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

By Robert Aldrich | Go to book overview

7

CONTEMPORARY ECHOES

In the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth century, homosexual fascination with the Mediterranean reached an apogee which coincided with the heyday of the expatriate homosexual colony on Capri, Gloeden’s residence in Taormina and visits to Venice by such writers as Cocteau, Lorrain, Adelswärd-Fersen and Mann. Yet precisely at this time the myth of the homoerotic Mediterranean began to lose its potency. The theory of homosexuals as a ‘third sex’ developed by Hirschfeld owed little to the Greco-Roman precedent of pederasty, and although Brand tried to revive the classical model of male love, his audience was not so wide as that of Hirschfeld. Furthermore, centres of homosexual subculture were now growing in northern Europe, especially in Paris and Berlin, and homosexuals, despite laws against homosexuality which remained on the statute books (and were frequently enforced) in some countries, did not need to go south to find sexual satisfaction. Even doing so, as the case of Krupp proved, did not preclude opprobrium and its consequences. Those who ventured overseas sometimes now preferred to go further afield, lured by the exoticism of the Levant, the Orient or the colonies. Finally, homosexuals themselves were changing. They began to demand legal rights and social status as the equals of heterosexuals; less often than in the past did they portray themselves as the special and gifted inheritors of ancient Greeks and Romans whose morals were linked to a particular cultural legacy.

Antiquity more generally was losing its aesthetic hold on Europeans. The avant-garde was little interested in the classics and regular reference to ancient poetry and philosophy seemed tiresomely passéiste in the era of Cubism, psychoanalysis and relativity theory. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Europe’s arbiters of culture were concerned with the Modern, in all its manifestations, rather than the Ancient. Motor-cars and airplanes served as symbols of the new age, not Doric columns and Ionic pediments (although they were mixed in De Chirico’s paintings). Mann’s aging, bookish Aschenbach might still find inspiration in Venice and the classics, but Forster’s Clive, no matter how much his education had imbued

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