Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Wanton Sport

The Gay Love Letters of a Spanish Monk

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

The following two letters come from the Summa dictaminis per magistrum Dominicanum hispanum, a late eleventh- or early twelfth-century treatise on composition collected by a Spanish Dominican monk preserved in the library of the cathedral of Beauvais. The manuscript contains a wide range of material, including many letters from the Knights Templars to the Pope defending themselves at the time of their persecution for heresy and sodomy (the Templars were virtually exterminated). These two items are genuine letters gathered for use, curiously, as "models" for how to make an indecent proposition and how to reject it. They illustrate how important classical mythology was for the sanctioning of gay love, and how important Christian mythology was to its condemnation. They also provide additional support for James Boswell's theory that the word ludus – meaning game, sport, playfulness, "messin' about" – was a code word amongst gay men, an early instance of gay slang.


[c. 1200]

Jove's authority has published an edict that whatever gives pleasure should be considered in all situations to be honorable and free of sinfulness. When he went from Juno's slop to Ganymede's embraces, had he seen any shame in the boy's sport [in ludo pueri], he would have declined to associate himself with him. Their sport, as they say, was played out in the open. And in its wantonness [ludi lascivia] no one feared that the game's equipment would be ruined after the game. But when someone sticks his pole into the recesses of the labyrinth and finds no bottom to it, he fears he will lose everything he has thrust into it. And when it comes out he wants to be cut away from it. Doubtless troubled by this fear, men counted among their number today have sworn off the filth of dirty women and gone over to boys for the games of desire [voluptatis ludos in pueros]. That game transformed hyacinth into a flower and made a cupbearer out of the boy Ganymede (Hebe was removed from bearing Jove's wine cup); Cyparissus too was changed into a cypress. If I wanted to develop this theme of boys' honor, I would certainly begin with the delightful matter of their bodies. Since you have examples from such great authorities, you should not blush, my beloved, if I yearn to come to your embraces, if I aspire to become young again with a young man.


Nature's ancient law, which intended the different sexes to be intermingled, is terrified of contamination from your depravity. Nature, which should rejoice over young boys' pliant little hammers, did not set up shop in them; if opposite sexes mingle together in this age, the universal generation of things will be lost. Horrible man, I won't stoop to this filthy vice which displeases God. I am warned by the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. And besides these, the fall of Orpheus, the harpist's metamorphosis, is warning enough for me. Therefore, I admonish your charity: do not try to arouse me and get me to leave other games for shame's sport [ludum infamie]. For if you keep doing this too persistently, you may regret it, when it turns out I make you notorious for your shameful behavior. If you want to follow the advice of someone who gives good counsel, you will swear off this wicked vice from now on, or you will end up just an old plough horse rotting in shit.

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.
SOURCE: Trans. Thomas Stehling, Medieval Latin Poems of Male Love and Friendship (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984).

Return to My Dear Boy Table of Contents
Return to Gay History and Literature