The Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art, and Homosexual Fantasy

By Robert Aldrich | Go to book overview

6

THE SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In 1902, as Germany was confronting the news of Friedrich Krupp’s suicide and rumours of his ‘immoral’ activities in Italy, a certain Dr A. Sper published a pamphlet on Capri und die Homosexuellen. Subtitled ‘A Psychological Study’, the little work aimed to investigate the circumstances which had driven Krupp to take his life. Sper first considered the anthropology of sexuality and argued that sexual behaviour had much to do with climate and geography. In colder, northern climes, where men were obliged to work hard just to survive, the sexual instinct was less strong than in southern and tropical regions, where warmth, fertility and temperament provoked greater sexual desire—Sper commented on the ‘enormous erotic heat’ of both beasts and humans in India and Italy, and he dwelt on the great sexual potency of animals ranging from chickens to donkeys. To this heightened sexuality in the South was coupled earlier sexual maturation; whereas Germans reached sexual maturity only between the ages of 15 and 17, Italians did so by the age of 12. Early sexual maturity led to a particularly active fantasy life and ‘from dream to act is only a short step’. Adolescent boys began to play sexual games with one another; juvenile sexuality was common among people like the Italians whose physical and psychological development filled them with unbounded sexual desire.

Sper next looked at the history of sexuality in the South. Pederasty was common in classical Greece and Rome, he reminded his readers, and was not then thought psychopathic. Martial, Catullus and other ancient writers were cited in support of this view. One centre of pederasty, Sper continued, was Capri during the age of Tiberius. The emperor might have been psychologically deviant or perhaps rumours of his orgies had been concocted by his political enemies, but in any case Capri had acquired a reputation which pursued it through later centuries. Capri, in fact, had been a homosexual eden with its ideal climate and the ‘beauty of manly youth’ which struck even the Italians. Southern Italy in general was a veritable incubator for handsome youths, and Italians themselves—he quoted Michelangelo’s sonnets to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri—appreciated

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The Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art, and Homosexual Fantasy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Sex and Society in the European Mediterranean 13
  • 2 - Winckelmann and Platen 41
  • 3 - Englishmen in Southern Europe 69
  • 4 - Following in the Footsteps 101
  • 5 - Mediterranean Men in Art and Photography 136
  • 6 - The Social and Historical Context 162
  • 7 - Contemporary Echoes 186
  • Conclusion 217
  • Bibliographical Essay 225
  • Notes 229
  • Index 256
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