By: John Stefan
Boylove already existed in the times of the ancient Greeks. The poet Straton wrote:
"When a boy is twelve
I enjoy him
and when he is thirteen,
he attracts me even more.
Yet, love blossoms sweeter at fourteen,
and even bigger is the desire with a fifteen-year-old.
Sixteen-year-olds are destined for the gods;
at seventeen I don´t even look for them myself; they are for Zeus.
If you go for even older ones,
then it is not a game anymore,
for then you look for one
who does it back to you."
No man was ashamed for his contacts with boys. Phidas, the great sculptor, made the huge statue of the supreme god Zeus and inscribed on the thumb of this piece of art, legible to everyone: "What a beautiful boy Pantarkes is!" In all houses you could see vases and dishes with boy portraits, provided with the caption "kalos" (the beautiful one). Boys went to school when they were about eight. They had lessons under strict supervision, especially when they went to the "gymnasiums", the schools for physical education. As from the age of fourteen, a boy made his entry into public society and was allowed to take part in public gatherings. Boys gained their first sexual experiences with prostitutes and other boys and older men. In Greek society there was no taboo on homosexuality. There was the conviction that homosexual experiences would influence the building of boys highly positively.
In the city-state of Sparta, thirteen-year-old boys ended up in a system of age groups. It was common practice to regularly visit the "tent societies" of the older men and the boy was expected to choose a "protector" with whom he entered into a sexual relationship. Legally, the "protector" was equal to the father and he played a big role in raising a boy as a "full Spartan citizen". These relationships were often long-lasting and only came to an end when the younger partner became the "protector" of another boy. At twenty, a boy's education was completed and he became a full Spartan citizen. Because male prostitution was getting out of hand, strict laws were enacted later on in relation to the contacts between men and boys. People looked askance at homosexual relationships.
In their essays about education, the well-known scientists and philosophers Plato and Aristoteles, boylovers themselves, argued that children should be kept far from unbecoming acts and utterances.
During the 5th and 4th centuries BC, it was necessary to protect schoolgoing boys against men who were too obtrusive. There was a taboo on sexual acts with children who were not sexually mature yet.
Perhaps the oldest story about the love between a man and a boy is the Greek myth about the god Zeus and the little shepherd Ganymedes. Ganymedes was the son of king Tros or Laomedon, and the most beautiful of all mortals. The supreme god Zeus sent his big eagle to earth to steal Ganymedes. The lad suffered this calmly, because he knew that he was the high god's favourite. He was appointed cup-bearer of the gods. They desired him strongly. He avoided the horny gods and found protection by the hard Zeus, who became mild as a result of the influence of the good, beautiful boy.
The Bible does say something about homosexual relations, but not about boylove. It is different in the Koran, which says that a believer will enter Paradise, where "youngsters whose bloom will never fade (eternally living boys) will go round among them to serve them, with goblets and mugs with streaming wine".
Yusuf ar Razi wrote in 916: "More than a hundred times I made a pact with God that I would not have contacts with boys anymore. But the beauty of their cheeks, the growth of their figure and the roguish brilliance in their eyes made this impossible every time again."
The poet Abu Nowas plays a role in the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights and is always engaged with boys. "If only I have a boy, I can do without women," he said. During desert trips, with no women around, the Arabs had sexual intercourse with boys. Turks and Arabs fought many battles against European nations, with the only goal to seize beautiful, white boys. There was a special slave market for them in Constantinopel (now Istanbul). They were raised then as true believers and were gradually given positions of confidence. The less fortunate ended up in boy brothels. Abu Nowas too owed his fortune to the fact that he was a beautiful boy, with a handsome face and a smooth skin. He had served many men with his beauty and earned his money by this. Thus, he finally got acquainted with his teacher Waliba, a famous poet who discovered his little friend's talent and promoted it. Later Abu Nowas was chasing boys himself and plainly admitted this in his writings. He knew very well that what he did in his passion was regarded a sin. "People say: 'You have mended your ways.' No, by God, I have not. As long as I shall live, I won't be able to stop kissing beardless boys. Wherever I will go, I will see beardless boys coming to me. When I will die later, Lord, I hope that you will forgive me."
In China and Japan the love between an older and a younger friend was taken for granted. For the Japanese knights, the Samurai, boylove stood far above the love of women. They kept shield-bearers and pages to satisfy their desires. The high Shoguns sometimes kept harems of no less than forty boys.
The monks did not restrict the relation teacher/student to the schooldeks either.
Both in Japan and China boys in the theatre were given roles of women, because women were not allowed on stage. It could happen then that boys kept on walking around in women's clothes after a performance and were paid for sex by men. Thus the theatres acquired a second function as boy brothels. When they were small, boys were sold to brothel keepers and trained to be young male whores. Up to the age of 30, young men in some Japanese regions were not allowed to have sexual intercourse with girls and women. That's why the boy brothel business was hardly able to meet their needs. The errand boys in shops were always available too. Not until the middle of the 19th century these conditions came to an end. Knighthood disappeared, because there was a need of modern armament. A criminal law from 1871 forbade all sexual acts between people of the same sex, but secretly, there were still boy brothels.
In the Roman times, which preceded Western, Christian civilization, homosexuality between citizens was forbidden by law (in other words, what people did with their slaves was their own business.) The emperor August wanted to enforce this law more vigorously, while his poets cheerfully continued singing about he attractions of both boys and girls. The most famous man/boy relationship from ancient times was the one between the emperor Hadrian (117-138) and the extraordinarily beautiful Antinous, which lasted nine years. When Hadrian was drowned during a boat trip on the Nile, the grief of the emperor was so intense, that his subjects tactfully joined him in this; statues of the deceased favourite arose all over the empire and in some cities he was even declared a god. The Satyricon (round the year 60 AD), by Petronius Arbiter, who lived under the cruel emperor Nero, describes a love relationship between the student Encolpio and the boy Giton, both living in the south of Italy. It is a relationship full of passion and jealousy, because a fellow-student of Encolpio's is involved too. During the first centuries after the fall of the Roman empire (476), neither the Christianizised society as a whole, nor the Christian theology in particular, were set against homosexuality. However, certain anti-homosexual laws lived on forever.
As from the 12th century there was an increasing spread of "homosexual themes" among all layers of the population, in sculpture, in literature and in philosophy. People started to strictly disapprove of "sodomy" (homosexual acts) and stakes were erected for the ones who had committed "the lamentable sin".
During the 14th and the 15th centuries, involving minors in all kinds of sexual relations was not hard to take. However, homosexuality was condemned severely. Round 1300, one Arnaud de Vernoilles was punished for indecent behaviour with several boys in the village Montaillou (France).
In 1504 Arent Janszoon from Mechelen (Belgium) described how, a long time earlier, when "he was a little boy and was playing in the street", he was called by one Jan Lyen "into his house". "With fine and gentle words", Arent was laid down there in a room. And the text goes on: "...having the above-mentioned requestor (= Arent) in the room, thus the master Jan himself began with the above-mentioned requestor and took the requestor's manhood in his hand, and thus pulled the above-mentioned requestor over to him, onto his body, but he, the above-mentioned requestor, could not say or declare at his departure, where he, requestor, left his manhood when he was with master Jan".
In northern Italian cities boylove must have occurred rather openly. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the universal inventor and painter of the Mona Lisa, was imprisoned for a couple of days, because he was suspected of having sexual relations with "questionable" boys. Among the little helpers and housemates whom Leonardo employed later on, a little boy turned up: Jacomo, also called Salai (= devil). "On St Magdalen's nameday (22 July. JS) in the year 1490, one Jacomo was standing before me, ten years old. The next day I had two shirts made for him, and also a pair of stockings and a jacket". This boy did not seem to have many clothes. "But when I had put the money for that aside, he stole it from a box, the thief, the liar, the obstructionist, the gourmet. And it was not possible for me to bring him to a confession, though I was perfectly sure of what I was doing". In spite of this, Leonardo kept Salai with him till the end of his Italian days. In his last will he left him half of his possessions. Vasari says about Salai: "He was charming in his graceful beauty, he had splendidly curled locks, which pleased Leonardo highly...". The painter Michelangelo (1475-1564) was also known for his love of boys and some of them were models for his angel portraits.
The famous German writer Goethe (1747-1832) wrote the following about boylove: "The love of boys is as old as mankind, so we can say that it is something natural, something based on nature. Something that culture conquered, captured on nature, and what may not be given out of hand anymore. Something we may not lose grip upon to no price".
The Italian priest Giovanni "Don" Bosco expressed his love for boys in a very special way. In 1841 he settled down in Turin, where hundreds of boys visited his chapel and his night school. Together with his mother he opened a boarding-house for apprentices, where they could learn all kinds of trades, like tailoring and shoemaking. These activities grew and led to the foundation from 1854 of a congregation to carry on the work. Don Bosco, who was canonized, once wrote that he did not remember ever having to punish a boy (and some of his protégés were juvenile delinquents). His genius with boys was partly inborn, partly the fruit of experience. He always sought to make things attractive for his apprentices, whether it concerned school or religion. One of the setbacks Bosco had to deal with, was the death of the 15-year-old Dominic Savio, whom he had wanted to train as a helper. Around the whole world there are still Don Bosco youth institutions to be found. Some of them bear the name "Dominic Savio Institution".
In 1812 the novella Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) by the world-famous German writer Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was published. It is the story about a writer who always strived for the highest purity in his work and sees this purity symbolized in the beautiful, 14-year-old Tadzio, with whom he falls desperately in love.
In the Netherlands, the poet/teacher Willem de Mérode (1887-1939) dedicated much of his work to boys with whom he was in love. In 1924 he had to be imprisoned because of indecent behaviour with a 16-year-old pupil, Jaap, who had come to his house. According to De Mérode, the boy had provoked a sexual contact. De Mérode wrote in a letter: "I do not care a thing about it myself. If only I may spoil a boy a bit. Jaap, however, DID care about it, and because he was so kind to want to console me, when Okke (another little friend. JS) left me, I said, come on, very well, let me just do it. Of course it was incredibly, incredibly stupid". In prison De Mérode wrote the poem 'Sledevaart' ('Sledge Ride'), dedicated to another boy whom he loved, Jopie. This boy contacted him again after his release, because the love was mutual. A collection of poems, which was given to him by De Mérode, contains the lines:
who remained so faithful to me
6 November 1924
Other well-known writers/poems from the 20th and 21st centuries who deal with the boylove theme, are, a.o.:
- USA: Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg
- Belgium: Astère Michel Dhondt (God in Vlaanderen, Zeven geestige knaapjes)
- The Netherlands: Gerard Reve, Boudewijn Büch (De kleine blonde dood), Jan Hanlo, Kees Verheul (Een jongen met vier benen), dr Edward Brongersma (Sex met kinderen), Hafid Bouazza (De voeten van Abdullah)
- France: Roger Peyrefitte (Les Amitiés Particulières)
- Italy: Pier Paolo Pasolini (Ragazzi di vita, Atti impuri, Amado mio), Sandro Penna.
Up to the late Fifties of the 20th century, boylove, just like man love, was regarded a disease which could be cured (a.o. through castration). Someone who loved boys was not appreciated because of his pedagogic qualities, but regarded a pervert. This mainly resulted from the fear of sex in the northern regions of Europe. In the south and in the Asian countries, people were a lot more open-minded about sexual relations beyond the normal pattern. That's why many boylovers travelled to countries like Morocco and the Philippines.
The above-mentioned dr Edward Brongersma (1911-1998) was a member of the Dutch House of Lords (Eerste Kamer) between 1946 and 1950 and was given a psychiatrical treatment in 1950, because of his affair with a 16-year-old boy (still illegal then). He got rather heavily depressed and it was not until 1956 that he was given the function of manager of the Maatschappelijk Buurtwerk (= Social Community Work) in Haarlem. Three years later he was allowed to practice his lawyer's office again. In 1963 he returned into parliament as judiciary expert from the PvdA (Dutch Labour Party). Only former Prime Minister Willem Drees was against this. After that, Brongersma often acted as an expert witness in indecency cases. As a well-known Dutch pedophile, he became the victim of a witch hunt during the Dutroux affair in 1996. His windows were smashed and he needed to go underground. He got depressed and requested for euthanasia, which request was granted by his doctor in 1998.
During the Seventies, after the Sexual Revolution, a more tolerant climate towards pedophilia came into being, and within the NVSH (Dutch Association for Sexual Reformation) special study groups were set up to make the subject debatable and to offer information and help to people with feelings for children. Similar initiatives also came about in other European countries. The age limit for being allowed to have sex differed from country to country and was round the age of 16 most of the time.
In 1982 the Vereniging MARTIJN (MARTIJN Association) was founded in the Netherlands to make relationships between young and older people debatable and to strive for liberalization of the moral law. The issues of club magazine OK show a mainly positive image of the special love of children through articles, stories, poems and diaries, both by older people and children. This is also the case with Theo Sandfort's book from 1986, Jongens over vriendschap en seks met mannen (Boys about Friendship and Sex with Men), which was translated into English.
The members of the MARTIJN Association, like other people with the same feelings, needed to preserve a strict anonymity, certainly because of the mass hysteria and the misunderstandings about pedophilia after the Dutroux affair. Also the fact that about 400 priests in the USA appeared to have committed indecent behaviour with minor boys, did not exactly contribute to a better understanding of boylove, and neither did the networks of the makers of child porn which were rolled up. In 2003, there were two MARTIJN members who cancelled their anonymity on the internet: Marthijn Uittenbogaard and Norbert de Jonge, which caused a wave of publicity. [Editor: both were active before 2003 as pedophile activists under their own names.]
Boylover forums on the internet become more and more popular: a.o., Boy Chat, Boy Forum, Boylover.net and Boy Moment. Boylovers support and advise each other there and exchange experiences and opinions. In 2005 the first BL Awards were presented in the Dutch room on BL.net to nominees in various BL related categories.
OK, 1985, 1986, 1991, # 87 - 2003
De Mérode en de jongens, Hans Werkman, 1991
Homologie, 1984, februari 1986
Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Friedenthal, 1973
Michelangelo, Rolf Scott, 1963
The Greeks and Romans, Nathaniel Harris, 1980
De roof van Ganymedes, Dominique Fernandez, 1989
The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Donald Attwater, 1965
Interview with dr Edward Brongersma, from the NOS radio programme 'Een leven lang', 6 May 1993
NB: This history is not complete, but tries to give a rough sketch of the development of the views on boylove.
source: Article 'Boylove History' by John Stefan; OK Magazine, no. 94; June 2006