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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 JapanAncient 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 BCE 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 WorldLouis 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 GreatAnti homosexual atrocities committed in the West contrast starkly with the 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 GreeceSweeping in scope, elegantly crafted, and lavishly illustrated, Homosexuality and Civilization is a stunning exploration of a rich and terrible past


10 thoughts on “Homosexuality & Civilization

  1. Buzz H. Buzz H. says:

    Dr Crompton provides a thoroughly researched and well presented survey of same sex attraction and sexuality in Europe and East Asia He provides some information about Central America as well, but evidently Africa, South Asia, pre Columbian North and South America, Oceania, and the Caribbean do not fall under the rubric of civilization Ahem Unexamined racism is annoying He does, happily, pay attention to female sexuality in the book.Given that this book purports to be a global survey, the Dr Crompton provides a thoroughly researched and well presented survey of same sex attraction and sexuality in Europe and East Asia He provides some information about Central America as well, but evidently Africa, South Asia, pre Columbian North and South America, Oceania, and the Caribbean do not fall under the rubric of civilization Ahem Unexamined racism is annoying He does, happily, pay attention to female sexuality in the book.Given that this book purports to be a global survey, the exclusion of large parts of the world is striking especially since there is extensive ethnographic data on historical same sex attraction and sexuality in the ignored regions available in the scientific and academic literature I read a great deal of it as an anthropology undergrad before this book was published roll eyes This is a big reason why people complain about dead, white male academicsThe author did manage to pull me out of the camp of Michel Foucault and others who maintain that the late nineteenth century role of homosexual was the first historically defined social group based on sexual orientation Crompton s documentation of earlier social identities based around same sex attraction is solid and convincing Note, however, that these past social roles are NOT the same as the modern one And here Dr Crompton stumbles very badly He uses the term homosexual repeatedly throughout the book to describe people with same sex attraction whose lives and social roles had nothing to do with the modern concept Further, the word did not even exist in the eras in which he insisted on using it This was particularly surprising given his fairly careful analysis of social roles and language at other points in the text Lazy, bad scholar No biscuit Homosexuality and Civilization is worth reading even with the major problems I ve noted Conceptual sins aside, Dr Crompton presents his survey of Europe and East Asia very well Just bear in mind that he ignores large parts of the globe inhabited by brown and black people who are not part of civilization


  2. Julie Bozza Julie Bozza says:

    Finished at last I am very pleased to have read this book, but I can t deny some of it was tough going and you will understand why when I say that the narrative ends with the last execution for homosexuality in Europe Once we were past the Inquisition, though, things started slowly getting brighter, and it s terrific to read of individuals who successfully defied the social laws and s of their day, and philosophers who managed to reason their way toenlightened views I learned Finished at last I am very pleased to have read this book, but I can t deny some of it was tough going and you will understand why when I say that the narrative ends with the last execution for homosexuality in Europe Once we were past the Inquisition, though, things started slowly getting brighter, and it s terrific to read of individuals who successfully defied the social laws and s of their day, and philosophers who managed to reason their way toenlightened views I learned some things, including the notion that a homosexual identity isn t quite such a modern notion as is generally believed There is good coverage of countries outside the usual UK US focus, and good coverage of lesbians as well as their gay brethren There is also useful analysis along the way of why this has all been so problematic, especially in Christian countries.Crompton is a fine and lucid writer, and makes things as fun and interesting as he can given the subject matter There are plenty of illustrations, too, which adds to the interest The book itself is nicely presented, and I particularly love the cover A Must Read for anyone interested in homosexuality and civilisation However, if you would like a somewhat lighter introduction to the author and the subject matter, I d highly recommend his Byron and Greek Love


  3. Carlos Carlos says:

    This has been the most rigorously researched book that I ve read since John Boswell s Same Sex Unions Not since Boswell have I seen such drive to analyze primary texts Crompton s chapter on the story of Sodom and its mistaken use throughout history is simply superb The country by country and century by century analysis of societies and notable historical figures is without par and a delight to read for anyone Crompton s contrast of the Christian west to thecivilized nations of the ea This has been the most rigorously researched book that I ve read since John Boswell s Same Sex Unions Not since Boswell have I seen such drive to analyze primary texts Crompton s chapter on the story of Sodom and its mistaken use throughout history is simply superb The country by country and century by century analysis of societies and notable historical figures is without par and a delight to read for anyone Crompton s contrast of the Christian west to thecivilized nations of the east is not only commendable but gives one license to think of what the western tradition may have given us if it had not been poisoned by Christianity Lastly, Crompton s drive to go deeper than just a list of atrocities committed against the LGBT community across history allows the reader a rare glimpse at the nature of same sex love that gives someone who is part of the LGBT community a sense of history that has never before been felt This book is definitely a must read for any interested in the LGBT history and for any literary inclined member of the LGBT community The only fault that I can find in this book is the fact that it didn t reach to modern times but ended in the Enlightenment


  4. Ekollon Ekollon says:

    I m giving up on this book I was looking for a book that dealt with homosexuality throughout history, but this book seems to be a book that deals overwhelmingly with adult men who have sex with male children in history I understand that it has historically beenaccepted for adults to have sex with children both male and female than it is today, but my own personal history makes me particularly sensitive to not liking when this is equated with broader sexuality For example, if there was I m giving up on this book I was looking for a book that dealt with homosexuality throughout history, but this book seems to be a book that deals overwhelmingly with adult men who have sex with male children in history I understand that it has historically beenaccepted for adults to have sex with children both male and female than it is today, but my own personal history makes me particularly sensitive to not liking when this is equated with broader sexuality For example, if there was a book that was dealing with marriage throughout the ages and it dealt overwhelmingly with men who married girls at 14 years old and divorced them at 20 years old, would we think this was a fair assessment of marriage as a whole I know I wouldn t So I m not really down with looking at homosexuality from a perspective of cultures that viewed same sex relationships as something that happened when an older man started having sex with a boy at 14 and stopped having sex with him when he hit 20 That s something else Also, there seems to be something wrong with my book It jumps from page 224 to 273


  5. Will Bellais Will Bellais says:

    Well researched The book covers 4,000 years of human activity The lives and achievements note achievements of homosexuals through the centuries are chronicled We are taken to the darker side of persecution and the bright spots in the history of gay men and women I liked the writing style and the approach to an important subject to me.


  6. Aaron Thomas Aaron Thomas says:

    This book has much to recommend it, but it isof a compendium of a great of deal of research by many scholars an attempt at an overview of the fieldthan it is a history book with its own set of arguments and archives In this way it is something a bitakin to Ruth Mazzo Karras s Sexuality in Medieval Europe than it is to Boswell s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality Crompton is attempting to bring together work such as Guido Ruggiero s writing on Renaissance Ve This book has much to recommend it, but it isof a compendium of a great of deal of research by many scholars an attempt at an overview of the fieldthan it is a history book with its own set of arguments and archives In this way it is something a bitakin to Ruth Mazzo Karras s Sexuality in Medieval Europe than it is to Boswell s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality Crompton is attempting to bring together work such as Guido Ruggiero s writing on Renaissance Venice, Kenneth Dover s writing on ancient Athens, Michael Rocke s work on Florence, and numerous other people s work.Crompton s own interest is in legal history where the preponderance of documented evidence about homosexual behaviors seems to be found Even the small sections on the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Inca, and the Chim are focused on the ways they legislated same sex sexual activity I would say that his secondary interest is in literature and memoirs What this book is not is a social history Crompton s focus is on the intersection of anti sodomy legislation and those who found themselves subjected to those laws Homosexuality and Civilization is, in many ways, designed to be a correction of Boswell whose work downplays anti sodomy persecution Crompton is interested in documenting anti sodomy hostility and persecution as a way to call European civilization, Christianity, and even the Enlightenment to account for the carnage and violence they wreaked.Frequently Crompton does come to the question of whether or not a homosexual subculture might have existed in this or that oppressive locale Florence, Venice, Paris, London but his results here are often inconclusive or say nothing about how these folks who frequented particular sites for homosexual sex might have understood each other or what they were doing And then because the book is such an enormous survey of activity, Crompton doesn t really have the space to interrogate these questions in any depth he tends, simply, to move on to his next topic or location.In short even though the book is quite long this is an accessible, moderately in depth overview of the history of homosexual laws and literature in antiquity, the medieval period, pre Meiji Japan, Imperial China, the European Renaissance, and the Enlightenment Much of the world makes no appearance at all, and Crompton s chief focuses are, on the one hand, oppression and anti sodomitical violence, and on the other, kings, queens, emperors, shoguns, generals, and other powerful people whose same sex relationships are well documented


  7. R E R E says:

    Brilliant, detailed, exhaustive account of same sex attraction in Ancient Greece and Rome, Christian West, China and Japan tThis is perhaps the best work available, exhaustive in detail and thorough in scope, that examines the status and treatment of homosexuality in the classical and Christian worlds, in China across two millennia, and in Japan between the years 750 1868 The scholarship at times seems beyond belief this is a monumental achievement, written with a commitment to objectivity eve Brilliant, detailed, exhaustive account of same sex attraction in Ancient Greece and Rome, Christian West, China and Japan tThis is perhaps the best work available, exhaustive in detail and thorough in scope, that examines the status and treatment of homosexuality in the classical and Christian worlds, in China across two millennia, and in Japan between the years 750 1868 The scholarship at times seems beyond belief this is a monumental achievement, written with a commitment to objectivity even though the agenda, revealing the facts about homosexuality, is clear The author touches on indigenous Americans and the United States but only tangentially, and does not examine India and nearby cultures His account of Islam is restricted to Muslim Spain But I am hard pressed to see how the author could have included these other cultures at the level of detail he maintains and still have a book that would not be too daunting While he by no means let s Western religion, and especially Christianity, off the hook, my one criticism is about his concluding sentences in which he praises Christianity for its contributions to civilization and for evolving into ainclusive religion Using the evidence cited by the author in his own book, a strong argument can be made that Christianity has been an impediment to civilized culture education would still have evolved without it, if only because of the needs of commerce, we would still have an artistic legacy as non Christian societies do, and the sciences have shown us that humans have an innate moral sense If anything, Christianity might have undermined the great moral insights of the Axial age with its needless prejudices and irrational fears we might be hard pressed to name what new moral practices and insights any of the Abrahamic religions have contributed in the 2,500 years since the promulgation of the Golden Rule in the world s major cultures Other than this quibble, Homosexuality and Civilization is a monumental contribution to intellectual history, the history of religion, the history of philosophy, and world history It s an astonishing accomplishment you will feel good about yourself having read it


  8. Peter Walt Peter Walt says:

    Stop Before you let them talk at you Before they blame you for hurricanes and tornadoes and the fall of Rome Before they call you fringe, and subversive, and outcast And begin to understand that Homosexuals play a disproportionate role in the development of society and one step further civilization This book should be required reading during or just after your coming out process You have to understand that we are not alien to society, but an integral, even crucial part of it People Stop Before you let them talk at you Before they blame you for hurricanes and tornadoes and the fall of Rome Before they call you fringe, and subversive, and outcast And begin to understand that Homosexuals play a disproportionate role in the development of society and one step further civilization This book should be required reading during or just after your coming out process You have to understand that we are not alien to society, but an integral, even crucial part of it People of faith can come at you with very confident statements about how weird you are when they speak from a point of view that was in the very first place enabled by people who are just like you Don t let them get away with spewing their ignorance Take your place in society Learn the facts And this book will blow your mind


  9. Cara Cara says:

    Thoroughly researched and densely academic, this book forms a decent overview of homosexuality as a concept and practice in the West and parts of the East for the last 4000 years As other reviewers have mentioned, its attention to the sapphic side of homosexuality is a bright spot, but the absence of South Central American, African, and many American read non white narratives is a disappointment.That oversight aside, this is still an excellent work that covers a significant chunk of history Thoroughly researched and densely academic, this book forms a decent overview of homosexuality as a concept and practice in the West and parts of the East for the last 4000 years As other reviewers have mentioned, its attention to the sapphic side of homosexuality is a bright spot, but the absence of South Central American, African, and many American read non white narratives is a disappointment.That oversight aside, this is still an excellent work that covers a significant chunk of history too often ignored in general


  10. Tom R. Tom R. says:

    From ancient Greece and Japan tomodern Europe, it s filled with fascinating and all too often horrifying information they definitely don t teach you in school Although it is sad to read of literally thousands of years of persecution, there are also many interesting parts where you learn it wasn t always that way everywhere.