Penises in art are a bigger theme than you might think. After all, what is the number one question people ask in the Greek and Roman collection of any museum? There is no competition: why the penises in Classical art are smaller than real-life average adult penises. And the second is: whether Christians really broke off the penises that are missing from so many male nude statues.
The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans—think of Julius Caesar and Nero, etc.—plus all those Renaissance artists—Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio: did it ever occur to you how much Italian gay history and art there is? Well, let us tell you: Italy not only has some of the most beautiful cities, the most great art, one of the world’s top cuisines, some of the cutest guys. It also has one of the most fascinating, long, and varied *gay* histories, from the ancient Greeks to the Etruscans and Romans to the Italian Renaissance, to modern gay greats like Pasolini, Versace, and Valentino. And there are great monuments and works of art connected with every period of it, which you can easily see on a trip to Italy, if you know where to look.
When Oscar Wilde Tours designs gay history tours, we always try to show people the gay side of famous places. We do for instance “gay secrets” tours of Westminster Abbey, the Louvre, and the Vatican. But we also try to take people to some places that are important in gay history and that they might otherwise never think to visit. Bletchley Park is an example, where Alan Turing (as in The Imitation Game) developed the machine that broke secret German codes in World War II and at the very least hastened the victory over Hitler. Another of these places is the Naples Archaeological Museum. Most people these days seem to skip Naples on their way from Rome to Pompeii (another place with great gay history), but Naples merits a stop for a number of reasons. On our gay Italy tour, we spend 3 days exploring Naples and its surroundings (Pompeii, Paestum, Capri).
For a couple of days, I’ve been thinking I need to write a summary blog post about the first gay history and art tour of Italy. But how to talk about 10 intense days of touring? Should I talk about the people? I’d have to ask for everyone’s permission to tell you about the fascinating cast of characters; but I can tell you that it was a very lively group and gratified me in particular by how well they got along. I remember how happy I was when I passed the bar at our gorgeous hotel overlooking the bay of Sorrento and saw them all having drinks together. It was that way right until the last breakfast.
Our gay history and art tour of Italy is starting in 5 days, so I’m in Italy making a few last-minute arrangements. And in the meantime, I’m doing a bit of gay history exploration–today an exploration of gay Capri. I went out to Capri mainly to look into the ruins of Emperor Tiberius’ villa. Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson and successor, has a miserable reputation. The main problem seems to be that he hated being Emperor; plus he didn’t have much charisma–and Augustus was a hard act to follow. In the end, he retired to a villa on Capri for the last ten years of his reign. Frankly, my suspicion is that like Greta Garbo, he wanted to be alone.
Who was Rome’s gayest Emperor? That’s a tough one. There were rumors about almost every Emperor: Julius Caesar’s soldiers for instance joshingly called him “the husband of every wife and the wife of every husband.” One of the top competitors, however, is certainly Nero, who was said among other things to have married two of his male slaves:
Check out my latest blogpost for the Gay and Lesbian Review. It’s about Harmodius and Aristogeiton. Along with Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad (whom the ancient Greeks mostly saw as a couple), Harmodius and Aristogeiton were the biggest gay heroes of ancient Greece . Harmodius and Aristogeiton were a Greek-style male-male couple, who assassinated Hipparchus, brother of the Athenian tyrant Hippias. This may have been a private act of revenge, and it happened more than ten years before the end of the tyranny. But the Athenians thought of them as the founders of the democracy. Their story shows how different cultural attitudes toward gay love can be. The Athenians wanted a male-male couple to have founded the democracy, because they considered a certain kind of male-male love the ideal matrix for courage and loyalty to your fellow soldier!