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The phrase is a product of the enormous impact of the reception of classical Greek culture on historical attitudes toward sexuality, and its influence on art and various intellectual movements.
'Greece' as the historical memory of a treasured past was romanticised and idealised as a time and a culture when love between males was not only tolerated but actually encouraged, and expressed as the high ideal of same-sex camaraderie. If tolerance and approval of male homosexuality had happened once—and in a culture so much admired and imitated by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—might it not be possible to replicate in modernity the antique homeland of the non-heteronormative?
Homosexual behaviors at Rome were acceptable only within an inherently unequal relationship; male Roman citizens retained their masculinity as long as they took the active, penetrating role, and the appropriate male sexual partner was a prostitute or slave, who would nearly always be non-Roman.
According to Reeser's book Setting Plato Straight, it was the Renaissance that shifted the idea of love in Plato's sense to what we now refer to as "Platonic love"—as asexual and heterosexual.
In 1469, In his commentary on Plato, Ficino interprets amor platonicus ("Platonic love") and amor socraticus ("Socratic love") allegorically as idealized male love, in keeping with the Church doctrine of his time.
One of his few surviving fragments is a poem of desire addressed to a male with a Greek name, signaling the new aesthetic in Roman culture.
and came to fruition in the "new poetry" of the 50s BCE.