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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Is it gay?

A Problem in Modern Ethics

John Addington Symonds




Symonds notes what you might call homosexual themes in both Ancient Greek culture and Walt Whitman's poems. Having some knowledge of both, I also noted that. Now, how you make the literary or historic judgment of the line between deep brotherly love and homosexuality, I don't know.

Symonds quotes Plato's Symposium "They who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature. And when they reach manhood, they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children, which they do, if at all, only in obedience to the law, but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him." (Symp. 191-2, Jowett's translation.)"

He quotes, for example, part of Whitman's For You O Democracy:
"I will make inseparable cities, with their arms about each other's necks;
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades."

Whitman was around to say 'absolutely not gay!' Don't have any Ancient Grecians to make a similar defense.