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Homosexuality and Civilization Paperback – November 30, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 648 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (November 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674022335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674022331
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this notable monograph, impressive for its breadth and readability, an early pioneer of gay and lesbian studies attempts the Herculean task of chronicling the history of homosexuality in Europe and parts of Asia from Homer to the 18th century. In a series of short vignettes, Crompton, emeritus professor of English at the University of Nebraska, relates the "rich and terrible" stories of men and women who have been immortalized, celebrated, shunned or executed for the special attention they paid to members of their own sex. Two chapters on China and Japan are a welcome addition to the usual Eurocentric focus. Crompton's comparative study reveals just how anomalous Judeo-Christian aversion to homosexuality seems in the context of world history. On the battlefield with Alexander the Great, in the highest ranks of the Han dynasty in China, in the "bisexual" poetry of Arab Spain and among the samurai in Japan, same-sex male love flourished (lesbianism, Crompton admits, is harder to find). Even among Christian rulers of European countries, homosexual attachments weren't unheard of. Crompton surmises that in 1610, "one `sodomite,' James I, ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland; another, Rudolph II, presided over the Holy Roman Empire; and France had its second homosexual king within a generation." Crompton's vivid and sobering accounts of the persecution of homosexuals under Christian regimes throughout the centuries emerge as the book's undeniable focus. Throughout, Crompton's great intellectual nemesis is the late Michel Foucault, whose History of Sexuality, Volume I emphasizes the difficulty of reconstructing the sexual ethos of another culture or historical period and who has inspired a generation of historians, literary scholars and cultural critics to grapple with sexuality in their work. By contrast, Crompton interprets his evidence quotes liberally from primary sources. Read as an anthology of those sources, Crompton's work will be valuable to scholars of all stripes.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

An encyclopedic survey of homosexuality in Western and non-Western civilizations. Crompton's writing is lively, vivid and refreshing—a pleasure to read. Anyone interested in looking at homosexuality from a comparative and historical point of view will want to own this book. (David Greenberg, author of The Construction of Homosexuality)

A minor masterpiece. Each chapter is a small work of art in itself. Crompton's discussion of Sapphic love is the best general treatment of lesbian suffering that I have seen. Though passionate, Homosexuality and Civilization is articulate, balanced, and theoretically sound—accessible to beginners and informative for specialists as well. (William A. Percy, co-editor of Encyclopedia of Homosexuality)

A master work of interpretive scholarship. Before this exhaustive and exhilarating study, a long shelf of books considered the intersection of homosexuality and civilization. Now there is one that does it all. Crompton's lifetime of academic gay activism powers this erudite, entertaining distillation of same-sex politics, practices, and passions across centuries and through cultures. He was born to write this book; generations yet unborn will draw knowledge and strength from it. (Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate columnist and former General Manager, A Different Light bookstores)

A one-of-a-kind, page-turning tour through gay history—one of the richest reading experiences in recent memory. This magnificent book educates us, startles us, and, by turns, reassures us as it traces the widespread cultural wellsprings of the changing forces of homosexuality. Crompton has crafted an utterly thrilling tour de force that succeeds in reinventing what we know about gay life across cultures and ages. This impressively detailed, eminently illuminating, and thoroughly enjoyable book should be on every gay person's—and every thinking person's—must-read list. (David Rosen, Editor-in-Chief, InsightOutBooks)

A treasure trove of compelling information. This marvelous book, covering not simply the Western tradition but China and Japan as well, is sure to become fundamental reading in gay and lesbian studies. Crompton dazzles the reader with his exhaustive research and incisive analyses. Not since the work of the late John Boswell has a scholar brought such a brilliant light to bear on earlier evidence of same-sex affections. (Karla Jay, author of Tales of the Lavender Menace)

In [Homosexuality and Civilization], impressive for its breadth and readability, an early pioneer of gay and lesbian studies attempts the Herculean task of chronicling the history of homosexuality in Europe and parts of Asia from Homer to the 18th century. In a series of short vignettes, Crompton…relates the 'rich and terrible' stories of men and women who have been immortalized, celebrated, shunned or executed for the special attention they paid to members of their own sex. Two chapters on China and Japan are a welcome addition to the usual Eurocentric focus. (Publishers Weekly 2003-08-25)

Brilliantly researched… Crompton, drawing on his immense erudition, contrasts Christianity and its barbaric cruelty toward same-sex love with more benign traditions in Moorish Spain… [He] also discusses the cult of romantic homosexuality in traditional Japan, where relationships of intense loyalty and idealism sprang up between the samurai and their pages. (Edmund White Los Angeles Times 2003-11-30)

In Louis Crompton's sober, searching and somber new history, Homosexuality and Civilization, homosexuality is associated with the inner workings of civilization itself… It begins in the gladness of early Greece, where homosexuality had an 'honored place' for more than a millennium, and concludes with the madness of 19th-century Europe. In between is what Mr. Crompton calls a 'kaleidoscope of horrors' lasting more than 1,500 years… This is a restrained, careful, clear book of scholarly exposition. (Edward Rothstein New York Times 2003-12-15)

Beginning where one would suspect—the ancient Greeks—Crompton puts a particular emphasis on Eastern social history in pursuing his narrative of the evolving place of homosexuality all the way to the Enlightenment. A key Crompton theme is that while much of Western civilization officially persecuted homosexuals throughout the ages, whatever the hypocrisy involved, in many Eastern cultures—including pre-modern China and samurai Japan—'the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greece.' (Toronto Star 2004-01-11)

Even after the explosion of literature on gay issues since the 1970s, comprehensive examinations of homosexuality in history have been few. An exception is Louis Crompton's new Homosexuality and Civilization, a sweeping account that was 18 years in the making. Crompton, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Nebraska, presents both a catalog of horrific abuse and persecution in the West and a surprising history of tolerance in some Eastern cultures, such as Japan, where homosexuality was 'an honored way of life among the country's religious and military leaders.' (Julian Sanchez Reason 2004-03-01)

Based on the best recent scholarship and providing an overview of homosexuality from the Greeks to the end of the 18th century, this levelheaded, easy-to-read volume confirms the fact that homosexuality has had a long history (with periods of greater or less tolerance)… The result is the best historical overview of the topic that this reviewer has read. (V. L. Bullough Choice 2004-03-01)

When Europeans first arrived in the Americas they found men engaged in erotic entanglements virtually on the quayside. They responded with the horror their religion had implanted in them, holding out their bibles and shouting 'Abomination! Devilry! Witchcraft!' The problem was they found the same thing almost everywhere they set foot in East Asia. China and Japan both looked on this kind of activity with a cool shrug of the shoulders. But as the Europeans' colonizing push gathered force, the hangings, disembowelment by mastiffs and burnings alive (especially popular) began to appear in these regions as well… This is a major work… It will be the first book future researchers in the topic turn to, and what they will find is a magisterial survey that delivers the fruits of a lifetime's study. Everything in the field is touched on and weighed in the balance. (Bradley Winterton Taipei Times 2004-06-27)

Crompton's book is truly the culmination of a lifetime's commitment… Writing a history of homosexuality is therefore a mission to remind the reader of millennia of oppression and resistance. For Crompton, the commonalities of that disparate history of homosexuality lie in two elements: the fact of common sexual practices, and the possibilities of human love and devotion that survived and contested all that history ('their' history) could throw at it. His history is, in part at least, a history of celebration. (Jeffrey Weeks Times Higher Education Supplement 2004-09-03)

At last, a comprehensive, scholarly investigation into homosexuality through the ages. In Homosexuality and Civilization, Louis Crompton discusses in elevated but readable fashion how gays and lesbians have affected the civilized world from ancient Greece to modern America, and been affected by it. (Louisville Letter 2004-09-01)

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Customer Reviews

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This is a brilliant book and an extraordinary achievement.
Grady Harp
I enjoyed the illustrations, the brief biographies of "great gays in history," and the extensive bibliography (a guide for further reading).
Jesse Monteagudo
Crompton points to the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus (in the Iliad) as "exemplars of male love."
Jesse Liberty

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Liberty VINE VOICE on October 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the book is highly academic and authoritative, it is also very accessible and enjoyable to read. Here is a very brief summary:

The book begins with a chapter on Early Greece (776-480 BCE). Crompton points to the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus (in the Iliad) as "exemplars of male love." He goes on to point out:
· Greek poets sang of male love from almost the earliest fragments down to the end of classical time.
· Mythology provides over 50 examples of homoerotic love, especially love by Gods of male youths
· "Man-boy relations played a significant part in the social organization of such Dorian communities as Crete and Sparta"
· In some Greek communities it was the boy's physical beauty that was desired, in others it was his character that was admired
· In nearly every classical Greek community, the homosexual relationship between an older man and a younger boy was not only accepted, it was admired and held as a civic virtue and a bulwark against tyranny.
· Man-boy love was used in many communities (e.g., Sparta) as a means of military training and indoctrination

In the second chapter, on Judea, he points out that the early Jewish customs and laws were strongly opposed to homosexuality, though he does show that the destruction of Sodom was originally attributed to failure of the city to live up to its obligations of hospitality, and only much later (in Catholic teaching) was Sodom's destruction associated with homosexuality.

The third chapter focuses on Classical Greece (480-323 BCE) and shows that here too, Homosexuality and bisexuality were not only considered perfectly natural, but were acclaimed at every level of society.
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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Homosexuality and Civilization is a monumental yet compendious book. The fruit of decades of scholarship in primary documents, it is written in Louis Crompton's customary, classy style: easy, open, colloquial. Some of you may know his excellent book on Shaw. Especially interesting is this book's focus on various cultures' laws concerning homosexuality because it enables Crompton to get around the claims of certain cultures that homosexuality barely exists within them. Belknap Press has done itself great credit in providing enriching (and expensive) art work illustrations yet keeping the book's cost very reasonable.
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64 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Louis Crompton has produced in HOMOSEXUALITY & CIVILZATION a definitive book about same sex relationships from the beginning of civilization to the present. Not only is this 624 page compendium thoroughly documented with copious footnotes, bibliography, valuable indices on both written content and illustrations, it is presented in an elegant format by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press - all of which become s additive but secondary to the brilliance of Crompton enlightened writing style. No dry treatise this, though the scholarly ethic is always in evidence. Crompton relates his reportage and commentary in a fluid, highly readable fashion, a fact that makes this book read like the great historical novel.
Although others have written excellent 'justifications for homosexuality' on various platforms that usually seem to border on glorified gossip for a hungry audience of fellow travelers, Crompton relies on myriad quotaions from historical documents, poetry, stories, myths, histories, and intact evidence of teachings of the great minds from twenty-four centuries. He wisely begins with Early Greece then Classical Greece where love between males was glorified and honored, to Rome where same sex relationships were an integral part of the Roman warriors' lives. He quotes liberally from the poetry of Sappho, Homer, Plato, Ovid, Cicero etc and integrates the lyrical with the writings of Caesar and Alexander and other emperors and leaders.
Then comes the change. With the introduction of 'Christianity which was born when Rome was stood at the peak of its power and Greek culture still dominated the Mediterranean world.' The single most destructive concept of homosexuality as an abomination and a crime worthy of (and receiving) the death penalty is the brief story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By John Stahle on December 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Crompton's "Homosexuality and Civilization" seems destined to become the definitive one-volume history of same-sex relations--and it comes at a critical period. Essential to the suppression of gay people in the West was the denial that they contributed positively to history; that history came very close to being effaced altogether. Just as the first gay historians after Stonewall began to reclaim that history, gay French philosopher Michel Foucault mischievously denied that homosexuality existed at all before the term was coined in the 1890s. This academic fashion caused many to refuse to consider fascinating new same-sex testimony from the past just as it appeared--a skepticism heteros would never dream of applying to their own sexual history. Crompton is post-theory, post-faction: instead of denying gay men had a history, he says, just read the first-person accounts from different times and places and respect what they plainly say. He does just that in this elegant, readable journey through Christian, Islamic, and Asian same-sex history.

But Crompton also makes two landmark contributions well beyond the requirements of survey. First, he fingers the one person who actually invented Western homophobia: Philo Judeus. Jewish philosopher in Alexandria and contemporary of Christ, this titanic figure is at least as important to history as St. Augustine, and like Augustine, presents both light and dark sides. On the good side, he created the template for Christianity. Responding to the mounting fashion for monotheism in the ancient world, and to the deep respect Romans had for the Jewish equation of law with divinity, Philo sought to reinvent Judaism as a Gentile-friendly universal religion released from its tribal particularity.
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