chapter
Medieval Latin Poetry
Pages 8

Through the bulk of the European Middle Ages (which is summarily defined here as the seventh through the fourteenth centuries), most literary activity, and virtually all literary activity in Latin, took place in conjunction with one church institution or another, from monastic scriptorium to cathedral school, from papal chancery to bishop’s court. While this might not seem to promise much scope for poetry with gay and/or lesbian interest (antisodomitical verse apart), the traditional and requisite instruction in “classical” Latin language, particularly Latin poetry, familiarized medieval clerics-“cleric” (whence English “clerk”) says more about learning than piety-with themes such as Jupiter’s abduction of Ganymede, just as the cultural prestige of reproducing classicizing verse provided opportunities for developing such topics. Sodomy was condemned, but quite often, and perhaps surprisingly, poets could risk appearing to voice more positive personal sentiments, for the excuse could always be given that one was merely indulging in a literary game. However, medieval Latin poetry served as a ludic space in a deeper sense-a space where men (and occasionally women) could assume other roles. The language and often forms and themes of this other culture could liberate them from the strictures of their own day. By “making believe,” they could begin to remake their own world. In other words, Latin poetry was a site of resistance and, potentially, renegotiation.