Cultural References

Poisson, tailor’s assistant, diverted his attention from the attractive male figure of the Nile, one of the statues of rivers on pedestals in the Tuileries, long enough to accost a decoy with the artful comment, “We’re not tall enough to see his best part,” meaning the penis (AB 10258, f. 211).[1] Chapelas, magistrate in the parlement of Bordeaux, asked a man leaning against a pedestal elsewhere in the garden if he had seen the figure that had been removed “because it represented a man who had a fine cock” (AB 11134, f. 41). Martin Cardot, 54, accosted a decoy who was admiring some tapestries in a window on the qui des Orfèvres by assuring him that he had seen just seen a more beautiful one, which depicted “a young man holding an old man’s cock,” which gave him an erection (AB 10769, f. 244).

The Nile & Vanloo, Male nude

Parisians had many opportunities to observe cocks of flesh as well as stone. Men young and old urinated and defecated in public spaces. They bathed nude in the Seine, without intending to incite the propositions that some of them received. Sodomites exposed themselves in the Tuileries and elsewhere, day and night, to attract others who shared their taste. At the same time classical and neoclassical nudes, sculpted or painted, engraved or penciled, in public promenades or private collections, allowed men who desired men to enjoy idealized male anatomy, within, not outside, traditional cultural norms. Police records contain no references to same-sex relations in antiquity (just one man nicknamed Socrates), but Greek and Roman texts could have provided some frame of reference for men of means. We do not know what editions they read or how they read them or how, if at all, they connected same-sex relations in ancient literature and the Parisian subculture.

Abbé Desfontaines reportedly seduced youngsters by showing them “books and plates full of sodomitical abominations and frightful postures” (AB 10821, f. 50v). What books and plates? When the police searched his place, they found some offensive books as well as some “horrible and abominable” prints but did not, unfortunately, describe them in any detail (AB 10821, f. 64v).[2] When they arrested Lespié, aka Saint-Jean, they found “a book of infamous songs on the subject of sodomy” in his pockets (AB 11196, f. 91v). The verses on the first page of the handwritten booklet, the only intact sheet, involve clergymen and (female) prostitutes (AB 11196, ff. 93-115bis). As for other books, the chevalier de La Carte asked a decoy what he was reading in the Tuileries. Fénelon’s didactic and popular Télémaque. “Has it taught you how to fuck in the ass?” (AB 10871, f. 207). One man told another man, reading the New Testament in the Tuileries, that he had read a book that “explained the shameful parts of the human body” and told him what he had learned from it (AB 11013, f. 208). These few examples suggest no conclusion but illustrate ways in which sodomites could invest visual and textual references with sexual suggestions.

First and last pages of Lespié’s booklet

[1] For another reference to the same statue see AB 10257, f. 220.

[2] “Several obscene prints in the taste of sodomy” were burned. AB 10821, f. 96v.

Author: Jeffrey Merrick