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(p.243) 5 Orientations
Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages
Robert Mills
University of Chicago Press

In the wake of Michel Foucault’s arguments concerning the emergence of “homosexuality,” it has become customary to declare the expression “sexual orientation” more or less irrelevant to any period before modernity. Taking off from Sara Ahmed’s recent effort to filter the issue of sexual orientation through the lens of phenomenology, this chapter considers the extent to which the concept of sodomy in the Middle Ages might justifiably be viewed in these terms. The chapter also returns to issues raised elsewhere in the book concerning the relevance of the sodomy paradigm to depictions of female homoeroticism. Two case studies are considered. First, the chapter focuses on female recluses such as Christina of Markyate, whose religious identities are represented as traveling along a “straight” path to God. In certain texts designed for anchorites, however, the language of sodomy is intermittently evoked as the obverse to this chaste and otherworldly orientation. Second, the chapter turns to visual depictions of male sodomites in hell, who in some paintings are even shown being punished by acts of anal penetration. These images arguably convey the sin identities of sodomites in ways that orient them sexually as well as spiritually.

Keywords:   Michel Foucault, Sara Ahmed, sexual orientation, phenomenology, Christina of Markyate, chastity, anchorites, anus, hell

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