chapter
General Introduction
Pages 19

As the Renaissance sought to renovate the cultural accomplishments of Greek and Roman antiquity, it also renewed awareness of the ancients’ common homoerotic practices and aspirations. The reputed same-sex amours of such prestigious figures as Sappho, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Virgil became widely publicized. Hence Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) observed, “The mightiest kings have had their minions” and “not kings only, but the wisest men.”1 Gutenberg’s invention of movable type around 1450 newly facilitated the mechanical reproduction of texts, so that, despite the ensuing development of restrictions on print media, writings and images could circulate much more readily, including those that challenged sexual and other orthodoxies. Same-sex bedsharing was ordinary in early modern culture, and though it was to some extent regulated by an expected etiquette of appropriate intimacy, such situations would have encouraged the development and exploration of homoerotic interests. Virgil’s Second Eclogue traditionally said to express his own ardent desire for handsome young Alexis was standard reading for Renaissance schoolboys throughout Europe. Inspired by classical ideals of physical beauty embodied in surviving sculptures, the visual arts cultivated a new esthetic of anatomically realistic and sensuous human corporeality, with much androgynous or muscular male nudity, sometimes directly treating homophile or homoerotic subjects. Such cultural conditions would support Mario DiGangi’s view that “the ‘homosocial’ and the ‘homoerotic’…overlapped to a greater extent, and with less attendant anxiety, in the early modern period than would later be possible under a modern regime of sexuality.”2