three pairs of lovers with space

ON HOMOSEXUALITY IN ALBANIA

 

The following account of homosexuality practised in Albania in the 1880s in its historically usual form of Greek love is by sexologist Dr. Paul Adolf Näcke (1851-1913) of Hubertusburg in Saxony. It was originally published under the title "Über Homosexualität in Albanien," in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen. 9:325-37 (1908).

The author’s informant has been identified as probably “the distinguished Balkanologist Gustav Ludwig Weigand” by Stephen Murray (Homosexualities, Chicago, 2000, p. 60).

The present translation is by Dr. Warren Johansson and was published in the International Journal of Greek Love I (New York, 1965), pp. 39-47.

ABSTRACT: Boy-love is quite common in Albania, among both Moslems and Christians. It usually takes the form of a pact of brotherhood, sealed by blood, where the two parties pledge to defend one another to the death. The most frequent sexual technique is probably interfemoral coitus, although anal and oral intercourse also occur. The participants are usually not exclusive homosexuals, but rather heterosexuals who adopt boy-love through suggestion and tradition.

 

Dr. Gustav Weigand (1860-1930), on whose correspondence about his travels in the 1880s this article is based

In the Archiv fur Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik[1] I have published two letters from Constantinople that cast rather interesting sidelights on homosexual love in the Turkish metropolis. The second letter in particular was noteworthy, coming as it did from a gentleman who has lived there for several years and become quite familiar with the circumstances of the matter, insofar as a European can fathom them at all.

That, however, Constantinople is not without further ado to be identified with the Orient as a whole may be assumed, as in other things, so too in regard to sexual inversion. Today I am in a position to prove this in regard to a remote province, namely Albania. An esteemed correspondent has furnished me with a letter from a distinguished German scholar who has made many trips and even, for the sake of the linguistic monuments, visited the country of the Albanians, which is relatively close to our own and yet strikes us as a book with seven seals; in so doing he uncovered, among other things, curious circumstances relative to homosexuality. As the letter possesses great value from the standpoint of cultural history in other respects as well, I am reprinting it here word for word, with the omission of only a few words and sentences. Unfortunately it does not say when the trip occurred; I suppose it to have been in the eighties of the last century. The letter itself is likewise undated. The letter itself reads as follows:

". . . As in the course of my trip I did not just collect inscriptions and copy manuscripts, I also turned my attention to questions of ethnography. I should very much like to have your opinion as an expert on a subject that is relevant hereto. For several weeks I was among the South Albanians (Tasks) ; among them, just as among the North Albanians, male love is deeply inracinated, as everyone knows from Hahn.[2]  I have made inquiries among persons familiar with the country, Germans, Russians, and likewise natives, and all confirmed Hahn's statements point for point. For handsome boys and youths these Shqipetars cherish a truly enthusiastic love. The passion and mutual jealousy are so intense that even today they kill one another for the sake of a boy. Many instances of this kind were reported to me. In particular this love is supposed to flourish among the Moslems; the Orthodox Tasks contested my assertion that it existed among them -- I do not know the Catholic Mirdites from personal observation -- but Europeans living in the country and intimately acquainted with the circumstances assured me most definitely that even the Christians pay homage to this amor masculus.

"It is further true that pacts of brotherhood, when they occur between Christians, are blessed by the papas in church, both partners receiving the eucharist. Otherwise with the Turks. My innkeeper in Ohrid had concluded a pact of blood brotherhood with an Albanian Moslem (Geg). Each pricked the other in the finger and sucked out a drop of blood. Now each has to protect the other to the death, and that for the Christian, host is an important guarantee.

"One thing that Hahn also reports is that this love is a purely idealized one, quite devoid of sensuality, as Greek love is depicted by Socrates in Plato's Symposium. That struck me as somewhat amazing. The natives, naturally, would not speak out. But a very well informed European smiled somewhat skeptically at my question: 'Ah! je n'en peux rien affirmer. C'est quelque chose qui est difficile a approfondir.' Hahn, of course, relates that when he asked his Albanian teacher, who himself had composed enthusiastic poems to his boys -- even today they are alleged to compose such pieces of great poetic beauty -- when he asked him whether this love is likewise connected with a sexual act, the Albanian became enraged as if he had taken him for a Turk. Only among the latter are such proceedings in vogue.

"I believe that here misunderstanding has slipped in on one side or poetic hyperbole on the other. That Greek love was not at all of that rose-colored innocence with which Otfried Muller paints it among the Dorians[3] we now know from the inscriptions on Thera.

"My quite lay hypothesis . . . is as follows: As experts informed me, among the Turks especially coitus analis et oralis, the latter in a really very repulsive form, is in vogue. It was against this that the teacher's anger was directed. It may well be that these forms are rarer among the Albanians. On the contrary they will with their amasii practice coitus inter femora, as they regard this, compared with the other forms, as something relatively respectable. As said before, this is only a hypothesis, since one can get to the bottom of such things only after many years of intimate contact with the people. A few weeks' superficial acquaintance is insufficient. The Oriental shyly avoids questions.

"Also worthy of notice is the saying of a high Turkish official. He was naturally an Albanian (Tosk), still amazingly handsome at 55; I possess a photograph from his youth in the national costume, in which he has a decidedly girlish appearance. He is very clever and enlightened, a mevlevi like almost all Albanians.[4] Mystical Sufism destroys the rigid dogmas of religion. He expressed himself quite frankly; he believed or sought to believe in metempsychosis. Mais je voudrais revenir en terre non comme un homme, mais comme une femme. That is -- unknown to him -- a sure trait of feminism.

"My host in Kastoria, where there are no hotels, a distinguished, highly educated Turk, on his father's side Tosk, on his mother's Geg (the grandfather was from Shkoder), is childless despite 6 wives. Would that not point to exhaustion through earlier intercourse with males? He is a well-built, robust man of only 38: but has two strikingly handsome young Albanians in his service. . . ."

Dr. Paul Adolf Näcke (1851-1913), psychiatrist & criminologist

We therefore see immediately that in Albania homosexuality as a whole is enveloped in profound silence, so that even the foregoing account by a European with greater insight into these circumstances than most other travelers tells us nothing with certainty. And yet male love is firmly inracinated there, so it says, and the author of the letter asserts, probably not incorrectly, that it is not practiced in a purely Platonic manner. Here I would instantly add in parentheses that I absolutely disbelieve in pure Platonism, whether in hetero- or in homosexual relations. Whoever really has hetero- or homosexual feelings will, at least at certain times and under particular circumstances, feel the urge for physical proximity with the love object, be it only a kiss or an embrace that is sought. He need go no farther and yet feels satisfied and blissful. This is still nothing else than an attenuated coitus or the onset of one, if one prefers. How non-existent Platonic love is is shown quite clearly by dreams, which always -- I thus far know of no exception -- parallel the character and strength of the libido, at least if one has a series of dreams at different times. Now I should like to see the so-called Platonic lover who sees his beloved -- but being of a polygamous disposition, like most men, he will probably also see other girls -- in a dream and just contemplates her adoringly, without physical contact and so forth that reveals his innermost wish, even if in his waking life he shrinks from admitting it to himself.

However, let us return to the Albanians, whom Ratzel calls one of the most gifted peoples of the Balkan peninsula, yet most corrupted through the Turkish influence.[5]  I do not know to just what he is referring, but what I have read of them, to the contrary, fills me, on the whole, with respect, and circumstances are certainly responsible, for the most part, for their bad qualities. Among them, to be sure, Christians and Mohammedans, women play only a subordinate role, but this happens throughout the Orient. Adultery and so on occurs probably no more often than among their neighbors, and just in respect to homosexuality they compare quite favorably with the Osmanlis proper. Many years ago a young German who had undertaken trips for research told me that among the Turks every more or less beardless male (like him, for example) is exposed to sexual assaults. Nothing of the kind is known among the Arnauts, nor do the bath houses with their juvenile prostitutes exist in their country, which we see flourishing especially in Constantinople. Liaisons of older Albanians with handsome boys and youths are very frequent, even among the Christians, but the relationship is manifestly a much purer and nobler one than the exclusive sensuality of the Osmanlis. Of coitus analis or even oralis they seem to have a horror. But the "pacts of brotherhood" for mutual defense and offense still appear, even obtaining a religious consecration among the Greek Orthodox Tosks. And even these pacts, concluded as they are between partners who are much older and approximately of the same age, are probably not always ones of pure friendship, but at times likely also to have a homosexual tinge.

Our author therefore confirms what Hahn had observed in the country approximately 30 years before him. Given the absolutely stable conditions there -- very little of civilization has penetrated -- it may be further assumed that even now the relationships between men will be identical or similar to those in the eighties of the last century, when our correspondent visited the mountainous country.

We see that male love exists not only among the Moslems in the Albanian population (Gegs), but also among the Christians: Greek Orthodox (Tosks) and very probably also among the Roman Catholics (Mirdites). This is explained above all by the fact that all of them, different as they are in religion, which continually incites them to fratricidal campaigns of war and plunder, are of one stock, namely descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who inhabited the peninsula even before the Thracians and Hellenes. They are Indo-Europeans, Aryans, like the latter, but evidently belong to the first wave of invaders. However, they have likewise been in contact with the Ottoman Turks for several centuries and have willingly entered their military service, as they have always been regarded as the elite of the Turkish army; even today the Padisah has an Albanian bodyguard. The Mamelukes in Egypt likewise consisted in great part of Arnauts, as did also in part the Janissaries. They hence had a thousand opportunities to become familiar with the amor masculus, and from the ugliest side. That they did not, however, adopt it in this form speaks strongly in favor of the existence of homosexual love among them even earlier, that is, before their contact with the Turks. They therefore probably brought it with them to their later homeland, and from the north of Europe, from where they very probably migrated.

We know that all the Hellenic tribes, who are certainly closely related to the Thracians, paid homage to male or boy love, but above all the Dorian tribe, whence it is also called Dorian love. On the island of Thera, which was colonized by an ancient Dorian tribe, like the neighboring Crete, old inscriptions carved in the rock have been found that tell us of relationships between men and youths "as a hallowed institution, recognized by the state," that were consecrated in the temple of Apollo.[6]  This reminds us of the pact of brotherhood consecrated by the pope among the Tosks. Here, however, the pact is rather a protective alliance, whereas among the Dorians the institution pursued an eminently educational aim. This is proved by the "sacred band" of the Thebans, who fought so valiantly in repeated battles and consisted of lovers and their beloveds, men and youths. Among the Dorians, however, this relationship seems to have been not such a pure one, but strongly permeated with sexuality, as we are informed by the inscriptions from Thera. Now it is highly interesting, as the philologist Erich Bethe explains it, that grass carnal intercourse likewise occurred, coitus inter crura or even analis, and so forth, but and this is the salient point, which casts such a remarkable light on the ethnological significance of homosexuality -- originally, in all likelihood, less for libidinous than for religious reasons. The semen was regarded as the receptaculum animae. If one loved a boy, pais -- in Greek that always signifies a youth, never a boy in our sense of the word, one sought to educate him and to infuse into him one's own qualities, hence a part of oneself, one's soul; and that could happen only through transmission of the semen, which was regarded as the bearer of those qualities, so that a coitus-like procedure had to be chosen. Later this animalistic idea -- which according to Bethe's brilliant intuition very likely also underlay the custom of the couvade, which until now had defied all explanation -- was forgotten and the practice alone remained. I regard the consecration of the brotherhood alliances among the Arnauts, and also, formerly, among the South Slavs, as a simple continuation of the sacred male unions among the Dorians. Only that there youths were probably only rarely involved. But even there the relationship is, in any case, not always wholly asexual.[7]

                  Albanian, 1913

That the valor of the Albanians has suffered no impairment through boy love is well established. We see the like also among the Japanese of olden and even modern times. Among both peoples the educational motive between the partners evidently stands of stood in the foreground; the sexual one is more accessory and in Albania, as we already saw, emerges only with great moderation.

If, as it seems, homosexuality in Albania is not only of great antiquity, but also widespread, as it was in Greece -- and there, as is well known, not just during the period of decadence, the question arises whether all those involved were true homosexuals, that is, ones who, had homosexual feelings ab ovo. If the answer be affirmative, then one must admit that there were far more inverts at that time than there are today in Europe. It is always a possibility. Probably, however, the racial difference does not play such a great role here. We shall rather have to assume that 1) just among the youths many were heterosexual, and that 2) many certainly were also among the older and active partners. If both were satisfied with mutual masturbation, then both could have been heterosexuals and the stimulus afforded by the partner could merely have accelerated and intensified the orgasm, but without that -- and this is the salient point -- the male sex of the partner as such furnished the stimulus. Then only a mechanical stimulus intensified by fantasy is at work here. But if coitus-like acts really occurred -- oral, anal, intercrural -- then a depraved heterosexual libido, eventually sanctified by tradition, is well conceivable, but a homosexual one was certainly often present. Given a heterosexual response, erection and ejaculation could occur only if during the act fantasy supplied the illusion of a female partner, or if the action was intended only to provide a purely mechanical stimulus, as in solitary or mutual masturbation, or even pederasty. To this extent it would be quite conceivable that sexually oversatiated roués, who in reality are but masked heterosexuals, should also resort to homosexual practices. All this can likewise occur on ships, in barracks, and elsewhere in the absence of women. But here one need not only presuppose an especially strong libido, but also a certain latent homosexual tendency, that probably erupts only temporarily, as under the same conditions there are relatively few who do it. The others remain abstinent or engage in masturbation.

The same homosexual acts can therefore be performed by homo- and heterosexuals. The action is the same, as is on the whole the motive: emptying of the semen and thereby relaxation of the libido. But the one -- the true invert -- thereby obtains psychic satisfaction, the heterosexual on the contrary does not. Hence the latter gladly returns to the norm when he is able. A roué can therefore engage in homosexual acts and still be a heterosexual; at that time he is simply vicious. Or: he will probably become at a future time a "late" homosexual, that is to say that the homosexual components that are in all likelihood slumbering in everyone will in him break through for unknown reasons, so that he will then have real homosexual responses. He will then no longer be vicious, but the bearer of a sexual anomaly. But this probably occurs only exceptionally, if at all. No one, certainly, will acquire homosexual responses as a result of oversatiation and need for variety in sexual activity in themselves.

It is quite conceivable that alongside of normal sexual intercourse the abnormal can also be cultivated through imitation, suggestion, tradition, and so forth, as is very likely the case in the majority of the ancient Greeks and of the present-day Orientals. These are only homosexual acts of heterosexuals, which are, under certain conditions, craved for the sake of the special stimulus. Complete satisfaction, however, is definitely lacking here, so that they continue their search for normal intercourse and probably also prefer it. But whoever remains with a homosexual preference and always is averse to intercourse with women and is even impotent toward them, is definitely a true homosexual, whose libido orientation, if only somewhat strongly pronounced, cannot by any therapy be altered into a heterosexual one.

 

NOTES

[1] Paul Nacke, "Die Homosexualitat im Oriente," Archiv für Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik, 16:353-55 (1904); "Die Homosexualitat in Konstantinopel," Archiv für Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik, 26:106-08 (1906).

[2] Johann Georg von Hahn, Albanesische Studien (Vienna: Kaiserlich-konigliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1853), 1. Heft, pp.166-68; 2. Heft, pp.147-50.

[3] Karl Otfried Muller, Geschichten hellenischer Stämme und Städte, ed. F.W. Schneidewin, vol.3 (Breslau: Josef Max, 1844), pp.285-93.

[4] Mevlevi: a dervish of the Mevlâna sect, a whirling dervish.

[5] Friedrich Ratzel, Völkerkunde, vol.3 (Leipzig and Vienna: Bibliographisches Institut, 1890), p.746.

[6] Hermann Michaelis, § 175! Die Homosexualität in Sitte und Recht (Berlin: Verlag Hermann Dames, 1907), p.28.

[7] Erich Bethe, "Die dorische Knabenliebe. Ihre Ethik und ihre Idee," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 62:438-75 (1907), summarized under the heading "Ueber die dorische Knabenliebe." Politisch-anthropologische Revue, 6:663 (1907).