Gay Issues

Gibbon and Gay Issues

Gibbon is not a strong proponent of Gay Issues by any means (to generalize in a blatant manner and use an embarrassing anachronism), however, he at least admits of the existence of same-sex relationships and alludes to them in his history.

 


 

 
(from Post Gay Day for Gibbon and More Roman Civil Law
Day 718 – Ken here (Th)(9-1-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.44, pp.830-840)(pages read: 1890))
 
 
Rabid Spewing in the vegetable kingdom

What Gibbon and I Are Doing Today

 

Gibbons on Homosexuality – Rabid Spewing
 

 

The Episode of Isaiah of Rhodes and Alexander of Diospolis

Here is Gibbon’s treatment:

But the same emperor declared himself the implacable enemy of unmanly lust, and the cruelty of his persecution can scarcely be excused by the purity of his motives. In defiance of every principle of justice, he stretched to past as well as future offences the operations of his edicts, with the previous allowance of a short respite for confession and pardon.

A painful death was inflicted by the amputation of the sinful instrument, or the insertion of sharp reeds into the pores and tubes of most exquisite sensibility; and Justinian defended the propriety of the execution, since the criminals would have lost their hands, had they been convicted of sacrilege.

In this state of disgrace and agony, two bishops, Isaiah of Rhodes and Alexander of Diospolis, were dragged through the streets of Constantinople, while their brethren were admonished, by the voice of a crier, to observe this awful lesson, and not to pollute the sanctity of their character.

Perhaps these prelates were innocent. A sentence of death and infamy was often founded on the slight and suspicious evidence of a child or a servant: the guilt of the green faction, of the rich, and of the enemies of Theodora, was presumed by the judges, and paederasty became the crime of those to whom no crime could be imputed.

A French philosopher {Montesquiue} has dared to remark that whatever is secret must be doubtful, and that our natural horror of vice may be abused as an engine of tyranny. But the favorable persuasion of the same writer, that a legislator may confide in the taste and reason of mankind, is impeached by the unwelcome discovery of the antiquity and extent of the disease.

(DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.44, p.839)

You think at first the two bishops were lovers, but the text in Malalas (below) makes it clear that it was pederasty that was the object of the punishments. Isaiah was the chief of the night watch (praefectus vigilum – a kind of policeman), and Alexander was from an important border city in Thrace, Diospolis (modern name of the location – Kabile – ironically the Roman city was to be obliterated permanently by a sack of the invading Avars in the 580’s, just 30 years or so in the future, erasing the bishopric with all the members of the parish). Perhaps this was all politically motivated, and as Gibbon mentions, in his brief pause between incoherent mouth-frothings, that one of the easier political sins to use to remove an unwelcome person was an accusation of pederasty. This was also during the period of Bubonic Plague (1st Great Plague – 540’s), so reasonable examination of the facts and circumstances surrounding a case was probably pretty non-existent and emotions and tension were out of control.

From John Malalas – a Greek chronicler (491-578) Note: from Wiki (adapted from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica)

The eighteenth book, dealing with Justinian’s reign, is well acquainted with, and colored by, official propaganda.

From an online text of John Malalas – from his 18th book.

Book 18: #18

AD 528

In that year some of the bishops from various provinces were accused of living immorally in matters of the flesh and of homosexual practices. Amongst them was Isaiah, bishop of Rhodes, an ex praefectus vigilium at Constantinople, and likewaise the bishop from Diospolis, in Thrace named Alexander. In accordance with a sacred ordinance they were brought to Constantinople and were examined and condemned by Victor the city prefect, who punished them: he tortured Isaiah severely and exiled him and he amputated Alexander’s genitals and paraded him around on a litter. The emperor [sc. Justinian I] immediately decreed that those detected in pederasty should have their genitals amputated. At that time many homosexuals were arrested and dies after having their genitals amputated. From then on there was fear amongst those afflicted with homosexual lust.

(see Fordham)

Diospolis

The Wrong City - photo of Diospolis of Judaea (in Israel) - one of the many towns named Diospolis (for various reasons) of the Roman Empire, now the modern day City of Lod in Israel - which is also the modern site of Ben Gurion International Airport, pictured above

A long Aside…
On the Vicissitudes of Historical Research
– OR –
Helpless Reference Tracking

Diospolis, by the way, is Dios (Zeus, or God) + Polis (city) – the city of Lod (Lydda, Diospolis, later, Georgiopolis – after St George, his birthplace) – a city founded in 5500 BCE, listed in 1465 BCE by the pharoah Thutmose III at Karnak as a Canaanite town, conquered by the Maccabees, part of both the First Jewish War (70 CE – the sacking of the Temple & Titus) and the Second Jewish War (130 CE – a massacre occurring there, memorialized in the Talmudic phrase – “the slain of Lydda”), briefly a capital during the initial Muslim conquests, a fascination for the Latin Crusaders (who made it a See, for St. George), and now the site of Ben Gurion International Airport.

Diospolis, by the way, is Dios (Zeus, or God) + Polis (city) – the city of Lod (Lydda, Diospolis, later, Georgiopolis – after St George, his birthplace) – a city founded in 5500 BCE, listed in 1465 BCE by the pharoah Thutmose III at Karnak as a Canaanite town, conquered by the Maccabees, part of both the First Jewish War (70 CE – the sacking of the Temple & Titus) and the Second Jewish War (130 CE – a massacre occurring there, memorialized in the Talmudic phrase – “the slain of Lydda”), briefly a capital during the initial Muslim conquests, a fascination for the Latin Crusaders (who made it a See, for St. George), and now the site of Ben Gurion International Airport.

Then I thought I’d better look up the exact quote, just to be sure.

Alexander's Diospolis in Thrace

The Real McCOy - this is Alexander's Diospolis (or near it at least) - Ironically, within a generation of Justinian's humiliation of Bishop Alexander, Diospolis in Thrace was sacked by the Avars, ruined and never rebuilt. Aerial photo by Chavdar Stoichev of Cabyle or Kabile now in Bulgaria, ancient Diospolis of Thrace

This is NOT the Diospolis that Alexander was from. I started out working from Gibbon’s reference which only said Alexander of Diospolis, (found some cities, threw out the Egyptian ones, and fastened on the Israeli one). Later, finding the quotation from Malalas, I obviously saw it was not in Israel, but Turkey, or another Balkan or near-Balkan site (it turns out its Bulgarian). Back to searching… Then I found an archeological site that associated Diospolis with the town of Cabyle (a corruption of a Thracian translation of Zeus-City)

The name of the habitat originates from Cybela (according to Velkov 1982: 14). A later toponym of the habitat is Dampolis/Diampolis as a corruption of Diospolis (Velkov 1977: 130-131). Fol, 1994: 219-224 states the hypothesis that Diospolis, i. e., “Zeus’s city”, is a translation-description of the honoring of a supreme male god, most likely Sabasius. Partially, the reason for this hypothesis is the possible etymology Kab-/Sab- in the root of Cabyle’s name.

Modern day Kabile is a tiny village, near the larger town of Yambol where apparently most people from Kabile work. Once the center of Iron Age Thracian royalty, it later figured in the plans of Alexander the Great’s family from down south in Macedon, and became in Roman times a sizable city for Roman Thrace, with a bishop’s seat. That same bishopric had a bishop in the 540’s, during the Great Plague years in Constantinople who was tortured publicly (castrated and paraded) by Justinian – that’s our Alexander of Diospolis. As I’ve already mentioned, Justinian tortured Alexander during the Bubonic Plague in a fit of some kind of political riotousness, about 30 years later (just after Justinian himself died) the Avars came rolling through like a steam roller and did the final knocking-out-the-stuffing from a bunch of thriving Roman Thracian cities – Diospolis was one of them. It never re-appeared.

 


 

 
(from Post Gay Day for Gibbon and More Roman Civil Law
Day 718 – Ken here (Th)(9-1-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.44, pp.830-840)(pages read: 1890))
 
 
Justinian's Code

More of Justinian's Roman Civil Law - the Corpus Iuris Civilis - a photo of a page of the Codex of Justinian - the College of Spain Codex

Roman Civil Law and Homeosexuality
 

 

Review of Homosexuality – Its All About Being On Top

Any review of law, especially a review in general of important topics in Roman Law will necessarily have a great deal to say about adultery and marriage, as the state was seen as a gathering of eligible male family leaders, and the family is primarily a vehicle for a man (a father, a husband) to protect his own precious DNA heritage (his legitimate/self-recognized offspring) from inadvertent dilution by another man’s DNA.

A man’s potency as the active generator of families was important. Marriage and children were signs of potency and strength – anything that decreased that strength (incest, bastards) by definition weakened the man (potentially morally, but certainly physically/health-wise in the Roman view) and so the PASSIVE role in a homosexual relationship harmed a man’s strength and potency and therefor harmed society as a whole. A man stole society’s strength by being passive.

The most important thing wasn’t the act, it was the position of the actors, passive was bad, active was good. Citizens, members of the state, of course should always be active – that strengthened the state. Under the empire, this equation (individual actions=societal strength) was written into the law over and over again. God blessed a moral society, cursed an immoral one – a direct extension of the old city-state’s contract with its own city-state gods – if we do well, you will bless us, if we do wrong, you will abandon us.

It would be tedious to recite the long history of man-man sex in the ancient world, and especially the Roman world. However, it’s important to remember that the idea of homosexuality – or being gay – is a 20th century construct. Intense male-male relationships and emotions were not taboo and immensely frightening in the past as they seem to be today, and the lines between heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality were often so dim as to be non-existent.

An Old, Hackneyed, But True Example

One example – Julius Caesar – a rich, but self-made man who rose in the Senatorial hierarchy under the organized chaos that was the last years of the Roman Republic – and a notorious bisexual (our word, not his – he would have just thought himself a normal Roman Senator) (for a brief overview see here – Anna’s Fascinating History Blog from 2005).

As an example of Caesar’s reputation, here is the quotation from Seutonius (the 40’s BCE) – (Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BCE)

Helvius Cinna, tribune of the people, admitted to several persons the fact, that he had a bill ready drawn, which Caesar had ordered him to get enacted in his absence, allowing him, with the hope of leaving issue, to take any wife he chose, and as many of them as he pleased; and to leave no room for doubt of his infamous character for unnatural lewdness and adultery, Curio, the father, says, in one of his speeches, “He was every woman’s man, and every man’s woman.”

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6400/6400-h/6400-h.htm Section I-Gaius Julius Caesar, paragraph LII (52))

Focus wasn’t on the personal development of the individual and the shaping of their own life, but on actions, actions that helped or hurt society, society being the religious relationship of a city/group and the supernatural. Things that seem quaint and charming were life-threatening in the ancient world (forgetting to say the right words in a sacrifice, the population believing the correct Orthodox Christian doctrine) and the gods or God would not allow a sinful nation to prosper. This primitive knee-jerk reaction to God and society is still prevalent today, but in the past the state itself felt it could mean disaster and death – a volatile situation to find yourself in.

Pagan Emperors and Christian Emperors

There is a brief review of Homosexuality as it appeared in Justinian’s Roman Civil Law – the Corpus Iuris Civilis – in an article on Justinian’s novels at Fordham University (here).

The earliest Roman law on homosexuality, the so-called “Lex Scatinia” (Gibbon’s Scatinian Law) is barely known by name alone. The Lex Julia (of ~170 BCE) originally legislated against adultery, then later included boys, then later possibly male homosexual acts – however, it should be noted, THE ROMAN EMPIRE CONTINUED TO COLLECT TAXES FROM MALE PROSTITUTES far into the era of Christian emperors (200 years after Constantine – the emperor Anastasius ~500 CE).

The Christian emperors continued to collect taxes on male prostitutes until the time of Anastasius (ruled in Constantinople – 491-518). But there are occasional laws which seem to have been directed against homosexuality.

(Fordham)

Roman views of homosexuals were complicated to say the least – and probably not very easily intelligible to the average person living in the 1st few decades of the 21st century.

A Brief Rundown of the Actual References in the Code and the Institutes (rather than a quick Gibbonian Anecdotal Review)

Here are the rest of the references found in the Corpus Iuris Civilis (the Institutes – what we are looking at today through Gibbon’s eyes)

Lex Julia on Adultery – 178 BCE
Law against adultery – later extended to, by implication, include irregular relations – ie homosexual relations – but not punishable by death.

Law of 342 – Constantine/Constans – Cod.Theod. IX. Viii. 3: (=Cod. Justin IX.ix.31)
A very obscure law – I can’t make head or tail of it – it seems to be dis-allowing gay marriage, as if it had been legal before. Just to show you I’m not biased (well, I am biased, being gay) and being purposefully vague, here is the text

When a man marries in the manner of a woman, a woman about to renounce men {quum vir nubit in feminam viris porrecturam), what does he wish, when sex has lost all its significance; when the crime is one which it is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed to another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, the laws to be armed with an avenging sword, that those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be, guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment.

(Fordham)

(also – a wonderful Late Antique historian (i.e. a man who studied Late Antiquity) – no longer with us – John Boswell spent his career un-straightening Medieval History (pun intended). You may not agree with all his conclusions, but the extent and depth of his research in breathtaking, and in the final analysis, compelling to say the least).

Law of 390 – Theodosius – Cod.Theod. IX. Vii. 6:
Condemns the PASSIVE male partner to flames – in very poetic style typical of Late Antique Imperial Prose

Justinian – NOVEL 77 [538 CE]
Condemns lustful acts against nature by men, AND SWEARING (by God’s head, eyes, etc). Both acts have in the past condemned entire cities to destruction (famines, earthquakes, pestilences – they and Justinian will not allow either unsanctioned lustful acts or SWEARING in his dominion – both will result in the most extreme punishments. Most of the law has to do with penance and God’s blessing or cursing the Romans. Remember, civil and “spiritual” law were one and the same in Rome, the emperor was responsible both for the physical/political and spiritual well-being/health of Roman citizens.

Justinian – NOVEL 141 [544 CE]
Condemns the “defilement of males – stupro masculorum” – and again associates it directly with God’s blessing or cursing the Romans. Remember the Great Plague (1st Bubonic Plague to hit the modern Mediterranean) ravaged Rome in 542 CE. Procopius says this law was a direct result, a kind of scape-goating to find a reason (other than God being unhappy with the current Ruler of the Universal Christian World – Justinian) for God’s displeasure – one of the sections of humanity chosen to be examples of God’s displeasure: homosexuals (see Tom Lees Catholica Commentary

Some argue this has much more to do with male homosexual prostitution (just recently outlawed some 40 years earlier – the empire had been collecting taxes from male homosexuals for the whole period of the empire – 500 years) than private male-male sex.

Asides: On Using Laws to Excavate Historical Fact

As with most Roman laws, who knows why they were passed, and how they were enforced? (laws against taking bribes occur with clock-like regularity in the Code, emperor after emperor – does that mean there were always bribes going on, the central govt. helpless to stop it? Or legislating against bribery made good political capital? Or the laws were effective and bribery always stopped? or the action of bribery changed in meaning over the centuries, but the legal terminology didn’t? or…) So at best legal history makes for a jumping off point for discussion, rather than a black and white description of society as of a given date. The moral of this story – use laws with care when writing history.

Another interesting aside is that of all the laws in the Institutes – basically there are just 3 on homosexuality – and the basis of all Roman Law on the Subject was the Lex Julia – regulating marriage and originally having only to do with adultery (from 170’s BCE) later extended to other “irregular” “marital-like” relations such as homosexuality. Swearing was just as important a crime in Eastern Rome. Clearly the “Byzantines” would have seen our Heterosexual Panic over Male Homosexuality as a strange obsession – and would have thought us wildly atheistic NOT TO REGULATE such behavior as swearing, Orthodox religious beliefs, and (for example) belief in astrology, and the casting of horoscopes of national leaders. THAT would have been shocking to them.

The “campaign” of Christian emperors against “Unnatural Lust” in Gibbon’s text and footnotes is highly debatable. Probably non-existent is a better word. In fact, the whole rant against homosexuality (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.44, pp.837-839) is much more indicative of Gibbon’s personal views on homosexuality than it is indicative of the development of legislation about homosexuality, or even the history of homosexuality. In fact, it’s only been in the last 30 or so years that historians have been seriously grappling with the subject.

And, yes, this blog is definitely written with a point of view just like Gibbon’s Decline and Fall was. History is just facts written from a point of view with a particular purpose in mind. So in that sense, Gibbon and I agree perfectly.

 


 

 
 
 

Painting by joseph Turner of Dido's Building Carthage.  The streets of Carthage were alive with both fundamentalist Christians, famous preacher/authors of the Church (Augustine) and armed gangs of militant "Old Catholics" (Donatists)  - all while the city was being beseiged by barbarians and the empire was abandoning North Africa to the Germans (for the next 100 years or so) - a heady and complicated city - and a lost North African culture of Late Antique Rome
 
 

Gibbon and Homosexuality – Saint Augustine’s Carthage Was a Wild Place (400’s) – OR Reading Between the Lines Reveals the Lost, Unwritten History of Late Antique Gay Life
 

Granted, the word “gay”, with all its modern 20th/21st century connotations doesn’t exactly correspond with Antique values on the subject of same-sex relationships. Male Gay society was much more fluid – bisexuality was the norm – and position (dominance, submissiveness) more important than the gender of the object of your affection, or physical acts performed. So the “separateness” of being gay was much less evident (everyone was “gay” in some respect), but the “degradation” of a male in being submissive much more an issue with the comman man. Christianity was very equivocal about it – sex (lust) was still just one way to give in to the “body” – up there with gluttony and avarice – regardless of the object of its affection (ie same-sex, or opposite-sex) .

The idea of “unnatural” acts was alien to Antique culture, and really didn’t firmly take hold in European culture until well into the High Middle Ages at least (see here John Boswell, The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective, 1979, Fordham Online). John Boswell (sadly no longer with us) spent his considerable intellectual powers and his academic career blazing the trail through Christian and other historical writings to uncover the unwritten histories of gay men and women in the last 2000 years of European history – an excellent introduction to a new perspective on an often-misunderstood subject clouded by strong political controversy).

Gibbon reports on the famous (or infamous to Gibbon) very active gay life of Carthage in unhesitatingly scathing terms (which is not atypical of his approach to any reference to same-sex relationships in the Decline and Fall). As usual, gay = corruption, luxury, and surrender to unnatural (whatever that term “nature” means to Gibbon) tendencies.

Tangential Digression on The Enlightenment and Gibbon (patently a man of the Enlightenment)

Sometimes, I envy the “natural” confidence of that first generation of “rational” thinkers of the Enlightenment – it was a kind of honeymoon of sweet reason and mechanical elegance when the world, man, and God had been neatly categorized and reduced to an amazingly complex and vast (but understandable and model-able) clockwork universe – all spread before man’s enquiring gaze and inviting him to assume god-like powers of prediction and control over the physical (and mental) world around and within him. Of course, the French Revolution, Romanticism, the Nineteenth Century, The Industrial Revolution, and World War I pretty much destroyed our exalted view of the future and our unswerving optimism in our ability to control/subdue nature around us and our own nature within us. But it must have been comforting and re-assuring to live in the “Best of All Possible Worlds”, at least for a few decades or so – in the late Eighteenth Century.

This – from Gibbon – on the Carthage of Saint Augustine’s day – kind of gives you a better idea of Augustine’s Confessions and what Augustine was reacting to when he wrote them and the City of God. North Africans were famous for passion, freedom, wildly strong loyalties, and white-hot, trigger-happy anger.

This, in a description of Carthage on the verge of being destroyed by the Vandal invasions of 10-9-439:
(it is curious that Gibbon manages to insert his scorn for both gay men AND for monks all in one passage – quite the Gibbonian acheivement)

A new city had arisen from its ruins, with the title of a colony; and though Carthage might yield to the royal prerogatives of Constantinople, and perhaps to the trade of Alexandria, or the splendour of Antioch, she still maintained the second rank in the West; as the Rome (if we may use the style of contemporaries) of the African world.

That wealthy and opulent metropolis displayed, in a dependent condition, the image of a flourishing republic. Carthage contained the manufactures, the arms, and the treasures of the six provinces. A regular subordination of civil honours gradually ascended from the procurators of the streets and quarters of the city to the tribunal of the supreme magistrate, who, with the title of proconsul, represented the state and dignity of a consul of ancient Rome. Schools and gymnasia were instituted for the education of the African youth; and the liberal arts and manners, grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy, were publicly taught in the Greek and Latin languages. The buildings of Carthage were uniform and magnificent: a shady grove was planted in the midst of the capital; the new port, a secure and capacious harbour, was subservient to the commercial industry of citizens and strangers; and the splendid games of the circus and theatre were exhibited almost in the presence of the barbarians.

The reputation of the Carthaginians was not equal to that of their country, and the reproach of Punic faith still adhered to their subtle and faithless character. The habits of trade and the abuse of luxury had corrupted their manners; but their impious contempt of monks and the shameless practice of unnatural lusts are the two abominations which excite the pious vehemence of Salvian, the preacher of the age.(39)

The king of the Vandals severely reformed the vices of a voluptuous people; and the ancient, noble, ingenuous freedom of Carthage (these expressions of Victor are not without energy) was reduced by Genseric into a state of ignominious servitude. After he had permitted his licentious troops to satiate their rage and avarice, he instituted a more regular system of rapine and oppression. An edict was promulgated, which enjoined all persons, without fraud or delay, to deliver their gold, silver, jewels, and valuable furniture or apparel to the royal officers; and the attempt to secrete any part of their patrimony was inexorably punished with death and torture as an act of treason against the state. The lands of the proconsular province, which formed the immediate district of Carthage, were accurately measured and divided among the barbarians; and the conqueror reserved for his peculiar domain the fertile territory of Byzacium and the adjacent parts of Numidia and Gaetulia.

and this from the (juicier) footnotes:

Note 039
He declares that the peculiar vices of each country were collected in the sink of Carthage (1. vii. p. 257). In the indulgence of vice the Africans applauded their manly virtue. Et illi se magis virilis fortitudinis esse crederent, qui maxime viros feminei usus probrositate fregissent (p. 268). The streets of Carthage were polluted by effeminate wretches, who publicly assumed the countenance, the dress, and the character, of women (p. 264). If a monk appeared in the city, the holy man was pursued with impious scorn and ridicule; detestantibus ridentium cachinnis (p. 289).

(TRANSLATION of the (typically) untranslated and juicy Latin above (Et illi se…):

And they (the Carthaginians) believed themselves to have stronger male power (virility) – the greater number of men they shamefully got together with in the manner of women.

(DEF, II, v.3, ch.33, p.289, fn.39)

An altogether typical Late Antique attitude I would suppose (ie male-male sex = gaining virility or male power). I don’t think Gibbon is quite getting what the ancient author (Sylvan) is trying to say.


 
 

Mosaic of Narses - a famous eunuch-general 130 years in the future (530-550) under the emperor Justinian.  Apparently eunuchs are good for something.  In some ways - despite the extreme Gibbon-invective - Eutropius paved the way for more accepting public attitudes towards high-ranking eunuchs in the Eastern Empire

Mosaic of Narses (I'm hoping, I'm not quite convinced this is his portrait) - a famous eunuch-general 130 years in the future (530-550) under the emperor Justinian. Apparently eunuchs are good for something. In some ways - despite the extreme Gibbon-invective - Eutropius paved the way for more accepting public attitudes towards high-ranking eunuchs in the Eastern Empire

Gibbon on Eunuch Hating (again) – Hating What’s Different – Sexual Minorities in the Later Empire
 

It is hard sometimes to read the ancient actions of people now long-dead (we’re talking 1600 years) and make any sense of it at all. Most of our sources for this period (the early 400’s), especially for Eutropius the Eunuch-Regent for the adolescent Western Emperor Arcadius come from the satyrical pen of the poet Claudian who absolutely HATED Eutropius. It is significant that after his fall from power, the great orator and Archibishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) tried to prevent his execution without success. Eutropius prevented the young Arcadius from wedding the Eastern Empire’s Regent/Tyrant (Gaul-lish extraction) Rufinus’s daughter – and maybe preventing the Eastern empire from falling into the same cesspit of barbarian domination that sucked the entire West down the drain in a period of 10 years.
He gained the consulship and performed the offices of the highest officials in the land, but earned the enmity of the empress (he assisted in enthroning) and the imperial court.

And he was a eunuch – did I mention that already?

Gibbon never tires of pointing that fact out with the most un-balanced, florid, un-detached purple prose possible in describing and re-describing Eutropius physical state and appearance. Very un-Enlightenment-like, and most enthusiastic. Probably would’ve gotten his Rational-Man card yanked, ripped up and his epaulets pulled off in the Age Of Reason Club if anyone had been overcome by emotion enough to pursue the matter.

The truth? Eutropius had the “normal” life of any courtier in the Later Roman Empire – a short period of absolute power followed by execution and desecration of his memory. He had strong supporters, and strong enemies. He did things that were unpopular with the people, and things which were very popular with the people. He was execrated and praised. The fact that a former slave and a eunuch was able to rise to the top of the bureaucratic heap is more a sign of the insignificance of his physical state in the East. Remember, after Gibbon falls over himself, foaming at the mouth at the unnatural and strange creature running the empire for a few years, that being a eunuch is NOT a choice, you get cut at an early age and not of your own free will. What a person makes of himself afterwards (and I use the word person consciously and emphatically) is actually something quite spectacular for a sexual minority. Narses, in 130 years will be a great Eastern Roman General and patriot and high government official – and he is an Armenian eunuch, trusted by the great Justinian. It will be interesting to see what Gibbon does with Narses.

This from Gibbon himself (sorry for the length – its just too good (bad) to edit much more than I did):

The first events of the reign of Arcadius and Honorius are so intimately connected, that the rebellion of the Goths and the fall of Rufinus have already claimed a place in the history of the West. It has already been observed that Eutropius, one of the principal eunuchs of the palace of Constantinople, succeeded the haughty minister whose ruin he had accomplished and whose vices he soon imitated.

Every order of the state bowed to the new favourite; and their tame and obsequious submission encouraged him to insult the laws, and, what is still more difficult and dangerous, the manners of his country. Under the weakest of the predecessors of Arcadius the reign of the eunuchs had been secret and almost invisible. They insinuated themselves into the confidence of the prince but their ostensible functions were confined to the menial service of the wardrobe and Imperial bedchamber. They might direct in a whisper the public counsels, and blast by their malicious suggestions the fame and fortunes of the most illustrious citizens; but they never presumed to stand forward in the front of empire, or to profane the public honours of the state.

Eutropius was the first of his artificial sex who dared to assume the character of a Roman magistrate and general. Sometimes, in the presence of the blushing senate, he ascended the tribunal to pronounce judgment or to repeat elaborate harangues; and sometimes appeared on horseback, at the head of his troops, in the dress and armour of a hero. The disregard of custom and decency always betrays a weak and ill-regulated mind; nor does Eutropius seem to have compensated for the folly of the design by any superior merit or ability in the execution.

His former habits of life had not introduced him to the study of the laws or the exercises of the field; his awkward and unsuccessful attempts provoked the secret contempt of the spectators; the Goths expressed their wish that such a general might always command the armies of Rome; and the name of the minister was branded with ridicule, more pernicious, perhaps, than hatred to a public character. The subjects of Arcadius were exasperated by the recollection that this deformed and decrepit eunuch, (6) who so perversely mimicked the actions of a man, was born in the most abject conditions of servitude; that before he entered the Imperial palace he had been successively sold and purchased by an hundred masters, who had exhausted his youthful strength in every mean and infamous office, and at length dismissed him in his old age to freedom and poverty. (7)

While these disgraceful stories were circulated, and perhaps exaggerated, in private conversations, the vanity of the favourite was flattered with the most extraordinary honours. In the senate, in the capital, in the provinces, the statues of Eutropius were erected, in brass or marble, decorated with the symbols of his civil and military virtues, and inscribed with the pompous title of the third founder of Constantinople. He was promoted to the rank of patrician, which began to signify, in a popular and even legal acceptation, the father of the emperor: and the last year of the fourth century was polluted by the consulship of an eunuch and a slave.

This strange and inexpiable prodigy (8) awakened, however, the prejudices of the Romans. The effeminate consul was rejected by the West as an indelible stain to the annals of the republic; and without invoking the shades of Brutus and Camillus, the colleague of Eutropius, a learned and respectable magistrate, sufficiently represented the different maxims of the two administrations.

and this from the (juicier) footnotes:
Note 006
The poet’s lively description of his deformity (i. 110-125) is confirmed by the authentic testimony of Chrysostom (tom. iii. [in Eutrop. i. c. 3] p. 384, edit. Montfaucon), who observes that, when the paint was washed away, the face of Eutropius appeared more ugly and wrinkled than that of an old wornan. Claudian remarks (i. 469), and the remark must have been founded on experience, that there was scarcely any interval between the youth and the decrepit age of a eunuch.

Note 007
Eutropius appears to have been a native of Armenia or Assyria. His three services, which Claudian more particularly describes, were these:-
He spent many years as the catamite of Ptolemy, a groom or soldier of the Imperial stables.
Ptolemy gave him to the old general Arintheus, for whom he very skilfully exercised the profession of a pimp.
He was given, on her marriage, to the daughter of Arintheus; and the future consul was employed to comb her hair, to present the silver ewer, to wash and to fan his mistress in hot weather. See l. i. 31-137.

Note 008
Claudian (l. i. in Eutrop. 1-22), after enumerating the various prodigies of monstrous births, speaking animals, showers of blood or stones, double suns, etc., adds, with some exaggeration,
Omnia cesserunt eunucho consule monstra.
The first book concludes with a noble speech of the goddess of Rome to her favourite Honorius, deprecating the new ignominy to which she was exposed

(DEF II, v.3, p.239-241, fn. 6,7,8)

Icon of John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth), Archbishop of Constantinople - and not a man to shrink from controversy (also a man with his own prejudices - esp. antisemitism).  John defended the fallen court official, the eunuch Eutropius, trying to prevent (unsuccessfully) Eutropius's execution.  Eutropius MUST HAVE BEEN good for something to have gotten the support of the First Man of the Christian empire in the East in the capital city

Icon of John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth), Archbishop of Constantinople - and not a man to shrink from controversy (also a man with his own prejudices - esp. antisemitism). John defended the fallen court official, the eunuch Eutropius, trying to prevent (unsuccessfully) Eutropius's execution. Eutropius MUST HAVE BEEN good for something to have gotten the support of the First Man of the Christian empire in the East in the capital city

 

 
 


 
On Gibbon and Eunuchs – part 1

He hates them.

“The interior apartments were intrusted to the jealous vigilance of the eunuchs, the increase of whose numbers and influence was the most infallible symptom of the progress of despotism.”

(DEF ch.13, p.389).

It’s hard not to catch a little homophobia in all this. Every mention of homosexuality, “effeminacy”, and eunuchs brings a cascade of scorn and derision from Gibbon. It will be interesting to see what he does with General Narses the Eunuch and the reconquest of the West under Justinian. He has an absolute field-day with the emperor Elegabulus (see below).

"a "white" eunuch - circa 1749 - probably in Turkey - this is an image that would be current at the exact time Gibbon was writing his Decline and Fall - an image crawling with subtext

a 'white' eunuch - circa 1749 - probably in Turkey - this is an image that would be current at the exact time Gibbon was writing his Decline and Fall - an image crawling with subtext


 
 
 
Gibbon on Voltaire and Homosexuality
 
Gibbon was not shy about attacking famous Frenchmen – ex. Voltaire. Although Gibbon thought homosexuality “despicable”, he thought Voltaire’s attack on a “Thebaean” legion to be un-scholarly at best.

Voltaire - the famous bust  - what man could be more reasonable? what smile more rational?

Voltaire - the famous bust - What man could be more reasonable? What smile more rational?

Sacred band of Thebes - the grave monument marking the communal grave of the Theban legion of 300 after they had been killed by Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedon in battle.  Was this the end of the Theban legion, or did it continue into Late Antiquity - Gibbon supposes that it did continue - Voltaire does not

Sacred band of Thebes - the grave monument marking the communal grave of the Theban legion of 300 after they had been killed by Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedon in battle. Was this the end of the Theban legion, or did it continue into Late Antiquity - Gibbon supposes that it did continue - Voltaire does not

The Sacred Band of Thebes was the celebrated homosexual legion, 150 pairs of soldiers, partners, fighting side by side – thought to be the epitome of martial pride, loyalty, and courage in ancient times. The Sacred Band was largely responsible for the city of Thebes’ liberation from Sparta early in the 300’s BCE, although it is recorded as being annihilated by Philip II of Macedon with his son Alexander the Great in the 337 BCE when Macedon ended the Theban hegemony in Greece (4th century BCE – nearly 800 years earlier than Gallus’ possible use of the Theban legions in his quarrels with his senior emperor Constantius in the 350’s CE).

I’m not sure if the name of a legion being “Theban” means it was composed of like-minded same-sexed partners from the city in Greece, or if it followed the traditions of that city in things military, or if it was just a happy coincidence of legion naming conventions in the later Roman Empire – probably the latter, but you never know.

At any rate, here is the text from Gibbon

“The Thebaean legions, which were then quartered at Hadrianople, sent a deputation to Gallus, with a tender of their services. Ammian. 1. xiv. c. 11. The Notitia (s. 6, 20, 38, edit. Labb.) mentions three several legions which bore the name of Thebaean. The zeal of M. de Voltaire to destroy a despicabie though celebrated legend has tempted him on the slightest grounds to deny the existence of a Thebaean legion in the Roman armies. See Oeuvresde Voltaire, tom. xv. p. 414, quarto edition.”

(DEF v.2, ch.19, p.691, fn.23).

 

 
The Fabulous Heliogabulus (emperor 219-222)

The emperor Antoninus Heliogabulus (Elagabulus) was another handsome Severan. The former emperor Caracalla’s aunt, Julia Maesa, was living in Syria, with her gorgeous, young, flaming diva of a son Antoninus, a priest of the Syrian sun god Heliogabulus. Within 20 days of the usurper general Macrinus’ death (6-7-218), Elegabulus (as we know him) was elevated to the purple, praised as a descendant of Marcus Aurelius and a representative of the house of Septimus Severus, and bundled off to Rome to bring on yet another Golden Age for the empire of Rome. Everyone had such high hopes for him.

Elagabalus, such a sweet face

Elagabalus, such a sweet face

He seemed the perfect choice – although he had a very, very quiet and respectable cousin Alexander – who was passed over for the emperorship – for now.

The First to wear Silk – either God or Devil

He is the personification of personal, artistic, aestheticism over staid, conservative social acceptance – or so he has been championed, esp. in the 19th century. He is either god or devil, depending on your political/social stance.

This from Gibbon:

“To confound the order of the season and climate, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the Roman world affect to copy the manners and dress of the female sex, preferring the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonored the principle dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the the emperor’s, or, as he more properly styled himself, the empress’s husband. It may seem probable, the vices and follies of Elagabalus have been adorned by fancy, and blackened by prejudice. Yet, confining ourselves to the public scenes displayed before the Roman people, and attested by grave and contemporary historians, their inexpressible infamy surpasses that of any other age or country” (DF Ch VI), and “Elagabalus, the first who, by this effeminate habit [of wearing silk], had sullied the dignity of an emperor and a man”

(DEF v.1, ch.6, pp.167-168).

Lawrence Alma-Tadema The Roses of Heliogabulus

Painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema - The Roses of Heliogabulus

The Augustan Histories put it a little plainer:

“And even at Rome he did nothing but send out agents to search for those who had particularly large organs and bring them to the palace in order that he might enjoy their vigor. Moreover, he used to have the story of Paris played in his house, and he himself would take the role of Venus, and suddenly drop his clothing to the ground and fall naked on his knees, one hand on his breast, the other before his private parts, his buttocks projecting meanwhile and thrust back in front of his partner in depravity.”

He was murdered by his troops (3-10-222), and the other young, conservative, quiet Severan, Alexander was pushed forward to be be emperor by another very political daughter of Julia Domna, Julia Mamaea.

Gibbon On Further Wild Doings of Elegabulus – or The Empress’ Husband
 
It’s almost as if Gibbon is really enjoying relating the escapades of this young emperor.

This from Gibbon:

“A rational voluptuary adheres with invariable respect to the temperate dictates of nature, and improves the gratifications of sense by social intercourse, endearing connections, and the soft colouring of taste and the imagination. But Elagabalus (I speak of the emperor of that name), corrupted by his youth, his country, and his fortune, abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury, and soon found disgust and satiety in the midst of his enjoyments.

The inflammatory powers of art were summoned to his aid: the confused multitude of women, of wines, and of dishes, and the studied variety of attitudes and sauces, served to revive his languid appetites. New terms and new inventions in these sciences, the only ones cultivated and patronised by the monarch, signalised his reign, and transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. A capricious prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers applauded a spirit and magnificence unknown to the tameness of his predecessors.

To confound the order of seasons and climates, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions.

The master of the Roman world affected to copy the dress and manners of the female sex, preferred the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonoured the principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the emperor’s, or, as he more properly styled himself, of the empress’s husband

(DEF, v.1, ch.6, p.168).

and from the safety of the footnotes, Gibbon goes on…

“Hierocles enjoyed that honour. Dion, 1. lxxix. p. 1363, 1364. A dancer was made praefect of the city, a charioteer praefect of the watch, a barber praefect of the provisions. These three ministers, with many inferior officers, were all recommended,enormitate membrorum (by the enormous size of their members). Hist. August. p. 105″

(DEF, v.1, ch.6, p.168, fn.59).

and (to finish strangely)…

“The invention of a new sauce was liberally rewarded; but, if it was not relished, the inventor was confined to eat of nothing else, till he had discovered another more agreeable to the Imperial palate. Hist. August. [Lamprid. Heliog. c. 29], p. 111.”

(DEF, v.1, ch.6, p.168, fn.56).

Remember: this is all Augustan History nonsense – the source for much of the material on Heliogabulus is a very comic/untrustworthy source – The Augustan Histories – a kind of National Lampoon’s version of the History of the Ancient World. An ancient historian set out to write a tongue-in-cheek take-off on Roman history – and (unfortunately for us) turned out to be one of the only surviving copies of any history at all for this period (without the Augustan Histories we’re pretty much lost as to the early 200’s in the Roman Empire).

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