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Homosexuality and Civilization

de Louis Crompton

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327359,732 (4.3)4
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.… (més)
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Read 99 pages. Dropped the book because of its verbose narrative. ( )
  djsj | Dec 24, 2020 |
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 being 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.
6 vota mondob | Feb 18, 2007 |
Crompton's massive book charts attitudes to same-sex relationships in various cultures and societies from early Jewish to Enlightenment Europe, from China and Japan to ancient Greece and Rome. Fascinating book, although understandably sketchy at times. Lots of lovely illustrations. ( )
  mari_reads | Sep 10, 2006 |
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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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