Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Love, Marriage, and Family in the Middle Ages:A Reader/Love, Sex and Marriage in the Middle Ages:A Sourcebook

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Love, Marriage, and Family in the Middle Ages:A Reader/Love, Sex and Marriage in the Middle Ages:A Sourcebook

Article excerpt


Love, Marriage, and Family in the Middle Ages:A Reader. Edited by Jacqueline Murray. [Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, 7.] (Peterborough, Canada: Broadview. 2001. Pp. xiv, 524. $29.95 paperback.)

Love, Sex and Marriage in the Middle Ages:A Sourcebook. Edited by Conor McCarthy. (New York: Routledge. 2004. Pp. xii, 292. $24.95 paperback.)

Two sourcebooks with very similar titles have appeared in the last few years. The first is part of a Broadview Press series of thematic medieval sourcebooks. The second is part of Routledge's growing number of history sourcebooks. Both Murray's and McCarthy's additions to these lists would be useful in medieval history courses on the related subjects, or in more general courses on the history of sexuality. Nonetheless, the two books approach their subjects in curiously different ways.

Murray's book is organized thematically. She begins with a chapter on "Foundations and Influences," providing examples of the biblical, Roman, and Germanic antecedents to the Middle Ages. Her next chapter, "Love and Its Dangers," notes the various medieval debates about the emotion. The third chapter, "Marriage and the Church," reviews theological writings and ecclesiastical regulations, followed by a fourth, "Marriage Ceremonies, Rituals, and Customs," that includes liturgies and legends specifically on weddings. Her fifth and sixth chapters, "Husbands and Wives" and "Marriage and Family," relate the vicissitudes of that relationship, as ideals and realities, respectively. The seventh, "Childbirth," compares religious and medical writings on that subject, and the eighth, "Parents and Children," continues with ideals and realities of the lives of children. The ninth and last chapter, "Beyond Christendom," samples Jewish and Muslim writings from medieval Europe, as an explicit contrast with what has come before. Within each chapter, sources are organized chronologically.

McCarthy's book is also organized both thematically (as parts) and chronologically (as chapters). He begins with "Ecclesiastical Sources," including chapters on "The Church Fathers," "Anglo-Saxon England," "Theology and Canon Law," and "Canon Law and Actual Practice." His part two, "Legal Sources," contains chapters on Anglo-Saxon and Norman law. The title of part three, "Letters, Chronicles, Biography, Conduct Books," indicates its various chapters, although "Saints' Lives and Female Religious Writings" takes the place of biography. Part four, "Literary Sources," divides its chapters according to Old English, Latin, Old French, and Middle English literatures. Part five, finally, "Medical Sources," consists of two chapters, one on women's health and the other on love.

Two things should be immediately apparent. First is that Murray has organized her book according to topics, while McCarthy has used genres to structure his book. The advantages and disadvantages of both approaches are clear. Murray's groupings allow her to bring together and contrast ecclesiastical and medical authorities on childbirth, for example, noting their different concerns. McCarthy's organization, in contrast, allows him to show the changing interests and emphases of patristic, early medieval, and canonists' writings on sex and marriage.

The second major difference between the two is their geographical range. Murray's book includes sources from Iceland to Egypt, while McCarthy's restricts his to writings from England or that circulated there, although he admits that he adds some outside examples "to illustrate an aspect of medieval life for which I know of no English source" (p. 23), such as the record of a hermaphrodite from Colmar and glosses on the Viaticum of Constantine the African on lovesickness. The advantages of Murray's decision over that of McCarthy's will be clear to readers from outside of England. She writes: "During the Middle Ages, western Europe was a remarkably homogeneous culture. …

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