Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The point is further illuminated by a personal story which Andrew tells in the course of a long section devoted— oddly, as it might seem at first— to the suitability of nuns as love objects. Since it is the only personal anecdote introduced into the Treatise, presumably Andrew felt it to be peculiarly significant, and it is worth quoting in full. Andrew addresses his work to a certain Walter, probably fictitious, and he starts by condemning any idea of loving nuns:-

For one time when we had a chance to speak to a certain nun we spoke so well on the matter, not being ignorant of the art of soliciting nuns, that we forced her to assent to our desire . . . we straightway began to be violently attracted by her beauty and captured by her pleasant conversation. But in the meantime we realized the madness that was carrying us away and with a great effort raised ourselves up from the deadly sleep…. Be careful, therefore, Walter, about seeking lonely places with nuns or looking for opportunities to talk with them, for if one of them should think the place was suitable for a wanton dalliance, she would have no hesitation in granting what you desire and preparing for you burning solaces, and you could hardly escape that worst of crimes, engaging in the work of Venus.

The surprising phrase is the last: Andrew does not say that seducing nuns is the worst of crimes, but that “engaging in the work of Venus” is— that is, to consummate one’s desires is wrong in itself. Presumably it is especially wrong when the person loved is one who ought to be chaste because she is dedicated to another— as is one’s mother.

This opinion of Andrew’s is evidently not based on the general objection to sex which one might expect from a member of the cloth, for he immediately adds that no such misgivings need assail one when the object of one’s desires is a member of the lower classes, who could not possibly be one’s mother:-

And if you should, by some chance, fall in love with some of their women be careful to puff them up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you seek and to embrace them by force. For you can hardly soften their outward inflexibility so far that they will grant you their embraces quietly. . . unless first you use a little compulsion.

This is striking, since it is a commonplace of psychiatry that the man who his fixated on his mother tends to be impotent with women he loves and idealises, but has no difficulties with persons of a lower class who cannot be regarded as superior in position. As Freud points out, such men tend to direct their love to someone who already belongs to another, and who therefore can never be possessed. In another place he observes: “Where such men love, they have no desire, and where they desire, they cannot love.”(94) It would therefore be a good psychiatric guess that the troubadours were, or would have been, troubled with impotence when finally faced with their mistresses, and this chimes with a remark of Rilke’s to the effect that the troubadours feared nothing so much as the success of their wooing.

If the troubadours were matrists, we should also expect to find that a number of them became passive homosexuals, as a result of actual identification with the woman. The subject seems never to have been adequately explored, but there are a number of significant references. Thus the troubadour, Rambaut of Orange, says that if you wish to win women, you should “punch them on the nose” and force them, as this is what they like. “I behave differently”, he adds, “because I do not care about loving. I do not want to be put to trouble for the sake of women, any more than if they were all my sisters; and so with a woman I am humble, obliging, frank and gentle, fond, respectful and faithful….”(60) Even more conclusive perhaps is the fact that in Dante’s Purgatorio, two troubadours are found in the sodomites’ circle of Hell. We also find an interest in the maintenance of romantic, though not necessarily scandalous, friendships between men. Thus Roland seems more interested in Oliver than in his betrothed, and Guiraut de Borneil prays to be reunited with his “copain”.