[Milton-L] Re: Milton-L Digest, Vol 3, Issue 17

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sat Feb 17 15:19:53 EST 2007

It seems to me that the description of homosexuality as an "act"
rather than identity is precisely the difference Carrol was trying to
describe, suggesting that people would not say, "I am a homosexual" or
"I am a heterosexual."  There's no question that homosexual acts were
known and identified, as were people who engaged in them.  Case in
point (presented simplistically for the sake of discussion): the
Catholic Church does not currently condemn homosexual orientation as
sinful in itself (we can't help what we want), just homosexual acts.
Here there is a clear distinction between act and identity and the
conception of sexual "orientation" as the basis of a sexual identity.

No doubt people with a homosexual orientation existed in Milton's day.
 The question is, would they have defined themselves by this
orientation, even though they didn't have our language for it.  We
should also note that our current idea of sexual identity is a fairly
recent one, is culturally constructed, and can be understood different
ways and undoubtedly will be understood different ways in the future.

What I think needs to be considered here is not the use of the rather
clinical words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" (which may have arose
with the development of psychology as a distinct science in the 19th
century), but with the use of the noun "bugger" and the range of
meanings associated with it.  Here we may have something like a
recognition of homosexual sexual identity or orientation; at least an
observation of consistent preference.  Not sure if this word was used
this way in Milton's time very often, though.

Jim R

On 2/17/07, Maura Giles-Watson <mgileswatson at neb.rr.com> wrote:
> Many phenomena, like homosexuality and homosociality, existed before they
> were named in the 20th century; naming does not itself bring long-standing
> phenomena into being. Homosexuality certainly existed in antiquity--and in
> the Middle Ages, when it was referred to by clerics and others as 'the sin
> that has no name.'
> In the Miltonic context, it might be more useful to speak of homoeroticism
> than to speculate about homosexuality. Milton's relationship with Charles
> Diodati, for instance, need not have been homosexual, but the Bacchic
> ecstasies that emerge at the end of the Epitaphium Damonis are certainly
> erotically charged, possibly homoerotically so--but not necessarily.  Among
> men, so-called locker-room conversations are frequently homosocial without
> being either homosexual or homoerotic.

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