Sylvia Parsons and David Townsend
The pervasively male authorship and audience of medieval Latin literary culture powerfully naturalizes an ideology that allows the relativity of the tradition's gendered constructions to masquerade as given and unexceptionable. This article explores the ways that intertextual and reflexive constructions of authority and textuality both enable and circumscribe medieval Latin authors as they develop and critique models of gender. Implicit and explicit metacritical self-understandings of textuality are addressed through Benedictine texts: the dramas and narrative poems of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, the Waltharius, Reginald of Canterbury's Vita Sancti Malchi, and the lyrics of Baudri of Bourgeuil. The rhetoric of gender as deployed in medieval Latin reflects and shapes extratextual realities. At a prior level, it depends upon a system of palimpsested, specifically textual cultural markers bounded within the constraints of quintessentially Latinate expectations of diction and genre. Prior to the syntagmatic relations of text to social environment lay the paradigmatic requirements of gender as dictated by ubiquitous classical and patristic models, and as expressed not merely in the specifics of a male or female character's representation but in the very constraints of generic expectation.
This article analyzes the ways that Latin texts not only reflect but also fundamentally inflect the production of a central aspect of the interior self, namely, sexuality. Two tenacious misconceptions about sex and sexuality in medieval Latin culture are contended with: first, the claim that medieval culture, because of its pervasive devotion to Christianity, had little interest in sex and sexuality; second, the claim that Latin was the language of authority. A sketch of the treatment of sex and sexuality in medieval Latin culture is outlined by concentrating on the ideal of natura, its peculiarly double discursive structure, and its parallel articulations in two quite distinct ecclesiastical traditions: the contemplative and the penitential. Both of these traditions emerge largely, though not exclusively, out of monasticism. They constitute the most individuated of medieval clerical discourses. The Church's authoritativeness was never pure and not always evenly distributed. At surprising points, it could be relatively open or inclusive. Therefore, the role of Latinity in relation to the Church's sexual teachings was as often dispersive and inclusive as it was repressive.