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Constructing Medieval Sexuality

Karma Lochrie
Peggy McCracken
James A. Schultz
Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Constructing Medieval Sexuality
    Book Description:

    This collection is the first to be devoted entirely to medieval sexuality informed by current theories of sexuality and gender. It brings together essays from various disciplinary perspectives to consider how the Middle Ages defined, regulated, and represented sexual practices and desires. Contributors: E. Jane Burns, Joan Cadden, Michael Camille, Dyan Elliott, Louise O. Fradenburg, Mark D. Jordan, and Steven F. Kruger.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8753-4
    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)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    Explaining what motivated him to abandon his original plan and extend his history of sexuality back to ancient Greece, Michel Foucault cites the desire for a kind of knowledge that causes one to stray afield—from oneself, one’s culture, and one’s historical moment: “There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.”¹ Few topics are more likely to challenge us to think differently than past sexualities, since we often assume what...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Pollution, Illusion, and Masculine Disarray: Nocturnal Emissions and the Sexuality of the Clergy
    (pp. 1-23)
    Dyan Elliott

    In hisMoraliaGregory the Great discusses some of the more insidious ways in which the devil afflicts God’s holy people. Although making little headway during their waking hours, the devil is nevertheless permitted to fill the minds of the saints with filthy thoughts in sleep. But Gregory also prescribes a remedy, one that precociously anticipates Freud’s theory of sublimation. A person must overcome these anxieties by raising the mind to higher things. Thus he glosses the biblical verse “So that my soul rather chooseth hanging and my bones death” (Job 7:15):

    What is designated by the soul except intention...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Homosexuality, Luxuria, and Textual Abuse
    (pp. 24-39)
    Mark D. Jordan

    To begin, titles—andourtitle first:Constructing Medieval Sexualitymeans, at least, that a sexuality is the kind of thing that must be constructed; that the medievals, if they had such a thing, had to construct it for themselves; that we have to (re)construct their constructions; that we (re)construct what they constructed as a “sexuality”—our word, not theirs; that our word “sexuality” is itself endlessly under construction somewhere between “sex” and “gender” or “pleasure” and “power” or “fate” and “identity”; and that we construct their sexuality as “medieval,” itself a term of construction, of contempt and nostalgia.


  7. CHAPTER 3 Sciences/Silences: The Natures and Languages of “Sodomy” in Peter of Abano’s Problemata Commentary
    (pp. 40-57)
    Joan Cadden

    Eloquent on the anatomy, physiology, and psychology of heterosexual coitus and the desire and pleasure associated with it, medieval medicine and natural philosophy are, for the most part, silent on feelings and contacts between women and women, men and men. The results of recent research remind us, however, that historical silences are often the result of the questions we have failed to ask—of our own taboos. Now that the history of sexuality has become an acceptable, indeed fashionable, subject, relevant texts have begun to come to light.¹ Among these is a section of Peter of Abano’s early fourteenth-century commentary...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Manuscript Illumination and the Art of Copulation
    (pp. 58-90)
    Michael Camille

    Michel Foucault, in an early essay on Georges Bataille, described medieval sexuality in terms that might strike us as odd today, coming from someone who later made such strong claims for its “social construction”: “never did sexuality enjoy a more immediately natural understanding and never did it enjoy a greater’ felicity of expression’ than in the Christian world of fallen bodies and of sin.”¹ My own essay starts from this rather atypical statement for two reasons. First, I also want to recognize in medieval culture, certainly compared with later periods, an openness to the visual representation of certain sexual acts...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Bodies That Don’t Matter: Heterosexuality before Hetereosexuality in Gottfriend’s Tristan
    (pp. 91-110)
    James A. Schultz

    Nowadays most of us assume we will feel sexual desire either for men or for women and that we will be able to tell one from the other. This does not seem to be the case in Gottfried von Straßburg’sTristan und Isold. To be sure, women only desire men and men only desire women. Yet it’s hard to see how they can keep themselves straight, since one can scarcely tell the men’s bodies from the women’s. When bodies are described as desirable, sex-specific features are not mentioned, and when men or women are described as beautiful, they are said...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Refashioning Courtly Love: Lancelot as Ladies’ Man or Lady/Man?
    (pp. 111-134)
    E. Jane Burns

    To introduce the topic of sexuality and clothing in Old French romance, I would like to offer an anecdote from the ceremony of papal investiture as it had evolved by the end of the fifteenth century. During the inaugural public procession, known as thepossesso,the newly elected pope paraded from the Vatican to the Lateran palace, where his maleness was allegedly challenged in a series of demeaning ceremonies. As Richard Ingersoll has compellingly described these events, the pope, “while being invested with the insignia of his temporal authority— the keys to the Papal States, theferula,or shepherd’s crook,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Love of Thy Neighbor
    (pp. 135-157)
    Louise O. Fradenburg

    InA Preface to Chaucer,D. W. Robertson Jr. cites Saint Augustine’s “classic Christian” definition of “the two loves,” charity and concupiscence: charity is “the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God”; cupidity “is a motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of one’s self, one’s neighbor, or any corporal thing for the sake of something other than God.”¹ As is well known to students of medieval literature, Robertson’s inference that “charity is the basic lesson of Christianity” becomes...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Conversion and Medieval Sexual, Religious, and Racial Categories
    (pp. 158-179)
    Steven F. Kruger

    Work in feminist theory has taught us that to take an identity category like gender and treat it in isolation from such other categories as race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality—failing to consider the ways in which the meaning of “woman” or “man” differs as these other aspects of identity vary—is to risk universalizing one possible (usually privileged or dominant) experience of gender. As Elizabeth V. Spelman suggests:

    [D]ominant feminist theory locates a woman’s true identity in a metaphysical space where gender is supposed to be able to roam free from race and class. I have tried to explain...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Mystical Acts, Queer Tendencies
    (pp. 180-200)
    Karma Lochrie

    “Queering” is a project of contestation, in Judith Butler’s words, “a contestation of the terms of sexual egitimacy.” It works through the hyperbolic appropriation and reversal of the delegitimization signified by the term “queer,” transforming it into a site of opposition. “The hyperbolic gesture is crucial to the exposure of the homophobic ‘law’ that can no longer control the terms of its own abjecting strategies,” according to Butler.¹ For Butler, as for Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, queering is a performance that exploits and exposes “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 201-202)
  15. Index
    (pp. 203-205)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)