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literature

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German and Austrian Literature: Before the Nineteenth Century  
 
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Nor was homosexuality restricted to the court; the Letters on the Gallantries of Berlin (1782), published anonymously by Johann Fiedel, depict the gay underworld of Berlin in lurid and sensational detail.

Practically no effort has been made to uncover lesbian relations in eighteenth-century Germany. Excluded from most, if not all public institutions, considered incapable of male friendship, women were both "invisible" as well as forced to rely on one another for friendship and affection. Female social interactions regularly extended to the bedroom and permitted kissing and other intimate behaviors.

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We can assume that lesbian friendship and activity existed. The correspondence between literate women such as Luisa Gottsched (1713-1762) and her close friend Dorothea Henrietta von Runckel may begin to yield insights into its specific forms.

The possibilities for the expression of male homosexuality were greatly enriched by the translation and discussion of ancient texts of poetry, philosophy, and history. The Greek phenomenon of Knabenliebe [pederasty] and the debate concerning Socrates' sexuality (as intimated in the Phaedrus and Symposium) supplied new terms for homosexual inclinations.

Individuals like Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Johannes von Müller were reputed to indulge in "Greek" or "Socratic," and even "Platonic," love. Prostitutes in boy bordellos were known as Ganymedes. In 1775, Christoph Meiners published On the Male Love of the Greeks.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann

Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) was the central figure of homosexual self-identification. In a series of shorter and longer works of art history, including Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Art (1755) and the History of the Art of Antiquity (1764), Winckelmann not only conveyed an intoxicating vision of a culture of homoerotic beauty and sexual license, he also spoke in semicoded language to like-minded men and youths, inviting them to imitate his example.

Like so many who would follow him, Winckelmann emigrated to Italy, partially because of the sexual freedom it afforded. Within eighteen years of his death, five separate correspondences with friends were published, including some unabashed love letters, a circumstance that testifies to the deep interest of many to connect with his homoerotic friendship.

In 1805, Goethe published a biographical essay in Winckelmann and his Age, in which he discreetly refers to Winckelmann's homosexuality. Goethe's words became a touchstone for gay sensibility.

Johannes von Müller

The other major homosexual figure of the period was Johannes von Müller (1752-1809). Born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Müller was an astonishingly erudite historian and admirer of Winckelmann. He was respected and liked by many major intellectuals, including Goethe, Herder, Gleim, and Bonnet. Friedrich Schiller relied on his History of the Swiss Confederation for the writing of William Tell.

In 1773, Müller fell in love with the Swiss nobleman Karl Viktor von Bonstetten, with whom he remained friends until Müller's death. A mutual friend, Friederike Brun, indiscreetly published Müller's early love letters to Bonstetten in 1798. The letters thematize friendship, document a literary tradition of male-male love, and indicate an awareness of their imitation of Winckelmann.

Later in life, Müller was the dupe of an elaborate scheme to defraud him by exploiting his homosexuality. One of his former pupils (and perhaps lovers) invented a Hungarian Count Louis von Batthyani and penned letters to Müller in which the Count expressed his love and inclination.

Müller responded with letters of unfettered passion and an awareness that this friendship and its depiction in letters far exceeded his earlier relationship with Bonstetten, possibly the purest expression of eighteenth-century homosocial desire that exists.

After a year and more than a hundred letters, when the fiction could no longer be sustained, Müller was financially and psychologically destroyed. Goethe was one of several friends who helped him recover.

A continual challenge for gay and lesbian studies is to negotiate the overlap between homosocial friendship and homosexuality. Traditional scholarship has coined such concepts as the "discourse of sensibility" and the "cult of friendship" in order to defuse the homoerotic charge in the literature and letters of the period. Homosexuality is vigorously denied.

However, both Winckelmann and Müller were members of extensive friendship networks. The impossibility of "drawing the line" emerges in an exemplary fashion in the case of one of Müller's older friends, a contemporary of Winckelmann, Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719-1803).

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