Tuesday 30 August 2011

Work in Progress

I mentioned a while back that I was designing a leaflet on lgbt flags for LGBT History Month next February. Of the 100 or more flags I have identified and collected I had to decide which ones were likely to be seen in the UK (what’s the chances of seeing the Bisexual Mexican flag?). So I came up with the idea of a “spotter’s guide”. Combining this with providing information in an entertaining manner led me to decide to use 2 formats. For most of the flags I decided to use a “trading card” style presentation. For a few selected flags I decided on a less formal, hand-drawn cartoon style.

Here is an early draft of the front page which I’m still working on. I hope it looks good so far. Hopefully the leaflet will be completed by LGBT History Month next February.

Thursday 25 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 9

This week I’ve been describing the events of the Greater Panathenaean Games, the 4-yearly festival held in honour of the patron goddess of Athens, Athena. The exact timetable of events I’ve taken you through varied over the centuries. Sometimes the games lasted shorter. If you’ve been following you’ll agree with me that there was so much male-male love going on that they can be called the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece. Very few other Greek sport festivals owed so much to the influence of specific same sex relationships and the convention for erotic attachments between athletes.

The Gayest Games ended with a day of prize giving and celebration. The religious aspect was over and everyone could enjoy themselves. No doubt this would have included men and their boyfriends kissing and cuddling (they didn’t do that in public with their wives – that would be unnatural). And this reminds me of another contests the Ancient Greeks had in honour of an Athenian soldier called Diocles.

Diocles was a soldier from Athens. He may have even competed in the Greater Panathenaean Games. In the gyms of the city of Megara he fell in love with a young athlete and they became partners.

During a battle Diocles saw his young boyfriend was in danger and used his own shield to protect him. But that left him unprotected and Diocles was killed. The Megarans took this as a noble act and began a cult in his honour. Every year at the beginning of spring young athletes would gather at his tomb and compete in many games and contests.

One contest would have been perfect for me to judge. It was a kissing contest! Each young athlete would kiss a male judge (whether it was just a peck of the cheek or full sloppy kiss no-one knows) and the one who gave the “sweetest” kiss, as it is recorded, won a prize. I expect you can imagine what the prize for a decent kiss might be, but the judge only awarded a garland of flowers.

Perhaps I should start up a petition to introduce this kissing contest to the London Olympics. I’ll even volunteer to be the judge.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea.

I’ll have a break for a few days and be back after the Bank Holiday.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 8

Day 8 of the Greater Panathenaean Games was devoted to the sea. Athens had a close association with the sea, but we know very little about the boat races which were held today. So rather than waffle about very little I’ll take you back a day to the great procession of Day 7.

After the excitement of the night-time torch relay people were gathering at the Sacred Gate in the city walls to prepare for the procession rather than go to bed. The procession itself has been seen by millions of people, perhaps even you! Because it was preserved in marble by the greatest sculptor in Ancient Greece, Phidias, whose boyfriend he immortalised on the statue of Zeus at Olympia. The sculpted procession is known today as the Elgin Marbles.

As dawn broke over Athens the procession set off for the Acropolis. In front of the official religious part of the precession were girls carrying offerings. Like other participants, this was great honour for the girls and their families. But one year things didn’t go as planned.

Hipparchus ruled Athens with his brother Hippias. They were sons of Peisistratus, the main founder of the games and had a complicated family set up. Peisistratus and Hippias had the same boyfriend Charmus (not at the same time!) whose daughter married Hipparchus. But Hipparchus kept flirting with a young man called Harmodius, who wasn’t remotely interested because he was happy with a man called Aristogeiton. Their relationship had lasted beyond the usual intimate length. Neither married, and Harmodius didn’t seem interested in looking for a younger boyfriend as expected of his age. As such it was much like a gay relationship today.

Hipparchus was jealous. One year he chose Harmodius’s kid sister to be one of the girls in the procession. But as they were forming up before dawn he rounded on her and humiliated her in public, thereby insulting the whole family. For Harmodius and Aristogeiton this was the last straw. Plans had already been made with others to get rid of the tyrant brothers during the hustle and bustle of the procession. These plans were brought ahead and Harmodius and Aristogeiton decided to do it immediately. They found Hipparchus in the agora, the market place, and stabbed him. Harmodius was killed by the guards and Aristogeiton was captured and tortured. Hippias, brother of the assassinated Hipparchus, ordered the procession to go ahead regardless.

In later years the procession would pass a statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, perhaps the first ever statue to commemorate a gay couple, on the spot of the assassination. They became heroes by killing Hipparchus because it started a chain reaction which led to the establishment of the first democracy in Athens.

The procession itself contained winners of all the contests (except for the boat races), cavalry, priestesses, city elders, and also 100 bulls for sacrifice on the Acropolis. Something no-one would miss was a full-scale ship on wheels. Instead of a sail it had a huge embroidered dress which was to be draped around the enormous statue of Athena in the Parthenon. This was another mega-sculpture by Phidias out of ivory and gold plated bronze.

Non-Athenians weren’t allowed to follow up the steps of the Acropolis, but how they got all those bulls up the hundred or so steps is a marvel.

Once the people had assembled and presented their offerings, several sacrificial fires were lit, including one lit from the torch that won the relay. Then the bulls were sacrificed. The meat was handed out to the Athenians, and there was plenty of bread, cake and wine on supply. All in all, a great communal meal for the whole city, like a big barbecue.

With the procession over people could go home and rest up before the boat races that took place today. But tomorrow, Day 9, was a day they could let their hair down and party, party, party.

In a way I’m a bit disappointed, because the Panathenaean Games didn’t include a contest that was created in honour of an Athenian hero.  I’ll tell you what it was tomorrow, so prepare to pucker up.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 7

Today’s the BIG day for Athens. If fact, there’s so much going on that I’m going to spread it over 2 days. It started at dusk at the end of Day 6 with thousands of people gathering in the streets along the route stretching from the city gate to the Acropolis that is still called the Panathenaean Way.

Being the main religious event in the Athenian calendar, the route needed to be ritually purified before the procession in the morning. This was done with fire. No, they didn’t  set fire to the streets. They turned the ritual into a contest which is the most iconic part of the modern Olympics, which would be fine except for one thing – it didn’t have anything to with the ancient Olympics. I’m talking about the torch relay.

From its beginnings in ancient times to well into the modern revival there was no Olympic torch relay until Hitler stole the idea from the Greater Panathenaean Games and hijacked the Olympics for political means.

Once again, each of the 10 demes (tribes or boroughs) of the Athenian city-state chose 4 athletes as their team. The winning team is the one who gets their flaming torch to the Acropolis without it going out or dropping it. Because the winning torch would be used to light the main sacrificial fire the pride of the demes was at stale.

Luckily, the importance of this race means that it is represented on lots of pottery, so we have a good idea of what it might have looked like.

The race begins at the entrance to the sacred olive grove of Academia outside the city wall. It was here that Charums, the lover of father and son Peisistratus and Hippias, built an altar dedicated to Eros (see Tuesday’s entry for their complex relationships). Eros was a patron god of love among male athletes, and as mentioned on Day 2 was important in training.

As soon as the sun had set, the first runners of each team lit their torches from the altar of Eros. The other runners were at their places along the route at half-mile intervals. As with all athletic events the runners were naked. The only way spectators would tell which team they represented was by a sort of crown or head-dress each runner wore. Presumably all 10 teams ran at the same time rather than heats, and pottery shows that the whole torch was passed on rather than the flame lighting the next one.

Through the streets crowds would cheer the runners as they saw the torches approaching, and the priestesses of Athena could follow the progress of the race from high on top of the Acropolis.

The climax of the race was at the top of the steps leading into the Acropolis. I imagine this would have been a popular spectator spot like all finishing lines. To cheers and jubilation all round the winning torch was taken into the sacred precincts ready to light the sacrificial altar later that day.

But if you think the Athenians could relax before dawn you’d be wrong. The big procession was to take place as the sun rose on Day 7, with hundreds gathering back at the city gate to prepare all the various offerings. It was another spectacular event, too big to mention today, so I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. It will be a memorable sight – the world’s biggest dress, a ship on wheels, an assassination, and the biggest barbecue for 4 years.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea.

Monday 22 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 6

I must admit I was looking forward to Day 6 of the Great Panathenaean Games. Compared to the previous days not much happened today, but its what happened that makes it more gayer, even camp, in comparison.

Unlike the games so far, Day 6 begins the Athenian-only games that last for the rest of the festival, and it switches from individual to team events. Competitors were now representing their local area, and the competition between the 10 demes of Athens (areas like town boroughs) was intense. Day 6’s events were at the core of their Greater Panathenaean festival, and everything was done as an act of devotion to Athena. Because of this there was an extra incentive to win, especially the first contest where the winners of the 3 age groups (12-15, 16-20, and over 20s) were to lead the big religious procession the next day.

It was a beauty contest. Not so much Miss World as Mr. Athens. Each deme chose up to 24 men in each age group who were the tallest, most graceful, well-proportioned and most drop-dead gorgeous. As well as overall beauty and physique the contestants were judged on their performance of graceful movements and agility based on combat techniques. Sounds a bit like t’ai chi. The winner of the 12-16 age group appears to have been decided on looks alone, as at that age the boys wouldn’t have done as much training as the older men and not have acquired the necessary muscle structure. One change from previous events was that contestants weren’t naked – which I would have thought defeated the object. Anyway, records say that they were dressed in the best festive garments – all dragged up, you could say.

The next contest also involved combat techniques. Teams of up to 24 men, again, from each deme, this time with helmet and shield, performed synchronised moves to music, but it was far from a military march. Just like a row of Tiller Girls the soldiers would hop and skip in unison, wave spears and shields, and posture as if about to attack the enemy. I wouldn’t say that its as camp as the rows of the high-kicking Canadian Mounties at the closing ceremony of last year’s Vancouver Winter Olympics, but it’s pretty close I imagine.

Interestingly enough, as well as male beauty contests still being held today, they still have “dancing soldier” displays today in the Balkans, especially Albania.

The first prize for both contests was a bull to be sacrificed the next day. Money was also awarded, to be shared around the deme.

During the rest of Day 6 people would be gathering at the city gate and along a specific route through the city. Athens is going to provide its citizens and visitors perhaps the most magical spectacle to be seen in the ancient Greek world, and it wouldn’t give them much time to sleep.

Even if the Athenians didn’t get much sleep, I will. I’ll tell you about the special night-time contest tomorrow.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea.

Sunday 21 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 5

Clare Balding would have loved Day 5 of the Greater Panathenaean Games, but being a woman she wouldn’t have been allowed to watch. Day 5 was all about equestrian events, complete with chariot races.

Chariot racing is first recorded by Homer in the “Iliad”, the story of the Trojan War. In that poem, recited as part of the poetry contest on Day 1, hero Achilles decided to hold games at the funeral of his boyfriend Patroclus.

Funeral games were common in Ancient Greece. Herodes Atticus, a great benefactor and descendent of the founder of Athens, rebuilt several stadiums where the Greater Panathenaean Games were held in the 2nd century AD. His boyfriend, the athlete Polydeukes, died young, and Herodes held massive funeral games in his honour in the stadiums he rebuilt. He also had the marble carving made of Polydeukes which shows him to be extremely young (right), which may be partly artistic license though it’s probable he was less than 20 when he died. Herodes was so upset that he died of a broken heart not long afterwards and his own funeral was held in the very same stadium.

The equestrian events were divided into the usual age groups, even the 12 year olds competed. And it wasn’t only the humans who were divided into age groups – there were races for young and mature horses. During the day there was also a procession of chariots and horses in honour of the city’s patron goddess Athena.

There were several different types of race, and for them athletes were allowed to wear protection rather than compete named as normal. But that probably only meant a helmet and shield. The chariot races were much like the more familiar Roman ones, with 2-horse and 4-horse chariot races. One contest gradually disappeared from the games. It was horse-ridden race with soldiers throwing javelins, presumably at speed.

The most prestigious equestrian event had the name of apobates. A picture of one contestant in the race appears on a vase in the Getty Villa (photo by Brian McMorrow). The chariot, which could have 2 or 4 horses, as here, had 2 occupants – a driver in a flowing robe, and a soldier. As the chariot charged around the course the soldier had to jump off the moving chariot at a given point. After running alongside for a distance the soldier had to jump back onto the moving chariot at another given point.

The winner of this race was given the biggest prize of sacred olive oil in the whole games – 140 vases. Given that one vase contained 10 gallons (45.46 litres) of sacred oil worth the equivalent of £1,000 a vase, you can see how important this race was.

And so Day 5 draws to a close, and we head towards another change tomorrow. Until now all the contests have been open to anyone (male-only, of course), and have been held as entertainment. But as soon as the sun has set the religious element comes to the fore and the games are restricted to citizens of Athens alone. Others can watch but not compete. And if you want to hear about the gayest of these gayest games, then come back tomorrow. Ooh, I can’t wait! You’re in for a treat!

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea.

Saturday 20 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 4

Yesterday at the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece we looked at all those naked, bronzed, oiled-up male athletes running their races and throwing their javelins. Today we’ll see them get close and personal in the boxing, wrestling and pankration.

The rules for these fighting sports were a lot different to today’s. All 3 age groups were expected to compete – 12-15 years, 16-20 years and the over 20s. There were no weight categories in any group, so the smallest fighter had to fight the biggest if their names were pulled “out of the hat” together.

Boxing was said to have been invented by Apollo, the god of sport. He had several young boyfriends with sporting connections. The most famous was Prince Hyakinthos of Sparta who was killed by a flying discus. The Spartans founded the Hyankinthia festival in his honour and held many sporting contests, as well as naming a flower after him.

Wrestling was more like the current Olympic sport rather than the American version. Again, there were no weight categories. Tripping was allowed by biting and gouging weren’t. One Athenian athlete who became an Olympic wrestling champion was Pantarkes. Born in about 450 BC he became a trainee sculptor at the age of 12 to Phidias of Athens. It wasn’t long before they became a couple. Phidias was a bout 40 at the time. There was no thought of paedophilia as a crime in those ancient days. The boys expected it and it was always consensual.

Phidias is the man who redesigned the Parthenon so it could be used as the grand highlight of the Greater Panathenaean Games on Day 7 and he built HUUUUUUGE statues. One of them became one of the 7 Wonders of the World – the statue of Zeus at Olympia (right). This was almost 40 feet tall (12 metres) and made of ivory and gold plated bronze. Phidias was clearly  smitten with young Pantarkes when he was building it. Pantarkes, who must have started his wrestling training when they met, had a well-toned body and Phidias used him as a model for one of the figures decorating Zeus’s statue. Phidias even carved “Pantarkes is wonderful” onto one of Zeus’s little fingers. Pantarkes would have watched the Greater Panathenaean Games, maybe even competed in a couple of them.

The third contact sport was pankration. This was very brutal and a no-holds-barred version of ultimate cage fighting (without the cage). As such it was the best training for soldiers in the gym and one of the most popular. Plato once wrote that one pankration contests attracted thousands of competitors! Again, the origins of the sport go back to mythology. Hercules (left) is one named originator. Both the Disney cartoon and the TV series of a few years back always forgot to mention that Hercules was the hero who had more boyfriends than any other – at least 4.

Pankration fighters were often the butchest athletes around, mainly because it involved developing more muscles, strength and agility than any other. One famous fighter attracted the attention of bisexual Alexander the Great. He was Dioxippus, a soldier in Alexander’s army who had been the Olympic pankration champion in 336 BC. As an Athenian native he would have seen and even participated in the Gayest Games.

Even though non-Athenians took part in other events, one group was excluded from the pankration because they were too good – the Spartans. Their reputation as the ultimate fighting warriors would not have produced much of a competition.

With Day 4 coming to a close we look forward to a change of sport tomorrow and a whole day of equestrian events.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea.

Friday 19 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 3

Let the games begin! At last the athletics contests start and we get a chance to see what effect all that hard training has had on all those naked male sportsmen.

Like in the modern Olympics there were several different events, enough for 2 days competition, so I’ll divide them up into 2 parts. Today I’ll look at the track and field events.

These were introduced by Peisitratus (already mentioned several times this week) in 566 BC and were purely for entertainment and not part of the religious festival it accompanied.

Most of the track races were much like the Olympics races but different in a couple of ways. Originally they were held in the agora, the central meeting and market place. A special wooden stadium was later built, which in 330 BC it was rebuilt in marble. This is the stadium that hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. The second difference was that the races were arranged into 3 age groups – 12-15 years, 16-20 years, and the over 20s. In this respect it’s more like the modern Gay Games, where medals are awarded according to age groups.

The races were held in heats and finals, with the youngest age groups having all their races first. This would have given their older mentor/boyfriends chance to watch and cheer them on, and later the younger athletes could do the same for their older partners. The over-20s had an extra race – a race in armour. Not full armour, but with helmet, shield and shin guards. Apart from that they were competed naked.

Non-Athenians were allowed to compete, but perhaps in their own separate races, and no-one at this stage represented anyone other than themselves, there was no national grouping. As in the ancient Olympics, their victories could not be claimed by their home city or country.

Instead of medals, vases of olive oil (like the one pictured left) were awarded to the top 2 winners of the finals, 10 for the second place, and between 40 and 50 (depending on the event) for the first. I hope the London Olympics don’t decide to save money and follow this example by handing out bottles of Tesco’s Value olive oil! But the Athenian oil was special. It was made from olives grown in the scared groves of Academia outside the city walls. The Athenians believed that if they kept the sacred oil and rubbed it on their bodies at future games they could increase their strength, speed and agility, a bit like Popeye’s spinach, though I don’t recommend rubbing spinach on your body! The oil could be sold for a very high price, being sacred oil, and the few surviving vases are highly valuable today.

Vases of oil were also awarded to the winners of the pentathlon. This was also much like the modern event. It consisted of a track race, javelin, discus, long jump and Greek-style wrestling. No-one is sure if the pentathlon contest was won on points like it is today.

So they were the track and field events. Also held on Days 3 and 4 were the wrestling and boxing matches. I’ll tell you all about those tomorrow.

If you’d like to know more about the Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece – go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea

Thursday 18 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 2

Day 2 of the Greater Panathenaean Games was a continuation of the song and  poetry contests from Day 1 – each song and poem lasting several hours each, with at least 6 contests to go though.

I mentioned several days ago that each gym had an altar to the god Eros, known to the Romans as Cupid. I was a bit sceptical about this when I first read it, but it’s true.

Forget the sickeningly sweet Cupid of St. Valentine’s Day. The original Eros was as macho as any other male god even though he was shown younger than, say, Apollo or Ares. Statues (like the one on the left) and pictures of him on pottery show him much like that of Anteros in Piccadilly Circus.

Eros’s name translates literally as “intimate love”. This love meant more than just sex. It was customary for Ancient Greek youths over the age of 13 to have an older mentor, whether in the gym or other learning establishment, who would help with the education. The relationship was always sexual and meant more to the couple than any they would have with a woman, even in marriage. Understandably, Eros because associated with male couples.

A lot of what we know about their erotic desires comes from pottery made during the reign of Peisistratus, whose dynasty I mentioned 2 days ago. Many pots show sexual encounters, and a study of them shows 30 pots of men and women together, and 528 of men with men. Eros himself appears on many of the pots to highlight the erotic nature of the relationships, but only pots depicting 2 men. So erotic feelings between men and women were not considered normal. I wonder what straight blokes today would say if you told them that they could only have erotic thoughts about other men!

At the entrance to every gym there was an altar and statue of Eros. On entering and leaving the gym each athlete would stop to give prayers, offerings or thanks to Eros. In the gyms relationships became more significant because of the shared desire to develop the body and strength of a Greek god and to make them ready for battle. There was nothing unusual in seeing 2 bronzed, ripped athletes being openly affectionate as they trained with the other athletes (sex was a more private affair).

As they advanced through their teenage years athletes would choose a new young trainee to mentor in the same way. By the time they were 30, though, they were expected to be married. This situation is best illustrated in the relationships I mentioned 2 days ago. Athenian ruler Peisistratus was mentor/partner to Charmus, who later on was mentor/partner to Hippias.

On Charmus’s death either Peisistratus or Hippias built an altar to Eros outside the city walls and dedicated it to both the god and Charmus, and naked athletics. This altar was an important location in the “Gayest Games” in that it was the starting point for one of the most popular contests in the games, the torch relay on Day 7.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s Day 3 tomorrow and the athletics contests begin.

If you want to know more about the games go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea

Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece - Day 1

Today (give or take a day) was supposed to be the beginning of the Ancient Athenian year. It was chosen because it was the birthday of the city’s patron goddess Athena. All inhabitants of the state were allowed to take part (except women and slaves) in the 4-yearly Greater Panathenaean Games – the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece.

Day One was the day for music. The city’s ruler Peisistratus (whose family are inextricably linked to the games) introduced a series of song and poetry contests to the games just after 566 BC.

Three contests took place which involved
1)      singers accompanying themselves on a kithara (a kind of lyre, below left),
2)      singers accompanied by someone else playing a reed instrument (below right),
3)      and purely instrumental reed instrument players.

Thankfully there were no percussion instruments, so the Athenians were spared the “boom-bang-a-bang” of modern Eurovision songs camping things up. Even better, no annoying, fatuous Terry Wogan. The winners of each contest were awarded a gold olive crown and 300 gold coins – but not yet, contest winners had to wait till the end of the games before they got their prizes.

The poetry contest involved all contestants reciting a long poem, each taking a set of verses in a kind of poetry relay. Hipparchus standardised the texts for the contest, introducing the famous poems by Homer. One regular section to be recited at every games was the death and funeral of Patroclus, the best friend and lover of Achilles. Now, I don’t remember seeing Brad Pitt (as Achilles) and Garrett Heldund (as Patroclus) spending much time in bed together in the film “Troy”, unless I blinked, but they should have done if the producers expect us to take the characters seriously.

These musical contests were originally held in the agora, a market and meeting place in the centre of Athens. An odium with a bit of cover was built in the 440s BC by the city’s ruler Pericles.

Given that the poems were hundreds of verses long, and given that each song and poem contest was held twice (once for adults, once for boys under 16), the contests could have lasted several days. So if you think the Eurovision Song Contest was too long, be thankful you didn’t have to sit through Day 1 of the Panathenaean games!

With the song and poem contests dragging on into Day 2, tomorrow I’ll explain a little more about why Eros and not a more macho god was the patron god of the gymnasiums and just why is was OK for Ancient Greek men to have a boyfriend.

If you want to know more about the games go to www.athens-greece.us/panathenaea

Tuesday 16 August 2011

The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece

Tomorrow I’ll start telling you about the Great Panathenaean Games, which I call the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece. This took place in Athens and was one of the grandest in Ancient Greece.

The origin of the games is shrouded in the mists of time. They were created to honour the patron goddess of the city, Athena. Legend says that they started as an annual 2-day festival 729 years before the Olympics in 1507 BC. After restructuring the city-state, the minotaur-killing hero Theseus extended and expanded the games into a week-long celebration held every 4 years in 566 BC. That’s when they became known as the Greater Panathenaean Games. No-one’s sure on what date they were held. Scholars suggest anywhere between August 13th to 21st. I’m going for the middle point – 16th/17th August.

One Athenian dynasty most associated with the games were a family that makes the camp US soap “Dynasty” look like the Mili-bland, sorry Miliband, family. Their names crop up several times in the history of the games.

The chart below helps to explain the complicated family relationships.

The head of the dynasty was Peisistratus, ruler of Athens during the early years of the 4-yearly Greater Panathenaean Games. During his earlier career as military governor he had a trainee soldier-athlete boyfriend called Charmus. Peisistratus married and had 2 sons, Hippias and Hipparchus. When Charmus was older he too became a military governor and took Hippias as his boyfriend. And Charmus had a daughter called Timonassa who married Hipparchus. When Charmus died, Peisistratus or Hippias (no-one’s sure which) built an altar dedicated to him and Eros outside the city gates. On Peisistratus’s death Hippias and Hipparchus became joint rulers. Hipparchus decided to take a young boyfriend called Harmodius, but Harmodius already had an older lover called Aristogeiton, who …

Confused? I’ll finish this off later in the week.

Don’t forget that it was perfectly normal for a man to have wife and a boyfriend. But to use the terms gay or bisexual wouldn’t be accurate. They were men who had sex with men because that’s what their society did, just like keeping slaves and not giving women the vote. Very rarely there were couples we would recognise as gay today, and one couple in particular left a big mark on the Greater Panathenaean Games and the development of democracy. More on that on Day 8.

Day 1 of the Greater Panathenaean Games would have been tomorrow, and they start with something the modern Olympics doesn’t have (thank goodness), an early version of the Eurovision Song Contest. And if you thought the Eurovision contest lasted too long ……

Monday 15 August 2011

Running up to the Gayest Games

If you’re already getting excited about next year’s Olympics and can’t wait that long then this is for you!

The Ancient Greeks had many sport festivals other than the Olympics. People often think the Olympics were held in Athens, perhaps picturing the modern fake versions that were held in Athens in 1896 and 2004. They weren’t. They were held at Olympia – that’s why they were called the Olympics!

Ancient Athens had its own games which were a LOT more interesting from a gay point of view, apart from all the athletes being male and naked. So, for the next few days, as we enter the week in which the Athens games would have been held, I’ll give “reports” on what would you would have seen each day all those centuries ago, and you’ll realise why I call them “The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”.

The Greeks were well-known for their naked training camps. They trained their athletes to help them fight in battle. And because they were naked (“gymnos”, in Greek) they called their camp a gymnasium. They seem to have been invented by the Spartans, who were often laughed at at the Olympics because of their long, girly hair and open displays of affection between men.

Training was also a religious act. It was an attempt to become like the Greek gods by forming the body of a god. The ancient Greek statues you see of rippling muscles is what you actually saw in reality (it’s one of the few accurate parts of the film “300”). At the entrance to each gymnasium in Athens there was an altar and statue to the Greek god who looked after their training. Believe it or not he was EROS, the god of “intimate love” (as his name translates into English). Before they left for battle the athlete-soldiers would give offerings and prayers to Eros.

It was also expected of every athlete to take a younger trainee as a lover. The bond formed would last through their lives, through marriage to women, and to death. If you didn’t have a boyfriend there was something suspicious about you. The most famous brigade of lovers was the Sacred Band from the city-state of Thebes, a total of 300 soldiers specially chosen because they were all loving couples.

Tomorrow, before I begin to describe the Athenian games, I’ll tell you about their origin.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Future Shocks!

It’s a little early in the year, I know, I’m thinking ahead.

My tours of Nottingham have always been well received. Several groups have even been on more than one. I’m always looking for new themes and ideas. For several years I’ve been trying to come up with a Hallowe’en tour – complete with references to being “grabbed by the ghoulies” and “putting the willies up you”! There isn’t much information to work on with regards to the lgbt angle, except that Nottinghamshire’s Lord Byron was present at the birth of the story of Frankenstein.

Earlier this year I thought I might adapt my “Seven Deadly Gay Sins” tour and put emphasis on the various gruesome punishments in Hell awaiting the sinful. I might work out a combination of the two and research new information. I could even include my own encounter in Canning Circus cemetery with a dead (human) body that wasn’t supposed to be there (a tale I’ll go into more detail about in November).

As a Christian I also commemorate All Saints Day the day after Hallowe’en, being the dedication of my home parish church in Misterton. So by combining the 2 days I could come up with a “ Gay Demons and Queer Saints” tour.

If people would be interested in a Hallowe’en tour, conducted late at night of course, please let me know and I’ll be spurred on to put one together. If you know of any gruesome gay tales of Nottingham, suitable for a light-hearted tour, also drop me an email.

I’ll leave you with a truly awful joke – Why can’t you ever see the cross-dressing father of a ghost? Because he’s trans-parent!!! Get it? Oh, never mind.

Friday 12 August 2011

Do you need a fag?

I got a very nice surprise earlier this week when I logged on to the LGBT History Month website. I’d been sending them information on several occasions, mainly regarding lgbt sport and the Olympics which I mentioned in a previous post. As well as the list of lgbt Olympians I compiled a history of lgbt involvement in sport from the year 14 AD. Both of these are now on the History Month website - http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk​/updates/out-of-the-blocks-tak​es-us-to-the-future

It's a pity they spelt my name wrong!
I’m still working on them and adding new dates and events. For instance, one recent addition to an entry on the Gay Games is the participation of the 1960s Marlborough cigarette man who was famous on advertising boards around the world, Christian Haren. Another recent addition is the publication date of “The Book of Sport” written by “Queen” James I in 1617 in which he banned bear-baiting on Sundays amongst other things.

What I find amusing is that these men are on the opposite sides of tobacco addiction. Christian Haren earned a fortune as the “Marlborough Man”, presenting to the world a macho smoker that women lusted after (and a few men, given that he owned a gay bar in San Francisco and became HIV+ and spent his last years on AIDS prevention tours around American schools). King James I of Great Britain, however, detested tobacco. He wrote a very long tract denouncing smoking, and ended with one of the best sentences in the anti-smoking lobby that has never been bettered. He called smoking: “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”. Nice turn of phrase, though I wouldn’t go that far myself, even though I’m a non-smoker.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Out of Their Trees - Rufus Wainwright

The New series of “Who Do You Think You Are?” began this week. It has featured a good handful of lgbt participants in the past.

I’ve been interested in genealogy longer than any other branch of history. For LGBT History Month 2010 I researched ancestries of many lgbt people. I found about 2 dozen lgbt descendants of Nottinghamshire Mayflower Pilgrims (I don’t call them Pilgrim Fathers because there were Mothers and Children as well), including Katherine Hepburn and Vincent Price.

Gay US/Canadian singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright has varied roots. Through his mother there’s a lot of French-Canadian ancestry which he shares with Madonna and the Duchess of Cornwall. But one descent which interested me was his Pilgrim ancestry which he shares with Barack Obama.

The name Pilgrim is always associated with the Mayflower but there were other Pilgrims – families and friends – who sailed to America in later years. Rufus Wainwright does have Mayflower ancestry, but not from the original ship.

The original Mayflower was left to rot in Rotherhithe. A second ship named Mayflower was built and sailed from London in 1629 stopping at Gravesend to pick up Pilgrim passengers. Peter Blossom of Cambridge had decided to sail with the Pilgrims to America in 1620 on the Mayflower’s companion ship Speedwell. Unfortunately, Speedwell sprang a leak and had to turn back. The Mayflower went ahead alone and Blossom didn’t get chance to join the others until the new Mayflower was built. With him went his wife and young family, his eldest child being Elizabeth aged 9. At the age of 17 she married Nottinghamshire-born Pilgrim Edward FitzRandolph.

The FitzRandolphs have an ancient heritage and a coat of arms (pictured). They descend from King William the Lion of Scotland (uncle to one alleged candidate for the original Robin Hood). By marriage into the Langton family they inherited Langton Hall near Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Edward FitzRandolph was baptised in Sutton in 1607. As a child he would have heard about the emerging Puritan Separatist movement in Bassetlaw. Edward and the Separatists were persecuted by the government because of their lifestyle, just as many lgbt people around the world are today. That’s why Puritans began to leave for places where they could worship in freedom.

FitzRandolph left for America in 1630 in the “Winthrop Fleet”, a group of over 700 Pilgrim settlers. Also in this fleet were the Cheseborough family, Rufus Wainwright’s ancestors from Lincolnshire.

In the Puritan colony Edward met and married Elizabeth Blossom in 1637. Over time a lot of colonists found the Puritan lifestyle becoming more strict and confining, and the FitzRandolphs were among many who moved to other colonies. The FitzRandolphs moved to New Jersey and had 12 children. Rufus descends from their youngest child Benjamin. Their eldest son Nathaniel is ancestor of President Barack Obama.

Rufus Wainwright has more Robin Hood connections. He descends from the brother of Sir William Neville, Constable of Nottingham Castle, whose boyfriend Sir John Clanvowe probably wrote the earliest surviving stories of Robin Hood. Another ancestor is King Edward II of England who spent a lot of time at Nottingham Castle and made his boyfriend Piers Gaveston the Constable.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

With less than a year to go before the London Olympics I thought I’d share with you some research I’ve been doing over the past couple of years. LGBT History Month is held in the UK every February. For 2011 and 2012 the theme of sport. This got me thinking about lgbt involvement at the Olympics and sport in general. Two projects came out of this:

1)       my quest to list all lgbt Olympians, and
2)       the history of Ancient Greek sport.

The second of these produced a presentation called “The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”, which told the origin and history of the Hyakinthia Festival and the Great Panathenean Games. I’ll tell you all about that another time.

The first project produced a list of 100 lgbt Olympians, “groundbreaking” as Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage put it. I suppose it is in a way as no-one has done it before. I managed to produce a chart with 100 names in time for a local exhibition in LGBT History Month 2011. Since then I’ve added a more names.

Some lgbt Olympians are well known – John Curry, Martina Navratilova and Matthew Mitcham. Some were not “out” when they competed, and a few of them were involved in controversies around their sexuality or gender. In fact, one German athlete was sent to a Nazi concentration camp because he was gay.

Fear of homophobia still prevents a lot of people from coming out. One of these was a competitor at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, an American soldier. This created a double whammy of a problem, because even if this athlete came out he/she would be have been fired from the US Army because of their ban on serving lgbt soldiers. That anonymous athlete (whose identity I DO know but won’t reveal his/her name) is still, to the best of my knowledge, still closeted in the army.

What I would like to do in 2012 is bring you some of the stories of athletes who are out. I probably won’t get through them all.

The London Olympics has already become the gayest Olympics so far with a Diversity Group, and an invitation offered to lgbt athletes to come to the games. There’s even a special Olympic Pride badge.

I don’t think the sexuality of the athletes is as important as the quality of sport, but there are thousands of athletes who still fear prejudice and discrimination for other athletes and their own sports organisations.

For July 2012, when the Olympics take place, I’ll go all out to bring you as much information as possible and, fingers crossed, a new chart for you to download containing my target of 125 lgbt Olympians.

Monday 8 August 2011

First things First

Welcome to my first blog. For 5 years I have been running guided tours of Nottingham with historical lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) themes, the most popular being “The 7 Deadly Gay Sins of Nottingham” (can’t think why!!). During my research I have uncovered lots of information that I can’t use on the tours for various reasons, but I think the information should still reach an audience. Hence this blog.

Some people think history is dull. I don’t. The popularity of “Horrible Histories” proves that even the most boring periods of history have interesting bits. Lgbt history is no different, and much of it has yet to be re-discovered.

One criticism I’m likely to get is that I’m trying to prove that the society we all live in could only have happened because of gay men and women, that we owe everything to gay men and women, and that straight people have taken credit for the actions of gay men and women throughout history. That’s far from the case. I have no heterophobic agenda. I’m not “reclaiming” gay history, I’m “rediscovering” it, it’s everyone’s history as much as straight, or women’s, or ethnic history is.

In a multi-cultural world, even a “multi-diverse” world, it’s easy to forget that we all contribute something to society, however small. That has always happened, and there are ways to reveal how our ancestors influenced society. I think people will recognise that until recent decades history has been written and presented to us by white, straight, middle- or upper-class, academic, Christian men. Convention led them to research and present history as though it was made by people like themselves.

In the late 20th century more research was put into the history of women, black people, children, the working classes and other cultures, and their influences around the world. Some true heroes have been reclaimed from obscurity, NOT because they were deliberately hidden but because nobody thought they were relevant.

That’s how I see lgbt history. It’s a hidden world waiting to be revealed. I see myself as an explorer and I hope you feel the same as you read my blog. Perhaps other areas of society will be revealed as it assimilates the new information. Already people are researching the contribution made by left-handed people (we sinistrals must stick together!!), and the physically impaired (perhaps sparked by the genius of Stephen Hawking).

My blog will bring you the queerest facts from history, as well as contemporary links, and perhaps a few cartoons, puzzles and games along the way for you to use in your own celebrations in LGBT History Month (that’s every February in the UK, and every October in the USA, by the way).

There also will be guest bloggers and interviews, and information on other history blogs and websites that will connect you to the rest of the queer world.

I also want to make this blog “family friendly”. Too many lgbt blogs, websites and magazines are unsuitable for children, and I think children are often the ones most interested in history. If I need to bring “adult” themes into the posts I’ll give advance warning.

So, what can you expect? Here’s just a sample of the range of subjects I will be covering:

v      The lady who escaped marrying Mr. Clotworthy Skeffington to save millions of lives and introduce a new language into the UK.

v      The link between “Star Trek”, “Right Said Fred” and the US Embassy in Luxembourg.

v      How a gay poet invented St. Valentine’s Day and may have written the first Robin Hood ballad.

v      How Eros, a torch relay, and an assassination became part of the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”.

v      How the first “Queen” of Great Britain chose the world’s most internationally-used national flag.

v      How the Age of Aquarius is truly “the Gay Age”.

v      Who owned the world’s most expensive bathroom loofahs.

v      And more.

I look forward to seeing you visit my blog and hope you enjoy it.