HOMOSEXUALITY AND CIVILIZATION

Louis Crompton, Author . Harvard Univ. $35 (623p) ISBN 978-0-674-01197-7

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 comparative study reveals just how anomalous Judeo-Christian aversion to homosexuality seems in the context of world history. On the battlefield with Alexander the Great, in the highest ranks of the Han dynasty in China, in the "bisexual" poetry of Arab Spain and among the samurai in Japan, same-sex male love flourished (lesbianism, Crompton admits, is harder to find). Even among Christian rulers of European countries, homosexual attachments weren't unheard of. Crompton surmises that in 1610, "one 'sodomite,' James I, ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland; another, Rudolph II, presided over the Holy Roman Empire; and France had its second homosexual king within a generation." Crompton's vivid and sobering accounts of the persecution of homosexuals under Christian regimes throughout the centuries emerge as the book's undeniable focus. Throughout, Crompton's great intellectual nemesis is the late Michel Foucault, whose History of Sexuality, Volume I emphasizes the difficulty of reconstructing the sexual ethos of another culture or historical period and who has inspired a generation of historians, literary scholars and cultural critics to grapple with sexuality in their work. By contrast, Crompton interprets his evidence quotes liberally from primary sources. Read as an anthology of those sources, Crompton's work will be valuable to scholars of all stripes. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/25/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
Ebook - 640 pages - 978-0-674-03006-0
Paperback - 623 pages - 978-0-674-02233-1
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