"At various times, homosexuality has been considered the noblest of loves, a horrible sin, a psychological condition or grounds for torture and execution. David F. Greenberg's careful, encyclopedic and important new book argues that homosexuality is only deviant because society has constructed, or defined, it as deviant. The book takes us over vast terrains of example and detail in the history of homosexuality."--Nicholas B. Dirks, New York Times Book Review
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A densely documented study of societal attitudes toward homosexuality through the ages and across the cultural spectrum. To supply insight into prehistoric practices, Greenberg begins with homosexuality in tribal societies. In various Pacific Island tribes, for instance, prepubescent boys are placed under the aegis of an older male for manhood-training--which includes a ritualized pederastic relationship until the younger male marries. Throughout the world, a number of tribal societies regard nonritualized homosexuality for men and, occasionally, for women with considerable tolerance. The widespread homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome may, says Greenberg, have evolved from earlier rituals. The Christian era was characterized by official hostility to all nonprocreative sex, with horrendous penalties (castration, stoning, immolation) for homosexual acts. Such penalties were rarely invoked, and large medieval and Renaissance cities contained sizable male homosexual undergrounds. With Protestantism and the Industrial Age, attitudes hardened as a burgeoning middle class saw nonconformity as a threat to their values, children, and societal stability. Gay liberation has now produced a backlash triggered by the sudden visibility of homosexuals, with the AIDS crisis further ammunition against deviation. Every page here bristles with information: Greenberg cites over 2,300 books and articles. Although he relies on no original sources, he has assembled and interpreted well a mass of fascinating material.