The Absence of Accusations

As I have shown, there is weak evidence to suggest that, during his younger years, some people might have suspected that Erasmus was gay. But we have not a scrap of evidence that, once he became famous and a center of controversy, anybody ever accused him in this manner. This is remarkable, because there were a great many people who threw every possible accusation, now matter how absurd, at Erasmus: heresy, aiding and abetting Luther, indecency, corrupting youth, lack of respect for the Church, impiety, barbarous language (!), and so forth. Those were polemical times and the things people said about each other in print make us blush. Here’s an extract from Julius Caesar Scaliger’s "An Oration in Behalf of Cicero against Erasmus", published in 1531, addressed to students of Latin in Paris:

"Not only must you check the boldness of this calumniator [Erasmus] but you must destroy the fancy of others to imitate him. Avenge the most excellent of men [Cicero] and his beneficent memory against the raileries of so evil-spoken a man whose jealousy cannot be satisfied with insulting so illustrious a name. Some day this beast, if you allow him to rail against the Prince of Letters with such impunity, will hurl himself at you; and then the fury which he has employed against you he will not abandon until he has more bitterly attacked others. Challenge his intemperance, dispel his influence, bring to naught his boldness, blot out his criminal declarations!"

Moreover, had Erasmus indeed been gay, there would have been much more evidence in support of such accusations by the time he became famous. Like any master of a house, Erasmus maintained a large number of dependents who helped out with all manner of mundane tasks: copying out letters, acting as amanuensis, cleaning up, and so forth. In Erasmus’ case, these would all be young men serving a kind of apprenticeship for a few years before launching their careers. This would of course have been a delightful situation for a gay Erasmus, but it would also have generated a large number of potential witnesses against him. Moreover, he did not remain on good terms with all of his old friends; would not a disgruntled former lover have come forward to make the accusation, or planted the accusation in one of the notorious anonymous pamphlets so common in those days?

Certainly the best example comes from Servatius Rogerius, Erasmus’ purported first love. Servatius become prior of the monastery Erasmus had left, and over the years he made repeated attempts to assert his monastic authority over Erasmus and induce him to return to his proper place in the monastery. Erasmus evaded Servatius’ commands, stalling, claiming he had not received letters, and all manner of other tricks to hold Servatius at bay, even though they both knew that Servatius had every right to demand that Erasmus return. Eventually Erasmus got papal dispensation for his situation, which settled the matter. However, if Erasmus had indeed made homosexual overtures to Servatius, Servatius would have known his secret, and this knowledge would have supplied him with all the leverage he needed to force Erasmus to obedience. Servatius could even have had the dispensations annulled. But he never attempted any such thing, nor did any of his increasingly importunate letters to Erasmus contain any veiled threats. Was it because he scrupled at using so foul a ploy, or because he did not possess the leverage in the first place? I believe that it was the latter.