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

Section II Medieval Worlds

Editor: Paul Halsall


Section II: Medieval Worlds

Go to the following pages for other parts of People with a History

Chapter 5: Early Christianity

There is no area of discussion about homosexuality which is more contentious than the interrelationship of Christianity and homosexuality. The whole issue is irretrievably bound up with modern concerns because of Christianity's continued importance. On one hand there are conservative Christians who insist that modern Christian hostility to gays has a continuous tradition and that this is a good thing. On another hand the notion that Christianity caused homophobia was very important to early gay scholars working to explain gay oppression. But it has also turned out to be the case, in the United States at least, that the phenomenon of gay churches has been so successful that in almost every area they are among the largest and most persistent GLB organizations. LGB Christians have been unwilling to surrender the comforts of their faith and LGB Christian scholars, seeking to find a space for themselves in their past have challenged the orthodoxies of both conservative Christians and radical gays.

There is no doubt that Christian writers in every century have voiced criticism, sometimes virulent and obscene criticism, of homosexual activity and of "homosexuals" or other gender transgressive groups. The counter to this has not been to deny such voices, but to seek for more positive aspects of Christian history. And there is little doubt that this positive history also exists: even in the virulently anti-homosexual polemic of John Chrysostom, for instance, one finds evidence of entire Christian communities [in Antioch] which were unworried about homosexuality. Even the Bible itself, it turns out, contains "pro-gay" texts.

How much one reads such discussions as "history" and how much as modern theological discussion is an interesting question.

The discussion is now, however, moving beyond these fairly fixed positions. There is now increasing exploration of gender, both homosexual and heterosexual, as an important metaphor in Christian discourse. The person of Christ, a forgiving deity, who bleeds in order to nourish, and whose body is quite literally penetrated on the cross often ends up being described in a variety of "queer" ways: as a mother hen, as a eunuch, as a lover. When Christian writers tried to discuss female sanctity, they repeatedly end up by transgendering, or "queering" as a modern literary "theorist" might say, the holy woman in question: there is no higher praise for a Christian saint than that she has a "male soul in a female body", as Gregory of Nyssa says about his sister Makrina. Startling indeed to those who recognize this as a term for modern lesbianism, or for modern trans* people. And when Christian authors tried to make sense of males in love with a male God, they end up asserting that the male soul is feminine (as indeed it is grammatically in both Greek and Latin), and that it is penetrated by God to bring forth the child of salvation.

These sorts of discussions are not comfortable for either religious conservatives, gay radicals, or even gay Christians looking for gay ancestors. What the discussions are doing is opening up new pathways to an appreciation of the "queerness" of the world's most popular religion.


Texts: Biblical

  • Biblical Texts, listing of all texts. [Was At LGB Catholic Handbook, now Internet Archive]
  • Full text of all Bible texts. KJV. [Was At LGB Catholic Handbook, now Internet Archive]
  • Pro-Gay Bible Texts - Introduction [Was At LGB Catholic Handbook, now Internet Archive]
  • All the Pro-Gay Texts [Was At LGB Catholic Handbook, now Internet Archive]
  • All the Eunuchs of the Bible [Was At LGB Catholic Handbook, now Internet Archive]
    There is some evidence that the major sexual minority of Biblical times was eunuchs - yet on the whole the Bible is pro- eunuch, It certainly has a lot of them.

Texts: Patristic

  • The Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) 2nd Cent CE [At Early Christian Writings] [Internet Archive version here]
    One of the earliest Christian texts to condemn pederasty
  • The Secret Gospel of Mark [At this Site]
    References, and some of the text, of this "special edition" of The Gospel of Mark were included in a letter of Clement of Alexandria. Some have argued that the text is witness to intense homoeroticism among early Christians, including - controversially - Jesus.
  • Letter of Barnabas, [At Early Christian Writings] [Internet Archive version here]
    Chapter 10 attempts a "spiritual" explanation of the food codes of the Mosaic Law. It connects the forbidding of hares with a prohibition against "unnatural lusts", apparently, according to John Boswell, because the hare was supposed to grow a new anus each year.
  • Apocalypse of Peter [1st half 2nd C.] [At this Site]
    Discusses male and female homosexuals being tortured in Hell.
  • Acts of Thomas excerpts, [Early 3rd C.]. [At this Site] The full text is available at the Non-Canonical Homepage [Internet Archive version here]
    Discusses male and female homosexuals being tortured in Hell.
  • Apocalypse of Paul [Also known as the Vision of Paul] [3rd C.] [At this Site]
    Discusses male and female homosexuals being tortured in Hell.
  • Conciliar Legislation
  • Perpetua: The Passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicity, 203 [At this Site]. See also Catholic Encyclopedia: Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua; and Peter Dronke's Discussion of Perpetua [At Internet Archive, from Millersville]
  • The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus, full text of early passion. [At CMU] [Internet Archive Version here]
    The story of the martyrdom of two soldier saints. In this version, the earliest, they are clearly indicated as emotionally tied. In the later "Metaphrastic" version they are referred to as erotic "lovers". Translated by John Boswell from the Greek "Passio antiquior SS. Sergii et Bacchi Graece nunc primum edita," AnalBoll 14 (Brussels, 1895), 373-395. This text is apparently the Greek original of the Latin passion beginning "Imperante Maximiano tyranne, multus error hominum genus possederat," printed in the Acta sanctorum, October 7, 865-79.
  • Church Fathers on Gender Variance [Was At Aztriad, now Internet Archive]
    This is an interesting compilation of comments, especially from Tatian, on gender variance. Unfortunately no citations are given. Moreover, the page is devoted to showing Christian hostility to gender variance, but the historical reality was considerably more complex. There is an interesting reference to Lesbian marriage as well!
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 2:10 - On Hares, Hyenas and Homosexuality [At this Site]
    Unfortunately the most interesting parts here are in Latin.
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 3:3 - On Effeminate Men and Masculine Women [At this Site]
    A very interesting text which includes some suggestion of Lesbian marriage in Egypt.
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 3:4 - On Women and Effeminate Men [At this Site]
    Clement seems to describe "fag-hags" in the Third century.
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 3:5 - On Behavior in Bathhouses [At this Site]
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Stromateis 4:8 - On Equality and Inequality of the Sexes [At this Site]
    The "effeminates" are lower than men and women.
  • St. Paulinus of Nola (353-431 CE): To Ausonius [At this Site]
    A beautiful love poem by Paulinus.
  • St. Augustine (354-430 CE): from the Confessions [At this Site]
    On his relationship with another man.
  • St. Augustine (354-430 CE): Confessions full text, with commentary by James O'Donnell [Was At Diotima, now Internet Archive]
  • St. Augustine (354-430 CE): Confessions trans. Albert Oulter (full text - more modern translation) [At CCEL] [There is a version of this file at this site]
  • St. Jerome (c.347-420 CE), Letter LV [At CCEL]
    A woman may not divorce her husband on account of his vices, even if he is a sodomite!


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Chapter 6: Byzantium

One of the oddities Byzantine studies is that it has long attracted homosexual scholars, but virtually none of them have written about Byzantine homosexuality. There may be reason for this - in comparison with the mass of information about Ancient Greek and Roman homosexuality, the thousand years of Byzantine culture is poorly served. Entire classical genres disappeared - plays, satires, secular philosophy. There has been, instead, a legal tradition to explore; rather a lot of monastic regulation; and the occasional comments in elite historiography on homosexual activity by some emperors. John Boswell's Same Sex Unions rather surprisingly (to Byzantinists at least) for a time has made Byzantine liturgical manuscripts a focus of much interest.

But there is considerable room for further exploration. A number of saints lives reveal diverse opinions, and relatively little shock, about homosexuality (usually "andromania" in these sources), but they have not been fully exploited. Some saints lives also discuss homoerotic pairings with little comment. Although certainly not sexually active, it is also common to find Byzantine saints paired with each other in relationships which can be analyzed from the perspective of desire - "friendship" hardly begins to describe what they are about.

Other texts which may yield more are the small number of Byzantine romances now coming under increased scrutiny. It may be thought that hey are about "heterosexuality", but much current scholarship in western literature suggests that this will not be a satisfactory way in which to evaluate them.

Byzantium also supported an important sexual category not common in modern life - the eunuchs who rose to prominence in Church and state. There was even a monastery specifically for eunuchs. Comments on this group, as with any liminal group, help explain a society's gender expectations.

Finally, it cannot be overlooked that ancient texts tend to survive in Byzantine made copies. Which texts were copied, how often, and where are all answerable questions which may yield insight into Byzantine mores. While they did not write much homoerotic literature, they did copy it and, presumably, read it. Why?




  • WEB Byzantium: Byzantine Studies on the Internet [At this site]
  • WEB Roz Moz [Now at Internet Archive]
    Now defunct, but the archived version still has extensive bibliographical guides.
  • WEB Kaliarda: The Gay Greek Dialect [Was At QRD, but now the Greek only shows in this Internet Archive version]
    Not clear how far back this patois goes back. It contains between 3000-5000 words. Based on Elias Petropoulos: Kaliarda, an Etymological Dictionary of Greek Homosexuals' Slang, (Athens: Nefeli, Athens, 1980)

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Chapter 7: Latin Christian Middle Ages



  • Keith Busby: John Baldwin, The Language of Sex [Review at The Medieval Review] John W. Baldwin. The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200. Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1994. [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]
  • Elaine E. Whitaker: Gender Rhetorics [Review at The Medieval Review] Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History. Ed. Richard C. Trexler. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 113. Binghamton, NY: CEMERS, 1994. [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]
  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: Feminist Approaches to the Body [Review at The Medieval Review] Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, edited by Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]
  • Alison Taufer: Louise Mirrer: Women, Jews, and Muslims ... Reconquest Castile [Review at The Medieval Review] Louise Mirrer, Women, Jews, and Muslims in the Texts of Reconquest Castile. Series: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Civilization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996 [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]
  • Paul Pascal: Gaisser: Catullus and His Renaissance Readers [Review at The Medieval Review] Julia Haig Gaisser. Catullus and His Renaissance Readers. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993 [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]
    On the reconstruction of Catullus' text after its medieval mauling.
  • Penelope Rainey: Walsh, ed.: Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana [Review at The Medieval Review] P.G. Walsh (ed.), Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, l993. [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]
  • Paul Halsall: Tom Linkinen, Same-sex Sexuality in Later Medieval English Culture [Review at The Medieval Review] Tom Linkinen,  Same-sex Sexuality in Later Medieval English Culture, Crossing Boundaries: Turku Medieval and Early Modern Studies.(Amsterdam: Amsterdam, 2015) [At TMR] [Internet Archive version here]

Texts: Religious

Texts: Historical

Texts: Literary


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Chapter 8: Islam

Islam was the last of the great world cultures to emerge. With regard to homosexuality there are polar contrasts. On the one hand The Qur'an seems to condemn homosexuality unequivocally, on the other Muslim societies have shown a great deal of tolerance. From the sexually explicit poems of Al-Andulus [Muslim Spain], to the sexual comedy of The Arabian Nights, to the ecstatic loving of Sufi mystics, to modern Morocco and Tunisia - the Islamic world looked benevolently on men who love [usually younger] men. In India, according to Richard Burton, it was among Muslims, not Hindus, that homosexual eros was most accepted.

The first thing to note is that in some respects Islam has been the most sex-positive of the great world religions: the Christ and the Buddha were both sexually abstinent, but Muhammad was sexually active with a number of wives, and had children. Sex itself was not a bad thing, nor was abstinence desirable.

This sex-positivity of Islam is a starting point for further consideration. So far, until very recently at least, research does not seem to have gone beyond the basics, nor to have escaped the colonialist gaze. The situation is likely to change.




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Chapter 9: Ancient and Medieval Jews



  • Medieval Spanish Jewish Homoerotic Poetry: Selection [At this Site]


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People with a History: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Date of inception was 1997. People with a History is a www site presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through primary sources, secondary discussions, and images. Links to files at other site are indicated by [At some indication of the site name or location]. WEB  indicates a link to one of small number of high quality web sites which provide either more texts or an especially valuable overview.

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]