52 Books a Year: #36 - Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Posted by Brian Thu, 17 Dec 2009 01:15:18 GMT

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
By John Boswell


To say same-sex marriage is controversial in the U.S. would be an understatement. I’m always a fan of controversy so when I saw Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe at the annual library book sale I had to pick it up. I was curious to learn how common it had been in the past.

First, this is a very scholarly work. It is definitely not a piece of popular non-fiction. John Boswell is extremely thorough. Almost a third of the book is given over to appendixes and many pages are half footnotes. The number of citations is astounding. There is a good amount of original research done from primary documents of the period here.

The big theme throughout is that the premodern Europe did not have the rigid view of sexuality that we have today. To label someone as gay would have had little to no meaning. Circumstances varied from culture-to-culture, but many cultures did have same-sex marriage. While the term marriage wasn’t used in any of the ancient ceremonies discussed here, the intent was clearly the same. It appears that the most common same-sex union was what we would today think of as a civil union.

If you are dogmatic about this issue, then don’t even bother picking this book up. Boswell is concerned with only what the facts show him to be true, but those against the issue will probably take offense to his translations of the source material, which he often translates differently from others. He backs up the reasoning for this with strong arguments though. Recommended for the patient reader who wants to have a more informed opinion on the history of same-sex unions.


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