Sunday, 13 August 2017

Proud To Be Sinister

Yes, I admit it. I belong to a community which has been victimised and discriminated against for centuries. We’ve been called sinful and disciples of Satan, but it’s how we were born. Our “difference” has been used as a by-word for evil and the bad things in this world. But I don’t care because I’m proud to be left-handed.

What better way to celebrate today’s International Left-Hander’s Day by celebrating the sinister, or left-handed, community within the lgbt world.

There are many similarities in the treatment of left-handed people and gay men over the centuries. In fact research seems to suggest that handedness and sexuality may originate in the same way at the same time, possibly while the brain is developing in the womb.

The main evidence to support this is the fact, repeatedly shown through many studies, that there is a higher percentage of gay left-handers than heterosexual men. Also, as with sexuality, there seems to be a whole spectrum from complete left-handedness to complete right-handedness. Some people are ambidextrous (a word which prefers the right-hand or dextrous side), just as some people are bisexual or pansexual. I’m exclusively left-handed.

It would be easy to claim that the demonization of left-handers was just a Christian phenomenon. Various cultures before Christianity existed saw the left as subservient to and less divine than the right hand. But there are some exceptions. In the Old Testament Book of Judges (chapter 3) the Israelites had a hero called Ehud who was specifically and uniquely identified as left-handed.

Among the many people who appear on lists of left-handers are Alexander the Great, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. But are they? Is there any evidence?
Let’s start with Alexander the Great. Being left-handed in ancient Greece in his lifetime was a very rare thing. Of all the contemporary biographical details of Alexander’s life there is nothing about him being left-handed, which would hardly have gone unnoticed. The famous mosaic of him on horseback aiming a spear at King Darius of Persia (above) shows him holding the spear in his right hand. Even though the mosaic was constructed in about 100 BC, some 200 years after Alexander died, it is probably a copy of the painting mentioned by Pliny in “Natural History” which he finished writing a few years later. He saw the Alexander mosaic in Pompeii just before the famous eruption with his own eyes. He may even have seen the original painting he mentioned which scholars have attributed to Alexander’s own time 200 years earlier. His right hands holds the spear in both cases.

The first time Alexander the Great was labelled as left-handed wasn’t until 1970 in “Left-Handed Man in a Right-Handed World” by Michael Barsley (1913-1993), a would-be poet with no academic qualification who wrote light-hearted books on popular subjects. He gave no evidence or source for his claim. However, he did recount a legend that has its origin in a 10th century Jewish chronicle called “The Book of Josippon”. This is considered to be a work of traditional belief rather than true history in the accepted sense. The legend says that Alexander encountered a tribe in Asia whose population was entirely left-handed. There’s nothing in the legend that says Alexander was left-handed as well. This legend is the only time that Alexander and left-handedness are found together before 1970. The legend may not even be true. There are many legends about Alexander, including one in which he tied his throne between two griffins and flew through the skies.

Once Barsley’s book was published its list of left-handers with Alexander at the top became regarded as authoritative. The list has been copied time and time again in other books and online without any attempt to verify the names and has now become just an urban myth of the ancient world.

So, no, Alexander the Great was not left-handed.

What about Michelangelo?  Here we have firmer evidence from one of his own apprentices, no less. This apprentice, Raffaello da Montelupo was left-handed, as he states very clearly in his surviving writings. He states that Michelangelo was naturally left-handed but painted with his right hand. This seems to be proven in his drawings and his hatchings. This is the word given to those strokes which usually indicate shadow or depth. In my case, as a left-hander, hatching I make in my drawings all go downwards from left to right, just like \\\\\\. In Michelangelo’s drawings the hatching goes downwards from right to left, just like //////. Try it for yourself and you’ll see how awkward it is to use the wrong hand. On an interesting note, one of Michelangelo’s most famous painting “The Creation of Adam” in the Cistine Chapel (below), show God using his right hand to give life to Adam though his left hand.
We have no reason to doubt Raffaello’s description of his master. So, yes, Michelangelo was left-handed, though not a left-handed painter!

Finally, we come to the most celebrated left-hander, Leonardo da Vinci. Again, we can see in the hatching in his drawings which hand he used. It is the \\\\\ hatching of a left-hander. But scholars have not left it at that. Some have suggested that he originally favoured his right hand as a child and later, as a result of an accident, began to use his left hand. It’s not unknown for children to be ambidextrous and drift towards one hand or the other. My older brother did that. He was left-handed as a child but is now predominantly right-handed. There’s no evidence that Leonardo injured his right hand, and no-one suggested he did until 1952 in an article in the medical journal “The Lancet”. To me, it sounds like a classic example of denial, a bias towards right-handers, just like some straight historians claim well-known gay people from history weren’t gay at all.

Leonardo’s mirror-writing, writing from right to left, is well-known. It does not constitute the majority of his writing and seems to have be reserved for draft sketches rather than complete works.

At the end of the day what can we can say about Leonardo da Vinci? Definitely, yes, he was left-handed.

Two out of three lgbt icons being left-handed isn’t bad. So, if you too are left-handed I hope you have a wonderful and totally sinister International Left-Handers Day.

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