Cover image for Homosexuality & civilization
Homosexuality & civilization
Crompton, Louis, 1925-2009.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 623 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
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HQ76.25 .C76 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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How have major civilisations of the last two millennia treated people who were attracted to their own sex? In a narrative tour de force, Louis Crompton chronicles the lives and achievements of homosexual men and women alongside a darker history of persecution as he compares the Christian West with the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, Arab Spain, imperial China and pre-Meiji Japan. making high claims for its moral influence. By contrast, Jewish religious leaders in the sixth century BC branded male homosexuality as a capital offence and, later, blamed it for the destruction of the biblical city of Sodom. When these two traditions collided in Christian Rome during the late empire, the tragic repercussions were felt throughout Europe and the New World. sodomites in sixth-century Byzantium, medieval France, Renaissance Italy, and in Spain under the Inquisition. But Protestant authorities were equally committed to the execution of homosexuals in the Netherlands, Calvin's Geneva and Georgian England. The root cause was religious superstition, abetted by political ambition and sheer greed. Yet from this cauldron of fears and desires, homoerotic themes surfaced in the art of the Renaissance masters - Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Sodoma, Cellini and Caravaggio - often intertwined with Christian motifs. Homosexuality also flourished in the court intrigues of Henry III of France, Queen Christina of Sweden, James I and William III of England, Queen Anne and Frederick the Great. Anti-homosexual atrocities committed in the West contrast starkly with the more tolerant traditions of pre-modern China and Japan, as revealed in poetry, fiction and art and in the lives of emperors, shoguns, Buddhist priests, scholars and actors. In the samurai tradition of Japan, Crompton makes clear, the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greek.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this notable monograph, impressive for its breadth and readability, an early pioneer of gay and lesbian studies attempts the Herculean task of chronicling the history of homosexuality in Europe and parts of Asia from Homer to the 18th century. In a series of short vignettes, Crompton, emeritus professor of English at the University of Nebraska, relates the "rich and terrible" stories of men and women who have been immortalized, celebrated, shunned or executed for the special attention they paid to members of their own sex. Two chapters on China and Japan are a welcome addition to the usual Eurocentric focus. Crompton's comparative study reveals just how anomalous Judeo-Christian aversion to homosexuality seems in the context of world history. On the battlefield with Alexander the Great, in the highest ranks of the Han dynasty in China, in the "bisexual" poetry of Arab Spain and among the samurai in Japan, same-sex male love flourished (lesbianism, Crompton admits, is harder to find). Even among Christian rulers of European countries, homosexual attachments weren't unheard of. Crompton surmises that in 1610, "one `sodomite,' James I, ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland; another, Rudolph II, presided over the Holy Roman Empire; and France had its second homosexual king within a generation." Crompton's vivid and sobering accounts of the persecution of homosexuals under Christian regimes throughout the centuries emerge as the book's undeniable focus. Throughout, Crompton's great intellectual nemesis is the late Michel Foucault, whose History of Sexuality, Volume I emphasizes the difficulty of reconstructing the sexual ethos of another culture or historical period and who has inspired a generation of historians, literary scholars and cultural critics to grapple with sexuality in their work. By contrast, Crompton interprets his evidence quotes liberally from primary sources. Read as an anthology of those sources, Crompton's work will be valuable to scholars of all stripes. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Recent landmark decisions in the U.S. and Canadian Supreme Courts on same-sex relationships have engendered passionate public debate about homosexuality in society and revealed the depth of homophobia in 21st-century North America. In this ambitious work, Crompton (English, emeritus, Univ. of Nebraska; Byron and Greek Love) strikes at the roots of these attitudes by examining homosexuals throughout 24 centuries of history. Drawing chiefly on primary sources, the author presents a comprehensive, richly detailed study of Western civilization from ancient Greece, where same-sex relationships were celebrated, through the rise of the three "Abrahamic" religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) and the resulting vilification of homosexuality. He then covers the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason in Europe, with side trips to the surprisingly tolerant and open cultures of China and Japan, tracing attitudes through the mid-19th century. Crompton superbly chronicles a subculture that has survived, and at times even flourished, in the face of unsparingly depicted persecution, while subtly emphasizing the vital contributions in all fields that homosexuals of both sexes have made to history. This impressive work is an essential purchase for all gay and lesbian studies and history collections.-Richard J. Violette, Special Libs. Cataloguing, Victoria, B.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Based on the best recent scholarship and providing an overview of homosexuality from the Greeks to the end of the 18th century, this levelheaded, easy-to-read volume confirms the fact that homosexuality has had a long history (with periods of greater or less toleration). Crompton (English, Univ. of Nebraska) devotes three chapters to Greece and Rome, three to Christianity and the later medieval world, and three to the 18th century; single chapters treat ancient Judea, imperial China, Italy in the Renaissance, Spain and the Inquisition, France from Calvin to Louis XIV, England from the Reformation to William III, and pre-Mejei Japan. This is primarily an intellectual history of attitudes about homosexuality with emphasis on individual homosexuals, both female and male. Crompton assumes that the reader will be conscious of the general course of history and includes only brief introductory passages to set the stage. He bases much of the book on standard translations of primary sources, many of them retranslated from the Victorian versions, in which same-sex relations were often ignored or "cleaned up." There is an extensive bibliography and the sources are cited in endnotes. The result is the best historical overview of the topic that this reviewer has read. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All collections; all levels. V. L. Bullough University of Southern California

Table of Contents

1 Early Greece 776-480 bce
A Millennium of Greek Lovep. 1
Homer's Iliadp. 3
Crete, Sparta, Chalcisp. 6
Athletics and the Cult of Beautyp. 10
Sapphop. 15
Alcaeus, Ibycus, Anacreonp. 20
Theognis of Megarap. 23
Athens' Rulersp. 24
The Tyrannicidesp. 25
2 Judea 900 bce-600 ce
The Judgment of Leviticusp. 32
The Threat to Populationp. 34
Sodom's Goldp. 36
Who Were the Kedeshim?p. 39
Philo of Alexandriap. 43
The Talmudp. 46
3 Classical Greece 480-323 bce
Pindar's Odesp. 49
Greek Tragedyp. 51
Phidiasp. 52
The Comedies of Aristophanesp. 53
Plato's Symposiump. 55
The Phaedrus and the Lawsp. 60
Xenophonp. 63
Aristotle's Dictap. 65
Zeno and the Stoicsp. 66
Aeschines' Against Timarchusp. 67
The Sacred Band of Thebesp. 69
Philip and Alexanderp. 74
4 Rome and Greece 323 bce-138 ce
Sexuality and Empirep. 79
Cicero and Roman Politicsp. 82
Greek Love in the Aeneidp. 84
Meleager and Callimachusp. 86
Catullus and Tibullusp. 87
Theocritus and "Corydon"p. 90
Horacep. 92
Ovid's Mythsp. 94
Lesbianismp. 97
Petronius' Satyriconp. 99
Suetonius and the Emperorsp. 101
Statius, Martial, Juvenalp. 103
Hadrian and Antinousp. 105
5 Christians and Pagans 1-565 ce
The Gospelsp. 111
Intertestamental Judaism and Paulp. 112
"Moses" and the Early Churchp. 115
Greek Love in Late Antiquityp. 118
Plutarch's Dialogue on Lovep. 120
The Lucianic "Affairs of the Heart"p. 124
Two Romances and an Epicp. 127
Roman Law before Constantinep. 129
The Edicts of 342 and 390p. 131
Sodom Transformedp. 136
Saint John Chrysostomp. 139
The Persecutions of Justinianp. 142
6 Darkness Descends 476-1049
The Fall of Romep. 150
Visigothic Spainp. 151
Church Councils and Penitentialsp. 153
The Carolingian Panicp. 156
Love in Arab Spainp. 161
The Growth of Canon Lawp. 172
The Book of Gomorrahp. 175
7 The Medieval World 1050-1321
The Fortunes of Ganymedep. 178
Scandal in High Placesp. 183
The Theological Assaultp. 186
The Inquisition and Its Alliesp. 189
The Fate of the Templarsp. 192
Secular Laws: The Sowingp. 196
The Harvest Beginsp. 201
Poets for the Prosecutionp. 204
Dante's Admirable Sinnersp. 208
8 Imperial China 500 BCE-1849
A Peach, a Fish, and a Sleevep. 213
The Han Emperorsp. 217
Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhismp. 220
Poets and Loversp. 222
From Tang to Songp. 223
Ming China: The West Reactsp. 225
Feng Menglong's Anatomy of Lovep. 228
Fiction and Dramap. 231
The Qing Dynastyp. 236
The Peking Stagep. 240
9 Italy in the Renaissance 1321-1609
A New Ethos and an Oldp. 245
Repression in the Italian City Statesp. 246
Death in Venicep. 247
Florence: The Price of Lovep. 251
Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardop. 262
Michelangelo: Love, Art, and Guiltp. 269
Sodoma and Cellinip. 278
Rome and Caravaggiop. 286
10 Spain and the Inquisition 1497-1700
The Spanish Inquisitionp. 291
Subcultures in Valencia and Madridp. 300
The Inquisition in Portugalp. 308
Spain and the New Worldp. 314
11 France from Calvin to Louis XIV 1517-1715
Outings, Protestant and Catholicp. 321
Calvinism and Repressionp. 324
Henry III and the "Mignons"p. 328
The Poets' Revoltp. 331
Louis XIII, "The Just"p. 335
Monsieur and Madamep. 339
Six Generalsp. 345
Les Lesbiennesp. 350
Queen Christinap. 355
12 England from the Reformation to William III 1533-1702
Silence and Denialp. 361
Monasteries and the Lawp. 362
Elizabethan Literaturep. 366
Christopher Marlowep. 368
The Tragedy of Edward IIp. 371
Shakespeare's Sonnetsp. 378
James VI and Ip. 381
Francis Baconp. 388
Puritanism and the Restorationp. 391
Between Womenp. 397
William III in Englandp. 402
13 Pre-Meiji Japan 800-1868
Europe Discovers Japanp. 411
The Buddhist Priesthoodp. 413
Samurai and Shogunsp. 419
No Drama and Kabukip. 424
A Debate and an Anthologyp. 428
Saikaku's Great Mirrorp. 431
Tokugawa Finalep. 438
14 Patterns of Persecution 1700-1730
Policing Parisp. 444
"Reforming" Britainp. 451
Souls in Exilep. 456
Witch Hunt in the Netherlandsp. 462
15 Sapphic Lovers 1700-1793
Law and Religionp. 472
Romance and Innuendop. 478
A Nun and an Actressp. 488
An Ill-Fated Queenp. 493
16 The Enlightenment 1730-1810
Montesquieu and Beccariap. 500
Frederick the Greatp. 504
The Vagaries of Voltairep. 512
Diderot and Sadep. 519
Toward Reformp. 524
Bentham vs. Blackstonep. 528
Conclusionp. 536
Notesp. 543
Bibliographyp. 564
Acknowledgmentsp. 598
Illustration Creditsp. 600
Indexp. 605