Feminism and Neoplatonism in Mid-Sixteenth-Century France
This chapter considers how feminism and male-male love can operate in tension. Same-sex male sexuality was sometimes perceived as misogynistic in pro-woman arguments in the early-modern debate over the nature and status of women. As a key case study in this cultural tension, the center of this chapter is a reading of Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron, a feminist collection of tales heavily inflected with Neoplatonism. To prepare for a reading of this text, the mid-century French context of the reception of Plato is discussed. A close-reading of the Heptameron reveals that intimacy between men has to be fractured in order to create a version of heterosexuality that can subsequently lead to pro-woman ends. In a number of cases, male-male intimacy is transformed into what might be termed heterosexuality. The text, however, sends a specific message about the nature of male-male love, as the narrative corresponds to techniques of rewriting Plato seen in contemporaneous French translations of Plato, especially the Symposium version by Louis Le Roy. Male-male love, then, is evoked but then visibly written out in Marguerite de Navarre in ways that the French translations use to transform the eroticism in Plato’s text.
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