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literature

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Russian Literature  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  

During Vasily's second marriage, he was able to perform his conjugal duties only when an officer of his guard joined him and his wife in bed in the nude. The son of Vasily III's second marriage, Ivan IV, better known as Ivan the Terrible, was married no less than seven times. But he was also attracted to young men in female attire. One of the most ruthless chieftains of Ivan's political police, Feodor Basmanov, rose to his high position through performing seductive dances in women's clothes at the tsar's court.

The nineteenth-century poet A. K. Tolstoy (1817-1875) wrote a historical novel, Prince Serebriany (1862), set during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, where he described with great frankness the paradoxical character of Feodor: a capable military commander; the scheming initiator of murderous political purges; the tsar's bed partner; and an effeminate homosexual who discussed in public the cosmetics he used to improve his complexion and hair.

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Also bisexual was the False Dmitri, the runaway monk who claimed to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible and who overthrew Tsar Boris Godunov to reign for less than a year in Moscow. During the pretender's wedding to the aristocratic Pole Marina Mniszech in 1606, he was waited upon by his lover, the eighteen-year-old Prince Ivan Khvorostinin. The latter, a scion of a noble family of ancient lineage, was attired for the occasion in a dazzling brocaded outfit, which he managed to change to two other equally dazzling ones in the course of the festivities.

In his later life, Khvorostinin, who died in 1625, repeatedly got into trouble with the authorities, not because of his homosexuality or his involvement with the pretender, but because of his satirical writings in prose and in verse (doggerel, really). His satire was aimed at Russian backwardness and lack of culture. He repeatedly asserted the superiority of Western Protestant countries, their fashions and their high intellectual level.

Such praise for the West was considered the height of heresy. The young prince was repeatedly denounced by his friends and servants. But he was quite good at talking his way out of incarceration or confiscation of his property. He never got to realize his great dream of going to live in Holland or Italy; he died of natural causes at the age of thirty-seven.

Religious Denunciation of Homosexuality

The main reflection of homosexuality in the literature of Muscovite Russia survives in the writings of Orthodox churchmen who denounced the practice. "Sermon No. 12" by Metropolitan Daniel, a popular Moscow preacher of the 1530s, offers an extended panorama of various homosexual types of his time, both effeminate and not.

Archpriest Avvakum was the leader of the Old Believers during the religious schism of the 1650s. (The Old Believers broke away from the Orthodox Church because of the reforms in the ritual and in corrected spelling of biblical names instituted by the Patriarch Nikon; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Old Believer communities gave rise to numerous lesser religious dissenter sects.)

In his Autobiography (1673), much admired for its style by later writers, Avvakum states that he refused to hear confession of any man who shaved off his beard. On one occasion, Avvakum enraged a provincial governor by refusing to bless his son, who, by shaving his beard, must have tried to look seductive to other men. The father responded by having the churchman thrown into the river Volga.

The Lack of Legal Prohibitions of Homosexuality

Apart from clerical admonitions, nothing else restrained the homosexual behavior among the men of Kievan and Muscovite Russia.

Beginning with the earliest known Russian legal code, Russkaia pravda (Russian Justice), promulgated during the reign of Iaroslav the Wise (who ruled from 1019 to 1054) and up to the military regulations of Peter the Great early in the eighteenth century, no Russian legislation prohibited "the sin of Sodom" or any other homosexual practice.

As Eve Levin has shown in her book Sex and Society in the World of Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700, unlike Western Europe, which often had laws based on Old Testament interdictions, Eastern Orthodox Christianity considered various forms of sexual deviance not as crimes, but as sins, subject to religious jurisdiction.

What Eve Levin established was that in this area the main concern was not so much the sex of the participants or the organs involved, but the relative position of the partners during the sex act. The woman below and the man above was permitted as the "natural" way; reversal of this position was "unnatural" and a sin.

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