In the popular imagination, the history of sex is a straightforward one. For centuries, the people of the Christian West lived in a state of sexual repression, straitjacketed by an overwhelming fear of sin, combined with a complete lack of knowledge about their own bodies. Those who fell short of the high moral standards that church, state and society demanded of them faced ostracism and punishment. Then in the mid-20th century things changed forever when, in Philip Larkin’s oft-quoted words, ‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963 … between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP.’
In reality, the history of human sexuality is far more interesting and wild. Many prevailing presumptions about the sex lives of our medieval ancestors are rooted in the erroneous belief that they lived in an unsophisticated age of religious fanaticism and medical ignorance. While Christian ideals indeed influenced medieval attitudes to sex, they were rather more complex than contemporary prejudices suggest. Christian beliefs interacted with medieval medical theories to help shape some surprising and sophisticated ideas about sex, and a wide variety of different sexual practices, long before the sexual revolution.
The case of the French cleric Arnaud de Verniolle illustrates the sophistication of medieval sexuality. One day in the early 14th century, when Arnaud was a student, he had sex with a prostitute. Several years later, he confessed this lapse to the Inquisition, explaining that:
At the time they were burning the lepers, I was living in Toulouse; one day I did it with a prostitute. And after I had perpetrated this sin my face began to swell. I was terrified and thought I had caught leprosy; I thereupon swore that in future I would never sleep with a woman again.
Arnaud’s tale is not unusual. Many medieval men found themselves with undesirable symptoms after a brothel visit, and attributed their plight to their sexual behaviour. Among the various medical miracles attributed to St Thomas Becket, for example, was the cure of Odo de Beaumont, who became leprous immediately after a late-12th-century visit to a prostitute. Much has been made of the medieval tendency to interpret disease as a product of sexual sin. Too much. In fact, the medieval tendency to see disease as sexual sin was not solely based on moral judgments – there were also strong medical elements.
The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley is a short compilation derived
from a larger collection of folklore recorded in three primary schools in Limerick City as part of the Cuisle Poetry Festival and Young EV+A in 2004 and 2005.
This work was recorded and produced by artists Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert, and this particular edit was compiled for the show Every Version Belongs to the Myth which was shown at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in late 2009.
More info on www.folklore.ie
The complete ninety-minute collection was launched at a screening event in the handball alley which features prominently in the childrens stories, located at Kings Island, Limerick on March 12th 2005.
So, what can I tell you ?
I’m sitting here on this Welsh mountainside in the small hours, pondering my existence. I’m certainly closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, that’s for sure.
My bare feet are on this gadget that I was given, called a Revitive.
It’s quite pleasant to use. I have it on a low setting, where it sends quite gentle electrical impulses up my legs from the soles of my feet. The tingles increase in strength as the time period progresses. It’s a sort of mechanical version of a massage, that I hope might help my right leg to recover from it’s semi useless condition.
Although my mental abilities have recovered a lot since the stroke, my right leg has not, in fact it is worse. So I’m hoping this treatment might do it some good.
Any of you dear readers who have been following me for a long time will have noticed that I have moved my political stance towards the Right. I wish I could explain this in an eloquent and well-argued fashion. I sort of know the reasons and the thinking that’s caused it, but I am not yet able to articulate my arguments in a lucid fashion, mostly because I’m preoccupied with basic survival through this winter and trying to heal myself and struggling to stay alive.
A year or two back, I was quite sympathetic toward Left Wing voices (Yves Smith, Ian Welsh, Vinay Gupta, et al) but I’ve now lost all patience with that side of the spectrum. It’s quite strange, and I am often having internal discussions to clarify my ideas and beliefs.
I still maintain that human industrial civilisation is destroying the Biosphere, and that will lead to the collapse of the Biosphere. So, we are in an Extinction Event, and that most probably includes our own species. That’s on the authority of zoologists, ecologists, wildlife folks, etc, whom I trust and have confidence in.
The logic that leads to this kind of conclusion, is that the Biosphere which we inhabit and which sustains us, has evolved over many millennia, and we cannot exist without it. It cannot withstand the impact of our activities and our increased numbers. We can measure our impact and the trajectory towards our demise by the extinction of other species that we are causing.
A lot COULD be done to change or avoid that fate, but the teeming millions, in their artificial urban environments, and the uneducated masses in rural areas, are not even capable of grasping the problem, let alone agreeing to any effective solutions.
We are human animals, and primarily obsessed with very crude basic human concerns, reproducing, rivalry, control of territory, accumulation of wealth and power, shiny objects, things that go ‘bang’, etc.
En masse, we are condemned, just like ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, to expand and exploit and build power, and then to decline and collapse into obscurity and oblivion, as is easy to see if you inspect the remains of the many empires and civilisations which have preceded what we have today.
My first, most heartfelt, priority is to preserve as much of the natural world as possible for as long as possible, so I’m quite close to E.O. Wilson, David Attenborough, and those kind of guys, in that regard. That’s primarily an ethical matter, for me, because I believe we have no right to destroy and annihilate other species, but it’s also a practical issue, because it’s the other species, in the sense of the Ecosphere, that maintain this planet as a habitable entity for us.
My second priority, given that we are doing such a bad job with the first, is to minimise the human suffering that is happening now, and which will inevitably increase. I envisage the future, or one version of the future, as being rather like Margaret Atwood’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, which is a dystopian nightmare, really.
So, my line of thinking rejects the arguments of the anarchists, (which I used to support), because I want orderly and responsible human conduct, not chaos and mayhem. This is in line with the Anacyclosis notion, dating back to the ancient Greeks. If you desire an absence of order, there’s plenty of hellish places already on this planet where you can go and see how that works out. I’ve paid close attention to anarchist thought, e.g. David Graeber, Kevin Carson, et al. and conclude it’s a disaster zone.
Some degree of human suffering is inevitable and unavoidable, it appears to be built in to the nature of material existence, and I agree with the Buddhist analysis (and Jordan Peterson’s analysis) on that, and believe that we should do whatever we can to minimise the inevitable tragedy and horror, rather than making it worse. I’d include the suffering of other species in that formulation.
I think that the ancestors, your and mine, in…. well, let me speak of what I know, the British Isles, Wales, Western Europe – did a pretty good job, as a ‘trial and error’ project, of slowly coming up with the better solutions rather than the worse. History is instructive. So much bloody war and almost unimaginable ghastliness preceded the rather special and tranquil prosperous period where I’ve been fortunate enough to exist. So far…
To these young revolutionaries, every frustration in their lives was someone else’s fault. If they weren’t getting the grades they felt they deserved, some bourgeois professor was to blame. If they didn’t have job prospects that matched their high regard for their own intellects, it must be the capitalist system holding them back. Their tendency was to scapegoat “class enemies,” not only for societal ills but for their own personal problems as well.
By shifting the blame to others, they relieved themselves of responsibility over their own problems. They wasted their time and energy complaining, wallowing in self-pity, and seeking redress, instead of taking ownership of their lives and fixing up their affairs. As a result, their frustrations only compounded.
This attitude also robbed them of one of the great pleasures in life: experiencing empathetic joy in the happiness of others. According to their zero-sum Marxist mindset, the prosperity of others came at the expense of their own prospects. So they resented anyone more successful than themselves. And they became so preoccupied with dragging other people down that they had little energy left over for lifting themselves up.
If my student comrades ever did manage to impose socialism on the country, it would cause deep and widespread misery. And yet plenty of misery in their own lives was already being generated by the mere idea of socialism residing only in their minds.