Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was of half Jewish and half Catholic heritage. He was also a homosexual. One of eight children sired by an Austrian millionaire steel industrialist, Ludwig sought simplicity and solitude, rejecting the privileged and highly cultured lifestyle of his father and sister. Margaret, his sister, helped arrange Freud’s escape to England in 1938, and his father took a violin with him on business trips.

House guests at the Viennese home of the Wittgensteins included Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Clara Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter, and private musical performances in the Wittgenstein's city palace in Vienna (staircase shown in photo) were coveted invitations. Ludwig was himself an accomplished musician and had perfect pitch. There were seven grand pianos in this house, just one of thirteen mansions they owned in downtown Vienna. The palace interior's Red Salon (below) affords a glimpse into the level of opulence Wittgenstein experienced while growing up. Unfortunately, the city palace was demolished by developers in the early 1950s. There was also a summer palace, of course, called the Hochreith, located in the countryside outside Vienna. At the time, the Wittgensteins were second in wealth only to the Rothschilds.


Ludwig’s brother Paul became a famous concert pianist, but three other brothers committed suicide. His brother Rudolph (Rudi), took his own life in a very public way. He mixed a packet of potassium cyanide into a glass of milk and drank it while having dinner in a Berlin restaurant. Two minutes later he was dead. Rudi killed himself because he was petrified that he would be identified in a case report by famous sexologist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (himself a homosexual), describing in detail the problems of a homosexual student in Berlin. Rudi, a homosexual student in Berlin, was not at all comfortable with his sexuality. Their brother Johannes, also homosexual, took his own life, as well. Their father, Karl Wittgenstein, was humiliated by these acts and thereafter forbade family members to mention the name of either Johannes or Rudolph. A third brother, a military officer, shot himself when his troops deserted him. Paul, who lost an arm during the war, later settled in New York to teach music. Paul commissioned a piano concerto for the left hand only from composer Maurice Ravel. This photo shows Ludwig (on the left) with his brother Paul, the pianist (wearing glasses), before the tragic loss of Paul's right arm.

After serving in the Austrian Army during WW I, Ludwig Wittgenstein gave away his considerable fortune, always refused to wear a tie, furnished his rooms with simple deck chairs, played the clarinet, and wolfed down plates of cream doughnuts while watching his favorite John Wayne films. Wittgenstein gave up philosophy and taught in elementary schools in Lower Austria from 1920 to 1926. For a time he even took up a job as a gardener's assistant at a monastery. From 1926 to 1928 he became involved in the design of a modernist mansion for his sister, a testament to the aesthetic austerity that he championed (no baseboards, bare light bulbs for illumination). The house still stands in Vienna and serves as the Bulgarian Cultural Institute. I forgot to mention that Ludwig also took up sculpture – a true polymath.

Extraordinarily handsome as a youth, he counted Adolph Hitler among his classmates. They were the same age, but Wittgenstein was two grades apart from Hitler (Ludwig had been advanced a grade and Hitler held back one); there has been much speculation as to whether or not they were friends. At the age of nineteen Ludwig took up aeronautical studies in Manchester, England, where he designed a jet engine; the complex mathematics needed for such an endeavor led him to explore the foundations of mathematics. While at Cambridge he studied with an influential teacher, Bertrand Russell, and it is difficult to discern which had the greater impact on the other. Wittgenstein’s work was primarily in the philosophy of mathematics, the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. His two great published philosophical works are densely crafted and thus difficult to read and comprehend. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein is generally regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers.

In November 1912, on the recommendation of fellow student John Maynard Keynes (with whom Wittgenstein shared a male lover), Ludwig was elected to the elite Cambridge society known as the Apostles, which at that time maintained an aura of homoeroticism. An atmosphere that teetered on the brink of male/boy worship made Wittgenstein so uncomfortable that he stopped attending meetings. Ludwig was unsettled by his homosexuality and quite secretive about his sexual interests and activities. He wrote his diary in code, identifying the males with whom he had relations by a letter (Ben Richards was code named “Y”). This was perhaps to be expected, given the fact that homosexuality was illegal in Austria and Britain at the time. Historian Julie Anne Taddeo wrote, "The Cambridge Apostles transformed the definition of sodomy from an illegal and sinful act to an alternative creed of manliness and transcendental love and hoped to spread the gospel of the Higher Sodomy among their enlightened contemporaries."

During his student days in Vienna, Wittgenstein was known to cruise the Prater, a large public park where he hooked up with rough trade youths. He also frequented a café that was a chess club during the day, but a raucous gay bar by night. However, Wittgenstein went on to have several serious affairs with Englishmen of his own class – mathematics student David Pinsent, philosopher Frank Ramsey, the much-younger medical student Ben Richards, and architect Francis Skinner (at left in photo, shown walking with Wittgenstein). In 1929 Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge, where he became a professor in 1939. He resigned that post in 1947 to move to Ireland, where he hoped he’d find the solitude to complete his second great work, Philosophical Investigations. This plan didn’t come to fruition, unfortunately. It was published in its incomplete form in 1953, two years after his death from prostate cancer at the age of sixty two.

Ludwig died in Cambridge, housed in his doctor's home, since he did not wish to die in a hospital. He celebrated his 62nd birthday by taking a walk. Three days later, he was dead. His last words were, "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Erasmus

The Dutch humanist Erasmus (1466-1536) fell madly in love with a tall young monk named Servatius Roger. Erasmus wrote him scores of passionate, love-sick letters, to which Roger reacted by asking him to tone it down – way down, lest there be a scandal. Roger never gave in to the constant, overwrought advances. Here is a typical exchange:

Erasmus: Don’t be so reserved. I have become yours so completely that nothing of myself is left...I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly.

Roger: What is wrong with you?

This portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523) hangs in London's National Gallery.

While later teaching in Paris, Erasmus instructed a 21-year-old English-born student, Thomas Grey, who later became Marquis of Dorset. Erasmus was abruptly dismissed as Grey’s teacher, for making unwanted advances towards him. It seems Erasmus had a thing for straight men.

Erasmus was born Gerrit Gerritszoon (Dutch for Gerard Gerardson) in Rotterdam as the illegitimate son of a physician's daughter and a man who later became a monk. On his parents' death his guardians insisted he enter a monastery, where he adopted the name Desiderius Erasmus. After taking priest's orders, Erasmus went to Paris, where he earned a living as a teacher. His life-long clashes with theologians and clergy took root while in France. Among his pupils was English Lord Mountjoy, who invited Erasmus to visit England in 1498. He lived chiefly at Oxford, and through the influence of John Colet, his contempt for theologians was heightened. He returned to Paris and later made a much longed for trip to Italy, but returned to England from time to time.

While residing at Cambridge Erasmus served as professor of Divinity and Greek. In 1519 the first edition of Colloquia appeared. Usually regarded as his masterpiece, Colloquia critiqued the abuses of the Church with audacity and incisiveness, preparing men's minds for the subsequent work of Martin Luther. In future works Erasmus promoted a more rational conception of Christian doctrine, emancipating men's minds from the frivolous and pedantic methods of contemporary theologians. Members of the clerical establishment became his sworn enemies, driving him to live out the rest of his days in Basel, Switzerland. Fortunately, during his last years Erasmus enjoyed great fame, fortune  and high regard.

Erasmus stands as the supreme example of cultivated common sense being applied to human affairs. He rescued theology from the pedantries of theologians, exposed the abuses of the Church, and did more than any other single person to advance the Revival of Learning.

A popular European student exchange program, established in 1987, is named after him. The Erasmus Programme is a major European Union higher education initiative; there are currently more than 4,000 higher education institutions participating in 33 countries, and more than 2.2 million students have already taken part.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Federico García Lorca

Lorca was an avante-garde homosexual Spanish poet and playwright who had a serious and scandalous affair with Salvador Dalí. Lorca, born near Granada, was considered the greatest Spanish poet of the twentieth century. He trained as a classical pianist, but also studied law, literature and musical composition. From his friendship with homosexual Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, Spanish folklore became his muse. Lorca’s early anthologies of poems were stylized imitations of the ballads and poems that were told throughout the Spanish countryside. When Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads, 1928) was published, it brought him fame across the Hispanic world.

From 1925 to 1928 he was passionately involved with Salvador Dalí. Their sexual relationship was portrayed in the recent film Little Ashes (2009). As Lorca’s reputation increased, however, he became estranged from Dalí. When a collapse of a love affair with sculptor Emilio Soriano Aladrén followed, Lorca moved to New York, where his homosexuality would perhaps be more accepted. At a time when in Spain hardly anyone traveled, Lorca prospered in New York, where he wrote his acclaimed work, "Poet in New York". He then went to Argentina, and even spent time in Cuba, where he was inspired to write "In a coach of black water I will go to Santiago". However, Lorca’s heavily homoerotic Sonnets of Dark Love (1935) were not published during his lifetime (see excerpt at end of post).

Lorca (below on left) shown with Salvador Dalí (on right) in 1926:


Lorca described himself as "Catholic, communist, anarchist, libertarian, traditionalist, monarchist." His works challenged the accepted role of women in society and explored taboo issues of homoeroticism and class distinctions (he was a passionate social activist). These outspoken liberal views led Franco to ban all of Lorca’s works. In fact, it was only after Franco's death in 1975 that Lorca's life and circumstances of his death could be openly discussed in Spain.

Lorca was envied for his talent, he had money and was successful. When the military took power, his execution was only a matter of time. A successful, liberal homosexual could not be tolerated in Franco's Spain, and he was shot by Franco’s anti-communist death squads during the Spanish Civil War.

Lorca had taken refuge in the home of poet Luis Rosales (now the Hotel Reina Cristina in Granada) from where he was abducted. They came for him on August 19, 1936, and loaded him into a truck with other political suspects. He was shot a few kilometers from Fuente Vaqueros, Spain (where he had been born), but his body has still not been found.

Footnote: Manuel de Falla, who had become disillusioned with the Franco regime, tried but failed to prevent the murder of Lorca, his close friend. As a result, de Falla left Spain in 1939 for Argentina, never to return to his native country.

Lorca, who was assassinated at the tender age of 38, was a man whose crime was to be free at a time in Spain's history when to call for freedom was to knock on the executioner’s door.

This scene from the film Little Ashes shows the first kiss between Salvador Dali (Robert Pattinson) and Frederico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran). For you impatient types, the kiss takes place at the 1:43 mark.



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The Poet Speaks by Telephone with His Lover
– from Sonnets of Dark Love (1935)

My chest was dune and drought, your voice was water;
that wooden cabin ceased to be my coffin.
At the south pole of my feet the crocus sprang,
at the north pole of my brow the bramble bloomed.
A pine of light sang through each crack and corner,
sang with no seed sown in the earth nor dawn;
for the first time my cry flew like an arrow,
pinning a crown of hope upon the roof.
Sweet and distant voice coursing toward me,
sweet and distant fountain of my pleasure,
distant and sweet like a sunken river!
Distant as a half-hidden, wounded faun,
sweet as a sobbing draught from snowy fields,
distant yet sweetly lodged in my own marrow!