"Marriage and Sexuality in Medieval Europe"
[If you have a graphic browser, you will
          see Giselbert of Autun's Eve here!]

HIST 368 / FGSS 368 / RELST 368

FALL 2012
MWF 11:15 - 12:05
RF 105

Professor: Paul HYAMS, MG 307                                                                                                
Office Hours: Mon 2-3 pm; Thurs 3-4 pm                                                                              
Phone: 5-2076, 257-3168                                                                                                                 
Net-ID: prh3                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Web Page:  http://falcon.arts.cornell.edu/prh3/disclaimer.html

We are all interested in gender relations and sex in our own way. Each strikes at the sensitive core of our being. Few topics generate heat and controversy so readily today. Decisions made in the first centuries of the Christian era still haunt us. They still affect all of us, whether we acknowledge the faith that produced them or not -- atheists, non-believers and even many non-westerners included. 

The history of western attempts to deal with the problem of marriage and sexuality thus has a special claim to our attention. A glum tale of the continuing influence of the dominant white male it may seem. Marriage is society's framework for the control - some would say repression -- of sexuality and reproduction, activities with a supreme power to explode into violence and confusion. For the historian intent on a comprehensive view of a culture, it offers quite as good a starting-point as politics, one with its own still fresh perspective. This is not a "professional" exposition of the History of Sexuality, which has become a specialization of its own, but an exposition of what is known, what is knowable, and how these findings affect our overall understanding of the Medieval West. 

This will be very much a reading-and-discussion course. Lectures will review the readings in historical perspective and supplement them. Friday discussions (in small groups) will usually take off from samples of original source material, in English translation, intended to spur critical examination of the readings. Students will certainly bring to the course a wide variety of preoccupations and theoretical starting-points. They are encouraged to voice their own thoughts and feelings about the issues uncovered.

The period to be studied ranges from the first Christian centuries up to the eve of the Reformation. We begin by clarifying in outline the process by which the theologians and canon lawyers produced an ideal and a workable definition of a binding Christian marriage. We then seek to explain the character of the synthesis that emerged. Armed with this legal and theological context, we can then proceed to some more secular topics, such as homosexuality, rape/abduction, prostitution, bawd and literary attitudes towards sexuality. Previous classes have found the material not just fascinating but on occasion hugely enjoyable. The hope is to end the semester with some idea of how the reality compared with the Church's "ideal" and, in some sense, to assess the product that came forward to the Reformation, and to us who still suffer (?) under its legacy today. 


The Letters of Abelard & Heloise, tr. B. Radice
J. Murray, Love, Marriage, and Family in the Middle Ages: A Reader [Sourcebook]
Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, tr. J.J. Parry
J. Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality
J. Brundage, Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe.
V. Bullough & J. Brundage (eds.), Handbook of Medieval Sexuality
D. Elliott, Spiritual Marriage
E. Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent


D. D'Avray, Medieval Marriage
G. Duby, The Knight, the Lady & the Priest
J. Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe
M. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in ChristianTheology
C. Mews, The Lost Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise

All the above are available from the Campus Bookstore, and copies are in Uris Reserve, which will also have other books most likely to be useful for the final paper but, where appropriate, marked [U] on the Weekly Schedule. Various other readings (marked [R] on the Weekly Schedule below) will be made available as .pdf files for you to print out. 

Still other source translations are available for reading and/or printing out through my Web pages (Home Page address as above, but can also be traced through the "History Courses" page). I shall be glad to assist any student who does not know much more than I do(!) about the Web.This version of the prospectus is the authoritative one. I shall update it as necessary, and will be very grateful to hear of dud links and other errors, please.


1. Prelim Exam on the Legal Development of Christian Marriage. This will be a take-home, consisting of short questions answerable from the readings of Weeks I - V. [15 % of Final Grade]

2. Dossier of relevant Biblical Texts. You will come across frequent Bible citations in the readings. Make yourself a list of those you find interesting in a file. You may use any Bible version that is available to you, online versions included.

But the Bible most used in the period was some kind of Latin "Vulgate". Make me  explain.  The English-language Douai Bible [Olin BS180. 1888], that follows this closely, is in the Medieval Studies Reading Room, Olin 404, & conveniently online at <http://www.drbo.org/>  with the Latin at <http://www.biblegateway.org/languages/index.php?language=latin&version=VULGATE>.
A copy of this preliminary list of citations will be due in Week VIII. From it, you will select about 6 texts for brief (max. of 1 page each) comment (eg on the different medieval readings and responses). This dossier is to be submitted by the start of Week XIV (Nov 26).     [15 % of Final Grade]

3. Chaucer as a source for attitudes on Marriage and Sexuality. Each student will be assigned on a random basis one of a list of selected Canterbury Tales, and should be prepared, if called on, to make a brief presentation on his/her assigned Tale in Week XIII. It is your own responsibility to acquire well in advance a text (e.g. a xerox) of this.     [5% of Final Grade]

4. Term-Paper. This will be an upper-level research paper, say, 20+ pp. long. See me in Office Hours to agree a title and discuss materials before Friday Nov 9. Bullough & Brundage is particluarly good for bibliography, also that of the Medieval Women & Gender Index.  The paper must be in by 5 p.m. Monday, Dec 5, at the start of Study Week. Anyone uncertain about the requirements for a good "History" paper could take a look at my online suggestions.     [55 % of Final Grade]

5. Readings & Class Participations [10% of Final Grade]. It is especially important to make an early start on the reading, whose weight varies from week to week. This is an intensive-reading class. I reserve the right to produce (on a Wednesday) spot quizzes on the week's reading; to consist of 3 questions easily answered by those who have done the reading. That way everyone will be able to join in class discussion. I demand no vast originality, and give credit simply for launching good questions at the instructor. Everyone benefits from a student prepared simply to voice, for example, his/her difficulties with the readings.
    The Friday discussion sessions
are a full part of the class, arguably its main point, and attendance is essential. (Obviously class attendance, including any make-ups is also mandatory.) We shall focus on primary source documents, mostly selected from the Murray reader and assigned at the Monday class.
    Please make yourself known personally in Office Hours to me early in the semester; these Office Hours are an integral part of the course, which you should treat as a resource and use to review progress or discuss points of interest.

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