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social sciences

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Europe: Medieval  
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

Peccatum mutum

The notion that sodomy is so detestable it must not be named crystallized in the phrase peccatum mutum. Commentators offered several reasons why sodomy was the "mute sin."

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The common-sense view was that the sodomite is mute because he hides his sin, by choice, or by necessity, or from fear. More popular was the view that the sin was so filthy it pollutes the mouth of the person who speaks it and the ears of those who hear it. It is one of those crimes so terrible the tongue is incapable of uttering it in confession. The devil himself blushes to hear it.

Most popular of all was this: "Sodoma has been well translated to mean mute, because this is a sin that renders men dumb on Judgment Day." Stupefied by the magnitude of their sin, sodomites will stand mute and helpless before the supreme Judge.

One of the earliest civil statutes against sodomy comes from Bologna in 1288. The text reads as follows: "If a man commits unchastity (stuprum) with a male, he shall be burned, whether he is the active or the passive party. But if the passive party was taken by force, he incurs no penalty, nor if his youth excuses him." A very dangerous epoch was in the offing.

Eugene Rice

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literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Medieval

Although it occasionally celebrates homosocial bonding, surviving medieval English literature is condemnatory of homosexual behavior.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Medieval

Ranging from depictions of acts "against nature" to representations of sexual ambiguity, queer medieval art may be richer than is generally recognized.

social sciences >> Overview:  Inquisition

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Inquisitions of Aragon and Portugal prosecuted almost 1500 trials for sodomy of various kinds.

social sciences >> Overview:  Natural Law

Natural law--the reading into nature laws that are not merely descriptive, but prescriptive--actually depends on circular reasoning; it discovers in nature what its adherents already believe is the intention of the Christian God.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy

First used to refer only to anal intercourse, sodomy was progressively defined by the Church Fathers, and many later lawmakers, to include all sexual acts that could not result in procreation.

literature >> Aelred of Rievaulx

A twelfth-century English abbot, Aelred of Rievaulx was a specialist in friendship who used the image of John, the beloved disciple, as an icon of masculine love.

literature >> Patristic Writers

Patristic Writers, also known as the Church Fathers, appropriated currents of hostility to homoeroticism in pagan thought and used them to strengthen the prohibitions of Leviticus and Paul, while also expressing their own hostile interpretations.


Alan of Lille. The Complaint of Nature. James J. Sheridan, trans. Mediaeval Sources in Translation 26. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980.

Baldwin, John W. The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, Gisela. Tabu Homosexualität. Die Geschichte eines Vorurteils. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1978.

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Brundage, James A. Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Damian, Peter. The Book of Gomorrha. Owen J. Blum, trans. The Fathers of the Church, Medieval Continuation. The Letters of Peter Damian 2:3-53. Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990.

Goodich, Michael. The Unmentionable Vice. Homosexuality in the Later Medieval Period. Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-Clio, 1979.

Hergemöller, Bernd-Ulrich. Sodom and Gomorrah: On the Everyday Reality and Persecution of Homosexuals in the Middle Ages. John Phillips, trans. London and New York: Free Association Books, 2001.

Jordan, Mark D. The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Lochrie, Karma, Peggy McCracken, and James A. Schultz, eds. Constructing Medieval Sexuality. Medieval Cultures 11. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Payer, Pierre J. Sex and the Penitentials: The Development of a Sexual Code, 550-1050. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

_____. The Bridling of Desire: Views of Sex in the Later Middle Ages. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Sautman, Francesca Canade, and Pamela Sheingorn, eds. Same Sex Love and Desire among Women in the Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Spreitzer, Brigitte. Die stumme Sünde. Homosexualität im Mittelalter, mit einem Textanhang. Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik 498. Göppingen: Kümmerle Verlag, 1988.

Stehling, Thomas. Medieval Latin Poems of Love and Friendship. Garland Library of Medieval Literature 7. New York: Garland, 1984.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rice, Eugene  
    Entry Title: Europe: Medieval  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated March 7, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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