Homosexuality and Civilization

Homosexuality and Civilization

Homosexuality and Civilization

Homosexuality and Civilization

Excerpt

The idea for this book was spurred by the fate of a pioneering course on homosexuality I helped organize as long ago as 1970. The undertaking served as a reminder that homosexuality was indeed the peccatum mutum—the silent sin—for it prompted a legislator to draft a law banning such academic efforts. The legislative bill, which would have forbidden discussion of the subject at state institutions other than the state medical school, failed to pass, but the course was not repeated. Though it had focused on civil disabilities and then-popular psychiatric theories, the opposition it aroused convinced me that historical research was needed to understand the strength of the taboo homosexuality had inspired.

My original plan was to trace the religious beliefs that shaped European opinion in the Middle Ages and their punitive consequences. But first it seemed appropriate to begin with Greece and Rome, if only to demonstrate that such negative views were not the universal judgments of mankind. It came as a surprise to find how much literature on homosexuality had survived in the form of Greek poetry, biography, history, and philosophical debate. This plenitude made Kenneth Dover's ground-breaking study (1978), valuable though it was, seem narrow in its focus on archaic vases and such classical authors as Plato and Aristophanes. The material soon filled two chapters and spilled over into two more—on Rome and early Christianity— since Greek documents, far from being limited to the classical age, turned out to be abundant well into the Common Era.

Beert Verstraete's work on homosexuality and slavery in Rome provided a valuable clue to that culture, but John Boswell's reading of early Christian attitudes appeared open to question. Boswell's thesis, briefly stated, was that the Christian church did not develop markedly hostile views of same-sex relations until the twelfth century. But a candid examination of the evidence soon indicated that, from the very birth of Christianity, a hatred existed fully comparable to the hatred directed at pagans and Jews in the first millennium and at heretics, Jews, and witches in the first seven centuries of the second. Certainly, the resulting deaths were in this case fewer, but the rhetorical con-

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.