Gay Life and Culture: A World History

12.3.2006

By Jason Lamphier

Any self-respecting queer knows about the rampant homoeroticism in ancient Rome and Greece, but the ambitious tome Gay Life and Culture: A World History (Universe, $49.95) will edify even the most hard-core history buff. In 14 chapters, expert Robert Aldrich, along with a team of scholars from nine different countries, maps the global evolution of same-sex relationships and gay identity, covering everything from Zeus's mythical fling with his young male cupbearer to the current debate over same-sex marriage. The sweeping volume harbors archetypal images such as Thomas Eakins's The Swimming Hole'a bucolic canvas depicting nude male camaraderie'as well as unanticipated gems, including an arresting photograph of lesbian author Radclyffe Hall with her lover, Una Troubridge, just a year before she published her iconic novel, The Well of Loneliness. A cross-dressing Native American ambassador upends social convention, presenting himself as a third gender in the 19th century; European scribes and artists limn erotic, sadomasochistic scenes set in the Middle East and the Maghreb; a writer boldly asserts that Jesus and St. John may have been lovers. This collection of paintings, objets d'art, movie stills, letters, and literature unfolds like an international tour of all things gay right up to its final photograph: a moving snapshot of two elderly Danish men, the first gay couple ever to enter civil partnership, embracing one another in a shower of celebratory confetti.

On the home page: Thomas Eakins, The Swimming Hole, 1883. Photo Credit: Amon Carter Museum/Courtesy Universe Publishing/Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

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