Bagoas was a powerful Persian minister who had the Emperors Artaxerxes III and Arses murdered before finally being killed by Darius III.
The name Bagoas is a Greek version of an Old Persian name for eunuchs. He came to prominence as a minister of Artaxerxes III, the last successful Achaemenid emperor of Persia. Bagoas also cooperated with Mentor of Rhodes, a key supporter of the Persians.
In 343 Artaxerxes led the successful Persian re-conquest of Egypt, which had rebelled sixty years earlier and fought off several Persian attacks. The Pharaoh Nectanebo II was defeated at Pelusium in the Nile Delta, ending the 30th Dynasty and with it Egyptian independence. Artaxerxes was said to have killed the sacred Apis bull in person, and the Egyptian temples were plundered of their wealth and many religious artefacts. Bagoas is said to have made a fortune by selling the stolen sacred texts back to the priests.
After returning from Egypt Bagoas took power at the court in Susa and in the upper satrapies, while Mentor of Rhodes operated in the west of the Empire.
In 340 Philip of Macedonia attacked Perinthus and Byzantium on the European side of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus. Artaxerxes sent effective support to these cities, a move that later gave Philip an excuse to invade Asia Minor.
In 338 Bagoas had Artaxerxes and all but one of his sons murdered after losing some of his influence at the court. The Emperor himself was poisoned by his doctor. Bagoas then placed the surviving son Arses on the throne, but the new Emperor wasn't as easy to control as Bagoas had expected. In 336 Bagoas had Arses murdered and placed Darius III on the throne.
Darius soon turned out to more independently-minded than Bagoas had hoped. He attempted to poison Darius, but the Emperor was pre-warned, and Bagoas was forced to drink his own poison.
Well…Darius III wasn’t the biggest fan of Bagoas either, and when Bagoas tried to have him poisoned, he was ready for it and instead forced Bagoas to drink the poison himself. Things wouldn’t last too long for Darius III though, as Alexander the Great came shortly afterward to conquer his empire.
No list discussing poisoning would be complete without a mention of one of the most famous poisonings of all time, the trial and execution of Socrates. While Socrates administered the poison himself, uttering that he longed for death after a long life of reflection, it&rsquos no secret that the father of Western philosophy was coerced into doing so in an Athenian prison, put into a situation where he had to accept an unjust guilt, pay a fine, and leave town&mdashsomething he could not, in good conscience, bring himself to do&mdashor die at his own hand in the custody of the Athenian authorities. The Athenians needed a face to blame, a scapegoat for political and social unrest, and Socrates was just about the least popular character in town at the time. 
Socrates was the laughingstock of the city but also a philosophical genius, a fool capable of making a fool of everyone who thought he was a fool, demonstrably and in public, by outsmarting them. This made the old man a target for political attacks, and he would be persecuted and essentially forced to drink poison by his fellow Athenians. Plato tells of Socrates&rsquos trial, and through Plato, the philosophy of Socrates lived on and ended up being a catalyst that changed the entire history of the Western world indefinitely.
Born into a Muslim family, Zheng He was originally born with the name &ldquoMa He&rdquo, and he was ethnically Mongolian and Arab. His name was changed to sound more Chinese at a later date. He was very open-minded to all religions and cultures. The stories about how he became a eunuch vary, and no one is sure if he was 10, or 16 years old when it happened. At that time, China and Mongolia were constantly at war with one another over territory, so he was captured and called a &ldquoMongol pretender&rdquo, which is when they castrated him as a punishment and forced him into becoming a slave.
Even though he went through that horrific event as a child, he he still went on grow up to be a trusted advisor to the prince, because he was seen as having insider knowledge about the cultures and customs of other lands. He was able to go on epic adventures as a sea mariner, explorer, and international diplomat. They even erected a statue in his honor, which is still standing in China to this day.
When I was reading Olmstead's History of the Persian Empire, I learned about a eunuch named Bagoas who was a vizier to Artaxerxes III. He was also a master poisoner who left a lot of bodies in his wake. Bagoas - Wikipedia
Olmstead in his history of Persia said that if anyone could have taken on Alexander III and beat him, it was Artaxerxes lll. That Bagoas was the man who put Darius lll on the throne.
Question: could Artaxes lll saved his kingdom from the Macedonian. And yes, I am sympathetic to Persia because of Olmstead who clearly cared nothing for Alexander. But could Artaxerxes III stopped him?
Bagoas was one of the Persian overall commanders of the army which restored Egypt. Typically, Greek sources credit this all to Greek merenaries and like to portray people such as Mentor of Rhodes as crucial. The fact that Bagoas is subsequently found as a form of overseer of the eastern or upper satrapies indicates that Ochus found his work in Egypt more than acceptable. Late in Ochus' reign Bagoas is chiliarch - the highest position in the empire below the king and commander of his guard and "kinsmen". Diodoros likes to present him as a completely untrustworthy rogue of seemingly unlimited ambition. Enough that he would poison Ochus and his entire family to play kingmaker and make Arses his puppet. In fact, several of Ochus' family are later found alive when Alexander invades and the Astronomical Diary (BM 7137) claims Ochus died of natural causes. This is not the only time these tablets contradict Greek tropes, such as Dareios III being deserted by his troops at Guagamela rather than the other around. In any case, Bagoas may well have ensured the succession of Arses by murdering those closest in line if Ochus had not done so himself.
As to whether Ochus would have defeated Alexander, that is speculative. Ochus faced the usual succession satrapal upheavals but nothing like an invasion of the heartland of the empire. He was a very energetic ruler in the manner of Antiochus III for the Seleukid Empire. Dareios III never had the time to show what he would have been like and so the comparison is, like many such, fraught.
The maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community has held chapter-by-chapter discussions of two of the Alexander Trilogy novels. Within the fanbase there is some friendly rivalry between those fans who prefer Bagoas, and those who prefer Hephaistion, though many fans enjoy both characters, and this has been evident in the discussions of both books.
- The Persian Boy: A chapter-by-chapter discussion of this novel started in August 2007  , but the discussion petered out by Chapter 11  . Discussion was resumed in September 2008  , and the book was concluded.  For more details, see the The Persian Boy article.
- Fire from Heaven: Chapter-by-chapter discussion of this novel started in April 2010  , sparked after fans learned the novel had been short-listed for the Lost Man Booker Prize  . The novel did not win the prize but discussion continued until July 2010, when the participants reached the end of the book. This discussion also did not attract wide participation but nonetheless was enjoyed by a small but dedicated group of fans who posted long contributions. 
One minor by-product of the book discussions has been greater awareness of minor inconsistencies in Renault's descriptions of Alexander the Great (red and/or gold hair blue and/or grey eyes), which has also been subject for speculation in ITOWverse.
Coming Out: Queer Erasure and Censorship from the Middle Ages to Modernity
Bible, about 1280–90, Bologna, Italy. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig I 11, fol. 248v National Coming Out Day (NCOD) Logo created and donated by Keith Haring to the Human Rights Campaign.
This post acknowledges and discusses important—but often overlooked—aspects of premodern life, relationships, and identities that existed beyond the gender binary (female and male) or heteronormative couplings (a man and a woman). As curators of and specialists in medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts (books made and painted by hand), our focus will be objects from the Getty collection that were produced in premodern Europe from about 1200 to 1600 we will consider the ways in which images and texts were translated, transmitted, and transformed in later centuries all the way to the present day.
Nothing Is “Normal”
Male Martyrs and Saints Worshiping the Lamb of God Female Martyrs and Saints Worshiping the Lamb of God in the Spinola Hours, about 1510–20, Master of the James IV of Scotland. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig IX 18, fols. 39v–40
Human sexuality and gender identity are complex topics, and our understanding of each is continually expanding and deepening. It is sometimes tempting to generalize about what constituted “normal” male and female behaviors, expectations, identities, and relationships in the past, but the norm in one place and time was not necessarily the norm in another. Even categories like male/female, gay/straight, or Christian/non-Christian risk essentializing, oversimplifying, or anachronism. Such binaries begin to break down under greater scrutiny. In scholarship, the term “queer” is often used to describe any expression of sexuality or gender that disrupts or disturbs traditional binaries. Each image discussed in this post could be described as providing a queer lens with which to view the past—“queering,” if you will. This approach is not exclusively about gay, lesbian, transgender, or straight individuals but about the potential for multifaceted, iterative, and complex identity dynamics. Before examining the fluidity of ideas like gender and sexuality in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it is important to acknowledge that many of the terms we use today (and continue to develop and refine) such as hetero-, homo-, bi-, and a-sexual, did not exist at the time. Rather than attempting to redefine or label these works, we hope that by approaching the material with a new critical vocabulary we may uncover a narrative that was rarely depicted, difficult to see, and often too easily ignored.
It is useful to first consider two illuminations that suggest a hierarchical relationship or social division between men and women. One of the artists of the visually rich Spinola Hours, for example, rendered a scene of All Saints as if glimpsed in heaven through a stonework frame: the male martyrs and saints are at left with the Trinity above, while the female martyrs and saints are at right with the Virgin Mary above. A closer look reveals that the men gaze heavenward towards Mary as the women look upon the Trinity, crossing the gendered divide. Throughout the premodern period, such cross-referencing of gender models was common across most levels of society in Europe.
All Saints in a Book of Hours, about 1450–55, Guillebert de Mets. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 2, fol. 20v
In another Book of Hours, the artist Guillebert de Mets depicted a stratified cosmos, with God atop a series of heavenly spheres, which are occupied by angels, prophets, apostles, male martyr saints, male cleric-saints, female saints, and finally the men and women of society. This hierarchy would suggest that proximity to the divine coincides to some degree with gender. Interestingly, the angels closest to God the Father have often been considered to be genderless. Despite such divided representations, women fulfilled numerous important roles in society and in popular imagination at the time—themes that will be explored in the upcoming Getty Museum exhibition Illuminating Women in the Medieval World (June 20–September 17, 2017). Yet it would be difficult to debate the fact that women today enjoy many more freedoms than they did in the Middle Ages. Another way to visualize male-female relationships in the Middle Ages and Renaissance is through matrimonial diagrams in legal manuscripts. The Tables of Consanguinity and Affinity shown below, for example, display the degrees of separation between a person and his or her blood relatives (to prevent incest) and relationships to one’s spousal family members (to determine inheritance), respectively. But almost every iteration of human sexual interaction imaginable existed beyond these images and stratified hierarchies, and not all intimate acts were for the purpose of procreation.
Tables of Consanguinity and Affinity in Gratian’s Decretum, about 1170-80, unknown illuminator. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XIV 2, fols. 272v–273
Finding evidence of a variety of sexual behaviors in medieval and Renaissance art is difficult for the simple reason that sex was rarely depicted. Yet, sometimes these omissions can themselves be evidence.
A Priest and Guy’s Widow Conversing with the Ghost of Guy de Thurno (detail) from The Visions of the Soul of Guy de Thurno, 1475, Simon Marmion. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 31, fol. 7
A beautifully illuminated manuscript in the Getty’s collection, The Vision of the Soul of Guy de Thurno depicts a scene in which Guy’s ghost returns to his wife to urge her to repent for a sin they had committed. Although this act is never visualized or represented within the manuscript, Robert Sturges has argued that the sin is sodomy. It should be noted that, while that term could refer to a specific act, the medieval conception of sodomy also often included any act or position that did not have the possibility of procreation. The organization of the composition speaks where images and words are silent. To the far left (perhaps a double entendre referring to the Latin word sinister) of the composition is the marital bed, now purified by two holy books. To the right is a group of five men and Guy’s widowed wife. At the center of this miniature is the priest who interrogates the soul of Guy de Thurno. We cannot see the soul instead we are faced with the empty bed to the left and the empty silence of the interrogation to the right. As Diane Wolfthal has explained, “Sodomy, the sin that cannot be named, apparently cannot be visualized either.”
Rubbed Out: Caressed Crucifixions and Copulating Couples
Books have always been intended for touch, as hands have historically manufactured, opened, held, and manipulated these bound objects. Illuminated manuscripts often led especially eventful lives, since each new owner could potentially alter the codex with marks of possession or by leaving signs of haptic usage (dirty pages).
The Crucifixion, begun after 1234, completed before 1262. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig V 5, fol. 104v The Crucifixion, about 1420–30, Master of the Kremnitz Stadtbuch. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig V 6, fol. 147v
In a thirteenth-century Missal in the Getty collection, the body of the crucified Christ was repeatedly touched in the past for devotional purposes. Another Missal, from the fifteenth century, includes an osculation plaque beneath The Crucifixion, and this roundel with the risen Christ was specifically meant for kissing. In these examples, the parchment page becomes a vehicle for connecting sensate, humanly bodies with the divine presence. In other instances, physical contact with the pictorial field was meant to obfuscate visually unsettling or unsavory content, at times found in secular manuscripts. (See the additional resources for considerations of masculine and feminine characteristics in medieval and Renaissance Crucifixions, and specifically Leo Steinberg’s controversial book The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion.)
Duke Albrecht IV the Wise and His Wife Kunigunde of Austria Adoring the Virgin and A Scribe and a Woman in Rudolf von Ems’ World Chronicle, 1487. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 33, fols. 2v–3
The World Chronicle by the German scholar Rudolf von Ems, written in the thirteenth century, constructed a view of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman history from the creation of the world to the author’s present time. In the first decade of the fifteenth century, a noblewoman likely from Bavaria (in present-day Germany) received a luxury copy of the text filled with beautiful illuminations depicting major narrative episodes from history. By about 1487, the manuscript entered the collection of Duke Albrecht IV the Wise and his wife Kunigunde of Austria, whose portraits were added kneeling in piety before the Virgin Mary on a page that now faces the image of the previous female owner. At some point during the manuscript’s history, a reader-viewer physically rubbed out several painted figures, specifically those individuals shown nude or engaged in extramarital sexual activity.
God with Adam and Eve in Rudolf von Ems’ World Chronicle, 1487. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 33, fol. 5
This phenomenon does not mean that every unclothed figure has been smudged out of history: Adam and Eve, for example, have indeed had their nether regions blurred from touch in the opening image of creation, but a few pages later, the couple appears twice—the first time nude (though not necessarily sexed) while eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the second time being expelled by an angel from Paradise (and covering themselves with fig leaves). The unknown illuminator included four sexual scenes throughout the rest of the manuscript: the first shows the patriarch Abraham and his concubine Hagar the second represents Lot engaging in incestuous relations with his daughters the third depicts part of a larger orgiastic scene between Israelites and Midianites (a man and woman from each group were viciously murdered, through the groin, while fornicating) and the fourth of Amnon raping Tamar. Three of these copulating couples were completely eviscerated, right down to the parchment layer. It is puzzling to consider why the moment of incest was left untouched. One possible reason explaining the other erasures is that those relationships were interracial or interfaith encounters, rather than purely familial (although Tamar was Amnon’s half sister), and the erased images appear to have shown the couples having sex.
Abraham Making Love to Hagar Lot’s Incest Pinehas Kills Simri and Kosbi Amnon Raping Tamar in Rudolf von Ems’s World Chronicle, about 1400–10. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 33, fols. 29, 32, 107v, 194v
The above images fit within the section of the manuscript on ancient history, as does the story of King David of Israel, who lusted after a married woman named Bathsheba. One day, while Bathsheba was bathing, David saw her naked body and became inflamed with passion for her. In the illumination, David enters a private chamber where Bathsheba washes her body, which has been stroked by an owner at some point in time to effectively obscure her vagina while leaving her breasts untouched. By smearing the offensive paint layer, the owner effectively pressed flesh to flesh in an act not dissimilar to frottage, since the manuscript page is in fact skin (parchment, from animals).
David and Bathsheba in Rudolf von Ems’s World Chronicle, about 1400–10. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 33, fol. 191v
Given the prudish proclivity for censorship of a one-time owner, it is curious that the two-page spread related to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has not been altered in any way. The illuminations do not depict any scene of homo-social/-sexual encounter, inhospitality towards strangers, or violence, all of which are typical associations with or interpretations of this story. Moreover, in other illuminated copies of Rudolf von Ems’s text, the Sodomites appear as armed warriors, ready to forcefully engage with Lot’s three angelic visitors. As Robert Mills points out in his book Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages, there were myriad encounters that could be characterized as sodomitical, though it is unclear whether any of those associations were made with the images in The World Chronicle.
Same-Sex: Homosocial or Homosexual?
Initial A: Saints Maurice and Theofredus, about 1460–80, Frate Nebridio. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 91, recto
Same-sex bonds of friendship or communal loyalty can be found in numerous premodern contexts, from military to monastic to mendicant and others. Saints Maurice and Theofredus—third-century CE soldiers of the Sacred Band of Thebes in North Africa and Christian martyr-saints—are among the faces of the past who had a homosocial relationship , involving friendship, fidelity, or a bond among members of the same sex (a bromance, so to speak, but on a deeper level). Some scholars have suggested that the oath of brotherhood taken by the Theban Legion was purely homosocial, but others hint that sexual encounters may have taken place between Maurice and his companions (see James Neill in the additional resources). Still, the virtue of loyalty that the soldiers demonstrate likely appealed to the Augustinian nuns, who once beheld the miniature shown above in a choir book.
The Torment of Unchaste Monks and Nuns in The Visions of the Knight Tondal, 1475, Simon Marmion. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 30, fol. 24v
By contrast, unchaste monks and nuns are the subject of a miniature that describes the knight Tondal’s journeys through the afterlife. As punishment for their lust, the souls are devoured by a frightening beast and excreted into a frozen lake in Hell. Although we do not know the nature of their sexual encounters, it is poignant that their sins resulted in both men and women becoming pregnant with entrail-eating monsters. While this illumination depicts those guilty of breaking their vows of chastity, the punishment is doled out to anyone guilty of lust. This text and the one about Guy de Thurno mentioned above were once bound together with a third text on Saint Catherine of Alexandria, commissioned by Margaret of York, duchess of Burgundy and wife of duke Charles the Bold. In medieval Silesia (present-day Poland), Saint Hedwig lived a Christlike life, including taking a vow of chastity and entering a convent after her husband was killed. She eventually committed her daughter, Gertrude, to a similar bond of sisterly devotion. Chaste living meant renouncing carnal pleasures or desires, including sexual activity and other temptations of flesh and mind. Examples abound in the premodern period of married couples taking vows of chastity in order to focus purely on spiritual devotion. Delphine de Signe of Naples and her husband Elzéar de Sabran had one such arrangement. They looked to Saints Cecilia and Valerian as models of total pious living.
Saint Hedwig Presenting Her Daughter, Gertrude, to the Convent of Trebnitz from The Life of the Blessed Hedwig, 1353. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XI 7, fol. 18v
In the tale of the knight Gillion de Trazegnies, after being tricked into thinking that his wife Marie had died while he was prisoner in Egypt, Gillion marries the Sultan’s daughter, Gracienne. Eventually, Gillion’s sons locate him and report that Marie is still alive. In a twist of fate, both wives renounce their sexual obligations within the confines of marriage and jointly commit to enter a convent together. As medieval French literature specialist Zrinka Stahuljak explains, this episode can be read as “queer” vis-a-vis the institution of marriage. Equally queer was the sight beheld by the text’s author that inspired the tale: a tomb with a knight flanked by two nuns. Homosociality can be found in unexpected corners of premodern literary and ecclesiastical culture.
Bagoas Pleads on Behalf of Nabarzanes in The Book of the Deeds of Alexander the Great, about 1470–75, Master of the Jardin de vertueuse consolation. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XIV 8, fol. 133v
Some subjects were deemed unfit for medieval readers and were therefore altered. For example, the world ruler Alexander the Great had a range of lovers or companions, including the young man Hephaistion. In the Middle Ages, numerous accounts of Alexander’s life were produced, from France and Byzantium to Persia and India. In a version written by a Portuguese humanist for the Burgundian court, Alexander’s handsome eunuch-lover Bagoas is cast as a beautiful woman, called Bagoe, in order to “avoid a bad example,” as the author phrased it. Throughout an illuminated copy of the text at the Getty, Bagoas/Bagoe wears lavish garments. In one instance, her ability to influence Alexander’s decisions—as a seductive or persuasive woman—is contrasted with the warrior-like Amazon women, who desire to bear a child by Alexander. This transgendering or re-gendering was not only more acceptable but also reaffirms the impossibility of creating straightforward categories or binaries. As we have seen, medieval authors and artists often made considerable changes to well-known and beloved stories. Readers and viewers understood these alterations as part of the process of history writing, or more precisely, of moralized and multiple-perspective histories.
The Limits of Labels and the Breakdown of Biography
The Embassy of the Duke of Brabant before the King of France and the Duke of Berry in Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, about 1480–83, Master of the Getty Froissart. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XIII 7, fol. 272v
Rumor and hearsay can affect the arc of history and memory just as much as religious dogma or public policy. The chronicler Jean Froissart recorded the Hundred Years’ War in multiple volumes, providing artists with ample material for depicting bloody battles, embassy encounters, or even contemporaneous courtly costume. In a chapter concerning negotiations between the King of France and representatives of the Duke of Brabant, Froissart relates that Jean, Duc de Berry, was infatuated with a boy at court who specialized in manufacturing knitted undergarments. The artist of the Getty’s copy of the text chose to include the duke placing his hand on the youth’s shoulder (known as his “favorite”), as the two appear to be moving into the shadows of the throneroom. Froissart’s “outing” of the French bibliophile would later inspire art historians to interpret images in books owned by the duke to reveal his homosexual desires (see Further Reading). However, these images were often overlooked by early art historians, who chose to focus on other aspects of the great collector and bibliophile. While it is would be terribly essentializing to suggest that every study of the Duc de Berry should consider his sexuality, it has also been all too easy for art historians to simply omit or avoid this challenging topic, creating still more silences and invisibilities.
[Giovanni Antonio Bazzi] was a carefree and licentious man, keeping others entertained and amused with his manner of living, which was far from creditable. In which life, since he always had about him boys and beardless youths, whom he loved more than was decent, he acquired the nickname of Sodoma and in this name, far from taking umbrage or offense, he used to glory, writing about it songs and verses in terza rima, and singing them to the lute with no little facility. Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, 1568
Christ Carrying the Cross, about 1535, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Sodoma). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 86.GA.2
It is tempting to read an artist’s biography into his or her artworks, yet such an approach must be applied thoughtfully and cautiously. For example, is there a potential “gay” (or sodomitical) underpinning to Giovanni Antonio Bazzi’s drawing of Christ Carrying the Cross, given that the artist appears to have loved boys and men “more than was decent,” as we are told by Vasari? The present authors have cringed in museum galleries when tour guides or visitors fixate on Giovanni Antonio’s biography to the point at which a drawing like the one above, or a painting of The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, is reduced to testing a visitor’s gaydar, so to speak. Similarly cringe-worthy conversations are often had about the “masculine” female figures in Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (Vatican City) or sculptures in the Medici Chapel (Florence). Renaissance Florence, where both Giovanni Antonio Bazzi and Giorgio Vasari lived, had a reputation for sodomy, so much so that “The Office of the Night” was established to investigate all charges of these behaviors. As Michael Rocke, a scholar on this period, has pointed out, same-sex sexual encounters were as pervasive there as drinking, gambling, and fluid sexuality of single male culture. Accusing someone of sodomy was a powerful political weapon, a fact likely known and exploited by Vasari. Although these “records” of sodomy provide data, it can still be difficult to know whether those accused were simply at political odds with leaders, unwelcome foreigners, participants in a range of sexual activities not leading to procreation, or perhaps, like Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, appropriating a negative stereotype in order to redefine its meaning.
Images of Saint Sebastian in the Getty Museum collection: Master of Sir John Fastolf, about 1430–40 (Ms. 5, fol. 36v) Georges Trubert, about 1480–90 (Ms. 48, fol. 173v) Gaspare Diziani, about 1718 (2004.83) Anthony van Dyck, about 1630–32 (85.PB.31) Vicente López y Portaña, 1795–1800 (2000.47) Unknown British photographer after Gudio Reni, about 1865–85 (84.XP.1411.62).
The third-century, middle-aged Roman soldier-martyr Sebastian, who by the fifteenth century began to be represented as a muscular youth wearing only a loincloth, has become something of a gay icon. Saint Sebastian was one of the plague saints, believed to protect individuals and communities from pandemics symbolized by the arrows that pierced his body. Devotion to the saint increased following the Black Death (1348), and images of his toned body and serene expression in the face of tremendous torture and imminent death have a lasting appeal for the gay community today, especially in the wake of the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. Masculine beauty. Homoerotic desire. (Possible) Sado-masochistic appeal. These are among the associations that arise in scholarly discussions about Sebastian (who also appealed to women, according to a famous legend by Vasari in which a painting of the saint by Fra Bartolommeo supposedly caused women to sin just by the sight of it). Many of the accounts of the saint’s life include a dramatic revelation of his Christianity, becoming a sort of “coming out” narrative or tale of confession. In one sense Sebastian replaced classical myths of same-sex attraction or sexual encounter, such as Ganymede and Zeus narratives of same-sex love, that engage questions of homosexual identity. There is no proof for these layers of meaning in Sebastian’s life, only in the power of the symbol he has become.
Queering the Present of the Past
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian in the Prayerbook of Charles the Bold, Lieven van Lathem. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 37, fol. 29 Saint Sebastian, Ron Athey, 1999 (screenshot from YouTube.com) Decorated Text Page in the Prayerbook of Charles the Bold, Lieven van Lathem. J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 37, 32v Self-Portrait, N.Y.C., Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978. Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Saint Augustine wrote that the present exists in three forms: the present of past things, the present of present things, and the present of future things. Although “medieval” and “modern” are often conceived of as antagonists, art historians Alexander Nagel, Roland Betancourt, and others have argued that certain themes have traversed time and artistic practice. The intensity of Robert Mapplethorpe’s gaze and unapologetic self-penetration in Self-Portrait, N.Y.C., for example, fits within the long tradition of hybrid figures in medieval marginalia. These creatures are at times menacing, at others humorous or absurd, and they can even be symbolic. Indeed, Mapplethorpe thrust the marginal—that is, counter- or sub-cultural, perverse, or fetishistic—into the mainstream, while he simultaneously became a demonlike figure in his self-portrait with a bullwhip. The line between art and pornography had been crossed, and despite the Culture Wars of his time, his self-portrait has endured as poignant evidence of art’s potential to shape or influence viewer expectations. The image was recently witnessed by record crowds and rave reviews at the Getty and at LACMA in Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium. Performance artist Ron Athey transforms the violent, abject, and gut-wrenchingly painful or filthy into a manifesto in which sacred and scatological merge in order to confront preconceived notions about the body, masculinity, sexual orientation, and extreme sexual acts. When asked to describe his St. Sebastian and St. Sebastiane (feminizing the name of the male saint), Athey has said, “I make arrows out of very long medical needles and insert the metal into the head, which causes a lot of bleeding. So really it’s a sort of bloodletting performance. Some longer performances from the ‘90s, like the Torture Trilogy, included scarification, flesh hooks, branding, anal penetration, surgical staplers—an entire palette of things, some of which I still use. I guess I always play either with flesh or with fluid or blood in my work.” Both Mapplethorpe and Athey were familiar with the potential meaning, dogma, and spiritual significance behind the images referenced in their art, and yet their works transcend even those categories and have helped break down boundaries of high and low art, and have given representation to subjects once censored or erased from public view. Invisibility and erasure are constant challenges in illuminating queer lives and experience from the premodern world. However, these omissions also provide an opportunity for the careful observer to think critically about things left unsaid and unseen. Although the academic community was relatively slow to turn scholarly attention to these topics, there is now a growing body of literature on queerness in the Middle Ages and beyond. We hope that by examining these narratives, negatives, and voids in medieval and Renaissance art, we have given some presence to queer identity and fluidity in a historical context.
This essay originally appeared in the Getty iris (CC BY 4.0)
Links to scholarly articles, essays, and lectures related to LGBTQ+ medieval histories here
Brown, Judith C. and Robert Charles Davis, eds. Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy. 1998.
Burger, Glenn and Steven Kruger, eds. Queering the Middle Ages. The University of Minnesota, 2001.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.
Camille, Michael. “‘For Our Devotion and Pleasure’: The Sexual Objects of Jean, Duc de Berry,” Art History, vol. 24, no. 2 (2001), 169–194.
Camille, Michael. “Play, Piety, and Perversity in Medieval Marginal Manuscript Illumination,” in Mein ganzer Körper ist Gesicht: Groteske Darstellungen in der europäischen Kunst und Literatur des Mittelalters, eds. Katrin Kröll and Hugo Sterger (Fribourg, 1994), 171-192.
Ferentinos, Susan. Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Guynn, Noah. Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High Middle Ages. Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
Halsall, Paul. “The Experience of Homosexuality in the Middle Ages,” in Fordham University’s Medieval Sourcebook, 1998.
Kay, Sarah, and Miri Rubin. Framing Medieval Bodies. Manchester University Press, 1994.
Kaye, Richard. “St. Sebastian: The Uses of Decadence,” in A Splendid Readiness for Death: St. Sebastian in Art, exh. cat. (Vienna, 2004), 11–16.
Killermann, Sam (ItsPronouncedMetrosexual.com), The Genderbread Person, on the differences between genderqueer, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation.
L’Estrange, Elizabeth, and Alison Moore, eds. Representing Medieval Genders and Sexualities in Europe: Construction, Transformation, and Subversion, 600–1530. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2011.
Lochrie, Karma, Peggy McCracken, and James A. Schultz, eds. Constructing Medieval Sexuality, Medieval Cultures, vol. 11. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
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The Elephantine Papyri: One of the Most Ancient Collections of Jewish Manuscripts
"A letter from the Elephantine Papyri, a collection of 5th century BCE writings of the Jewish community at Elephantine in Egypt. Authors are Yedoniah and his colleagues the priests and it is addressed to Bagoas, governor of Judah. The letter is a request for the rebuilding of a Jewish temple at Elephantine, which had been destroyed by Egyptian pagans. The letter is dated year 17 of king Darius (II) under the rule of the satrap of Egypt, Arsames, which corresponds to 407 BCE."
One of the oldest collections of Jewish manuscripts, dating from the fifth century BCE, the Elephantine papyri were written by the Jewish community at Elephantine (Arabic: جزيرة الفنتين &lrm, Greek: &Epsilon&lambda&epsilon&phi&alpha&nu&tauί&nu&eta ) , then called Yeb, an island in the Nile at the border of Nubia. The Jewish settlement of Elephantine was probably founded as a military installation about 650 BCE, during the reign of Manasseh of Judah, to assist Pharoah Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan). Hundreds of these Elephantine papyri survived, written in hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, and consisting of legal documents and letters, spanning a period of 1000 years.
"Though some fragments on papyrus are much older, the largest number of papyri are written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, and document the Jewish community among soldiers stationed at Elephantine under Persian rule, 495-399 BCE. The Elephantine documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives: divorce documents, the manumission of slaves, and other business, and are a valuable source of knowledge about law, society, religion, language and onomastics, the sometimes surprisingly revealing study of names. " (Wikipedia article on Elephantine papyri, accessed 12-09-2013).
BAGŌAS, the Greek name of two eunuchs from the Achaemenid period.
1. The chief eunuch and general under Artaxerxes III. He played a prominent role in court affairs, being the most trusted friend of Artaxerxes III (Diodorus Siculus, 16.47.4). During the reconquest of the rebellious Egypt in 343 B.C. Bagōas and Mentor of Rhodes commanded the main body of the Persian army and Greek mercenaries who took the border fortress Pelusium and then occupied the country. At the sack of the Egyptian city Bubastis the Greek mercenaries imprisoned Bagōas who was soon rescued by Mentor (Diodorus, 16.50.1-6). Then Artaxerxes III sent Bagōas to put the upper satrapies in order, giving him supreme power over them (Diodorus, 15.50.8).
At the end of 338 B.C. Bagōas poisoned Artaxerxes III and murdered all his sons, except the youngest, Arses (Diodorus, 17.5.3-4 cf. also Aelianus, Varia Historia 6.8). Though Bagōas attained supreme power, he could not ascend the throne himself and instead made Arses a puppet king. In the summer of 336 B.C. Arses and all his children were murdered by Bagōas, who presented the throne to Darius III, a distant member of the Achaemenid family Codomannus (Strabo, 15.3.24 Curtius, 6.3.12). When Bagōas attempted to poison Darius III himself, the king compelled him to drink a cup of deadly poison.
Bagōas possessed famous gardens near Babylon (Theophrastus, Plant-researches 2.6.7) and a palace in Susa which Alexander the Great gave to Parmenion for residence (Plutarch, Alexander 39). See also F. Cauer, &ldquoBagoas,&rdquo in Pauly-Wissowa II, cols. 277f. A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948, pp. 437 and 489f. J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire, London, 1983, pp. 224f.
2. A Persian eunuch who was a favorite of Darius III and Alexander the Great (Curtius, 6.5.23 and 10.1.25-27 Plutarch, Alexander 67). His life was fictionalized by M. Renault in The Persian Boy (1972).
ARTAXERXES III, throne name of Ochus (Gk. Ôchos, Babylonian Ú-ma-ku&scaron, son of Artaxerxes II and Stateira), Achaemenid king (r. 359-58 to 338-37 B.C.). About 361 he took part in a campaign against Egypt, then in rebellion under her king Tachos, and obtained that king&rsquos surrender (Georgius Syncellus 1.486.20ff. D.). The fact that the Satraps&rsquo Revolt, which he helped put down, was not quite ended may account for the lack of uniformity regarding the date of Artaxerxes&rsquo accession. That event is dated to year 390 of the Babylonian Nabonassar era (beginning in November, 359 B.C.), but Polyaenus (7.17) states that he concealed his father&rsquos death for 10 months, so that his official reign may only have begun in 358-57. On becoming king, he did away with his brothers, sisters, and other possible rivals (Justin 10.3.1 cf. Curtius Rufus 10.5.23, claiming that 80 brothers were murdered in one day).
Artaxerxes III&rsquos objective was to consolidate royal authority and to terminate the revolts which threatened to break up the empire. He seems to have first made war on the rebel Cadusii in Media Atropatene (Justin 10.3.2) in the hard and successful fighting, Codomannus, the later Darius III, distinguished himself (Diodorus 17.6.1 Justin 10.3.3-4). Then a major campaign (ca. 356-52) was directed against such western satraps as Artabazus and Orontes who had rebelled against his father these were now commanded to dismiss their Greek mercenaries (scholium to Demosthenes 4.19). The reconquest of Egypt was also to be carried through. Details of the campaign are unclear, but some success was achieved. Orontes was subdued, while Artabazus, banished, sought refuge with Philip of Macedonia (Diodorus 16.22.1-2, 34.1-2 Demosthenes 14.31). With the Satraps&rsquo Revolt ended, Persian rule over Asia Minor and Phoenicia was again consolidated. Artaxerxes had acted resolutely he obtained by threat of war the compliance of Athens, whose general, Chares, had first supported Artabazus (Diodorus 16.34.1). Actual restoration of order was accomplished by the king&rsquos generals, especially Mentor of Rhodes, while Artaxerxes was preoccupied with Egypt (Ps.-Aristoteles, Oeconomica 2.2.28 Diodorus 16.52.1-8). For the generals&rsquo campaign against Egypt had failed and before the king&rsquos massive new preparations were completed, a new revolt broke out in Syria, Phoenicia, and Cyprus in 351 which was aided by the Egyptian King Nectanebus. The rebels, led by Tennes of Sidon, were fought with indifferent success (Diodorus 16.40.5-42.9) by Idrieus (satrap of Caria), Mazaeus (of Cilicia), and Belesys (of Syria). Artaxerxes then led a large force from Babylon to Syria and soon restored matters. The rich Phoenician town of Sidon, the revolt&rsquos center, was betrayed by King Tennes, and then destroyed by a fire set by the besieged Sidonians themselves (Diodorus 16.43.1-45.6 Pompeius Trogus, Prologus 10 Orosius 3.7.8 Georgius Syncellus 1.486.16 D.). Other towns of Phoenicia and Palestine then submitted. The expeditions of the generals Bagoas and Orophernes and the deportations of Jews ordered by Artaxerxes (Syncellus 1.486.10ff. D.) may be combined with the events recorded in the Book of Judith.
About 346-45 B.C. the king marched on Egypt. The citadels of Pelusium and Bubastis in the Nile delta were taken and by 343 the reconquest had been achieved, ending 65 years of Egyptian independence. (A seal has been interpreted as depicting this event see J. Junge, Saka-Studien, Leipzig, 1939, pp. 63-64 n. 4.) One Pherendates was appointed satrap (Diodorus 16.46.4-51.3), while Nectanebus fled south to Nubia to maintain an independent kingdom. The Persians plundered and sacked extensively (Diodorus 16.51.2 Aelian, Varia historia 4.8, 6.8), and Egyptians were reportedly carried off to Persia. Consequently the king was vehemently hated by the Egyptians they identified him with the ass to which he had sacrificed the Apis Bull (Aclian, 4.8).
Artaxerxes&rsquo relations with the Greeks and Macedonians varied. Although there were occasional clashes (especially during the Satraps&rsquo Revolt), the king sought the friendship of Athens, Sparta, and Macedonia, and he was the object of both fear and esteem (for Athens, see Demosthenes 14.7, 25, 31). In about 351 B.C. the king invited Athens and Sparta to join in a campaign he planned against Egypt both declined but assured him of their friendship (Diodorus 16.44.1) Thebes and the Argives, however, sent him auxiliary troops (ibid., 44.2, 46.4). The first contact noted between Artaxerxes and Macedonia is a treaty of friendship with Philip II (Arrian, Anabasis 2.14.2) its details are not known. The Persian king seems to have observed it, for an Athenian legation seeking help against Philip returned empty handed (Demosthenes 9.71 ). Eventually, when Philip attacked the town of Perinthus, which dominated the Sea of Marmora, Artaxerxes perceived Philip&rsquos real intention and intervened by sending troops into Thrace (Diodorus 16.75.1 Arrian, Anabasis 2.14.5). Alexander later pointed to this as a motive for his campaign of revenge.
By his own efforts and with the aid of such Greek generals as Mentor and Phocio of Athens, Artaxerxes thus revived the old empire of Darius. The order of the state was restored, its apparatus reorganized, the central power strengthened. Artaxerxes was energetic and restless, crafty and strong-minded. He is called cruel and violent (Diodorus 17.5.3 Plutarch, Artoxerxes 26.1) but also a fair judge (Diodorus 16.49.6). A token of his revival was the renewed building activity at Persepolis. The king erected a palace on the southwest part of the terrace, as is attested by his inscription A 3 Pa on a stairway (Kent, Old Persian, p. 156 F. H. Weissbach, Die Keilinsehriften der Achämeniden, Leipzig, 1911, pp. 128-29). An Akkadian tablet inscription has been found at Susa (&ldquoA 3 Sa,&rdquo ed. V. Scheil in MMAP XXI, 1929, pp. 99-100 no. 30).
Artaxerxes was married to a daughter of his sister (her name is read conjecturally in Valerius Maximus 9.2., ext. 7 see Justi, Namenbuch, p. 341 b) and to a daughter of Oxathres, brother of the later Darius III (Curtius Rufus 3.13.13). The latter, with three of Artaxerxes&rsquo daughters, was captured by Alexander after the battle of Issus. The youngest of these, Parysatis, was later married to Alexander (Arrian, Annbasis 7.4.4). Also captured in the course of events was a granddaughter of Artaxerxes, who had been the wife of Hystaspes (Curtius Rufus 6.2.7-8). Of the king&rsquos sons, only two are known by name. Arses, the youngest, succeeded his father but survived only for about two years. Bisthanes came to meet Alexander in 330 (Arrian, Anabasis 3.19.4). All the others are said to have been murdered by the Egyptian-born chiliarch, Bagoas, after poisoned the king himself in his palace intrigues (Diodorus 17.5.4 cf. Aelian 6.8 and Syncellus 1.486.14f. D.). Bagoas undoubtedly sought to be a kingmaker, but the premature death of Artaxerxes was a serious misfortune for the Persian kingdom.
See also, for Artaxerxes III&rsquos coinage, the works listed under Artaxerxes I: Babelon, pl. II.12-15.