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social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Europe: Medieval  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

The Altercatio Ganimedis et Helene is more than usually confiding about what the boy and his partners do in bed. Unexpectedly, the predominant sexual practice recorded by the author (and by some of the Loire poets as well) is intercrural frottage, not anal intercourse. It is the "slippery [that is, hairless] thighs of boys" that attract those prosperous officials invoked by Ganymede. The boy who asks for money "sells his thighs (sua vendit crura)." The fricator squanders his semen (the poet calls it "Venus's tear") between his boy's thighs (inter crura). So Ganymede says: "I'd like to be smooth and hairless under my genitals (sub inguine)," but Helen reminds him he will soon be hairy, with a rough bush on his belly: Who will want to rub him then?

Although the pederastic taste predominated, sexual relations between adult males were not unknown. Most of the monastic regulations designed to make homosexual contacts more difficult (no naked bathing, one to a bed, lights on at night, and the like) were aimed at adult monks and not at boys. Peter Damian does not mention boys at all, but simply describes fornication between "males," a usage that can include boys, but leaves open the ages of the participants. When he has adults in mind, he uses the word for "man" (vir and, plural, viri): thus, inter femora vir cum viro, "man with man between the thighs"; "man with man (vir cum viro) polluting themselves in whatever manner inflamed desire suggests"; or "man with man (vir in virum) when lust drives them to commit unchastity."

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In the Middle Ages, as in antiquity, androphiles, or lovers of adult men, flourished like sturdy weeds in the flowerbeds of pederastic romance.

Sex Roles

The sources tell us very little about the dynamics of male-male sexual relations. Linguistic evidence suggests that the traditional polarity of roles remained predominant. A seventh-century Visigothic law mandated castration for both inferens and patiens, the "inserter" and the "passive." The standard terminology later in the Middle Ages and in early modern times would be agens and patiens, from which come our "active" and "passive." Activus and receptivus, "active" and "receptive," were also current, as were faciens and patiens, actively "doing" and passively "being done."

Some authorities also recognized reciprocity as a possible, more egalitarian arrangement, suggesting that medieval role playing may have been marginally more flexible than that of the ancients.

Peter the Chanter asserts that sodomites are (androgei), which he defined to mean that they are now active (agentes), now passive (patientes). Playing with analogies from logic and grammar, Alan of Lille sets up a three-fold classification of sexual roles. He posits men who act as if subject and predicate were interchangeable.

Since in the logic of Venus the major premise of a syllogism, like the subject of a sentence, is masculine, while the predicate of a sentence and the minor premise are feminine; males who mistakenly believe that subject and predicate are interchangeable show that they are willing to play both the active and passive roles in sexual intercourse. In contrast, the penetrators, "take the part of the subject and cannot function as predicates"; while the receptive passives, "function as predicates only but have no desire to have the subject term submit to them."

Identity

What did it mean to call a man a sodomite? Was he a particular kind of person?

We know from the penitential literature that confessors wanted to know whether a sexual act had been committed once or twice or, as they variously put it, "frequently," "over long periods," "regularly," "time and time again," "incessantly," or, most often, "habitually."

The men who confessed their "habitual" practice of intercourse with males not only learned that they had committed a sodomitical act (and that such acts were serious sins); they also learned to recognize themselves as "sodomites," males of a fixed (though not necessarily exclusive) taste for sex with other males.

Eventually, confessor and sodomite were able to identify persistent same-sex desire as the "root of the [sodomitical] sin" (radix illius peccati). Having diagnosed the underlying condition, it remained the duty of the priest to prescribe an appropriate penitential medicine to cure, or at least mitigate, the disease.

A number of vernacular writers describe male characters accused by women of an exclusive, immanent orientation to their own sex. In Le lai de Lanval of Marie de France (third quarter of the twelfth century), King Arthur has a loyal vassal named Lanval, with whom Queen Guinevere falls in love. When she declares her love, Lanval replies: "Lady, do not speak so. I do not wish to love you and betray the king I have long served." The humiliated queen accuses Lanval of feeling no desire for women (de femme n'avez talent) and finding pleasure only with young men.

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