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German and Austrian Literature: Before the Nineteenth Century  
 
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The literary history of homosexuality in Germany and Austria before the nineteenth century is, to a great extent, still in its infancy. The following remarks must therefore be regarded as tentative and in need of supplementation. German scholarship is just beginning to learn to read for homosexuality.

The Status of Homosexuality before the Eighteenth Century

Generally speaking, the periods of the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the Baroque conceived of homosexuality in theological terms as one form of "Sodomiterey" []. Since definitions of sodomy typically insisted on penetration (male-male, anal, or with an animal), lesbian sexuality was virtually invisible.

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During the Middle Ages, the law codes of the various Germanic peoples did not proscribe homosexual acts. However, in 1532, Charles V promulgated the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, which was binding for the Holy Roman Empire until it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806.

The Carolina stated that "If any person should commit unchaste acts with an animal, a man with a man, a woman with a woman, then they have forfeited their lives, and they should be executed by fire according to common custom."

Extant court records from the entire period, including the eighteenth century, show that this law was for the most part sparingly enforced. Nonetheless, the theologico-legal climate prohibited any direct and positive literary expressions of homosexuality.

The Status of Homosexuality in the Eighteenth Century

A decisive change in the representation of homosexuality occurred during the eighteenth century, a change that can be attributed to the impulses of the Enlightenment. The enthusiastic reception of classical texts of antiquity allowed a forum for discussion.

Philosophers, psychologists, and statesmen debated the appropriateness of Caroline law. Many argued against the death penalty even though it was not revoked in Austria until 1787 and in Prussia until 1794.

Individual figures emerged, who despite their reputed inclination to "Greek love" or "Knabenliebe" [], were accepted and even celebrated in upper-class and intellectual circles.

The eighteenth century was arguably the first period in German history that allowed for the construction of a homosexual identity, a period that came to an end in the first decade of the nineteenth century, when the conservative, romantic, and nationalistic backlash (re-)instituted a monogamous and heterosexual family morality.

The Literature of the Middle Ages

The only direct allusions to homosexuality in medieval German literature are negative in nature and occur in didactic, critical, and humorous works. To this date, no literary treatment of lesbian homosexuality has been found. However, literature produced within settings, both male and female, religious and secular, did allow for the indirect representation of homosexuality.

In the Eneit (1170-1189) of Heinrich von Veldeke, based on French versions of the Aeneas story, the mother of Lavinia attempts to dissuade her daughter from marrying the hero by casting him as a cowardly homosexual. Although the stratagem is ineffective, the text gives evidence of the Christian prejudice against pagan homosexuality.

A similar phenomenon can be encountered in the anonymously authored Moriz von Craun (ca 1200) in which Nero figures as the antipode of the ideal knight. Not only does he engage in active and passive homosexual relations, he actually becomes pregnant with a toad through medical intervention.

The anonymous comic tale The Pregnant Monk (ca 1300) involves an excessively naive monk who, in his first sexual encounter, is forced by his ineptitude to take the passive position. Believing that this necessarily results in pregnancy, he begs a monastery farmer to beat him to the point of abortion.

The farmer obliges, even as he inquires about the father. The monk believes that a rabbit is his aborted child and develops strong feelings of remorse and maternal desire. He is ruled to be insane, and steps are taken to exorcise his demon. The story is amusing, but it also reveals the assumed connection between homosexuality and insanity.

In another comic tale, Der Borte by Dietrich von der Glezze (second half of the thirteenth century), an unfaithful wife seeks to regain her husband by manipulating him into an even more compromising situation. She disguises herself as a man with whom her husband promptly falls in love.

Her husband's demand may well amount to the only suggestion of a homosexual scene in medieval German literature: He plans to enjoy every imaginable embrace with her/him, and to perform "that which men do with their women when they lie with them at night."

Ulrich von Lichtenstein's narrative poem Frauendienst (Service of Ladies) (1257) may or may not be autobiographical; in any event, it recounts the story of one Ulrich, a knight, who journeyed throughout northern Italy and Bohemia cross-dressed as Venus in order to honor his lady and all women. In discussions regarding the moral decay of their world, a lady suggests that the knights are at fault for preferring homosexuality to the service of ladies.

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