Friday, September 5, 2008

Art of Manliness - The History and Nature of Man Friendships

A cool post from The Art of Manliness from some time last week. Yes, I am a bit behind in my reading, but working to catch up as I do laundry. And yes, REAL men do their own laundry. :)

The History and Nature of Man Friendships

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Friendships are an important part of a man’s life. Friends are those men you can count on when the chips are down. They’ll back you up even when the whole world is against you. Friends are those men who will buy you a beer (or a soda) when you lose a job or your lady dumps you. While the man friendship looks like a simple relationship, its history is actually quite interesting and complex. The virtues of duty and loyalty have remained the same guiding principles in man friendships throughout time. However, how men express those principles in a friendship has have gone through fascinating changes in the course of human history.

What follows is a brief history of the man friendship.

The Heroic Friendship

In ancient times, men viewed man friendships as the most fulfilling relationship a person could have. Friendships were seen as more noble than marital love with a woman because women were seen as inferior. Aristotle and other philosophers extolled the virtues of platonic relationships- a relationship of emotional connection without sexual intimacy. Platonic relationships, according to Aristotle, were the ideal.

During this period of time, the idea of the heroic friendship developed. The heroic friendship was a friendship between two men that was intense on an emotional and intellectual level. Examples of heroic friendships exist in many ancient texts from the Bible (David and Jonathan) to ancient Greek writings. A man friendship that captures the essence of the heroic friendship is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus.

Achilles and Patroclus fought together during the Trojan War and had a close relationship. A really close relationship. When Hector killed Patroclus, Achilles was beside himself for days. He smeared his body in ash and fasted in lamentation. After the funeral, Achilles, filled with a mighty rage, took to the battlefield to avenge the death of his best friend.

The image of Achilles and Patroclus was an important one in the ancient world. When Alexander the Great and his war pal, Hephaestion, passed through Troy, they stopped, with the whole army in tow, in front of the tomb of Achilles and Patroclus, thus demonstrating the veneration they had for these men and their friendship.

Male Friendships in 19th Century America

Man friendships during the 19th century were marked by an intense bond and filled with deeply held feeling and sentimentality. Man friendships in many instances had a similar intensity as romantic relationships between men and women. Essentially, it was a continuation of the heroic friendship of the ancient world, coupled with the emphasis on emotion common to the Romantic Age. A fervent bond did not necessarily imply a sexual relationship; the idea that these ardent friendships in some way compromised a man’s heterosexuality is largely a modern conception.

Men during this time freely used endearing language with each other in daily interaction and letters. For example, Daniel Webster, an American senator and one of this country’s greatest orators, often began his letters to male friends with “My lovely boy,” and ended them with “Very affectionately yours.” Even letters by manly man Theodore Roosevelt to his friends were filled with sentimental language that would make most men today rather uncomfortable.

In addition to using affectionate language with each other, men during the 19th century weren’t afraid to be physically affectionate. Many men would give no thought to draping their arms around their bud or even holding hands. And while it is quite foreign to our modern sensibilities, it was even common during this era for men to share a bed to save money. For example, The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, shared a bed with a fellow named Joshua Speed for a number of years. Some scholars have concluded that this means Lincoln was gay. That’s where we get the term “Log Cabin Republican.” However most scholars conclude that there was no nookie going on between Abe and Joshua; they simply enjoyed a close and comfortable man friendship.

Take a look at these photos of man friends from the late 19th and early 20th Century. These guys were pretty touchy with each other. In fact, it was these photos that inspired me to write the post. During my weekly searches for vintage pics of men for the blog, I kept on coming across old photographs of men being really affectionate with one another. It’s pretty jarring to our modern man sensibilities:

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“You know, Alfred. There is another chair for you.”

“Shut up, Jedidiah.”

Check this out

“Team picture!

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“Nothing like smoking cigars and holding hands with my bros.”

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“Let’s express our man friendship in the most unnatural and awkward pose possible.”

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“Come here you big lug!”

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Jim looks down at Cliff with a jealous rage.

“Why does HE always get to hold Frasier and Ralph’s hands?”

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Shooting big game and holding hands with my man friends.

Hemingway, eat your heart out, dude.

Some men see these photographs and wrongly conclude that these men were expressing their closeted gay tendencies for the camera. But this is not so. Actually, when you start sifting through old photos, you find that these kinds of poses were not abberations, but were actually quite commonplace. The photos open up a window into a picture of manliness quiet foreign to us now.

Go read the rest. As much as I like progress, some things have changed for the worse, not the better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

awesome post . . . can't help but think it's our current culture's homophobia that prevents men from being openly affectionate like that, although you don't see women holding hands like that much after they leave early teens. everyone's so afraid of appearing gay . . . which to me means that we are on such a close edge of homosexuality finally becoming part of normalcy . . . or maybe it really just gets down to fear of sex :)