Those with sexual desires which contravene the socially accepted norms of their countries have often become expatriates, figuratively by searching for hospitable cultures for study and emulation and in actual fact as they travel overseas for holidays or go into exile. Wolfgang Popp has pointed out that one of the earliest epics bequeathed to western civilisation, the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, is a tale of both intimate male friendship and a voyage, 1 and Hans Mayer speaks about the ‘homosexual diaspora’. 2 The sexual fantasies and the sex lives of writers and artists found expression in adventures brought about by inclination or necessity.
The journey to the Mediterranean undertaken by men who desired other men—sodomites, Uranians, homosexuals or gays, depending on the epoch—pointed in two directions, one geographical, the other historical. The Mediterranean littoral, particularly Italy, was a warm, exotic clime, bright with sun, full of art and architecture, where they could visit galleries and churches, sun on the beach, while away hours on café terraces. They could also make love to or fall in love with handsome young men. The socioeconomic conditions of the Mediterranean world, the leniency of law codes in countries such as Italy and the attitudes of local people made it possible for men to find ‘native’ partners or have affairs with others from northern countries similarly drawn to the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean was a historical destination as well. At a time when homosexuality was despised, catalogued as an illness, sin, psychiatric disorder and illegal act, the classical world and, to some extent, the Renaissance, suggested legitimate antecedents for the ‘crime against nature’. The Symposium, the poems of Theocritus and Virgil, the friendships of Achilles and Patroclus and of Hadrian and Antinous, the myth of Ganymede, the statues of Apollo, all provided a canon of art, literature and history which justified and authenticated homosexual love; the poets and painters of the Renaissance, themselves so influenced by the ancients, formed a link in this homosexual cultural genealogy.
Certainly there were other referents, and other destinations, in the two centuries after the first writings of Winckelmann. The stories of David and