Today’s lesson: a sodomite is not the same as a homosexual


Today I read the front and back portions of the companion book for the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot (that is, everything but the pages about the individual cards). Caitlín Matthews starts the book by offering a brief overview of Leonardo da Vinci’s life. The only thing about that summary I can judge competently is her historically incorrect use of the term “homosexual” to describe what Da Vinci was accused anonymously of and then charged with in 1476 at the age of 24 (charges were later dropped due to a lack of witnesses and evidence). So I’ll say a few words about that.

You see, both the term “homosexual” and the concept of homosexuality as a (mostly) stable pattern of romantic and erotic attraction towards people of the same sex is much, much younger, especially when it comes to the idea of “being gay” or “being lesbian” as an identity relating to a specific subculture (those date back to the late 19th century).

(Before you scroll down any further, let me make you aware that there is a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci at the bottom of this post which depicts full frontal male nudity – and I mean full. If that’s something you’d rather not see, please click away now.)

Since I haven’t studied pre-19th century same-sex history in detail, I looked up some specifics in the very good Wikipedia articles on Homosexuality (especially its History section) and the one on LGBT history (especially the Renaissance section) to refresh my memory and make sure I get my facts right. I’m paraphrasing parts of these articles in the following paragraph.

In Leonardo da Vinci’s time, sexual behavior between men was pretty common in wealthy Renaissance cities such as Florence and Venice.  The men who practiced it often looked towards the Classical Greek and Roman pattern of sexual relationships between an adult male and an adolescent which was considered to have pedagogic benefits (you can read more about that Classical concept here). Much influenced by the Roman Catholic church, such behavior (called “sodomy”) was increasingly prosecuted and punished severely during the Renaissance, though, partly with fines, floggings, and imprisonment, and later with the death penalty. In the 70 years between 1432 and 1502 there were thousands of convictions, and many, many more charges (Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519).

During my research for this summary, I also learned that there is a medieaval German term for a (male) “sodomite” that is the same as the term for a citizen of Florence (namely “Florenzer,” also used as a verb: “florenzen”) and refers to exactly this time period. Fascinating!

I admit this may all seem only very vaguely connected to the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot, but who am I to limit my interests and talents when I’m concerning myself with a multi-talented and multi-interested man such as Leonardo da Vinci has been?

And just as da Vinci reportedly didn’t finish his commissions very often, I didn’t finish what I initially set out to do tonight, namely do a reading with one one of the spreads in the companion book. I’m pretty sure I can’t fully blame that on my own genius, though. ;-)

Anyhow, I think I’ll try the reading thing again tomorrow. Maybe I’ll even say more about the companion book. For tonight, I leave you with a delightfully naughty da Vinci drawing (that didn’t make it into the tarot deck) just because it fits this post’s theme so well. It’s called “Angel Incarnate” or “Angel in the Flesh.”

And I always thought angels had no gender. Or sex.


3 responses »

  1. What an odd pose on the drawing. I’m trying to imagine how the guy in question (his face looks very girly btw) stood there like that. :D Well, if you listen to the Pope nothing much has changed since then. After all, homosexual marriage is a “threat to mankind”, right? *shakes her head* I don’t understand how people can still believe that kind of thing in our day and age. Probably one of the many reasons I’m wary of “organized religion”.

  2. I don’t believe the model for this drawing actually stood there with an erection, waiting for da Vinci to finish the sketch. That’s the beauty of drawings: you don’t necessarily get what was there.

    The femininity of the face is due to the actual appearance of the drawing’s model Gian Giacomo Caprotti (aka Salaì, more here: He was da Vinci’s favorite model and a member of his household for over 25 years. Some people believe the two have been lovers, too. Caprotti also was the model for the painting of John the Baptist (which can be seen here:

    Oh, well, the pope… The “future of humanity itself” seems to depend most on humans giving birth to children and then arranging to raise them. I don’t see gender being much of an issue here, beyond the biological requirements for fertilization and pregnancy. Especially not when my three polyamorous queer friends, one of whom is a transgender person, are the extremely caring, state-approved long-term foster parents of a child whose heterosexual mother and father apparently are in no condition to raise a child. The way I see it, “family” is where children are taken care of, and/or where adults are committed to each other – no matter anyone’s gender, sexuality, or the legal status of the family/relationship. The real sin is to keep people from doing just that.

  3. Very well said! And I hope that our society won’t go back to the days where that was not possible. For me the Pope is just a weird anachronism. But sadly a lot of people look up to him as a moral authority.

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