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FAMOUS FEMALE IMPERSONATORS CELESTIAL AND HUMAN
BY C. J. Bulliet
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALEXANDER KING
To you who laugh in the Theater when a Male Moron puts on a Grass Skirt and dances a burlesque Spring Song in front of a Jazz Band;
To you who giggle when the handsome young Preacher pitches high his voice and mimics a hoydenish Maiden at a Picnic Chicken Dinner;
To you who find delight in the Girlish Pranks our College Boys are playing on each other and on their Girl Chums;
To you who applauded in the World War the efforts of our War Department to guard our Young Soldiers from Female Contamination, leaving them to Other Devices;
To you who have closed our Houses of Prostitution and bade Young Men forget Sexual Desire in Athletic Friendship;
To you who view with Equanimity the rapid spread of the “Scythian madness” in America since the World War—
To you, all and individually, is dedicated
Here is the procession through the ages of votaries of the Venus Castina—that goddess supposed to respond with sympathy and understanding to the yearnings of feminine souls locked up in male bodies.
It is a curious throng, motley and miscellaneous: gods and demigods, coeval with the lovely Castina herself; kings and princes and heroes of old days and modern; frenzied priests and wild-eyed devotees; geniuses and morons, mountebanks, mystics, degenerates, practical jokers and buffoons, rogues and criminals, soft-eyed dreamers of a forbidden ineffable, warriors and poets, artists, statesmen, quacks, hoodlums and harlequins, sinners, and occasionally a saint.
Some of us fold tight our togas about us as they pass, fearing contamination. Many of us look on with lively curiosity. A few sit dazed and enraptured beside the shrine of Castina, and seek to understand.
It is to the curious onlookers the author belongs—a curiosity stirred first to action by observing—not the finest stage impersonator of female types of our time—but the effect his impersonations seemed to exert on the women and girls of his audience. Men chuckled at the satirical flings of Julian Eltinge at the foibles of fair feminine creatures, back in those days of his first tour with George M. Cohan's minstrel show, but women were stirred more deeply. A search for the wherefore resulted in this book.
An investigation of Eltinge's forerunners on the stage, particularly in the days of Queen Elizabeth when there were no female actresses to create Shakespeare's heroines, sent the author off into some amazing labyrinths of psychology, which led to a broadening of the inquiry to include not only the mimic stage, but the drama of the world of affairs.
Clews were run down, sometimes to the most obscure of odd corners of history. Literally hundreds of volumes have been consulted, sometimes the significant fact or bit of fact being found in microscopic print in a foot-note of some obscure book in the public library of New York or Chicago or San Francisco, whose yellowed edges and slightly stuck pages indicated it had not been opened in many long years.
The search, however, was not grimly systematic, nor was it pursued eighteen hours out of every twenty-four. The author has kept, all through, an easy feeling of curiosity—idle, at first; lively, thereafter, but never mounting to the frenzy of crusade. There was no definite thought of publication of the results.
Even now, though publication has been determined upon because of the rapid spread through America since the World War of the “Scythian madness,” the author has no sermon to preach. The growing effemination of our young American males—and the joke made of it by both them and their flapper friends—is no new phenomenon in history; and this survey of the procession past the shrine of the Venus Castina is the demonstration.
“I believe,” wrote at the dawn of this century a well-informed American correspondent to Dr. Havelock Ellis, the supreme British authority on matters of sex, “that sexual inversion is increasing among Americans—both men and women—and the obvious reasons are: first, the growing independence of the women, their lessening need for marriage; secondly, the nervous strain that business competition has brought upon the whole nation. In a word, the rapidly increasing masculinity in women and the unhealthy nervous systems of men offer the ideal factors for the production of sexual inversion in their children.”
This was an extraordinarily shrewd observation, made a quarter of a century ago, and before many of the factors that have since come into our national life were operating.
The World War has intervened since, for example, with our policy—growing out of the fetid, miasmatic Ohio swamp of reform— of protecting the morals of our lusty young soldiers in camp. Prostitutes were barred from administering sexual comfort, and the young men were left to work out their own salvation.
There is nothing in the known mental accomplishments of those responsible for the drastic moral and hygenic measures to indicate their ideas were scientifically any further advanced than Ohio psalm singing or Tennessee fundamentalism—but there are indications that they may have got results comparable with those arrived at by the Greeks of the classic period. It would be interesting to know just how much of the present rising tide of effemination of the American male can be traced to the camps of the World War, unadorned by the female fringe Napoleon so carefully conserved.
Taking advantage of the moral cowardice of “statesmen” in times of war, the reformers, too, closed tight the public houses of prostitution even to civilians—a move that, like prohibition, had already gained considerable headway and needed only a moment when fanaticism was rampant and experienced reason dormant to be made complete.
With females as difficult to obtain as booties; liquor—fanaticism has not let go its grip in either domain—dormant tendencies have developed in young male America with the same scandalous rapidity they have long enjoyed in English boys' schools and in colleges of Continental Europe where dormitory rules are rigidly enforced.
Prohibition, too, may be playing its part, but the point is not here insisted upon—only the theory indicated. American flappers, who used not to know what strong liquor tasted like, since it was un-maidenly to go into a saloon, are as well supplied with pocket flasks as are the boys. It is even a smarter sin, now, to drink than it is to transgress the sex code. Heavy drinking, as every physician knows— and every prostitute—rapidly lessens the potency of the male, though it stimulates the desire of the female. With the boys maudlin from their hip flasks, the girls are comparatively safe. The sexual life, consequently, may be growing more and more sterile, thanks to Volstead-ism, and sterility is a potent factor in the transformation we are investigating. The boys and girls are becoming boon drinking companions—the girls rising to male heights of aggressiveness, the boys descending to female, more rapidly and surely than a quarter of a century ago when Dr. Ellis' correspondent was making his observations.
But, whatever the causes—and the author is not here to argue but to record—the “signs of the times” are unmistakable.
The wrist-watch that came in with the war—as the female prostitute was passing out—probably had its points as a military necessity, but the fact that it was universally regarded as effeminate, and yet made its way into general army and civil use, despite the jokes of the wearers themselves, paved the way for developments now rapidly in progress.
The powder puff for men is becoming a commonplace in the flashy circles, and compacts and lip-sticks are now displayed in men's furnishing stores. Silk underwear, gayly colored, delicately embroidered and occasionally even narrowly laced, can be had in any smart shop for men—one manufacturer even labels the delicate garments “S-I-S,” with an explanatory parenthesis “Step-in-Suits.”
Permanent waves and marcelles are sold indiscriminately to the sexes in the barber shops, and, speaking of barber shops, there is a tendency again to separate the males and females, who swarmed in when the bob came into fashion. Only, in the separation, the men's shops are equipped even more elaborately than the women's with beauty preparations, for nature, slow to wake up, still insists on a beard on a male face. And extra beauty lotions and pencils are necessary to hide the annoying hair or guide it into channels of beauty. Our barbers may yet learn the Roman art of depilation practiced on Julius Caesar and the other gay, effeminate young blades.
Even so should it be, a Columbia University instructor is quoted as calmly telling a girl newspaper reporter. “In all periods of the world's history when civilization was at its highest point, cosmetics were used extensively by men as well as women. “This was notably true during the Egyptian and Roman empires. But in the Middle Ages, when civilization was at low ebb, cosmetics were practically unknown.”
In another newspaper report, a woman beauty expert sounded an alarm: “Now that men have decided to try our lip-stick, rouge, eyebrow pencil and perhaps our curling iron, to point up the shapeless face and head, we women may have to look to our laurels.”
One young man proved the good sense of the alarm by entering, for a lark, a female beauty contest in a Lowell, Mass., school, and, though he appeared in decolette, he all but captured first prize when the late Rudolph Valentino, one of the judges, discovered the joke. In another beauty contest, in Chicago, the joke never was discovered, and female friends of a young man who had entered the contest at their instigation and who came near winning, had some bad moments fearing they had aided and abetted an imposture that might have a police court ending. They were overjoyed when their champion lost by a point or two.
In European art shows, there is a rapidly growing percentage of male nudes in both painting and sculpture, in comparison with female, indicating a reversion to the Greek preference for the athlete as a model over the girl of the hetaerae. In a German stadium there has been installed a workshop for sculptors, where they may study the athletes in action, as did Phidias.
In Germany, the question of the effeminate man, which is still more or less of a joke with us, has long been taken seriously, and the “intermediate sex” has been fighting for its rights, social and even political, as determinedly as women have fought and won in America.
Our American joke gets broader and broader as the years flit by. The theater fairly reeks with this brand of “humor.” Female impersonation is no longer confined to the delicate, sly satire of a Julian Eltinge or the slap-stick burlesque of a George Munro—men imitating and good-naturedly making fun of the foibles of women.
The stage is full of chorus men, with all the symptoms of homosexuality worn on the sleeve. The comedians of the musical revues can hardly escape wearing a red necktie in some skit or other, with the broadest hints of its acquired significance, and they and the vaudeville comedians are continually invading more and more the regions of the pathologically effeminate. Disagreeable homosexual suggestion is so prevalent in the programs of the “jazz bands” as to become almost an identification mark.
This book is not a treatise, however, on the homosexual—in the early stages of the investigation, in fact, the pathological significance in female impersonation was excluded. The author was seeking only men who had masqueraded in female clothes for some dramatic reason, either on the stage or in life—as Commodus, the Roman Emperor did, for example, to complete the illusion that he was Hercules reincarnated, or as Achilles was forced by his mother to do to avoid draft for the Trojan war. This rigid exclusion was found, after a while, to be impracticable, and, though the book will be discovered, in its overwhelming percentage, to be anecdotal of exploits of the female masqueraders, considerations of homosexuality are not dodged when apparently necessary.
Inversion, undoubtedly, or a strong-tendency in that direction, is the mainspring in the vast majority of cases under consideration, but there is just as certainly a radically different factor that satisfactorily explains others. Dr. Bernard S. Talmey, of New York, who has had five men of this type among his patients, some of them female impersonators on the professional stage, names the impulse “transvestism” —a “desire for cross-dressing,” that is for the male to dress like a woman, or the female to dress like a man.
“The longings for cross-dressing in our cases”—the five cases to which he has devoted acute attention, and which he minutely analyses in his book entitled “Love”—“may be best explained, that the feminine strain, normally found in every male, exists here in greatly exaggerated form. Every normal woman attributes an exaggerated value to clothes and, Narcissus-like, is more or less enamored with the female body. The same exaggerated value to female clothes is attributed by the male transvestites.”
In my investigations, I have found very little popular interest displayed either in actresses playing men's roles on the stage or in women assuming male attire in real life, in comparison with the opposite phenomenon. About the only brilliant exceptions are Mile, de Maupin and Joan of Arc. Sex scarcely enters into the consideration of Joan— she remained feminine in male armor, and her exploits are those of a woman of fine courage, not of a man. Mile, de Maupin, however, matches for interest any of the males who stepped into petticoats. Becoming a man, La Maupin was fierce as a lover—fiercer still as a duellist—as fierce, in this latter respect, as was the Chevalier d'Eon, who so frequently forgot his woman's attire when provoked to draw his sword. Maude Adams as Peter Pan, Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet have none of the interest of Julian Eltinge or Edward Kynaston. They are accepted as sexless and mild—to be considered as artists, not as persons.
Maybe Dr. Talmey has hit upon the explanation. “The female transvestite,” he continues, where we left off above, “on the other hand, thinks of clothes more or less as men do. Yet, the male strain in her, being a morbid phenomenon, dressing is of more importance to her than it is to the normal man.”
In a foot-note Dr. Talmey sets out an analysis of the female mind worth quoting in its entirety, and going a long way to explain her deeper interest, as a general thing, in actresses than in actors—an interest that would account, as a corollary, for the hold Julian Eltinge once held on women playgoers:
“This” (her being enamored with the female body) “is the psychological explanation for woman's love of histrionic spectacles.
Almost two-thirds of all theatergoers are certainly women. Still so much demi-nude femininity is presented on the stage, presumably to amuse men and so few semi-nude men for the amusement of women. Why do so many women run to the theaters to see the nudity of their own sex? Men do not care for the sight of nude men. The reason is that feminine nudity is presented on the stage not for the amusement of the few men, but mostly for the amusement of the great throng of women.”
(In further support of Dr. Talmey's observations, it may be remarked that when semi-nude men do appear on the stage, the women show mild interest, if any. Women generally are bored by athletes and “strong men” acts in vaudeville.)
“The female body,” continues Dr. Talmey, “has a sexually stimulating effect upon woman. The pride of the female, says Weininger, is something quite peculiar to herself, something foreign even to the most handsome man, an obsession of her own body, a pleasure which displays itself even in the least handsome girl, by admiring herself in the mirror, by stroking herself and by playing with her own hair, but which comes to its full measure only in the effect that her body has on man. Woman desires to feel that she is admired physically. The normal woman regards her body as made for the stimulation of the man's sensations. This complex emotion forms the initial stage of her own pleasure. The female body has hence a greater exciting effect upon women than the male body has upon men. Female nudity produces a greater impression upon her than the male body ever does. Statues of female forms are more liable than those of male forms to have a stimulating effect upon woman. The same emotions are evoked in woman at the sight of female clothes.
“Woman takes it for granted that her clothes, just as her body, have an erotic effect upon the male. Hence female clothes awaken in woman a complex emotion akin to the sight of the female body. Woman becomes sexually excited by her own clothes. For this reason clothes are to woman of the greatest importance. The desire for beautiful clothes is an irradiation of the sex instinct.”
Julian Eltinge, therefore, in the most stunning gowns then to be seen on the stage of America—he had learned the art of female dress from Lillian Russell, a past-mistress—was, to the women and girls in the audience, a fashion plate, just as any equally stunning-looking female would have been. But there was something else. Eltinge was not wholly feminine, even when most completely submerged in his gorgeous finery. Always, there was a lurking touch of the male, poking the slightest bit of fun at the female. The women saw him as a caricature—a distortion just enough to expose their little tricks. It touched their ever-present sense of fun—not unmixed with a little anxiety— “Just how much do these men know?” I have seen little whimsical troubled looks flit across their laughing faces at a particularly daring challenge hurled across the footlights by Eltinge.
Further light—a whole flood of it—is thrown upon this attraction of the male in petticoats for the female, in the diary of the Abbe de Choisy, one of the most brilliant men-women of history, of whom we shall hear a great deal more later. The abbe, a churchman of Paris, was a constant masquerader in female attire. He lived in the days of Louis XV, and was a great friend of Louis' brother, also addicted to women's clothes. A young girl, Mademoiselle Charlotte, thrown much into his company, fell desperately in love with the abbe, and when the affair had progressed to a liaison, the abbe asked her how she came to be won. Her answer is recorded in his diary, one of the liveliest documents in the literature of scandal:
“I stood in no need of caution as I should have with a man. I saw nothing but a beautiful woman, and why should I be forbidden to love you? What advantages a woman's dress gives you! The heart of a man is there, and that makes a great impression upon us, and on the other hand, all the charms of the fair sex fascinate us, and prevent us from taking precautions.”
The abbe was duly grateful for the information, being a man possessed of scientific as well as merely human curiosity. He slept with little Charlotte for many weeks and then gave her—still a virgin, he swears—to a rival lover for wife. The abbe was too much engrossed with his own beauty, he explains, to molest hers.
With these little preliminary peeps into feminine psychology, let the procession of Venus Castina start. Maybe the world will watch, as well as America. For Pope Pius in his encyclical of May 12, 1928, just at hand, deplores the present education of male youth throughout Christendom, as “spoiled by too effeminate care.”
The Hero as Woman—there's one Carlyle missed. Yet, had he chosen to consider that species, the Sage of Chelsea would have found in history an abundance of candidates for the honor of a not uncoveted spotlight. Warriors, there are, and statesmen, and kings, and prophets, and—gods. All masquerading in petticoats—a curiously vain herd— parading the vanity of muscular prowess in battle, of intellect in the forum—of perfumed, depilated beauty, swathed in soft silks, in the boudoir.
Of such, at the glimmering dawn of history is Achilles. The picture as we here redraw it is scarcely credible to the reader of rugged Homer. The old epic poet's son of Thetis, pursuing the brawny Hector thrice around the walls of Troy, breathing fiery vengeance for the murder of Patroclus, in no way suggests a painted chorus man in a Broadway musical comedy. Not so beefy, perhaps, as Ajax, swollen of muscle and ox-like of intellect, but spare, lithe and sinewy as the winner of an Olympiad, before whose godlike form bend all maidens in abject worship.
And yet, it was among such maidens, and in the scanty flowing robes of old Greece that this same Achilles, ten years earlier, fooled so sharp an eye as that of Ulysses, wisest of men. (It would be interesting to see what Ulysses and Solomon could do with an examination for college entrance today.)
The tale is not in Homer, but is of a later time, when “higher criticism” dared start an investigation of the Homeric monopoly of things sacred just as we outside of Tennessee dare pry into the machinery of the Mosaic legend. Herodotus, for one, unearthed the astonishing fact that Helen was never taken to Troy at all, but was detained in Egypt, and was turned over to her outraged husband after the fall of the city of Priam.
Investigation, aided and abetted by vivid imagination, uncovered many interesting incidents in the life of Achilles, and the stories and scandals of his pre-Trojan days finally were crystallized in the “Achilleis” of the Roman poet Statius.
There it is disclosed that while the handsome boy, semi-god, was under the tutelage of the Centaur Chiron on Mount Pelion, his mother, the discreet sea nymph Thetis, hearing prophetic rumbles of the Trojan war, paid a visit to her old enemy. For it was Chiron who had taught the hot-blooded Peleus how to catch and tame the wily, resisting nymph and make her the mother of Achilles. She persuaded the Centaur to give up his pupil, whom she took with her through the seas to the Island of Scyros, where she attired him as a girl and set him free in the luxuriant gardens of King Lycomedes, her friend, to gambol with the king's fifty daughters.
If forty-nine of them were deceived, the lovely Deidamia was not so dumb—but list rather to the eloquence of the poet Bion, to whom Statius was indebted for certain of his material. Bion relates how the heroes of Greece were arming to proceed against Troy to recapture Helen and avenge the honor of Menelaus, so bitterly assailed by Paris—-
“But Achilles alone lay hid among the daughters of Lycomedes, and was trained to work in wools, in place of arms, and in his white hand held the bough of maidenhood, in semblance a maiden. For he put on women's ways, like them, and a bloom like theirs blushed on his cheek of snow, and he walked with maiden gait, and covered his locks with the snood.
“But the heart of a man had he, and the love of a man. From dawn to dark he would sit by Deidamia, and anon would kiss her hand, and oft would lift the beautiful warp of her loom and praise the sweet threads, having no such joy in any other girl of her company. Yea, all things he essayed, and all for one end, that they twain might share an undivided sleep.
“Now he once even spake to her saying: 'With one another other sisters sleep, but I lie alone, and alone, maiden, dost thou lie, both being girls unwedded of like age, both fair, and single both in bed do we sleep. The wicked Nysa, the crafty nurse it is that cruelly severs me from thee. For not of thee have I....'”
Only a fragment of Bion is preserved, and, of course, it has to break off here. But, fortunately there is a preliminary stanza, in which Myrson supplicates Lycidas for the tale he proceeds to sing: “A song of Scyra, Lycidas, is my desire—a sweet love-story—the stolen kisses of the son of Peleus, the stolen bed of love; how he, that was a boy, did on the weeds of women, and how he belied his form, and how among the heedless daughters of Lycomedes, Deidamia cherished Achilles in her bower.”
Later poets complete the story. The lovely Deidamia, who may have succumbed innocently to the wiles of Achilles at the outset, found him much more to her liking as a bed-fellow than her other sisters, after she had discovered his true nature, and she so utilized the discovery that a short time after the departure of Achilles, to whom she bade a tearful and passionate farewell, she gave birth to a son. This boy was the precocious Neoptolemus, who slew King Priam and became possessor of Andromache, widow of Hector, whom he made his mistress and his slave.
Returning to Scyros and the days when Achilles was lifting the beautiful warp of Deidamia's loom—in the daytime. The Greek princes, preparing to move on Troy, knew how invaluable would be the services of the strong young son of Thetis, and they sent Ulysses and Diomed in search of him.
After some difficulty, the emissaries learned of his whereabouts and of his mother's crafty move. Ulysses disguised himself as a merchant and sailed for Scyros with loads of silks and fine linens. Admitted to the garden of the king, and surrounded by the fifty-one eager girls, he began laying out his wares. The princesses crowded excitedly around, fingering the fine textures in voluptuous delight. The fact that Achilles was not yet detectable, crushing in his hands the silks as eagerly as the rest, might argue for his fitness, in days of peace, as a chorus man.
But, among the textiles, Ulysses had hidden some pieces of armor. When these were disclosed, one of the girls suddenly lost interest in the gauzy gewgaws, and sprang eagerly for sword and shield.
“Ah-ha!” cried Ulysses—or the Greek equivalent.
He took off his wig, disclosed his identity, made known his mission—-and a few hours later, the prospective father of Neoptolemus was on the high seas, chatting blithely with the Prince of Ithaca, laying plans for the approaching war.
Non-Homeric as is this later embroidery of the Achilles legend, it does not conflict directly with the Homeric conception—there is something strikingly lady-like in “Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring of woes unnumbered,” the theme of the Iliad—a wrath petulant, if not silly, in view of the grave issues at stake.
Achilles, by the time Homer took him in hand, had abandoned ruffles, and was carrying on an intrigue with a Trojan damsel of high rank. He had a comrade in arms, the stern Patroclus—
Later poets and dramatists were not content with that Homeric conception, either.
AEschylus and Sophocles were among those who meddled, and from fragments of plays no longer extant is reconstructed a new Patroclus—a perfumed youth of mincing step, rival of Briseis, the Trojan damsel, daughter of Troy's high priest, for the affections of Achilles. Because Briseis was taken from him by Commander-in-Chief Agamemnon, Achilles sulked in his tent, and let the Greeks all but lose the war. Because Hector slew Patroclus, Achilles arose again in his mighty wrath, avenged the blood of his comrade or his catamite in the blood of Hector—and then took unto himself a new comrade, Antilocus, son of Nestor.
Another pair of Trojan heroes later transformed into lover and beloved were Idomeneus, king and military leader of the Cretans, and Meriones, a handsome young noble in his ranks. In other lands and among other nationalities the same doubtful honor has been paid other comrades—David and Jonathan, for example, and Damon and Pythias.
Already it must begin to be apparent to the observant reader that Carlyle overlooked a bet, and we pass on now to Hercules, the prize strong man of Greece. Had there been a Tex Rickard extant, he would undoubtedly have been matched for the world's championship against the strong man of the Jews, Samson—who also, astonishing as it may seem, comes within the scope of our inquiry.
The Hercules legend is worthy the serious attention of the psychoanalysts. This heroic personification of rugged strength, this apparently pure type of animal masculinity, even to a bovine stupidity, nevertheless falls so far under the domination of a woman that he surrenders to her his club and his lion's skin, dons her habiliments, and sits spinning at her distaff. And furthermore, in an Achillean phase, he becomes the slave of an effeminate youth, for whom he undertakes the famous Twelve Labors.
The petulance of the pretty youth, Eurystheus, who could not be satisfied with hardships already undergone by his bovine admirer and slave, but spurred him on and on for labor after labor, made him the model in after days of degenerate Greece and Rome for handsome boys who had in their toils warriors and knights to whom they assigned difficult undertakings.
The slavery to Omphale, queen of the Lydians, followed the release of Hercules from the witchery of the fair Eurystheus, and it was begun as an act of penance for the slaying of another youth, Iphitus (not unlikely, also, an Achillean friend) in a moment of blind rage.
Instead of undertaking another series of labors, Hercules decided to humiliate himself by donning women's garb and working for three years, giving the proceeds of his industry to the boy's father.
Omphale rather liked the arrangement, it would seem. She not only put on the lion's skin and brandished the club, but assumed a tone of Amazonian command, ordering her gigantic “maid” about the house, seeing that the slayer of the hydra polished the pans properly and making him quite an expert at spinning, weaving and embroidery.
The effemination of Hercules in the service of Omphale, as well as the conception of Eurystheus as a catamite are of the Greek decadence and do not belong to the original rugged legend, any more than does the conception of Achilles and Patroclus as lovers.
Moreover, the Hercules-Omphale legend has undergone a still further striking transformation in modern times, at the hands of a Continental playwright, who incorporated certain Sadistic and Masochistic elements.
Omphale, in the Greek, already mature and a widow, is made in the modern version a beautiful young girl, playing with her sisters and slaves in the garden of her father, King Sardanus, to whom Hercules has been sold into temporary bondage to pay, with his labor, for the death of Iphitus.
A mischievous faun enters the garden, and with ravishing music and the languishing sighs of a lover makes a bold attempt to seduce Omphale. At first amused, the girl becomes indignant, and drives him away.
Hercules appears at this moment, clad in his lion's skin and brandishing his club. The girls are fascinated—none more so than Omphale, who sets about winning his attentions. Hercules at first assumes a stubborn resistance, but soon melts, and lies down at her feet. Overjoyed at her triumph, Omphale proceeds to show her companions how complete it is, and persuades the hero to exchange his lion's skin for her silken robe and his club for her distaff.
While they are caressing each other, back trips the impudent faun. Mistaking Hercules for Omphale, he rushes up to him, pushes away the lion-skin-clad princess, takes the hero in his arms, and whispers to him words of endearment. Indignantly astonished, Hercules springs to his feet, seizes the faun, hurls him high over the garden wall. Turning to the princess, he finds her laughing heartily at the escapade. This modern Hercules hasn't any lighter intellect than the bull-necked strong man of the Greeks. Wrathfully he seizes Omphale, strips from her the lion's skin, picks up a little whip with which she was toying just before the faun's reappearance, and proceeds to give her the lashing of her life.
This modern version, of course, has none of the flavor of the old Greek myth left, and the experienced reader will recognize in it the elements of degeneracy that go to make up the far finer “Salome” of Oscar Wilde.
In his affections for pretty lads, Hercules was more famous for the strength of his devotions than for their constancy to any one particular object. What jealousies must have assailed the hairless breasts of the pretty catamites.
In addition to Eurystheus and the ill-fated Iphitus, there was Hylas—“Beautiful Hylas—Hylas of the braided locks—never was he apart from Hylas.” This youth accompanied him on the Argonautic expedition. In spite of their inseparability, celebrated by Theocritus, Hylas went without his mighty friend ashore on the island of Myria to draw water. Naiads spying the handsome youngster, kidnapped him in a frenzy of non-lymphatic passion, and hid him so effectually Hercules never was able to find him, though long he wandered up and down the island, “the cruel goddess of Love rending his heart within him.”
Another of his favorites was Iolaus, his nephew and charioteer. “His passion for Iolaus was so famous that lovers swore their oaths upon the Theban's tomb.” Iolaus survived the hero, and was the first to offer sacrifices to his manes as a demi-god.
It is significant of the general smirching of the name and fame of Hercules that the tainted Roman Emperor Commodus, puppet gladiator and inordinately vain stage player, should have hit upon the hero of the Twelve Labors as his model. The pronounced bias of femininity in the Emperor's nature was satisfied, along with his vanity to pose as a man of enormous strength.
The Hebrew Samson was effeminated by his Delilah much after the manner of Hercules by Omphale—one of many links in the chain forged by students in comparative religion connecting the Greek and Hebrew mythologies. Both Samson and Hercules have been identified, in etymological consideration of their names, with the sun. Instead of spinning, like Hercules, Samson was set grinding corn—distinctly a woman's work in those days.
The cutting of Samson's hair, too, is a symbolic act of effemination. “It is very interesting,” says Freud in “Totem and Taboo,” “that among primitive men circumcision is combined with or replaced by the cutting off of the hair and the drawing of the teeth, and that our children, who cannot know anything about this, really treat these two operations as equivalents to castration when they display their fear of them. Previously Dr. Freud had observed that “when children learn about ritual circumcision they identify it with castration.”
It is a matter of common observation, in this connection, that little girls do not resist barbers as do little boys, and that since bobbed hair has become the style with mature girls and women they are far more docile under the annoying snip-snip of the scissors than are men.
The effemination of Hercules and of Samson may not be so much of a physical miracle or a psychological mystery as it appears on the face of the legends. It may be that the explanation is no more abstruse than this:
When they were put to the voluptuous test by passionate women like Omphale and Delilah they were found wanting! These giants of strength were revealed as without sexual vigor to satisfy appetite so keen—to their disappointed mistresses they seemed worthy only of the kirtle!
“A hairy man is either strong or sensual,” says a Latin proverb.
With this aphorism Ninon de l'Enclos, one of the...