In my paper I will investigate how medieval commentaries dealt with pleasure. I will focus on commentaries on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These commentaries all include prologues, so called accessus, and these often discuss the author’s intention, which is usually stated to be ‘to delight’ and to ‘further good conduct’. I will investigate what the commentators found delightful in ancient text and how they expressed this. I will analyse commentaries, many of them unedited, from different milieus and times, e.g. Bavarian Benedictine commentaries from the 12th century and French academic commentaries of the 13th century.
In the Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Merlin’s magic helps King Uterpandragon to fulfil his love for the duchess of Tintagel, by giving him the duke’s appearance. Ygerne is deceived, but this union eventually leads to the conception of Arthur. This paper will examine the variations in the French rewritings of this episode: Wace’s Brut (13th century), the Anglo-Norman prose Brut 14th century.) and the Chroniques des Bretons (15th c.). It will focus on the construction and elaboration of the characters of Uterpandragon and Ygerne, showing how these texts acknowledge and deal with the ethical problem raised by this morally ambiguous passage.
I will argue that the (illicit) medieval interest in bestiality was expressed by way of a legitimate, high-status activity: the aristocratic hunt. During the hunt, the animal body is pursued, transfixed, and undone by a group of men – a courtly gang-bang of sorts. Some cynegetical terms were double-entendres, so that merely talking about the sport with fellow huntsmen must have been a titillating experience. Critics have tended to interpret the hunt scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as symbolic representations of Lady Bertilak’s pursuit of Gawain. Yet few have noticed that the hunts themselves are highly sexualized. The bedroom scenes are erotic, the hunting scenes pornographic; the indoor scenes build sexual tension while the outdoor scenes release it. Ultimately, Bertilak (and the audience) can enjoy doing to the animals what Gawain is incapable of doing with his wife.