25 February 2008

The Love Cycle:
Change of Heart in the Early Middle Ages

By Vicki Gaia

During the early part of the Middle Ages, Christian life meant struggling between celibacy versus marriage, passionate libido verses affectionate continence. The human body was a battle ground in the war between good and evil. There were grooming rituals, laws against tonsuring hair of a free girl or boy, and every offense against the body. Men and women could be naked together in one place only: the bed. Starting in the Carolingian era, nudity took on a sexual connotation linking it to paganism. Pagan adoration of the naked body elicited hatred and fear of the body in the Christian populace.

Salic Law--law made between 507 and 511--made it clear that an individual had no right to protection if he was not part of a family. Therefore the survival of the family became paramount, and a woman was needed to ensure the continuation of the family line. The man headed the bloodline and was the guardian of the purity of the blood. It became imperative the bride had to be a virgin.

Rape, incest, abduction and adultery had to be avoided and punished by law. Rape victims were labeled corrupted, and therefore had no future value. The raped woman lost her rights to own property, and likely had no options except to become a prostitute.

Abduction was often used by a young couple in order to extort consent from reluctant parents. If a girl was abducted, and perhaps with her consent deflowered, than the marriage was a fait accompli. The girl would never confess that she consented to being deflowered, or she'd become the man's slave, instead of his wife. So much for romance!

Incest and adultery were more serious crimes than either rape or abduction. Besides marriage between parent and child or brother and sister, marriage between a father's wife and son was considered incestuous. Burgundian Law prohibited relations with "a female relative or the sister of one's wife."

Woman were severely punished if found guilty of adultery. A woman convicted of adultery could be immediately turned out of her house. Burned to death, strangled, stoned or tossed in a river with rocks tied to her feet, many women were killed for this crime. The adulterous man got away with far lesser punishment.

As the journey progressed from body to heart, the naked body as a temple for procreation and affection turned into something all together different. Love and affection didn't come under consideration, for marriages were arranged by the parents. Women became the targets of blame for the destructive folly of love, even though most sexual offenses were committed by men.

Information came from a terrific book titled: A History of Private Life, edited by Philippe Aries and Georges Duby