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Monday, April 18, 2011

HOMOSEXUALITY IN ANCIENT HISTORY

The other day a parcel came in the mail from the Folio Society. Most people don’t know, but I’m an avid book collector and reader (when time permits). My house is pretty full and I’ve got authors from every end of the scale, and every genre imaginable. I’ve also been a member of various book clubs over the years and I’ve been purchasing from the Folio Society for twenty at least. Their books are extremely well made but can be pricy. Anyway, FS is well known for their historical and educational volumes. Whenever you rejoin, you’re permitted to choose from a list of books that you can keep for free–if you agree to the terms of the membership. This time I chose a two-piece, seven book boxed set about ancient civilizations. Of course my daughter got into them first and she was reading this and that then our conversation turned to other ancient civilizations. My son asked which one is the oldest. My daughter and I both stated the Sumerians but we also double-checked on the Internet. And this was how my article for today came about.

Snooping through history, and jumping from Website to Website, I began to wonder how homosexuality was viewed in the past. Living in the twentieth century as we do, are we truly more open minded in our thinking? Most of us assume that the dark ages were just that–the Dark Ages. But after my recent discovery, I’m not so sure any more. We may have evolved via our technology, but socially I think we may have a very long way to go. I’ll tell you what I found and then you can decide for yourself.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu: ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’

Without reciting a full detailed version, I’ll give you a brief summary. Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king, who is believed to have ruled in the twenty-seventh century BC (no, he’s not a Square-Enix guardian force lol) around 2650 BC to be more precise, and he was one of twelve kings from the Dynasty of Uruk in the Near East. Gilgamesh was a philanderer among other things and his presence caused deep concern for other men in the society that he ruled. Of course, he did the usually things kings did, he took over cities, had sex with whoever he pleased and basically did whatever he desired with little to no consequence. According to the ancient epic poem the populace of the city begged their chief god, Anu, for help. Anu in turn ordered a goddess by the name of Aruru to create a ‘double’ of the king and this double would distract Gilgamesh and restore peace. Thus Enkidu came into being.

This is where the story gets kind of weird. Supposedly Gilgamesh and this nomad (wild man) by the name of Enkidu shared an intimate friendship that lasted throughout their lives and even after Enkidu’s death. It was written that Gilgamesh couldn’t accept the death of this friend and embarked on a very treacherous adventure to find a flower, which was alleged to grant eternal life. He believed the flower would bring back Enkidu from the afterlife.

There is speculation, of course, that these two men were just friends. And the poem doesn’t come out and say they were homosexual, so this leaves room for debate. But who can really say for certain. So much can be read into ancient literature, just as so much can be easily disregarded. Over time any language either written or spoken can become literally–lost in translation. Keeping that in mind and taking into consideration all the information I’ve researched, I can only hazard to guess that the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is perhaps fifty percent accurate.

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep:

Now this next story is very different, because the men involved, Hiankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were documented as actual living and breathing human beings. I’d like to take you back to Egypt, the year is nineteen sixty-four and you’re standing in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara. And for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to shorten the names of these two men in question to Nian and Khnum.

An Egytian archaeologist, Ahmed Moussa, discovered a series of tombs that lead to the pyramid of Unas. Upon entering one of the Old Kingdom tombs, the archaeologist was surprised to find paintings of two men in an intimate embrace. This was something never seen before in any of the Saqqara tombs. Through reconstruction, it was later discovered that this particular tomb had been built for Nian and Khnum, to cohabitate. Both men held the identical title of: ‘Overseer of The Manicurists in The Palace of The King’. This title was granted under King Niuserre of the Fifth Dynasty.

There were a number of paintings–the two men are holding hands and walking, another where they are shown holding one another surrounded by their children and others in which they are dressed in what appears to be stately attire. But the interesting thing with each painting with, Nian and Khnum, gives the viewer a sense of intimacy. You almost feel like you’re spying on these two men. Some believe they were brothers–perhaps even twins, and others state they were very close friends. You can imagine there’s been tremendous debate and conflicting arguments as to the reason for such unique depictions, and oddly there is documented proof to justify each theory. But after what I’ve learnt I’d say Nain and Khnum were lovers because it seems the most intelligent choice–unlike the story of Gilgamesh, which has too many flaws and very little hard evidence.

According to history some cultures showed little to no interest when it came to homosexuality–meaning they didn’t condemn nor support these types of relationships or alternate life styles. Where other societies found it to be illegal and they persecuted those involved, while again others expressed open support. 

In Egypt, homosexuality appears to be what I call the great unknown. To find any information, for instance ancient legal text, you can’t, because none has survived.

Greece basically supported homosexuality. It was commonplace for men to visit brothels seeking women and equally young men. And it was also widely accepted and practiced, that older men would take in young men (teenagers) and teach them about sex. There were also initiations into adulthood. Others engaged in what was called pederasty relationships, where both men were openly gay, an older man and younger man (teenager), and cohabitated as such.

In Rome homosexuality wasn’t so readily accepted. Views towards this alternate life style were mixed. There weren’t laws governing it as illegal, but you must consider the religious implications in this case. The Catholic Church had a very strong influence on the government and civilian population, even in ancient times just as it remains to this day.

What does this say about us, as a society, in these modern times? Have we achieved a higher state of awareness? Are we above sexual preference discrimination? In truth, for every one step forwards we seem to take two back. Unfortunately there are countries, in this supposed twentieth century, who will execute a man even if he’s only accused of being gay. Notice I said accused…

Never mind the world wide environmental crisis our governments refuse to address, the rise in crimes and atrocities against humanity, which should be a priority. We’re more concerned with whether two gay men should have the right to marry and adopt a few kids instead of dealing with issues that really matter.

April 20th author Rachael Thompson will be here and Edward's back on the 22nd. I'll be posting @ IRM on the 20th. Hope you enjoyed the article! Have a great day sweeties!

Happy Yaoi Hunting
Blak Rayne^_^!!

3 comments:

  1. I don't 21st century societies are so enlightened. Through history there have been societies where homosexuality is accepted and seen as a blessing. Some Native American societies and African societies often have homosexuals as their shamans. I'm glad that we are starting to see other voices coming to us from history so we can get a more rounded view of how societies have lived and what their mores were.

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  2. Thank you for the support She! It's always wonderful to hear form you. And I'm in total agreement. ^_^!!

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  3. Funny how we are so against it now, right?

    I love this post!

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