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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #26 – Amer 2001 “Lesbian Sex and the Military: From the Medieval Arabic Tradition to French Literature”

Full citation: 

Amer, Sahar. “Lesbian Sex and the Military: From the Medieval Arabic Tradition to French Literature” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (ed. by Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn), Palgrave, New York, 2001.

Publication summary: 


Palgrave is one of the most important academic publishers of work in the loosely-defined field of “queer history”, both monographs and collections such as the present work. As with the collection on singlewomen, I will be blogging all the articles in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages, regardless of their direct applicability to my project. And expect to keep seeing the various authors included here in other publications yet to be covered.

Amer, Sahar. “Lesbian Sex and the Military: From the Medieval Arabic Tradition to French Literature”

It's fun sometimes to get contrasting (or augmenting) takes on the same historic sources from scholars with different backgrounds and expertise. Sahar Amer has a number of takes on the interface between Arabic and French literature in the middle ages and all the ones I've read have been fascinating and enlightening.

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Amer draws close connections between the symmetric penis-less images of Etienne de Forgères' 12th century French poem Livre des Manières, a catalog-in-verse of different classes of people, focusing on the vices they are prone to. Parallels are noted between the language of this poem and depictions of lesbian sexuality found in Arabic homoerotic literature. The article includes an extensive general discussion of Arabic sources for the language of courtly love and a lament for the ways Eurocentrism has impeded and obscured exploration of these connections.The author explores whether European expression of lesbian desire in literature can be connected to Arabic sources the way male homosexual literature can, The texts considered on the French side are Bieris de Romans, Yde and Olive, and the Livre des Manières. Specific metaphoric images such as "join[ing] shield to shield without a lance" are also found in Arabic sources. (E.g., “They invented a tournament in which there is no use of lance, Hitting only with great noise one shield against the other!”) Other image parallels are noted. The most daring suggestion is to connect the obscure word "trutennes" in de Fougere with an Arabic root t-r-t found in at least one Arabic erotic text to refer to the mons, a reading that brings sense to de Fougères couplet where it appears. The author reviews other Arabic erotic texts that include descriptions of lesbian sex, however the image parallels with the French texts are more attenuated in those, such as attempts to find parallels for “thigh-fencing". The most detailed and evocative of the Arabic texts is quoted here in full:

“The tradition between women in the game of love necessitates that the lover places herself above and the beloved underneath--unless the former is too light or the second too developed: and in this case the lighter one places herself underneath and the heavier one on top, because her weight will facilitate the rubbing, and will allow the friction to be more effective. This is how they proceed the one that must stay underneath lies on her back, stretches out one leg and bends the other while leaning slightly to the side, therefore offering her opening (vagina) wide open: meanwhile, the other lodges her bent leg in her groin, puts the lips of her vagina between the lips that are offered for her, and begins to rub the vagina of her companion in an up-and-down, and down-and-up, movement that jerks the whole body. This operation is dubbed “the saffron massage” because this is precisely how one grinds saffron on the cloth when dying it. The operation must focus each time on one lip in particular, the right one, for example, and then the other: the woman will then slightly change position in order to apply better friction to the left lip…and she does not stop acting in this manner until her desires and those of her partner are fulfilled. I assure you that it is absolutely useless to try to press the two lips together at the same time, because the area from which pleasure comes would then not be exposed. Finally, let us note that in this game the two partners may be aided by a little willow oil, scented with musk”


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