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three pairs of lovers with space



Facsimile of the Title Page of the Edition of 1632

William Lithgow (1582-1645+) was an indefatigable Scotsman who embraced a life of difficult travel as the best means to gaining "the science of the world", which he considered superior to other branches of knowledge. The extracts here are all that concern Greek love and are taken from the reprint of the first edition published in  Glasgow in 1906.


The totall discourse of the rare adventures & painefull peregrinations of long nineteene yeares travayles from Scotland to the most famous kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica by William Lithgow, first published in London in 1632.


In his "Comments upon Italy", where he stayed in 1609:

In Padua I stayed three moneths learning the Italian tongue, and found there a Countrey Gentleman of mine. Doctor John Wedderburne a learned Mathametician, but now dwelling in Moravia, who taught me well in the language, and in all other respects exceeding friendly to me. Padua is the most melancholy City of Europe, the cause onely arising of the narrow passage of the open streets, and of the long galleries and dark-ranges or pillars, that goe alwhere on every hand of you, through the whole streets of the Towne: The Schollers here in the night commit many murthers against their privat adversaries, and too often executed upon the stranger and innocent, and all with gun-shot or else stilettoes: for beastly Sodomy, it is as rife here as in Rome, Naples, Florence, Bullogna, Venice, Ferrara, Genoa, Parma not being exempted, nor yet the smallest Village of Italy :  A monstrous filthinesse, and yet to them a pleasant pastime, making songs, and singing Sonets or the beauty and pleasure of their Bardassi, or buggerd boyes. [p.38]


The Author's Portracture

In his “Comments upon Constantinople”, where he stayed in 1610-11:

The Turkes … are extreamely inclined to all sorts of lascivious luxury; and generally adicted, besides all their sensuall and incestuous lusts, unto Sodomy, which they account as a daynty to digest all their other libidinous pleasures. [pp. 145-46]


In his "Comments upon Palestine", he made a remark about some Armenians which, alone among the quotations here, had no direct relevance to Greek love, but is included for its affirmation of other writers' claims about  the different sexual natures of southerners and northerners:

they committed with these [Turkish} Infidelish harlots a twofold kind of voluptuous abomhination, which my conscience commandsme to conceale: least I frequent this Northern world, with that which their nature never knew, nor their knowledge have heard hearing of the like. [p. 196]


In his “Comments upon Cairo”, the capital of Egypt, where he stayed in 1612:

Their Lawes here and Heathnish Religion are Turkish and Mahometanicall, and the Customes and Manners of the people, are like unto their birth and breeding, beastly and Barbarous; being great Sodomites; and Diabolically given to all sorts of abhominations.  [p. 272]


      The Modell of the Great City of Fez

In his "Comments upon Fez", the capital of Morocco, where he stayed in 1615:

There are some twelve thousand allowed Brothell-houses in this Towne, the Courtezans being neatly kept, and weekely well looked to by Physitians ; but worst of all, in the Summer time, they openly Lycentiat three thousand common Stewes of Sodomiticall boyes: Nay I have seene at mid-day, in the very Market places, the Moores buggering these filthy Carrions, and without shame or punishment go freely away. [pp. 322-23]


In his "Comments upon Malta", where he stayed in 1616:

The fift day of my staying here, I saw a Spanish Souldier and a Maltezen boy burnt in ashes, for the publick profession of Sodomy, and long or night, there were above a hundred Bardassoes, whoorish boyes that fled away to Sicilie in a Galleyot, for feare of fire but never one Bugeron stirred, being few or none there free of it. [p. 335]


In his "Comments upon Rome", where he stayed in 1616, being part of a rant against the Popes:

What a sodomiticall Pope was Sixtus the fourth; who builded Stewes of both kindes, granting his Cardinals the use of Sodomy, for three hote moneths. [p. 356]

What was Julius the third? An open Sodomite, and horrible blaphemer. … Pope John 23. was deposed by the Counsell of Constance, for Heresie, Symony, Murther, Enchantment, Adultery, and worst of all for Sodomy. [p. 358]


In his "Comments upon Hungary", where he stayed in 1616:

There is a great Gentry in this Kingdome, but untravelled abroad, farre lesse mannerly at home, being luxurious and ill taught, and damnably given to that Masculine misery, the whole Southerne World is defiled with. [p. 364]



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Tropic of Gemini, 27 January 2022

In Palestine, Lithgow won't speak of the "twofold kind of voluptuous abomination" practiced with female prostitutes, lest it give innocent northern minds funny ideas. But he boldly records all the boy-buggering going on in Italy, Constantinople, Cairo, Morocco, Malta and Hungary (the whole southern world in fact). Does this suggest Lithgow thinks sex with boys already common knowledge in northern lands? No innocence to be saved when it comes to pederasty? And is it a lesser evil than sodomy with a woman? (If I'm even reading him right.)

Also, he makes two interesting climate-related comments. In Morocco they open three thousand boy brothels in the summer time. In Rome, sodomitical Sixtus grants his cardinals the use of boy brothels for the three hot months. (One assumes he's referring to the temperature of the air, not the cardinals.) It smacks of Richard Burton's sotadic zone. In the torrid tropics, boy as breezy refreshment becomes irresistible?

And more: the introduction to Persia quotes from a 1082 text where a father gives advice to his son. Part of that advice is for the young man not to limit his inclinations to either women or boys, but to enjoy both. Dad gets quite specific in fact: "During the summer let your desires incline toward youths, and during the winter toward women."

Third time's a charm!

A turtle's gender is determined by the temperature of the egg in which it grows. Could boysexuality be similarly configured? The beautiful boy partly represents the dream of transcending the gross materiality of procreative sex. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the heat-seared lands of premodern Arabic Islam, with its thousand years of Platonic boy-love poetry. So when the temperature rises dangerously high, perhaps a boy is the only chance of escaping hell on earth.

If it's true, if high temperatures promote boy-love...it would certainly explain the millenarian hysteria surrounding Global Warming. Our house is on fire! Break the glass!

Edmund Marlowe28 January 2022

"Does this suggest Lithgow thinks sex with boys already common knowledge in northern lands? No innocence to be saved when it comes to pederasty?"
My guess is that this is right. Surely, almost all northerners would have heard of sodomy, if only from the fulminations of their preachers? And since, everywhere that we know of then, it was taken for granted that men having sex with boys would sodomise them, the longing for sex with a boy would have been seen as the obvious cause of sodomy.  Weren't man/boy sex and sodomy thus almost synonymous in the early modern mind? The incentive to sodomise women would surely be very slight in a society where you could hang for it and your soul be damned while there were no disincentives to enjoying coitus with your wife or a whore. Quite possibly sodomising a woman had never occurred to most northerners. It would be interesting to have some evidence though.

"And is it a lesser evil than sodomy with a woman?"
Maybe not, but more understandable?

Tropic of Gemini, 30 January 2022

"Weren't man/boy sex and sodomy thus almost synonymous in the early modern mind?"

Men, in a lot of ways, are the simpler sex. Up until a short time ago, when a man was sexually aroused, by either woman or boy, what he experienced was a desire for penetrative sex. It makes biological sense and tracks back to our primate forebears well enough. The law's attempts to restrain or extirpate homosexual behaviour seem built upon on this notion. Anything other than successfully achieved sodomy gets a lesser sentence, often by a significant margin. It's as though acts like masturbation and oral sex are seen as "gateway drugs", likely to lead to the real thing. Even in Platonic-tending Arabic-Islam, where the (official) goal was to divert a natural lust for boys to spiritual ends, there was often a tolerance for low-level erotic interactions--kissing, fondling, etc--as long as the final sodomitical line was never crossed.

It probably speaks to a more physically intimate time. It was commonplace, right up to the early twentieth century, for males of all ages to share a bed at night. A certain amount of boy-boy, man-boy frigging around would surely have been as unremarkably expected as solo masturbation is today for boys. One doesn't need to admit to it, or talk about it, but it would be there as one of the many bodily functions our fallen natures are heir to.

Sodomy, though, is serious. It is the full sexual act, complementary to that with a woman. The cultural phobia attached to sodomy starts with the Zoroastrians and the Hebrew Patriarchs--both are obsessed with sodomy's treachery toward procreation and the desperate desire to populate the land, to produce offspring "as numerous as the stars in the sky." Given that boy-love was always far more visible than men's relations with women, it wouldn't be hard for scare campaigns to gain momentum. The important element of disgust that also attaches to sodomy comes, I think, from a more general source: the rational mind is always ready to start back in horror at our murkier biological realities. Give rationality an inch and it'll take to screeching from on high. Add a Protestant twist and the hunt will truly be on!

Which makes the modern situation interesting. A pederast such as Michael Davidson is typical in preferring not to pedicate his boys, and has only done it when a boy insists. Is this the deeper taboo against sodomy at work? A sort of Platonic trade-off with one's own tortured psyche? Hard to believe, actually (particularly in Davidson's case), especially now that any man-boy sexual activity is given the full status of unregenerate evil.

Maybe it comes from a broader cultural trend. Masculinity is, according to one's point of view, either in decline or on the way to a better, less-binary, less toxic future. The declining rates of sexual activity amongst young adults, which is generally applauded, show we may even get there one very quiet day.

Edmund Marlowe, 31 January 2022

There are many fascinating insights in this explanation. However, I would suggest you have misdiagnosed the position of modern pederasts and the nature of men’s longings with respect to sodomising boys has run too deep to be much affected by culture.

Michael Davidson wrote in the postscript to Some Boys, “active buggery, and even the desire for it, are rare among true boy-lovers (though frequent among the pseudo-queers, like the Arabs).” The Arabs, as generalised here, were pseudo-queers and not true boy-lovers in two senses that make them typical of the overwhelming majority of pre-modern men who have been sexually involved with boys. First, when the circumstances were favourable, they were just as enthusiastic sexually with women. Secondly, they were not a small or self-conscious sexual minority: in many Arab societies, as in ancient Greece etc., it was considered normal to be attracted to boys.

Rather than showing that he and his ilk disdained sodomy because they were modern, what Davidson said was actually an acknowledgement that they, as a tiny sexual minority, were fundamentally different in their sexual disposition to the majorities, ancient and modern, who have involved themselves with both boys and women.

I don’t know if you and Davidson are right that he was typical of the modern modern exclusive pederast in this respect. Certainly, there have been other writers like him (André Gide, John Henry Mackay, Angus Stewart), but Joe Orton and Casimir Dukahz would surely protest loudly against this. If you are right, then I would say this is not because of a “deeper taboo” today, but because, due to the severe repression of pederasty in modern times, a grossly disproportionate number of men still wanting to involve themselves with boys have been exclusive pederasts.

However, I would venture the proposition that men who at any time in their lives have known sexually fulfilment  with both women and boys (and are therefore more representative of the “historical” pederast) almost invariably long to sodomise boys. Among notable modern writers, I would cite the examples of Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Douglas, Norman Douglas, Roger Peyrefitte, Jonathan King and Gabriel Matzneff. The last is the best example because he has been clear about being enthusiastic for sex with boys while usually preferring girls and explicit that he could only find sexual fulfilment with a boy through sodomising him.

Can you think of a single contrary case which would disprove my contention, ie. a modern who was sexually enthusiastic with both women and boys and did not like to sodomise boys?

Finally, I suggest the difference in sexual nature between exclusive pederasts and the majority is not just modern. The voice of the tiny minority represented by the former is rarely preserved in history, but Rocke in his Forbidden Friendships, noted the correlation between the rare exclusives, called “inveterate sodomites” in Renaissance Florence, and those recorded as fellating their boys.

In summary, as regards the large majority of men, I would take the first six words out of your “Up until a short time ago, when a man was sexually aroused, by either woman or boy, what he experienced was a desire for penetrative sex.”

Tropic of Gemini, 1 February 2022

Yes, an important point, the preponderance today of exclusive pederasts. And it's probably not profitable to speculate on the place sodomy would hold if the fierce suppression was eased (not that it'll stop me!). The incidence of exclusive homosexuality has definitely increased over the last century or so--and who knows how many androphilic gays would prefer boy-love relationships if they didn't spell social death.

Amongst the premodern Arab-Islamic educated classes, a lot of "pseudo-queers" were loving boys without experiencing the desire to pedicate them. I'm not convinced that culture can't affect the way one experiences desire--within biological limits, of course. A lot of men today feel sexual desire only for adult women, and would be repulsed and disgusted at the idea of sex with a girl in early adolescence--which is quite a feat of self-engineering!

I can't prove it of course, but if in 1980 we'd pursued a path of increasing tolerance rather than increasing hysteria, we'd still see sodomy being a minority practice -- pederasty only stood a chance if it took on a Platonic-Arabic type quality, which would allow it to exist within the broader cultural desire to de-toxify masculinity.

I've never been sure exactly what Davidson meant in the quote you provided. A "true boy-lover", according to Davidson, isn't necessarily an exclusive pederast, is he? A little before that quote he defined a true boy-lover as a man "whose principal concern is the boy's happiness and well-being". Surely he'd have been aware that throughout history this role has been primarily filled by bisexually responsive men?

So perhaps "pseudo-queer"--odd choice of term--refers to men who will as a matter of convenience use a boy to get off, but develops no deeper emotional connection. So his main point of division is between men who are only interested in physical gratification--and likely to favour pedication--as opposed to those who are more interested in a full love affair--and not interested in pedication. I don't think history supports this, but it does throw up the most interesting question: Why are exclusive pederasts less likely to desire pedication?

Edmund Marlowe,  1 February 2022

To answer your last question, I don’t of course know and I don’t believe anyone does, but, since you’ve asked, I’ll hazard what may be two contributing factors. To do this effectively, however, I’m going to have to resort to the word “fuck” because it alone expresses the emotional and physical equivalence that men who like both women and boys feel in penetrating both. I must also reiterate your points that, this is how men have usually wanted to quench their desire and that it makes biological sense, and add that, because that is so, the experience will tend to be found much more satisfying than alternatives: it unites in ecstasy two humans as intimately as is possible.

First, then, I posit that almost all men sexually attracted to women have at some point fucked one. Having had this experience, any other sexual act, whether with women or boys, will seem far less exciting. (Incidentally, if there were Arabs who did not want to fuck boys despite knowing what it was like with women, I would suggest that was simply because they did not wish to burn in hell. Hence why some of them were preoccupied with the possibility they might be allowed this joy in paradise, just as they were promised wine there). By contrast, a lot of men (but by no means all) who are exclusive pederasts have been put off sodomy for the various reasons you’ve already gone into and have been unable to discover what they were missing out by getting the nearly identical experience with women. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of cases of exclusive pederasts with misgivings trying it out and subsequently being unable to find fulfilment with any other sexual act. But many exclusives have never given themselves the chance.

Secondly, many, probably most, writers say the appeal of boys is their androgyny. But amongst those who find androgyny most exciting, pederasts, there must be variations in taste. Is it not intuitive that those attracted to the more feminine qualities of the boy are more likely than those attracted to his more masculine qualities to like women too and to want to do the thing with boys most similar to what that they would like to do with women?

Davidson apparently saw sodomy as a pseudo-heterosexual act. I see what he was getting at, but I reject his phrasing (it is, above all, a pederastic act) and I don’t see a scrap of evidence for supposing sodomitical pederasts or pederasts who were capable of loving women  loved their boys any  less. Hence I think it was pure vanity on Davidson’s part to disdain as not “true boy-lovers” those whose longings he did not share.

Tropic of Gemini, 4 February 2022

"if there were Arabs who did not want to fuck boys despite knowing what it was like with women, I would suggest that was simply because they did not wish to burn in hell."

I don't think that does justice to the thousand year tradition that developed amongst the poets, scholars, etc. I agree suppression of natural desire helps form this tradition, but it develops into a self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating culture where the men are experiencing their attraction to boys in exactly the way they're celebrating in their poetry. If they were simply restraining themselves in order not to go to hell, I doubt they'd have been able to achieve the sort of transcendental rapture so often apparent. That comes from their sexual energies being fully invested in their chaste ideal.

"a lot of men (but by no means all) who are exclusive pederasts have been put off sodomy for the various reasons you’ve already gone into and have been unable to discover what they were missing out by getting the nearly identical experience with women."

Yes, and I would probably go further and say exclusive pederasts are proactively unwilling to discover that which they refuse to participate in. An exclusive attraction to boys shows a pronounced swerve away from woman and the procreative imperative. The boy comes to represent a divine escape from gross biology. So any road that hints at leading back to woman must be a path not taken! Davidson tried sodomy, but wasn't a fan, and his equating it with heterosexual intercourse makes sense psychologically.

But it's worse than "pure vanity" on Davidson's part. He's constructed his view of pederasty purely on the activities of himself and his acquaintances. This is the parochial method that has allowed the insane levels of phobia today to become received wisdom. Boysexuals over the last century have not been well served by a lack of interest in their own history.

You say bisexual men are more attracted to feminine qualities in a boy and homo-men more attracted to masculine qualities. Intuitively it does make sense. But does it then follow that bisexual men will prefer effeminate boys? That doesn't sound right, particularly when one considers the very wide range of ways boys present themselves in various pederastic cultures--from the vigorously martial to the virtually transgender effeminate. I wonder if there wouldn't be more meaningful variation within the exclusive pederasts as a group, and within bisexuals as a group, than between the two groups.

Edmund Marlowe, 4 February 2022

“That comes from their sexual energies being fully invested in their chaste ideal.”

I don’t see the contradiction, as I would have thought this was a case of making a virtue out of the need for salvation. But more importantly, if these particular Arabs were pursuing a chaste ideal, then they were not an example of men who declined sodomy with boys in favour of less “serious” forms of sex with boys (which is what I thought this debate was about), but of a much older and deeper debate as to whether any kind of sex with boys was permissible or desirable. Two quite separate issues are being confused here.

“exclusive pederasts are proactively unwilling to discover that which they refuse to participate in”

But this is greatly over-stating the case. Many exclusive pederasts have been very keen on sodomising boys. I’ve already given examples (not many, simply because exclusives are relatively rare in the surviving historical record). I don’t think there’s any evidence to support a statement in this regard stronger than “some exclusive pederasts have shown a disinclination to sodomise boys that has been very rare among men attracted to women as well as boys.”  What Davidson says must be taken with a pinch of salt. As you’ve pointed out, he did in private admit to having sodomised boys twice, while in his public writing for Some Boys he claimed he was constitutionally incapable of the act. I think he was deliberately exaggerating because he was keen to contest the popular image of pederasts as sodomites (an Oxford Dictionary definition at the time). And who were these acquaintances? He knew perfectly well that Robin Maugham, his most constant pederastic friend, was fond of sodomising boys, because he helped Maugham write his memoirs which reveal this.

"The boy comes to represent a divine escape from gross biology. So any road that hints at leading back to woman must be a path not taken!"

Here I think you've come up with a very interesting additional reason why some exclusive pederasts may have rejected sodomy.

“But does it then follow that bisexual men will prefer effeminate boys?”

No, I agree it doesn’t, but I didn’t say that. First of all, I never used the word “bisexual”, which I think deeply misleading to describe the majority of pre-modern men who saw being attracted to both women and boys as quite normal and had little notion of any sexuality to be divided into two. Secondly, you’ve again put it much too strongly. I merely hazarded a guess that they were more susceptible to the attraction of the more feminine type of boy than exclusive pederasts are. I would expect both types to be most attracted to boyish boys if their taste for boys was at all strong, with feminine-looking (not necessarily effeminate) boys as more usual second-choice than manly-looking boys for those who also liked women.