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three pairs of lovers with space



Thomas Herbert (1606-82), later famous as attendant to the doomed King Charles I in his final years of captivity and subsequently created a Baronet, was a young Yorkshire gentleman who took part in the English embassy sent to Persia, which arrived on 10 January 1628 and left the following August.

Thomas Herbert by an unknown painter, 1642

“In 1634 he published the first edition of his book of travels, entitled A description of the Persian monarchy now beinge: the orientall Indyes Iles and other parts of greater Asia and Africk. The book appeared in an expanded second edition in 1638 under the title Some Yeares Travels into Divers Parts of Asia and Afrique. Beginning with the first edition Herbert inserted materials into his narrative about places he had not visited although he sometimes implied that he had, and in each succeeding edition the amount of this second-hand material increased significantly. … Some Yeares Travels proved sufficiently popular to encourage a Dutch translation in 1658, and a French in 1663. During his years of retirement after the Restoration, Herbert produced expanded third, fourth, and fifth editions in 1665, 1675, and 1677 respectively, and the book continued to be reprinted after his death.”[1]

The fifth (last amended) edition, titled Some Years Travels into Divers Parts of Africa, and Asia the Great, is so different from the first that the Greek love passages of both are presented here, each having some information omitted from the other. The chapter headings used here are all from the first edition, as the fifth did not have any.

The dates given here come from Herbert himself and were presumably according to the Julian calendar, which then still prevailed in his homeland. The year has been converted to the Gregorian calendar, but, for the exact Gregorian dates, ten days should be added.


Description of Shiras.

Describing a splendid banquet he attended given by the “Duke” of Shiraz for the Persian New Year on 22 March 1628:

1634 edition

The rest of the Hall was fild with Sultans, chiefe Merchants and Coozel-bashawes, the Banquet was very costly and plentifull, of Candid dried meates, Dates preserued, preserued Peares, Pistachoes, Almonds, Duroyens, Quinces, Apricocks, Myrabalans, Iacks, and a hundred other Fruits and Spices, the Ganymeds, young Boyes in Wanton habits, powred out Wine to such as loued it. […]

Then the Duke himselfe entred, with thirty gentlemen, viz., slaues in Crimson-satten-quilted-Coats and Turbants, euery Turbant wreathed about with Chains of Rubies, Turqoises, Emeralds, and the like of great lustre and value. [p. 64]

1677 edition

The rest of the Banqueting-room was filled with Persons of note, as Sultans, Merchants and Cooselbashaes, during which entertainment young Ganymedes array’d in cloth of gold with long crisped locks of hairs, (reeembling those Pueri calamistrati pulchre indusiati mentioned in Apuleius his Banquet) went up and down bearing flagons of gold filled with choice Wine which they proffered to all the Company one by one for as long as the Feast endured. [… The Duke’s] Entrance was ushered by thirty comely Youths who were vested in crimson Satten Coats, their Tulipants were silk and silver wreathed about with small links of gold; some had also Pearls, Rubies, Turquoises and Emeralds, (for I do not remember that I saw one Diamond;) they were guirded with rich hilted Swords in embroidered Scabbards; they had Hawks upon their fists, each hood set with stones of value. [p. 133]


Isfahan: engraving in Adam Olearius's Vermehrte Newe Beschreibung Der Muscowitischen und Persischen Reyse (Schleswig, 1656)

Our Ambassadours entrance into Spawbawn

Describing the embassy’s reception on arriving in Isfahan, the capital, on 10 April 1628:

1634 edition

The fields and streets for two miles were fild in our passage with Bannyans and women from the Citie, ten thousand at the fewest, who as we past, cried welcome, and shouted strongly: amongst the horse were aboue fortie Kettle-drummes and Tabrets, nor wanted the Whores and Boyes their places, all which with Antique Dances, made the Ceremony more notable. [p. 67]

1677 edition

The high-way for full 2 miles from the Town was full of Men, Women and Children: here also we found the Bannyans in great numbers; who all together all the way, in a great volley of acclamations welcomed us with Hoshomody Soffowardy, the better fort with Hoshgaldom Soffogaldom; in our Language, Welcome, welcome, Heartly Welcome, which with the Kettle-drums, Fifes, Tabrets, Timbrels, dancing-Wenches, hocus-pocus’s, and other anticks past my remembrance; but according to the custom of those Countreys, ennobled the entertainment. [p. 154]


A description of Spawhawn.

Describing the Mydan (Great Market) of Isfahan:

1634 edition

At the North end of the Mydan, is eight or nine roomes, like Chappels hung with Lampes, which being many and cleare, giue a dainty splendour; hither sometimes the King repaires, and sees the Sodomiticall Boyes and Wenches dance, and sport together, and when he is away, the people haue them. [p. 87]

Abbas King of Persia: an engraving in both editions of Herbert's Travels

1677 edition

The North Isle of the Mydan hath eight or nine arched rooms, usually hung with Lamps and Latten Candlesticks, which being lighted (as ‘tis usual, especially at the Festival of Lights which they call Ceraghan) give a curious splendour. Thither the Potshaugh[2] and others frequently resort for pastime, as tumbling, sleight of hand, dancing girls and painted Catamites; that nefandum peccatum being there tolerated. [p. 162]

The "Mydan" (Naghsh-e djahân square) of Isfahan in the 17th century


The Ambassadours entertainment by the King of Persia.

Describing the feast given by the Shah, Abbas,  when he received the embassy in Ashraf on 25 May 1628:

1634 edition

Round about, with there backs to the wall, were seated fiftie or sixtie Beglerbegs, Sultans and Chawns, who sit like so many Statues, rather then liuing men. The Ganymed Boyes goe vp and downe with flaggons of wine, and fill to those that couet it. [pp. 97-8]

One of many examples given of Shah Abbas’s “severe justice”:

A Duke who is his Vice-roy for Hyrcania, seeing a Boy, whose Father was poore (and vnder his command) against the Boyes will, his parents knowledge and the Law of Nature, makes him a Sodomite (which crying sinne, though licensed by their Alcoran, yet force is not to be vsed, and therefore haue Ganymeds in each great Citie tolerated) the Father of this wronged child prostrates himselfe before the King, and acquaints him with that villany, the King seeing sorrow and truth in the Peasants looke, demands of the Duke, who then was sitting there, how true it was: his countenance bewrayes him. The King hauing at that instant, a Knife in his hand, giues it the poore Father and bids him Eunuchize him, punishing those parts, that had offended. The Duke durst not startle or entercede the Law of the Persian, neuer alters the poore man, executes, as was enioyned him. The King though, continues his iurisdiction to him, and has him yet, his obedient slaue or seruant. His Seraglio only lost most by that bargaine. [p. 99]

1677 edition

The Ganymed Boys in Vests of cloth of gold, rich bespangled Turbants and embroidered Sandals, curled hair dangling about their shoulders, with rolling eyes and Vermillion cheeks carried in their hands flagons of best metal; and went up and down, proffering the delight of Bacchus to such as were disposed to taste it. What Valerius reports to have been the custom here of old at Feasts, Circum pateris it Bacchus & omnis Aula filet; Pueri tanquam surdis, quid facto opus effet indicabant & ferens poculum dedit poscentibus, & c. was here the mode, and duly acted. [p. 175]

[The story of the Hyrcanian Duke castrated for raping a boy was omitted from the 1677 edition]


Shah Abbas I and his court (Çəhəl Sütun Sarayı, İsfahan)

A discourse of the life and habit of the Persians at this present.

On dancing in Persia:

1634 edition

[There is no mention of dancing or pederasty in this chapter in the 1634 edition]

1677 edition

And albeit the Men affect not to dance themselves, (though anciently dancing was in request with men, as Stories tell us,) nevertheless, dancing is much esteemed there: for the Ganymeds and Layesians (wanton Boys and Girls) foot it even to admiration. Mymallonian dances I may properly call them, seeing the Bells, Brass Armolets, Silver Fetters, Timbrels, Cymbals, and the like so revive Bacchus: in this kind of dance being so elaborate, that each limb seerns to emulate, yea, to contend which can express the most motion; their hands, eyes, and bums gesticulating severally and after each other, swimming round, and now and then conforming themselves to a Doric stillness; the Ganymeds with incanting voices and distorted bodies sympathizing, and poesie, mirth, and wine raising the sport commonly to admiration. But were this all, ’twere excusable; for though Persons of Quality here have their several Seraglio’s, these dancers seldome go without their wages: and in a higher degree of baseness, the Paederasts affect those painted antique-robed Youths or Catamites (compleating the Roman Proverb, Persicos odi Puer apparatus;) a vice so detestable, so damnable, so unnatural as forces Hell to shew its ugliness before its season. Hear S Chrysostom: Cogitato, quam grave illud sit peccatum , ut quod ipsam Gehennam etiam ante tempos apparere coegerat. And for the detestation whereof, Alexander is honoured to all posterity. [p. 306]


Musicians and dancers, illustrated in the Shāhnāmah of Firdawsī. 16th century

A description of Syam.

On Siam, a country which Herbert never went near and here confused with Burma[3]:

1634 edition

They haue beene (in foregoing times) wicked Sodomites, which filthy sinne was since corrected a Queene Rectrix, commanding vpon paine of death, that all male children at their births, should haue a round bell of Gold (in it an Adders tongue dryed) put through their fore-skin and the flesh, so that if they demand why tis answered them for deterring them the hatefull sinne of Sodomy.

At such time as the desire of copulation wils him get the bels away quite from the flesh, only vnto the fore-skin, which knowne, hee is brought afore some expert Mid-wiues who present him Virgins, one whom he likes, he chooses, returnes and drinkes a somniferous potion, whose operation puts him in a sleepe, during which the bell is loosed from the flesh, and only fastned to the prepuce, an vnguent is applyed, the cure is ready, then is he at liberty to vse his body, but some in way of pride haue foure or fiue bels, which harmoniously resound their melodie in the streets, and preserue them there of purpose, as well for ornament, as titulation in venerious exercises.

Moreouer, (which is pittie) a Virgin here, at Virgins yeares, is resembled to a blacke Swanne: in regard at very greene yeares, they guie the too forward maydens a virulent potion, which being drunk, by its efficacious power distends their  muliebria to such a capacitie, that bels and all may find too easie entrance, and which is as bad (dull memory compels me write it) the women are not ashamed here (the easier to illure the men from Sodomitry) to goe naked (no nouelty in those parts) vnto their middles, where with a fine transparent taffatae they are couered, for though the loynes are girded with a daintie Lawne, yet  deuice, 'tis  made to open, that as they goe along, the least aire giues all to all mens immodest veiwes,  denudating those parts, which euery modest eye most scornes, each thought most hates to see and thinke vpon. [pp. 195-6]

1677 edition

And for the People, as report goes, they have been detestable Sodomites; a sin so hateful to Nature as not to be named; for as an unnatural uncleanness it abhors it: now to deter these Catamites, a late Queen Rectrix prudently commanded that all the male-Children should have a Bell of gold in which was an Adders-tongue dried put through their prepuce; which by custom took away the contempt, and became their ornament; so that at this day some will exceed, and not unlike the Choribantes of old, have three or four of those Bells, pendent. But when they have a mind to marry, the Mid-wife presents a soporiferous potion, during whose operation the Bell is loosed from the flesh and fattened to the fore-skin, and the unguent being applied the cure is quickly perfected. This practice and other the uncomely habit and lascivious practices of the Women there, Caesar Frederic observes in his Travels; as also Mr. Fitch a London Merchant, Antonio Galvano and others: and how incredible soever it seems to some, I suppose there are both in London and other parts of Europe Merchants and Sea-men who have been in those parts, and seen what I have here related. p. 358]

A Siamese woman with her child: illustration in Simon de la Loubere's The Kingdom of Siam, 1693


Of China.

On the Chinese, whose country Herbert also never went near:

1634 edition

Venery allures them mightily [… p. 206]

1677 edition

They tolerate Polygamy and that odious sin of Sodomy; yea, what else their idle depraved natures can imagine to please their effeminacies,[4] and are not ashamed to expose them to publick view in prints and painting. [p. 376]


[1] “Herbert, Sir Thomas, first baronet” by Ronald H. Fritze in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004).

[2] Shah

[3] This story is falsely ascribed to Siam by Herbert, apparently through his own error, since one of his sources, Cesare Federici (“Caesar Frederick”) is clear that it was about Pegu, as Europeans then referred to Burma from its capital city. Federici lived in Burma for two years, 1571-72, and wrote about it in his Viaggio (Venice Andrea Muschio, 1587) p. 173. Siam, which was then under Burmese control, never had a “Queen Rectrix”.

[4] Before the 18th century no association was made between effeminacy and male homosexuality of any kind. As used here, it means “self-indulgence” or “voluptuousness”, which were then held to be womanly traits. As proof against it possibly suggesting homosexuality, it was sometimes used of someone who over-indulged in sex with women.





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