Saturday, May 13, 2006

Ethnophaulism [II, 22]

Ethnophaulism is a learned term coined in 1944 by the American independent scholar Abraham Roback. It refers to the chauvinistic practice of attributing some undesirable trait to neighboring peoples and nations. "How could one even think that our group has any affinity with such-and-such a practice? To the extent that it exists among us it must have been imported from abroad." Following this principle, we speak of German measles, taking French leave, and going Dutch (paying individually at a restaurant). In former times Italians regarded syphilis as the mal francese (or in Latin as the morbus gallicus). In turn the French designated the ailment mal florentin (or mal de Naples.)

In the case of homosexual behavior, the resort ethnophaulism is not only a type of group libel, but also reflects what might be termed etiological curiosity. How did we get such-and-such a behavior? Well, it must have been imported from x country, where it is native. Thus in eighteenth-century England, where indigenous same-sex behavior had been observed for centuries, it was nonetheless commonplace to label it an import from Italy.

The Greeks were accustomed to attributing unusual sexual practices to neighboring, but distinct Hellenic groups, as well as to foreigners. Surprisingly enough, a special proficiency in heterosexual fellatio distinguished the inhabitants of the island of Lesbos—-its association with female same-sex love became de rigueur only in fairly recent times. The same fellatial virtuosity was ascribed to the alien Phoenicians. At various times unusual fondness for pederasty was remarked in Crete, at Sparta, Chalcis, and on the island of Siphnos. To become blatantly homosexual was sometimes called taking ship for Massilia, after the ancient Greek colony on the site of modern Marseille. That city may have acquired its lavender reputation through its closeness to the territory of the notoriously homosexual Celts. The Scythians, northern neighbors of the Greeks, were associated with a particular type of effeminacy—their warlike nature notwithstanding. .

The Roman writer Cornelius Nepos (first century BCE) seems to have been the first to label pederasty Greek love. The Romans themselves were often chided for special devotion to the posterior Venus with wordplay on the palindrome Roma = Amor.

In later times in Europe there were various expressions linking sodomy with Italy. In 1432 a Zurich legal text designated the practice with the verb florenzen, attesting to the reputation that the city of Florence had acquired in this regard. This accusation became more salient in the Reformation context of attacking Italian (that is, Roman Catholic) corruption. Thus Martin Luther used several expressions to describe a homosexual relationship as an Italian marriage. (Later this accusation was transferred to the Turks, who were thought to excel in various types of sexual excess.)

Pierre de Bantôme (ca. 1540-1614) characterized the fashion for lesbian relations in sixteenth-century France by the Italian phrase donna con donna (lady with lady). At the courts of Louis XIII and XIV male homosexual indulgence was traced to Italy, as in the Sun King’s sarcastic comment “La France devenue Italienne!” In England Sir Edward Coke (1553-1634) maintained that Lombard bankers had introduced buggery in his country when they were active there in the late Middle Ages, while in the eighteenth century Italian opera was held to be a new source of infection. Ironically, Mussolini was later to reject a proposal to criminalize homosexuality in Italy on the grounds that its practice was limited to rich foreign tourists. A virile people, Italians could harbor no natural affinity for such a vice.

Some French writers localized the custom in other zones of the Mediterranean littoral. French trade with Arab countries and the occupation of Algeria (1830) are probably responsible for such expressions as moeurs levantines and moeurs arabes. Recently Islamists have sought to turn the tables, alleging that the industrial West has become decadent because of its toleration of “unnatural vice.”

Just after the beginning of the twentieth century, the Krupp and Eulenberg-von Moltke scandals contributed greatly to the popularity in a hostile France of the expression vice allemand, apparently reviving a notion current there in the time of Frederick II in the second half of the eighteenth century. The temptation to hurl such charges become particularly great in wartime, as seen in one refugee’s allegation that Hitler had worked as a male prostitute. (It is uncertain whether the term prushun, for a catamite serving an American hobo, derives from the German province.)

Until recent decades Americans were fond of ascribing a predilection for gayness to the effete English. This notion seems to have perished with the appearance of the first wave of sexy British rock stars—-though by the same token Sir Elton John and George Michael may have brought it back again.

Comparatively harmless are the current expressions Greek culture and French culture, sometimes found in sex advertisements and similar venues. The first refers to anal sex, the second to oral sex.


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