Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

John Addington Symonds

The son of a prosperous physician, Symonds was born in Bristol, England and attended Balliol College in Oxford, where he specialized in ancient and medieval literature. He became a well-respected scholar, publishing among other things a 7-volume study, Renaissance Italy. But Symonds is best known today as one of the earliest modern writers who defended male-male love. Though he married and had several children, he was always aware of his love for other men and, through a study of ancient Greek culture, attempted to mount an intellectual defense of it. His privately published and circulated books, A Problem in Greek Ethics and A Problem in Modern Ethics, were among the first works in English to use the term “homosexual.” For many years, Symonds maintained a correspondence with the American poet, Walt Whitman, whose poems about male comrades and friends he admired. He also worked closely with Havelock Ellis in the writing of Sexual Inversion, one of the important early scientific defenses of homosexuality. Symonds lived for many years in Italy, and died in Rome in 1893.