Issue 5 (2016)
The Monastic Symbolism of Prostitution in Late-Thirteenth-Century France
Sean Loritz, Sarah Lawrence College
The motif of the reformed harlot is prevalent in medieval saints’ lives, but its implications are problematic. This paper begins to examine these implications by contrasting the lives of Mary of Egypt and Mary Magdalene, which circulated in France during the late thirteenth century, with the lives of contemporaneous women in poverty to find that they do not in fact resemble one another. Rather, this paper argues for a reinterpretation of the prostitute as an example for—but more importantly as a symbol of—the monks who comprised its audience. It then examines the impact of this symbol’s usage on gender and sexuality within the context of faith, including a monastic ideal of androgyny and erotic overtones in the desire for Christ, particularly in the form of communion. Finally, it contrasts the application of the symbol of the prostitute to monks and nuns, finding that the latter suffer from their affiliation in cases such as those of the Beguine sect, further emphasizing the gap between the saints and actual women, prostitutes or not, as well as their resemblance to male clerics.
Public and Private Layers of Clothing and Tongue: Marie de France’s Medieval Werewolf as Palimpsest
Kerri-Leigh Buckingham, St. Thomas University, New Brunswick
Marie de France’s twelfth-century lai Bisclavret reveals the significance of the use of transparent technologies to construct a paradigm of the public versus private werewolf, human versus beast, Self versus Other, and illustrates the importance of these technologies to social perceptions and to one’s assertion of one’s own humanity, revealing that the human and the werewolf are not as different as the human attempts to profess. Both the human and werewolf are palimpsests: beings constructed from perceptions based on the addition and removal of layers of speech and clothing.
Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History: Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Political Career and Its Significance to Noblewomen
Rita Sausmikat, Lycoming College
Eleanor of Aquitaine played an indirect role in the formation of medieval and early modern Europe through her resources, wit, and royal connections. The wealth and land the duchess acquired through her inheritance and marriages gave her the authority to financially support religious institutions and the credibility to administrate. Because of her inheritance, Eleanor was a desirable match for Louis VII and Henry II, giving her the title and benefits of queenship. Between both marriages, Eleanor produced ten children, nine of whom became kings and queens or married into royalty and power. The majority of her descendants married royalty or aristocrats across the entire continent, acknowledging Eleanor as the “Grandmother of Europe.” Her female descendants constituted an essential part of court, despite the limitations of women’s authority. Eleanor’s lifelong political career acted as a guiding compass for other queens to follow. She influenced her descendants and successors to follow her famous example in the practices of intercession, property rights, and queenly role. Despite suppression of public authority, women were still able to shape the landscape of Europe, making Eleanor of Aquitaine a trailblazer who transformed politics for future aristocratic women.
Defining Excellence: A Grid of Jerome’s “Good” and “Bad” Virgin, Spouse, and Widow
Maria S. E. Johnson, University of South Florida
By late antiquity, the status of women fell into three divisions: marriage, widowhood, or celibacy. In the eyes of intellectual early Christians, these states were not of equal merit. Specifically, Jerome viewed virginity as the most holy state, then widowhood, followed by marriage. However, his deprecation of marriage can appear so potent and his asceticism so extreme that modern scholars struggle to provide a balanced analysis of Jerome’s works. The focus of scholars on these two aspects of Jerome’s works restricts them from the wider spectrum of judgments Jerome has about the above three states. Analyzing his premier works on virginity — Letter 22, Against Jovinian, and Against Helvidius — I will show that Jerome offers readers not only a three-tier hierarchy, but also an elaborate “grid,” identifying the “good” and “bad” virgin, spouse, and widow. Additionally, I will demonstrate the necessity for this detailed grid by arguing that its components were evident in Jerome’s construction of Paula’s chaste sanctity in his hagiography of her. The nuance and detail Jerome infuses into all of his works should be equally appreciated in his judgments on not only virginity, but also widowhood and marriage.
Liturgical Functions of Late Byzantine Art: An Analysis of the Thessaloniki Epitaphios
Judith Shanika Pelpola, Stanford University
The Thessaloniki Epitaphios, a late Byzantine embroidered textile, is an important piece to consider in the study of Byzantine art and its role in liturgy. In this paper, I undertake a stylistic and formalistic analysis of the inscriptions, depiction of the humanity of Christ, and treatment of time in the Thessaloniki Epitaphios to determine if the Epitaphios had liturgical rather than simply symbolic functions, thus helping contextualize Byzantine art within the Western canon. Analyzing the potential for the liturgical function of this piece additionally sheds light onto how Byzantine art itself should be classified with regards to the Western canon.
The Troubadour’s Woman: Mirroring the Male Gaze in Early Medieval Literature
Thai Catherine Matthews, Wellesley College
The famed “lady” of the medieval courtly love narrative is introduced into medieval literature by the French troubadour poets of the twelfth century. They come singing her praises, conjuring with their poems and their songs the ideal—and original—cruel, fair mistress of affections. This is the domna, an archetype upheld in later literary tradition by famous figures like Isolde and Guinevere. The domna is a complicated figure; she is at once chaste and erotic, married and yet destined to be worshipped only by men who are not her husband. The domna is accorded tremendous power from the beginning—if the troubadours who bring her about are to be believed, she controls their hearts and their appetites, their minds and their souls and whether or not they live. But is this power a power at all? Or is this figure a mere construction of the male gaze, manipulated and agitated in turn so that these male authors can look back on the true objects of their affection—themselves? The domna is ultimately a canvas upon which the troubadours paint their own self-portraits, illustrations of pious sacrifice, romanticized struggles, and introspections on the concept of love that can only persist so long as the domna herself remains distant from the lover, absent from the passion she is said to inspire and consequently stripped of any ability to respond.