three pairs of lovers with space

BOY-LOVE IN MIDDLE AND NORTHERN ALBANIA, 1854

 

The following account of the ubiquitous Greek love practised in nineteenth-century Albania is by the Austrian diplomat and explorer Johann Georg von Hahn (1811-69), who visited the country from July to November 1850 and initiated scholarly study of it.  It was published in his Albanesische Studien, Jena, 1854, pp. 166-8, and was the first of a series of articles in the section headed “Human interest.” 

Dr. Johann Georg von Hahn in 1858

Boy-love (in middle and northern Albania). Of all the marvelous things which these pages relate, perhaps nothing will surprise the reader so much as that there is in Europe a country in which Dorian boy-love still flourishes today, just as the ancients describe it to us, and is most intimately connected with the customs and way of life of its inhabitants. This country is the land of the Ghegs [Moslems of northern Albania]. I made the discovery by chance while studying the poetry of Nezim, of which a selection is included in the language samples. The linking of the so-called vice with all that is high and holy to man, and the enthusiasm which these songs inspired in my Gheg teacher, seemed to me so disgusting that one day I could not suppress my astonishment. At first, he did not understand me, but when he had succeeded, he asked me in great indignation whether I thought the Ghegs to be Tosks [the Greek Orthodox of southern Albania] or Osmanlis [Ottoman Turks], who treated their boys as mere prostitutes. The Ghegs had entirely different feelings for them, which were pure, like sunlight, and put the beloved on the same pedestal as a saint. They were the most exalted and sublime feelings of which the human heart is capable. He did not wish to deny that there were exceptions among them, and that this love was now and then set aside, but usually it was pure and custom required it be pure. After I had spoken with him sufficiently on the subject, the method adopted with the Riça customs seemed to me the most suitable for its portrayal. I therefore instructed him to write down all that he had said to me, and limited myself, in the transmitting it, to taming effuiveness and to clarifying or cutting out mystical obscurities; The rest is faithful. For those who should find old reminiscences in this account, the assurance will help that the young man had no idea that the old Dorians loved their boys in the manner of his countrymen, and that he considered this love to be their exclusive property. 

What he reported on this strange custom, I found fully confirmed in my subsequent visit to this country. Boy-love seemed to me so broadly and so intimately bound up with the whole of life that I retracted my initial presumption that it had come there with Islam. 

On this point, there is a fundamental, perhaps crucial, distinction between the Gheg and the Tosk custom. 

The Tosk sings more of sexual love. Boy-love does not influence him deeply in his customs, but is come across more usually as a vice. The pure exists, but only rarely.  It is not nationwide, as with the Gheg, whom, I have often been assured, never sings the equivalent to the female sex. 

Serbs and Bulgarians, however, know neither custom of this love.  For them it can be said to be a custom borrowed from strangers when they find themselves in exceptional circumstances. 

12-year-old Albanian working with cloths

Let the Gheg now speak: 

"The cause of love is the sight of a beautiful youth. This produces in the contemplative the feeling of admiration, and opens the door of his heart to the delight which the contemplation of this loveliness affords. Little by little, love arises. Love takes possession of him so completely that all his thought and feeling goes out in it. If he finds himself in the presence of the beloved, he rests absorbed in gazing on him. Absent, he thinks of nought but him.  If the beloved unexpectedly appears, he falls into confusion, changes colour, turns alternately pale and red. His heart beats faster and impedes his breathing. He has eyes and ears only for the beloved.   He observes how the beloved is moving, how he moves his eyes up and down, and twitches his brows as he opens and closes his lips. He listens to the sound of his voice and the peculiarities of his speech and spends day and night with the thought of his love. 

If he comes into closer contact with his beloved, he recommends to him above all three things, that he should avoid all intercourse with others, keep the body pure from all defilement, and be entirely at his disposal. In his society he is so insatiable that he does not leave his side from sunrise to sunset, as long as the beloved is pleased to let him. 

He avoids touching him with his hand, and only kisses his forehead as a sign of worship, because there the divine beauty shines. Every thought of carnal desire is so remote to him that he would rather think of offending against his sister than the beloved. If he learns that the latter makes love to others, or that love-making has been imposed upon him by others, perhaps from revenge against the parents or the lover himself, however it comes about, he leaves him forever.  

In his conversation with his beloved, he holds forth on the depth and the fire of his feelings, the protection he gives him, and the sacrifices he is prepared to make for him, and he never fails to impress these upon him the above-mentioned three rules. If the beloved does not follow them, and if he secretly acts against them, he does not merely scold him, but also strikes him as the father does his son, and this does not diminish his love. 

If the lover finds out that his beloved is loved by others, he seeks to rid himself of these rivals in every way, he forbids his beloved to listen to his rivals with the most horrible threats, and he forbids them to come near his beloved. If they do not care about this prohibition, then there are fights which often lead to murder and manslaughter. 

The rivals also demand duels, and the victor is the lover, while the conquered man falls into melancholy and madness. 

             Gheg from Scutari

If the beloved youth belongs to a powerful family, and if he can resist the wooing of his lovers, it is not uncommon for the latter to leave the country to avoid succumbing to his grief. Often, however, when the family does not feel strong enough, a beautiful boy, in order to avoid disaster, is secretly sent abroad. Abductions by powerful lovers also occur, but the purpose is rarely pure. 

Religion has no influence on this love; The Turk loves the Christian, the Christian the Turk, but many a Christian has already converted to Islam, because his Turkish beloved promised him to listen to him on that condition. 

The lover spies every step of the beloved, and if he learns, for example, that he has gone to a fair or into the countryside, he hastens at once, however far away he is, and wakes up beside him when he is sleeping in the open. 

The relationships of the beloved with younger boys are unimportant to the lover, and if he should give his affection to one, this is no reason for jealousy, and the young beloved thereby comes under the protection of the one who loves his lover. 

The lover is always anxious to bring joy to the beloved, he provides him with money, with beautiful fruits and delicacies, makes him clothes, and when he can, gives him precious gifts.  

It is, however, rare that the boy responds frankly to the inclinations whose object he is. At first he is always very aloof, and he lets himself only gradually to like the attention devoted to him, be it that he is flattered by the vehemence of the feelings he has aroused, or that self-interest or even fear directs him. 

It is considered that the passionate ardour of the lover is illuminated in the beauty of his beloved, and that this shines more splendidly the greater the number of rivals that have chosen him as the object of their tender feelings.

The inclination to boy-love usually arises in the sixteenth year, and lasts three, four, five, and more years. The boys come to be loved around their twelfth year, and forsaken in the 16th or 17th. Then love not infrequently turns into hatred. The lover thinks only of what he has suffered through the fault of the beloved, and ponders revenge, which can even lead to murder, though more often to desecration.

Rarely, however, does only one love fill the space of time mentioned, and it may be assumed that every young man changes the object of his love two or three times before his marriage. With marriage, however [elsewhere stated to be typically at 24 or 25], this romantic period of life usually comes to an end.”