Homosexuality & Civilization

An archive of poetry, pictures, history, and quotes dedicated to queer individuals before the year 1900.

The title is an homage to a book by Louis Crompton, but the blog will contain content expressing all forms of sexuality and gender identity.

Have a question or request for a certain artist or era? Feel free to leave a message in the askbox. Submissions are open (please provide a date and source).

The manager of this tumblr does not add commentary or provide translations. This blog may be NSFW.

All donations go to purchasing new books and related materials to bring more content to H&C.

Beautiful boy, flower fair,
Glittering jewel, if only you knew
That the loveliness of your face
Was the torch of my love.

The moment I saw you
Cupid struck me; but I hesitate,
For my Dido holds me,
And I fear her wrath.

Oh, how happy would I be
If for a new favorite
I could abandon this love
In the ordinary way.

I will win, as I believe,
For I will yield to you in the hunt:
I am the hunter, you are the hunter,
And I yield to any hunter like you.

Even the ruler of heaven,
Once the ravisher of boys,
If he were here now would carry off
Such beauty to his heavenly bower.

Then, in the chambers of heaven,
You would be equally ready for any task:
Sometimes in bed, other times as cupbearer—
And Zeus’ delight in both.

To an English Boy, Hilary the Englishman, 12th century. Originally in Latin.

Distortion on this issue was little known in the ancient world but became more widespread with the dramatic shift in public morality following the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. Ignorance was the major force behind the loss of information on this subject in medieval Europe - with Alcibiades occasionally appearing in medieval literature as a female companion to Socrates - but the heavy hand of the censor was also evident. In a manuscript of Ovid’s Art of Love, for example, a phrase which originally read, ‘a boy’s love appealed to me less’ was amended by a medieval moralist to read, ‘a boy’s love appealed to me not at all’ and a marginal note informed the reader, ‘Thus you may be sure Ovid was not a sodomite.’

Crudities of this sort are of course easily detected, and more modern ages devised subtler means of disguising gay sentiments and sexuality. Changing the gender of pronouns has been popular at least since Michelangelo’s grand-nephew employed this means to render his uncle’s sonnets more acceptable to the public; and scholars have continued the ruse even where no one’s reputation was involved: when the Persian moral fables of Sa’di were translated into English in the 19th century, Francis Gladwin conscientiously transformed each story about gay love into a heterosexual romance by altering the offending pronouns. As late of the mid-twentieth century, the ghazals of Hafiz were still being falsified in this way.

Christianity, Social Tolerance & Homosexuality, John Boswell

In a now famous remark, Edward Gibbons observed that ‘of the first fifteen emperors Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct’, meaning heterosexual. If Gibbon was right, the Roman Empire was ruled for almost 200 consecutive years by men whose homosexual interests, if not exclusive, were sufficiently noteworthy to be included for posterity.

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality by John Boswell.

"But," added W.C. Firebaugh in 1966, “Claudius was a moron.”

Zeus came as an eagle to god-like Ganymede, as a swan came he to the fair-haired mother of Helen. So there is no comparison to the two things; one person likes one, another likes the other; I like both.

—From the Anthologia Palatina (Greek Anthology), a collection of Greek poems and epigrams dating from the 7th century BCE to 600 CE and discovered in 1606. A selection of other English translations can be read here.

Brother Anselm to Dom Gilbert, brother, friend, beloved lover…sweet to me, sweetest friend, are the gifts of your sweetness, but they cannot begin to console my desolate heart for its want of your love. Even if you sent every scent of perfume, every glitter of metal, every precious gem, every texture of cloth, still it could not make up to my soul for this separation unless it returned the separated other half.

The anguish of my heart just thinking about this bears witness, as do the tears dimming my eyes and wetting my face and the fingers writing this.

You recognized, as I do now, my love for you, but I did not. Our separation from each other has shown me how much I loved you; a man does not in fact have knowledge of good and evil unless he has experienced both. Not having experienced your absence, I did not realize how sweet it was to be with you and how bitter to be without you.

—Epistle 1.75 from the Patrologia Latina, attributed to Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), a Benedictine monk, philosopher, and prelate of the church.

(Source: latina.patristica.net)

My soul, there is a proper time of life
in which to gather love;
yet, should a person catch the gleams
that flash from Theoxenus’ eyes
and not be deluged with desire, his heart is black
and hammered over frozen flame to adamant
or iron.

Slighted by eyelid-fluttering
Aphrodite, he either
labors crushingly for money, or, effeminately
bold, he wafts down
every road and mollifies his mind.
But I, beneath her influence, melt like the wax
of sacred bees beneath the sun, when I gaze
upon the fresh-limbed youth of boys.
Yes, in Tenedos, seductiveness and grace reside
in Hagesila’s son.

Pithian 8, Pindar, c. 522–443 BCE.

One of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, it was said, “His life ended as he had wished it to; in answer to his prayer for the finest of life’s blessings, he met death quickly in the theatre, lying in the arms of his beloved Theoxenus.”

(Source: books.google.com)

Boy, you’re like a horse.
Just now sated with seed,
You’ve come back to my stable,
Yearning for a good rider, fine meadow,
An icy spring, shady groves.

Theognis of Megara

A lyric poet near the 6th century BC, little is known of his life save for his poetry about morals and cynicism and what he wrote about the men he was involved with. The name of his erômenos (beloved) seems to have been Cyrnus.

Honestly, I wish I were dead.
Weeping she left with many tears,

And said; “Oh what terrible things
we endured. Sappho, truly,
against my will I leave you.”

And I answered: “Go, be
happy, and remember me;
For you know how we cared for you.

And if not, then I want
to remind you…of the wonderful
things we shared.

For many wreaths of violets and
you put on by my side.

And many woven garlands
fashioned of flowers,
you tied round your soft neck.

And with rich myrrh,
fit for a queen,
you anointed…

And on a soft bed,
you satisfied our desire.

And there was
no sacred place
from which we were absent.

No grove,
No dance,
No sound…

Fragment 94, Sappho. Translation by Ellen Greene.

Ellipses are in place where words are absent from the original damaged text.

She has gone out, and she is far away, but I see her still, for all within this room is full of her, all is hers, and I just like the rest.

This bed, still warm, where my mouth is wandering now, is rumpled to the pattern of her body. In this soft pillow her little ringleted head has softly slept.

This is the basin where she oft has washed; this comb has smoothed the knots of her tangled hair. These slippers have held her little naked feet. This gauze bandeau restrained her swelling breasts.

But I dare not touch, even with my finger, this mirror in which she sees her burning bruises, and in which, perhaps, the image of her sweet moist lips is still reflected.

Absence, The Songs of Bilitis (1894).

(Source: sacred-texts.com)

Admin Note

Due to some commentary, I’d like to make it clear that this tumblr is supposed to be inclusive of the entire LGBTQ+ community and not just a narrow umbrella of ‘homosexuality’. The title of this blog came from Louis Crompton’s text of the same name, which inspired me to make this tumblr in the first place. All of this information has been in the blog header since the day I opened H&C.

Trans content in particular can be very hard to find due to trying to discern if something is appropriate or something else like ritual or satire that isn’t a reflection of personal identity, although I’m always looking for more and it is a part of this tumblr.

I refrain from listing historical figures as gay, bisexual, lesbian, or queer as well unless they self-identify (like Natalie Clifford Barney) because the labels we use today don’t apply cleanly to historical context or universally to every culture.

Sappho would have only called herself a Lesbian because she was a citizen of Lesbos. That doesn’t change that she wrote a score of poems about loving women or what her sexuality happened to be, but I don’t know what word she would have used to identify her love of women, so I refrain from tagging with a particular label.

Anyone who follows or reblogs can tag as they like, but I don’t want it assumed that the lack of particular tags on H&C is a sign of exclusivity.