cover of book

Homosexuality and Civilization
Harvard University Press, 2003
eISBN: 978-0-674-03006-0 | Paper: 978-0-674-02233-1 | Cloth: 978-0-674-01197-7
Library of Congress Classification HQ76.25.C76 2003
Dewey Decimal Classification 306.76609


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.

Table of Contents:


1. Early Greece: 776-480 BCE
A Millennium of Greek Love
Homer's Iliad
Crete, Sparta, Chalcis
Athletics and the Cult of Beauty
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
The Comedies of Aristophanes Plato's Symposium
The Phaedrus and the Laws
Aristotle's Dicta
Zeno and the Stoics
Aeschines' Against Timarchus
The Sacred Band of Thebes
Philip and Alexander

4. Rome and Greece: 200 BCE-138 CE
Sexuality and Empire
Cicero and Roman Politics
Greek Love in the Aeneid
Meleager and Callimachus
Catullus and Tibullus
Theocritus and "Corydon"
Ovid's Myths
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 Dialogue
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-1840
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: 1506-1700
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 9. Queen Christina
Louis XIII, "The Just"
Monsieur and Madame
Six Generals
Les Lesbiennes

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

Illustration Credits

Reviews of this book:
In [this book], 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...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.
--Publishers Weekly

Reviews of this book:
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, Los Angeles Times

Reviews of this book:
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, New York Times

Reviews of this book:
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.'
--Toronto Star

Reviews of this book:
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, Reason

Reviews of this book:
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, Choice

Reviews of this book:
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, Taipei Times

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.
--David Greenberg, author of The Construction of Homosexuality

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.
--William A. Percy, coeditor of Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

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.
--Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate columnist and former general manager, A Different Light bookstores

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.
--David Rosen, Editor-in-Chief, InsightOutBooks

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.
--Karla Jay, author of Tales of the Lavender Menace

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