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Author Topic: Gay Unions Sanctioned in Medieval Europe
Telperion the Silver
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Interesting link I've recieved.
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Eduardo St. Elmo
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Well... this should make it harder to come up with arguments to deny homosexual couples the right to get married. Long live historical research [Smile]

thanks for posting that link, Telperion.

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Earendil18
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Reminds of the research on Berdach's in the Native American cultures.

Good find, thank you Telperion.

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Snail
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In the Greek Orthodox Church they also used to have a similiar system for a "brotherly marriage" in the Middle Ages, and with that too there's some debate whether those unions were actually sexual or not. (Like the guy in the above article, I would say that probably some of those were and others were not.) I know the Finnish gay group inside the Orthodox Church takes their "logo" from an old icon predicting one such pair.

For those interested in what it was like to be gay in the Europe of previous centuries I'd recommend the book Strangers by Graham Robb. It's mainly about the 19th century though it does have a few anecdotes to stuff that happened before and to stuff that happened after. The author does engage in some speculation, mainly in the chapter about which historical figures may or may not have been gay, but the majority of the book is referencing 19th century writings on the subject of homosexuality - everything from love letters to scientific journals to priestly sermons to fictional novels - and those are pretty interesting. Especially the letters where different homosexuals talked about their lives to people like Karl Heinrich Ulrichs or Richard von Krafft-Ebing.

It also shows how differently people viewed sexuality back then compared to how they do now. For example, one woman after reading the books that began to be published on the subject was horrified to find out that what she did with her friend was actually considered sex - she'd thought the term only applied when a man was involved, and therefore had not realised she was "living in sin". Also, in this court case from the 18th century a man is accused of having sex with a "fowl" but is released with no punishment after the judge has decided that "fowl" is not an animal.

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Scott R
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I think that the researcher (or the article) draws a lot of conclusions that can't necessarily be drawn from the evidence presented.
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Snail
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True. The article's written in a way too sensationalistic way. Also, I can't really see how anything in the article is breakthrough news or new information.
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Qaz
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quote:
Originally posted by Scott R:
I think that the researcher (or the article) draws a lot of conclusions that can't necessarily be drawn from the evidence presented.

Indeed.
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Belle
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quote:
I think that the researcher (or the article) draws a lot of conclusions that can't necessarily be drawn from the evidence presented.
Definitely. We discussed this at length in my Shakespeare class because it's a special area of interest for my professor - she is the author of this book. Another scholar, named Alan Bray has written extensively about this subject as well. I don't pretend to be an expert in the matters, but I do know it's a mistake to look back at the type of evidence talked about in the article and interpret them based on our modern-day ideas of relationships and sexuality.

There were many forms of "voluntary kindship" that existed in that time period that seem odd to us today. Two men pledging themselves to each other to us sounds like there is some sort of romantic or sexual component, when in fact this type of voluntary brotherhood was not at all uncommon and certainly didn't require physical intimacy. I'm not saying there never was physical intimacy, just that one should not jump to the conclusion that there WAS.

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Earendil18
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Interesting.
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The Pixiest
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Uh, this strikes me as groping for anything that will prove they weren't gay. Sorta like old timey naturalists who would see homosexual acts in animals and declare that they were "exerting dominance."

Why would a heterosexual man, way back then, when lack of children meant no one to take care of you in old age, get into a "civil union" with another heterosexual man?

LBGs have always made up a small but significant percentage of the population. Even in the middle ages.

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SC Carver
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quote:
Originally posted by The Pixiest:
LBGs have always made up a small but significant percentage of the population. Even in the middle ages.

I don't think anyone would argue this point.


However I find it hard to believe at a time when the Church ruled everything they would endorse same sex civil unions. Artist weren't allowed to paint anything that didn't have a religious theme. People were killed for being heretics.

Of course the church wasn't exactly squeaky clean back then; they were more than willing to look the other way for the right price. Maybe it was the Church's version of don't ask don't tell, especially if there were some very wealthy patrons who asked for it, but I really don't see them openly endorsing SSM.

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Javert Hugo
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It is a mistake to look at social practices in the past and assume that the culture operated the same way and for the same reasons that ours does now.
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steven
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The Universe would probably explode if Richard Dey from Ornery found this thread.
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Lyrhawn
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Well, people could paint non-religious themes if they wanted to, but they wouldn't get paid to do it, since to start with the Church was the main patron of the arts.

But if it were true, it wouldn't really surprise me at all. Homosexual unions were a part of society 2300 years ago, it doesn't surprise me to see them crop up again over the ages.

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by steven:
The Universe would probably explode if Richard Dey from Ornery found this thread.

Oh, God forbid he should ever make it over to this forum at all.
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steven
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Amazingly, I agree with Lisa. Really agree with Lisa.

OK, now the Universe really WILL explode.

*waits for sudden explosion*

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Earendil18
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quote:
Originally posted by SC Carver:
quote:
Originally posted by The Pixiest:
LBGs have always made up a small but significant percentage of the population. Even in the middle ages.

I don't think anyone would argue this point.


However I find it hard to believe at a time when the Church ruled everything they would endorse same sex civil unions. Artist weren't allowed to paint anything that didn't have a religious theme. People were killed for being heretics.

Of course the church wasn't exactly squeaky clean back then; they were more than willing to look the other way for the right price. Maybe it was the Church's version of don't ask don't tell, especially if there were some very wealthy patrons who asked for it, but I really don't see them openly endorsing SSM.

Nicely clarified. After all, if Leonardo da Vinci was homosexual (it's still debated), the church may have overlooked it for his Sistine Chapel renderings etc.
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The Pixiest
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Lisa and steven, Jeez guys don't say his name. He might appear! [Angst] [Wall Bash]
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beverly
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quote:
Sorta like old timey naturalists who would see homosexual acts in animals and declare that they were "exerting dominance."
Actually, animals do exert dominance this way. Guinea pigs do it. Goats do it. Just sayin'.
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Loren
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quote:
After all, if Leonardo da Vinci was homosexual (it's still debated), the church may have overlooked it for his Sistine Chapel renderings etc.
<cue a tear rolling down the cheek of this old traditionalist Italophile>
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Belle
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quote:
Uh, this strikes me as groping for anything that will prove they weren't gay.
No, it's really not. At least as not as far as I'm concerned. I would have just stayed quiet or posted something like "Hmm, that's interesting" if I had not just had a class that treated with this very issue. Believe me, there were plenty of people in the class who saw the same evidence presented in this article and jumped to the conclusion - "Oh, they must have been gay." But we spent a lot of time discussing the issue, looking at the historical research that has been done, and examining this idea of "sworn brotherhood" that was also referred to as "marriage".

The rites that bound two men together in sworn brotherhood was referred to as a "wedding" in some cases but it didn't have the same meaning that we attach to that word today. Voluntary kinship - the creation of a kinship bond through some rite rather than blood relation - was accomplished through marriage, baptism, the "gossip" relationship, and sworn brotherhood. Since this topic came up, I dug out some course materials (it pays to be a pack rat, I never get rid of stuff from old classes.) Let me quote Alan Bray from his book The Friend:

quote:
A "wed" in Middle English was a pledge or a covenant, and the vows both of sworn brotherhood and of a betrothal alike - as binding promises - were "weddings"
So while yes, there are plenty of documents that contain two men talking about their "troth" and their "wedding" it is referring to sworn brotherhood, and the same meaning the we attach to the word "wedding" does not apply here.

Bray discusses men who entered into pacts of sworn brotherhood for political reasons, or personal advancement. The people "wedded" to each other might not ever share quarters or even know each other. It was a social contract in a hierarchical society that saw great benefit in forging links between the powerful. Now, there were some sworn brothers that were very close - some are indeed buried together with beautiful language on their tombs about their undying faithfulness toward each other. Yet again, we do not need to assume that means a sexual relationship existed (nor can we definitively say one did not). I just don't think the type of evidence the article refers to "proves' there was accepted, sanctioned SSM.

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Snail
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quote:
I just don't think the type of evidence the article refers to "proves' there was accepted, sanctioned SSM.
I agree in that these relationships were probably not like SSM as it is understood today. Heck, heterosexual marriage in the Medieval Ages was quite different from how it is understood today. You may very likely to be right in that primarily they were meant as a non-sexual union.

However, none of this is to say that homosexual love didn't play their part in these brotherhood pacts, or at least come to play their part in them.

For starters, the sexual desires and the sexual needs of people haven't changed in any way since the Middle Ages, just the ways society allows people to implement them. There have always been people who engage in gay sex, and there have always been people, "sodomites" who have done so exclusively even if this has meant that they've been cast outside their society. I see it as quite likely that some of these people may have used (or misused) these pacts in order to live "normally" in their society.

I also think that at least some non-homosexual people must have realised that the pacts would be used in such a way, because as with there always having been homosexuals, people have also always realised there are homosexuals. There are documents from pretty much all centuries where the increase in sodomy is seen as a sure sign of the end times to come (and very soon). So who knows, maybe that was why this tradition was eventually cancelled.

quote:
After all, if Leonardo da Vinci was homosexual (it's still debated), the church may have overlooked it for his Sistine Chapel renderings etc.
Actually, I'm not sure how much it is debated today as the evidence seems to be rather conclusive that he was. I think the people who are doing the debading are those who just can't bring themselves to accept the idea and are trying to find loopholes. (Though I should note, I suppose, that it's impossible to 100% prove someone's sexuality one way or another.)

Anyway, the idea of Leonardo being gay is not some modern interpretation. The early biographies of Leonardo, written in the 16th century, used all kinds of veiled ways to tell us this. Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo (who didn't know Leonardo personally, but who knew and befriended Francesco Melfi, Leonardo's pupil and the guy left in control of all Leonardo's manuscripts when Leonardo died) has this piece of (imagined) dialogue about Leonardo's relationship with his "favourite pupil" Salai: "Did you ever play with him that 'backside game' which Florentines love so much?" To which Leonardo replies: "Many times! You should know that he was a very fair young man, especially around the age of fifteen." Freud also wrote extensively about Leonardo's sexuality, and biographies of him from the 1930's "regretfully inform" their readers about his unfortunate habits. (There also exist some crude cartoons of Leonardo with the aforementioned Salai drawn by his other pupils. Leonardo himself also drew some pornographic imagery though most of it was stolen from the British Museum - if I recall correctly - sometime in the 50's. The museum curators were rather relieved to get rid of it.)

As to sexual matters, the Reneissance Italy was more tolerant in these matters than most places in Medieval Europe (it was a time when even Popes had illegitimate children after all), though the punishment of being burned at the stake for sodomy was in place throughout this period. Leonardo was accused of that when he was a young man, though the accusation was at least in part a political ploy to strike against the ruling Medici family. (One of the other three accused was a member of the Medici clan.) It's hard to say whether this particular accusation was true or not, though the Medici almost certainly did interfere to put a stop to the trial, and soon after Leonardo left Florence for a decade.

As for how homosexuals in general were treated in society, from what I've read I've understood that for those in the middle and upper classes mostly they were allowed to be as long as they weren't too open about it. The actual cases of trials against homosexuals were almost always the handiwork of a sole prosecutor or prosecutors particularly against the idea or had political and blackmail-y motivations behind them. (The idea of homosexuality being percieved as such a grave sin also helped to protect the gays of the times in a way, because if they were in a prominent enough position their "outing" would bring shame on not just themselves or their family but the whole nation and society as well. Oscar Wilde in the 19th century, for example, would never had been prosecuted had he been English instead of Irish.)

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Shan
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The big "M" folks, not L. deV.
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Snail
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Oh yeah, Leonardo definitely had nothing to do with the Sistine Chapel. In fact I can't recall if he ever worked for the Church directly... He did sculpt an angel for this monastery, and I think he worked for the Pope's brother in Rome for a while when he was older (as well as working closely with Cecare Borgia who of course was the son of the previous Pope, then still in office), but directly to the Pope... not that I can recall.

In fact his relationship with the Church was strained, possibly because of his sexuality but also because he dissected human bodies.

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Earendil18
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quote:
Originally posted by Shan:
The big "M" folks, not L. deV.

Argh! [Wall Bash]

Stupid me! [Big Grin]

Yes, the big "M" not Leo. Sorry! [Angst]

Thanks for the informative post Snail.

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Snail
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No problems.

Incidentally, Michelangelo's sexuality actually is debated, though I'm not sure why as I haven't really seen any evidence as to why he would be gay, or is considered such. I also haven't seen any of the more respectable sources/history books call him that. So it could be the work of those people who like to think that everybody and their mother is gay. But then I haven't really read as much about him as I have of DaVinci either.

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Scott R
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quote:
LBGs have always made up a small but significant percentage of the population. Even in the middle ages.
How do you come by this conclusion?
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SC Carver
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quote:
Originally posted by Shan:
The big "M" folks, not L. deV.

Just got back to the thread. Thanks for correcting this point, it was driving me crazy as I read. Honest mistake I am sure, not big deal, but no one was correcting it.

I was told by an art history professor Michelangelo was gay also, writing about his feelings on the issue but he thought it to be a sin so he wouldn’t give into the lifestyle in fear for his eternal soul. I don’t know how accurate this is. Raphael was apparently very straight, always having a crowd of mostly female admirers watching him work. He enjoyed his celebrity status.

Of course by the time you get to Leonardo da Vinci and company you are really talking about the Renaissance, not the Middle Ages.

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Kwea
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I am in a sworn brotherhood now, but I am not gay.

It's called the Masons.


There are a ton of reasons why people would do this type of thing, and very few of them involve sex. I am not saying no one did it because of sexual orientation, but using it as an example of how assumptions are based on what you want to believe.

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Dan_raven
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Did anyone else read "Gay Unions" as something akin, but slightly different to "The Teamsters".

Puts a whole new meaning to "The Brotherhood of workers" now doesn't it.

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Snail
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quote:
Originally posted by Scott R:
quote:
LBGs have always made up a small but significant percentage of the population. Even in the middle ages.
How do you come by this conclusion?
I suppose it depends on how you define LBGs. Homosexual sex certainly went on in the middle ages because there were writings preaching against its perceived threat or increase. Of laws against sodomy I'm slightly more uncertain as I recall faintly that they only became common after the Reformation. (Of course sodomy in the Middle Ages and for a great while later too referred to not just homosexuality but also to certain acts of heterosexuality, to pedophilia and to bestiality.)

quote:
Of course by the time you get to Leonardo da Vinci and company you are really talking about the Renaissance, not the Middle Ages.
Yeah. And it's really rather difficult to know what life would have been to gay peasants, whether in Middle Ages or during the Reneissance or afterwards, as most of the information we have is from cases in the upper classes.
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Javert Hugo
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You know, not everyone concieves of sexuality the same way we do.

The much-flouted classical times did not even distinguish between gay and straight. They didn't even think of it is as continuum - those simply were not the choices.

I don't know what it was like in the "middle ages" (that delightfully nebulous designation covering a fifth of the world for over a thousand years), but I'd be interested to see what the disintinctions were.

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Scott R
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quote:
this strikes me as groping for anything that will prove they weren't gay.
If you can show how the evidence presented indicates actual sanction of homosexual unions, that would be a good argument.
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Snail
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quote:
Originally posted by Javert Hugo:
You know, not everyone concieves of sexuality the same way we do.

The much-flouted classical times did not even distinguish between gay and straight. They didn't even think of it is as continuum - those simply were not the choices.

I don't know what it was like in the "middle ages" (that delightfully nebulous designation covering a fifth of the world for over a thousand years), but I'd be interested to see what the disintinctions were.

I would say there probably weren't any other distinctions than that a sodomite was someone who committed sodomy. The blanket terms of gay and straight didn't exist, I agree, and the idea that you were born to be gay would have been alien to most people back then (and yes, "middle ages" is a huge blanket term as well). However, this doesn't mean that there wouldn't have been words and terms for people who engaged in homosexual acts, just that those terms were more like "what this person has done" than "who this person is". Men who have sex with men were often associated with foreigners and a lack of masculinity - Danish knights for example were perceived so by the rest of Scandinavia because they bathed not just once but twice a year.

I suppose really in the end it does come back to the rather interesting question of how much your sexuality is affected by your enviroment and how much of it is biological. And if some aspects of your sexuality are biological then it wouldn't seem unnatural to me to assume that even in the Middle Ages there were people who predominately seeked out homosexual partners, or wanted gay sex. How this made them act, and whether they acted on it, is where the society comes to play.

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Javert Hugo
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quote:
However, this doesn't mean that there wouldn't have been words and terms for people who engaged in homosexual acts, just that those terms were more like "what this person has done" than "who this person is".
In Roman classical times, it is still not as you describe. There ARE words exactly for this, but they are still not what you think.

However, I am extremely reluctant to share and define the terms because it would, as a necessity, involve a much more graphic description of sex than is appropriate for this forum. Also, I'd die of embarassment.

I will content myself with saying that the distinction had more to with the role one took rather than the gender of the other person involved. The gender of the other person involved was irrelevant.
quote:
even in the Middle Ages there were people who predominately seeked out homosexual partners,
Like I said, I don't know about the middle ages, but in Greece and Rome, there was no such thing as "homosexual" as a classification. It wasn't that people didn't talk about it - it simply didn't exist. That isn't how they thought about sex. This was a society where the most degrading, shameful thing a man could be accused of was performing oral sex on a female. It is a mistake to judge and evaluate other times and cultures using the mores of our own.
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Snail
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Ah, OK. I don't think we're in disagreement then, though I may have worded some of my previous post poorly. As I said, the term sodomite certainly didn't include just people engaging in homosexual sex, but also the heterosexuals who did take the wrong roles, pedophiles and bestiality practitioners. Sodomite was someone who did any of the above. (Again though, the terms don't really have affect on the question of whether there were people who primarily seeked out affairs with their own sex, they just mean that it wouldn't have been the deciding factor with what they identified themselves.)
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Javert Hugo
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If you're still using the terms of homosexual and hetersexual, then you are still thinking in the patterns of your own time. Those terms do not apply.

Since you are not defining a time and place for your definition of sodomite, I'm not sure when you're talking about. For classical times, however, that is wrong - that is neither the term, nor were all those things put into one category.
quote:
the terms don't really have affect on the question of whether there were people who primarily seeked out affairs with their own sex, they just mean that it wouldn't have been the deciding factor with what they identified themselves
Do you see what you're saying? That they didn't think of themselves as gay or straight, but they really were either gay or straight and just thought in other terms. That gay or straight is the "true" distinction and they just didn't realize it. That is draping your own paradigm over another time and place to which it does not apply.

[ August 29, 2007, 10:45 AM: Message edited by: Javert Hugo ]

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Snail
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OK. Bad wording again. You'll have to bear with me, English is not my first language. The list of who were considered sodomites should then read: people who engaged in sex with people of their own gender, people who did certain "forbidden" sexual acts with members of the opposite gender, and people who had sex with children or animals.

And I'm not talking about classical times but rather the way I've understood the term was used in the Reneissance era and from there onwards. When people were convicted of sodomy in later centuries is was certainly due to all these. (I assume it would have been used somehow similarily in earlier centuries in the Middle Ages, but of course that's just an assumption.)

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pooka
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I'm not sure how this helps the status of the weak in society. Men do not become weak simply because they are discriminated against. Society is meant to protect the weak. When it ceases to do that, it will stop being a society. Just sayin.'

But maybe I should move this larger question to another thread.

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Javert Hugo
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Snail, I think we are talking about completely different things.

Pooka: You're not sure how the thread relates to your non-sequitur?

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Qaz
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It isn't so much that people in the past would grasp at anything to interpret a relationship as not sexual, but that people in the present can't help jumping to the conclusion that it is.

I am very happy to see Hugo's posts. People tend to take modern conditions and assume they are universal, but we are living in a particular civilization and a very unusual one.

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Snail
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quote:
Snail, I think we are talking about completely different things.
Yeah, I gather we are. I think I was a bit unprecise in my initial reply to you, sorry about that.

I would still answer this, though, if I may:

quote:
Do you see what you're saying? That they didn't think of themselves as gay or straight, but they really were either gay or straight and just thought in other terms. That gay or straight is the "true" distinction and they just didn't realize it. That is draping your own paradigm over another time and place to which it does not apply.
No, I do think the modern definitions of "gay" and "straight" are social constructs just as much as the Reneissance term of sodomite is, and as such none of them can be said to be more true. The argument put forward in the article of the first post that the brotherhood pacts in medieval France equal modern same sex marriage is dubious at best.

However, people still lived in sexual relationships with members of their own gender in the previous centuries, and I think some of them were predisposed to doing so. The aforementioned Leonardo DaVinci, for example, probably had a sexual relationship with his pupil Salai. This is something his other pupils seemed to believe (hence the nasty images about Leonardo and Salai together), and also something both his modern and early biographers seem to agree on. Their relationship lasted for around 40 years, and it was the most significant one of Leonardo's adult life. (It needs to be noted, I think, that theirs shouldn't be likened to a modern gay relationship - indeed from today's perspective plenty of its aspects are downright disturbing - nor am I arguing that people had anything akin to modern gay relationships in the Reneissance era.)

Also, majority of the other people to whom Leonardo has been linked sexually, both by people during his lifetime and afterwards by biographers, are men, most notable of them Jacopo Santarelli, the person with whom Leonardo was accused of committing sodomy. It can be argued - as Freud did - that Leonardo had a rather distorted view on women due to matters of his own childhood and this made him seek sex with men, and certainly the pictures of female genitalia Leonardo drew in his notebooks make the subject matter look like some dark and menacing spider. But I think it can also be argued that he may have been biologically predisposed to desiring men over women without it being an intellectually dishonest position. (Most probably, of course, his sexuality was formed by a combination of the two.)

quote:
It isn't so much that people in the past would grasp at anything to interpret a relationship as not sexual, but that people in the present can't help jumping to the conclusion that it is.
I think it's equally dangerous, though, to jump to the conclusion that the people of the past were somehow more innocent than us, or that the ways in which they executed their sexuality were any more orthodox.
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Javert Hugo
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Neither conclusion has been jumped to at all. "Innocent" and "orthodox" are both words that you have brought up.

(As a side note, to my utterly modern mind, I think the Roman view of sexuality was ten kinds of messed up because it was unblievably, outrageously sexist. The worst shame for a man was to be treated like a woman, and women were inherently incapable of admirable sexual behavior. Heaven forfend we take that as a model.)

For the first part of your post, you are still arguing from your conclusion - that people are inherently gay or straight and therefore they MUST have acted and "been" as such.

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Olivet
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quote:
Originally posted by beverly:
quote:
Sorta like old timey naturalists who would see homosexual acts in animals and declare that they were "exerting dominance."
Actually, animals do exert dominance this way. Guinea pigs do it. Goats do it. Just sayin'.
Doesn't mean they didn't enjoy it. [Wink]

I Think defining a person or a relationship by what they do sexually kind of off-putting. Ideally, I think it would be better for everyone concerned if society as a whole got it's nose out of everyone's bedroom.

I'm all for sworn brotherhoods or sisterhoods, or domestic partnerships of whatever sort. If two old widows/widowers decide they want to live together and function as an economic unit, why can't the law just recognize that without concerning itself with who's playing lick the pickle or not?

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Qaz
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I could not agree more, and I don't understand why it would be accepting and tolerant to get the government involved in approving or disapproving or even noticing the sexual aspects of relationships, the only exception being those sexual relationships that produce children, which are hard to ignore. Especially the loud ones.
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MrSquicky
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quote:
the only exception being those sexual relationships that produce children, which are hard to ignore. Especially the loud ones.
Loud what? The relationships or the children?

---

I think society has a vested interest in promoting stable, marriage-like relationships, especially ones that raise children.

Ultimately, I'd like two classes of marriage/domestic partnership/whatever. One for couples, gay or straight, with kids and one for those without.

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Lyrhawn
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What would the differences be?

I think there should be one government sanctioned union, for both gay and straight couples, with or without kids.

And if you want to get married in a particular religion, well then your fight is with the religion, but the government has no business holding back secular rights for religious reasons.

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MrSquicky
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That's not something I've given a whole heck of a lot of thought to, seeing as how it's never going to happen.

However, I think a stable, adult relationship and a stable, adult relationship raising children have differing levels of needs. I would be disposed to make more help for the child raising one and have this help oriented around fostering a better child-raising evironment, say by making it easier for the couple to have one of the members home for the kids.

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Qaz
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Loud children. Although loud relationships can be annoying too.
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scholar
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I don't think making it easir for one member of the couple to stay home with kids is the best solution. Whoever doesn't get to stay at home gets a lesser bond with kids. I would like it if two half time workers= one full time. But, insurance and job market make that impossible.
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