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    ave diabolos by erace lestis

    AVE DIABOLOS - Homosexuality as mystical experience and other esoteric investigations into Mankind’s spiritual renaissance. Author: Erace Lestis; Published by AuthorHouse Mars 2009; Paperback 326 pages; ISBN 9781438942957; £19.99//14.99

    Buy the book on line at www.authorhouse.co.uk



     The Male Eros Tradition

    The quest for Virtue, Knowledge and Unity

     through Male Love

    The origin of Japanese “Bi-Do” and “nanshoku”

      The history of the homosexual tradition goes a long way back in Japan. From its legendary beginning in the Buddhist monasteries, to the classical age of Samurai mansions and further on, to male brothels linked to the Kabuki and No theatre in  pre-modern Japan.


      Male bisexuality was not considered an aberration in Japan but experienced widely as a norm; sexual relationships among men were so much appreciated and common they created in time a considerable cultural tradition celebrating the beauty and sensuality

    of the homosexual Eros in art and literature, leaving behind a rich vocabulary of terms and euphemisms:

    wakashu-do” (’the way of the youths’);

    nando” (’the way of men’);

    bido” (’the beautiful way’);

    hido” (’the secret way’).

       The term “nanshoku” is especially indicative of the true sense of Japanese homosexuality in pre-modern times. Translated in Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘sodomy‘; ‘a crime against nature’; ‘an unnatural act’;and referred to someone who ‘go after strange flesh’ (1) the term ‘nanshoku‘ in its archaic quality suggests, rather,

    male homosexuality as a  dignified and refined soul condition, often implying an emotional bond, or respect for the specific social convention, or etiquette, on which

    male-male relationships were built upon, much like were pederastic relationships formally structured in ancient Greece.  Written with the characters for ‘male’ and ‘colours’ (the latter understood as a euphemism for sex), the term ‘nanshoku’ was originally associated with “sensual pleasure” rather than being descriptive of a purely physical  act.

    (1) Tsuneo Watanabe & Jun’ichi Iwata:

     “The love of the Samurai – a thousand years of Japanese homosexuality”

    GMP Publishers Ltd, London 1989

    All text by Erace Lestis © 2008 

    FROM APPENDIX I in “AVE DIABOLOS - Homosexuality as Mystical Experience” by Erace Lestis

    The Male-Male Eros Tradition in Ancient Times



     Male lovers

    Male Lovers, Etruscan Tomb, Italy 480. B.C.

    In Plato’s Symposium we find reference to a human race divided, once upon a time, into three species:

    ·        men with two male organs

    ·        women with two female organs

    ·        hermaphrodites with one male and one female organ

    who, having become arrogant, were sliced apart by Zeus. Thus, the myth follows:


       “Those men who are halves of a being of the common sex, which was called, as I told you, hermaphrodite, are lovers of women, and most adulterers come from this class, as also do women who are mad about men and sexually promiscuous. Women who are halves of a female whole direct their affections towards women and pay little attention to men; Lesbians belong to this category. But those who are halves of a male whole pursue males, and being slices, so to speak, of the male, love men throughout their boyhood, and take pleasure in physical contact with men. Such boys and lads are the best of their generation, because they are the most manly. Some people say that they are shameless, but they are wrong. It is not shamelessness which inspires their behaviour, but high spirit and manliness and virility, which lead them to welcome the society of their own kind.” (1)


       Male homosexuality then, mythically considered, it is neither a psychological deficiency or a genetic disease. Rather, it seems, the only way to embrace perfect manhood and virtue when one feels, obviously, that in finding ‘perfect manliness’ one finds completeness and truth.


       Homosexual practices were in use among preliterate cultures of the ancient world (2), in the Buddhist monasteries of medieval Japan (3)  and within the samurai military caste (XIII-XVIII sec.) as they were among the soldiers of Crete, Sparta and Rome (4).


       Every homosexual tradition had its own codes, rules and purpose, particularly in Archaic and Classical Greece, where the youthful male body was especially venerated and the ‘love of boys’ was given much attention throughout the centuries. Celebration of ephebic love is however found widely across the archaic and modern world; from Etruscan and Italic frescos to Latin literature and Renaissance paintings to the painted rolls of ancient Japan, where it was believed that the gods appeared incarnated in the form of angelic boys (5).


    The Homosexual Tradition in Ancient Greece.


       Pederasty – the ritual homosexual insemination of young men – emerges as a form of initiation in the tribal past of Greece, when the organization of the community was not as yet politically defined but based on age grouping. In pre-polis Greece (extending over many different areas) male youths would be taken away and segregated for a certain period of time in the wilderness, accompanied by an adult male who would be at the same time educator and lover. Ritual death and segregation; the performing of heroic gestures; courtship; insemination (the transmission of power through sexual fluids) [6], would all be part of a complex ‘resurrection’ process transforming the chosen youth into an adult member of the community. While in later classical times we find ‘intercrural copulation’ as allegedly typical of the pederastic relationship between men and their young lovers, it is actually anal intercourse to emerge instead as  a ceremonial act of a certain relevance in the famous ‘graffiti’ from the island of Thera, dated to the VI c. BC. Two of these  inscriptions make explicit reference to anal intercourse, the others are more laudatory and acclamatory of the boys’ (paides) beauty and dancing skills. The emphasis on pederastic love and ‘courotropic’ divinities (the gods charged with the education of young people) and the proximity of the graffiti to a Temple of Apollo, suggests the possibility that the relationships described were part of a ritualized initiation involving musical or choral training (7).


       In Crete, often credited with the invention of pederasty, adult men known as ‘erastai’ would kidnap adolescent boys and establish with them a sexual relationship for a certain period of time during which the boys would be transformed into adult men. Artist evidence suggests that Minoan culture of the second millennium B.C.E. did feature some form of pederasty in a military context, and a similar institution is also found on Cretan artefacts of the VII c (8).


       In Sparta, boys reaching the aged of twelve would be entrusted to lovers chosen among the best men of adult age and from these they would learn to be true Spartans (9). In the Boeotian city of Thebes, pederasty was directly associated with success in war, for it was known that ‘a battalion joined together by erotic love cannot be destroyed or broken’ and a handful of lovers and loved ones, fighting shoulder to shoulder, could rout a whole army. The famous sacred battalion of Thebes was entirely composed of pairs of male lovers (10).


       Pederastic homosexual copulation was thus in Archaic Greece – as in other tribal populations separate in time and space – part of a ‘rite of passage’ tradition which also came to be echoed in myth:

       ”There are a great number of ancient myths which hinge upon the abduction and love of a youth, and nearly all of these are stories about initiation. These myths may be descriptions of an authentic practice or ritual, the myths having survived although the original practice has disappeared. We know that homosexual ritualized pederasty existed in the archaic Indo-European world outside Greece, in that great family of peoples which stretched from the Atlantic to the Ganges. There is a pattern which they share: the youth or boy is a pupil, disciple or apprentice, while the older lover is a master, warrior, teacher and model. Quite often, the myth involves an abduction and travel outside civilization, to a wild forest, an untamed area where the older man will reveal a knowledge of life, some inherent wisdom which is incarnate in a gift such as a chariot, a suit of armour, magic invulnerability or prophetic knowledge. Sometimes the beloved disciple dies, only to be reborn, or he performs an exploit that proves his astonishing prowess. He then becomes the adult male warrior himself, or becomes king, or he excels in a skill for which his lover was renowned as:  Philoctetes is an archer, Pelops wins the chariot race, Hyacinthus ascends to heaven” (11)


          It is virtue, definition and strength of character, beauty, virile powers and knowledge – not mere sexual gratification or exploitation – the noblest expression and presupposition of pederastic homoerotic practices of ancient Greece, where relationships were strictly regulated by codes and publicly admitted. Often fired by the sublime physical beauty and gestural grace of the chosen youths, relationships were ideally nurtured by both lovers within a superior learning process – whose nature was  first of all spiritual, intellectual and educational –  with the aim to transfer to the adolescent boy expertise in a given art, social education or the secrets of virility and adulthood.

       There has been much debate among early historians and researchers on the exact nature of Greek pederasty, whether or not direct sexual intercourse was involved and why should be so, given the fact that submitting a young man to anal penetration is, to the eyes of modern academics, an immoral and humiliating act (12).




      The verb often used to indicate the nature of the relationship between erastai and eromenoi or between paides – youths attending the all male Gymnasium (Gymnos = naked) is “oipein” which means the act of anal penetration with either a female or male partner. We also find “eispnein” (in-spirare), to inspire – this latter implying ‘coitus’ as spiritual communion (…).


     That the nature of pederastic love was  at the same time spiritual and erotic, seems to be confirmed by further  lexical analysis of the terminology used. The use of the verb eran, alongside the nouns erastes and eromenos is not accidental – according to E. Cantarella: eran is regularly used since at least the seventh century BC, to indicate the physical perception of love, as the word eros indicated ’sexual desire’ as early as Homer.



       The fact that the Greeks attached no shame to anal penetration within the pederastic context seems to be confirmed by the absence of any vulgar connotations when thinking or writing about anal sex. In fact, quite the opposite emerges from the verses of poets, whom often praised the beauty of young men’s buttocks, thighs and nonetheless of their ‘proktos’ (anus), the latter compared to ‘gold’, a ‘rose bud’ or the ‘sweetest of fruits’ (15).      


       In the Homeric poems there is no mention of pederastic love, we find instead quite remarkably intense friendships between males of the same age.


       In the Iliad we read of the extraordinary affection and love between Achilles and Patroclus, as between Telemachus and Pisistratus in the Odyssey (16).


    Achilles loved Patroclus so intensively and passionately their bond became legendary and majestic since at least Plato’s times, who had no doubt that the two warriors were also lovers, Patroclus being the erastes. Despite the fact that many modern critics and historians abhor the idea of the two heroes as homosexual lovers, in antiquity the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was known to be not only sensual but of a specially refined kind, a love-bond where pleasure (hédoné) was the mediator of their monumental love (philia). (17)



    The lyric poets


       The ‘love of boys’ reached his golden age with the lyric poets of Archaic Greece (VII-V century BCE), who celebrated the beautiful radiance, nudity and nobility of young men and athletes in action. Among the ones known to us we find Solon, Alcaeus, Anacreon, Theognis, Ibycus and perhaps the greatest among them, Pindar. Erotic relationships between adult males (erastes) and their beloved youths (eromenos) were not simply sexual but closely linked to poetic inspiration and the cult of beauty, to social qualities and convivial aristocratic virtues such us the right way of enjoying the pleasure of life, i.e. song, dance, wine and love. (18)


       In the classical age, pederasty and homosexual courtship were extremely common and frequent in Greece, along with a vast variety of homosexual and bisexual behaviours which caused much philosophical debate among personalities such as Plato, Aeschines, Socrates, Xenophon, Aristotele and Plutarch, to mention the most famous (19).


       For Plato, when homoerotic desire was inspired by Aphrodite Pandemos its nature was exclusively sexual; when inspired by Aphrodite Urania a man would never approach or try to seduce a youth too young for love (i.e. youths without discernment) – only a youth entering the age of ‘reason’ would become subject of desire and love between a man and a youth was then considered noble and ‘celestial’ (20). 



    The Homosexual Tradition in ancient Rome


       For the Romans, pederasty in the Greek sense – loving young freeborn boys – was inconceivable, vicious and illicit. The myth of Roman virility and authority was based on rape, war and absolute dominance and whether in social, political or love matters a ‘civis romanus’ would have to impose himself ‘always and everywhere’.


       The basic indigenous rule of sexual behaviour throughout the Archaic period and the Republic was the complete freedom a Roman man had in satisfying his sexual urges by subjugating women and boys without distinction, considering them simply as sexual objects, if not sex-toys. Long before coming into contact with Hellenistic culture, homosexuality was widespread in Rome but with the special characteristic that loving other males implied their complete sexual submission and obedience, according to the general manifestation of Roman ethics:

       “In personal and family life, the Roman paterfamilias was an absolute master, with unlimited power over everything belonging to him, whether persons or things.” (23)

    Slaves and houseboys were thus sexually obliged to satisfy their master’s wishes and  a  common and typical way of teasing a slave was to remind him of what his master expected of him, i.e. ‘to get down on all fours’. (24)




        Freeborn Roman boys however, in line with the politic of dominance, were not only discouraged to enter into love affairs with an adult male but, through enforcement of the Lex Scatinia, legally protected against anyone attempting to seduce them in the streets or wanting to submit them to the crime of ‘impudicitia’ (sexual passivity) which was otherwise an obligation for a slave and a duty for the freed man. (25)

       ‘Impudicitia’ meant to make a free-born youth ‘impudicus’ by taking his virginity through anal intercourse, an occurrence abhorred by Roman ethics which commanded chastity in Roman blood to be preserved and safeguarded under any circumstances. The ‘honour’ of a Roman citizen was inviolable regardless of age, sex and social or economic status, male sexual submission was, at least in principle, considered immoral and illegal even when willingly consented to. Roman men, dominant and austere, defined molles those men who assumed a passive role in homosexual relationships and, considering them unsuitable to be Romans, exposed them to public ridicule and punishment.





    “”Un giovinetto di singolar bellezza Eurialo era, e Niso un di lui fido e casto amante”" Virgil, Eneid, v. 425-428

    The late Republic, the Principate and Augustan Rome (27)


       “During the second century BC, the Romans had got into the habit of openly and brazenly courting free-born boys”.  Attitudes towards homosexual relationships went through a ‘sea-change’, from being an expression of total and irrepressible masculinity imposed on slaves in a frenzy of aggressive behaviour, loving Roman pueri became fashionable, also because of the gradual Hellenisation of Roman Culture. The love of ephebes was expressed through the verses of often bisexual poets such as Catullus, whom notoriously loved Juventius, the most adorable of all boys in the world. Tibullus, Propertius, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace and Ovid also wrote on homosexual love; in some cases the mouth-watering sensuality of boys was, still, simply another convenient way of satisfying one’s sexual urges, little importance given to the fact that the object of desire was a woman or a free-born boy. A rule old as Rome herself, in De rerum natura of Lucretius we read that pleasure is nothing other than the satisfaction of the desire to transfer one’s own seed into the body of another, whose fascination and charm has caused the formation and accumulation of this same seed. This person, writes Lucretius, can be either a boy or a woman. (28)


       In Virgil we find a finer expression of bisexuality and male-male love.

    In the Aeneid, Virgil tells the famous tale of Euryalus and Nisus, two young men in love with each other who had the courage to fight and die like heroes. Far more significant to understand the sea-change taking place in Roman ethics is, according to Eva Cantarella, the story of the love between the shepherd Croydon and the ‘formosus puer’ Alesix in the second Eclogue. A romantic love affair ‘with all the trimmings’ proving beyond doubt the fact that ‘the sexual versatility of the Roman male had changed, from a simple manifestation of physical needs into aethics of love which allowed total freedom in the selection of a love object’. The Lex Scatinia had been by then forgotten, and the crime it had defined as stuprum cum puero had become in practice an absolutely normal relationship, socially accepted, engaged in with total freedom, and celebrated by the poets (29). 




    The Homosexual tradition in East Asia: China, Korea and Japan


       Tales of male homosexual love narrating the relationships between emperors and princes with their favourites, eunuchs and “ravishing boys” often holding official posts, date back in China to the first century B.C.


       The most celebrated imperial homosexual love-story was between Emperor Ai

    (r. 6BC-AD1) and the boy Dong Xian. Called to a meeting while lying with his lover, the Emperor – according to History of the Han (b A.D. 92) – cut off his sleeve rather then awake the boy from his sleep. The term duanxin (“cut sleeve”) became then synonymous with homosexuality throughout East Asia. (32)


       Male-male love became so widespread in China (3 c. A.D.) as to require a section of its own in historical texts, beholding evidence of homosexual liaisons  among the cultured as well as the nobles. Homosexual behaviour among ordinary people, maritime homosexuality, homosexual marriages and male bisexuality were also very common, as flourishing was male prostitution and the trade of

    cross-dressing boy-actors prostitutes. The tradition of retaining boy-actors or boy-singers for sexual favours dates as far back as 1127 and although the Chinese government attitude hardened at times towards it, such a custom became conspicuously interlinked with urban life up to modern times. In the Qing period (1644-1912) performers of the Beijing opera typically served as prostitutes for wealthy patrons. To make the boys looking attractive and feminine, their bodies were depilated and softened with medicines … their faces treated with meat juice (33).


       Courtly homosexuality was equally common at times in Korea, were a unique institution, that of the hwarang (“flower boys” - the clearest example of ancient Korean homosexuality) (34) was established during the Silla Dynasty (57BC-AD935).  

       The hwarang were a corps of young warriors, aristocratic youths chosen for their beauty, education and martial prowess. (…)





    The origin of Japanese “nanshoku”


       The history of the homosexual tradition goes a long way back in Japan.

    From its legendary beginning in the Buddhist monasteries, to the classical age of Samurai mansions and further on, to male brothels linked to the Kabuki and No theatre in  pre-modern Japan.



        The term “nanshoku” is especially indicative of the true sense of Japanese homosexuality in pre-modern times. Translated in Japanese-English dictionaries as ’sodomy’; ‘a crime against nature’; ‘an unnatural act’; and referred to someone who ‘go after strange flesh’ (38); the term ‘nanshoku’ in its archaic quality suggests, rather,  male homosexuality as a  dignified and refined soul condition, often implying an emotional bond, or respect for the specific social convention, or etiquette, on which male-male relationships were built upon, much like were pederastic relationships formally structured in ancient Greece. Written with the characters for ‘male’ and ‘colours’ (the latter understood as a euphemism for sex), the term ‘nanshoku’ was originally associated with “sensual pleasure” rather than being descriptive of a purely physical  act.



    Monastic Homosexuality


        As legend has it, homosexuality in Japan was imported or, even ‘invented’ by two very famous Buddhist monks: SAICHO (767-822) who became known as Dengyo Daishi; and KUKAI (774-835).

       Both men became soon legendary, their return from China (where they learnt esoteric Buddhism) marking the most important event in the history of Japanese Buddhism since it was first introduced in the sixth century.

    It is also the most significant event in the whole history of the homosexual tradition in Japan, as ‘nanshoku’ originally developed in the two religious schools founded by  Saicho and Kukai.


       Kukai, considered the authentic master of esoteric Buddhism, created the shrine of Mount Koya and founded the esoteric school of Shingon (’true word’); he became the most famous Japanese saint, to whom are attributed a host of fabulous deeds, including nevertheless the ‘invention’ of the ’sin of Sodom’.

       A contemporary of Kukai, Saicho was similarly renowned as a great master, a brilliant, wonderful and mystical man, founder of the second most important Japanese Buddhist centre after Shingon, the Tendai school.


       Tradition has it that during his hermitage on Mount Hiei, one day in the forest Saicho met an angelic boy who revealed himself as ‘the divine child who rules the world’. In the same spot where the divine child appeared, Saicho established the Temple of Enryaku-ji. Then the cult of the ‘chigo’ (young boy) spread among the monks of Mount Hiei, who considered every ‘angelic boy’ as the incarnation of a bodhisattva. According to the Japanese writer Tsuneo Watanabe, the legend of Saicho represents the legacy of a very ancient Japanese cult, that which sees the gods appearing incarnate in the form of angelic boys. All these legends would, in turn, provide the spiritual basis of homosexuality in all the Buddhist schools of Japan.(39)





    The way of the ‘ephebes’ in the world of the Samurai.


    Glorious homosexuality in Medieval Japan


       Beginning in the 16th century there appeared in Japan a new form of pederastic love, similar to the eraste-eromenos bond which developed among the soldiers of Sparta. The object of desire and admiration was no longer the gentle and angelic ‘chigo’ but the equally beautiful and elegant “wakashu” - a young man (41) eager to prove his strength, independence and bravery in war or combat.

       This new kind of homosexual relationship between a youth and a Samurai warrior – lovers who would swear perfect and eternal love to each other – was called “shudo’; it developed as ‘an idea and as an ideal, that is to say, as a ‘way’ especially among the nobles and the warrior class’ – however it made no difference whether their partners or favourites were noble or common, rich or poor. (42)


       “Shudo is an abbreviation of wakashu-do, which means the way (do) of the youth (wakashu), or more literally, the way of young (waka) men (shu). Do, or sometimes to, is the Japanese reading of the Chinese ideogram tao. Considered by Taoists as the very principle of the universe, it also means the Way by which one reaches awakening, the means by which one becomes conscious of one’s true nature.” (43)


       Homosexual relationships based on shudo (the way of adolescents) developed initially among the nobles and aristocrats, including the heads of the Samurai class, the Shoguns (44) which ruled Japan from 1186 to 1876, acting as guardians of the Tenno (the Emperor, ten = heaven).




       An essential link came to be established between bushi-do (the way of the Samurai) and shudo (the way of youth) and the most influential text to have favoured such a ideological marriage seems to have been the mysterious book ‘Hagakure’ by Yamamoto Jocho (1649-1719) where the purest spirit of ‘bushido’ is revealed. Admired by many, including Mishima, the book explains the principles and etiquette of shudo from an old samurai point of view. The most relevant suggestions Yamamoto gives are: 1) only have one lover in your life; 2) lovers should be able of seeing into each other’s heart; 3) above all, practice martial arts (only in this way shudo becomes bushido).


       Beauty remains, in the Shudo-Bushido way, the linking element to a life of virtue and honour. The way of the samurai ‘is the way of beauty’ and bushido – in its refined expressions – comes down to a practical philosophy which teaches how one may be ‘beautiful’ in life as in death: the samurai of the Sengoku era used to perfume their hair with incense and put on a light make-up before going to battle, taking care that their faces should not, even in death, appear disagreeable in the eyes of the enemy. Such a philosophy, it seems, cannot fail to make its followers more or less narcissistic. (46) The fact that a samurai chooses a beautiful young man (wakashu) as his lover, could be explained almost certainly by the wakashu resembling that ideal of beauty, bravery and radiant youth that the samurai himself had once incarnated.

       The homosexuality of shudo was in reality bisexuality (47) and a certain tendency to regard androgyny as valuable made the young, androgynous-looking wakashu even more attractive and dear as a love-object.


          The spirit of shudo as a ‘way’ and ideal began to decline in the 18th century, whereas a more sensualist and ‘commercial’ homosexuality began to flourish more and more. 



    Notes: all notes are printed in ave diabolos


    Copyright © Erace Lestis 2009


    P.S. The text has been edited and some parts omitted. The full version is printed in “Celestial Earth” by Erace Lestis, available worldwide in March 2010 (ISBN TBC)


    Other Sources:

    1) Eva Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World, Yale University Press, 2nd edition 1992

    2) Thomas K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome, University of California Press, 2003

    3) Watanabe Tsuneo & J. Iwata, The Love of the Samurai - a thousand years of Japanese homosexuality, GMP 1989

    4) Gary P. Leupp, Male Colors - the Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, Univ.ty of California Press, 1995

    5) John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, The University of Chicago Press, 1980

    Online resources:





    Celestial Earth by Erace Lestis ave diabolos