Book Series International Medieval Research, vol. 24

Pleasure in the Middle Ages

Naama Cohen Hanegbi, Piroska Nagy (eds)

  • Pages: xxiii + 386 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:10 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2018

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57520-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57521-6
  • E-book
  • Available

Explores the manifold manifestations of pleasure in medieval culture and the various rationales to its appearance and use.


“Es ist ein nicht zu unterschätzendes Verdienst des Bandes, dass er zur Förderung dieses Bewusstseins beiträgt. Das weitere von den Herausgeberinnen gesetzte Ziel wird ebenfalls nicht verfehlt: Es wäre zu kurz geschlossen, die Alterität der mittelalterlichen Kultur an fehlender Diversität oder einem Mangel an Komplexität im Denken über das Verhältnis von Leib und Lust festzumachen.” (Ingrid Kasten, in Francia-Recensio, 3, 2018)

Pleasure in the Middle Ages nonetheless offers a variegated study of the emotion, which is conscious of but not strictly confined to emotions history. The historical specificity of pleasure is acknowledged but also transcended, as the continuity of discourses and experience is exposed.” (Lucie Kaempfer, in Emotions: History, Culture, Society, 2, 2018, p. 341)

“This interesting, broadening, and often pleasurable collection of varied and solid work on implied and overt ideas of pleasure and its implications crosses and recrosses a long and wide span (…) The volume’s editing and production are of high quality.” (Andrew Galloway, in Speculum, 95/1, 2020, p. 219-220)

“The editors position the volume to generate new interest and questions about the various types and understandings of pleasure in diverse medieval communities, a task which the wide-ranging volume most successfully—and pleasurably—accomplishes.”( Clare Davidson, in Parergon, 37/1, 2020, p. 235-236)


This volume explores the diverse manifestations and uses of pleasure in medieval culture. Pleasure is a sensation, an affirmation, a practice, and is at the core of the medieval worldview, no less than pain.

Applying a variety of methodological perspectives, the essays collected here analyse the role of pleasure in relation to a variety of subjects such as the human body, love, relationships, education, food, friendship, morality, devotion, and mysticism. They also integrate a wide range of sources including literature (monastic to courtly), medical texts, illuminated prayer books, iconography, and theatrical plays.

Each document, each discipline, and thus each essay combine to provide a complex and diversified picture of medieval joys and delights — a picture that shows the extent to which pleasure is engrained in the period’s culture. This collection shows how pleasure in the Middle Ages is at once a coveted feeling and a constant moral concern, both the object and the outcome of a constant negotiation between earthly and divine imperatives.

"(...) the volume provides a diverse collection of approaches with a couple of exemplary contributions." (Claire Taylor Jones, in The Medieval Review, 18.12.04)




Pleasure in the Middle Ages: An Introduction — NAAMA COHEN-HANEGBI and PIROSKA NAGY

Pleasured Bodies

Reflections on High Medieval Monastic Pleasures — ESTHER COHEN

‘It Is Full Merry in Heaven’: The Pleasurable Connotations of ‘Merriment’ in Late Medieval England — PHILIPPA C. MADDERN

The Pleasures and Joys of the Humoral Body in Medieval Medicine — FERNANDO SALMON

Bodily Pleasures: Late Medieval Medical Counsel in Context — NAAMA COHEN-HANEGBI

Visual Pleasure and the Illuminated Prayer Book — MAEVE DOYLE

Abbasid Concubines and Slave Courtesans in adab Discourse: Cultural Mediators for an Ethical Appreciation of Pleasure — KAREN MOUKHEIBER

Courts and Pleasures: The Neuroscience of Pleasure and the Pursuit of Favour in Twelfth-Century Courts — WILLIAM M. REDDY

Didactic Pleasures

Taking Pleasure in Virtues and Vices: Alcuin’s Manual for Count Wido BARBARA H. ROSENWEIN

Sin, the Business of Pleasure, and the Pleasure of Reading: Exemplary Narratives and Other Forms of Sinful Pleasure in William Peraldus’s Summa de vitiis RICHARD NEWHAUSER

The Role of Pleasure in the Acquisition of Good Virtue: Giles of Rome’s Idea of Education in his De regimine principum (c. 1279) — NOËLLE-LAETITIA PERRET

Pleasure as an Affective Tool in Pastoral Care: The Cases of Simone Fidati and Richard Rolle in Fourteenth-Century England and Italy XAVIER BIRON-OUELLET

Hell: The Pleasure of the Suffering of Others. From Visions of the Afterlife to Religious Theatre — ELYSE DUPRAS

Pleasure in God

Holy Gluttons: Bede and the Carolingians on the Pleasures of Reading — ZACHARY GUILIANO

On Leeks and Onions – Pope Gregory VII and the Rejection of Pleasure — KEN A. GRANT

Intoxication and the Song of Songs: Bernard of Clairvaux and the Rediscovery of Origen in the Twelfth Century CONSTANT J. MEWS

Pleasure in Medieval Christian Mystical Literature: The Analysis of John of Ruusbroec (1283-1381) and Hadewijch (thirteenth century) — ROBERT FAESEN