A Year in Arcadia
by Emil Leopold August, Duke of Saxe-Gotha and Altenburg

Translated and with an Essay by Carl Skoggard

"Self-love and self-respect blazed up in me, I felt better and stronger about myself than before, and the wretched dross of an imposed manliness that had been applied to my being by dint of much effort soon fell away..."

These words were written by Emil Leopold August von Sachsen-Gotha und Altenburg (1772-1822) a decade after he had dictated A Year in Arcadia to his court secretary and arranged for its unattributed publication in nearby Jena in 1805. A pseudo-Greek shepherd’s calendar of idylls centering on two male lovers and set in a society in which boy-girl and boy-boy affairs are equally possible, A Year in Arcadia is pervaded by spirited homoeroticism. For such a work there was little precedent in modern European literature.

An unlikely hero for pioneers of the early gay rights movement that began in Germany and achieved momentum at the turn of the 20th century, Duke August would surely have agreed with our 21st-century assessment that 'he' was a transsexual in everything but name—"a woman in a man's body."  Had there been medical means and a free use of pronouns two hundred plus years ago, she would have corrected the blunder. As it is, A Year in Arcadia offers a fascinating anomaly: the Duke as a woman in a man's body in gay drag, presiding over a realm where nearly anything goes.

The text of A Year in Arcadia comprises a dozen short episodes, named for the twelve months of the ancient Athenian calendar, along with longer framing introductory and concluding chapters named for architectural elements of a classical Greek temple: the propylaion, or its monumental gateway, and the opisthodomos, its rear porch. These elements are flanked in turn by a pair of sonnets couched in the first person, one spoken by the god Eros and the other by Anteros, his opposite number. An untitled acrostic at the very front of the volume conceals a dedication of the work to Karoline Ettinger, the publisher’s daughter.

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