Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inside the Medieval Mind-Sex

Professor Robin Bartlett unearths remarkable evidence of the complex
passions of men and women in the Middle Ages as his series exploring
the medieval psyche continues. Investigating the private lives of these
people, he shows how this extraordinary period shaped them.

In a time when the Church preached hatred of the flesh and promoted the
cult of virginity, Professor Bartlett quotes some of the questions the
11th-century Church recommended priests to ask their parishioners, such
as: "Have you committed fornication with your step-mother, your
sister-in-law, your son's fiancée or your mother?"

Despite the rigid doctrine of the Church at this time, it was the
medieval world that gave birth to the modern concept of romantic love.
Twelfth-century troubadours began to sing songs of love to women in
which they were suddenly goddesses to be adored. For the upper classes
at least, the rules of love were reinvented in lengthy treatises, the
heroes and heroines of love celebrated in poems: Lancelot and
Guinevere, and Tristan and Iseult.

Professor Bartlett also delves into the tragic story of real-life
lovers Abelard and Heloise – Abelard the great scholar, Heloise the
niece of a canon at the cathedral of Notre Dame. Their love letters
from the 12th century are astonishing in their frankness, passion and
willingness to break conventions.

Sex investigates the private lives of medieval men and women, looking
at the theories of sexual difference, the realities of male/female
relationships and courtly romance, and the attitudes of the Church and
wider society to marriage, sex and sexual practice, homosexuality,
virginity and the celibate vocation.

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