One Hundred Years Of Homosexuality And Other Essays On Greek Love

One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: and other essays on Greek love is a 1990 book about homosexuality in ancient Greece by the classicist David M. Halperin, in which the author supports the social constructionist school of thought associated with the French philosopher Michel Foucault. The work has been praised by several scholars, but criticized by others, some of whom have attributed to Halperin the view that the coining of the word "homosexuality" in the nineteenth century brought homosexuality into existence. The book was often reviewed alongside John J. Winkler's The Constraints of Desire (1990).

Summary[edit]

Halperin addresses the constructivist-essentialist debate on gay history from a constructivist point of view. He supports the social constructionist school of thought associated with Foucault, although he admits that the social constructionist view would be proven false if it could be shown that sexual orientation is innate. Social constructionists argue that the categories of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" have emerged from the social, political and scientific debate over sexuality that has taken place since the late 19th century, and that their application to people in effect makes them "homosexual" or "heterosexual".

Halperin believes that the appearance of the English translation of the first volume of Foucault's The History of Sexuality in 1978, together with the publication of the classicist Kenneth Dover's Greek Homosexuality the same year, marked the beginning of a new era in the study of the history of sexuality. Halperin suggests that The History of Sexuality may be the most important contribution to the history of western morality since Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality (1887).

In Halperin's view, the introduction of the term "homosexual" in the 1892 English translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psycopathia sexuallis by Charles Gilbert Chaddock marks an important change in the treatment and consideration of homosexuality. Discussing Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium, he argues that Aristophanes did not recognize a category of "homosexual" people but only the separate categories of men-loving men and women-loving women. According to Halperin, Aristophanes divided men-loving men into two different kinds, youths who loved adult men and adult men who loved youths.

Publication history[edit]

One Hundred Years of Homosexuality was first published in 1990 by Routledge.

Reception[edit]

Mainstream media[edit]

One Hundred Years of Homosexuality received a mixed review from the classicist Jasper Griffin in The New York Review of Books and a positive review from the philosopher Martha Nussbaum in The Times Literary Supplement. Both reviewed the book alongside John J. Winkler's The Constraints of Desire (1990).

Griffin called Halperin's work learned but suggested that he exaggerated ideas drawn from Foucault. Griffin wrote that Halperin did not "succeed in disproving the natural reading of a number of Greek texts, which is that some forms of sexual activity were discountenanced, and that some people were categorized by their sexual activities." Halperin responded that it was not his aim to demonstrate that sexual stigma did not exist in Ancient Greece. In reply, Griffin accused Halperin of inconsistency on the issue.

Nussbaum called Halperin and Winkler "judicious and discriminating classical scholars" with a "mastery of the relevant types of evidence" superior to that of Foucault. She described their books as "important collections" that were "meticulous and reliable in scholarship, clear in argument." She credited Halperin with providing "careful scholarly arguments" and making a "wide-ranging use of the evidence."

Gay media[edit]

One Hundred Years of Homosexuality was reviewed in the New York Native, and received subsequent discussions there, one of which presented the book alongside Winkler's The Constraints of Desire (1990). The book was also reviewed by Michael Schwartz in OutWeek and the novelist John Gilgun in the James White Review, and discussed by the novelist Andrew Holleran in Christopher Street and the poet Jason Schneiderman in The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.

Schneiderman, responding to the playwright Larry Kramer's criticism of queer theory and the refusal of academics associated with it "to believe that homosexuality has been pretty much the same since the beginning of human history", credited Halperin with offering the strongest objection to a "universal notion" of homosexuality.

Academic journals[edit]

One Hundred Years of Homosexuality received a negative review from the critic Camille Paglia in Arion. The book was also reviewed by the classicist Kenneth Dover in Classical Review, Richard Hoffman in the Journal of Homosexuality, John F. Makowski in Classical World, Philip Holden in Canadian Literature, David Cohen in Classical Philology, and Peter Laipson in Comparative Studies in Society and History, and discussed by Carolyn Dinshaw in GLQ.

Paglia noted that the book had been praised by numerous scholars. However, she strongly disagreed with their assessment of it, and accused Halperin of poor scholarship, careerism, and over-valuing Foucault's ideas. Paglia found the work pretentious and confused, and expressed dismay at Nussbaum's positive review. She criticized Halperin for implying that homosexuals and homosexuality did not exist until the word "homosexuality" was coined and for basing conclusions about the views of classical Athenians on Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium, noting that "Aristophanes is a literary characters and not the real-life man on which he was based". She contrasted Halperin's book unfavorably with John J. Winkler's The Constraints of Desire (1990), which she described as a "closely associated" work. However, she also criticized Winkler on various grounds.

Dinshaw described One Hundred Years of Homosexuality as a "polemical book".

Evaluations in books[edit]

The gay writer Neil Miller commended Halperin's book for its lucidity, while English professor Leonard Barkan called it "brilliant". The philosopher Edward Stein, writing in Forms of Desire (1990), called Halperin's reservations about scientific research "provocative and highly contentious". The sociologist Gary W. Dowsett, writing in Practicing Desire (1996), observed that Halperin, like Foucault in The History of Sexuality redraws "the terms of our understanding of ancient male-to-male sexual activity and man-boy love", and that he does so with a "view to the politics of the late twentieth century". Dowsett saw Halperin's views as following those of both Foucault and the poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds, maintaining that all three present a censored and overly idealized picture of homosexuality and sexual activity in general. The neuroscientist Simon LeVay, writing in Queer Science (1996), observed that the title of One Hundred Years of Homosexuality, "encapsulates...the notion that homosexuality was brought into existence by the invention, in the late nineteenth century, of the word used to define it." LeVay criticized Halperin's social constructionist arguments, arguing that the concept of homosexuality can exist without the word and that homosexuality itself exists independently of the concept. LeVay found Halperin's interpretation of the Symposium strained, noting that while according to Halperin Aristophanes divides men-loving men into youths who love adult men and adult men who love youths, Aristophanes represents the two kinds of love as "different stages on a single life course." LeVay suggested that Halperin's form of social constructionism replaces consciousness with "a highly linguistic self-consciousness".

The psychologist Jim McKnight, writing in Straight Science? (1997), observed that Halperin is one of several critics of evolutionary explanations of homosexuality who "argue that homosexuality is not an innate but rather an acquired behavior and that Darwinistic explanations are spurious or ultimately misguided". McKnight granted the possibility that Halperin and the other critics may be correct. Nussbaum credited Halperin with providing a good discussion of the relevance of the idea that homosexuality is a cultural construct to ancient Greek culture. The economist Richard Posner described Halperin's view that homosexuality was "invented" by European psychiatrists as a thesis representative of social constructionism. The classicist Bruce Thornton, writing in Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality (1997), endorsed Paglia's criticisms of Halperin and Winkler. Timothy F. Murphy wrote that while Halperin claims that erotic preferences are no more fundamental than dietary preferences and should therefore be explained in cultural rather than biological terms, dietary habits themselves can be explained partly in terms of inherent human needs for proteins, fats, and sugars. He criticized Halperin for claiming that the discovery of a gene for homosexuality would refute his ideas about the cultural determination of sexual object-choice, since social constructionism can be interpreted as claiming that sexual orientation is inevitably influenced by social forces and thus does not rule out scientific investigation of the origins of homosexuality. In The Mismeasure of Desire (1999), Stein wrote that Halperin's views about the development of contemporary categories of sexual orientation are not universally shared: while Halperin maintains that the word "homosexual" was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1869 and attaches significance to this event, others, such as John Boswell, argue that the concept the word refers to has existed for centuries.

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

Books
  • Barkan, Leonard (1991). Transuming Passion: Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1851-2. 
  • Dowsett, Gary W. (1996). Practicing Desire: Homosexual Sex in the Era of AIDS. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2712-0. 
  • Halperin, David M. (1990). One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90097-2. 
  • LeVay, Simon (1996). Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-12199-9. 
  • McKnight, Jim (1997). Straight Science? Homosexuality, Evolution and Adaptation. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-15773-0. 
  • Miller, Neil (2006). Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. New York: Alyson Books. ISBN 1-55583-870-7. 
  • Murphy, Timothy F. (1997). Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10849-4. 
  • Nussbaum, Martha; Estlund, David M., Editor; Nussbaum, Martha, Editor (1997). Sex, Preference, and Family: Essays on Law and Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509894-3. 
  • Paglia, Camille (1992). Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-017209-2. 
  • Posner, Richard; Estlund, David M., Editor; Nussbaum, Martha, Editor (1997). Sex, Preference, and Family: Essays on Law and Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509894-3. 
  • Stein, Edward; Stein, Edward, Editor (1992). Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90485-4. 
  • Stein, Edward (1999). The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514244-6. 
  • Thornton, Bruce S. (1997). Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3226-5. 
Journals
  • Cohen, David (1992). "One hundred years of homosexuality (Book Review)". Classical Philology. 87.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Dinshaw, Carolyn (2006). "The history of GLQ, Volume 1". GLQ. 12 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Dover, Kenneth (1991). "One hundred years of homosexuality, and other essays on Greek love (Book Review)". Classical Review. 41 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Gilgun, John (1990). "Coming Out Under Fire/The Construction of Homosexuality/One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (Book)". James White Review. 8 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Griffin, Jasper (1990). "Love and Sex in Greece". The New York Review of Books. 37 (5). 
  • Hoffman, Richard (1991). "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love/The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece (Book)". Journal of Homosexuality. 21 (3).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Holden, Philip (1991). "One hundred years of homosexuality, and other essays on Greek love (Book Review)". Canadian Literature. 131.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Holleran, Andrew (1990). "Predecessors". Christopher Street. 12 (11).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Laipson, Peter (1992). "One hundred years of homosexuality (Book Review)". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 34 (4).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Makowski, John F. (1991). "One hundred years of homosexuality, and other essays on Greek love (Book Review)". Classical World. 84.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Nussbaum, Martha (1990). "The bondage and freedom of Eros". The Times Literary Supplement (4548). 
  • Schneiderman, Jason (2010). "In Defense of Queer Theory". The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 17 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Schwartz, Michael (1990). "Greek Love". OutWeek (37).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • "Our oral history, and Greek love". New York Native (331). 1989.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • "On "the cultural poetics of desire"". New York Native (355). 1990.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • "Recently published". New York Native (362). 1990.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
Online articles

One Hundred Years of Homosexuality3.77 · Rating details ·  74 Ratings  ·  9 Reviews

Halperin's subject is the erotics of male culture in ancient Greece. Arguing that the modern concept of "homosexuality" is an inadequate tool for the interpretation of these features of sexual life in antiquity, Halperin offers an alternative account that accords greater prominence to the indigenous terms in which sexual experiences were constituted in the ancient MediterrHalperin's subject is the erotics of male culture in ancient Greece. Arguing that the modern concept of "homosexuality" is an inadequate tool for the interpretation of these features of sexual life in antiquity, Halperin offers an alternative account that accords greater prominence to the indigenous terms in which sexual experiences were constituted in the ancient Mediterranean world. Wittily and provocatively written, Halperin's meticulously drawn windows onto ancient sexuality give us a new meaning to the concept of "Greek love."...more

Paperback, 244 pages

Published January 25th 1990 by Routledge (first published November 15th 1989)

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