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Desire and Discipline

Desire and Discipline: Sex and Sexuality in the Premodern West

Jacqueline Murray
Konrad Eisenbichler
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 316
  • Book Info
    Desire and Discipline
    Book Description:

    This collection of original essays looks at sexuality in the long stretch between the 12th and the early 17th centuries ? a period that remains relatively unexplored, yet one that has deeply informed contemporary ideas about sex.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7385-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Jacqueline Murray and Konrad Eisenbichler
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    The study of human sexuality is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of research today. It is a field that is attracting attention from a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and sociology to literary studies and history. Nor is interest limited by place or time: all cultures and historical periods are drawing scrutiny. None the less, the history of sexuality is a relatively new area of research whose inception can perhaps most conveniently be dated at the 1976 publication in French of the introductory volume ofThe History of Sexualityby Michel Foucault.¹

    In this work, Foucault presents...

  5. Sex in History: A Redux
    (pp. 3-22)

    Some twenty-five years ago, I gave a paper at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, in which I looked briefly at the state of existing historical research into human sexuality. I had intended the paper as a call to action to historians and scholars in the humanities, arguing that not only had sex in its biological sense been ignored, but also such sexually related topics as courtship, marriage, child rearing, and gender behaviour. The paper was published a year later in theJournal of Sex Researchunder a title, which in spite of its cleverness, served to emphasize...

  6. Playing by the Rules: Sexual Behaviour and Legal Norms in Medieval Europe
    (pp. 23-41)

    This paper examines the medieval European experience with a perennial problem – namely, the relationship between the behavioural expectations enunciated by the norms that society imposed to govern human activities and the recalcitrant realities of human conduct.

    I will not greatly surprise you, I am sure, if I disclose that serious disparities between the two were common, and that the gap between the prescribed ideal and actual experience was often very wide indeed. The medieval Church, for example, banned premarital intercourse, and society scorned the woman (but usually not the man) who yielded her virtue before the importunities of her...

  7. Gender Models in Alfonso X’s Siete partidas: The Sexual Politics of ‘Nature’ and ‘Society’
    (pp. 42-60)

    This paper examines the function of sexual roles as social and political models, as well as didactic and propagandistic texts, in part IV of Alfonso X of Castile’s lega code, theSiete partidas(1256–63). Such a study takes as its critical points of departure the reinterpretation of Alfonso’s juridical works as literature of exemplarity, as undertaken by Seniff, López Estrada, and Stone. In addition, the present study is influenced by a broad spectrum of historicist theories that embrace cultural politics (Montrose), the social anthropology of gender (Jehlen), feminist critique (Fisher and Halley), sociolinguistic criticism (Fowler), ethical narratology (White), secular...

  8. ‘Men without Wives’: Sexual Arrangements in the Early Portuguese Expansion in West Africa
    (pp. 61-86)

    The early overseas expansion took Portuguese men away from home for weeks, months, and, in the case of long-term or permanent postings overseas, even years. These prolonged absences necessarily resulted in sexual deprivation. During the time at sea, which accounted for the better part of any ship-borne expedition, the men were simply sundered from all female company. During their stay in Africa or off the coast of Africa, extramarital sex with African women, slave or free, constituted in most cases the only opportunity for sexual gratification. While many Portuguese and other European men may have found this alternative acceptable, pleasant,...

  9. Sex in Tudor London: Abusing Their Bodies with Each Other
    (pp. 87-100)

    This day Mary Lee sent into this house by warrant from Master Justice Collins being examined & confessed that she was delivered of a child begotten in whoredom by one Anthony Shippe dwelling in Holborne within the great gate and saith he hath ... diverse and sundry times the use and carnal knowledge of her body in his own house at which times usually he would send his wife to Market and she further saith that the child which she was so delivered is now dead. Ordered that she shall be punished which was done accordingly.’¹

    Mary Lee’s offence was twofold:...

  10. Sexual Rumours in English Politics: The Cases of Elizabeth I and James I
    (pp. 101-122)

    The sex lives of political leaders have attracted public interest ever since Old Testament times. In different ages, however, people have construed the significance of illicit sexual activities by those leaders in different ways. Numerous politicians in twentieth-century Western democracies have found their ambitions damaged or destroyed once allegations of sexual improprieties became public knowledge. For a king in early-modern Europe, however, having mistresses was almost a royal prerogative. The fact that a king intended to becomepater patriaein the most literal sense was normally taken to be a reassuring sign of his active, virile, masculine character. Among male...

  11. The ‘Masculine Love’ of the ‘Princes of Sodom’ ‘Practising the Art of Ganymede’ at Henri III’s Court: The Homosexuality of Henry III and His Mignons Pierre de L’Estoile’s Mémoires-Journaux
    (pp. 123-154)

    The materials about Henri III and his male favourites, ormignonsin theMémoires-Journauxof the French Court official Pierre de L’Estoile (1546–1611) are of major significance in the history of sexuality, though they have never been studied in detail before.¹ As far as we know now, they are the frankest and most extensive Renaissance depictions of homosexuality and are also the earliest sustained sample we have of personal and popular writing about the subject in the post-classical West. Otherwise, the kinds of accounts of homosexuality we find in L’Estoile’s work do not start to appear in any numbers...

  12. Masculinities and Homosexualities in French Renaissance Accounts of Travel to the Middle East and North Africa
    (pp. 155-167)

    During the past two decades, many scholarly publications have established that French Renaissance travel accounts are both different from those written by Spaniards and English explorers and embedded in a literary discourse that is linked to what today we call literature, philosophy, geography, and history. Travel accounts were read by a wide range of people, and even the king had his official cosmographers. Unlike their Spanish counterparts, which – in many cases, and in addition, of course, to Las Casas’s – witnessed the Conquista from a European point of view, French travel accounts could rely only on ephemeral attempts to...

  13. Bernardino of Siena versus the Marriage Debt
    (pp. 168-200)

    The concept of the conjugal debt began with Saint Paul’s statement that husband and wife lost proprietary rights over their own bodies, each becoming the property of the other (1 Cor. 7: 4). Over the course of the Middle Ages, clerical authorities elaborated a complex discourse on the marriage debt which was applied as a kind of touchstone for conjugal relations. The apparent thrust of this discourse, one that is warmly embraced by modern scholars, is that the debt would ensure sexual equality in marriage, thus effacing the sexual double standard.

    The theory of an equitable debt has been sustained...

  14. Sex, Money, and Prostitution in Medieval English Culture
    (pp. 201-216)

    To write the history of prostitution is to impose a modern category on the past. If we look to the past for commercialized sex, we will find it, but that does not mean each society understood or treated these practices in the same way. Conversely, if another culture has labelled women with some word which we habitually translate as ‘prostitute,’ this does not necessarily mean that those women are what we would think of as prostitutes.¹ More useful than an attempt to locate and describe practices in the past that correspond to a modern understanding of ‘prostitution’ is an attempt...

  15. Wives and Mothers: Adultery, Madness, and Marital Misery in Titian’s Paduan Frescoes
    (pp. 217-244)

    The misogyny that characterizes Western societies is two-edged: it encompasses both the unreasoned, often violent, hatred of women and their equally unreasoned exaltation.² Completed in 1511, Titian’s three frescoes in the Scuola di Sant’Antonio in Padua illustrate both of these misogynies, and, doing so, they reflect much about the actual situation of sixteenth-century women (figs. 1–3).³ The primary literary source for his three narratives –Miracle of the Speaking Infant, Miracle of the Jealous Husband, andSt Anthony Reattaching the Foot of the Irascible Son– was the Latinleggendaby Sicco Polentone, written in Paduaca1435 as...

  16. Freedom through Renunciation? Women’s Voices, Women’s Bodies, and the Phallic Order
    (pp. 245-264)

    What do women want? This is a question that puzzled many men, medieval and modern, including Freud¹ and the knight in Chaucer’sWife of Bath’s Tale, who is given a chance to save his life by being sent on a quest to find the answer. Few have followed the attempt of the knight in the Wife’sTaleto ask women themselves what they want. And perhaps that is just as well; for recent studies of language, taking Freud’s theory of the unconscious into account, make us aware of the extent to which we have no way of knowing what ‘woman’...

  17. Learning to Write with Venus’s Pen: Sexual Regulation in Matthew of Vendôme’s Ars versificatoria
    (pp. 265-279)

    Matthew of Vendôme’sArs versificatoria(ca1175) was the earliest in a series of poetic manuals produced in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and second only to Geoffrey of Vinsauf’sPoetria novain its influence upon later writers. While recognizing its historical importance, modern scholars have generally dismissed or disparaged Matthew’s work.¹ In particular, critics have attacked the frequent sexual references in the treatise as being inappropriate to its pedagogical purpose. No one seems to have considered that the sexual references might themselves have any pedagogical purpose, other than a dubious respite from tedium.

    The contrasting attitudes expressed by two...

  18. Reading the Dirty Bits
    (pp. 280-295)

    My topic is the distinctly sexual pleasure of fantasizing on a text, whether in compulsive, solitary rereading of certain passages as a sexual substitute or when two people read together as a form of flirtation or seduction, as in Paolo and Francesca’s notorious reading of the story of Lancelot.¹ This sexual pleasure has been a recurring attraction of literature, perhaps for as long as there has been literature. No history of sexuality or of reading can afford to ignore the conjuncture of the two. However, the topic presents extreme methodological difficulties.

    Let me begin with the response of one of...

  19. Did Mystics Have Sex?
    (pp. 296-312)

    Of all the conventionally created objects of historical interest, thethingcalled the ‘Middle Ages’ is by far the most peculiar, counter-intuitive, and deadening to the imagination. In saying this I don’t mean that I think the domestic, social, or political arrangements prevailing during the ‘medieval’ centuries were notably strange; they are, in fact, easily recognizable to us. Nor do I find the medieval pursuits of agriculture, industry, or commerce foreign to my understanding, or anyone else’s. And even the most distinctive (in the sense of distant and exotic) features of medieval culture – a theocentric universe revealed through sacred...

  20. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 313-315)