Personal Bias Against Gays

Erasmus’ voluminous writings give us a clear image of his attitudes towards sex in general and homosexuality in particular. It is a remarkably modern, tolerant view. He rejects the common belief that chastity is morally superior to marriage. What is important, in his eyes, is integrity: priestly vows of chastity should either be abolished or enforced. Romance, love, and marriage are good and healthy things, but sexual pleasure should not be the purpose of marriage, only an incidental benefit of the necessity of procreation. Erasmus’ descriptions of sexuality might best be described as "naughty"; I’m sure his readers would smile (but not guffaw) at the liberties he sometimes took. But his treatment of homosexuality was certainly less easygoing. His work with the Adages, presenting classical expressions and turns of phrase, often forced him to explain homosexual references. In every case, he writes with embarrassed delicacy and occasional explicit disapproval. For example, in the De Copia, Erasmus presents an example of a writing technique with this quotation from Cicero:

"When a military tribune, a relative of the commander, indecently assaulted a soldier in the army of Gaius Marius, he was slain by the one to whom he offered violence. For the virtuous youth preferred to act dangerously rather than submit shamefully, and that great hero set him free, absolved of crime."

In the Apophthegmata, Erasmus takes several opportunities to editorialize on the nature of love. Commenting on a saying of Socrates, Erasmus observes that a lover seeks to derive personal pleasure from his partner, while a friend seeks to make his partner ever better.

Of course, classical civilization celebrated homosexuality; inasmuch as the dividing line between content and style can be blurred, it should come as no surprise that Erasmus’ writing occasionally reflects this classical outlook.