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Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe Paperback – June 21, 1994

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Paperback, June 21, 1994
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Boswell ( Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality ) has written a stunning, complex book that is demanding in the brilliance of its scholarship but written with sterling clarity. He offers a sophisticated interpretation of the concepts of love and friendship and the institution of heterosexual marriage, from the ancient Greeks and Romans through the Middle Ages, demonstrating that in the distant past there was not the link of love and marriage expected today. Relationships between men were as likely to be sanctified and consummated as heterosexual ones, and the documentary evidence presented shows that men set up households together in significant numbers. Material on women is sparse, Boswell notes, because most premodern historical sources were written by men, for men, about men; women figure in them either as property or as objects of sexual desire. The academic title is deceptive--the book offers vividly romantic depictions of love and friendship, and there isn't a dull page. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Not since Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1981) have Christians of all creeds confronted a work that makes them look so closely at their notions of the relationship between the church and its gay and lesbian believers. Diligently researched and documented, this immensely scholarly work covers everything from the "paired" saints of Perpetua and Felicitas and Serge and Bacchus to lesbian transvestites in Albania. Examining evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy, Boswell compares both Christian same-sex unions to Christian heterosexual unions and non-Christian same-sex unions to non-Christian heterosexual unions. Appendixes contain, among other things, translations and transcriptions of cited documents. Whether or not minds are changed on the matter will probably fall along sectarian lines, according to current attitudes on homosexuality. However, the work will provoke dialog. A groundbreaking book for academic, public, and theological libraries.
--Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; 1 edition (June 21, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679432280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679432289
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

99 of 112 people found the following review helpful By William Sommerwerck VINE VOICE on August 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
In reviewing other reviews of this book, it's apparent that those approving of it / objecting to it are mostly people who approve of / object to same-sex marriage. Which tells us little about the book's veracity or validity.

There are no truly neutral observers, simply variations in the degree to which one is prejudiced toward or against a particular position. This book is so heavily footnoted and appendixed, and Boswell seems to be at such pains to clarify exactly what he is and is not claiming, and why, that it is hard to believe he is not being intellectually honest, despite the fact he had a vested interest in promoting same-sex marriage. In short, Boswell gives at least the illusion of objectivity. This is enhanced by the fact that he builds his argument over many chapters, showing the social context into which church-authorized same-sex unions fit, rather than presenting documentation on just the unions -- a point which most of his detractors conveniently overlook.

The bias -- and carelessness -- of some reviewers is blatant. Kevin Davis states "...Boswell argues that rituals for the binding of two males (in Eastern Christendom) between the 12th and 16th centuries is evidence of the support for same-sex marriages in earlier Christianity. This is yet another example of a scholar misinterpreting historical facts in order to serve an agenda."

Anyone who paid attention while reading this book knows that the preceding statement is mostly untrue. (For example, the rituals existed for over 1000 years, and were in use in other parts of Cristendom.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 30, 1998
Format: Paperback
After reading this fine book, I wished that there was some way I could thank Boswell for such a revelation. Knowing that this would be impossible since he passed away, there is no way to thank him, but simply to praise his work, and tell other people about it. This study in same-sex unions performed throughout premodern European history debunks the notiont that marriage was only performed between a male and a female. The book presents astounding facts and information that has been suppressed, or misinterpreted by homophobe bias. In the appendices of the book, there are actual transcriptions of the same-sex marriage ceremonies used, in the vernacular, and translated by Boswell into English. This study was made all the more fascinating by the wealth of footnotes. When Boswell came across an ambiguous word that could mean many things in different languages, he includes that specific word written in its own language in the text. The appearance of these arcane languages in the text were beautiful, and one could call them "eye candy." There was writing from ancient Greece, some Slavic languages, and Hebrew. This novel is a major contribution to European history, and history in general, and being a college student and a future professional historian myself, I am glad to know that Boswell's presence graced the field of history, and has brought the craft of history to new heights.
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33 of 44 people found the following review helpful By John P. Day on November 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
The "but" is well expressed in the last two reviews here. The issue revolves around a specific translation question, and it's a debatable one.

Father Kurt's review comes closest to mine. It takes careful reading,and it has some significant problems, but it does present the issues fairly, and many of the objections made in recent reviews are addressed in the book's text. It may well be arguing a debatable proposition, but it is not "intellectual claptrap". Dr. Boswell makes a game effort to argue that his documents are speaking of something more significant than proerty transfers or normal "friendships". It's quite another thing as to whether he succeeds.

Evaluating this book as a historian, I fond myself at a loss for the lingustic skills to make much of a judgement on most of his texts. His argument, if he could maintsin the linguistic argument in the context in which the documents were produced, otherwise is well put. To repeat, it is not "claptrap".

However, there was one exception where I do have some ability to assess one of his documents: an excerpt in Latin from Giraldus Cambriensis' "History and Topography of Ireland".

Dr. Boswell lays out the Latin text, then gives his translation, and then explains his justification for translating it in the way it does. All of which is quite proper. I had a run at the Latin myself, and while, yes, using some standard definitons, you CAN translate it the way he does, it works equally well as a rite for the formal allaince of families or kinship groups. Since the social structure of Ireland at the time was based almost entirely on kinship groups, that's the way scholars of Irish history would translate it, rather than as a form of personal union between two people.
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34 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Penny Duff on April 18, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The other reviews cover most of the issues with this book admirably. One could have appropriately, but less titilatingly, retitled the book "Unions in Pre-Modern Europe", since his study was fairly balanced between two-sex and same-sex unions. It is certainly an eye-opener for those of the "traditional" marriage hue and cry. "Traditional" marriage as we see it today was unknown until the late middle ages, although that sort of union among same-sex couples was known from the earliest. The church did not recognize marriage as a sacrament until about 800 years ago. Those today who speak of traditional marriage need to read their history to know whereof they speak. I found his writing immensely readable and enjoyable. Although I have not yet read his first work, it is certainly now on my list.
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