Title: History: Hot spit roasting gets medieval! Credit: Craig Young Features Monday 4th September 2006 - 12:00pm1157328000 Article: 1401 Rights
In the Italian Renaissance, explicit depictions of 'spit roasting' for gay men were not uncommon - unfortunately, though, they tended to be contained within moralist Renaissance pictorial art. In a recent volume on the subject of pleasure, pain and piety in the late Renaissance and Middle Ages, British gay medievalist Robert Mills has drawn attention to an area of art related to 'sodomy' that hasn't always drawn our attention. That is, instead of neo-classical apologetics for the morality of gay sex, explicit depictions and denunciations took the opposite tack. Trouble is, they had to visually represent what they were denouncing. As I noted in a previous article on Renaissance Florence and their anti-sodomy prosecutions, Renaissance Italy tended to be filled with anxieties about sexuality amidst the rise of the newly active syphilis epidemic that emerged at the end of the fifteenth century. Florence fined its 'sodomites' and exiled 'repeat offenders,' Bologna followed suit, although Venice ordained capital punishment for those caught in the act. As Mills indicates too, relative social tolerance and the emergence of male same-sex sexual networks in Renaissance Italian cities didn't mean that the same tiresome old moralistic condemnations weren't afoot. In the case of conservative Catholic cardinals, explicit depictions of Hell were not uncommon, and used to try to dissuade 'sinners' from their activities. Mills locates some intriguing new developments as Italian Renaissance cities developed, as some panels of murals and larger artworks depicted 'sodomites,' usually naked, and sometimes 'spit roasted' with spits thrust through the anus and out the mouth, although one depicted a human 'pole' with a spit end anchored in his throat. There's an intriguing apparent contradiction here, too. These depictions suggest 'sodomite' to have been a lifetime (and posthumous) label, yet actual contemporary historical information shows that same-sex male sexual reportoires didn't neccessarily preclude heterosexual marriage. It must be asked how heterosexually active such marriages might have been, though. These do seem to be representations of gay sex, and it should come as no surprise that the fifteenth century saw the courts requesting alleged forensic 'signs' of anal penetration if treating men within surgeries or chemists. Indeed, such canvasses show explicit depictions of anal or oral gay sex, or mutual masturbation in detail, and analogous infernal punishments. They also resort to stock stereotyped depictions of 'sodomites' as 'effeminate' or well-groomed. Nor was this art the only source of increased social homophobic attitudes. Late medieval apocalyptic literature showed Christ referring to 'sodomites' as 'pigs' and gay sex as involving 'filth' and excrement on the Day of Judgement. And sadly, in Venice and other intolerant cities, 'sodomites' were sometimes treated wth analogous cruelty to these imaginary punitive afterlife antigay sanctions. Mills relates the castration of one unlucky teenage 'sodomite' and post-castration branding of his genital area. It tends to be a commonplace in contemporary media studies though that some readers won't neccessarily take desired creative 'original' meanings from the medium or art that they witness. Therefore, it's entirely possible that some devious souls decided that some of the other spit roasting was in order, and retired to a secluded area to do so. Recommended: Robert Mills: Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture: London: Reaktion: 2005. Craig Young - 4th September 2006    
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