Homosexuality and Civilization

Overview

How have major civilizations 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.
Ancient Greek culture celebrated same-sex love in history, literature, and art, making high ...
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Overview

How have major civilizations 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.
Ancient Greek culture celebrated same-sex love in history, literature, and art, making high claims for its moral influence. By contrast, Jewish religious leaders in the sixth century B.C.E. branded male homosexuality as a capital offense 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.
Louis Crompton traces Church-inspired mutilation, torture, and burning of “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 Greece.
Sweeping in scope, elegantly crafted, and lavishly illustrated, Homosexuality and Civilization is a stunning exploration of a rich and terrible past.
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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times

Brilliantly researched… Crompton, drawing on his immense erudition, contrasts Christianity and its barbaric cruelty toward same-sex love with more benign traditions in Moorish Spain… [He] also discusses the cult of romantic homosexuality in traditional Japan, where relationships of intense loyalty and idealism sprang up between the samurai and their pages.
— Edmund White

New York Times

In Louis Crompton's sober, searching and somber new history, Homosexuality and Civilization, homosexuality is associated with the inner workings of civilization itself… It begins in the gladness of early Greece, where homosexuality had an 'honored place' for more than a millennium, and concludes with the madness of 19th-century Europe. In between is what Mr. Crompton calls a 'kaleidoscope of horrors' lasting more than 1,500 years… This is a restrained, careful, clear book of scholarly exposition.
— Edward Rothstein

Toronto Star
Beginning where one would suspect—the ancient Greeks—Crompton puts a particular emphasis on Eastern social history in pursuing his narrative of the evolving place of homosexuality all the way to the Enlightenment. A key Crompton theme is that while much of Western civilization officially persecuted homosexuals throughout the ages, whatever the hypocrisy involved, in many Eastern cultures—including pre-modern China and samurai Japan—'the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greece.'
Reason

Even after the explosion of literature on gay issues since the 1970s, comprehensive examinations of homosexuality in history have been few. An exception is Louis Crompton's new Homosexuality and Civilization, a sweeping account that was 18 years in the making. Crompton, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Nebraska, presents both a catalog of horrific abuse and persecution in the West and a surprising history of tolerance in some Eastern cultures, such as Japan, where homosexuality was 'an honored way of life among the country's religious and military leaders.'
— Julian Sanchez

Choice

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 tolerance)… The result is the best historical overview of the topic that this reviewer has read.
— V. L. Bullough

Taipei Times

When Europeans first arrived in the Americas they found men engaged in erotic entanglements virtually on the quayside. They responded with the horror their religion had implanted in them, holding out their bibles and shouting 'Abomination! Devilry! Witchcraft!' The problem was they found the same thing almost everywhere they set foot in East Asia. China and Japan both looked on this kind of activity with a cool shrug of the shoulders. But as the Europeans' colonizing push gathered force, the hangings, disembowelment by mastiffs and burnings alive (especially popular) began to appear in these regions as well… This is a major work… It will be the first book future researchers in the topic turn to, and what they will find is a magisterial survey that delivers the fruits of a lifetime's study. Everything in the field is touched on and weighed in the balance.
— Bradley Winterton

Times Higher Education Supplement

Crompton's book is truly the culmination of a lifetime's commitment… Writing a history of homosexuality is therefore a mission to remind the reader of millennia of oppression and resistance. For Crompton, the commonalities of that disparate history of homosexuality lie in two elements: the fact of common sexual practices, and the possibilities of human love and devotion that survived and contested all that history ('their' history) could throw at it. His history is, in part at least, a history of celebration.
— Jeffrey Weeks

Louisville Letter
At last, a comprehensive, scholarly investigation into homosexuality through the ages. In Homosexuality and Civilization, Louis Crompton discusses in elevated but readable fashion how gays and lesbians have affected the civilized world from ancient Greece to modern America, and been affected by it.
David Greenberg
An encyclopedic survey of homosexuality in Western and non-Western civilizations. Crompton's writing is lively, vivid and refreshing—a pleasure to read. Anyone interested in looking at homosexuality from a comparative and historical point of view will want to own this book.
William A. Percy
A minor masterpiece. Each chapter is a small work of art in itself. Crompton's discussion of Sapphic love is the best general treatment of lesbian suffering that I have seen. Though passionate, Homosexuality and Civilization is articulate, balanced, and theoretically sound—accessible to beginners and informative for specialists as well.
Richard Labonte
A master work of interpretive scholarship. Before this exhaustive and exhilarating study, a long shelf of books considered the intersection of homosexuality and civilization. Now there is one that does it all. Crompton's lifetime of academic gay activism powers this erudite, entertaining distillation of same-sex politics, practices, and passions across centuries and through cultures. He was born to write this book; generations yet unborn will draw knowledge and strength from it.
David Rosen
A one-of-a-kind, page-turning tour through gay history—one of the richest reading experiences in recent memory. This magnificent book educates us, startles us, and, by turns, reassures us as it traces the widespread cultural wellsprings of the changing forces of homosexuality. Crompton has crafted an utterly thrilling tour de force that succeeds in reinventing what we know about gay life across cultures and ages. This impressively detailed, eminently illuminating, and thoroughly enjoyable book should be on every gay person's—and every thinking person's—must-read list.
Karla Jay
A treasure trove of compelling information. This marvelous book, covering not simply the Western tradition but China and Japan as well, is sure to become fundamental reading in gay and lesbian studies. Crompton dazzles the reader with his exhaustive research and incisive analyses. Not since the work of the late John Boswell has a scholar brought such a brilliant light to bear on earlier evidence of same-sex affections.
Los Angeles Times - Edmund White
Brilliantly researched… Crompton, drawing on his immense erudition, contrasts Christianity and its barbaric cruelty toward same-sex love with more benign traditions in Moorish Spain… [He] also discusses the cult of romantic homosexuality in traditional Japan, where relationships of intense loyalty and idealism sprang up between the samurai and their pages.
New York Times - Edward Rothstein
In Louis Crompton's sober, searching and somber new history, Homosexuality and Civilization, homosexuality is associated with the inner workings of civilization itself… It begins in the gladness of early Greece, where homosexuality had an 'honored place' for more than a millennium, and concludes with the madness of 19th-century Europe. In between is what Mr. Crompton calls a 'kaleidoscope of horrors' lasting more than 1,500 years… This is a restrained, careful, clear book of scholarly exposition.
Reason - Julian Sanchez
Even after the explosion of literature on gay issues since the 1970s, comprehensive examinations of homosexuality in history have been few. An exception is Louis Crompton's new Homosexuality and Civilization, a sweeping account that was 18 years in the making. Crompton, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Nebraska, presents both a catalog of horrific abuse and persecution in the West and a surprising history of tolerance in some Eastern cultures, such as Japan, where homosexuality was 'an honored way of life among the country's religious and military leaders.'
Choice - V. L. Bullough
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 tolerance)… The result is the best historical overview of the topic that this reviewer has read.
Taipei Times - Bradley Winterton
When Europeans first arrived in the Americas they found men engaged in erotic entanglements virtually on the quayside. They responded with the horror their religion had implanted in them, holding out their bibles and shouting 'Abomination! Devilry! Witchcraft!' The problem was they found the same thing almost everywhere they set foot in East Asia. China and Japan both looked on this kind of activity with a cool shrug of the shoulders. But as the Europeans' colonizing push gathered force, the hangings, disembowelment by mastiffs and burnings alive (especially popular) began to appear in these regions as well… This is a major work… It will be the first book future researchers in the topic turn to, and what they will find is a magisterial survey that delivers the fruits of a lifetime's study. Everything in the field is touched on and weighed in the balance.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Jeffrey Weeks
Crompton's book is truly the culmination of a lifetime's commitment… Writing a history of homosexuality is therefore a mission to remind the reader of millennia of oppression and resistance. For Crompton, the commonalities of that disparate history of homosexuality lie in two elements: the fact of common sexual practices, and the possibilities of human love and devotion that survived and contested all that history ('their' history) could throw at it. His history is, in part at least, a history of celebration.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674011977
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/8/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 648
  • Product dimensions: 6.76 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Louis Crompton was Professor of English, Emeritus, at the University of Nebraska.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. Early Greece: 776–480 BCE
    • A Millennium of Greek Love
    • Homer’s Iliad
    • Crete, Sparta, Chalcis
    • Athletics and the Cult of Beauty
    • Sappho
    • Alcaeus, Ibycus, Anacreon
    • Theognis of Megara
    • Athens’ Rulers
    • The Tyrannicides


  • 2. Judea: 900 BCE–600 CE
    • The Judgment of Leviticus
    • The Threat to Population
    • Sodom’s Gold
    • Who Were the Kedeshim?
    • Philo of Alexandria
    • The Talmud


  • 3. Classical Greece: 480–323 BCE
    • Pindar’s Odes
    • Greek Tragedy
    • Phidias
    • The Comedies of Aristophanes
    • Plato’s Symposium
    • The Phaedrus and the Laws
    • Xenophon
    • Aristotle’s Dicta
    • Zeno and the Stoics
    • Aeschines’ Against Timarchus
    • The Sacred Band of Thebes
    • Philip and Alexander


  • 4. Rome and Greece: 323 BCE–138 CE
    • Sexuality and Empire
    • Cicero and Roman Politics
    • Greek Love in the Aeneid
    • Meleager and Callimachus
    • Catullus and Tibullus
    • Theocritus and “Corydon”
    • Horace
    • Ovid’s Myths
    • Lesbianism
    • Petronius’ Satyricon
    • Suetonius and the Emperors
    • Statius, Martial, Juvenal
    • Hadrian and Antinous


  • 5. Christians and Pagans: 1–565 CE
    • The Gospels
    • Intertestamental Judaism and Paul
    • “Moses” and the Early Church
    • Greek Love in Late Antiquity
    • Plutarch’s Dialogue on Love
    • The Lucianic “Affairs of the Heart”
    • Two Romances and an Epic
    • Roman Law before Constantine
    • The Edicts of 342 and 390
    • Sodom Transformed
    • Saint John Chrysostom
    • The Persecutions of Justinian


  • 6. Darkness Descends: 476–1049
    • The Fall of Rome
    • Visigothic Spain
    • Church Councils and Penitentials
    • The Carolingian Panic
    • Love in Arab Spain
    • The Growth of Canon Law
    • The Book of Gomorrah


  • 7. The Medieval World: 1050–1321
    • The Fortunes of Ganymede
    • Scandal in High Places
    • The Theological Assault
    • The Inquisition and Its Allies
    • The Fate of the Templars
    • Secular Laws: The Sowing
    • The Harvest Begins
    • Poets for the Prosecution
    • Dante’s Admirable Sinners


  • 8. Imperial China: 500 BCE–1849
    • A Peach, a Fish, and a Sleeve
    • The Han Emperors
    • Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism
    • Poets and Lovers
    • From Tang to Song
    • Ming China: The West Reacts
    • Feng Menglong’s Anatomy of Love
    • Fiction and Drama
    • The Qing Dynasty
    • The Peking Stage


  • 9. Italy in the Renaissance: 1321–1609
    • A New Ethos and an Old
    • Repression in the Italian City States
    • Death in Venice
    • Florence: The Price of Love
    • Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo
    • Michelangelo: Love, Art, and Guilt
    • Sodoma and Cellini
    • Rome and Caravaggio


  • 10. Spain and the Inquisition: 1497–1700
    • The Spanish Inquisition
    • Subcultures in Valencia and Madrid
    • The Inquisition in Portugal
    • Spain and the New World


  • 11. France from Calvin to Louis XIV: 1517–1715
    • Outings, Protestant and Catholic
    • Calvinism and Repression
    • Henry III and the “Mignons”
    • The Poets’ Revolt
    • Louis XIII, “The Just”
    • Monsieur and Madame
    • Six Generals
    • Les Lesbiennes
    • Queen Christina


  • 12. England from the Reformation to William III: 1533–1702
    • Silence and Denial
    • Monasteries and the Law
    • Elizabethan Literature
    • Christopher Marlowe
    • The Tragedy of Edward II
    • Shakespeare’s Sonnets
    • James VI and I
    • Francis Bacon
    • Puritanism and the Restoration
    • Between Women
    • William III in England


  • 13. Pre-Meiji Japan: 800–1868
    • Europe Discovers Japan
    • The Buddhist Priesthood
    • Samurai and Shoguns
    • No Drama and Kabuki
    • A Debate and an Anthology
    • Saikaku’s Great Mirror
    • Tokugawa Finale


  • 14. Patterns of Persecution: 1700–1730
    • Policing Paris
    • “Reforming” Britain
    • Souls in Exile
    • Witch Hunt in the Netherlands


  • 15. Sapphic Lovers: 1700–1793
    • Law and Religion
    • Romance and Innuendo
    • A Nun and an Actress
    • An Ill-Fated Queen


  • 16. The Enlightenment: 1730–1810
    • Montesquieu and Beccaria
    • Frederick the Great
    • The Vagaries of Voltaire
    • Diderot and Sade
    • Toward Reform
    • Bentham vs. Blackstone


  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2006

    GAY HISTORY RECLAIMED: THE KEY SURVEY

    Crompton's 'Homosexuality and Civilization' seems destined to become the definitive one-volume history of same-sex relations--and it appears at a critical time. Essential to the suppression of gay people in the West was the denial that they contributed positively to history that history came very close to being erased altogether. Just as the first gay historians after Stonewall began to reclaim that history, gay French philosopher Michel Foucault mischievously denied that homosexuality existed at all before the term was coined in the 1890s. This academic fashion caused many in the community to blow off new same-sex testimony from the past just as it was reclaimed--a form of blindness heteros would never dream of applying to their own sexual history. Crompton is post-theory, post-faction: instead of denying gay men had a history, he says, just read the first-person accounts from different times and places and respect what they plainly say. He does just that in this elegant, readable journey through Christian, Islamic, and Asian same-sex history. But Crompton also makes two landmark contributions well beyond the requirements of survey. First, he fingers the one person who actually invented Western homophobia: Philo Judaeus. Jewish philosopher in Alexandria and contemporary of Christ, this titanic figure is at least as important to history as St. Augustine, and like Augustine, presents both light and dark sides. On the good side, he created the template for Christianity. Responding to the mounting fashion for monotheism in the ancient world, and to the deep respect Romans had for the Jewish equation of law with divinity, Philo sought to reinvent Judaism as a Gentile-friendly universal religion released from its tribal particularity. He was blocked in this effort by purists in Jerusalem who insisted on circumcision (meaning, for the convert, adult surgery without anaesthetic) and obeisance to the Temple, which on high holy days turned into the largest assembly-line slaughterhouse in the world. Both requirements were deal-breakers for pagans. But Philo's student St. Paul successfully applied this template to the new cult of Christianity. On the negative side, it was Philo who first interpreted the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah as punishing homosexuality, which no one else, including Jesus, thought it was. His interpretation became, to this day, the key rationale for the persecution of gay people in Christendom. Thanks to Crompton, now we know who did it. Crompton's second great contribution is to extend same- sex history, virtually for the first time, to China and Japan. Gay men often ask, what kind of society would result if there were no taboos, if men could love whomever they want? For over two thousand years, until the 19th century, this answer could be found in China and Japan. As long as a man did his dynastic duty siring children, he could do anything else he wanted sexually. The result was a broad middle area of opportunistic bisexuality flanked by strong purist traditions of hetero and homo sex. All three had their own philosophy and writings, and Crompton quotes extensively from an enormous, unsuppressed gay literature which the West has yet to sample. This book is the single finest one-volume survey of same- sex history on the market and deserves a wide audience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2006

    Magnificent and inspiring

    When so many close-minded people say that, throughout history, there have only been proscriptions against homosexuality, they have never read Dr. Crompton's book. They will come to realize that, yes, there is a gay culture--one that's existed for thousands of years. It is as rich as any other. 'Homosexuality & Civilization' should be a part of every person¿s library, as well as a textbook for all LGBT-related classes. It is not simply a book to read once, it is a book to which you will find yourself continually referring. You will never view seemingly familiar tales, such as that of Achilles or Sodom and Gomorrah, the same way again. The glossy, color pictures are superb and come from all over the globe. While strolling through a museum in Boston or London, you will recognize urns and paintings that contain the lesser-known stories that make up gay culture.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2004

    GAY HISTORY OUT OF THE CLOSET

    Gay men have always known that homosexuals will gain equality only when they prove that they have been useful to civilization. Dr Crompton, using no epiphenomenal falderal, using gay history and biography itself, clearly demonstrates that homosexuals ¿ by any name never the same ¿ were vital, critical, even essential to western civilization. He has laid out a gay heritage that, for the sake of mere acceptance, all too many academics were willing to trash for cash. Since Stonewall, homophobic Foucauldian nonessentialists have been misconstructing gay history without gay biography. They sought to eliminate homophobia by eliminating the whole concept of `homosexuals¿, to cure homophobia by castrating homosexuals. ¿Oh, we don¿t mind that you¿re gay. You¿ll be able to explain Broadway and Hollywood to us!¿ Just don¿t tell us about the gay origins of Democracy in classical Greece, or the gay founding of the Florentine Academy, or the gay origins of Modern Science in Bacon¿s Novum Organum, or the subsequent gay origins of chemistry, thermodynamics, cybernetics, and robotics. Gay history was an embarrassment of riches; and, for the sake of nongay political support, nonessentialists, deeming it a liability, hid gay history out of sight in a closet. In one of the worst academic scandals since Christian homophobia shut down the Greek academies and the Olympic games in the 4th century, nonessentialists cut off their privates to spite their two-faced public posture. A universe of stars is not enough for Homosexuality and Civilization. Dr Crompton must be roundly applauded for bringing the gay movement back out of its misconstructed closet. The man has gay guts ¿ but that is just what he has passed on to the next gay generation: their gay heritage, a heritage essential not only to gay students but to all students of humanity.

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