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literature

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English Literature: Medieval  
 
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And one finds a similar case during this period in the Latin writings of the English scholar Alcuin. While residing at the court of Charlemagne, Alcuin wrote and exchanged with his students homoerotic poetry in the classical tradition.

But while employing powerful homoerotic imagery to emphasize male love and friendship, Alcuin, nonetheless, as John Boswell discusses in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, emphasizes, though certainly not as disapprovingly as the Genesis poet, that the physical expression of such passion should be avoided by scholars and clerics (who should, by the way, avoid heterosexual activity as well).

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What emerges from such writings is that though there might well be--at least as it appears to us--a fine line between the homosocial and the homoerotic, it is one that should not be crossed.

Anglo-Norman Literature

During the Anglo-Norman period, there was some positive homoerotic Latin verse written by English-born intellectuals, Hilary the Englishman and Serlo of Wilton, who followed the same classical tradition as Alcuin.

Penning his verse to beautiful boys for whom he proclaims his devotion, Hilary employs the rhetoric of homosexual desire as he laments one youth's refusal to grant love or praises another's loveliness.

Serlo records both the pleasure and the loss of his various loves, and much like Hilary, refers frequently to the famous mythical relationship of Ganymede and Jove.

Despite the poets' overarching homoeroticism, however, it is difficult to judge whether the poems actually praise homosexual desire or, like many other such texts, use homoerotic rhetoric to represent homosocial feelings and desire (which might nonetheless contain homosexual elements).

Apart from these poems, however, the major Latin and Norman texts mentioning homosexual love and practices in the twelfth century are highly critical of both and mark an intensification of the fear and hatred surrounding alternative sexual practices for the remainder of the English Middle Ages.

Alan of Lille's polemical Plaint of Nature, for example, goes so far as to suggest that homosexual activity is destroying the world and that Nature herself is upset at those who practice this unnatural vice. Sodomy, Alan claims, disrupts not only the natural heterosexual orientation of the world but also gender differences by transforming men (functioning as the recipient of another male's organ) into women. By invoking Nature to support his diatribe, Alan thus attempts to reinforce official teachings concerning sodomy by showing how they follow from the "natural" order of things.

A similar invective against sodomy occurs in the anonymous Norman French Eneas, a retelling of Virgil's Aeneid. Connected to England through the country's close political and cultural situation as part of the Norman--and later, Angevin--empire until the very early thirteenth century, the poem represents Lavinia's mother dissuading her daughter from loving Eneas by falsely accusing the young hero of habitually committing sodomy, a filthy activity that, again, could destroy the world. Believing her mother at one point and continuing herself with the diatribe on Eneas' vice, Lavinia almost loses her affection for him, and her mother almost succeeds in controlling her.

Both the Plaint and the Eneas illustrate the way that official culture reviled homosexual expression, but the Norman French text underscores a further, and perhaps even more important, point: that in a homophobic culture the accusation of sodomy can be used to suppress and control homosexual and heterosexual behavior alike.

Middle English Literature

After the breakup of the Angevin Empire in the thirteenth century and the gradual development of England as a distinct cultural, political, and linguistic entity, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw a flowering of literature written in Middle English (modern English's precursor originating from a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French).

Though Middle English texts had first emerged in the twelfth century and much fourteenth-century literature in England was still written in French, the Middle English poetry of this late period nonetheless initiated a new era in England's literary history.

But much like other English literatures, while condemning male homosexual relationships, it frequently places a high value on male homosocial ones. Poems such as the fourteenth-century Middle English rendition of the popular Amis and Amiloun, which praises the nonsexual love of two men for each other as superior to heterosexual love, provide a model of behavior for same-sex masculine devotion and friendship.

Much like earlier medieval English literature, it seems that on a larger cultural level (though not declared explicitly in any specific texts), these writings attempted to police boundaries: to make certain that homosexual feelings and behavior do not cross over into the realm of homosocial relationships and to preserve heterosexual activity as an important marker of gender difference.

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