Sodomy appears as a topos in the very first mid-twelfth-century vernacular romances after surfacing in the previous century as a catch-all category for all that is evil and unclassifiable. Infamously difficult to define, then or now, sodomy is seen as what disrupts established law, systems of classification, religious, ethnic, and gender boundaries. Prior to this medieval flowering, there is little mention of sodomy as such in post-classical texts, and when it is evoked, the author often cautions that it should not be mentioned at all, lest it lead to dangerous ideas. The purpose of this book is therefore to examine what happens in these medieval texts – literary, historical/chronicle, or theological – when sodomy is either discussed or alluded to openly. What occurs when one speaks about what cannot be spoken of; when something vague, phantasmatic and troubling is made visible – identified, named, segregated from the body that performs and the specificities of culture? The answer is neither simple nor univocal, as sodomy becomes in the twelfth century a thematic, syntactical, rhetorical, mythical, and ethical feature of a number of diverse texts.
This book is divided into two main sections. The first deals with how sodomy was recognized, located, diagnosed, theorized, and imagined in texts from the mid-eleventh to the early thirteenth century. In brief, I will be arguing that this new category was, from the beginning, an effect of Law in the broadest sense, and that over the course of two centuries it begins to inflect that very notion.