Saturday, September 8, 2007

"Love, Sex & Marriage in the Middle Ages: A Sourcebook" ed. Conor McCarthy: Review

This compiles mostly British sources in translation, as well as a few Islamic texts along with mainly Western European literary, medical, historical, and legal sources. Attention to all three topics manages to dispel the notion that this book would lack for content. As McCarthy notes in his helpful introduction, the subject gains both more sustained if less explicit treatment than today's readers may imagine.

Besides the expected troubadours, Chaucer, Rabelais, Margery Kempe, Abelard & Heloise, and Marie de France, for example, there are lesser-known works such as extracts from conduct books such as "Holy Virginity," saint's lives, Anglo-Saxon and Norman statutes, Bede, Old English riddles, Gratian, Jerome, lots of Augustine, and medical advice from Avicenna and psuedo-Albertus Magnus. The controversial practice called "clandestine marriage" gains considerable coverage. Notably, fascinating testimony from a transvestite prostitute, the ambiguous John/ Eleanor Rykener from London, 1394, attests to a "Boys Don't Cry" Brandon Teena type of case. The dozens of entries are footnoted judiciously; all writings included are preceded by brief notes cross-referenced with an excellent bibliography.

Posted to Amazon US. Cover: David & Bathsheba, Morgan Picture Bible, 1250. I recall my first tidbit about medieval iconography learned when I was 18 and had checked out an illustrated Chaucer from my public library. Adulterers were shown with one at least of the partner's feet exposed at the tail end of the coverlet, but here Bathsheba's well tucked in alongside our dancing, psalming, militant, lusty harpist-King. This Pierpont Morgan Library URL allows you a zoom on the thumbnail manuscript reproduction.

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