Tuesday, 11 August 2009

CROMPTON, L: Homosexuality & Civilization

Harvard University Press, 2003

622 pages
History, sexuality, lesbian and gay history

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.

For my own assessment, see "On Reading Louis Crompton"

For other reviews, see:

In this notable monograph, 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, emeritus professor of English at the University of Nebraska, 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. ....Crompton's work will be valuable to scholars of all stripes. (Oct.)
International Gay and Lesbian Review:
Though he has made major contributions to gay studies (especially his book “Byron and Greek Love”), “Homosexuality & Civilization” is his masterpiece


Early Greece 776 -400 BCE
Judea 900BC - 600 CE
Classical Greec 480 -323 BCE
Rome and Greece 323 BCE -138 CE
Christians and Pagans 1- 565 CE
Darkness Descends 476 -1049
The Medieval World 1050 -1321
Imperial China 500 BCE - 1840
Italy in the Renaissance 1321 - 1609
Spain and the Inquisition 1407 -1700
France from Calvin to Louis XIV 1517 - 1715
England from the Reformation to William III
Pre-Meiji Japan 800 -1868
Patterns of Persecution 1700 - 1783
Sapphic Lovers 1700 -1793
The Enlightenment 1730 -1810.

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