Zeus

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The Grecian “Father of the Gods and Men” gained his title after freeing his siblings from their cannibalistic father’s digestive tract, then banishing him and his fellow Titans to the underworld. As he is a mythological figure, there are no shortage of tales and variations on his deeds: Wikipedia’s list reads like a series of Chuck Norris jokes, with each legend more outrageous than the last. (“When Hera gave birth to Hephaestus, Zeus threw him off the top of Mount Olympus because of his repulsive appearance.”)

Zeus’s extensive (and often upsetting) sexual history is a story in itself. The mating practices of the Greek gods combined the drama of a human soap opera with the fantastical, creating scandals like the birth of Athena, goddess of wisdom, who sprung fully-formed from Zeus’s head after he swallowed her mother whole. Nowadays Zeus might be classified as bisexual because his liaisons included the pedaristic relationship he shared with Ganymede, the world’s most handsome boy, whose Latin name Catamitus was the origin for the term catamite. (Interestingly, Zeus also plays a pivotal role in Plato’s speech on the origin of love in his Symposium, in which he inadvertently creates both hetero- and homosexuality, along with the opening number of the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.)

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Emperor Hadrian

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Though he is now known for the massive, eponymous wall he constructed that defined the boundaries of Roman Britain, it took more for Hadrian to earn his place as one of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. Machiavelli hypothesized that Hadrian’s adoption was the key to his benevolent dictatorship, which was marked by a patronage of the arts and a scaling back of conquered territories. His philhellenism (obsession with Greece) spawned the revival of the beard as a fashion choice, which endured among the Romans for generations after his death. This is not to suggest that his reign was without bloodshed: his occupation of Roman Judaea was especially nasty, and rife with anti-Jewish policies.

As with all figures from historical Rome who engaged in same-sex relationships, Hadrian’s sexual orientation is difficult to translate into a modern paradigm. Online sources vary on how much interest he had in women, but he is known to have had such a close bond with a male youth, Antinous, that upon the teenager’s death from drowning, Hadrian mourned by erecting a city – and a cult – in his honor. Due to the ambiguity, he is tagged ‘bisexual’, ‘gay’, and ‘pederasty’.

Heracles/Hercules

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Boasting astonishing physical, mental, and sexual prowess, Heracles (his original Greek name) was the paragon of fictional heroism. Over the course of his Twelve Labors he captures and slays a full menagerie of mythical beasts and cleans out the raunchiest stables in all the Mediterranean, then moves on to joining the quest for the Golden Fleece, which he ditches after his love affair with a male companion takes a tragic turn – a common thread in his stories, as curses from the goddess Hera repeatedly force him to kill those he loves the most. (She had ample cause for complaint: he was born after her philandering husband Zeus tricked a mortal woman into sex by pretending to be her husband, and – after another round of trickery, this time from Athena – Heracles nursed from Hera so violently that her breast milk sprayed into the sky and formed the Milky Way.)

Heracles’s legendary accomplishments are far too extensive to list in a short blog post, and his list of lovers poses a similar problem. Following one of his Labors he – no pun intended – impregnated 49 women in a single night. His same-sex affairs were celebrated, to the point where one of his lovers was worshipped alongside him by the Thebans; King Eurystheus, for whom he performed the Labors, is treated in some interpretations as his lover as well.

 

 

Oscar Wilde

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Oscar Wilde, having written that “life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about,” might have appreciated his mythologized status on Uncyclopedia, “The Content-Free Encyclopedia,” where his wit is memorialized as a series of fake quotations and humorous biographical falsehoods, but the real story of the Irish poet and playwright is nearly as impressive in its outrageousness.

Wilde is best known for his comedies of error (The Importance of Being Earnest being the most acclaimed example) and for the sodomy trial that sent him to prison and contributed to his death at age 46. He began his writing career with a book of poetry, branching out into editorship of a women’s magazine; his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; essays on the aesthetic movement (a philosophy that sought to divorce artistic merit from political and social criticism); a book of children’s stories called The Happy Prince; and his beloved plays. His lecture circuits took him across the UK and into the US, where he famously met Walt Whitman and bragged about kissing him.

Though never famous for his sense of decorum, Wilde’s homosexual exploits did not land him in any serious trouble until he developed a relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, aka “Bosie”, the son of the Marquis of Queensberry. Queensberry, best known for inventing the modern rules of boxing, took issue with Bosie’s decadent lifestyle, and left a letter for Wilde accusing him of “posing as a Somdomite [sic].” The allegation – and possibly its lamentable spelling – drove Wilde into a fury, and he initiated a private prosecution against Queensberry for criminal libel. Since the initial allegation was true, Wilde found himself in an awkward place when he was called to the stand, and was forced to retract the accusation under threat of male prostitutes he had visited being called to testify against him. A warrant for his arrest for sodomy and gross indencency was issued, and he lost his trial, receiving the maximum sentence of two years’ hard labor; the 50,000 word letter he composed to Bosie during his incarceration titled De Profundis (Latin for ‘Out of the Depths’) was later published.

After he was released, Wilde traveled to Paris, where he reunited with Bosie until their families threatened to cut off funds. He developed cerebral meningitis and died alone in a hotel. Though he was initially buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux outside Paris, his remains were later transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city proper, and outfitted with a large tomb featuring a modernist angel, whose oversized genitalia were later stolen. A tradition sprang up near the end of the 20th Century of visitors planting lipstick-enhanced kisses on Wilde’s tomb, though a wall of glass, erected in 2011, has put a stop to the practice.

Because he married and expressed affection for his wife, Constance, there remains some controversy as to whether Wilde was gay or bisexual; however, he preferred the term Socratic to describe his sexuality, linking him to the Classical Greek tradition of pederasty, the erotic and – in his view – pedagogical relationship between an older and younger man.