Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages
This book explores the relation between sodomy and motifs of vision and visibility in medieval culture through the categories of "gender” and "sexuality” as we understand them today. Although substantial energy has already been devoted to examining the textual evidence of sodomy in the Middle Ages, Robert Mills's aim here is to add a further visual dimension to these discussions in what amounts to the first large-scale comparative analysis of sodomitical themes in medieval literary and visual art, built around an impressive range of texts and artworks from high and late medieval England, France, and Italy. As Mills shows, sodomy does enter the field of vision in certain contexts, despite being associated with a rhetoric of "unmentionability.” He shows why sodomy appears when it does and in which media and genres (e.g., commentaries on the Bible and Ovid’s "Metamorphoses,” in manuscript illuminations and sculpture); how it shifts categories as a means of becoming visible (e.g., appearing in narratives involving age difference or gender transformation); and how, as readers/viewers, the process of "translating” the medieval category of sodomy into the languages of the present is at once a necessity and an impossibility. In a single stroke, Mills revises the way we think about well known medieval literary and visual materials in the light of twenty-first century thinking and the interaction between the visual and the textual, bringing both literary and art historical discourse on the subject to a new level of maturity.
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