Subsidiary SourcebooksAfricanEastern AsianGlobalIndianJewishIslamicLesbian/GayScienceWomen

Special ResourcesByzantiumMedieval MusicSaints' Lives
Ancient Law
Medieval Law
Film: Ancient
Film: Medieval
Film: Modern

About IHSPIHSP Credits

Edward Carpenter:

The full text of IOLÄUS is available.

Page numeration is indicated by [square brackets]

[Introduction: Edward Carpenter's Ioläus is an attempt to provide a historical context for male friendship. One should not be misled, however. Carpenter, one of the earliest English homosexual activists, is writing about homosexual relationships and trying to provide a historical grounding for them. As such his work is of interest not only for its references, but also as evidence of the strategies of the early gay movement .]


[10] Tacitus, speaking of the arrangement among the Germans by which each military chief was surrounded by younger companions in arms, says:

" There is great emulation among the companions, which shall possess the highest place in the favor of their chief; and among the chiefs, which shall excel in the number and valor of his companions. It is their dignity, their strength, to be always surrounded with a large body of select youth, an ornament in peace, a bulwark in war.
. . In the field of battle, it is disgraceful for the chief to be surpassed in valor; it is disgraceful for the companions not to equal their chief; but it is reproach and infamy durlng the whole succeeding life to retreat from the field surviving him. To aid, to protect him; to place their own gallant actions to the account of his glory is their first and most sacred engagement."
Tacitus, Germania, 13, 14, Bohn Serses.


[89] THE quotations we have given from Plato and others show the very high ideal of friendship which obtained in the old world, and the respect accorded to it. With the incoming of the Christian centuries, and the growth of Alexandrian and Germanic influences, a change began to take place. Woman rose to greater freedom and dignity and influence than before. The romance of love began to centre round her.[Benecke, Woman in Greek Poetry, traces a germ of this romance even in Greek days] The days of chivalry brought a new devotion into the world, and the Church exalted the Virgin Mother to the highest place in heaven. Friendship between men ceased to be regarded in the old light -i.e., as a thing of deep feeling, and an important social institution. It was even, here and there, looked on with disfavor-and lapses from the purity or chastity of its standard were readily suspected and violently reprobated. Certainly it survived in the monastic life for a lone period: [90] but though inspiring this to a great extent, its influence was not generally acknowledged. The Family, in the modern and more limited sense of the word (as opposed to the clan), became the recognized unit of social life, and the ideal centre of all good influences (as illustrated in the worship of the Holy Family). At the same time, by this very shrinkage of the Family, as well as by other influences, the solidarity of society became to some extent weakened, and gradually the more communistic forms of the early world gave place to the individualism of the commercial period.

The special sentiment of comrade-love or attachment (being a thing inherent in human nature) remained of course through the Christian centuries, as before, and unaltered-except that being no longer recognized it became a private and personal affair, running often powerfully enough beneath the surface of society, but openly unacknowledged, and so far deprived of some of its dignity and influence. Owing to this fact there is nothing, for this period, to be quoted in the way of general ideal or public opinion on the subject of friendship, and the following sections therefore become limited to the expression of individual sentiments and experiences, in prose and poetry.

[91] These we find, during the mediaeval period, largely colored by religion; while at the Renaissance and afterwards they are evidently affected by Greek associations.

FOLLOWING are some passages from S. Augustine:

" In those years when I first began to teach in my native town, I had made a friend, one who through having the same interests was very dear to me, one of my own age, and like me in the first flower of youth. We had grown up together, and went together to school, and used to play together. But he was not yet so great a friend as afterwards, nor even then was our friendship true; for friendship is not true unless Thou cementest it between those who are united to Thee by that ' love which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.' Yet our friendship was but too sweet, and fermented by the pursuit of kindred studies. For I had turned him aside from the true faith (of which as a youth he had but an imperfect grasp) to pernicious and superstitious fables, for which my mother grieved over me. And now in mind he erred with me, and my soul could not endure to be separated from him. But lo, Thou didst follow close behind Thy fugitives, Thou-both God of vengeance and fountain of mercie -- [92] didst convert us by wonderful ways; behold, Thou didst take him out of this life, when scarcely a year had our close intimacy lasted-sweet to me beyond the sweetness of my whole life....
" No ray of light pierced the gloom with which my heart was enveloped by this grief, and wherever I looked I beheld death. My native place was a torment to me, and my father's house strangely joyless; and whatever I had shared with him, without him was now turned into a huge torture. My longing eyes sought him everywhere, and found him not; and I hated the very places, because he was not in them, neither could they say to me ' he is coming,' as they used to do when he was alive and was absent. And I became a great puzzle to myself, and I asked my soul why it was so sad, and why so disquieted within me; and it knew not what to answer. And if I said ' Trust thou in God,' it rightly did not obey; for that dearest one whom it had lost was both truer and better than that phantasm in which it was bidden to trust. Weeping was the only thing which was sweet to me, and it succeeded my friend in the dearest place in my heart."
S. Augustine, Confessions, bk. 4, ch. iv. Trans. by Rev. W. H. Hutchings, M.A.
"I was miserable, and miserable is every soul which is fettered by the love of perishable things; he is torn to pieces when he loses them, and then he perceives how miserable he was in reality while he possessed them. And so was I then, [93] and I wept most bitterly, and in that bitterness I found rest. Thus was I miserable, and that miserable life I held dearer than my friend. For though I would fain have changed it, yet to it I clung even more than to him; and I cannot say whether I would have parted with it for his sake, as it is related, if true, that Orestes and Pylades were willing to do, for they would gladly have died for each other, or together, for they preferred death to separation from each other. But in me a feeling which I cannot explain, and one of a contradictory nature had arisen; for I had at once an unbearable weariness of living, and a fear of dying. For I believe the more I loved him, the more I hated and dreaded death which had taken him from me, and regarded it as a most cruel enemy; and I felt as if it would soon devour all men, now that its power had reached him.... For I marvelled that other mortals lived, because he whom I had loved, without thought of his ever dying, was dead; and that I still lived-I who was another self-when he was gone, was a greater marvel still. Well said a certain one of his friend, ' Thou half of my soul; ' for I felt that his soul and mine were ' one soul in two bodies: ' and therefore life was to me horrible, because I hated to live as half of a life; and therefore perhaps I feared to die, lest he should wholly die whom I had loved so greatly."
Ibid, ch. vi.

[94] IT is interesting to see, in these extracts from S. Augustine, and in those which follow from Montalembert, the points of likeness and difference between the Christian ideal of love and that of Plato. Both are highly transcendental, both seem to contemplate an inner union of souls, beyond the reach of space and time; but in Plato the union is in contemplation of the Eternal Beauty, while in the Christian teachers it is in devotion to a personal God.

" If inanimate nature was to them an abundant source of pleasure they had a life still more lively and elevated in the life of the heart, in the double love which burned in them-the love of their brethren inspired and consecrated by the love of God."
Monks of the West, introdn., ch. v.
" Everything invited and encouraged them to choose one or several souls as the intimate companions of their life.... And to prove how little the divine love, thus understood and practised, tends to exclude or chill the love of man for man, never was human eloquence more touching or more sincere than in that immortal elegy by which S. Bernard laments a lost brother snatched by death from the cloister:-' Flow, flow my tears, so eager to flow! he who prevented your flowing is here no more I It is not he who is dead, it is I who now live only to die. Why, O why have we loved, and why have we lost each other."'
[95] " The mutual affection which reigned among the monks flowed as a mighty stream through the annals of the cloister. It has left its trace even in the ' formulas,' collected with care by modern eruditions.... The correspondence of the most illustrious, of Geoffrey de Vendome, of Pierre le Venerable, and of S. Bernard, give proofs of it at every page."

SAINT ANSELM'S letters to brother monks are full of expressions of the same ardent affection. Montalembert gives several examples:

"Souls well-beloved of my soul," he wrote to two near relatives whom he wished to draw to Bec, " my eyes ardently desire to behold you; my arms expand to embrace you; my lips sigh for your kisses; all the life that remains to me ts consumed with waiting for you. I hope in praying, and I pray in hoping-come and taste how gracious the Lord is-you cannot fully know it while you find sweetness in the world."
" ' Far from the eyes, far from the heart,' say the vulgar. Believe nothing of it; if it was so,
the farther you were distant from me the cooler my love for you would be; whilst on the contrary, the less I can enjoy your presence, the more the desire of that pleasure burns in the soul of your friend."


" To Gondulf, Anselm-I put no other or longer salutations at the head of my letter, because I can say nothing more to him whom I love. All who know Gondulph and Anselm know well what this means, and how much love is understood in these two names." . . . " How could I forget thee ? Can a man forget one who is placed like a seal upon his heart? In thy silence I know that thou lovest me; and thou also, when I say nothing, thou knowest that I love thee. Not only have I no doubt of thee, but I answer for thee that thou art sure of me. What can my letter tell thee that thou knowest not already, thou who art my second soul? Go into the secret place of thy heart, look there at thy love for me, and thou shalt see mine for thee." . . . "Thou knewest how much I love thee, but I knew it not. He who has separated us has alone instructed me how dear to me thou wert. No, I knew not before the experience of thy absence how sweet it was to have thee, how bitter to have thee not. Thou hast another friend whom thou hast loved as much or more than me to console thee, but I have no longer thee l-theel thee l thou understandest? and nothing to replace thee. Those who rejoice in the possession of thee may perhaps be offended by what I say. Ah I let them content thernselves with their joy, and p.ermit me to weep for him whom I ever love."

[97] THE story of Amis and Amile, a mediaeval legend, translated by William Morris (as well as by Walter Pater) from the Bibliotheca Elzeviriana, is very quaint and engaging in its old-world extravagance and supernaturalism:

Amis and Amile were devoted friends, twins in resemblance and life. On one occasion, having strayed apart, they ceased not to seek each other for two whole years. And when at last they met "they lighted down from their horses, and embraced and kissed each other, and gave thanks to God that they were found. And they swore fealty and friendship and fellowship perpetual, the one to the other, on the sword of Amile, wherein were relics." Thence they went together to the court of " Charles, king of France." Here soon after, Amis took Amile's place in a tournament, saved his life from a traitor, and won for him the King's daughter to wife. But so it happened that, not long after, he himself was stricken with leprosy and brought to Amile's door. And when Amile and his royal bride knew who it was they were sore grieved, and they brought him in and placed him on a fair bed, and put all that they had at his service. And it came to pass one night " when as Amis and Amile lay in one chamber without other company, that God sent to Amis Raphael his angel, who said to him: 'Sleepest thou, Amis?' And he, [98] who deemed that Amile had called to him, answered: ' I sleep not, fair sweet fellow.' Then the angel said to him: ' Thou hast answered well, for thou art the fellow of the citizens of heaven, and thou hast followed after Job, and Thoby in patience. Now I am Raphael, an angel of our Lord, and am come to tell thee of a medicine for thine healing, whereas he hath heard thy prayers. Thou shalt tell to Amile thy fellow, that he slay his two children and wash thee in their blood, and thence thou shalt get the healing of thy body."'
Amis was shocked when he heard these words, and at first refused to tell Amile; but the latter had also heard the angel's voice, and pressed him to tell. Then, when he knew, he too was sorely grieved. But at last he determined in his mind not even to spare his children for the sake of his friend, and going secretly to their chamber he slew them, and bringing some of their blood washed Amis-who immediately was healed. He then arrayed Amis in his best clothes and, after going to the church to give thanks, they met Amile's wife who (not knowing all) rejoiced greatly too. But Amile, going apart again to the children's chamber to weep over them, found them at play in bed, with only a thread of crimson round their throats to mark what had been done!
The two knights fell afterwards and were killed in the same battle; " for even as God had joined them together by good accord in their life [99] days, so in their death they were not sundered." And a miracle was added, for even when they were buried apart from each other the two coffins leapt together in the night and were found side by side in the morning.

Of this story Mr. Jacobs, in his introduction to William Morris' translation, says: "Amis and Amil were the David and Jonathan, the Orestes and Pylades, of the medieval world." There were some thirty other versions of the legend " in almost all the tongues of Western and Northern Europe "-their " peerless friendship " having given them a place among the mediaeval saints.
(See Old French Romances, trans. by William Morris, London, 1896.)


HTML, Paul Halsall, some subtitles have been added [they were supplied by page headings in the original]

[Back to People with a History]

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]