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The Language of Sex

Five Voices from Northern France around 1200

The Language of Sex

Five Voices from Northern France around 1200

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

360 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1994

Gender and Sexuality

History: European History

Medieval Studies

Women's Studies

Table of Contents

Prefatory Words...
1: The Five Discourses
Pierre the Chanter and the Augustinian Tradition
The Prose Salernitan Questions and the Galenic Tradition
Andre the Chaplain and the Ovidian Tradition
Jean Renart and the Tradition of Romance
Jean Bodel and the Fabliaux Tradition
2: Participants: The Sociology of Sexuality
The Physiological Parameters
The Social Parameters
The Marital Parameters
On the Margin: Prostitutes and Holy Matrons
3: The Sexual Body
The Learned Body
The Body Concealed
The Body Exposed
4: Sexual Desire
Concupiscentia: The Theology of Desire
Delectatio: The Physiology of Desire
Passio: The Ovidian Tradition
Joie et dolor: Their Interplay in the Romance Tradition
Talent: The Fabliaux
The Supremacy of Desire: Noncoital Sexuality and the Desire for God
5: Coitus
Myths of Origins: Poets and Theologians
The Physiology of Coitus
Sexuality Modesty
Sexual Techniques
Nonconsensual Coitus: From Seduction to Rape
6: Children
The Physiology of Reproduction: From Conception to Birth
The Natalist Policy of Churchmen
Restraints on Fecundity
The Politics of Lineage: The Romances
Conclusions: Sexuality, Gender, and History
History: A Postlude
Appendix 1: Robert of Courson, Summa XLII, 31, 32
Appendix 2: Pierre the Chanter, Verbum abbreviatum (Long Version)
Appendix 3: Pierre the Chanter, Questions
Table 1: Fabliaux Containing Sexually Active Characters Classified by Social Group
Table 2: Fabliaux Containing Sexual Encounters Classified by Ecclesiastical Categories
Short Titles

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