Monday, 15 July 2019

Dog Days of the Shogun

This time of year is often referred to as the Dog Days of summer. This is a traditional name for the hottest and sultry days of the year, so named because the brightest night-time star the Dog Star, Sirius. The Romans believed that when Sirius rose in the sky before dawn in the summer months its heat was added to that of the Sun.

I have to admit that I’m not good with dogs. I was attacked by an alsatian when I was about 7 (when you’re that young an alsatian is as high as your shoulder) and I still have nightmares about dogs. As a complete contrast, there’s one historical lgbt individual who is said to have loved dogs so much that he acquired the nickname of “the Dog Shogun”. His actual name was Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709) and he was the 5th shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty.
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
In recent decades the reputation of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi has undergone a bit of revision. For centuries he had the reputation of being a bad ruler, a tyrant who eccentricities included favouring the welfare of dogs over humans and of elevating his many male lovers into positions of power.

As I have found out time and time again in the 40 years that I have been a dedicated historian what is written and accepted as historical fact often concentrates on one culturally biased opinion. In the case of Tsunayoshi that bias was contained in a very influential document called “Sanno Gaiki”. This had been accepted as the authoritative account of Tsunayoshi’s reign. It was written after he had died and was more of a critical parody than a history of his reign, and even though people recognised this as the time, people and historians gradually began to believe every word of it.

Despite the fact that Japanese historians just a century after his death had tried to rehabilitate Tsunayoshi’s reputation “Sanno Gaiki” had become too fixed in the popular mind for it not to take root. By the end of the 20th century many historians were attempting to “correct” this fake history.

Perhaps the biggest effect on Tsunayoshi’s reputation is his fondness for dogs and his famous nickname “the Dog Shogun”. From being an insult to being turned into a by-name for animal compassion this nickname has various legends surrounding it.

The origin of this nickname centre round the “laws of compassion” introduced by Tsunayoshi from 1687 onwards. These were a series of laws which gave protection to animals and punishments for animal cruelty, including death. Even though later historians concentrated on the protection of dogs the laws also included protection of cruelty against other animals - birds, horses and even grasshoppers. Protection for abandoned children was also a large part of these laws.

The dog connection is compounded by the fact that Tsunayoshi was born in the Japanese Year of the Dog. The “Sanno Gaiki” added to this by fabricating the legend that a Buddhist priest had told Tsunayoshi’s mother that the shogun had mistreated dogs in a former life and the death of his son and heir was a punishment. The priest said that only laws against cruelty to dogs would lift the curse of a childless shogun.

Dogs seemed to have a dual identity during the rule of the shoguns. On the one hand dogs were closely associated with the samurai and were a symbol of their ferocity. The samurai would breed and train hundreds of dogs for hunting. Over time there were too many for the samurai to keep and many dogs were either killed or left to stray the countryside.

Cities were often overrun with stray dogs. They attacked other animals and even children in search of food. Cruelty to dogs was already punishable and Shogun Tsunayoshi’s laws of compassion added an additional condition which stated that not feeding stray dogs was also cruelty and punishable. Most people, however, were under the impression that feeding any dog would make them legally responsible for the animal and avoided them. This led to an increase in stray dogs. The solution was to build massive dog shelters and kennels. When I say massive I mean that the kennels housed over 100,000 stray dogs.

Unfortunately for these dogs, when Tsunayoshi died his son and successor closed down all the kennels. It’s not certain what happened to all the dogs. The location of these kennels is commemorated today in a set of statue dogs outside Nakano City Hall in Tokyo (pictured below). The kennels may be the main reason why the Japanese went on to associate Tsunayoshi with them more than any other animal.
So that’s why Tokugawa Tsunayoshi became known as the Dog Shogun as a name of shame – a man who preferred dogs to people. But his reputation was smeared further by accusation of him promoting his male lovers to high office. What’s the truth about that?

As a samurai Tsunayoshi was no stranger to same-sex activity. In something very much like the ancient Greek practice whereby soldiers take younger male lovers the samurai had a similar system called shodu. As with the Greek practice shodu was more a rite of passage for the younger partner and, also as with the Greeks, it developed into a life-long platonic friendship. Neither practices can be said to be truly homosexual in our modern sense of the word but was strongly homo-social. The fact that both practices saw the man-youth sexual relationship as normal is what makes it a big part in lgbt heritage of our understanding of human sexuality.

Tsunayoshi is known to have had several young male lovers as well as a wife and several concubines. That, too, was normal. The claim made by a ruler’s critics of lovers and favourites being promoted to high office is common in most societies, even if there’s no evidence of same-sex activity. However, there seems to be hints in Tsunayoshi’s behaviour that may indicate that he did prefer male partners.

One of these hints is his friendship with Yanagisawa Yoshigasu, one of the many attendants at the shogun’s court. Yoshigasu was from a samurai family of imperial descent. He and the future shogun Tsunayoshi met in 1665 when he was 7 years old and Tsunayoshi was 19. Later historians also painted Yoshigasu as a bad court official though his reputation has been undergoing the same revision as the shogun.

Yoshigasu was a general attendant at the court. In 1675 he became a page at Tsunayoshi’s residence. Five years later when Tsunayoshi became shogun Yoshigasu joined him in Edo palace and soon began to rise in the hierarchy of attendants. He had no formal training in government or politics yet in 1688 shogun Tsunayoshi appointed him as his Great Chamberlain. This angered many officials and samurai families.

While there’s no actual evidence of a gay relationship between the two men in our modern sense, one may have been carried out in the form of the traditional samurai shudo before Tsunayoshi became shogun. There was a strong personal connections between the two through a shared interest in Confucian classics, though this alone is hardly enough to propel a humble attendant to the high office of Great Chamberlain. So, perhaps there was more going on between them.

As in a lot of historical instances evidence to prove a relationship one way or another is lacking, and the change in social attitudes to everything from sexuality to politics changes with each generation.

Given that the samurai code of shudo with its same-sex relationships was common in 17th century Japan it is unlikely that the Dog Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, didn’t have male lovers.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Ticking Over

The next full month of articles will be in October for LGBT History Month USA. Until then I will produce only 2 articles per month – one of the 1st of the month and the other on or around the 15th.

During the summer I’m concentrating again on research for next year’s series “Around the World in 80 More Gays” (or “80 Gays III”). I’m already well on the way with this research and have selected a famous lgbt Canadian as my starting and finishing point.

As with my previous two “80 Gays” series this new one looks like its going to be an excellent mix of lgbt history, with a wide range of individuals and topics. Among the 80 Gays I’ve linked together so far are members of a women’s hockey team, an ancient Greek goddess, an assassinated Nazi officer and an Australian aboriginal. Subjects covered between them include leprosy, ISIS, ballet, King Arthur, and Bolivian independence.

In the past few month I’ve also been able to work on other things that have been at the back of my mind for a long time. The first of these was “Robin Hood: Out of the Greenwood”, my Kindle book about the origins of the ballad that produced the most famous stories about Robin Hood. My theory about Sir John Clanvowe as being the author who inspired the ballad is explained in the book in more detail than I could on this blog.

My second lgbt book is to be published in a few weeks. It is an expanded adaptation of my original “Around the World in 80 Gays” series. All of the original articles that I wrote for this 2015 series have been updated and include more information about the individuals who form the 80 Gays of the title. I was hoping to make it an illustrated book but the time needed to research and produce images would have taken too long. There is also the issue of waiting for copyright clearance and permission to use some images. The idea of an illustrated version has not been abandoned but it might take longer to produce.

Also this year I have been working on some leaflets which I intend as free hand-outs on the Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage stall at Nottinghamshire Pride at the end of this month. My intention is to produce a series of these leaflets on various lgbt-related themes.

The leaflets are in two formats. The first is in the format shown below. It is a double-sided A4 sheet folded in half to form an A5 leaflet. The images below show the front and back pages.

The second format for my leaflets is more basic. They consist of articles from this blog edited to fit one side of a piece of A4 paper.

So, that’s about it for now. I’ll be back with my next article in two weeks time.
 

Friday, 28 June 2019

Stonewall 50: Reclaiming Our History

The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is being commemorated across the USA this weekend. Pride of place is going to the Stonewall Inn itself and New York Pride which this year has been appointed World Pride.

Even though the Stonewall Riots were a significant event in the history of the lgbt community in the USA it wasn’t the first and only event to make a difference, and here in the UK it made little difference at all, not directly. On both sides of the Atlantic there were gay rights groups already in existence. Stonewall sparked a movement that became the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), and it was the publicity and militant action of the GLF that inspired a worldwide movement. It is the GLF who kept the Stonewall Riots in the minds of campaigners and the public, to the virtual exclusion of the other riots and homophobic attacks that had occurred before and after 1969. Thanks to the efforts of the GLF the legacy of Stonewall has dominated lgbt rights since 1969.

The biggest legacy of the GLF was the Pride march, a version of the many other protest marches that have been around for centuries.

If I’ve learnt anything by researching history it’s not to believe everything people tell you. As a schoolboy in the years around 1969 I was taught the standard Victorian view of British history. I was taught that Kings Richard the Lionheart and Henry VIII were good kings. I was taught that Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in nursing. I was taught that the British Empire was the most beneficial empire the world had ever seen (not unlike Trump’s distorted view of his USA). None of it was strictly true.

The Stonewall Riots have become a sacred event with only one interpretation that is deemed acceptable. That is not how history should be written, however much we dislike the facts. It is a fact that one section of the lgbt community was NOT more responsible for the events of 28th June 1969 than any other, despite the insistence of some that they were so. The phrase “who threw the first brick” is often claimed to have originated from the events of Stonewall, yet the phrase had been in use in the UK since long before the Suffragette movements of a century ago. And Stonewall wasn’t the big news that sent a shockwave across the world or America. It gained little attention outside the east coast of America. It is only the actions of the GLF that promoted the riots over those that had occurred many times before across the nation.

Social media and the internet is a curse as much as a blessing when it comes to informing people of their heritage. In the 50 years since the Stonewall Riots a lot of misinformation and urban myths have built up around them, some based on misinterpretation of media reports or on the personal testimony of one person who was present that only gives one perspective. Even the word Riots is been challenged by people who were there. If the lgbt community expects some respect then it should not falsify its history to score points against homophobia. Can we even trust ourselves if we lie?

In the past couple of years historians have been looking afain at Stonewall and have been trying to sift through every scrap of information to come up with a more complete picture of the events and immediate impact of 28th June 1969 and the few nights that followed.

On this 50th anniversary I believe we must begin to put more emphasis on the facts, implications and legacy of the Stonewall Riots instead of concentrating on one aspect or person. We need to get to the root of the myths and weed out the ones that have no basis. There is always a place for urban myth in society – it illustrates the attitudes, fears and perspectives of different groups in any society at a given period. But society has to be aware what is urban myth and what isn’t. So, now is the time to start to establish a definitive narrative of the Stonewall Riots before it is swamped in those myths.

Several weeks ago, as I was fact-checking the final draft of this article, I came across a YouTube video produced by the New York Times which covered exactly the same points as I had written. It put across my point about being true to our heritage far more eloquently than I did. In the end I decided that the video was much more suited to today than my intended article, so the video is shown below.

One point to correct in the video is the fact that the first march to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots were held in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles on 28th June 1970. This is not true. As I have proved in my article “Pride Cities” the first was held in Chicago the day before on 27th June. Chicago was also the first city to use the word “Pride” for their march – New York didn’t use it until 1971. This is an example of the way an urban myth can begin, with someone making a claim that isn’t backed up by fact which becomes accepted as such.

Monday, 24 June 2019

A Kiss is Just a Kiss

A man kisses his young male lover, depicted on a drinking cup from the 6th century BC.
I’ve not written anything on sport lately, apart from an update of my lgbt Olympian list, so let’s get physical with another one of those ancient Greek festivals which I mentioned at the beginning of the month in my list of Queer Facts – the Diolceia.

Okay, I admit it. The part of the Diocleia I mentioned isn’t actually sport – it’s a kissing contest. I actually mentioned the Diocleia way back in 2011 in relation to the Greater Panathenaic Games. I wanted to have a more detailed look into this festival and this famous kissing contest in particular.

Let’s have some background information first. Sporting festivals in ancient Greece were always acts of religious worship. Even the ancient Olympics were about worshipping Zeus and being actively involved in the various rituals. You were banned if you didn’t. I can’t imagine any the modern Olympian going to compulsory daily church services and Holy Mass before they competed, can you? Sport was seen as an act of devotion in which the athlete, specifically male athletes, honoured the gods by showing off their own god-like bodies which they developed during their military and athletic training in the gym. This idea is developed in more detail in one of my articles from 2013, “The Body of a God”.

A lot of the local sporting festivals, such as the Hyakinthia, were created to honour some hero who had died and were often celebrated around his tomb. This is the case with Diocles of Megara, the hero to whom the Diocleian festival and games were devoted. The idea of having sporting events at a funeral may seem strange to us today, but in both Greece and Rome it was common. The hero Achilles held funeral games to honour his lover Patroklus who was killed in the Trojan War.

The kissing contest held during the annual Diocleian games is probably unique. I can’t find any reference to a similar contest being held annually (there were male “beauty” contests, as listed in “The Body of a God” article, but not kissing). If there’s any classical scholar out there who knows of another one please leave a message in the comments.

We don’t really know much more about the actual Diocleian kissing contest other than what I’ve written in the earlier articles. Let’s look at several of the elements of the contest to get a better idea of what it was all about.

First of all, what is our source for this contest? The main ancient source is the poet Theocritus of Syracuse (c.300 BC-c. 260 BC). He wrote about it in his Idyll 12. Below is a translation. Nisaea is the name of the port at Megara. The “Lydian stone” mentioned towards the end refers to the touchstone used to test the purity of gold. This translation is by the Victorian writer and early gay rights campaigner Edward Carpenter (1844-1929).

“And the Megarians, at Nisaea dwelling,
Expert at rowing, mariners excelling,
Be happy ever, for with honours due
The Athenian Diocles, of friendship true
You celebrate. With the first blush of Spring
The youth surround his tomb: there who shall bring
The sweetest kiss, whose lip is purest found,
Goes back to his mother with garlands crowned.
Nice touch the arbiter must have indeed,
And must, methinks, blue-eyed Ganymede
Invoke with many prayers – a mouth to own
True to the touch of lips, as Lydian stone,
To proof of gold – which test will instant show
The pure or base, as money-changers know.”

An early commentator of Theocritus’s poems, probably Theon of Alexandria writing 200 years after Theocritus’s death, seems to be well aware of the Diocleian festival. He gives the earliest mention of it being named after Diocles, an Athenian soldier who fled to Megara and died protecting his young lover in battle.

The second question I wanted to answer was “who was Diocles and when did he live?” (yes, that’s 2 questions but I want to answer then together). From the mention by Theocritus it is clear that Diocles lived long before his own death in 260 BC. We might be able to go even further back. In a comic play by Aristophanes called “The Acharnians” a character simply called “a Megarian” issues the oath “By Diocles!” This may be the same Diocles the Megarians celebrated with their kissing contest, though scholars are debating the theory. “The Acharnians” was written in about 422 BC, so Diocles was known to them before that. The fact that Aristophanes included the oath in his play must mean that even non-Megarian Greeks were well aware who Diocles was.

We don’t know why Diocles was exiled from Athens, or when, as there were many times before 422 BC when this could have been possible. What we can say for sure is that this Diocles is not the same one that some modern writers (e.g. Thomas F. Scanlon in “Eros and Greek Athletics”, 2002) claim was Olympic champion in 728 BC, because he was buried in Thebes next to his male lover. However, it is more than likely that, as an Athenian, our Diocles could have competed in the Greater Panathenaic Games. But as for the real identity and dates our Diocles of Megara, they may never be discovered.

The third question is why is there a kissing contest at all? Other fallen heroes had sport, poetry or song contests created in their honour. The Diocleia festival may also have had these. Like a lot of other things we do today kissing has different meanings and connotations depending on who is doing it and why. Perhaps we can guess why the Megarians decided a kissing contest was appropriate.

The manner of Diocles’ death is probably the answer. He gave his life to save that of his lover. Other festivals to heroes like Diocles were, more often than not, to commemorate their death or victory in battle. It is the circumstances of his death which may have given rise to the kissing contest. It is unlikely that this would have been created if Diocles was just a regular casualty of war, one of the many soldiers who were killed alongside their comrades. It could be that the act of being killed while protecting his lover is the reason. A simple lover’s kiss is something we see around us all the time today, as partners meet, and say their goodbyes. What could be more appropriate to celebrate the life and sacrifice of Diocles than with a contest that symbolised love.

The contests itself was open only to youths. Specifically in ancient Greece this referred to boys between the ages of 12 and 20, the ages at which they were expected to become the regular partner (called an eromenos) to an older man in the gymnasium (called an erastes). The relationship was sexual until the youth reached the age of 20 when he was expected to find his own eromenos. The bond of friendship lasted a lifetime.

The contest judges (we don’t know how many) were likely to have been even older, probably in their 30s or above, the age by which men were expected to have taken a wife. The kiss given by the youth to the judges has usually been translated as the “sweetest” kiss. We can only guess what the ancient Greeks regarded as a “sweet” kiss, but I doubt it would be a slobbering French kiss so favoured by popular film and television drama. Whichever youth was deemed to have given the “sweetest” kiss was rewarded with a garland of flowers, a common prize at Greek festivals.

Very little academic research has been done on Diocles and the Diocleia. I can’t even find any reference to archaeological excavations at Megara which indicate where Diocles’ tomb might be located. Perhaps we could know more if other ancient writings are discovered giving more details about this man and his un-named young lover.