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Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages$
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Robert Mills

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226169125

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226169262.001.0001

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The First Sodomite

The First Sodomite

(p.133) 3 The First Sodomite
Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages

Robert Mills

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the myth of Orpheus as it was mediated in medieval culture, with particular reference to Ovid’s discussion of Orpheus’s turn to “tender males” following his loss of Eurydice in the underworld. The chapter begins by interrogating the varied responses to the story in the Middle Ages. Orpheus’s pederastic turn provided some writers with opportunities to envision erotic possibilities that would otherwise remain unspeakable. One text, the verse Ovide moralisé, even interprets Orpheus’s devotion to homoerotic behavior as representing a virtuous rejection of the company of women. Visual images also confront Orpheus’s erotic inclinations cryptically, culminating in a famous drawing of the death of Orpheus by Albrecht Dürer. The chapter also considers the motif of “retro-vision” in the Orpheus legend, comparing Orpheus’s fate with that of Lot’s wife in the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom, who is also punished for the crime of looking back. The chapter concludes by considering recent attempts to rehabilitate the Orpheus myth in queer and feminist scholarship, and asks why today the legend of Orpheus the “first sodomite” appears to have fallen by the wayside.

Keywords:   Orpheus, Eurydice, Albrecht Dürer, pederasty, Ovid, Ovide moralisé, Lot’s wife, backward looking, Sodom

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