This book examines the history of sex and gender from a linguistic, artistic, and philosophical perspective, providing a new paradigm with which to analyze this controversial subject. Glenn Olsen's wide-ranging scholarship and his attention to primary sources and contemporary interpretations are enhanced by the inclusion of numerous illustrations of Romanesque sculpture.
Part one takes the reader on a journey from the ancient world through the early middle ages, examining literature, art, and sculpture in order to capture the "sexual imagination" of the period. Olsen emphasizes that all centuries had a varied language of sex, focusing on the means by which "sex" was put into words, especially in penitentials and canon law. He shows there was no single understanding of gender and power relationships, arguing that the story of gender should encompass more than the history of power.
Part two turns to Peter Damian, especially his Epistle 31, the so-called Book of Gomorrah. Olsen explores the themes of nature, sin, demonic incitement, lust, free will, and effeminacy, as well as the question whether Damian represented the onset of the "persecuting society".
Glenn W. Olsen is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Utah. He has taught at Seattle University, Fordham University, and has been visiting professor at St. John's University, the University of Notre Dame, Vilnius University, and Franciscan University in Austria. He is the editor of Christian Marriage: A Historical Study (2001), the author of Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on the History of the Church (2004) and, most recently, The Turn to Transcendence: The Role of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (2010), as well as numerous articles in medieval intellectual history. He has also published in patristics, the history of law, the history of sexuality, church history, and on many modern topics in philosophy, theology, political thought, and cultural criticism.
“Glenn Olsen has produced a magisterial work, grounded in a breathtaking depth and breadth of scholarship. Delving into the complex issues surrounding the understanding of same-sex desire and sexual relations in the middle ages, he challenges the significant modern contributions to the field and proposes new approaches to conventional and unconventional sources. Centering on Peter Damian’s critical interventions into the evolving evaluation of sex acts between men, Olsen broadens his analysis to include a multiplicity of sources, ranging from pastoralia to sculpture. This is a book that will re-ignite debate about sex in the middle ages. Both medievalists broadly and scholars of sexuality specifically will be challenged by Olsen’s invigorating and polemical interpretations. It is an important and controversial contribution to the discussion.”
-Jacqueline Murray, University of Guelph