LGBT History


LGBT Sections Intro and TheoryAncient MediterraneanMedieval Europe to WWI Europe Since WWI North America Asia, Africa, Lat America, Oceania Special Bibliographies John Boswell's Works Links Gay Icons FAQ

About IHSP Help Page IHSP Credits

People with a History: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History Sourcebook

Edward Carpenter:



The full text of IOLÄUS is available.

Page numeration is indicated by [square brackets]

[Introduction: Edward Carpenter's Ioläus is an attempt to provide a historical context for male friendship. One should not be misled, however. Carpenter, one of the earliest English homosexual activists, is writing about homosexual relationships and trying to provide a historical grounding for them. As such his work is of interest not only for its references, but also as evidence of the strategies of the early gay movement .]


[11] AMONG the Arab tribes very much the same thing may be found, every Sheikh having his bodyguard of young men, whom he instructs and educates, while they render to him their military and personal devotion. In the late expedition of the British to Khartoum (Nov., 1899), when Colonel Wingate and his troops mowed down the Khalifa and his followers with their Maxims, the death of the Khalifa was thus described by a correspondent of the daily papers:

"In the centre of what was evidently the main attack on our right we came across a very large number of bodies all huddled together in a very small place; their horses lay dead behind them, the Khalifa lay dead on his furma, or sheepskin, the typical end of the Arab Sheikh who disdains surrender; on his right was the Khalifa Aly Wad Hila, and on his left Ahmed Fedil, his great fighting leader, whilst all around him lay his faithful emirs, all content to meet their death when he had chosen to meet his. His black Mulamirin, or bodyguard, all lay dead in a straight line about 40 yards in front of their master's body, with their faces to the foe and faithful to the last. It was truly a touching sight, and one could not help but feel that ... their end was truly grand....Amongst the dead were found two men tied together by the arms, who had charged towards the guns and had got nearer than any others. On [12] inquiring of the prisoners Colonel Wingate was told these two were great friends, and on seeing the Egyptian guns come up had tied themselves by the arms with a cord, swearing to reach the guns or die together."



[99] IT may not be out of place here, and before passing on to the times of the Renaissance and Modern Europe, to give one or two extracts relating to Eastern countries. The honor paid to friendship in Persia, Arabia, Syria and other Oriental lands has always been great, and the tradition of this attachment there should be especially interesting to us, as having arisen independently of classic or Christian ideals. The poets of Persia, Saadi and Jalalu-ddin Rumi [100] (13th cent.), Hafiz (14th cent.), Jami (15th cent.), and others, have drawn much of their inspiration from this source; but unfortunately for those who cannot read the originals, their work has been scantily translated, and the translations themselves are not always very reliable. The extraordinary way in which, following the method of the Sufis, and of Plato, they identify the mortal and the divine love, and see in their beloved an image or revelation of God himself, makes their poems diflicult of comprehension to the Western mind. Apostrophes to Love, Wine, and Beauty often, with them, bear a frankly twofold sense, material and spiritual. To these poets of the mid-region of the earth, the bitter antagonism between matter and spirit, which like an evil dream has haunted so long both the extreme Western and the extreme Eastern mind, scarcely exists; and even the body " which is a portion of the dustpit " has become perfect and divine.

Jalalu-ddin Rumi

" Every form you see has its archetype in the placeless world....
From the moment you came into the world of being
A ladder was placed before you that you might escape ( ascend ) .
First you were mineral, later you turned to plant,
[101]Then you became an animal: how should this be a secret to you ?
Afterwards you were made man, with knowledge, reason, faith;
Behold the body, which is a portion of the dustpit, how perfect it has grownig
When you have travelled on from man, you will doubtless become an angel;
After that you are done with earth: your station is in heaven.
Pass again even from angelhood: enter thatocean,
That your drop may become a sea which is a hundred seas of ' Oman.' "
From the Divani Shamsi Tabriz of Jalalu-ddin Rumi, trans. by R. H. Nicholson.
'Twere better that the spirit which wears not true love as a garment
Had not been: its being is but shame.
Be drunken in love, for love is all that exists.
Dismiss cares and be utterly clear of heart,
Like the face of a mirror, without image or picture.
When it becomes clear of images, all images are contained in it."

Happy the moment when we are seated in the palace, thou and I,
With two forms and with two figures, but with one soul, thou and I."


"Once a man came and knocked at the door of his friend.
His friend said, ' Who art thou, O faithfulone ? '
He said, "Tis I.' He answered, ' There is no admittance.
There is no room for the raw at my well-cooked feast.
Naught but fire of separation and absence
Can cook the raw one and free him from hypocrisy I
Since thy self has not yet left thee,
Thou must be burned in fiery flames.'
The poor man went away, and for one whole year
Journeyed burning with grief for his friend's absence.
His heart burned till it was cooked; then he went again
And drew near to the house of his friend.
He knocked at the door in fear and trepidation
Lest some careless word should fall from his lips.
His friend shouted, ' Who is that at the door? '
He answered, ' 'Tis thou who art at the door, O beloved I '
The friend said, ' Since 'tis I, let me come in,
There is not room for two I's in one house."'
From the Masnavi of Jalalu-ddin Rumi, trans. by E. H. Whinfield.



SOME short quotations here following are taken from Flowers culled from Persian Gardens (Manchester, 1872):

"Everyone, whether he be abstemious or self indulgent is searching after the Friend. Every place may be the abode of love, whether it be a mosque or a synagogue.... On thy last day, though the cup be in thy hand, thou may'st be borne away to Paradise even from the corner of the tavern."
"I have heard a sweet word which was spoken by the old man of Canaan (Jacob)-' No tongue can express what means the separation of friends."
"Neither of my own free will cast I myself into the fire; for the chain of affection was laid upon my neck. I was still at a distance when the fire began to glow, nor is this the moment that it was lighted up within me. Who shall impute it to me as a fault, that I am enchanted by my friend, that I am content in casting myself at his feet? "

VON KUPFFER, in his Anthology, Lieblingminne und Freundes liebe in der Weltliteratur, gives the following three poems from Saadi and Hafiz:


"A youth there was of golden heart and nature,
Who loved a friend, his like in every feature;
[102] Once, as upon the ocean sailed the pair,
They chanced into a whirlpool unaware.
A fisherman made haste the first to save,
Ere his young life should meet a watery grave;
But crying from the raging surf, he said:
' Leave me, and seize my comrade's hand instead.'
E'en as he spoke the mortal swoon o'ertook him,
With that last utterance life and sense forsook him.
Learn not love's temper from that shallow pate
Who in the hour of fear forsakes his mate
True friends will ever act like him above
(Trust one who is experienced in love);
For Sadi knows full well the lover's part,
And Bagdad understands the Arab heart.
More than all else thy loved one shalt thou prize,
Else is the whole world hidden from thine eyes."
Lov'st thou a being formed of dust like thee
Peace and contentment from thy heart shall flee -
Waking, fair limbs and features shall torment thee;
Sleeping, thy love in dreams shall hold and haunt thee.
Under his feet thy head is bowed to earth;
Compared with him the world's a paltry crust;
If to thy loved one gold is nothing worth,
Why, then to thee is gold no more than dust
[105] Hardly a word for others canst thou find,
For no room's left for others in thy mind."
" Dear Friend, since thou hast passed the whole
Of one sweet night, till dawn, with me,
I were scarce mortal, could I spend
Another hour apart from thee.
The fear of death, for all of time
Hath left me since my soul partook
The water of true Life, that wells
In sweet abundance from thy brook."

Hahn in his Albanesische Studien, already quoted (p. 20), gives some of the verses of Necin or Nesim Bey, a Turco-Albanian poet, of which the following is an example:

"Whate'er, my friend, or false or true,
The world may tell thee, give no ear,
For to separate us, dear,
The world will say that one is two.
Who should seek to separate us
May he never cease to weep.
The rain at times may cease; but he
In Summer's warmth or Winter's sleep
May he never cease to weep."

BESIDES literature there is no doubt a vast amount of material embedded in the customs and traditions of these countries and awaiting adequate recognition and interpretation. [106] The following quotations may afford some glimpses of interest.

Suleyman the Magnificent.-The Story of Suleyman's attachment to his Vezir Ibrahim is told as follows by Stanley Lane-Poole:

" Suleyman, great as he was, shared his greatness with a second mind, to which his reign owed much of its brilliance. The Grand Vezir Ibrahim was the counterpart of the Grand Monarch Suleyman. He was the son of a sailor at Parga, and had been captured by corsairs, by whom he was sold to be the slave of a widow at Magnesia. Here he passed into the hands of the young prince Suleyman, then Governor of Magnesia, and soon his extraordinary talents and address brought him promotion.... From being Grand Falconer on the accession of Suleyman, he rose to be first minister and almost co-Sultan in 1523.
" He was the object of the Sultan's tender regard: an emperor knows better than most men how solitary is life without friendship and love, and Suleyman loved this man more than a brother. Ibrahim was not only a friend, he was an entertaining and instructive companion. He read Persian, Greek and Italian; he knew how to open unknown worlds to the Sultan's mind, and Sulevman drank in his Vezir's wisdom with assiduity. They lived together: their meals were shared in common; even their beds were in the same room. The Sultan gave his sister in marriage to the sailor's [107] son, and Ibrahim was at the summit of power."
Turkey, Story of Nations series, p. 174.

T. S. BUCKINGHAM, in his "Travels in Assyria, Media and Persia," speaking of his guide whom he had engaged at Bagdad, and who was supposed to have left his heart behind him in that city, says:

" Amidst all this I was at a loss to conceive how the Dervish could find much enjoyment [in the expedition] while laboring under the strong passion which I supposed he must then be feeling for the object of his affections at Bagdad, whom he had quitted with so much reluctance. What was my surprise, however, on seeking an explanation of this seeming inconsistency, to find it was the son, and not the daughter, of his friend Elias who held so powerful a hold on his heart. I shrank back from the confession as a man would recoil from a serpent on which he had unexpectedly trodden . . . but in answer to enquiries naturally suggested by the subject he declared he would rather suffer death than do the slightest harm to so pure, so innocent, so heavenly a creature as this....
" I took the greatest pains to ascertain by a severe and minute investigation, how far it might be possible to doubt of the purity of the passion by which this Affgan Dervish was possessed, and whether it deserved ta be classed with that [108] described as prevailing among the ancient Greeks; and the result fully satisfied me that both were the same. Ismael was, however, surprised beyond measure when I assured him that such a feeling was not known at all among the peoples of Europe."
Travels, Etc., 2nd edition, vol. I, p 159.
" The Dervish added a striking instance of the force of these attachments, and the sympathy which was felt in the sorrows to which they led, by the following fact from his own history. The place of his residence, and of his usual labor, was near the bridge of the Tigris, at the gate of the Mosque of the Vizier. While he sat here, about five or six years since, surrounded by several of his friends who came often to enjoy his conversation and beguile the tedium of his work, he observed, passing among the crowd, a young and beautiful Turkish boy, whose eyes met his, as if by destiny, and they remained fixedly gazing on each other for some time. The boy, after ' blushing like the first hue of a summer morning,' passed on, frequently turning back to look on the person who had regarded him so ardently. The Dervish felt his heart ' revolve within him,' for such was his expression, and a cold sweat came across his brow. He hung his head upon his graving-tool in dejection, and excused himself to those about him by saying he felt suddenly ill. Shortly afterwards the boy returned, and after walking to and fro several times, drawing nearer and nearer, as if [109] under the influence of some attracting charm, he came up to his observer and said, ' Is it really true, then, that you love me? ' ' This,' said Ismael, ' was a dagger in my heart; I could make no reply.' The friends who were near him, and now saw all explained, asked him if there had been any previous acquaintance existing between them. He assured them that they had never seen each other before. ' Then,' they replied, ' such an event must be from God.'
" The boy continued to remain for a while with this party, told with great frankness the name and rank of his parents, as well as the place of his residence, and promised to repeat his visit on the following day. He did this regularly for several months in succession, sitting for hours by the Dervish, and either singing to him or asking him interesting questions, to beguile his labors, until as Ismael expressed himself, ' though they were still two bodies they became one soul.' The youth at length fell sick, and was confined to his bed, during which time his lover, Ismael, discontinued entirely his usual occupations and abandoned himself completely to the care of his beloved. He watched the changes of his disease with more than the anxiety of a parent, and never quitted his bedside, night or day. Death at length separated them; but even when the stroke came the Dervish could not be prevailed on to quit the corpse. He constantly visited the grave that contained the remains of all he held dear on [110] earth, and planting myrtles and flowers there after the manner of the East, bedewed them daily with his tears. His friends sympathized powerfully in his distress, which he said ' continued to feed his grief ' until he pined away to absolute illness, and was near following the fate of him whom he deplored."
Ibid, p. 160.
"From all this, added to many other examples of a similar kind, related as happening between persons who had often been pointed out to me in Arabia and Persia, I could no longer doubt the existence in the East of an affection for male youths, of as pure and honorable a kind as that which is felt in Europe for those of the other sex . . . and it would be as unjust to suppose that this necessarily implied impurity of desire as to contend that no one could admire a lovely countenance and a beautiful form in the other sex, and still be inspired with sentiments of the most Dure and honorable nature towards the object of his admiration."
Ibid, p. 163.
"One powerful reason why this passion may exist in the East, while it is quite unknown in the West, is probably the seclusion of women in the former, and the freedom of access to them in the latter.... Had they [the Asiatics] the unrestrained intercourse which we enjoy with such superior beings as the virtuous and accomplished females of our own country they would find nothing in nature so deserving of their love as these."
Ibid, p. 165.



From: Edward Carpenter: IOLÄUS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FRIENDSHIP (1908). Full test is available here.

This text is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. The Sourcebooks are collections of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to all aspects of history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, 1998, 2023

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 3 May 2024 [CV]