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Daniel Eisenberg Excelsior College 7 Columbia Circle Albany NY 12203 daniel.eisenberg@bigfoot.com http://bigfoot.com/~daniel.eisenberg


PublishedinEncyclopedia of Medieval Iberia, ed. MichaelGerli (New York: Routledge, 2003), 398–399.

Homosexuality was a keysymbolic issue throughout the Iberianmiddle ages. As was customaryeverywhere untilthe nineteenth century, homosexuality was not viewed as a congenital disposition or “identity”; the focus was on non-procreative sexualpractices,ofwhichsodomy was the most controversial. Female homosexual behavior was ignored, and almost nothing is known about it.

In al-Andalus, homosexual pleasures were much indulged in by the intellectual and political elite. Evidence includes the behavior of rulers, such as Abd ar-Rahman III, al-Hakem II, Hisham II, and al-Mutamid, who openly kept male harems; the memoirs ofBadis, last Zirid king ofGranada; references to homosexual prostitutes, who charged higher fees, and had a higher class of clientele, than did female prostitutes; the repeated criticisms ofChristians; and especially the abundant poetry. Bothpederasty and love between adult males are found. Although homosexual practices were never officially condoned, prohibitions against themwere rarely enforced, and usually there was not even a pretense of doing so.

During the final centuries of Islamic Spain, in part because of Christian opposition to it and because of immigration and conversion of those sympa- thetic, homosexuality took on a greater ideological role. It had an important placeinIslamic mysticismand monasticism. The contemplationofthe beardless youth was “an act of worship,” the contemplation of God in human form.

Many Christians in northern Iberia and elsewhere in Europe were scandalized by or terri ied of Andalusian sexual behavior, which relied heavily onslavery; homosexualindulgence,viewedas anincurable and contagious vice, was seen as a threat to the ightingstrengthofthe army and thus to the integrity of the state. The boy-martyr San Pelagio, executed for refusing the amorous intentions of Abd ar-Rahman III, was a hero, and subject of a poem of Hroswitha. The Christian states worked to rescue captive Christians, prevent slaving raids, set up a bulwark to prevent Islamic expansion northwards, and suppress homosexuality within the Christian states themselves. The Castilian emphasis on virginity and marriage, its rejection of lyric poetry, the delayed implantationofclericalcelibacyinCastile, and the westernEuropeancult ofthe Virgin Mary, all may well have their origin in this confrontation. The possible homosexual elements may be a reason why the theory of Islamic origin of courtly love and troubadour poetry has had such a poor reception.

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