This study examines the role of pleasure in the construction of the poetics of the erotic and the relationship established between the literary and medical discourse on pleasure, in medieval and early modern Iberia. To this end, I analyze a selection of emblematic medical treatises, such as Lilium Medicinae, Libro del cuidado de la salud, Sevillana medicina, Speculum al foderi and Un Kāma Sūtra español. In contrast to the predominant medieval concept that pleasure is directly associated with conception, the medical texts present the physiological, pathological, and therapeutic nature of sexual intercourse, independently of the ethical, theological, and moral implications of human sexuality. Given this premise and analyzing various literary examples, such as Libro de Buen Amor, Celestina, and the Cancionero, this paper argues that the Iberian medical erotic thought situates itself within the long-standing Arabic tradition that is also adopted by the literary thought. Not compatible with the Christian views of the time, Oriental eroticism produced an alternative erotic discourse that will challenge the established paradigm regarding sex and it will enable foreplay, desire, mutual pleasure, and simultaneous enjoyment to become a quintessential element in the sexual experience. Thus, follow the doctor’s advice: ‘Know that both men and women experience sexual desire and take pleasure in coitus’ (Speculum 8.2), and listen to poet’s words: choose a partner who masters the skills of love-making and knows how to take pleasure in it.
Boccaccio’s Decameron is awash with tales of sexual deviance and gratification: from the Proemio to the Conclusione, the idea of fulfilling corporal desires is continuously evoked. Yet Boccaccio does not simply present sex as a sacred part of marriage. Through the telling of stories about extra-marital affairs, suppressed desire, coerced sex, and rape, Boccaccio’s ten narrators portray sex as a basic human urge. This paper seeks to establish the different ways in which sex is presented as a means of gratification within the text, and how traditional gender roles are manipulated by the author to de-sanctify the medieval attitudes towards intercourse.
In his Genealogia deorum gentilium Boccaccio integrates the concept of pleasure into different contexts. Mythologically he personifies Pleasure; citing Apuleius, he positions her as the daughter of (First) Venus by Cupid. (5.22.17) Despite the incest, Boccaccio describes Pleasure as ‘eternal happiness’ (letititam sempiternam). He confirms this when, citing Cicero, he describes Cupid as son of Mars. (9.5.1-2) Astrologically, citing Andalò, Boccaccio ascribes pleasures among the positive attributes of the planet Venus (3.22.7), and philosophically he contrasts the Stoic detestation and Epicurean approval of pleasure. (3.22.18) Allegorically, however, he interprets Second Venus as ‘life of pleasure’, encompassing both voluptas and libido (3.23.3).