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three pairs of lovers with space



Spain  Portugal 1893 dtl Portugal
Portugal in 1893

As everywhere in Europe before the French Revolution, sodomy was a serious crime in early modern Portugal. According to the Filipinas (laws in force since 1606) the penalty for either participant was that he “shall be burned and made dust by the fire so that his body and burial never have memory, and all his goods shall be confiscated.”  The burning was without prior strangulation (as was customary in some more humane juridictions) and was the conclusion to investigation and torture (so terrible that many innocents confessed) by the Inquisition. Consenting boys as young as ten were amongst the victims.

In practice, however the persecution of sodomites was never on anything near the scale it was in neighbouring Spain, and the general population (probably because Lisbon was more cosmopolitan, being home to colonised peoples with no anti-homosexual tradition) were not as intolerant. The last known execution of a sodomite by the Inquisition in Lisbon was of a priest in 1671. In the eighteenth century, prosecutions fell off dramatically; there were only twenty-three trials, compared with 278 in the preceding century.[1] The Inquisition effectively ceased to be active by 1794, though it was not formally abolished until 1821.

As in Spain, and unsurprisingly (given their large numbers and seclusion from females), the greatest practitioners of Greek love appear to have been the Catholic clergy. For a fortnight of July 1809, the young English traveller John Cam Hobhouse visited Lisbon with his great friend Lord Byron.  He reported that he:

Dined with the soldier Swanio Marsden who held forth to our amazement about crimes monks commit with boys.

His miscellaneous observations at Lisbon included:

Avarice the reigning passion of the Portuguese. Boys well-dressed attend the lobbies of the theatres for the purpose of branler le pique aux gens polis [Waggling their tales at persons of quality]. Sanguinetti told us he had seen the thing himself done in the streets – stabbing not so common, but everyone wears a knife – Sanguinetti saw a man killed by a boy of thirteen, in a chandler’s shop.[2]

As in many European countries in the 19th century, the ancient law against sodomy, or indeed any homosexual acts, was suddenly swept away as part of modernisation with a new penal code in 1852. This left only sex with boys under twelve illegal, article 391.1 on “offences against a person [of either sex]’s modesty” stipulating that “If the offended person is under the age of twelve, the penalty will in any case be the same, even if violence is not proven.

In the case of Portugal, the new freedom lasted only a generation, as in 1886 a conservative government recriminalised “addictions against nature”. Thereafter, repression grew, but never became severe, even during the dicatorship of 1933 to 1974. In 1982, homosexuality was again decriminalised, with the age of consent being sixteen, by then the age of heterosexual consent.

Klopp Jean Michel. Au bord du Douro . les enfants de Porto 1989
Au bord du Douro by Jean Michel Klopp, 1989

Portugal at this time seems to have been the most relaxed of all western European countries in attitudes to Greek love, with very many boys receptive to sexual adventure with men and most adults not greatly concerned. Related to this and in interestingly sharp contrast to Spanish boys, boysexual photographers found Portuguese boys extraordinarily amenable to stripping off on beaches. Discretion was of course the order of the day at a time when anglo hysteria on the subject was exploding, so little has been written on the subject. One notable exception has been the Englishman Stephen Nicholson’s memoir, A Dangerous Love, reviewed here. He frequented the country in the late ’80s and described vividly how, in the Porto district, for example, “flocks of boys were happy to be picked up by friendly foreigners, taken to the beach, fed and bathed.”

To the same era belongs Portugal, an Anonymous Story, published in 1990, which sounds autobiographical (though it may not be), and realistically recounts the affair of a visitor to a coastal town with an enthusiastic local boy of 14.

In 2007, the age of consent was reduced from 16 to 14, a theoretically momentous change for Greek love at sharp odds with the severe regression that had taken place and which had made such a liberalisation meaningless, Portugal having fully succumbed in the meantime to the anglosphere’s mass hysteria about children and sex. The same Nicholson, returning to teach in Portugal the next year, was shocked to the core to discover how hostile to interest from men Portuguese boys had become indoctrinated into being.

[1] Luiz Mott, “Justitia et Misericordia: A Inquisição portuguesa e a repressão ao nefando pecado de sodomia” in Inquisição: Ensaios sobre mentalidade, heresias e arte, edited by A. Novinsky and M. L. Tucci Carneiro, São Paulo: Edusp, 1992, Quadro I, p. 736.

[2] The Portugal Diary of J. C. Hobhouse edited by Peter Cochran, pp. 2 and 12.