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Théophile de Viau (1590 - September 25, 1626)

The homosexuality of the French libertine Théophile de Viau must largely be inferred from his highly personal poetry.

De Viau was born in 1590 in Clairac into a Huguenot family that had recently been promoted to the ranks of the lesser nobility. During his youth, he studied medicine in Bordeaux and Holland; he also joined a troupe of traveling actors for whom he wrote plays.

During Théophile's short life, he suffered attacks--often politically motivated--for his libertine morals and scandalous poetry. Banished from Paris in 1619, he retreated to his family estate at Boussères where he wrote a free verse and prose translation of Plato's Treatise on the immortality of the soul or the death of Socrates, considered at the time to be a libertine text.

Accused by the Jesuit priest Father Garasse and various judges of filling his work with impious and dangerous libertine ideas, Théophile should nonetheless be understood not as a philosopher, but as a remarkable, albeit free thinking, poet.

Brought back to Paris by the King at the request of his favorite, the Duke de Luynes, he gained fame as a major court poet. In 1621, he published the first volume of his Works, which established him as the leading poet of his day.

Although Théophile converted to Catholicism in 1622 for political reasons, Father Garasse accused him of leading a band of atheists and called him the king of libertines. Convicted in August 1623 of the crime of lèse-majesté divine, Théophile was condemned to the stake but burned only in effigy.

Then in September 1623, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Conciergerie where he would remain for almost two years until finally cleared of the charges against him. Théophile was nonetheless banished forever from the kingdom of France, as was the Jesuit father Voisin, one of his chief adversaries. This judgment, while almost constituting an absolution for the poet, nevertheless marks the end of the flamboyant libertine movement.

On his release, Théophile went into hiding, staying with one friend and then another; in December, he left Paris with the Duke of Montmorency, who was rejoining his regiment near La Rochelle. Then, on September 25, 1626, at the age of thirty-six, Théophile died in Paris at the home of his influential protector, the Duke of Montmorency.

Although his penchant for male lovers is generally acknowledged, Théophile's homosexuality and indeed all of his intimate relationships remain largely a matter of inference drawn from his highly personal poetry. His contemporary Tallement des Réaux refers to Jacques la Vallée des Barreaux as Théophile's widow, thus indicating that their physical relationship was common knowledge at the time.

Father Garasse labels the group of writers, young noblemen, and bourgeois gathered around Théophile "beaux esprits," to suggest their free sexual mores as well as their free thinking.

Théophile's verse is a poetry of ideas, inspired by Montaigne, Epicurus, Lucretius, Giulio Vanini, Horace, Pliny, and Seneca, all of whom were considered libertine thinkers. His credo, "follow Nature's law," takes on added resonance when natural inclination leads the lover outside relationships condoned by the Church.

Advocating "the total enjoyment of one's limited time on earth in a spirit of generosity," Théophile gives full rein to sexual passion, seeing it as a major source of pleasure. Equally important is his conviction that poetry should be the sincere, personal expression of the poet's own experience and feelings, a belief that informs all of his work.

Théophile's poetry is noted for its rich imagery, vivid representation of nature, mythological allusions, and powerful evocations of sensuality. His verse frequently celebrates physical beauty and pleasure in ways that transgress gender boundaries.

Among his cabaret poems, for example, "Par ce doux appétit des vices," addressed to the Duke of Buckingham, and "Marquis, comment te portes tu?" posit sexual contact between men with a spirit of camaraderie and urbanity. Homosexual love is also occasionally the subject of witty and intense epigrams, such as "Philandre sur la maladie de Thyrsis."

With some eighty-eight editions of his work appearing between 1621 and 1696, he was the most frequently published poet in seventeenth-century France. At once conscious of both his common humanity and his own distinct individuality, Théophile is a major seventeenth-century French poet. The critical role he played in the libertine movement, the surprisingly modern esthetic of his work, and its vast generic range mark him as a particularly rich figure in the patrimony of gay writers.

Citation Information
Author: Collins-Clark, Kathleen
Entry Title: Viau, Théophile de
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated July 24, 2006
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/viau_t.html  
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date September 25, 2011
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton
Paperback: 648 pages
Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (October 31, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0674022335
ISBN-13: 978-0674022331
Amazon: Homosexuality and Civilization

How have major civilizations of the last two millennia treated people who were attracted to their own sex? In a narrative tour de force, Louis Crompton chronicles the lives and achievements of homosexual men and women alongside a darker history of persecution, as he compares the Christian West with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Arab Spain, imperial China, and pre-Meiji Japan.

Ancient Greek culture celebrated same-sex love in history, literature, and art, making high claims for its moral influence. By contrast, Jewish religious leaders in the sixth century B.C.E. branded male homosexuality as a capital offense and, later, blamed it for the destruction of the biblical city of Sodom. When these two traditions collided in Christian Rome during the late empire, the tragic repercussions were felt throughout Europe and the New World.

Louis Crompton traces Church-inspired mutilation, torture, and burning of "sodomites" in sixth-century Byzantium, medieval France, Renaissance Italy, and in Spain under the Inquisition. But Protestant authorities were equally committed to the execution of homosexuals in the Netherlands, Calvin's Geneva, and Georgian England. The root cause was religious superstition, abetted by political ambition and sheer greed. Yet from this cauldron of fears and desires, homoerotic themes surfaced in the art of the Renaissance masters--Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Sodoma, Cellini, and Caravaggio--often intertwined with Christian motifs. Homosexuality also flourished in the court intrigues of Henry III of France, Queen Christina of Sweden, James I and William III of England, Queen Anne, and Frederick the Great.

Anti-homosexual atrocities committed in the West contrast starkly with the more tolerant traditions of pre-modern China and Japan, as revealed in poetry, fiction, and art and in the lives of emperors, shoguns, Buddhist priests, scholars, and actors. In the samurai tradition of Japan, Crompton makes clear, the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greece.

Sweeping in scope, elegantly crafted, and lavishly illustrated, Homosexuality and Civilization is a stunning exploration of a rich and terrible past.

Historical Dictionary of Homosexuality (Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements Series) by Brent L. Pickett
Hardcover: 280 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press (June 16, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810859793
ISBN-13: 978-0810859791
Amazon: Historical Dictionary of Homosexuality (Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements Series)

The history of sexuality is central to social history, the history of ideas, the realization or repression of human rights, and other areas of focus. This is also true about those who have had, or do have, what could be called minority sexualities. Same-sex attraction has generally been a minority sexuality; it has been the object of tremendous repression and vociferous complaint but also one of praise by talented poets and philosophers. The Historical Dictionary of Homosexuality provides a comprehensive survey of same-sex relations from ancient China and Greece to the contemporary world.

It covers the gay rights movement from its origins in 19th century Europe to the nascent global network today. Philosophic treatments, such as natural law and queer theory, along with legal issues and court decisions are included. Global in its coverage of the variety of same-sex relations, their legal treatment, and social norms concerning same-sex attraction, this reference includes a chronology, an introductory essay, a bibliography, and cross-referenced dictionary entries on specific countries and regions, influential historical figures, laws that criminalized same-sex sexuality, various historical terms that have been used to refer to aspects of same-sex love, and contemporary events and legal decisions.

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Tags: author: theophile de viau, gay classics, literary heritage
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