becomes effeminate the mind too is debilitated. Besides, these mechanical occupations (banausos) leave a man no leisure to attend to his friends' interests, or the public interest. This class therefore cannot be of much use to his friends or defend his country. Indeed, some states, especially the most warlike, do not allow a citizen to engage in these handicraft occupations.[11]

The Greeks tended to see things in totality, as opposed to compartmentalizing their thought. If the body was weak and soft, as the sentiment went, the mind is weak and soft, thereby lending to a man who was effeminate. Everything: food, sleeping habits, clothing, labors, work, education, and music affected the character of a man. The excess or deficiency in any of these either made the man effeminate or manly. (see Golden Mean).

United States

To strengthen the argument of the "mechanics", Thomas Jefferson said something similar to Xenophon (see above):

The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. I consider the class of artificers as the panderers of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are generally overturned.[12]


The Septuagint expresses the concept of effeminacy through the Greek word androgynos:

  • "Fear casts down the slothful; and the souls of the effeminate shall hunger." Septuagint, Prov 18.8
  • "Cowardice possesses the effeminate man." Septuagint, Prov 19.15

The editor of Cruden's Complete Concordance to the Bible of 1737 points to places in the Bible where "Weak and ineffectual men are sometimes spoken of as women": Masoretic text, Is 3.12; 19.16; and Septuagint, Is 19.16; Nah 3.13; Jer 28.30.[13] One Protestant minister declared Adam an “effeminated apple eater” because he was soft.

Matthew and Luke use "malakos" in the context of soft clothing. See Matthew 11:8, Luke 7:25.

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians uses "malakos" in the plural: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor sodomities, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10)

St Thomas Aquinas

In Question 138, St. Thomas Aquinas delves more deeply into the connotations of the word effeminate. "The Philosopher" that he refers here to is Aristotle.

Whether effeminacy* is opposed to perseverance? [Mollities, literally 'softness']

Objection 1. It seems that effeminacy is not opposed to perseverance. For a gloss on 1 Cor. 6:9,10, "Nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind," expounds the text thus: "Effeminate--i.e. obscene, given to unnatural vice." But this is opposed to chastity. Therefore effeminacy is not a vice opposed to perseverance.

Objection 2. Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7) that "delicacy is a kind of effeminacy." But to be delicate seems akin to intemperance. Therefore effeminacy is not opposed to perseverance but to temperance.

Objection 3. Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7) that "the man who is fond of amusement is effeminate." Now immoderate fondness of amusement is opposed to eutrapelia, which is the virtue about pleasures of play, as stated in Ethic. iv, 8. Therefore effeminacy is not opposed to perseverance.

On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7) that "the persevering man is opposed to the effeminate."

I answer that, As stated above (137, 1 and 2), perseverance is deserving of praise because thereby a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance of difficulties and toils: and it is directly opposed to this, seemingly, for a man to be ready to forsake a good on account of difficulties which he cannot endure. This is what we understand by effeminacy, because a thing is said to be "soft" if it readily yields to the touch. Now a thing is not declared to be soft through yielding to a heavy blow, for walls yield to the battering-ram. Wherefore a man is not said to be effeminate if he yields to heavy blows. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7) that "it is no wonder, if a person is overcome by strong and overwhelming pleasures or sorrows; but he is to be pardoned if he struggles against them." Now it is evident that fear of danger is more impelling than the desire of pleasure: wherefore Tully says (De Offic. i) under the heading "True magnanimity consists of two things: It is inconsistent for one who is not cast down by fear, to be defeated by lust, or who has proved himself unbeaten by toil, to yield to pleasure." Moreover, pleasure itself is a stronger motive of attraction than sorrow, for the lack of pleasure is a motive of withdrawal, since lack of pleasure is a pure privation. Wherefore, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vii, 7), properly speaking an effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion.

Reply to Objection 1. This effeminacy is caused in two ways. On one way, by custom: for where a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures, it is more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. On another way, by natural disposition, because, to wit, his mind is less persevering through the frailty of his temperament. This is how women are compared to men, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7): wherefore those who are passively sodomitical are said to be effeminate, being womanish themselves, as it were.

Reply to Objection 2. Toil is opposed to bodily pleasure: wherefore it is only toilsome things that are a hindrance to pleasures. Now the delicate are those who cannot endure toils, nor anything that diminishes pleasure. Hence it is written (Dt. 28:56): "The tender and delicate woman, that could not go upon the ground, nor set down her foot for… softness [Douay: 'niceness']." Thus delicacy is a kind of effeminacy. But properly speaking effeminacy regards lack of pleasures, while delicacy regards the cause that hinders pleasure, for instance toil or the like.

Reply to Objection 3. In play two things may be considered. On the first place there is the pleasure, and thus inordinate fondness of play is opposed to eutrapelia. Secondly, we may consider the relaxation or rest which is opposed to toil. Accordingly just as it belongs to effeminacy to be unable to endure toilsome things, so too it belongs thereto to desire play or any other relaxation inordinately.[14]

Lexicon entry

From An English-Greek Lexicon, edited by C. D. Younge. 1870.

Note that a Lexicon, like any other translation aid, is entirely dependent on the interpretation of the authors. It can be argued, for example, the wide association of effeminacy, homosexuality, and 'softness' in the period in which Younge wrote may have influenced this translation as much as any philological research, and the extent to which even modern translations of ancient terms presents convincing evidence for the ancient meanings questionable.

Lexicon entry for synonyms

Other occurrences of the word

  • "The words of the cunning knaves are soft (malakos)" Septuagint, Prov. 26.22.
  • "Or do you not know that the unjust will not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate (malakos), nor sodomites, will possess the kingdom of God." 1 Cor. 6.9 The New American Catholic Edition, 1958
  • "Kings were no longer chosen from the house of Codrus, because they were thought to be luxurious and to have become soft (malakos)." From the Athenian Constitution.[15]
  • "some of the Kings proved cowardly (malakos) in warfare".[16]
  • "A true man must have no mark of effeminacy visible on his face, or any other part of his body. Let no blot on his manliness, then, ever be found either in his movements or habits." St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.289.
  • "What is the purpose in the Law's prohibition against a man wearing woman's clothing? Is it not that the Law would have us to be masculine and not to be effeminate in either person or actions — or in thought and word? Rather, it would have the man who devotes himself to the truth to be masculine both in acts of endurance and patience – in life, conduct, word, and discipline." St. Clement of Alexandria (c. l95, E), 2.365.
  • "Therefore, we also reckon that the woman should be continent and practiced in fighting against pleasures, too. Women are therefore to philosophize equally with men, though the males are preferable at everything, unless they have become effeminate. To the whole human race, then, discipline and virtue are a necessity, if they would pursue after happiness." St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.419, 420[17]
  • "Rome was humbled beneath the effeminate luxury of Oriental despotism." Gibbon Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776. I. 148.
  • "In a slothful peace both courages will effeminate, and manners corrupt." Bacon Greatness Kingd., Ess., 1612. 239.[18]
  • In a more modern context, during the airing of American Idol 6 the word malakos was often substituted on fansites for notably androgynous contestant Sanjaya Malakar's surname.

Malakas and malakia in modern Greek

In modern Greek, the word μαλακία – malakia has come to mean "masturbation", and its derivative μαλάκας – malakas means "one who masturbates" (i.e. "wanker"). Depending on the tone of voice, this term can be used colloquially as a friendly greeting or in a derogatory sense when angry. This word is very common in modern Greece.


  1. The Iliad, Homer, Loeb, Bk I, 580–585; pp. 46–7.
  2. Republic, Plato, trans. B. Jowett, M.A., Vintage Books, p. 118.
  3. Republic, Plato, Loeb vol 237, Bk III xviii; 411a; p. 291.
  4. Republic, Plato, Loeb vol 237, Bk III ii; 387 c; p. 207.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, Loeb vol 73, VII vii 3; pg 415.
  6. On Virtues and Vices, Loeb vol 285, p. 497.
  7. On Virtues and Vices, Loeb vol 285, p. 499
  8. The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides, trans. Crawley, The Modern Library, NY, 1951. Book II, #40; p. 105.
  9. "…because the barbarians are more servile…" Politics, 1285a 20.
  10. 11.0 11.1 The Histories, Herodotus, trans. Robin Waterfield, Oxford University Press, NY, 1998. Book I, 155–157; pg 69.
  11. in Liberty or Equality, Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddhin, p. 6, reference from Works, ed., Washington [New York: Derby and Jackson, 1859], I, 403.
  12. Complete Concordance, Crudens, 1737. p. 755.
  13. St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province.
  14. The Athenian Constitution, Aristotle, Loeb Classical Library vol 285, Fr 7; p. 13.
  15. The Athenian Constitution, Aristotle, Loeb vol 285, III 2; p. 15.
  16. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David W. Bercot, Editor pg 445.
  17. Oxford English Dictionary, 20 vol.

See also

External links


  • On Virtues and Vices, Aristotle, trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992. Vol. #285
  • The Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle, trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library. Vol. #285
  • Oxford English Dictionary, 20 vol. It has 75 references in English literature of over 500 years of usage of the word 'effeminate'.