Rare artifact from gay history appears after almost 150 years

MARYLAND – Gabrielle Dean, a curator at Johns Hopkins University, discovered a rare, original copy of an 1873 essay promoting the morality of same-sex relations.

Gabrielle Dean curator at Johns Hopkins University, (Johns Hopkins University photo)

She found it on a rare book dealer’s website. The book was originally given to British scholar Sir Richard Burton and then went between private collectors for more than 100 years.

English poet and cultural historian John Addington Symonds only published 10 copies of “A Problem in Greek Ethics,” out of fear because homosexuality was a crime in 19th century England. Symonds could have gone to jail for writing the essay that applauded the ancient Greek’s acceptance of same-sex relations.

Symonds married a woman and the couple had four children but he was gay.

Only five copies of A Problem in Greek Ethics were believed to have survived and this discovery is the sixth copy.

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893). (Wikipedia photo)

“The book is a relic from the front lines of some of the first battles over gay rights,” Professor Shane Butler, director of Johns Hopkins’ Classics Research Lab told the Baltimore Sun.

The book is the centerpiece of the exhibit, Queer Connections: The Library of John Addington Symonds and is on display at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University until March 13.

A Problem in Greek Ethics by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893). (Screenshot Baltimore Sun video)

Symonds (1840-1893), was a Victorian writer and pioneering theorist of human sexuality.

Johns Hopkins University website says, “Prompted by personal experience, Symonds searched for historical evidence of same-sex love and social support for relationships considered “deviant” in his own time. He found that evidence in ancient Greece, inspiring his 1883 essay A Problem in Greek Ethics—a ground-breaking analysis of homosexuality in the ancient world that became a touchstone for the emerging gay rights movement.

“Through his reading, writing, and collecting practices, Symonds also created a network of like-minded thinkers, artists, and writers. This exhibition—curated by faculty and student participants in the John Addington Symonds Project, the pilot iteration of the Classics Research Lab—displays extracts from Symonds’s library, a glimpse of the ‘queer connections’ that sustained him and enabled his work.”

-Alberta Press Leader staff

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