Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Venuses and Cupids: Sexuality, Hermeneutics, and English Poetry

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Venuses and Cupids: Sexuality, Hermeneutics, and English Poetry

Article excerpt

Theresa Tinkle, Medieval Venuses and Cupids Sexuality, Hermeneutics, and English Poetry (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1996; distributed in the UK by Cambridge University Press). z94 pp. ISBN 0-8047-2525-2. L35.00.

This book ranges over some leading mythographers from the fifth to the fifteenth century, rightly emphasizing the encyclopaedic complexities and confusions of mythography, its widespread use, and its relations to other aspects of medieval literary culture.

It is valuable to insist that the mythographers should be evaluated in their own right, though much more could have been done in this respect. There is a wide range of reference to the modern secondary literature. The attempt to place mythographical interpretation in the wider context of sexuality and hermeneutics is likewise valuable, but is also a source of weakness. The book lacks focus. Too many large topics are slightly touched on, while `English poetry' is represented only by fragments of Chaucer, Gower and some fifteenthcentury poets. There is no attempt to give a systematic account of the various representations of Venus and Cupid in the successive mythographers who are mentioned, or even in Chaucer. The text buzzes with fashionable keywords; ideology, inscribe, negotiate, historicize, self-fashioning, socially constructed, contested, self-reflexive, dialogic, without the associated concepts being fully harnessed. A number of words are used in unfamiliar senses: for example, 'implicate' meaning 'imply', 'ephemeral' meaning 'changeable'; while 'sensual' and 'sensuous' are used apparently interchangeably. The use of 'Catholic' for (medieval) 'Christian' suggests a profound ignorance of European culture. Perhaps the gem amongst comments which I do not fully understand is that made in connection with Alan of Lille when `as both agent and recipient of action, Venus-Venerem participates in a pseudo-reflexive masturbatory grammar' (p. 25).

A basic notion is that `Nature is a convenient ideological category, not an unchanging constant' (p 159). It seems to be implied that there is some deceitful plan masquerading under what is presented as disinterested truth. …

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