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Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832)  
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Bentham argued that the threatened outrage at Sodom did not involve consensual sex, but was rather a mass rape violative of eastern traditions of hospitality. He noted that none of the Old Testament prophets who mentioned Sodom associated the city with homosexuality, nor does Jesus do so in the gospels. Pointedly, he contrasts Paul's vehement denunciation of homosexuality with Jesus' silence on the subject.

Bentham's radicalism leads him to interpret the story of David and Jonathan as a homosexual romance akin to that of Aristogiton and Harmodius or Nisus and Euryalus, and more daringly, to argue that the bond between Jesus and John "the beloved disciple" was of the same sort.

Bentham did publish a book entitled Not Paul but Jesus in 1823 under a pseudonym; however, though this work challenged Paul's claim to set himself up as a spokesman for Jesus and Christianity, it did not incorporate that part of Bentham's notes that touched on the dangerous topic of homosexuality.

A noteworthy feature of Bentham's writings on homosexuality is his effort to find a vocabulary that did not itself automatically incorporate pejorative or condemnatory judgments. In this enterprise, he preceded by more than fifty years the German, French, and Italian sexologists of the late nineteenth century who first developed a scientific nomenclature for sexual behavior free from traditional theological and legal connotations.

Bentham was keenly aware of the harm that could be done by negative language: "It is by the power of names, of signs originally arbitrary and insignificant, that the course of imagination has in great measure been guided." He has of course no word that is exactly equivalent to the modern term homosexual. He often employs "," sometimes in its original sense of a lover of boys, but often also to mean an adult male who is sexually involved with another man, as in modern French usage; in this latter sense, it approximates closely to "homosexual."

In his early notes, and in his "Essay on Paederasty" of 1785, Bentham occasionally uses stereotyped contemporary expressions--for instance, referring to homosexuality as "this perverted taste." Later, he consciously repudiates such loaded terms and invents ingenious alternatives to signify same-sex desire and behavior; these include such expressions as "the improlific appetite" and (in reference to Greek tradition) "the Attic mode."

Louis Crompton

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literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Nineteenth Century

From its beginning, the nineteenth century in England had a purposeful homosexual literature of considerable bulk, both male and female, though it was fettered by oppression.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century

Throughout the Restoration and eighteenth century, sodomitical characters were both presented and pilloried in literature.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom I: The Middle Ages through the Nineteenth Century

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social sciences >> Alcibiades

In glbtq history, Alcibiades is especially noted for his (failed) "seduction" of Socrates in Plato's Symposium, his transgression of gender roles, his sexual "versatility," his violent and unpatriotic eros, and his appropriation as a gay icon in later literature.

social sciences >> Alexander the Great

One of the most fascinating men of all times, Alexander the Great was not only a great soldier and conqueror, he was also renowned for his love of Hephaestion.

literature >> Beckford, William

Extremely wealthy and connected to the aristocracy, British author and connoisseur William Beckford was ostracized by English society for the last sixty years of his life because of his homosexuality.

literature >> Byron, George Gordon, Lord

The bisexual Lord Byron treated many of his homosexual love affairs in his poetry, encoding them by the use of classical references or by purporting that they were affairs with women.

social sciences >> Caesar, Julius

One of the most powerful men of the ancient world, Julius Caesar was frequently reminded, sometimes derisively, of his youthful sexual affair with the king of Bithynia.

literature >> Catullus

The Roman poet Catullus incorporated homoerotic themes in his verse, both reflecting the passionate character of same-sex friendships and describing several of his own homosexual adventures.

social sciences >> Ellis, Havelock

Henry Havelock Ellis--British psychologist and writer--was one of the first modern thinkers to challenge Victorian taboos against the frank and objective discussion of sex.

literature >> Horace

In his highly accomplished and influential poetry, Horace reflects the easy bisexuality of the Roman upper class in the first century B. C.

social sciences >> Paul, St.

Verses from two epistles of the Apostle Paul shaped the attitudes of Christianity toward male and female homosexuality.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

literature >> Plutarch

No ancient is more instructive about pederasty than the Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch.

arts >> Subjects of the Visual Arts: Harmodius and Aristogeiton

Athenian lovers Harmodius and Aristogeiton were remembered in ancient Greece as the great tyrannicides and celebrated as lovers, patriots, and martyrs.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

literature >> Virgil

Virgil wrote approvingly of male love in many works, and his second eclogue became the most famous poem on that subject in Latin literature.


Bentham, Jeremy. "Bentham on Sex." Theory of Legislation. C. K. Ogden, ed. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1931. 476-497.

_____. "Essay on Paederasty." L. Crompton, ed. Journal of Homosexuality 3(1978): 383-405, 4(1978): 91-107.

Boralevi, Lea Campos. Bentham and the Oppressed. New York: W. de Gruyter, 1984.

Crompton, Louis. Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.


    Citation Information
    Author: Crompton, Louis  
    Entry Title: Bentham, Jeremy  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 21, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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