According to Pertelote the ideal male should be hardy, wise, generous, and discreet, neither a skinflint, a fool nor a boaster, and above all brave. (NPT, VII 2911-20) The stereotype includes those qualities a woman was conventionally thought to lack (strength, wisdom, secrecy) and those she hopes to profit from in her mate (provision and protection), and Pertelote uses it comically to chide Chaucnticleer out of his silly fear of nightmares. In the course of the tale he is characterized by foolhardy recklessness, quick wit in danger, and an arrogant self-confidence masking an underlying insecurity, masculine traits as modern as they are medieval.
The military hero no doubt needs extraordinary qualities of bravery. But in a society armed chiefly for hand-to-hand combat (when giants carried clubs, green half-etayns might wield a battleaxe, and deynous Symkyn in the Reeve's Tale arms himself to the teeth, or hose, with knives) the first essential is physical strength. Malory might want to attribute Gareth's prowess to the fact that he isn't a kitchen-knave, but his height obviously helps. Godrich's cook is attracted by Havelok's size rather than by the royal light that illumines him at night.
A knight wins worship by victory, which he may enhance by magnanimous conduct, but first he may require the sort of skill that enables Lancelot to kill Mellyagaunce with one hand tied behind his back. As long as he survives, he delights in that open manslaughter of which Ascham complained; in the heroic romances it may reach wholesale proportions. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Brutus gets "immense pleasure", in Lewis Thorpe's version, out of extensive massacres.
But heroes in the end become more heroic when they don't last. In Macaulay's words,
And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds ...?
Like Shakespeare's Talbot, Gawayne deserves his personal reputation, but in the end his power depends on his soldiers, as the Countess of Auvergne learns Talbot's does. Talbot dies when treacherously deprived of reinforcements, tragically unable to save his son, and his carcase lies "stinking and flyblown" at la Pucelle's feet, but the fame of his prowess goes on growing.
One may guess that the fictions exaggerated reality. It was one thing for John Paston II to chase eagerly after tournaments at Eltham and in Burgundy, another to have to send his brother to a surgeon after he got an arrow in his arm at Barnet.
Women's physique usually absolved them from going to war, but when they did, like Joan of Arc, they were admired - or denounced as witches. Few had the capabilities of Mary Ambree, who having shot a score of warriors at the siege of Ghent, slashed the treacherous gunner in three who was trying to steal her powder and shot - three to rhyme with Ambree in the ballad in Percy's Reliques. Margaret of Anjou, this tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide, was listed, at least by Thomas Heywood, among the Women Worthies, thanks to her generalship and perhaps her husband's weakness. When Stephen was captured outside Lincoln, his Queen retaliated by capturing Robert of Gloucester, and forcing her namesake Matilda to release the imprisoned King: "Forgetting the weakness of her sex and a woman's softness she bore herself with the valour of a man", is the grudging praise of the author of the "Gesta Stephani". How far the generalship of these warlike women suffered from preconceptions about gender is hard to say: one guesses, not very much. During the attacks on Hellesdon and Drayton in 1465, Margaret Paston left her son "at Castere to kype the place there.. for I had levere .. to be captenesse here [in the thick of things] then at Castere" (Paston Letters, ed. Davis, I.298). Admittedly, some years later she complained "I can not wele gide ner rewle sodyour, and also thei set not be a woman as thei shuld set be a man" (Letter No. 199), but that was when she was trying to persuade her son to do his duty better.
I infer that rank rather than gender was important in securing obedience at all social levels; the (later) assumption that women were intellectually as well as physically inferior to men seems to stem mainly from the influence of the Latin classics passed on through humanist male-orientated education. Milton's
For contemplation he and valour formed, For softness she and sweet attractive grace
Like Hooker: "As for the delivering up of the woman either by her father or by some other, we must note that in ancient times all women which had not husbands nor fathers to govern them had their tutors, without whose authority there was no act which they did warrantable." [Here Hooker cites Livy and Cicero] And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others, although our positive laws do not tie them now as pupils. (Ecclesiastical Polity, V)
And like the Merton Professor of classical archaeology who about 1920 wrote the following astonishing sentences: "In moderation physical exercises may improve health and strength without tending to deprive the vital organs of nourishment. But the overtrained woman is farther from the healthy life of nature than the overtrained man. And whether the over-exertion be of the body or of the intelligence, it tends to destroy true womanliness." (The Legacy of Greece [Oxford UP 1921], p. 379) Perhaps the effects of the classical Renaissance on perceptions of gender deserve more study in women's studies programs.
Finally, I am wondering whether the over-exertion of the Paternoster Sister in 1653 was heroic or imbecile: "A Presbyterian Sister in Paternoster Row was the other day so much in need of a King, that she crowned her husband with a Piss-pot, telling him, that were all Women in her mind, that street should not be called by that Popish name of Peternoster-Row, but Cuckold-All-aRow, and that these women were worse than Whores that would not honour their Heads in the same manner; If it were for no other reason, but for the readvancement of Monarchy; and to establish the Power therof in Women, that have so long been subjected to the Tyranny of their Husbandes."
---Brian S. Lee Department of English University of Cape Town, South Africa
From: Greg Rose <email@example.com>
I tend to share the trepidation expressed by some about grand sociological and literary critical theorizing about masculinity and heroism in the medieval period. I think there is a need to ground the discussion more explicitly in historical materials. My own interest is primarily in the early medieval period, and it is to this small piece of the puzzle that I would like to turn.
Focusing on sexuality/gender in defining masculinity in the early medieval period is wrong-headed and a product of anachronism. Where most often we see the lanuage of manhood utilized is in a much different context. The concept of manhood is intimately tied to that of power -- indeed, the language of manhood (homo, vir, puer, etc.) is the principal language by which relationships of power are described in early medieval sources. By power I mean the ability to affect outcomes primarily in the appropriation and allocation of political-economic resources. This is, as we shall see, two-edged. It involves both the acquistion of such resources and protection from the predations of others attempting to acquire such resources as one already possesses. To wax theoretical for a moment, much of the early medieval political-economy was a constant-sum game: when someone gained, someone else lost. In this context it is important to maximize the possibility of gain while minimizing the possibility of loss at the hands of other gainmaximizers. The notion of one becoming the "man" of another is intimately tied to this dynamic and in it is a start toward an explanation of the early Germanic comitatus, as well as the other structures of lordship and dependence in early medieval Europe. To be a man in early medieval Europe was to be attached to a powerful other. In the case of the comitatus, what evidence we have paints this relationship in terms of dependence on a heroic chieftain.
While lordship was long in losing this tie to heroism, the underlying commonality of dependence of less powerful on more powerful is shared even in the formal, legalistic structures of commendation and fealty of a later time. It is useful, I think, to trace briefly the history of lordship and dependence from the comitatus through to Merovingian Frankish institutions in order to see how this commonality persists.
Tacitus vividly describes his conception of the comitatus, ca. 98, in Germania:
...Men cluster around others who are stronger than they and those who have already proved their valor. There is no shame in being reckoned among their followers. This retinue also has its different ranks, established in accordance with the judgment of its leader. There is great rivalry among the followers as to who shall hold the first place with the chief. There is rivalry as well among the chiefs as to who will have the largest and most valorous band of followers. This is honor, this is strength: to be always surrounded by a great band of chosen young men. This confers distinction in peace and help in war. Each chief gains reputation and glory in proportion to the numbers and courage of his following, not only among his own people but also among neighboring communities.... When they go into battle, it is shameful for the chief to be surpassed in feats of valor and for the followers not to strive to equal the courage of their chief. More than this, it it is a lifelong infamy and shame if any of the followers survives his chief and comes uninjured from the battlefield. Their sacred oath of loyalty requires them to defend and protect him and to attribute their bravest deeds to his fame. The chiefs fight for victory, the followers fight for their chief... Peace displeases the young men, and they gain glory more readily amidst dangers; nor can a great following be supported except by violence and war, for followers ask for the war horse and the bloody, conquering spear from the generosity of their chief. The table of the chief with its plain but plentiful dishes are regarded as their salary. The source of rich gifts is war and plunder.(1)It is difficult to understand the reality behind Tacitus' account (and I am prepared to grant that there is a great deal of romanticing and idealizing going on in accordance with Tacitus' Roman political agenda here) without seeing the comitatus as a means whereby Germanic chieftains acquired and maintained power and whereby young men entered into the path toward acquistion of such power or protected themselves from other's acquisitive inclinations.
It was once believed that vassalic relations evolved directly from the comitatus -- what German historians call the Gefolgschaft - but the work of Hans Kuhn and others has called this theory into doubt.(2) As both Kuhn and Karl Bosl(3) point out, two sociological trends are visible in early Germanic society from roughly 98 to 500 C.E.: Gefolgschaft, based on freedom and fidelity, and Gesinde, based on obedience and limitation of freedom. The term Gesinde was applied to servile personal retainers and workers on landed estates. Both Gefolgschaft and Gesinde arise from the ancient CelticGermanic social community of the household -- the hiwisk -- and its retainers, although there were obvious status differences between free and servile. Reacting to Felix Genzmer's incisive attack on racial explanations in his study of the Germanic clan (Sippe),(4) Kuhn downplayed the kinship associations implied in both the ancient Celtic and Germanic notions of household. However, to enter into the household provided the same kinds of legal and personal protections which kinship afforded. To be a man in this context is to enter into a direct, kin-like tie with a powerful/heroic figure.
Between the late fifth and eighth centuries A.D. the distinction between Gefolgschaft and Gesinde began to break down, probably because of the increasing upward social mobility of Gesinde in the service of great magnates and the king.(5) This is reflected philologically: the word baro, probably Celtic in its origin, "signified a rustic boor, but already in the Merovingian sakeburo it refers to high royal officials."(6) Likewise, the word vassus (latinized from the Celtic gwas and related to the Germanic gasind) signified a slave or servant in the sixth century Lex Salica; by the eighth century the vassi dominici were powerful subordinate magnates in their own
right, surrounding the king. Although the process takes place somewhat later in England than on the continent, similar evidence is available there: in Old English, the word mann was used in the eighth century to signify a slave, by the early tenth century it signified a free man in the service of a lord. It is from this process of the gradual merging of the social status and power of the Gefolgschaft and the armed Gesinde of senior magnates in the Merovingian period that the Germano-Frankish contribution to the evolution of vassalic relations comes: the merging of free warriors bound to a chief by solemn oath with servants bound to a lord by obedience.
As Franz Irsigler has pointed out, lordship over dependents was second only to lordship over land as a source of noble power in both the Germano-Frankish and Romano-Gallic cultures.(7) This should be unsurprising, given the instability and vicissitudes of Merovingian Gaul, which Marc Bloch described so vividly:
Neither state nor the family any longer provided adequate protection. The village community was barely strong enough to maintain order within its own boundaries; the urban community scarcely existed. Everywhere, the weak man felt the need to be sheltered by someone more powerful. The powerful man, in his turn, could not maintain his prestige or his fortune or even ensure his own safety except by securing for himself, by persuasion or coercion, the support of subordinates bound to his service.(8)There is strong evidence for armed servile dependents of Frankish nobles, the pueri frequently encountered in Gregory of Tour's history,(9) although these pueri clearly enjoyed privileges greater than those of the usual servus. It has been a matter of some dispute whether such nobles included free men in their armed followings throughout the Merovingian period. However, a careful reading of the Historia Francorum suggests that the household (familia) of a Frankish noble commonly included armed free dependents. A chief problem is the bewildering number of terms used for armed dependents: socii(10) and amici(11) are clearly used of freeborn persons, while satellites and sodales are used to characterize both freeborn persons and persons elsewhere described as pueri.
Whether socii and amici were in all cases dependent upon the noble whom they followed is open to question -- in some cases they may have been more like allies than dependents. However, that at least some of these, and particularly most of the amici, were members of the noble's household and, thus, dependents is clear. A special group of armed, free and servile(13) dependents of the Frankish king, the antrustiones, were bound to his service by a special oath and enjoyed a triple wergeld.(14) There is evidence that some free dependents of Frankish nobles were also bound by their lords by oath, although this is less well attested.(15)
The Romano-Gallic senatorial nobility also possessed followings of both free and servile dependents, as well as fortified villas (castra), which the Frankish nobility appear to have shunned.(16) Diocletian's reforms had bound much of the western Roman empire's population to the land as servile coloni or laeti and it is likely that most of the lands of the Romano-Gallic nobility and the Church, into whose hands most of the late imperial ager publicus fell, continued to be worked by such. However, unlike the free dependents of early Frankish nobles, the free dependents of the Romano-Gallic nobility did not enter the noble's household, but were contractors of one of two specific types. The first, the precaria contract of late imperial vulgar law, governed gifts to servants, loans of money, and grants of usufruct in land. The second kind of contract, patrocinium, or patronage, had its basis in the Roman law of clientage.(17) As public order and the power of the state diminished in late Roman Gaul, it became one of the chief means by which the powerful retained their power and the powerless gained protection:
This protection by which a rich and powerful man, or a free but weak individual, sought to procure a public collectivity in the face of the impotence of the state was routine in the fourth century. These contracts between patrons and clients were expressed in the key words: "in fidem clientelam recipere", "in fidem tradere", "in fidem esse"...[B]etween 360 and 564, men continued to enter into commendatio with a patron to obtain defensio and tuitio.(18)The Visigothic Code of Euric recognized the existence of private armies of bucellatri who entered service with an oath of fidelity and written contract of patrocinium, and the extant literature of southern and southwestern Gaul refers to them frequently.
We have in the Merovingian kingdom, then, two distinct traditions of lordship and dependence. The Germano-Frankish tradition was based on acceptance of a free person (and servile persons as well) into the household of a lord, a bond analogous to kinship. The Romano-Gallic tradition was based on late imperial vulgar contract law, the precaria and the patrocinium, and Visigothic influences: the free man entering into a protection contract. In both cases the dependent homo and the lordly vir inluster each define themselves as men in terms of the mutual power advantages of the relationship. The language of masculinity in the early middle ages is the language of martial prowess, property, and governance in a precarious political economy.
Greg Rose History New River College [Citations follow]
1. P. Cornelius Tacitus, De Origine et Situ Germanorum, xiii-xiv. 2. H. Kuhn, "Die Grenzen der germanischen Gefolgschaft," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte, Germanische Abteilung, 73 (1956); W. Schlesinger, "Herrschaft und Gefolgschaft in der germanisch-deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte, Historische Zeischrift, 176 (1953) and "Uber germanisches Heerkonigtum," Beitrage zur deutschenVerfassungsgeschichte des Mittelalters, 1 (1956); J. Lindow has also assembled powerful philological evidence that association of comitatus followers with the Germanic term gasinde is mistaken [Comitatus, Individual and Honor: Studies in a
North Germanic Institutional Vocabulary (Berkeley, 1976)].
3. K. Bosl, "On Social Mobility in Medieval Society: Service, Freedom,
and Freedom of Movement as Means of Social Ascent," in S.L. Thrupp, ed., Early Medieval Society (New York, 1967).
4. F. Genzmer, "Die germanische Sippe als Rechtsgebilde," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte, Germanische Abteilung, 67 (1947).
5. However, as Bosl points out (op. cit., 93-95), the Gefolgschaft/Gesinde distinction remained stronger longer east of the Rhine and helps to explain the greater freedom of German nobles and, indeed, their greater preoccupation with their freedom and prerogatives, as well as the intensity of the status struggle between the traditional nobility and the ministeriales. For a general discussion of "free dependence" in Merovingian society, viz., K. Bosl, "Freiheit und Unfreiheit: Zur Entwicklung der Unterschichten in Deutschland und Frankreich wahrend des Mittelalters," in Fruhformen der Gesellschaft im mittelalterlichen Europa (Munich, 1964), esp. 184-190. H. Grahn-Hok [Die frankische Oberschicht im 6. Jahrhundert: Studien zu ihrer rechtlichen und politischen Stellung, Vortrage und Forschungen Sonderband 21 (Sigmaringen, 1976)] argues that the original Frankish nobility was largely exterminated by Clovis and that he and his successors replaced them with a service nobility drawn from the ranks of the Gesinde. This would certainly explain the upward social mobility of the Gesinde, and Clovis' murderous policies toward potential rivals and eagerness to elevate his closest dependents certainly played a role in the phenomenon I have described, but Grahn-Hok's hypothesis remains unproven.
6. K. Bosl, "On Social Mobility in Medieval Society: Service, Freedom, and Freedom of Movement as Means of Social Ascent," 92.
7. F. Irsigler, "On the aristocratic character of early Frankish society," in T. Reuter, ed., op. cit., 109. H. Mitteis [Der Staat des hohen Mittelalters (Weimar, 1953), 4th ed., 50] claims that Frankish kings attempted to restrict the right to have armed dependents to themselves; however, he neither identifies which Frankish kings attempted this nor provides evidence that such attempts were made. The weight of evidence suggests that, even if such an attempt were made, it was unsuccessful.
8. M.Bloch, Feudal Society (Chicago, 1961), i, 148.
9. HF 7.47, 8.21, 8.26, 9.9, 9.27, 10.27; these seem to be analogous to the pueri regis, viz. HF 2.13, 4.28, 4.51, 5.49, 9.9.
10. E.g., HF 3.5, 5.25, 6.1.
11. E.g., HF 3.25,6.26, 7.47.
12. Collateral evidence may be had from the Lex Salica, which recognizes the contuberium, a following of dependent free men
[K.A. Eckhardt, ed., Pactus legis Salicae, MGH: LNG, IV.1 (Hannover, 1962), tit. 42 and 43] and the Lex Ribuaria, which speaks of "homo ingenuus in obsequium alterius" [F. Beyerle and R. Buchner, eds., Lex Ribuaria, MGH: LNG, III.2 (Hannover, 1954), tit. 35.1].
13. As Rouche, op. cit., 365-67, points out, entering the king's antrustiones granted the once-servile "free" status.
14. Formulae Marculfi, in Formulae, no. 18.
15. Viz., the usurper Munderic, who is quoted in HF 3.14, "Egrediar et collegam populum meum atque exegam sacramentum ab eis....Sequimini me, et erit vobis bene."
16. K.F. Stroheker, Der senatorische Adel im Spantaniken Gallien (Tubingen, 1948), 39, 106ff; A. Bergengruen, Adel und Grundherrschaft im Merowingerreich (Wiesbaden, 1958); R. Sprandel, Der merowingische Adel und die Gebiete ostlich des Rheins (Freiburg, 1957). Cf., also, Salvian's discussion of dependence in his De gubernatione Dei. A Romano-Gallic noble's following could be quite large, as attested by the private army taken to assist the Byzantine emperor by one such aristocrat in the late fifth century C.E. [H. Delehaye, ed., "Vita S. Danielis Stylitae," in Les saints stylites (Brussels, 1923), nos. 60-63]. One possible impulse toward expanding these followings may be found in the revolts of the Bagaudae in 417, 435-37, 442, 443, and 454, which, as R. Van Dam argues, " ...indicate discontent, although not with the basic structure of Gallic society, which allowed local elites (among them the emperor, when he was there) to function as patrons and lords, but rather with the inability of the imperial administration to provide protection and security" [Leadership and Community in Late Antique Gaul (Berkeley, 1985), 37].
17. The question of patrocinium in Merovingian Gaul is a complex one. The documentary evidence suggests that the Roman institution of clientela had been altered by the Visigothic invasion. For example, Roman clientela was a largely nonreciprocal relationship of subordination and dependency entered into for life. It is clear that patrocinium was not. Visigothic law permitted a client to abandon his patron for cause [K. Zeumer, ed., Leges Visigothicorum Antiquiores, MGH:LL (Hanover, 1894), i, 216]. While it is highly speculative, I suspect that Visigothic dependency relations retained more of the flavor of the highly reciprocal Gefolgschaft and Frankish more that of the Gesinde. This would certainly help to explain the general absence of reciprocal subject/king oaths in Merovingian practice, while common in the Visigothic realm. In any case, it is worth noting that Romano-Gallic customs appear to have been significantly influenced by Visigothic practices.
18. Rouche, op. cit., 362; cf., C. Sanchez-Albornoz, "Antecedentes historicos de los homines de benefactoria asturleoneses, A: La encomendacion en Roma y en los estados barbaros (siglos IV et VI)," in Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales espanolas (Mexico, 1965). The extant literature of the period is replete with references to these patrocinium contracts and relationships, e.g., Sidonius Apollinaris, "Epistolae," in F. Luetjohann, ed., MGH:AA (Berlin, 1887), III.1, III.13, IV.10, V.19, VI.8, VII.2, VIII.13, and Salvian's De gubernatione Dei.
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1993 14:58 CST
The Alliterative Morte Arthure is an fascinating text to consider for our discussion, since it encorporates many of the themes we have been exploring. Especially interesting is the way it underscores the negotiations of gender in regard to passionate friendship between warriors. In his death throes Sir Kay takes pains to seek out King Arthur, not only to say farewell but to ask Arthur to greet the Queen "And all the burliche birdes that to hir boure lengez / And my worthily wife" (ed. Hamel, 2190-1) [And all the noble maids of her chamber and my worthy wife.] Though Arthur doesn't shed tears here, he turns into a killing machine, "Manly in his maly[n]coly" . What exact relation between "manliness" and the mental disturbance of grief would the poet and his audience have understood from this collocation?
But when he finds the body of Gawain late in the poem, Arthur embraces and kisses the dead buddy, delivers his lament, resumes kissing in a passage that nearly totters between the erotic and sado-masochistic:
Thne swetes the swete kynge and in swoun fallis, Swafres vp swiftely, and swetly hym kisses Till his burliche berde was blody berown, Alls he had bestes birtenede and broghte owt of life.
[Then the sweet king sweats and falls in a swoon, staggers up swiftly and sweetly kisses him until his noble beard was covered with blood, as though he had struck down and killed beasts] (3969-72)
The gore-splattered beard seems to recall the "Giaunt of Gene"--a masculine body "out of control" if ever there was one--who wore a "kyrtill" woven by Spanish maidens, which is "bordyrde with the berdez of burlyche kingez" as a form of tribute (998, 1002) [bordered with the beards of noble kings] Arthur punishes the giant-rapist with castration (1123), and keeps the "kyrtyll and the clubb" (1191) as war trophies that show who the real man is. But to return to the lament for Gawain: this is, I believe, the first time we see Arthur weep in the poem. Ewain interrupts this passionate farewell, rebuking the king for his effeminate behavior:
'Blyne', sais thies bolde man, 'thow blodies thi selfen! This es botles bale, for bettir bees it neuer. It es no wirchipe, iwysse, to wryng thyn hondes; To wepe als a woman it es no witt holden. Be knyghtly of contenaunce, als a kyng scholde. . . . (3975-79)
['Stop', says this bolde man, you bloody yourself. This is an evil without remedy, for it will never be any better. There is no honor in wringing your hands; to weep like a woman is not considered wise. Be like a knight in your
appearance, as a true king ought.]
No wonder Arthur in his final moments sees himself, in a passage that echoes the previous one, in the position of a widow when he looks upon the bodies of the knights who
Mayntenyde my manhede be myghte of theire handes ... I may helples one hethe house be myn one, Alls a waful wedowe that wanttes hir beryn; I may werye and wepe and wrynge myn handys, For my wytt and my wirchipe awaye es for euer! (4284-8)
[I may live alone on a heath, like a grieving widow who misses her husband; I may curse and weep and wring my hands, for my reason and my renoun are gone forever!]
One of his final acts, in this version, is to order the destruction of the children of Mordred (and Guinevere? see line 3552 for his getting her with child):
". . . sithen merke _manly_ to Mordrede children, That they bee sleyghely slayne and slongen in watyrs"
[then go boldly to Mordred's children, see that they are bumped off efficiently and cast into the sea] 4320-1
Thus is the fate of heroic masculinity in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.
James Goldstein Auburn Univ.
From: Robert Stein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I've been reading through the discussion with great fascination, and I have a few notes. Much of this is in reply to the recent objections to "theory" that have appeared in the last few days. First of all, it seems to me that we can't begin to discuss medieval masculinity or even heroic masculinity without also examining the assumption that gender marks a difference that can always be reduced to a binary opposition. Martha Howell--hardly an airy theorist--has on various occasions suggested that such medieval categories as "widowhood" might well be more fruitfully understood as genders than as statuses. Masculinity (-ies) may be more fruitfully understood as an array than as a difference.
If gender is always a performative--as Jeffrey Cohen's introductory posting and many others suggest--then one fruitful area is to investigate the locations of performance--both as public and as private spaces (this might prove to be a way to theorize empirical research). How is gender publicly and privately played out in the tournament, for example, or in the confession? (Considered either as social institutions or as literary representations, such spaces are themselves scenes of representation). The work of such social historians as Barbara Hanawalt and Penelope Johnson on women's space has much to tell us about men's space. Finally, if we think about masculinities as forming an array, then descriptions like Pertelote's take on new dimensions (or the narrator's profile of the Monk: "a manly man to been an abbot able etc"), or the opening of the _Historia Calamitatum_, where Abelard chooses to become "a second son" and study rather than to follow a knightly career; the language in which this choice is narrated, however, doubles the knightly career rather than leaving it behind: "I preferred the weapons of dialectic to all the other teachings of philosophy, and armed with these I chose the conflicts of disputation instead of the trophies of war. I began to travel about in several provinces disputing, like a true peripatetic philosopher, wherever I had heard there was keen interest in the art of dialectic" (Penguin ed. p 58).
In his recent and substantial posting Greg Rose wrote that 'The concept of manhood is tied to that of power' and went on to conclude that 'The language of masculinity in the early middle ages is the language of martial prowess, property, and governance in a precarious political economy.' I think it would assist our efforts to encompass what we have _a priori_ defined as masculinities if we bear in mind the very consciously stratified and hierarchized nature of these societies. The grid of a modern computer spreadsheet is perhaps not the best image to call up, because no cell there is definitively valorized over another, but its many axes and the possibility of defining the location and status of a single cell in relation to various sets of parameters is stimulating, for me at least. Some of the comparable axes in the case of medieval men and women would have been laid out by the kinship and legal systems, particularly as these interpenetrate, by affective ties, by political and economic alliances, in particular land-holding and landletting, and in the difficultly managed area of personal honor and reputation, one's personal situation in the community's eyes.
Greg writes compellingly of a constant-sum game. In the jockeying for relative advantage, reciprocity was an essential dynamic and, paradoxically, overspending of personal material resources could have valuable benefits in terms of prestige and influence. In this game men seem continuously to be defined and redefined in relationship to other men both on the vertical scale of power and rank and according to criteria of relevance that we might situate laterally, to retain the spreadsheet image. Thus a man at arms may scarcely have been counted as a man by a mounted knight, but might cut a quite martial figure in the peasant community from which he was drawn or had emerged. Similarly, the aristocratic and nominally comparable warriors of another culture may have counted for little in eyes of a military elite with superior technology and logistics, e.g., Viking attitudes toward the Celts.
I believe that individuals in this age were acutely aware of just where 'ego' stood in these various networks of power, obligation and dependence. I am not sure this qualifies as 'medieval subjectivity', from the discussion of which I was excluded by early glitches in our list, but I have the distinct sense that effective masculinity was constantly on trial and that the individual efforts of the would-be hero were continuously accompanied by glances temporally and spatially forward and back, above and below, right and left.
Will Sayers email@example.com
In my opening statement for the discussion, I mentioned that much of the work being done on the construction of masculinity originates in film studies; in cinema everything is artificial and must be represented through "the gaze." Along those lines, the Sunday New York Times published a piece on what it calls "inaction heroes": men like Anthony Hopkins in _Remains of the Day_ and Daniel Day-Lewis in _The Age of Innocence_ who suggest "paralyzed manhood." Another article observes of Harvey Keitel that he has (in _The Piano_) gone from macho to tender (and therefore unpredictable); his intensity, it states, is "emotional rather than physical" - a rather nice distinguishing.
For the most part we have been dealing in this discussion with verbal portraits of heroism, embedded in a diverse array of narratives. Thinking about the debt of gender studies to film studies made me wonder if we couldn't expand our discussion into the visual arts and see what they reflect about the hero of history and literature. Anyone feel competent to post on this topic?
It would be most useful if we could all keep our five subtopics in mind here: (1)Heroes and their friends, (2)Heroes, Women, and other Others, (3)Gender, Sex, Body, Soul, (4)Historicizing Masculinity, (5)Heroism and Masculinity.
I've been biding my time before leaping into the discussion, mainly because I work on an area that seems to have elicited little attention thus far: sanctity. I would also like to make a few comments about performance and gender. I think that the value of recent work on gender as performative is that it strikes a balance between individual and cultural constructions of identity. That is to say, gender identities are not enacted by men and women in a vacuum: the reception and evaluation of their actions as masculine or feminine is part of a cultural dynamic. Thus gender identities are emergent, constructed as a collaborative effort among individuals, their communities, and (from our perspective) their representers, in the form of writers, painters, et cetera.
With this in mind, I think it is worthwhile to look at gender attributions that are trans-sexual. For instance, in earlier research on women saints in the early Middle Ages, I was struck by how often they are described as "virile" -- and in very heroic terms, also. As a matter of fact, the term I used to describe them at the time was _virgo militans_, the militant virgin whose struggles are endowed with a heroic element that is specifically constructed as masculine. What are the characteristics that marked off from biological sex here? How is this virility constructed by the virgin and by her "audience?" Inversely, when men describe themselves as feminine, what do they mean? Lastly, is there a difference in initiative here? That is, are men more likely to describe themselves as feminine with a particular rhetorical project in mind, and are women more likely to be described as masculine by others -- or is this just a reflection of the primarily male authorship of texts?
In a related vein, attempting to respond to the challenge to use visual media, I would like to point out another theme I have noticed in more recent research; the feminization of the Devil in some late medieval art. Traditionally, the Devil is sexually neutral, but I think is constructed as gendered masculine. However, I've noticed some Italian images of the Last Judgement that present very female Devils. Most striking is a fresco in Bologna in which a hairy Devil spreads his legs and excretes/gives birth to a sinner labeled "pride" from an auxiliary mouth in his groin. The dark colors of the piece really make it look like a birth scene. Is this another instance of a nominally "male" figure performing a "female" biological function? Obviously, the issues are trickier with supernatural figures, but I still think there is some gender crossing going on here. --Nancy Caciola
Gilgamesh and Enkidu are not exactly medieval, but they do embody the hero-and-giant-companion pattern that Cohen pointed out. Enkidu is a physical giant, rough and uncouth, not fit to be a companion to Gilgamesh. He must first become civilized--through performing the masculine part in sexual coupling with a temple prostitute, this last not a common motif in medieval literature. But the main motif, hero and giant companion,like many patterns in medieval literature, goes back very far in heroic tradition.
Nancy's recent post reminds how unstable a category like "hero" (or "masculinity," for that matter) can be: it's always slipping into other significations, other arenas of culture. "Saint" and "hero" can become indistinguishable in certain discourses (e.g. militant hagiography, like the Old English "Judith"); likewise, I think, "hero" and "monster" (Grettis saga embraces this possibility).
The Middle English romance _Sir Gowther_, like its French parallel _Robert le diable_, conjoins and conflates all three of these supposedly discrete categories. Gowther's mother is unable to bear her husband a child, and he is about to end the marriage; she prays that God send her a son, "on what maner scho ne roughth." An incubus appears and rapes her. The queen then lies to her husband, informing him that an angel has inseminated her in answer to her prayers. Gowther is born of this troubling union. As a child he bites off his mother's nipple and sucks the life from his wet nurses; as an adolecscent he burns nunneries, beats priests, and murders widows (the usual teen-age troublemaking). One day his mother admits to him that he is the child of the devil, he repents, seeks the advice of the pope, goes into a long and humiliating service abroad (where he cannot speak and eats only scraps from the mouths of dogs), and saves a kingdom from invading Saracens. He also falls in love in the usual way and becomes a chivalric knight.
The story obviously owes much to "Fair Unknown" romances, and to tales of what Will Sayers has called "the male grotesque" (in romance, often a giant who is civilized by a long, instructive process into humanity - and heroism). _Sir Gowther_, however, begins with an incipit that labels its story a *vita sancti* - a saint's life. An astounding claim: the only saint with an even vaguely similar story is Christopher, originally a cynocephalus (dog-headed man), later a giant. The author of Gowther was sanctifying something other than the traditional values of the saint: for him, chivalry is next to godliness. Gowther's quest for identity is a quest for heroic fulfillment: finding his place in society means learning to subordinate himself properly to authority (ecclesiastical and political), as well as to keep his body firmly under control (esp. as regards violence and sexuality). Even monsters can be redeemed; even the low-born can rise to high regard; knighthood is a kind of sanctity.
It doesn't take much imagination to envision the intended audience of such a tale: the _juvenes_, the young men of the court for whom such literature is both escapist fantasy and instructive, controlling propaganda. _Sir Gowther_ disseminates an ideal of masculinity in which control is all; ideal manhood becomes a secular sainthood.
In order to respect our moderator's admonition to stay on subject and meet his request to provide concrete examples, I offer below two examples from early irish literature of agonistic dialogue between a hero and a reflex of the goddess of territorial sovereignty. She may appear as the goddess of war, as in the first example with the warrior Cu' Chulainn, or award and remove legitimate rule, as in the second with King Conaire, in which she resumes her guise as Loathly Lady after the king has made a partial and unjust legal decision and has broken other tabus. My comments on these passages, in the larger context of a consideration of what I am calling Supernatural Pseudonyms (the goddess's names), are at press with _Emania_, the bulletin of the Navan Research Group, and academic protocol discourages me from summarizing them here. Of greater value, no doubt, are your comments. I do, however, append a brief summary statement on the categories that seem to be represented by the names of the second run, rather than giving the entire list in the original.
It seems to me that this conversation, to a degree at crosspurposes, lies on a more existential level than, say, the dialogues of later romance between knight and lady that explore ethical issues and the psychology and etiquette of love. The notion of the male or the hero is perhaps not explicitly thematized here but the discursive stance taken by the goddess is certainly challenging in a very fundamental way. I would welcome having my attention drawn to examples in other medieval literature that may be comparable.
>From _Ta'in bo' Regamna_ (The Cattleraid of Regamna), when Cu' Chulainn apprehends a Red Woman driving off a cow, accompanied by a huge churl:
`The cow is not pleased to be driven off by you,' said C# Chulainn.
`Judgment over this cow is not at all a concern of yours,' said the woman. `It is not the cow of a friend or comrade of yours.'
`The cows of all Ulster are a concern of mine,' said C# Chulainn.
`You judge over a great deal, C#,' said the woman.
`Why is it that it is the woman who is speaking to me?' said C# Chulainn. `Why isn't it the man who is speaking to me?'
`[It is] this man to whom you are speaking,' said the woman. `Yes indeed,' said C# Chulainn, `yet it is you who are doing the talking,'
`Cold wind and rushes and .. is the name of this man,' she said.
`But this name is surprisingly long,' said C# Chulainn.
`Now you tell me this since the man is not speaking to me. What is your own name?' said C# Chulainn.
`That is not difficult. This woman to whom you are speaking,' said the man, `sharp small mouth, wasted body, thorny hair, stumpy and terrible, this is her name,' he said.
`You are making a fool of me,' said C# Chulainn, `in this way.'
>From _Tagail Bruidne Da Derga_ (The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel), when the hag and churl seek entrance to the hostel after nightfall and the woman adopts a stance at the doorway that often precedes a prophetic utterance:
`Well, woman, what do you see for us since you are a seeress?'
`Indeed, I see for you yourself,' she said, `that neither bump [bone] nor flesh [= hide nor hair] of you will escape from the house into which you have come, save what the birds carry in their claws.'
`It is not an ill omen that we prophesied, woman,' he said. `It is not you who usually prophecies for us. What is your name, woman?'
`Cailb', she said. `Now, that is no surplus of names,' said Conaire.
`Hark [lo], many are my names besides,' she said.
`What are they?' said Conaire.
`Not difficult,' she said. `Samain, Sinand, Seiscleand, ... `What is your pleasure [pleasing to you]?' said Conaire. `Whatever is your pleasure, then,' she said.
`It is tabu for me,' said Conaire, `to receive the company of a single woman after the setting of the sun.'
`Though it be tabu,' she said, `I will not go until full hospitality comes to me this very night.'
`Tell her,' said Conaire, `that an ox and a salted pig will be brought out to her along with my leavings, and let her stay in another place tonight.'
`If indeed it has come down to this for the king,' she said, `about a meal and bed for one woman in his house, let something else be had from someone else who [still] has honor, if the hospitality of the prince who is in the hostel has come to an end.'
`Her answer is savage,' said Conaire. `Let her in even though it is tabu for me.'
IN all, 33 names for the goddess are given in the list. Only a very few are recognizable as regular Irish words or names, although all display some semantic affinity with known terms.
The following motif categories or thematic
epicentres in the second list of names can be proposed: conflict and destruction, the non-normative (evil, faulty, uncultured, neglected), emotional severity (inflicted and suffered),
female sexuality, land and the natural world.
Will Sayers firstname.lastname@example.org
The second week of the Interscripta discussion on "Medieval Masculinities" has brought a decline in the overall number of posts, but without a reduction in the amount of discussion: about 30pp. of reading when downloaded. (And let me take this opportunity to encourage everyone to save, download, and reread the postings from this discussion; I have found that they are so rich in information and insight that repeated examination is amply rewarded. It's never too late to follow up on an "old" post: the discussion is ongoing, and in a constant state of both amplification and refinement.)
This week saw a series of substantial, complemenary postings that focused upon the specifics of the construction of heroic masculinity. Brian S. Lee brought up, among other things, the debate on whether women can be heroes - a cultural question often disguised under physical ones. Under what circumstances does a woman become a hero in the Middle Ages? In doing so, is she taking a man's place? What impact do female heroes have on our discussion of medieval masculinities?
In a well argued, thoroughly documented post (one which, I think, most of us will hold on to for a long time!) Greg Rose linked masculinity not to sex or gender or the body, but to power - "the ability to affect outcomes primarily in the appropriation and allocation of political-economic resources." Anchoring his position in a (qualified) reading of Tacitus, Greg demonstrated the importance of hierarchy to the promulgation of "proper" gender roles; masculinity becomes a spectrum of acceptable behaviors, with the "weak" man finding his place in a life of happy subordination, and the "chief" (or "powerful/heroic figure") being responsible for the maintaining of this culture-specific gender relationship. (David Halperin, I should add, has made a similar but far more radical argument for the ancient Greeks: that gender is wholly constructed, and that its determinants are class-based rather than anatomical). Will Sayers agreed with Greg's post, and wrote that gender must always be plotted against a cultural matrix that includes the social, the political, the anthropological, the economic, and the historical. Some questions we might ask now are: How are the bonds that unite men represented in history and literature (Is the comitatus fraternal or familial?) Can subordinate or "weak" men (to go back to Robert Duncan's word) become heroes? Are they men in the same way that heroes are men? Are heroes "more" masculine? And how is proper subordination enforced? (That is, what devices connect one to one's proper gender behavior?)
James Goldstein sent a fascinating post on the Alliterative Morte Arthure - a poem which is to my mind the richest source for recovering a late medieval English idea of heroism. I will be responding to James later in the week with a post of my own; for the time being I will only point out that he rightly links the erotic with the sado-masochistic in the "heroes and their buddies" theme - can someone say more about this theme generally? It's beginning to seem that heroes (and masculinity) stand alone, when for all the illusions of self-reliance that they cultivate, their dependencies show them at their essence.
Robert Stein has offered that gender should not be conceptualized as a binarism (masculine/feminine); masculinity is not monolithic, but made up of a *collection* of genders organized (sometimes unsuccessfully) into some sort of cultural coherency. Nancy Caciola has gestured toward this plurality by arguing that heroism is imbricated with sanctity, and that the two categories are not wholly separable. I offered the Middle English romance _Sir Gowther_ as an example of that complexity.
Perhaps the time has arrived to shift part of the discussion into hagiography, and the kinds of masculinity that sainthood constructs. "Overlap cases" might be best examined first: saints on the border between heroism and sanctity. The heroism segment of the discussion is far from over, however. To assist all of us in moving this discussion along, I encourage anyone who feels capable to post on one of the five subtopics of heroism. I would be especially glad to see some synthetic posts, ones that bring two or more of these threads together. We've raised plenty of questions. Now comes the difficult part: groping toward some answers (which of course means further questions...)
Again, my thanks to all who posted this week. Your generosity and erudition are appreciated by all.