The Great Queers of History
Compiled by Rictor Norton
Part 1: Born before 1800
Born since 1900
Niankhkhnum & Khnumhotep
Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (fl. 2450 BC) Egyptian overseers of manicurists in the royal palace
- Buried in joint tomb in Saqqara provided by Pharaoh Niusere, wall paintings depict them in intimate embrace, describe them as "Joined in life and joined in death."
- David (10th cent. BC) 2nd King of Israel (reign. c.1010-971/961 BC)
- Slayer of Goliath, musician and military leader. Famous for his friendship with Jonathan (son of King Saul), whose early death he lamented: "Thy love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love for women."
- Sappho of Lesbos (c.620-c.560 BC) Greek poet
- The first writer of lyric poetry, which survives only in fragments. Founded a school for girls, to whom she wrote romantic love poems. Her birthplace gave rise to "Lesbian" as an erotic term. Plato called her "The Tenth Muse."
- Harmodius and Aristogiton (6th cent. BC) Greek political figures
- Lovers famous for overthrowing the tyrant Hipparchus in 527 BCE, thereby inaugurating Athenian democracy. Celebrated for their mutual devotion and love of liberty. Many statues of the pair survive.
- Socrates (469-399 BC) Greek philosopher
- Practiced educational method using analytical cross-examination, emphasizing self-knowledge and rejection of received opinion. Dialogues with his pupils recorded by Plato. Sentenced to death for "corrupting" the youth of Athens.
- Plato (c.427-347 BC) Greek philosopher
- Key figure in Western philosophy, founder of the Academy in Athens, pupil of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. Dialogues The Symposium and Phaedrus celebrated the spiritual love of youths, but tolerated backsliding. Love poems to Aster.
David & Jonathan
Harmodius & Aristogiton
- Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) King of Macedon
- Conquered most of Greece, Persia, Asia Minor, India & Egypt (founded the city of Alexandria), transmitted Hellenic values across the civilized world. Mourned the death of his lover Hephaestian with extravagant funeral rites.
- Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) (70-19 BC) Roman poet
- Chief writer of classical Latin poetry. Epic The Aeneid glorifies the legendary founder of Rome. Idealized pastoral Eclogues celebrate unrequited love of the shepherd Corydon for the beautiful Alexis.
- Dong Xian (1st cent. BC) Chinese favorite
- Powerful male concubine of Emperor Ai (r. 6 BC-AD 1), who one day cut off his sleeve rather than wake up Dong Xian, who lay sleeping across it, giving rise to "the passion of the cut sleeve" as the Chinese term for gay love.
- Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) (AD 76-138) Roman emperor
- Patron of art, innovative architect (the Pantheon; his villa at Tivoli), under whose enlightened reforms the empire flourished. Deified his lover Antinous, icon of male beauty, who mysteriously drowned in the Nile.
- Abu Nuwas (c.757-c.814) Arab poet
- Master of witty, erotic love poetry (ghazal), celebrating wine, beautiful boys and song. Famed for his mockery of taboos as the court jester in Baghdad: "Away with hypocrisy ... I want to enjoy everything in broad daylight."
- St Anselm (1033/4-1109) Italian-French-British prelate and scholastic
- Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093. Though committed to celibacy, wrote romantic love letters to former companions in Benedictine monastery of Bec in Normandy, indicating yearning and frustrated desire.
- St Aelred of Rievaulx (c.1110-1167) English monk
- Born Northumbria, educated in the court of King David of Scotland, entered Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx (became abbot 1147). Celebrates intimate friendship in Speculum Caritatis & De Spirituali Amicitia: "God is friendship."
Abu Nuwas & friend
- Hafiz (Mohammad Shams Od-Din Hafiz) (c.1319-c.1389) Persian poet
- Dubbed Sugar-Lips for his sensuous lyrics, many in praise of rough trade. Regarded as a Sufi mystic, but preferred taverns to mosques. His tomb in Shiraz (southern Iran) is a place of pilgrimage.
- Donatello (c.1386-1466) Italian sculptor
- Founder of modern sculpture (i.e. in the round), reviver of classical antiquity as in his expressive and homoerotic bronze statue of David (a key marker of the birth of the Renaissance) and marble St George.
- Mehmet II, the Conqueror (c.1430-1481) Sultan of Turkey
- Captured Constantinople in 1453 (renamed Istanbul), defeated the Byzantime Empire and founded the Ottoman Empire (incl. Greece, Serbia, Albania). Captured Christian youths were placed in his harem. Patron of learning.
- Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) Italian humanist, philosopher
- Reconciled Classical and Christian ideals in Neoplatonism. Revived the Platonic Academy and coined the term "platonic love." Wrote Commentary on the Symposium and the first trans. of Phaedrus for his protégé Giovanni Cavalcanti.
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Italian painter, scientist, inventor
- Renaissance "universal genius", studied art, anatomy, aeronautics, architecture, engineering, hydro-dynamics. Mona Lisa and The Last Supper have come to symbolize the essence of art. Imprisoned for sodomy.
- Michelangelo (Buonarroti) (1475-1564) Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet
- Portrayed heroic male nudes in sculpture, esp. David, Dying Slave, Medici tombs, and frescos The Last Judgment & Sistine Chapel ceiling. Designs for St Peter's, Rome. Wrote homoerotic love sonnets.
- Julius II (Giuliano Della Ṛvere) (1443-1513) Italian pope
- Established control of the Papal States over many territories. Patron of artists incl. Bramante and Raphael. Commissioned Sistine Chapel ceiling and his tomb from Michelangelo.
- Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) Italian sculptor, goldsmith
- His skills ranged from exquisitely jeweled salt cellars to powerful military fortifications; his masterpiece is the bronze Perseus holding up the Head of Medusa. Wrote lively Autobiography while imprisoned for sodomy.
- Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist, politician
- Skilled diplomat; in 1580 he retired to his estates in Bordeaux, became mayor, began writing Essays that established modern French prose style. "On Friendship" was inspired by his love for a neighbor.
Sir Francis Bacon
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) British lawyer, scientist, philosopherKing's Counsel and Lord Chancellor under James I. Advocated empirical science in The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis. Wrote pithy and penetrating Essays; "Of Friendship" celebrates male love.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) English playwright, poet
Tragedies incl. Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine the Great, & Edward II, which sympathetically portrays gay love. Homoerotic passages in Hero and Leander and mythological poems. A rebel, murdered in a tavern.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English playwright, poet
The full range of human life is encompassed by his plays, some with ambiguous plots in which a boy actor plays a girl disguised as a boy. His Sonnets describe his love for his "Master-Mistress" as well as a "Dark Lady".
James VI & I (1566-1625) King of Scotland (from 1567) and England (from 1603)
United England & Scotland and brought peace to Europe, but frequent disputes with his own parliament, who censured his love for his favourites, esp. George Villiers, created Duke of Buckingham. Set up committee to translate the Bible (King James Version).
- Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) Italian painter
- His style of dramatic realism had a wide impact on European painting. Voluptuous homoerotic figures, incl. saints modeled on his boyfriends. A hot-tempered man, often involved in street violence.
- Catalina Erauso (1592?-1650) Spanish-Mexican soldier
- She left the convent for a life of adventure, became a soldier, was praised by the Spanish Crown for heroic military services, dubbed "The Second Lieutenant Nun", granted permission by Pope Urban VII to dress as a man.
- Christina (1626-1689) Queen of Sweden
- Clever and beautiful, an "Amazonian" cross-dresser who refused to marry. Attracted great artists and thinkers (incl. Descartes) to the court of Sweden. Became Catholic convert in 1667, retired to Rome, patron of Bernini and Corelli.
- Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) Italian-French musician, opera composer
- Director of the Opera under Louis XIV, composed many works featuring ballet as an important part of the opera. Became very wealthy and engaged in scandalous homosexual affairs, while keeping a mistress as "cover".
- Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693) Japanese novelist
- Homosexual love was his major theme, esp. in The Great Mirror of Male Love (1687), a collection of short stories about love between samurai men & boys, monks & boys, and male actor-prostitutes in kabuki theatre.
- Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) German librarian, art historian
- Established Neoclassical taste throughout Europe with his History of Ancient Art, using Greek art as a univeral touchstone. Celebrated the ideal beauty of the nude male in a book dedicated to his lover Friedrich Reinhold von Berg.
- Frederick II, the Great (1712-1786) King of Prussia
- Ideal Enlightenment ruler, military genius, musician, composer for the flute, correspondent with intellectuals incl. Voltaire. Forced by his father to marry, but built a Temple of Friendship at his palace at Sans Souci.
- Eleanor Butler (1737-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) Anglo-Irish gentlewoman
- Eloped together and settled in Wales. Many Romantic authors visited the celebrated "Ladies of Llangollen". Though idealized for their romantic friendship, some contemporaries called them "sapphists".
- Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès (1753-1824) French lawyer
- Arch-Chancellor of the Empire under Napoléon Bonaparte. Drafted the Code Napoléon, which omitted any reference to sodomy (confirming the decision of the Constituent Assembly in 1791), thus decriminalizing homosexuality.
- "Raucourt" (Françoise Saucerotte) (1756-1815) French actress
- Star of the Comédie Française, protected by Marie Antoinette, admired by Napoléon. "Married" a female opera singer and presided over the Anandrynes, a lesbian secret society. Her funeral was attended by 15,000 people.
- William Beckford (1760-1844) British art collector, writer
- Wealthiest man in England, connoisseur and collector of art and books, builder of a "Gothick" mansion, Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire, author of the oriental novel Vathek (1786). Ostracized by society for his homosexuality.
- Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt (1769-1859) German explorer, naturalist, scientist
- Scientific expeditions to South America (Voyage aux Regions Equinoxiales) & Central Asia, traveled with young companions, studied botany, geology, geography. Left his estate to his valet-lover.
- Rev John Church (c.1782-c.1835) British dissenting minister
- Popular preacher, built the Surrey Tabernacle meeting house in London. Performed funerals for men hanged for sodomy, and blessed gay marriages at The Swan male brothel in Vere Street. Imprisoned for two years for homosexuality.
- George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) British poet
- Popular Romantic poet (Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Don Juan), creator of the brooding "Byronic hero". Public scandals involving women, but also many private affairs with men. Died helping in the campaign for Greek independence.
Ladies of Llangollen
Part 1: Born before 1800 Part 2: Born 18001900 Part 3: Born since 1900
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (compiler), "The Great Queers of History, Part 1: Born before 1800", 1 May 2004
See also Lists of Famous Homosexuals