The Homosexual Pastoral Tradition by Rictor Norton

5. Lovely Lad and Shame-Faced Catamite

Death of Adonis, 1886, Karl Gebhardt

One of the most frequently recurring conventions in Renaissance literature is the standard reference to Cupid. This may be one of the most overworked conventions of the period, but it reveals a significant aspect of love-life during the Renaissance. First we must dismiss the "merely conventional" theory, and look at exactly what is happening on the surface of the literature. Cupid is not merely an allegorical five-letter word, but a beautiful, young, naked boy. Exclusively heterosexual relationships between one man and one woman are rare in Renaissance love-lyrics: the relationship is nearly always a menage a trois between a man, a woman, and this beautiful, young, naked boy. It is a mistake to regard Cupid's every appearance as simply an indicator that the hero has fallen in (heterosexual) love. This is precisely how E. K. glossed the appearance of Cupid in the June eclogue of Spenser's Shepheardes Calender - quite disregarding the fact that no mistress is even mentioned in the passage. Cupid is not so much a metaphysical blessing of heterosexual union as a sensuously naked boy who actively participates in the plot; in a sense Cupid even entices Thomalin, or teases him on.

Even when the lover has a specific mistress in mind, the typical Renaissance lover spends the bulk of his time in a tete-a-tete with a naked boy, and rarely sees his fully-clothed mistress except at a disdainful distance. In one passage of Thomas Watson's Hekatompathia or Passionate Centurie of Love (1582), we find the lover, his mistress, and Cupid all in bed together: if this is merely a conventional way of saying that a man loved a maid, then the convention has certainly gotten out of hand. In Fulke Greville's Caelica (1633), Caelica rarely appears, and seventeen of the sonnets are devoted exclusively to Cupid. Greville's Caelica, like Drayton's Phoebe, is merely an Idaea. In most Renaissance sonnet sequences Cupid is the reality, and the mistress is the mere convention.

Cupid is not a classical allusion, but an English schoolboy. The title of Barnabe Barnes's sonnet sequence, Parthenophe and Parthenophil (1592), indicates that the love relationship is not so much between a courtier named Parthenophil and a mistress named Parthenophe, but between an anonymous lover and his anonymous beloved: their names more resemble those of the twin-brother type of faithful friend relationship, such as the French story of Amis and Amile cherished by Walter Pater. And from a statistical point of view, Cupid is the central character of the sequence.

Sometimes Barnes's cupid is a very conventional boy-infant with his mother Venus:

The little god of might
(Such as might fitter seem with cranes to fight,
Than, with his bow, to vanquish gods and kings)
In a cherry tree sat smiling;
And lightly waving, with his motley wings,
(Fair wings, in Beauty! boys and girls beguiling!)
And cherry garlands, with his hands compiling. [my italics]
But most of the time he resembles a rustic shepherd-boy from Scotland or an English schoolboy from Eton:
LOVE is a name too lovely for the god!
He naked goes, red coloured in his skin,
And bare, all as a boy fit for a rod.
In a paraphrase of a poem by Moschus on Eros, Barnes describes Cupid as a Whitehall hustler, indifferent as to which sex he beguiles:
VENUS aloud, for her son CUPID cried,
'If any spy LOVE gadding in the street,
It is my rogue! He that shall him betray,
For hire, of VENUS shall have kisses sweet!
. . .
By many marks, the Boy thou mayst bewray!
'Mongst twenty such beside, thou shalt perceive him!
Not of a pale complexion, but like fire!
Quick rolling eyes, and flaming in their gyre!
. . .
A fair curled head, and a right waggish face!
His hands are small; yet he shoots far away!
Clotheless, he, naked goes in every place!
. . .
Swift, as a bird, he flies! and quickly footeth,
Now to these men! and women, now to those!
Barnes, as indicated by his many exclamation marks, is certainly awe-struck by this lad. Throughout the love-lyrics of the Renaissance, Cupid repeatedly shoots men with the arrows of desire, beguiles and tempts them, fires their lust into animal frenzy, and makes their hearts to burn - but for whom, whether for a mistress or for Cupid himself, is not always clear. This ambiguity is inherent to the convention, for it is derived from originally homosexual classical literature. It reaches a high point in Barnes's twelfth Ode, in which a boy, to all intents and purposes, seduces a shepherd. The Ode nearly resembles some poems in the later French School of Decadence, with the shepherd's Poe-like fascination with the boy's "long dart," and the boy's role as a demonic tempter, a homme fatale:
One night, I did attend my sheep,
Which I, with watchful ward, did keep
For fear of wolves assaulting:
For, many times, they broke my sleep,
And would into the cottage creep,
Till I sent them out halting!

At length, methought, about midnight,
(What time clear CYNTHIA shineth bright)
Beneath, I heard a rumbling!
At first, the noise did me affright;
But nought appeared in my sight,
Yet still heard something tumbling.

At length, good heart I took to rise,
And then myself crossed three times thrice;
Hence, a sharp sheephook raught
I feared the wolf had got a prize;
Yet how he might, could not devise!
I, for his entrance sought.

At length, by moonlight, could I espy
A little boy did naked lie
Frettished, amongst the flock:
I, him approached somewhat nigh.
He groaned, as he were like to die;
But falsely did me mock!

"For pity," he cried, "Well a day!"
Good master, help me, if you may!
For I am almost starved!"
I pitied him, when he did pray;
And brought him to my couch of hay.
But guess as I was served!

He bare about him a long dart,
Well gilded with fine painter's art;
And had a pile of steel.
On it I looked every part:
Said I, "Will this pile wound a heart?"
"Touch it!" quoth he, "and feel!"

With that, I touched the javelin's point!
Eftsoons it pierced to the joint!
And rageth now so fierce,
That all the balms which it anoint
Cannot prevail with it, a point;
But it mine heart will pierce.
"Served" in Renaissance diction is frequently a pun upon copulation.

Cupid's favourite companions are always lovely lads themselves. Fletcher in Brittain's Ida says that the lovely Anchises would make "A dainty play-fellow for naked love"; John Wilmot notes that "the kind Deity of Wine/ Kiss'd the soft wanton God of Love"; Spenser in The Faerie Queene noted that Cupid "played his wanton parts" with fair Adonis.

The Renaissance imagination, when it tired of describing Cupid, turned to Adonis, apparently fascinated by the phenomenon of a beautiful boy spurning the advances of the queen of love herself. In the sonnets on the Venus-Adonis myth in The Passionate Pilgrime (1599), it is Adonis's beauty, not Venus's, that stimulates the unknown author's poetry: Adonis is the typical "faire sweet youth" (IX); "louely, fresh and greene" (IV), "The tender nibler [who] would not touch the bait" (IV). There is a bit of Leander in him: "Anon he comes, and throwes his Mantle by, / And stood sta[rk] naked on the brookes greene brim" (VI).

Every beautiful boy in Renaissance literature, almost without exception, is compared to Adonis, as much the sacrificed-boy archetype as are Ganymede and Hylas. Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis (1593) contains the protytical Adonis, an incarnation of masculine beauty. It is really his beauty that a jealous Venus wishes to claim as her due:

"Thrice fairer than myself," thus she began,
"The field's chief flower, sweet above compare,
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are;
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.
Adonis is rose-cheeked, his breath is heavenly moisture, his tender hairless cheek is like new-fallen snow, his hand is lily and ivory, his lips exude nectar: he is the earth-spirit, a personification of the fecundity of the harvest-field. He is a curious amalgam of Love and Death:
True sweet beauty lived and died with him.
. . . Adonis smiles as in disdain,
That in each cheek appears a pretty dimple.
Love [i.e. Cupid] made these hollows, if himself were slain,
He might be buried in a tomb so simple,
Foreknowing well, if there he came to lie,
Why, there Love lived, and there he could not die.
Adonis is pursued not only by Venus, but also by Apollo and Zephyrus, gods of the sun and air:
. . . when Adonis lived, sun and sharp air
Lurked like two thieves, to rob him of his fair.
And therefore would he put his bonnet on,
Under whose brim the gaudy sun would peep.
The wind would blow it off, and, being gone,
Play with his locks; then would Adonis weep,
And straight, in pity of his tender years,
They both would strive who first should dry his tears.
"Venus" is characterized in the poem as if she were a man - "she" probably personifies Shakespeare himself. Venus, like a male suitor, pursues Adonis and carries him off just as Zeus abducted Ganymede:
Over one arm the lusty courser's rein,
Under her other was the tender boy,
Who blushed and pouted in dull disdain.
In an extended simile, Shakespeare portrays Venus as the Jovian eagle glutting upon its Ganymedic prey:
Even as an empty eagle, sharp and fast,
Tires [tears] with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone,
Shaking her wings, devouring all in haste,
Till either gorge be stuffed or prey be gone,
Even so she kissed his brow, his cheek, his chin,
And where she ends she doth anew begin.
Venus tries to make love to Adonis, and throws him upon the ground, but he will not rise to the occasion: "All is imaginary she doth prove, / He will not manage her, although he mount her." He rejects her pleas and protests "I know not love . . . nor will not know it, / Unless it be a boar, and then I chase it." Venus warns Adonis that a boar might kill him, and this warning is in effect a threat: "I prophesy thy death, my living sorrow, / If thou encounter with the boar tomorrow." The word "encounter" for Renaissance poets was often a synonym with "cope" and hence a pun on "copulation." Venus has in effect arranged for Adonis to be castrated by the boar, and after his death she gazes with rapt fascination upon "the wide wound that the boar had trenched / In his soft flank whose wonted lily white / With purple tears, that his wound wept, was drenched." The male boar who kills Adonis with a sexual thrust of his tusk is none other than Venus herself. Venus herself is nearly conscious of her identity with the boar - who is portrayed as having fucked Adonis to death:
. . . thus was Adonis slain:
He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear,
Who did not whet his teeth at him again,
But by a kiss though to persuade him there,
And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine
Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin,
Had I been toothed like him, I must confess,
With kissing him I should have killed him first.
Throughout the poem, Venus is portrayed as the devourer at a sacrificial feast. Usually she is depicted as a birdlike harpy; she kisses Adonis like an eagle tears at its prey with its beak; "gluttonlike she feeds," like a vulture; she flies "as falcons to the lure." She is like Diana the Huntress pursuing either Actaeon or her prey, and Adonis is like "a fleet-foot roe" chased down by her; he is fastened in her arms "as a bird lies tangled in a net." The identification of a supposed "woman" as Jove's eagle pursuing Ganymede is not uncommon in Renaissance literature, and is one of the coded tropes of the homosexual tradition.

In a short roundelay in Robert Greene's Menaphon (1589), the heroine Samela, like Shakespeare's Venus, is compared to an eagle pursuing a fly. This is intended as an analogy of her pursuit of Menaphon, but it is indeed awkward within a supposedly heterosexual context for Green to explicitly call her "Ioues faire bird, . . . The speedie post [messenger] of Ganimede." This homosexual metaphor, used to advance a supposedly heterosexual seduction, has been not quite successfully transformed. Unless, of course, Greene's Samela, like Prost's Albertine, is really a man in maid's attire. At one point in the narrative "she" is even compared to Achilles' lover Patroclus.

Menaphon and Samela, do, however, enter into a heterosexual marriage, and even beget a son - but it is not surprising that this child is another androgynous formosus puer. At the age of five, their son Pleusidippus, a "beauteous boy," "another Alcides [Hercules]," "the Thracian Bacchus," is chosen "Lord of the May game, . . . ringleader of their reuils." In this role he is accosted by a pirate while walking along the beach:

there arriued on the strond a Thessalian Pirate named Eurilachus [who] espied this pretie infant; when gazing on his face as wanton Ioue gazed on Phrygian Ganimede in the fields of Ida, hee exhaled into his eyes such deepe impression of his perfection, as that his thought neuer thirsted so much after any prey, as this pretie Pleusidippus possession: but determining first to assay him by curtesie before he assayled him with rigour, he began to trie his wit.
Eurilachus rather discourteously suggests that pretty Pleus is a bastard begotten during the dog days, whereat the infant waxes indignant and throws at the dirty old man the cockles and pebbles which he has so industriously gathered. But this childish anger only causes Eurilachus to burst into laughter, his fancy inflamed, and he abducts Pleusidippus to his ship. He plans to present the boy (after using him?) as a gift to his master King Agenor in order to receive amnesty.

The author politely drops the curtain on what happens dring the voyage, and shifts our attention to the garden of King Agenor and Queen Eriphila. There they are discoursing upon flowers, a common Renaissance pastime, particularly concerning those flowers into which beautiful boys had been metamorphosed. Agenor muses:

I meruaile the Poets that were so prodigall in painting the amorous affection of the Sunne to his Hyacinth, did neuer obserue the relation of loue twixt him and the Marigold: it shoulde either seeme they were loath to incurre the displeasure of women . . . or that that flower is not so vsual in their gardens as ours. But Agenor has thereby incurred the displeasure of Eriphila, who protests against such a "seruile imitation" of Hyacinthus and the marigold; with heavy sarcasm she tells Agenor that "I had as leaue be your page as your spouse." She goes on to assert that the hyacinth is not Hyacinthus at all, but the metamorphosis of Adonis - "a faire boy but passing infortunate," to whom Nature was so bounteous as "to giue him a face in despite of women so faire."

Then all of a sudden who should appear on the scene but the veritable archetype of their discourse: Pleusidippus, albeit accompanied by Eurilachus instead of Apollo. Agenor, whose tastes have already been hinted at, is dumfounded by the beauty of this "inestimable iewel," this "second Adonis": "What euer may deserue the name of faire haue I seen before, beautie haue I beheld in his brightest orb, but neuer set eye on immortality before this houre." Eriphila, no longer angry at Agenor, concurs, and adds Apollo and Cupid to the comparative catalogue. The pirate Eurilachus, bearer of this sweet gift, is granted amnesty, and Agenor and Pleusidipus, hand in hand, walk into the palace to dinner, leaving Queen Eriphila alone in her garden.

One could go on interminably with brief examinations of all the beautiful boys in Renaissance literature. There are several dozen who, like the shepherd in Shakespeare's A Lover's Complaint, are unambiguously attractive to mortal men as well as women: "he did in the general bosom reign / Of young, of old, and sexes both enchanted." This list is expanded a hundredfold when we add all the brief allusions to the myths of Apollo and Hyacinthus, Apollo and Cyparissus, Zephyrus and Hyacinthus, Apollo and unnamed shepherds, Poseidon and Pelops, Eros and Bacchus, and Zeus and Ganymede. When we add to this all the boys who look as though they are "maids in men's attire," we thereby include many of the poems on Narcissus and Adonis and Cupid. When we were finished, we would have a list of examples numbering well into the thousands. We can only conclude that many a Renaissance poet's aesthetic sensibilities were those of a Socratic pederast.

It is also interesting to examine the beautiful boy who is no longer beautiful, but who has been degraded, by means of satire, into the fop, the hustler, the ragamuffin urchin enticing hapless sodomites to their despair. In the harshly invective - and resolutely Christian - satire of the Renaissance, the beautiful boy is no longer "Orpheus, Pallas lovely boy," but the offspring of the devil. According to a poet known only by the initials T. M., in Micro-cynicon. Sixe Snarling Satyres (1599), "As it is Sathans [Satan's] usuall pollicie, / He left an issue of like qualitie." Sodom has reared its head in London town, where roaming the streets we see "a pale Chequered black Hermophrodite." This personage is no longer the lovely "maid in man's attire" as was Marlowe's Leander, or a metaphysically ideal hermaphrodite as was Spenser's Britomart, but a fop and a prostitute:

Sometimes he jets [struts] it like a Gentleman,
Otherwhiles much like a wanton Curtesan:
But truth to tell a man or woman whether,
I cannot say shees excellent in ether.
But if Report may certifie a truth,
Shees nether or ether, but a Cheating youth.
This "lovely smiling Parragon . . . of Bewtie," called Pyander, is no mere androgyn from Ovidian mythology, but a drag- queen hustler walking the streets of Whitehall, "in a Nymphes attire, / Whose rowling eye sets gazers harts on fire: / Whose cherry lip, black brow & smiles procure / Lust burning buzzards to the tempting lure." (The practice of male prostitutes dressing as women is well documented in the nineteenth century, and there are occasional instances of it in the eighteenth century, and a couple in the late seventeenth century; the evidence for its existence in the sixteenth century is limited to literature, as here.) The author for a time "loved Pyander well," but, stung by the pricks of conscience - and the fact that Pyander spent all his money and then deserted him - he repents and confesses his sin by writing this snarling satire. But there are still fond memories: "Never was a boy so pleasing to the hart, / As was Pyander for a womans part."

In John Marston's even more virulent satires, fair Ganymede has become a "catamite," the term itself a corrupted pronunciation of the word "Ganymede" used to denote the young male receptor in anal intercourse. The typical fop or dandy is usually accompanied by such a page-boy: "a dapper, rare, compleat, sweet pretie youth! / . . . / But ho, what Ganimede is that doth grace / The gallants heeles. One, who for two daies space / Is closely hyred" (The Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image. And Certaine Satyres, 1598, Marston's italics). "Closely" connotes "secretly," and "hyred" connotes hired out for "service," or bought for sex.

"Ganymede" also implies effeminacy: "Yon effeminate sanguine Ganimede, / Is but a Beuer, hunted for the bed." This is an allusion not to the voluptuousness of beaver-fur for a bedspread, but to the Renaissance folklore belief that the beaver bites off its testicles when pursued, leaving them as a false scent for the dogs, a curious vulgar error that equates efffeminacy and eunuchism. Barnfield in The Affectionate Shepherd compares Ganymede to such a beaver:

. . . the brownish Beaver,
Running for life, with hounds pursued sore;
When Hunts-men of her precious Stones bereaue her
(Which with her teeth sh' had bitten off before):
Restoratiues and costly curious Felts
Are made of them, and rich imbroydred Belts.
In Marston's The Scourge of Villanie (1598), the character Luscus "hath his Ganimede" as well as his wench, but unaccountably prefers "the Cynick friction" to "faire Cynedianboyes." Cynic friction is an allusion to the Cynic philosopher Diogenes' legendary preference for masturbation. The term cinaedus can generally mean "lewd fellow" or "obscene man," but it was more specifically used as a synonym for sodomites or pederasts, from the Greek kinaidos, "a lover of boys". Ctessipus, in Timocles' fragment 480, is a cinaedus who loves a boy; according to Strato the boxer Cleomachus fell in love with a cinaedus (Greek Anthology, 14.648a); the term also became applied to effeminate men and transvestites (Greek Anthology, 14.272); there are numerous cinaedi throughout Martial's Epigrams (2.28, 3.73, 6.37. 7.58, 9.63, 11.21 et passim). Greene goes on to describe houses of male prostitution, "male stewes," and gives an intriguing side-note: "If this sort of thing [i.e. masturbation] is the alternative, I can give a (specious) justification for male prostitution."

"Sodom beastliness" for Greene, as well as for virtually all English Renaissance authors, is believed to be practised especially by the secret society of Jesuits. He criticizes the "falsed, seeming, Patriotes of Doway [Douai] seminary" who "snort in source of Sodom vilanie," and "Nero like abuse . . . the bloomes of young nobilitie." The allusion to Nero refers to that emperor's act of making a transsexual out of his boyfriend Sporus (using a red-hot iron to cauterize the hollow wound), and then marrying him as his bride. Greene also finds in the schools of St Omer and Valladolid "the taste of Jesuit perversion," and, if he had begotten children, he would prefer that they fell ill to a new tropical disease "Before some pedant-Tutor, in his bed / Should vse my frie, like Phrigian Ganimede."

Girolamo Donato, in an anecdote in Castigilione's Book of the Courtier, while observing Lent in Rome noted that Pascua quotque haedos, tot habet tua Roma cinaedos - "Your Rome has as many sodomites as the meadows have lambs." Thomas Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveler (1594) felt, on the other hand, that Venice was "the Sodom of Italy" (a view later shared by Byron, who called it "the sea-Sodom of Italy"). In "A Ramble in St James's Park," John Wilton doubts that "The Jesuits Fraternity, / Shall leave the use of Buggery." John Oldham in part of his Satyr upon the Jesuits (1681) pretends to be Loyola giving instructions to his followers:

Let each with demure, or scruple pay
A strict Obedience to the Roman Sway:
To the unerring Chair all Homage Swear,
Altho' a Punk, a Witch, a Fiend sit there:
. . .
Tho' he be Atheist, Heathen, Turk, or Jew,
Blaspheamer, Sacriligious, Perjured too:
Tho' Pander, Bawd, Pimp, Pathick, Buggerer,
What e're Old Sodom's Nest of Lechers were.
A pathic is the so-called "passive" receptor during anal intercourse, a buggerer the active insertor. But "the vice" is not exclusively Roman: in "News from Colchester" Sir John Denham laments
Now alas what hope
Of converting the Pope,
When a Quaker turns Italian?
. . .
Rome that Spiritual Sodom but thou,
Even according to the Letter?
Not only Colchester, but, according to Andrew Marvell in "Further advice to a Painter":
Painter once more thy Pencell reassume,
And draw me in one Scene London and Rome,
There holy Charles, here good Aurelius Sate,
Weeping to see their Sonns degenerate,
The Roman takeing up the fencers trade,
The Brittain Jigging it in Mascarade;
Whilest the brave youths tired with the work of State
Their wearied Limbs and minds to recreate,
Do to their more belov'd delights repair,
One to his Pathic, th' other to his Player.
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, the finest satirist of the Restoration age of satire, happily recombined the formosus puer with the shame-faced catamite. Wilmot apparently exhausted himself by practising his Libertine preachments, ending in impotence. In "The Imperfect Enjoyment" his "dart of love"
Stiffly resolved, 'twould carelessly invade
Woman or man, nor ought its fury stayed:
Where'er it pierced, a cunt it found or made.
Wilmot quite candidly admits to being bisexual, and he is often held up as a typical Libertine who equally favours men and women. But much of his poetry shows a preference for homosexual over heterosexual love. His best, but characteristic, poem on the subject clearly gives the palm of victory to the boys, and brings the homosexual literary tradition back to its roots in the pagan philosophy of wine, boys, and song:
Love a woman? You're an ass!
'Tis a most insipid passion
To choose out for your happiness
The silliest part of God's creation.

Let the porter and the groom,
Things designed for dirty slaves,
Drudge in fair Aurelia's womb
To get supplies for age and graves.

Farewell, woman! I intend
Henceforth every night to sit
With my lewd, well-natured friend,
Drinking to engender wit.

Then give me health, wealth, mirth, and wine,
And, if busy love entrenches,
There's a sweet, soft page of mine,
Does the trick worth forty wenches.
The very existence of satire as frank as Micro- cynicon, and works by Marston and Greene, suggests that Renaissance poets would have to have been inconceivably naive not to have been aware of the homosexual realities reflected in their fanciful lines on Ganymede and Adonis. Sir Philip Sidney knew that Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium authorized physical homosexual love, and Shakespeare believed that Achilles and Patroclus were bugger and catamite - then surely others suspected that "Platonic love" was not wholly pure, and they either rationalized the concept beyond recognition or slyly used it as subterfuge. One cannot accept the premise that every poet who referred to Ganymede was unaware of how he served Zeus. After reading the more explicit passages in works by Barnfield and Marlowe, not to mention Wilmot, one suspects that the Renaissance poets who described the formosus puer as being innocent and "merely conventional" were being evasive and coy.

Go on to 6. The Maid in Man's Attire.
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Copyright 1974, 1997 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.
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