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social sciences

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Europe: Medieval  
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

A similar topos surfaces in another twelfth-century romance, the Roman d'Eneas. Eneas and his lover Lavine are entirely heterosexual and in the end reciprocate each other's love. Before this happens, Lavine's mother (falsely) accuses Eneas of treachery and sodomy. A "man of that nature" (tel nature d'ome) has no interest in women (n'a gaires de femme cure). He prefers a boy (garçon) to any woman. He won't even eat hen! When he appears to reject her, Lavine rages against him like her mother. Eneas, she says, loves only his Ganymedes. Women mean nothing to him. Men "of that nature" love only males.

Alan of Lille uses the three Latin genders--masculine, feminine, and neuter--to categorize the different sexual inclinations of all the males in the world. The result is a familiar paradigm. He begins with males who desire and have sex only with members of their own biological sex. A second group embrace only those of feminine gender. Still others sleep with persons of feminine gender in winter and masculine gender in summer. Like bisexuals, they are attracted indifferently or in different degrees to both sexes. (The penitentials, too, are familiar with married sodomites, and among the Loire poets were some who pursued girls as well as boys, and others who courted both men and women.)

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From Sin to Secular Crime

By the end of the thirteenth century, a confluence of homophobic currents produced in Western Europe a fiercely persecuting mentality that would rage well into the eighteenth century.

Sodomy, a sin long confessed to and assigned a penance by priest or bishop, became a crime, monitored, tried, and punished by the governments and courts of the better organized city and territorial states. The indictment of sodomites accelerated when "the sin against nature" was linked to heresy, a capital crime of lèse majesté against the king of heaven, regularly prosecuted according to inquisitorial procedures based on delation (or informing on others), secrecy, and torture. Thus the unspeakable wickedness attributed to each class of sinner rubbed off on the other.

So close indeed became the link between sodomy and heresy that in several vernacular languages "heretic" and "sodomite" became interchangeable terms. In Old French, herite and erites signify both heretic and sodomite. French bougre, from Bulgar, thought to be the people in Eastern Europe who had brought dualist heresies like that of the Cathars to the West, gave Italian buggerone and English "" and "buggery." In German, Ketzer, meaning interchangeably "heretic" and "sodomite," derives from "Cathar," as do ketzern (the verb for anal intercourse) and Ketzerie equals sodomia.

The virulence that characterizes discourse about the sins against nature in the later Middle Ages can still surprise us. Not only do the traditional scriptural texts continue to be cited, new ones were reinterpreted to show how detestable the crime was. A good example is the use made by the churchmen at the Third (1179) and Fourth (1215) Lateran Councils of the "sons of disobedience" at Ephesians 5:6, whom they identify with contemporary sodomites. Future lawyers and theologians would regularly repeat the identification.

Interpreters found the "strange" or "different" flesh at Jude 7 irresistible. They read "strange" to mean same-sex intercourse and "different" to mean different from the natural relationship instituted by God when he created male and female so they would multiply in the worship of God.

The Christmas Day Massacre

A rabid imagination produced new legends. Invented in the early thirteenth century, the Legend of the Christmas Day Massacre may have circulated first in one of the many spurious works attached to the name of St. Jerome. It received a stamp of approval and a wider diffusion when it was included in the compilation of scriptural glosses put together in the 1230s and attributed to the biblical scholar and first Dominican cardinal, Hugh of Saint-Cher, who died in 1263.

The gloss reports that on the night when the Savior was born "all sodomites died, wherever they were in the world." The glossator continues: "Jerome explains this by saying that it was right and just that the enemies of nature should die at the very moment the Author of nature was born, for they were unable to endure the splendor of his coming." (No such explanation is to be found in any of Jerome's authentic works.)

This story was combined with another, the Legend of the Incarnation's Postponement, and attributed (falsely) to Augustine. Because of humanity's inclination to unnatural sex, the Son of God delayed taking on human flesh for the 5,000 years thought to separate the creation and the birth of Jesus.

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