The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200

University of Chicago Press
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This study brings together widely divergent discourses to fashion a comprehensive picture of sexual language and attitudes at a particular time and place in the medieval world.

John Baldwin introduces five representative voices from the turn of the twelfth century in northern France: Pierre the Chanter speaks for the theological doctrine of Augustine; the Prose Salernitan Questions, for the medical theories of Galen; Andre the Chaplain, for the Ovidian literature of the schools; Jean Renart, for the contemporary romances; and Jean Bodel, for the emerging voices of the fabliaux. Baldwin juxtaposes their views on a range of essential subjects, including social position, the sexual body, desire and act, and procreation. The result is a fascinating dialogue of how they agreed or disagreed with, ignored, imitated, or responded to each other at a critical moment in the development of European ideas about sexual desire, fulfillment, morality, and gender.

These spokesmen allow us into the discussion of sexuality inside the church and schools of the clergy, in high and popular culture of the leity. This heterogeneous discussion also offers a startling glimpse into the construction of gender specific to this moment, when men and women enjoyed equal status in sexual matters, if nowhere else.

Taken together, these voices extend their reach, encompass their subject, and point to a center where social reality lies. By articulating reality at its varied depths, this study takes its place alongside groundbreaking works by James Brundage, John Boswell, and Leah Otis in extending our understanding of sexuality and sexual behavior in the Middle Ages.

"Superb work. . . . These five kinds of discourse are not often treated together in scholarly writing, let alone compared and contrasted so well."—Edward Collins Vacek, Theological Studies

"[Baldwin] has made the five voices speak to us in a language that is at one and the same time familiar and alien in its resonance and accents. This is a truly exceptional book, interdisciplinary in the real sense of the word, which is surely destined to become a landmark in medieval studies."—Keith Busby, Bryn Mawr Reviews

"[Baldwin's] attempt to 'listen' to these distant voices and translate their language of sex into our own raises challenging methodological questions that will be of great interest to historians and literary scholars alike."—John P. Dalton, Comitatus
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 1, 1996
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Pages
360
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ISBN
9780226036236
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Medieval
History / General
Psychology / Human Sexuality
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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"Richard, Duke of Aquitaine, son of the King of England, remained with Philip, the King of France, who so honored him for so long that they ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them. And the King of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the King of England was absolutely astonished at the vehement love between them and marveled at what it could mean."

Public avowals of love between men were common from antiquity through the Middle Ages. What do these expressions leave to interpretation? An extraordinary amount, as Stephen Jaeger demonstrates.

Unlike current efforts to read medieval culture through modern mores, Stephen Jaeger contends that love and sex in the Middle Ages relate to each other very differently than in the postmedieval period. Love was not only a mode of feeling and desiring, or an exclusively private sentiment, but a way of behaving and a social ideal. It was a form of aristocratic self-representation, its social function to show forth virtue in lovers, to raise their inner worth, to increase their honor and enhance their reputation. To judge from the number of royal love relationships documented, it seems normal, rather than exceptional, that a king loved his favorites, and the courtiers and advisors, clerical and lay, loved their superiors and each other.

Jaeger makes an elaborate, accessible, and certain to be controversial, case for the centrality of friendship and love as aristocratic lay, clerical, and monastic ideals. Ennobling Love is a magisterial work, a book that charts the social constructions of passion and sexuality in our own times, no less than in the Middle Ages.
In the early twentieth century, marriage manuals sought to link marital sex to the progress of civilization, searching for the history of what they considered to be normal sexuality. In Heterosyncrasies, Karma Lochrie looks to the foundation of modern society in the Middle Ages to undertake a profound questioning of the heterosexuality of that history. Lochrie begins this provocative rethinking of sexuality by dismantling the very idea of normal through a study of the development of statistics in the nineteenth century. She then intervenes in contemporary debates about queer versus ostensibly stable heterosexual social and sexual categories by exposing the "heterosyncratic" organization of sexuality in the Middle Ages and by clarifying the dubious contribution that the concept of normality has made to the construction of sexuality. In medieval texts from the letters of Heloise to Lollard heretical attacks on the Church, to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, medical discourse surrounding the clitoris, and finally the Amazons of medieval myth, Lochrie focuses on female sexuality in the Middle Ages in an effort to discern a less binary, more diversified understanding of it. Lochrie demonstrates how the medieval categories of natural and unnatural were distinctly different from our modern categories of normal and abnormal. In her work we see how abandoning heteronormativity as a medieval organizer of sexualities profoundly changes the way we understand all sexualities - past, present, and possibly even future. Heterosyncrasies is a milestone in the study of sexual identity politics, revealing not only how presumptions of normality obscure our understanding of the past, but also how these beliefs affect our present-day laws, society, and daily life.
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