As I sit at the keyboard, thinking about how best to initiate this discussion of Medieval Masculinities, I can look either at the blank spaces on my monitor, waiting for my words; or, by shifting my eyes slightly, at the quiet Cambridge street on which I live. In a few hours this street will be dark - and full of children in bright, plastic costumes. Tonight is their time to be something they are not. Adults, too, will be caught up in this fantasy: many of them will join this pan-American masquerade and don store-bought accoutrements to become temporarily someone else.
Suppose that at the end of the night, made weary by parties and pranks and cross-dressing, this whole costumed crew comes home, takes off their disguises, and finds that underneath is not the Self they expected to find, but another costume draping the body. And suppose that under this alien identity is another one, perhaps a stranger one; and under the next, another. Perhaps years of costumes have built up underneath, and as each one is peeled off like onion skin, the suspicion arises that there's nothing at the center, or that the center will never be reached.
Truly a Halloween terror - the kind of narrative Rod Serling might have made an enjoyable television program from. Yet gender theorists today argue that the identity we unreflectively assume to be our own does not arise from some determinate self at the center of being, but is a collection of behaviors, expressions, and material signifiers in which we are dressed by the cultural moment that enables us to "come into being." Marjorie Garber has explored the ways in which categories like "male" and "female" can be reconfigured through the use of a few props (a wig, high heels, press-on nails, trousers); Thomas Laqueur has shown this same instability at work historically in the description/assignment of the (sexual) anatomy. Judith Butler, the most influential critic of the subject, writes that gender identity and its signs "are _performative_ in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are _fabrications_ manufactured and sustained through corporal signs and other discursive means. That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality" (_Gender Trouble_, p.136). Femininity becomes a "masquerade" (Riviere); masculinity becomes a "spectacle" (Neale).
Halloween is over, and the next Interscripta discussion has begun. It is time for us to determine what's underneath the costumes, and of what material these identities are made. It is time, at last, to ask why these questions matter to the study of the Middle Ages, and to explore exactly of what "gender" was then composed.
I propose that we open the forum with a consideration of a gendered realm which mandates the assuming (quite literally) of "the armour of an alienating identity": "heroic" masculinity. What does it mean to be a hero, and how are heroism's paradigms linked to the construction of masculinity in society at large? What, in a martial society, does it mean to be(come) a man?Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Harvard University
I would like to begin by saying that I am a high school teacher in Virginia who has an interest in medieval scholarship; I have had no formal training in medieval scholarship, so I hope those of you who have will be patient with me. I teach a very extensive course in the study of the hero, both traditional and non-traditional, and I end with the study of the Arthurian Legend in relation to our study of the hero. I found Mr. Cohen's first message to us quite interesting because I am dealing first hand with the issue of gender identity in traditional literature. I had a female student present a very pointed persuasive essay criticizing the lack of the feminine in traditional literature, at least the literature available to most high school students across this country. I had to agree with her. Therefore I have made an effort this year to go beyond the traditional, not ignoring it, and incorporate the non-traditional as well.
I suppose that what I am looking for here, in this group, is a confirmation, or not, that what I have been doing is correct. I have used traditional stories (Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Russian, English, French, etc.) to show that the traditional hero is also traditionally masculine, which is to say, strong courageous, sometimes arrogant, violent, one who resolves conflict through fighting. I have used non-traditional stories to show that the non-traditional hero is feminine, which is to say, intelligent, nurturing, non-violent, one who resolves conflict through intelligence rather than violence. I try to emphasize that the masculine and the feminine should not be tied necessarily to gender, that both groups of characteristics can be found in both sexes. However, in traditional literature, the masculine traits have been required of the males in society, particularly the upper class males, and any feminine characteristic was frowned upon. It seems that violence was vital to the nature of maculinity, especially in the literature of the middle ages. Of course, the influence of chivalry provided somewhat of a contradiction to this in that the male was also required to exhibit non-violent characteristics while attending to the ladies or eating in the hall.
Well, enough of my rambling. These are just a few thoughts I have on this subject, and I apologize for their disjointedness. I shall now sit back and enjoy the discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion on Subjectivity and have been able to use a little in my classes. By the way, I would like the group to know that a few of my students and I have started a medieval society in the school and I have been allowing them to keep up with the discussions on this list. They have enjoyed them as well.
Robert L. Lockhart--English--(703) email@example.com
I'm not fully sure what to make of this message (!), but Georgia Nugent forwarded it to me, and I thought it illustrates well what might be called the simultaneity of the topic we're exploring - how the topic manifests itself in different parts of a given culture at the same time.
Extra points to anyone who can relate it to heroic masculinity, "traditional" (masculine) and "nontraditional" (feminine) heroism - and the problems with these categories.Jeffrey ---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jo Freeman <JFRBC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
To: Multiple recipients of list WMST-L <WMST-L@UMDD.BITNET>
Subject: registering female
This arrived (on wmst-l) at the same time as your wonderful opening of the masculinities discussion. Thought you'd be intrigued, at the least...
I have a naive question. What if I want to change my official legal status as a citizen of the U.S. from "male" to "female?" I imagine that this is simply considered outlawed. My U.S. birth certificate designates me as "male." But is there solid legal/constitutional grounds for denying me my official change of status? I imagine it might be considered perjury if it's considered lying about my body. But would the government have the right to inspect my body to verify? There are known cases of people who change gender naturally in adulthood, and certainly cases of change by surgery. And what if I claim that my birth certificate is simply mistaken? Is the burden of proof on me? Could I be thrown in prison if I simply started checking off the "f" box on all my official documents? Could these documents be legally declared invalid? If so, does the same apply to putting down a different birthdate than my birth certificate says? What about hair color? What about ethnicity or eye color? And yet these do not have anything to do with my religious beliefs, whereas my sex designaton does. According to my religious beliefs, "male" is not a fundamental or natural category of body type, but a state of deformity resulting from fetal testosterone poisoning. In this belief, it clearly makes no sense to designate me "male" as opposed to "female." I am female, congenitally deformed into a bodily condition generally referred to as "male." But there is only one biological sex, and that is "female." Therefore I can only be considered female in naming my biological sex, unless my religious beliefs are going to be vitated by and dictated to me by the state. Is there anything in the Constitution that gives the government the right to designate what my biological sex is? I believe I should have the right to designate myself female under "Sex" and list "male" under "chronic conditions" or "congenital deformities" in the box that says, "Do you have any outstanding medical conditions ..." Perhaps then it would be possible for me to ask why under the law I, simply because of a certain medical condition, am allowed to be granted so many special privileges and accomodations in the social and physical infrastructure of our nation.
For example, why is it that normal people who undergo a long period of life in monthly cycles of menstruation have to work on a 5 day on, 2 day off work schedule that clearly is not the optimal schedule for their normal functioning bodies, whereas it seems well suited to my deformed non-menstruating body?
Why is the number of paid pregnancy leaves allowed to people usually zero, when it is only those of us who are deformed as male or otherwise incapable of normal pregnancy who are reasonably certain to have exactly zero pregnancies during the course of our professional careers? I mean, even if we take an average that includes all infertile as well as fertile workers, the number is going to round off to one at current fertility rates, isn't it? Surely the resources saved by setting the number to zero are then distributed in favor of non-childbearing workers, since childbearing workers are forced during unpaid pregnancy leave to go without whatever benefits are bought by the savings for workers.
This society is incredibly puzzling to me. Please educate me as to the arbitrary punishments I am in for if I begin to act upon my basic religious beliefs, and what the rationales for those punishments will likely be. I do not intend to allow myself to be persecuted in ignorance. I know that many will take this as a joke, but I am quite serious. This is not meant as a parody. I mean this as a serious inquiry, and if it is worth the fight, I fully intend to have the incorrect designation of my congenital
deformity as my sex expunged from all my records and corrected. If it is not worth the fight, I intend to be silent on the subject no longer, at least.
I respect the rights of others to disagree in regard to their own religious beliefs about maleness as a sex type, and to designate themselves accordingly, but I personally find the notion of my deformity legally defined as my sex morally repugnant, unconscionable, and unbearable in light of my prodoundly held and reasonably arrived-at religious beliefs, and I cannot wait to have it corrected in regards to my own legal status. joe cheng firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert raised some interesting points in his post. I wondered, however, about his use of the categories "traditional" and "non-traditional" (aligned with the gender categories "masculine" and "feminine") for heroes.
I suppose that the distinction comes from Victorian scholarship on Greek heroism, where traditional vs nontraditional usually meant Achilles vs Ulysses: one was the man of strength, the military hero who fights hand to hand; the other was the man of craft, the plotter and archer who wants to get home. This binarism has its limits. What are we to make of Achilles' passions (for Patroklus and Troilus), or of Ulysses's rejection of women and desire as he makes his way home? My point is simply this: "masculine" and "feminine" always need to be contextualized; what was "non-traditional" for the scholars of a hundred years ago isn't necessarily so for us, or for the ancient Greeks.
It seems to me that this same complexity of gender is found in Norse visions of heroism, but I'll leave it to someone more capable than me to post on the topic.
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 93 11:17:59 EST
Subject: Medieval Masculinity
Some of the more interesting questions arise at the edges of our topic. I have been thinking about Old Norse literature and the thematization of masculinity in so many different contexts. Let me refer to a few of them:
Loki: In the _Prose Edda_, Loki is often portrayed as being outside the proper behavior for a man (i.e. a man-like god, such as Thor). He is treacherous and leads the other gods into difficulties. In one adventure he turns himself into a mare in order to seduce a horse. We are told that he had such dealings with the horse that he later gave birth to a foal. Is the trickster role here being associated with sexual liminality?
Nidh: The standard insult in Old Norse is to suggest homosexuality, which is often expressed in terms of using such and such a man "as a woman." There are too many examples of this in the sagas to cite here. (The "dh" in the word "Nidh" represents the crossed-d letter known as "eth".) Nidh is the general term for insult and virtually always refers to sexual insult.
Gunnar of Hildarendi in _Njal's Saga_ after establishing his bravery far beyond question asks at one point, "But I wish I knew whether I am any the less manly than other men, for being so much more reluctant to kill than other men are." (Penguin, p. 135). At the same time Gunnar's best friend is a beardless man who never fights, Njal himself. In the _Laxdaela Saga_ Olaf the Peacock also establishes his credentials on a voyage abroad, but settles down to a life of avoiding violence. The equation violence=manliness is widespread in the sagas, but not universal.
Some texts seem to suggest that avoidance of violence is unmanly, while others see it in a very positive light, without specifically equating settlement-making with a special kind of manliness. On the other side of the equation, the few women who turn to violence are clearly marginalized. See "Breeches-Aud" in the _Laxdaela Saga_.Ed Haymes
I'm not an academic, just a fascinated dabbler in Celtic history, literature & mythology. I've done a lot of reading, and it strikes me that a lot of the imagery in Celtic "heroic" poetry (for instance, in the =Ta/in Bo/ Cualigne=) offers images of men who praise the beauty of other men. Many of these bits, particularly the lament of Cu/ Chulainn for Ferdia, look to this modern eye remarkably like a lament for a lost lover. The Kinsella version, admittedly not a direct translation, certainly offers the feel of two who have shared more than a dinner by the fire together. Cu/ says to Ferdia before they battle:
Fast freinds, forest companions, we made one bed and slept one sleep in foreign lands after the fray.
After the fight at the ford, Cu/ mourns Ferdia with some rather passionate words:
I loved the noble way you blushed, and loved your fine, perfect form. I loved your blue clear eye, your way of speech, your skilfulness... Ferdia of the hosts and the hard blows, beloved golden brooch, I mourn your conquering arm ... the ring of bright silver on your fine hand, your skill at chess, your flushed, sweet cheek, your curled yellow hair like a great lovely jewel, the soft leaf-shaped belt that you wore at your waist. You have fallen to the Hound, I cry for it, little calf. The shield didn't save you that you brought to the fray.
Cu/ goes on in this vein for several pages! While there are a number of other laments in the corpus of material, I can't recall any others that offer this kind of imagery. If memory serves, the Greeks, who were wont to take young men as lovers while warriors in the field, commented on the amount of this sort of behavior among Celtic men. In looking at this, I can't believe that the Celtic, or even the later medieval definition of "masculinity" wasn't entirely different than what modern western society deems "polite." I also think that our terms for gender-identity, like "homosexual" or "bisexual," would have been essentially meaningless -- men slept with whomever appealed to them, regardless of plumbing, or so it appears. Warriorship could not have been the sole, or even a major determinant of "manhood" or "maleness" in Celtic lands, for Adomna/in instituted laws against forcing women into battle in about 696ce as part of the "Law of Innocents" in the Ca/in Adomna/in.
Erynn Laurie email@example.com
From: "Daniel F. Pigg" <IVAD@UTMARTN.BITNET>
The April 1993 issue of _Speculum_ devoted to feminist issues in medieval studies raises some interesting questions about the construction of masculinity. The article by Carol Clover, drawing on other research suggests that there was only a one sex model for the Middle Ages. The paradigm was the virulent male; thus children, impotent males, eunuchs, and women were classified as "other" being outside the model. Here frame of reference in Old Norse texts, but we can certaily extend her findings to OE and ME texts. Certainly part of the humor of the _Miller's Tale_ and the _Merchant's Tale_ may be defined along this dichotomy. Obviously too the Green Knight's comment to the "beardless boys" of Arthur's court seems to manifest this power of separation in _SGGK_. One could read much of the literature of the chivalric tradition in terms of the one sex model for the creation of masculinity as the world of knighthood is for the MIddle Ages one of the most obvious placesfor the contemplation of gender and power. If, however, knighthood by the late fourteenth century was in decline in reality and in literary imagination, then I suspect an anxiety about the construction of gender through the chivalric model may be equally problematized.
Daniel Pigg Department of English University of Tennessee at Martin IVAD@UTMARTN.BITNET
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 93 15:20:54 PST
From: Elizabeth Rowe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It might be more accurate to say that Carol Clover's paradigm was of two types of behavior, strong and weak, and that both males and females could be characterized according to either mode. However, "strong" behavior was _generally_ associated with males and "weak" behavior with females.
Elizabeth Rowe email@example.com
From: "Bruce W. Holsinger" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Interscripta group <jjcohen@husc>
I think [Daniel Pigg's suggestion that Carol Clover's argument be generalized to other medieval texts] is a dangerous move to make. Clover's argument for the "one-sex" model in the middle ages is based almost exclusively on the work of Thomas Laqueur, who argues for the dominance of the Galenic one-sex body from late antiquity through the Early Modern period. There are any number of problems with this approach, two of which I'll go into here. First, this approach erases the plethora of views on body and gender that conflict with and even contradict the (ostensibly) Galenic model. How can the "virulent male" as the ideal bodily paradigm be reconciled with the extraordinary power of the female body in the high middle ages Caroline Bynum has explored? Or the celebration of femininity and the foregrounding of female imagery that were at the heart of monastic devotional discourse in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? What about Gregory of Nyssa's view of the human body in _On the Making of Man_, which was highly influential in the middle ages? This treatise makes very little of gender differentiation, concentrating much more on God's formation and the soul's vivification of the Christian body. Is this body a Galenic body as well? How do Galenic and Christian constructions of body conflict with one another? These are questions that can't even be asked if we accept, in Daniel Pigg's paraphrase from Clover, that "there was only a one-sex model for the Middle Ages" (and let me add here that I don't have the Clover article in front of me and don't remember offhand if she qualifies her Lacqueurian reading).
Second, and I think this is the more important point, Laqueur's (and Clover's) idea of what the "Galenic body" is is solely confined to the genitals. Rather than a history of "body and gender from the Greeks to Freud", what Laqueur has really written is a history of the ways in which a certain number of writers imagined the differences between vaginas and penises (this is a paraphrase of Gail Paster's critique of Laqueur in _The Body Embarrassed_). The sophisticated discussions of the humors and their effects in Galen and writers in the Galenic tradition are completely unaccounted for, and a reading of Galenic texts demonstrates that the humors may be just as if not more important than genital arrangement in the determination of gender identity. By privileging the genitals as the most important site of gender differentiation, Laqueurian readings tend to ignore the many other ways in which gender and erotic desire are constructed and performed in and through a wide array of bodily acts.
None of this is meant as a criticism of Daniel Pigg, who was simply citing an article and adding some of his own thoughts to its conclusions. What I'm really trying to do here is simply suggest that, while we discuss "medieval masculinities," we keep in mind that some of the most compelling and powerful images of masculinity in the middle ages didn't have much at all to do with the penis.
Bruce Holsinger Columbia U.
While reading the contributions to this discussion, I have had the recurring feeling that we are getting ahead of ourselves. It seems to me that before we can discuss medieval masculinity/ies, we need to look first at how gender is or can be defined in the Middle Ages. I'm not certain I have any of the answers, but I do have some of the questions:
Is medieval gender a fully reciprocal, binary system? I.e., are there only two genders? Are those genders dependent upon and consistent with biological sex? Is the relationship between masculine and feminine one that assumes each gender is diametrically opposed to the other? Complementary to the other? We know the construction of medieval gender is most often hierarchical, that the masculine is considered superior to the feminine. But is a person's "personhood" separate from gender, thus making gender a sort of secondary attribute? Or is individual identity "always already" gendered? Does the medieval mind consistently equate the general, and thus the normative, with the masculine, and the particular, and thus the exceptional, with the feminine? If so, in discussing medieval masculinities, are we merely discussing medieval subjectivity in another guise?
On heroic masculinity: is heroism a gendered quality in itself? Can medieval women truly be heroes? If heroism is somehow _per se_ masculine, are those particular men who are singled out as heroes somehow more masculine than other men? Is Beowulf "more of a man" than Hrothgar? or Unferth? Does becoming a man in some way equal becoming a hero?
What about Arthur? Does his position as the center of the Round Table, as the king who does not necessarily go out on quests and thus does not constantly reassert his heroism, call his masculinity into question? Is this why he becomes a cuckold so easily?
Is heroic _discourse_ masculine in gender; i.e., do the heroes of, for example, OE poetry who are female become "honorary males"? Is Judith gendered masculine or feminine? What about Elene?
How does Christ figure in here? What sort of masculinity does he represent, if he is to be considered masculine at all? In _The Dream of the Rood_ his masculinity seems to be ensured by his heroism. Or is he primarily feminine, as Julian sees him? Or does he transcend gender categories? Yet he's still "he."
Like I said, I'm not sure I have the answers to any of these questions, at least not yet. These are simply some of the questions I'd like to see discussed, since these are the questions raised in my mind by the topic. I promise to post again if I can think of some answers!
Joyce Lionarons email@example.com
Let me start by acknowledging my indebtedness to to Karen Swenson for her distinction between the *relative* scale on which men can judgmentally situate each other and *absolute* identification which must come from without, from the Other, often gendered female.
Attempts to establish the formal parameters of the heroic biography in the western European tradition clearly show that the hero's vocation cannot be realized in a void, natural or social. Symbiotic relationships must exist both with the Enemy, often forces allied with contingent nature and posing threats to man's ordered social life, and with the host community. Only the latter can transmutes ephemeral, mute deeds of heroism into lasting glory for the hero and into history for his people through the medium of language, especially in its artistic forms.
What has emerged more recently is the centrality, if not high relief, of the dynamic, often agonistic, relationship between the heroic and the supernatural in their gendered representations of male and female. The male hero is defined by what he is and what he does, but in no less degree by what he is not. Yet the dividing line between male and female as realized in action cannot be unilaterally drawn by the hero himself. In a variety of ways, the male protagonist is held up to the scrutiny of the supernatural female and judgment is passed on his adequacy as hero. In some early tradition, such as the Irish, the centre of gravity of this interrogation lies within the complex of problems associated with legitimate rulership: the requirements of justice, successful military leadership, generous patronage of the arts, crafts and peaceful reign over stock-keeping, farming, hunting and fishing. For the non-kingly hero, we have the anomalous antagonism between a hero like Cu' Chulainn and the war goddess. In other traditions, such as the medieval Icelandic fornaldarso"gur or legendary romances and the poems of the Edda, we find the male culture hero (human and divine) seeking both self-realization and self-definition in the natural world, where points of reference and his interlocutors may be giantesses, female trolls, land spirits, fetches, fairy mistresses, amazons, sorceresses, seeresses. In these encounters, dialogue (however imperfect the communication), the control of discourse and the transfer of knowledge are often more decisive than conventional heroic physical and martial supremacy, the contest for which may only serve as prelude.
Male identity and worth are not only won from but confirmed by the female whose essential Otherness is here allied with the supernatural, the monstrous, the marginal, the chaotic, as if only the female's elevation to a higher, or transfer to a different, category of being made possible the dialogue between non-peers. In addition to the poles of culture and nature to which male and female gender were assigned by medieval and earlier ideologues, there also seem dominant spheres of activity, spiritual for the male (despite the physical side of heroics), somatic for the female. Law and art belong to the former, human and all organic regeneration to the latter.
Will Sayers firstname.lastname@example.org
Reading the recent comments about weak and strong men led me to think about a discussion I just had in a Milton class about his _Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce_. Milton develops the idea that men are led into bad marriages by evil, deceitful women, which leads him to the following statement in Bk 1, chp. 5:
Yet it next be feared, if he [the man in the bad marriage] must still be bound without reason by a deaf rigour, that when he perceives the just expectance of his mind defeated, he will begin even against law to cast about where he may find satisfaction more complete, unless he be a thing of heroically virtuous, and that are not the common lump of men for whom chiefly the laws ought to be made... (Hughes, ed. 710b)Milton's portrays men here as weak, insecure beings who seem unable to act virtuously and are driven to brothels by strong women. In the class we decided that this conception was a purely renaissance one, or at least a Miltonic one (cf. his Adam), but I wonder if it may have much earlier roots.
I am especially thinking of the late 14C, and the works of Chaucer and Langland. There are very few heroic men in Chaucer. Troilus is perhaps the best example of Chaucer's anti-hero, if they can be called that. In fact, he is very much like the man Milton seems to have in mind in the above passage: betrayed by the, at best, pragmatic Criseyda, he seeks to destroy himself in war. But even before this point we see him moping around the temples of Troy, and there is very little emphasis on his heroism.
Other Chaucerian males are much the same: I can think of the Gawain figure in the WBTale and the Man in Black in "The Book of the Duchess". Of course these men all suffer from melancholia, which may be quite different from weakness--I'm not sure. But the heroism of other Chaucerian males is dubious. The Knight seems heroic, but he is also a mercenary, and very much a soldier of the late 14C. The Monk goes to great lengths to describe the valuelessness of heroism.
In _Piers Plowman_ (B-Text) the narrator becomes the hero for the reader. Of course Piers and Christ are important, but Will is more of the traditional hero, with his quest and development and such. Piers and Christ are important guides along his route. Will is very much a weak man, as we see through the constant fun he makes of himself, and trouble he gets into with his interlocutors. In Passus 20, he describes what happens when he meets Elde:
And of the wo that I was inne my wif hadde ruthe And wisshed wel witterly that I were in hevene For that lyme that she loved me fore, and leef was to feele On nyghtes, namely, whan we nakked weere I ne myghte in no manere maken it at hir wille, So Elde and he[o] hadden it forbeten. (20. 193-98, Shcmidt ed.)
I find the "and he[o]" in the last line particulary significant. Here again we have a man being beset by his wife and, though not driven to evil as Milton suggests can happen--certainly led astray, as the poem as a whole testifies.
Particularly interesting in both Chaucer and Langland is the week male narrator of the works. Instead of the Wife of Bath who very decisively controls her narrative, the narrators of Chaucer and Langland loose control of theirs and are constantly berated by the characters they narrate about. (I'm relying on my memories of Burrows' _Richardian Poetry_ for all that I have said, I'll have to look it up to give more detailed arguments).
What I have tried to say is that I find it interesting that the weak man is Particularly prominent in the late 14C. I have no real answers for why this should be, but I suspect it is because of the somewhat decadent state the traditional symbols of masculinity (ie. the military life and class). In the age of mercenaries, futile wars and peasant's revolts (not to mention child kings) it would seem likely that the traditional male had become insecure. But I wonder if there may be a religious reason as well. Is there something about the religion of the time that is influencing men acted or were portrayed? I don't know: I'll have to think on it.
Robert Duncan University of Saskatchewan email@example.com
Bruce's comments about the dangers of the "one-gender" approach to medieval masculinities is very interesting. One example he gives, though, could argue against his point of view. Could it be that Gregory of Nyssa doesn't make anything of gender differentiation in *De opificio hominis* BECAUSE he assumes a one-gender model? That is, on the making of man is about just that -- the making of MAN. Gregory's life of his sister Macrina says several times that she was such a great Christian because she was man-like.
Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania firstname.lastname@example.org
From: STRETCH OR DROWN/ EVOLVE OR DIE <email@example.com>
In response to Ed Haymes posting on Loki and "tricksters" I just thought I would mention an article I just read by Donna Haraway called "Ecce homo, Ain't (Ar'n't) I a Woman, and Inappropriate/d Others: The Human in a Post-Humanist Landscape," in Scott and Butler, Feminists Theorize the Political. In this essay she reads Jesus Christ and Sojourner Truth as trickster figures in really interesting ways. Most interesting was the reading of JC since it seemed to indicate that as a "hero" and "king" Jesus really figures as a kind of anti hero and anti king (i.e. in John 19:1-6) when he is "crowned" with the crown of thorns. It's interesting because Jesus becomes a really unmasculine kind of hero, which makes fourteenth century depictions of the "Christ knight" as in Piers Plowman quite interesting.
Laurie Finke, Women's and Gender Studies, Kenyon College
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1993 13:03:53 -0500
In response to Jeffrey responding to Ed: well, there is ample evidence that Jesus did have a feminine persona in the Middle Ages -- not just "Jesus as Mother" (cf. Julian of Norwich, Caroline Bynum) but also the strong female attraction to spirituality *in imitatio Christi*. This hasn't been adequately configured in discussions of medieval masculinity.
Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1993 13:10 CST
In response to Robert Duncan's very interesting discussion of the prevalence of "weak" men in 14c English vernacular literature, and his question whether something in the religious climate of Chaucer and Langland (and why not bring that other "Ricardian" John Gower into the discussion?), I would suggest that this prevalent feature is "overdetermined". The effects of the Fourth Lateran Council and the explosion of penitential discourse in the 13c, to my mind (this is obviously not an idea I've originated), helps account for the penitent Will or the Parson being the "heroes" of their respective works.
I am enjoying the discussion immensely!
James Goldstein Auburn Univ
Date: Wed, 03 Nov 93 13:33:18 CST
From: "Daniel F. Pigg" <IVAD@UTMARTN.BITNET>
Before I comment, perhaps I should say that I was merely trying to see what others thought about Clover's statement rather than asserting its correctness and moving on. Joyce's series of questions in an earlier post strikes me as an excellent program for discussion of medieval masculinities. I want to respond to her question "If so, in discussing medieval masculinities, are we merely discussing medieval subjectivity in anotherguise?" It seems to me that gender of any kind in medieval texts is the construction of subjectivity. One of the most interesting cases I can think of is Malory's "Tale of Sir Gareth." Throughtout the course of the tale, Gareth is under construction with respect of gender. Kay's designation of Gareth as "Beaumains" (fair hands) and perhaps to a lesser degree with respect to gender Lynet's term "kitchen knave" are directly tied to his developing sense of gender. It seems to me as if there is a conscious attempt to remove the "feminine" aspects of Gareth's gender and to write him fully in one version of masculinity. I think the tale of Sir Gareth, as I have argued elsewhere, allows Malory a particularly significant opportunity to explore the development of masculinity through an obviously constituted subjectivity.
Daniel Pigg Department of English University of Tennessee at Martin ---------------------------
And let me add that the type of tale which Daniel has brought up here (the Fair Unknown) seems an exceptionally rich source of information on how masculinity and heroic identity are constructed. This popular type of story revolves around the young knight's quest for his place in society, and so is promulgated to serve an instructive function. The questions "Who is my father?" "Who am I?" and "What is my place in society?" all become imbricated; they are resolved in the final presentation of the _juvenis_ as knight and hero - that is, as a man powerfully aligned with his society's construction of ideal masculinity.
From: STRETCH OR DROWN/ EVOLVE OR DIE <email@example.com>
I'd like to return to Bruce Holsinger's post on Lacquer's reading of sex difference briefly to suggest that Joan Cadden's recent work, The Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1993) might offer some useful corrections to Lacquer. While I have found this work to be extremely useful in many ways, I think Cadden's notion that a close study of the writing available on sex difference in the middle ages suggests not a "grand synthetic scheme that captures the medieval concept of gender but rather a cluster of gender-related notions, sometimes competing, sometimes mutually reinforcing, sometimes constraining, sometimes consistent, sometimes ad hoc" (9). She argues against any arguement for an essential view of medieval thinkers on sex difference.
In particular the strands she follows throughout the book are the Hippocratic, the Aristotelian, the Galenic, and the Soranic. She suggests, as have others, including Bynum and I think Lacquer in some ways (at least in conversations), that biological sex difference may in many ways be our own obsession, that gender difference may be a more fundamental difference for the middle ages than anatomical sex. Lacquer's interest in genitalia may be a reflection of modern (feminist) distinctions between biological sex (which we tend to want to concede as fundamental) and gender (which we see as socially constructed). What I think Lacquer wanted to argue was that biological sex may not be as foundational as we think it is. He was trying to suggest that it is possible (because it has been done) to think about sex in a totally different way. This strikes me as exciting and I think Cadden provides some support that the middle ages (at least the high middle ages) saw what we might call gender as far more foundational. She quotes Jocopo of Forli "it must be noted that the male differs from the female in three [ways], namely, complexion, disposition, and shape. And among these the complexion is the most fundamental" (170).
Given the medieval preference for the male body over the female and for masculinity over femininity (even within the humors), Holsinger does raise a really interesting question about what to do with the celebration of femininity in both monastic discourse of the 12 adn 13 centuries (not to mention courtly love) and with the "power" of the female body Bynum has described. Undoubtedly this subject takes us a bit far afield from the topic of masulinities, but it does remind us that we can only construct male and female, masculine and feminine relatonally. Neither has any meaning in and of itself, but only in relation to the other. Thus medieval masculinities can only be defined as they set themselves apart from medieval femininities. It's interesting that the extreme focus on medieval visionary women's bodies that Bynum (and others) document should be happening roughly at a time contemporaneous with the high rationality of scholasticism. Perhaps the two might be seen as relational entities--the disembodied rationalism of scholasticism with the female body as the "abject" for what's left over.
Laurie Finke firstname.lastname@example.org
From: Rebecca W Oettinger <OETTINGE@macc.wisc.edu>
I am one of the "quiet seminar students" who read along with the Medieval Subjectivity discussion with great interest. Since my personal area of expertise is Renaissance and late Medieval music, the following notes are not from my work, but rather points I thought might add to our discussion.
According to Jenny Jochens, ("Before the Male Gaze: the Absence of the Female Body in Old Norse" in _Sex in the Middle Ages_, ed. Joyce Salisbury), beauty was a quality found equally in men and women, and indeed the same terminology was used to describe both sexes (voen(n), fridh(r), and fagr (fogr)) in Norse sagas. The physical bodies of men, however, were far more likely to be described than those of women, and the writers of the sagas were men, says Jochens.
She writes that gender distinctions rose from different types of clothing, and Old Norse law forbade the wearing of clothing of the opposite sex (Jochens 9). In a warm climate, such as Greece, the loose, cool clothing made the body visible, and physical markers of sex were more apparent. However, the climate of the North made necessary heavy garments that could easily mask the sex of the wearer. Why was it so important to know at a glance someone's sex?
Rebecca Oettinger email@example.com
Date: Thu, 04 Nov 1993 20:11:11 PST
I should like to offer a few contextualizing remarks to accompany further consideration of the quite striking elegy of the Irish hero Cu' Chulainn over his opponent Fer Diad recently cited in the course of our discussion. The Irish tradition of keening over the dead has deep roots and offers a wide stylistic spectrum. Present-day survivals, however, have little to match the artistry of, say, the Lament for Art O'Laoghaire by the leader's widow in the late 18th century. Even earlier, women like the two Cre'ides lamented their fallen lovers but, more significantly perhaps for our purposes, bardic poets mourned the deaths of their leaders and patrons by characterizing themselves as widows. Thus, it seems legitimate to raise the question of the whether the elegist and keener was not gendered female, the pathetic theme and treatment dictating that the appropriate vantage point for comment be a feminine one.
Cu' Chulainn and Fer Diad were foster-brothers, both having been trained in the martial arts in Alba by Sca'thach, who might be taken as a reflex of the war goddess. Knowledge of one less than fully honorably weapon (see below) was all that distinguished the two heroes (save perhaps Cu' Chulainn's superior capacity for rage). In facing his foster-brother, Cu' Chulainn offers a variant of the scene where he faced his own son in battle, after he himself had dictated conditions to the boy's mother that made such a conflict inevitable. This is the Sohrab and Rustem, Hildebrant and Hadubrant, story. In its Irish expression the heroic predicament is the familiar choice between personal honour (which extended to affect family and community) and kinship (in which context the murder of kinsmen was particularly heinous because of the legal quandary it created). The heroic choice is selfish in that individual honor is always first served. Audience expectation of this choice meant that elegy could quickly succeed martial description as a stylistic shift. Cu' Chulainn kills his son with the same weapon employed against Fer Diad. While we do not have elegiac verse over the fallen son, we would surely find the imagery of wasted physical beauty unremarkable in the father-son context, and I suggest that this should perhaps also be the case in that of foster-brothers.
The gae bolga or secret weapon seems to have had many features of the Arctic harpoon: cast over the water with a throwing stick, some inflated part, etc. It is described as either entering the lower abdomen or the anus, then opening into a set of multiple barbs which cause evisceration.
The Irish epics seem to cast light far backwards towards the continental Celts described by Greek ethnographers but also incorporate many later legal and material developments, such as in metallurgy and weapon-making, so that they cannot be taken as historical documents for pre-Christian Ireland. But within the fictions of the epic women are shown accompanying large hosts on military campaigns and would then have been available as sexual partners. Sexual access also seems to have been afforded the young men living on the periphery of the community during their early years of training as warriors. None of this of course precludes male bonding with an erotic dimension.
I have not recently looked at the Irish penitentials, which seem to have been tone-setting for the remainder of Europe, but my recollection is that while penance for sexual infractions is severe, homosexual erotic activity is not more heavily penalized nor otherwise singled out from illegal heterosexual liaisons. If the former existed in any prominent fashion in early Irish society, it certainly did not offer the same threat to the legal system and future marriage alliances as did male-female affairs. The many different legal grades of heterosexual union in Ireland may also have meant that male unions were not seen in a fully antithetical light.
Will Sayers firstname.lastname@example.org
From: EX39000 <EX39@MUSICA.MCGILL.CA>
I have been interested to see in the discussion so far that very little has been said about knighthood, or chivalry. The earlier heroic literature has evoked much more interest, partly, I believe, because many literary scholars don't realize that chivalry was not actually "waning" during the late Middle Ages; rather, it was evolving more subtle and complex codes of values and behaviours to make the heroic warrior and feudal knight more socially and politically useful within the context of the developing nation state.
In my book, Knighthood in the Morte Darthur (D. S. Brewer, 1986; 2d ed in paper, 1992), I survey this development in the first chapter, so far as it can be traced through the writing of treatises and manuals on knighthood from the thirteenth to the fifteenth-centuries. In the second chapter I show how Malory introduces these different ideals of knighthood, or ideal masculinities, into his retelling of the history of the reign of Arthur and in the following chapters show how he works out his "typology of knighthood" through the entire narrative. I wrote the book before gender studies had become fashionable, so my discussion is couched in the terminology of medieval chivalry rather than modern gender theory. But it is clear that for the second estate ideals of knighthood were tantamount to ideals of manhood, or masculinity, as we would say. My historical research shows that by the fifteenth-century, wealthy bourgeois men in England could also aspire to one of those ideals.
For there were several different ideals of knighthood which developed over the one thousand year span of the Middle Ages. The earliest ideal was that of the heroic warrior, like Beowulf, or the feudal knight, like Roland -- men whose primary function was to fight to protect his kind. By the late thirteenth-century, treatises like Ramon Lull's Book of the Order of Chualry, which was translated and published by William Caxton in the late fifteenthcentury, show how this early ideal of the knight as a fighting man took on a political function as a consequence of the knight being perceived as a servant of God. Initially applied only to the crusades, this view of knighthood later developed a complete analogy with the priesthood through the idea that knighthood was ordained by God as a "High Order" whose purpose was both the governing and the protection of Christian society.
Of course, this view of the knight obliged him to observe strict chastity, and clearly owes a great deal to the monastic crusading orders; however, in a mid-fifteenth-century Scottish translation of Lull's work, the knight is admonished to marry, if he may not live chaste. It also obliged him to be pious and humble.
On the other hand, treatises like that written by Christine de Pizan in the late fourteenth-century, show two other, much more secular ideals of knighthood developing out of the court culture of the emerging nation states of Europe. Christine de Pizan's Book of Fayttes of Armes and Chyualrye shows the medieval knight being transformed into the modern soldier, under the influence of classical treatises on warfare, such as that of Vegetius. Her Epistle of Othea to Hector: a 'Lytil Bibell of Knyghthode' shows the medieval warrior becoming a courtier and servant of the king, acquiring the skills necessary to please the ladies of the court, such as dancing and making poems, and those necessary in diplomacy and the administration of justice. Both works were translated into English during the fifteenth-century.
What is remarkable about Malory's Morte Darthur is that it incorporates all these ideals of knighthood, including the heroic ideal of the warrior, represented by Gawain and his kinsmen; the secular and courtly ideal of the prince and his knight-servant, represented by Arthur and Tristram; and the religious ideal of the knight-servant of God, represented by the Grail knights. Malory modifies these pre-existing literary types, in light of fifteenthcentury notions of a knight's political function, and he adds one more which is a very late medieval innovations: the knight who sees himself as a servant of both God and king. This involves him is something of a bind, for as a servant of God is bound to observe chastity, but as a servant of the king, he must face all the temptations of court life.
Malory offers us three variations of this new ideal. l) the knight who flees the court for the contemplative life -- Galahad and Percival; the knight who exercises chastity within marriage and leaves the court to serve his king as a local lord of great lands - Gareth (In the early sixteenth-century this type is well portrayed in Elyot's Book of the Governour); and the knight who who believes he should not marry in order to better serve his King and who must consequently remain at court and somehow overcome its temptations to sin -- Lancelot and Bors.
Adhering to this new ideal involves knights in some interesting predicaments. Gareth, for example, is tested for his virtue when Sir Persaunte de l'Inde sends his virgin daughter to the knight's bed. Gareth sends her back, but only after ascertaining that she is a virgin, and realizing that to take her would be to dishonour his host. If she had been a 'wyf' he would have had to assume that his host was giving him a gift, which he would have been churlish to refuse, and so would have found himself in precisely the same position as Gawain in SGGK, the first literary exemplar of this combined religious and political/social ideal of knigthood.
Lancelot is even more severely tested, for he suffers the misfortune of falling in love (as Gareth does with Lyonesse), but with a woman he can never hope to marry, his queen, Guinevere. Indeed, the greatest innovation Malory makes in retelling the story of Arthur's reign is to transform Lancelot into a late medieval literary and cultural phenomenon - the "true lover" - that is, a knight of this third type, who loves truly and till death and also is sworn to chastity, within marriage, if he is able to marry his love as Gareth is, or without, which means maintaining virginity, or at least celibacy. Needless to say, Lancelot is not able to be perfect in chastity. Many students of Malory are not able to agree with my thesis (Viator ll(1981) that in Malory's version of the love story the lovers actually make love only once, in the "Knight of the Cart" episode, but I think they are letting their reading of Malory's text be determined by the earlier French version of the love story, or perhaps by an inappropriately modern view of male sexual behaviour.
Ann Matter was right to observe that in studying masculinity in the Middle Ages, we must pay attention to the development of lay piety in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the devotio moderna on the continent, and in England, the sort of "mixed life" advocated by Walter Hilton for laymen who yearned for a life of contemplation, but could not, or in Hilton's view, should not, abandon the service of their fellow Christians as local lords and heads of families. I am convinced that Malory perceived Lancelot as a man of this kind, particularly after his experience of the Grail Quest, when he learned the spiritual delights of contemplation on board the Ship of Faith in the company of his son, Galahad.
Whatever else this discussion of medieval masculinity achieves, I hope it helps put an end to the still common assumption that there was one monolithic code of chivalry in the Middle Ages and that Arthur's Pentecostal Oath describes it. That is an oversimplified view, which derives from the nineteenth-century notion that the 'gentleman' was a reincarnation of the medieval knight. In fact, he was not a reincarnation, but rather a survival of one of the medieval ideals of knightood, the secular, courtly and honourable or "worshipful" ideal represented in Malory's book by both Arthur and Tristram. This type of knight was a Christian but his first loyalty was not to God; rather his primary goal was to achieve power and status through service to king and country.
This fundamentally political and secular ideal still underpins the identity of some modern men. But then the 'heroic' ideal represented by Gawain and his kinsmen in Malory's book also lives on in totally masculine society of street gangs and the Mafia. I don't see too many "true knights" around today, however, men who are willing to sacrifice themselves to serve the commonweal, all the while observing what modern society has come to think of as the 'feminine' (rather than Christian) virtues of humility and chastity. We could sure use some, though!
I look forward to the rest of what has so far been a most stimulating and informative discussion.
Beverly Kennedy Marianopolis College Montral, Qubec. H3H 1W1 Tel. (514) 488-5211
Erynn has made a good point: very often heroes have close friends for whom they feel a passionate (sometimes even eroticized) attachment. Sometimes these friends seem to exist only so that they can die or disappear, precipitating a fall into madness or mourning (I'm thinking of Achilles and Patroklus, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Amis and Amiloun) that is surprisingly intense. Sometimes this "friend" is a sidekick or second in command (Aeneas and Achates, Brutus and Corineus).
A third possibility is for the "friend" to embody what is traditionally thought of as the feminine (Freud called it the pre-oedipal): this "friend" is part of a Laurel and Hardy or Odd Couple kind of pairing. I'm thinking of the heroes who adopt giants as pages or squires: Bevis of Hampton and Ascopart; or Guillaume d'Orange and Rainouart. In both these cases the out-of-control body of the giant is meant to contrast with the normative masculinity embodied in the hero. The giant is indoctrinated into chivalry as a way of promulgating an orthodox code of gender behavior; his mistakes are to be laughed at, exorcised.
Does anyone have further thoughts on these pervasive pairings?
From: "E. Ann Matter" <email@example.com>
I would like to follow up on Jeffrey's comments about heroes and their friends. It is striking how many of these friends seem made to be sacrificed and consequently lamented. It's also noteworthy how often the feminine characteristics associated with "good' heroes (sensitivity, ability to weep, loyalty) are seen especially clearly in these interactions with the friends of their heart. I think this is another indication of the point I made last week -- that masculine is the generic human gender (perhaps it's more accurate to say the default human gender) in the Middle Ages. What these heroes show is all of human emotional potential rolled up together in the strong and honored male. Women in this world are very seldom vehicles of their own agency, but are far more often relegated to the role of foils against which men can play off their complete humanity. That's certainly the way it is in early Christian literature, where the best one can say about a woman is that she exhibits those noteworthy male characteristics, like *virtus*. It's true for the heroes and equally true for the twelfth-century monks. Think of William of St. Thierry or Rupert of Deutz agonizing over their homoerotic connections to big and true heros like Bernard of Clairvaux or, well, Christ. What do you folks think?
E. Ann Matter University of Pennsylvania firstname.lastname@example.org
I am feeling more than a little baffled by the attribution of such adjectives as "feminine" to the shedding of tears as an expression of strong feelings towards others. Perhaps later in the Middle Ages, after the Conquest, such attribution of behavior to gender is true. But was it true before the conquest? Doesn't Hrothgar's eyes fill with tears during a speech in _Beowulf_? Are his tears a reflection of a feminine trait?
What I'm really asking here is if post-conquest notions of femininity and masculinity (such as "heroic" for warrior-like action) are appropriately applied to pre-Conquest gender roles? For example, a late nineteenth-century writer, Sidney Lanier, in discussing the portrayals of Elene, Judith, and Juliana as A-S women, refers to them as "epic" types, who reflect the values of the "heroic" age. He calls the later Medieval woman the "lyric" type. Don't we have an obligation to question continued assumptions about gender construction versus gender roles in A-S England? Is it right to assume that our notions of femininity and masculinity reflect the same notions of those constructs for the Anglo-Saxons?
Karen Foster, email@example.com
If a brief mention of the representation of masculinity in medieval prose devotionals isn't out of bounds for this discussion, it might be interesting to consider how the narrative voice in the 14th century _A Talkyng of the Loue of God_ (ed. Sister Dr. M. Salvina Westra [The Hague, 1950]) is reconstructed throughout the text. The soul is apparently that of a male, given that "when [it] is represented as speaking about itself in the third person, only masculine forms are used" (xxxi). Also, as Sister Salvina notes, "when addressing Jesus and Mary the meditating person calls himself: youre sone and yor brother" (xxxi). The narrative voice, however, takes on a number of different roles in the text. At times it is a virgin bride whose honor, it almost seems, is defended by Christ: "Thou hast me defendit.a yeyn myn enemys... threo...and madest of me vnworthi: thi lemmon and thi spouse...and as I weore thin owne brid.here in to thi cage.to wone with thiself" (58.8-14).
At times the narrator imagines himself as the male lover of a female Christ: "I lepe on hym raply as grehound on herte.al out of my self with loueliche leete" (60.22-3). There are even times when the Virgin Mary is depicted as as a voyeur who encourages him to suck the blood from Christ's toes (which he does with a vampiric frenzy), and then envelopes them both in her mantle: "the blood I.souke of his feet.that sok is ful swete...I lok on hire.that him bringeth. and heo bi ginneth to smyle.as thauy hire likede wel.and wolde i dude more" (60.24-8). At times the narrator is a nursing infant: "Heo yeueth him hire pappe: and stilleth his teres. That pappe beo my lykyng.my mourning.my longyng" (6.19-20). The devotional strikes me as interesting in that the masculinity of the narrator is not defined in negative terms; instead, it is a composite of various structures of desire.
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1993 23:22:00 -0800 (CST)
From: Norman Hinton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
While this discussion is being carried on in a very thoughtful and fascinating way, and I have learned much from it, I worry about an even more pernicious version of what Karen has mentioned: (1) take some aspect of knightly or general heroic behavior; (2) apply to that aspect some contemporary notions of gender behavior (often a contemporary notion of wrongfully conceived gender behavior); (3) note that the medieval behavior does not conform to notions of gender behavior which we currently favor; (4) say either (a) aha! there was more (homoeroticism/over-praised masculinity/submerged femininity/whatever than they realized in the middle ages, or (b) aha! see how wrongfully conceived their gender behavior was. Then (5) call the whole process "construction of gender".
Thus I hear that 'Jesus was a weak or feminine character' followed by surprise that he would be seen as a knightly hero by Langland, ignoring dozens of other such analyses from _Dream of the Rood_ to _Ancrene Riwle_ and beyond...that tender concern for the dead, seen in medieval poems from _The Tain_ to _Song of Roland_, etc., and then Karen's example of tears. So much of the material in this thread is first-rate and forms genuine contributions to our thinking about gender, heroism, etc....let's try to avoid the other approach. --
Norman Hinton email@example.com
Our moderator recently appended a note to a posting that called attention to male figures that function as foils to the more conventionally heroic, e.g., bumbling giants. This encouraged me to make the following juxtaposition, which originally came to mind in the context of a discussion on another list of the possible undercurrent of Irish storytelling in Icelandic saga writing. With these quotations I am not claiming a direct influence and, at a another time and in another place, one might take a broader look at the topos of the male grotesque in vernacular European writing. The purpose of the present exercise is to add a few brushstrokes to the male ground against which heroic figures are seen to act. The character described is a variant on the romance hero's supernatural helper, here warlike and monstrously ugly. The Icelandic text is quoted in a 1984 translation by Jon Skaptason and Phillip Pulsiano; the Irish, a string of thumbnail sketches from several Fenian works, is from Standish O'Grady's translations of 1892. I would be pleased to supply privately the exact references and the passages in the original. (And if I could make a few converts to the cause of early Irish literature, I wouldn't be disppointed.) >From Bardar saga: Cloth was in short supply there (the far north of Scandinavia), so that the boy was swathed in sealskins for warmth, and those were his swaddling-clothes. Thence he was called Thorkell Skin-swathed. ... He was a tall man and lank, high-crotched with long arms and knobby joints. He had long skinny fingers. His face was thin and elongated with high cheekbones, and he had ugly prominent teeth. He was pop-eyed and wide-mouthed, long of neck and big of head, with narrow shoulders and a bulging waist. His legs were long and skinny. We was swift and skilled in everything he did, quick-witted and diligent and faithful in all things to those he served. (A hint of Skarphedinn from Njals saga?)
Of the Gille decair: Nor had he (Finn Bane) been so long when out of the eastern airt directly he marked draw toward him a ruffian, virile indeed but right ugly, a creature devilish and misshapen, a grumpy-looking and ill-favoured loon, equipped as thus: a shield that on the convex was black and loathly coloured, gloomy, hung on his back's expanse; upon his dingy grimy left thigh all distorted was a wide-grooved and clean-striking sword ... (more in the same vein on weapons and horse).
O'Donnell's Kern: They in this strain discoursing anon saw towards them a kern that wore narrow stripes: the puddle water splashing in his brogues, his lugs through his old mantle protruding both, a moiety of his sword's length naked sticking out behind his stern, while in his right hand he bore three limber javelins of the holly-wood charred.
The Carl of the Drab Coat: Into this forest he (Finn) had not penetrated any distance before he met a diabolical looking being of evil aspect, an irrational wild monster of a yellow-complexioned thick-boned giant having on him a long drab coat down to the calves of his two legs, either of which under him as they carried the great fellow's illassorted body was like the mast of some ship of largest rate; like the side of a wide-wombed boat was each brogue of the two that garnished his knobbed feet armed with curved nails; the drab coat that invested him had to it a pewter platter's width of a skirt trimming consisting in a yellow stucco of mud, and this at every step that he took would flap against the calf of one leg so as to knock out of it a report that could be heard half-a-mile of country away; while every time that he lifted a foot, there used half-abarrel of mire to squirt upwards to his buttocks and even over his entire yellow-tinted person.
Here we have as much of the monstrous as was ever associated with the 'female' and the 'abject'. This is raw male power coming under the influence of the culture hero. Their synergy makes for the simple realization of romance tasks. But at the same time, if real life were to offer any models for these figures they were surely to be found in the peasant strata of European society. Like the rage that overtakes the epic hero, these are aspects of the male just barely under the control of culture; war is the safest place for them.
Will Sayers firstname.lastname@example.org
From: "M. GOODICH" <RHHG742@UVM.HAIFA.AC.IL>
I have been following the discussion of 'masculinities' with some interest, but am still unable to engage in the theoretical flights of fancy of the literary critics etc. I am particularly distressed with the treatment of 'belles-lettres' on the same level as other archival, philosophical, didactic etc. sources whose provenance, authorship etc. have been well-established. I am very sympathetic to the view that the images of masculinity may differ radically in accordance with the literary genre, period, or tradition which has produced the document.
May I suggest some further discussion of the following sources: 1) encyclpedias and commentaries on the Hexameron, which contain such rubrics as vir, puer, masculus, homo, in order to unravel sex roles, age differences and other related issues; 2) the many 'mirrors for princes', many of which are catalogued in W. Berges, Die Fuerstenspiegel..., which summarize the virtues and vices of noble-men; 3) the lives of male saints, which describe their formative years and catalog the spiritual virtues, often according to some scheme found in the fathers of the church; 4) the plastic arts, which reveal the gestures, bearing and body language of men under different circumstances.
---PROF. MICHAEL GOODICH DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL HISTORY UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA
The first week of the Interscripta "Medieval Masculinities" discussion has drawn to a close, and we find ourselves with an embarassment of riches. As of Sunday evening, thirty postings have been distributed, about thirty-six pages of printed material. The posts have been wide-ranging and provocative. I'll make a few suggestions about where to go from here.
I would like to start pulling together some of the discussion's disparate threads as we continue our inquiry into the construction of heroic masculinity. To that end, I suggest that we concentrate our attention on a set of themes that has emerged from the discussion to date.
1. Ed Haymes asked about marginal or liminal figures and their relation to "orthodox" masculinity; what are we to make of Loki, impregnated by a giant's stallion? Erynn Laurie broadened the question a bit by asking about the relationship between heroes and their "friends" - Fer Diad, Enkidu, Achates, Corineus, Ascopart, Rainoart? What functions do these right-hand men or "male grotesques" serve? Are they "feminized"? Do they allow the expression (as Ann Matter has suggested) of the hero's "feminine" traits or emotions?
2. Will Sayers took this line of inquiry further, and suggested that we look to the hero's relationship to females: "Male idenity and worth are not only won from but confirmed by the female, whose essential Otherness is here allied with the supernatural, the monstrous, the marginal..." Robert Duncan wondered about the relationship between strong women and weak men in late 14th C. (Ricardian) poetry. Laurie Finke observed that male and female can only be constructed relationally, so that "medieval masculinities can only be defined as they set themselves apart from medieval feminities." What, then, can we say about the relation of heroic masculinity to the feminine?
3. Rob Lockhart introduced the question of classifying heroes according to their gendered behaviors by asking whether "traditional" and "non-traditional" corresponds to the distinctions "masculine" and "feminine." Daniel Pigg reminded us that the Middle Ages didn't necessarily function with the "anatomy is destiny" model of the gendered body, citing Carol Clover's recent _Speculum_ article. Bruce Holsinger amplified this point, arguing that "some of the most compelling images of masculinity in the Middle Ages didn't have much at all to do with the penis" - and that "femininity" and imagery of the female body can form a part of the male bodily paradigm. Ann Matter remarked that this transgendering of the body is found in representation of Jesus and "the strong female attraction to spirituality *in imitatio Christi.*" What is the relation among gender, sex, the soul, and the bdoy in the Middle Ages?
4. A concern has begun to develop about placing heroism and masculinity within the social codes that culturally enable them (Beverly Kennedy suggests chivalry; I would like to see someone post on _comitatus_ / the Mannerbund), or within generic norms. Norman Hinton and Karen Foster both urge us to be cautious in this process of reconstruction, lest our conclusions be anachronistic. Can heroism be historicized?
5. Joyce Lionarons brought our attention to the theoretical questions that lurk behind many of these postings. Are there only two genders? Is personhood (or individual idenitity, or subjectivity) separable from gender, or "always already" gendered? "Why is it so important to know at a glance someone's sex?" (Rebecca Oettinger). Is the masculine also the general, and therefore the normative? More specifically for our discussion at the moment, what is the difference between becoming a man and becoming a hero?
We have five major topics under consideration here, each with its own cluster of questions. They are all inter-related, and I propose that we use this week's discussion to grapple with some answers. Close readings of texts are welcome, as is the critical dissemination of bibliography.
A reminder that your posts should be sent to the moderator <email@example.com> rather than to the listserver. Your post has a much greater chance of being distributed if it directly engages with heroic masculinity; for the time being I would like to keep the topic limited in this way.
And to all who have posted so far, my thanks for the thoughtfulness and quality of the remarks.