Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

This change in outlook we refer to, rather inadequately, as the Renaissance. But the rediscovery of classical civilisation and its ideas was a consequence, rather than a cause, of the change. Since respect for authority is a patrist characteristic, it would not be difficult to argue that the Renaissance is simply a name for the gradual reversion to matrist standards which was taking place, and against which the Church was desperately fighting. We should have to qualify this theory by pointing out that an increasing number of people were failing to introject parental standards of any kind, so that in addition to a mere absence of a sense of guilt there was also a readiness brutally to ignore the rights and feelings of others.

But I am inclined to think that some other, still more far reaching process was occurring at the same time: something in the nature of a sharper division between the conscious and the unconscious. The thirteenth-century man was, as we have seen, much preoccupied by the contents of his unconscious. Much of his time was spent in devising and employing techniques for dealing with the powerful destructive and erotic demands which emanated from it, while the fantasies of a Bosch, a Grunewald or a de Canistris, like the humbler gargoyles and misereres of a local craftsman, gave free expression to the unconscious in artistic form. In contrast with all this, the eighteenth-century rationalist attempted to deny the claims of the unconscious or, when forced to admit to the existence of strange impulses, attempted to devise a philosophy which would make them appear rational, as in the case of de Sade.

By denying the existence of the common elements in behaviour, and by concentrating his attention only on that part of the personality which was unique to himself, his specific attitudes and acquired knowledge, man was the more able to think of himself as an independent unit, free to act as he wished without reference to others. When the definitive history of sex attitudes comes to be written it will be necessary to attempt to assess how far the changes which took place are to be attributed to a recrudescence of matrism, and how far to some general change in the psyche of this more speculative sort. This matrist, individualist trend is generally conceived as starting in Italy about the thirteenth century, though its continuity with still earlier patterns, such as that of the troubadours, can be shown; and it developed its full flower at a time when northern Europe was still largely in the grip of medieval notions. So, although my purpose is to confine this account as far as possible to what happened in England, it seems necessary to start by paying some attention to events in Italy, where the new developments can be seen in a particularly clear-cut form.