Intrepid pedicons unite!

“Who does not know', Forberg exclaimed at one point, 'that the Greeks and Romans were intrepid pedicons and determined cinaedes?” – Whitney Davis, “Homoerotic Art Collection from 1750 to 1920”, Art History 2001.

Who indeed? Davis’ interesting article outlines the gay millionaire boho culture of the late nineteenth century and the early 20th, which was centered at Capri in particular, where Jacques d'Adelswaerd Fersen, the son of a Swedish, I believe, millionaire established a famous pleasure palace and enlivened its grounds with faux classical sculptures of his boyfriends, dancing and generally rippling muscularity for all to see. This was the world of Gide, Symonds, Wilde, and Norman Douglas. This culture looked back on a surreptitious tradition going back to LI’s man, d’Hancarville:

“The classical philologist Paul Brandt (1875-1929) was the 'Hans Licht' of a widely read three-volume social history of Greece, emphasizing her sexual practices and erotic art. In its depth and range the book and art collection of Brandt and his partner Werner von Bleichroeder was probably the most important of the period.[ 6] It included refined contemporary homoeroticist visual fantasy and pornography -- some of it by top semi-clandestine artists, like Otto Schoff, connected with Jugendstil and Art Nouveau -- intercut with stylistically more classicizing or mock-classical materials. The latter included the prints for a 1907 luxury edition of the frank and learned commentary (an Apophoreta, or 'second course') by Friedrich Karl Forberg (1770-1848), first published in 1824, on the Hermaphroditus of Antonio Beccadelli (1394-1471) of about 1460, which was itself a collation of Latin erotic epigrams and quotations culled from ancient Roman sources (such as Martial) and edited by Beccadelli. For nineteenth-century readers, Forberg's Apophoreta was perhaps the single most detailed source for unorthodox sexual practices, and certainly for the sexual vocabularies, of the ancients.[ 7] Forberg corrected the text of a sixteenth-century manuscript of Beccadelli published in Paris in 1791. Most such copies had been suppressed in the Renaissance; as Symonds observed, the 'open animalism' of the text did not sit well with moralists.[ 8] Several attempts were made to suppress Forberg's edition. But it was assiduously preserved in nineteenth-century erotic book and art collections and rescued by publishers of erotica. Isidore Liseux issued a poor French translation of the Apophoreta in 1882. And at the end of the century Charles Carrington published a good English translation, accompanied by further notes; in a nod to the now-notorious circles of Symonds, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, it was supposedly produced by 'Viscount Julian Smithson, M.A.' for his friends.[ 9]

Some copies of Forberg's edition of 1824 had been illustrated with a number of engravings taken over from P.F. Hugues d'Hancarville's pornographic publications of mock-ancient gems, produced in the 1770s and 1780s, to be considered in more detail below.[ 10] These were reproduced yet again in a special album of prints published to accompany a 1907 French translation of the entire edition of 1824 --Hermaphroditus and Apophoreta.[ 11] Throughout his Apophoreta Forberg continuously cited d'Hancarville's engravings as pictorial illustrations of the sexual possibilities mentioned in Beccadelli's or the collated Roman texts -- the postures of pedicatio (anal intercourse), irrumatio (oral intercourse) and so on, whether heterosexual or male and female homosexual.[ 12] Brandt and Bleichroeder owned a luxury new edition of the English translation; published by Charles Hirsch in Paris and dated 1907, it contained twenty new obscene plates, three of them explicitly homosexual.[ 13] That Beccadelli-Forberg highlighted homosexual practices is clear from the text -- 'who does not know', Forberg exclaimed at one point, 'that the Greeks and Romans were intrepid pedicons and determined cinaedes?'[ 14] -- and had been noted by Symonds. Brandt knew the work well; for his own use he prepared an index to the first German translation (printed after his death), which had been produced in Leipzig in 1908 by the homosexualist publisher Max Spohr accompanied by a new, modernized sexological commentary on Forberg's original Apophoreta by Alfred Kind.”

The Hermaphroditus has a special place in LI’s heart – long ago, in the 80s, we wrote a forty page essay about it as an example of my work for the U.T. philosophy department. Those forty pages have long ago departed this world, but we vaguely remember that this paper was about the enlightenment system of the senses, with its emphasis on touch and its problem with that emphasis when it came to admiring the luscious buttocks of the Hermphroditus, a sculpture that was particularly appreciated by Winckelmann (DC) and Herder (AC). The problem of arousal and the problem of the sense that art appeals to – that sweaty palmed urge of these German travelers to the museums of Italy – found an echo in the emphasis on distance and disinterestedness in Kant. All of which is so much gone pedantry. Still, the notion that the world is made up of atoms of feeling has had a long and honorable career in many cultures, and still has an underground career in erotica – the sexualized universe turns the hierarchy of the senses upside down, with dumb touch being crowned phallic king.

While the history of art, dirty art with an emphasis on big dicks, might seem like an aleatory tradition at best, it is LI’s belief that the enlightenment interest in the cult of the phallus was connected with many of those things that made up the radical enlightenment. The Dilettanti club that sponsored Richard “Phallus” Payne also sponsored Sir William Jones, whose favorable opinion of the Persians and the Arabs and the Hindoos would be treated to immense scorn by John Stuart Mill’s father, James, in his influential History of India – a document that marks one of the turning points in the Imperial mindset. While the idea that non-European people were savages, being visibly unchristian, had long been part of the stock of European prejudices, the idea that Europe was far ahead of them, - an idea that took root, at first, in the notion of the European superiority in culture, and quickly became mixed with the idea of some superiority in stock, or race – was not part of the orthodoxy of the Enlightenment, but was, nevertheless, created within the Enlightenment. There’s an unfortunate notion that the issue about which the Enlightenment struggled was universalism. It is true that universal claims were made in the Declaration of Independence, by Kant, and by other paragons of Enlightenment thought – and of course Tom Paine was unable to get any mention of the equality of Africans in the Declaration. But LI would maintain that it was still around the issue of religion that various and opposing themes about race, sex, and progress were shaped, with a sort of second wave of relativism hitting the enlightenment intelligentsia. The first wave, of course, had hit with the discovery of the New World. The second wave hit with the discovery of the connection between non-Europe and the European past. And it played a nicely dialectical role – it both confirmed a European myth – that Europe’s past was the savage present, and that Europe was, consequently, more mature, more grown than the non-European world – and it put into question the foundation of European legitimacy, the classical heritage.

So there is a lot that comes together in the galantes archaeology and anthropology of the late eighteenth century. As we shall see in another post.