Month: September 2015

The History of Homosexuality: The Napoleonic Code

256px-Code_Civil_1804 The History of Homosexuality: The Napoleonic Code

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The Napoleonic Code is the name for a new code of law introduced in France under Napoleon I in 1804, the purpose of which was to replace the patchwork of feudal laws which had previously existed and unify the French legal system under a more democratic form of rule. Most notably, the code prohibited birthright privileges, specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified candidates, and established freedom of religion.

The code wasn’t the first of its kind in civil-ruled European nations, but it was the most widely emulated. It wasn’t, either, the result of one sweeping overhaul of the existing laws, as we often assume today, but part of a broader restructuring of the French penal system. Additional codes governing the military, civil procedures, and commerce were introduced in subsequent years. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: Zeus and Ganymede

256px-Ganymede_Leochares_Vatican_Inv2445 People in Fiction: Zeus and Ganymede

“Ganymede carried off by the eagle.” Marble, Roman copy after bronze original, ~325BC. Wikimedia Commons

One of the most enduring of the Greek myths concerns Ganymede, the son of Tros, a great king for whom Troy and the Trojans are named. Tros had three sons, all perfect, but Ganymede was said to be the most beautiful boy who had ever lived. One day, while still a youth, Ganymede was resting in a meadow on Mount Ida when Zeus, king of the gods, saw him and fell instantly in love.

Summoning a great storm, Zeus transformed into an eagle and swept from the skies, seized the boy, and carried him off to the heavens. There, he made Ganymede immortal and gave him a position as cupbearer to the gods, supplanting his daughter Hebe, who had previously held the title.

Tros was so grief-stricken with the loss of his son that even Zeus was moved to pity, sending the messenger god Hermes to inform the man of Ganymede’s fate, and compensated him with a pair of the god’s own horses, said to be able to run on thunder and race over water. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in History: Alexander and Hephaestion

256px-Istanbul_-_Museo_archeol._-_Alessandro_Magno_%28firmata_Menas%29_-_sec._III_a.C._-_da_Magnesia_-_Foto_G._Dall%27Orto_28-5-2006_b-n People in History: Alexander and Hephaestion

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Born in Pella, Macedon, in 356BC, Alexander was the first son of Philip II and his principle wife, Olympias. Almost from the moment he was conceived, Alexander became something of a legend. His mother, a princess of Epirus in her own right, was a follower of an orgiastic, snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, and was widely believed to be a sorceress. She mythologised her son, claiming visions of thunderbolts from the heavens and a great fire accompanied his conception, and Philip himself was recorded as saying he dreamed he sealed Olympias’ womb with the device of a lion. As Philip’s fourth of seven or eight wives, likely elevated to principle only because of Alexander’s birth, it served Olympias’ interests to secure her son as Philip’s heir, and herself as mother of the future king. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Ancient Greece

256px-Kiss_Briseis_Painter_Louvre_G278 The History of Homosexuality: Ancient Greece

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Ancient Greece stands as something of a shorthand whenever we think today of a “history” or even “origin” of homosexual behaviour. On the surface, the correlation is a fair one. There’s enough in the written record — to say nothing of statues, art, and pottery — to convince us that male same-sex sexuality was known and frequently celebrated. To call such conduct “homosexual” as we recognise that meaning today is, however, not only anachronistic, but simply wrong.

For starters, “Ancient Greece” wasn’t one nation the way modern Greece is, but was constructed of numerous self-governing states, all of which had different cultures and traditions, and were frequently at odds with each other, if not at outright war. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: Fanny Hill

256px-Fanny_Hill_1906_image01 People in Fiction: Fanny Hill

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We’re going back a little in time from the Labouchere Amendment, to 1748 and the perhaps surprising choice of an erotic novel told through the eyes of a female prostitute.

Female prostitution and homosexuality have long been linked in British law (Labouchere’s Amendment was to an Act concerned with the former, after all, and the Wolfenden Committee was convened in the 1950s to look at both issues).

Written by John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, better known as Fanny Hill, is the first-person account of the eponymous character’s journey from her arrival in London as an orphaned innocent, through her employment at a brothel, her introduction to sex at the hands of another female prostitute, her first experience with a man, her subsequent life as a prostitute, and her eventual reunion with the young nobleman who took her virginity, whom she marries and saves from financial ruin and disgrace with the money she’s earned. She ends the novel a respectable lady, her wanton past behind her (although her marriage all the happier for her experience!). Not, one would think, a novel particularly relevant to queer history. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Fiction, Queer Blogging

People in History: Oscar Wilde

256px-Oscar_Wilde_portrait_by_Napoleon_Sarony_-_albumen People in History: Oscar Wilde

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It’s impossible to discuss the criminalisation of homosexuality without discussing Wilde, the most famous victim of the infamous Labouchere Amendment. What most people don’t know is that Wilde wasn’t a victim, so much as a martyr. “Where your life leads you, you must go,” he famously said, and refused to move from his hotel room until the police arrived to arrest him for “gross indecency.”

Wilde’s troubles began in February 1895, when the Marquess of Queensberry left a barely-literate calling card at Wilde’s club, calling him a “Posing somdomite.” The Marquess had been gunning for Wilde for months, enraged by Wilde’s continued association with his younger son, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. The card, left with third parties at a public place, was almost certainly intended to bait Wilde. He fell for it.

Encouraged by Bosie, Wilde pressed a charge of criminal libel against Queensberry. The only defence to such a charge was if the “libelous” accusation were proven true. Queensberry immediately pleaded justification, and the stage was set for one of the most sensational trials of the latter nineteenth century. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Criminality

256px-Pillory_%28PSF%29 The History of Homosexuality: Criminality

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As science moved from acts to identities, so too did the public consciousness and, very quickly, the law. In England, consensual male-male sex was first prohibited by the Buggery Act of 1533. Plenty of sources will cite it as the first British anti-homosexual law, although of course it wasn’t anything of the sort. It was, however, one of the earliest anti-sodomy laws passed by any Germanic country (previously the only laws concerning sex had prohibited adultery), and it outlawed specifically “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” The penalty was death.

But what was buggery? And how could it be committed “with mankind or beast”? A succession of trials pertaining to arrests under the Act eventually fixed “buggery” in a legal sense as anal intercourse with ejaculation (male-male, or male-female), or intercourse with an animal. As such, if you were a young man attracted to other young men in Tudor England, you were perfectly safe under the law providing you didn’t indulge in anal sex (and the requirement of the prosecution to evidence ejaculation enabled more than one pair of lovers to escape with their lives, even after they were arrested and tried). Later, men were often tried instead for “attempted sodomy,” a crime which was easier to prove and carried a lesser sentence on paper, although depending on the mood of the crowd, standing in the pillory could be a death sentence of its own. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

People in History: Christopher Marlowe

256px-Christopher_Marlowe People in History: Christopher Marlowe

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Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (February 1564-30 May 1593) was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, and considered the most popular and talented tragedian of his time. Were it not for his murder at the age of 29, cutting him off at the height of his success, it is highly probable it would be Marlowe’s name which became the bane of schoolchildren the world over, not Shakespeare’s.

Unlike Shakespeare, Marlowe wasn’t a man known to mince his words. “All that love not tobacco and boys are fools,” is a quote attributed to him. Perhaps even more daringly, Marlowe swore “the first beginning of Religion was only to keep men in awe,” and “Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.” He firmly believed St. John the Baptist and Christ were lovers, and the warrant for his arrest on charges of blasphemy would have surprised precisely nobody when it was issued less than two weeks before his death. He’d only got away with as much as he had prior to that because he was a firm favourite of Queen Elizabeth I’s, and had long been rumoured to have been a government spy. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: William Shakespeare

256px-Shakespeare People in History: William Shakespeare

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England’s most famous playwright, darling of the Elizabethan and Jacobean court, and beloved of schoolteachers ever since, Shakespeare might seem an odd choice for a biography, not least because so little is known about it. We don’t even know the day he was born, although from the existing records it’s pretty clear he died if not on, then close to, his birthday (baptised 26 April 1594, died 23 April 1616, are the known dates).

We don’t even spell his name correctly: there are six surviving signatures, and in none of them did he use Shakespeare, which has only been the accepted spelling since the mid-20th century. The only spelling the man himself used more than once was Shakspere, and that only twice, although the inability to spell your own name correctly wasn’t unusual in the days before dictionaries, when the idea that words had to be rendered in one particular way would have been considered quite extraordinary. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Identity

256px-Erastes_eromenos_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_1468 The History of Homosexuality: Identity

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We often think of sexuality as though it exists on a linear continuum: we talk about homosexuality in Ancient Greek society, for example, when in fact there was no such thing as a “homosexual” before 1868, when the word was coined by German sexologists. It wasn’t used in English until the 1890s.

There were, obviously, other words in use before that time: pederasts, inverts, urnings, sodomites, lesbians, tribads, and so on. Most of those terms referred very specifically to particular socio-sexual behaviour (the active or passive partner in anal intercourse, etc.), and not to identities as we know them. Before the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Germans became obsessed with the idea of how the sex we have affects the people we are, the very idea of a sexual identity would have seemed absurd. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging