The Language of Sex
Five Voices from Northern France around 1200
John Baldwin introduces five representative voices from the turn of the twelfth century in northern France: Pierre the Chanter speaks for the theological doctrine of Augustine; the Prose Salernitan Questions, for the medical theories of Galen; Andre the Chaplain, for the Ovidian literature of the schools; Jean Renart, for the contemporary romances; and Jean Bodel, for the emerging voices of the fabliaux. Baldwin juxtaposes their views on a range of essential subjects, including social position, the sexual body, desire and act, and procreation. The result is a fascinating dialogue of how they agreed or disagreed with, ignored, imitated, or responded to each other at a critical moment in the development of European ideas about sexual desire, fulfillment, morality, and gender.
These spokesmen allow us into the discussion of sexuality inside the church and schools of the clergy, in high and popular culture of the leity. This heterogeneous discussion also offers a startling glimpse into the construction of gender specific to this moment, when men and women enjoyed equal status in sexual matters, if nowhere else.
Taken together, these voices extend their reach, encompass their subject, and point to a center where social reality lies. By articulating reality at its varied depths, this study takes its place alongside groundbreaking works by James Brundage, John Boswell, and Leah Otis in extending our understanding of sexuality and sexual behavior in the Middle Ages.
"Superb work. . . . These five kinds of discourse are not often treated together in scholarly writing, let alone compared and contrasted so well."—Edward Collins Vacek, Theological Studies
"[Baldwin] has made the five voices speak to us in a language that is at one and the same time familiar and alien in its resonance and accents. This is a truly exceptional book, interdisciplinary in the real sense of the word, which is surely destined to become a landmark in medieval studies."—Keith Busby, Bryn Mawr Reviews
"[Baldwin's] attempt to 'listen' to these distant voices and translate their language of sex into our own raises challenging methodological questions that will be of great interest to historians and literary scholars alike."—John P. Dalton, Comitatus