Department of Classics

Michael Johnson, U.T. Austin: "Hic et hic gramatice debent copulari: Grammar and Sex in the Altercatio Ganimedis et Helene"

Fri, March 5, 2010 | Classics Lounge, WAG 116

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

This widely read altercatio from twelfth-century France stages a debate wherein Ganymede and Helen weigh the relative merits and dangers of sex with young men against those to be had with women.  Ganymede invokes the grammatical argument that since nouns and pronouns must agree with one another –– hic et hic or haec et haec, masculine with masculine, feminine with feminine –– grammar therefore justifies and even advocates the sexual union of same with same. Such a use of grammar in debating sexual ethics, I argue, draws directly upon contemporaneous debates among speculative grammarians concerning the relationship of nouns to pronouns –– a debate that goes back at least as far as Berengar of Tours during the Eucharistic controversy of the eleventh century. This paper outlines some of the major lines of disagreement among medieval grammarians in order to suggest that medieval grammatical debates would have given writers a metalanguage with which to conceptualize and perhaps even to theorize sex and gender. In more axiomatic terms, this paper demonstrates that any account of linguistic signification must have a correlative account of sex and gender, however implicit it may be.

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