In Stanley Kubrick's film Barry Lyndon, there's an scene where the title character's mentor, Captain Grogan, is gunned down by French troops. As he lies dying he asks Barry to "kiss me, my boy, for we shall never meet again." The scene is all the more affecting for its empathetic recognition of the historical gulf between modern and 18th century notions of male friendship, which prompted me to wonder how these notions differed. (Notably, in the same movie, there's also a scene where two unnamed British officers bathe naked in a river together and declare their love for each other without implication of a romantic connection.)

This article (a PDF download) states that friendship was elevated to a higher ideal, in part to compensate for the partial breakdown of class and customary relationships, as well as to take up the emotional slack in societies where upper-class marriages were defined by expediency. As such, male friendships in the upper classes could incorporate emotional declarations we moderns might associate with passionate romance (or Romanticism), and practices we might otherwise perceive as frankly homoerotic. (The article is on the German states in particular, I'm primarily interested in Britain and France but am assuming for now that there's a continuity.)

But apparently there were limits. In the same article a pair is mentioned who shared "too many kisses to escape slander, suspicion and mockery." Considering this, and contemporary legal and religious practices, it seems clear that a strict line was drawn between ebullient male friendship and romantic or sexual attachment.

My question is, basically, where was that line drawn?

In 1700s Europe, what practices were considered acceptable among male friends that today we would probably consider homoerotic? In what contexts were such practices (in particular kissing) considered appropriate, or even obligatory, and when were they proscribed? And what role, if any, did class, education, or social allegiance play in all of this?

EDIT: A little research has turned up mixed but mostly negative information. This (frankly delightful) history of kissing claims that social kisses between friends were popular up to the 1750s, but soon fell out of use in Germany at least. It also, under "the kiss of peace" recounts a dramatic social kiss-fest among the French revolutionaries. I've still only skimmed it. A guardian article claims it fell out of fashion in Britain by the 1700s. The article on Germany remains an outlier, and this history Reddit claims kissing remained common, but it may turn out the depiction in the movie was anachronistic.

  • 2
    In many regions of Europe, people kiss in greeting even today. It's a peck (or two, or in Corsica, five) on the cheek, not a full on snogfest with tongue.
    – SPavel
    May 7, 2018 at 19:49
  • @SPavel: True of course, but while it might be my provincialism, I don't know of any modern European countries that greet with a kiss on the lips, which is what was portrayed in the movie. If anything this reminded me more of the medieval kiss of peace.
    – Random
    May 7, 2018 at 19:50
  • 3
    Not volunteering an answer from lack of sources, but my understanding is there's still (or was until recently) some mouth kissing in some countries as means of greeting today (Russia reputably comes to mind). That said, it was a simple kiss. That scene is more like a full blown snogfest with tongue, as put by @SPavel. May 7, 2018 at 20:36
  • @DenisdeBernardy: Interesting, I didn't know that. It may also be worth mentioning that in the scenes in the movie, at least, all of the kissing is emotional or playful rather than a greeting. Barry Lyndon also kisses his young son on the lips more that once, for example, in what seems to be a gesture of spontaneous affection. I don't know if that is represented in any modern countries as well.
    – Random
    May 7, 2018 at 21:10
  • @DenisdeBernardy while Brezhnev&Co are famous for their mouth kissing, I have never heard of it being practiced among modern Russians.
    – Roger V.
    Jul 11, 2023 at 14:57

1 Answer 1


I too was struck by the kiss scene between Barry Lyndon and Captain Grogan, however I think it's just a stylistic and creative choice by Stanley Kubrick: I read William Thackeray's book and there was no trace of the kiss.

  • 6
    While that might be true of the movie, it doesn't really answer the historic question.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 9, 2023 at 13:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.