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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #110f Borris 2004 - Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance (Chapter 6)

Full citation: 

Borris, Kenneth (ed). 2004. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. Routledge, New York. ISBN 978-1-138-87953-9

Publication summary: 


As indicated by the sub-title, this is a collection of edited texts relevant to same-sex desire in England in the two centuries centered around the 16th. These are not necessarily texts of 16th century England, but texts available to people in that time and place. In covering these chapters, I will tend to give a topical summary of the mentioned works, but may sometimes quote the sources more extensively as my whim takes me. I will also only cover the texts with female relevance. Therefore my coverage of some chapters may much briefer than others.

Chapter 6: Encyclopedias and Reference Works

When I originally posted this, I combined two chapters of Borris's work in the same post, because they both deal with the inclusion of sexuality and gender categories in encyclopedic catalogs, with the distinction being whether the topics were being treated as natural or unnatural.

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Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items. Although there are not laws against it, this indecency deserves to be denounced to that good people will be deterred from imitating it. Those who were ruined readily made examples of themselves, that they might be held up as examples.”

He then lists a number of individuals, primarily from classical texts, including six women mentioned in Sappho’s poetry “whom she used to gratify her lusts”, a blanket categorization of Milesian women as “tribades and lewd women [who] made use of the dildo,” and two tribades mentioned in the Epigrams of the Roman poet Martial (specifically, Bassa and Philaenis). This section concludes with a more contemporary reference. “A certain Galla who disguised herself as a stableboy worked for an innkeeper in Blois for seven years. She married the daughter of a citizen, and had tribadic relations with her for two years. When the crime came to light, she was burned alive.”

Time period: 

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