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social sciences

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Europe: Medieval  
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The beautiful Saint Pelagius was martyred in 925 because he spurned the advances of the ruler of Muslim Spain (Andalus) with the contemptuous question : "Do you think I'm like one of your effeminates?" Pelagius was thirteen.

A tenth-century constitution for regulating the lives of English monks and nuns cautioned monks and abbots not to embrace or kiss "adolescents or little boys . . . . let your affection for them be spiritual." Around 1135, aged about twenty-four, Aelred, abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in the north of England, loved a chaste and beautiful young monk named Simon, who was no more than fourteen.

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The same pattern is visible among men of same-sex inclination living in towns along the river Loire in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. A group of poets, Marbod of Rennes (ca 1035-1123), Baudri of Bourgueil (1046-1130), and some anonymous clerics, has left us a sketchy picture of their sexual practices.

They wrote in Latin for other learned clerics who shared their tastes for ancient Roman verse and masculine love. They identify some of their acquaintances as "males who sleep with males." They document male prostitution in Sens, Chartres, Orléans, and Paris. Hostile observers confirm their testimony. Any visitor to Chartres, advises one, should get out in a hurry unless he wants to be transformed into a woman. In Orléans, reports another, no class of person escapes the sodomitical plague (sodomitica pestis).

They adressed most of their love poems to boys. The poets call this kind of love amor in pueros and think of themselves as "men who sleep with boys," puerorum concubitores (playing on masculorum concubitores at 1 Cor. 6:10). The adjective most commonly used to describe the boyfriend is "tender" and "young" (tener). (The next most common is "beautiful.") In the vernacular romances, the usual word is garçon. What "the men who sleep with boys" like best is "to have young boys (teneros pueros) live with them as their spouses."

Altercatio Ganimedis et Helene

Among these poems is the most important medieval example of a genre popular in both the Greco-Roman and Muslim worlds and in Edo Japan, the comparison of boy love with love of women. The debaters are Ganymede and Helen. The author is unknown; the date is late twelfth or early thirteenth century. Both contestants are described as unimaginably beautiful and desirable.

Helen begins by marshalling the conventional arguments against male-male eros. A preference for sex with males inverts the right (created) order of things (the cosmological argument); it is against the law (the argument from scripture and the prohibitions inferred from it); it is sterile and unable to beget and multiply (the biological and demographic argument); birds, wild beasts, and cattle do not practice it (the argument from the behavior of animals); same-sex love is unnatural (the philosophical argument). The love of a man for a boy never touches the heart. All the man feels is lust. The boy gets no pleasure from the encounter; all he wants is money.

Ganymede stands naked before the judges, Nature and Reason. In an exceptional turn, it is the boy who speaks in defense of , not his adult lover. His arguments are unsystematic, jokey, and coarsely misogynist, but the note he sounds is as warmly unapologetic as it is rare. The gods themselves invented boy love, and still today it is approved by honorable men, among them the highest officers of church and state, including the censors who monitor behavior and define sin.

Like fits best with like (par cum pari), and same-sex is more natural than different-sex (hic et hic not hic et illa), for opposites always disagree. These same-sex attachments will not depopulate the world. There are many older men around eager for sons; let them beget. Propagation is not an obligation of youth, pleasure is.

While Ganymede clearly thinks boys enjoy their sexual encounters, he does not deny that they are often paid. "Money smells good; nobody turns down money./ Wealth, I admit, attracts us." Only the gray-haired have to pay. This is one way boys get ahead. When he runs out of arguments, he tells Helen "it's time to put religion and modesty behind us" and speak frankly about the stink and gaping looseness of the female "cave."

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