Friday, January 29, 2010
An Intellectual Friendship, I'm Sure
As has been mentioned before, the Enlightenment was a bizarre time, full of experimentation of all sorts. The Amateur Historian offers up the example of the Hellenistist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an essayist and archeologist whose work on Greek art inspired the Classical rival. Though homosexuality was literally a crime, courts (legal and noble) tended to forgive him his "Greek friendships" with beautiful young men as he pointed out that they were simply a way of exploring the Hellensitic mindset. The Amateur Historian personally finds this a hilarious method of circumventing somewhat irrational social mores, particularly when Winckelmann put it into practice.
Casanova noted some of Winckelmann's intellectual fervor in his memoirs, though Casanova's memoirs ought not to be taken at face value, considering that Casanova claimed that, at the age of twelve, he was a breathtakingly handsome charmer who could outwit trained scholars when puzzling out the complexities of Latin grammar. However, early one morning in Rome, he found Wincelmann, sans trousers, lying on top of a beautiful young boy. Casanova quite understandably asked for an explanation.
Winckelmann, pulling on his trousers, explained quite cheerfully that he was trying to "enter the minds" of his ancient heroes, as the glories of classical art could never be understood by "those who are observant of beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at all by the beauty of men".
Considering how the rest of Casanova's memoirs seems mostly to consist of Casanova a. meeting famous people, b. propositioning people and c. being propositioned by famous people, the Amateur Historian is quite shocked that Casanova did not add a note saying that Winckelmann then asked Casanova to join in this Classicist, intellectual endeavor. Presumably Casanova had heard Volatire's bon mot when he turned down a second round of experimentation at the very "gay" court of Frederick the Great: "Once, a philosopher; twice, a sodomite."