Rape in the Medieval Latin Comedies

  • Anne Howland Schotter
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The interest in rape in the lives of medieval authors, as well as in medieval literature itself, has grown in recent years. Christopher Cannon has explored the exact nature of the charge of raptus from which Geoffrey Chaucer was released, and its implication for the treatment of rape in his poetry.1 Kathryn Gravdal, in Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law, has argued that in the genres of pastourelle and beast fable, rape is often tolerated, if not actually relished.2 Few, however, have noticed that another medieval genre, the little known medieval Latin works referred to variously as “comedies,” “elegiac comedies,” and “Latin comic tales,” often use rape as either a plot device or a subtext, generally to condone or euphemize it.3


Sexual Violence Rape Victim Happy Ending Loeb Classical Library School Text 
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  1. 1.
    Christopher Cannon, “Raptus in the Chaumpaigne Release and a Newly Discovered Document Concerning the Life of Geoffrey Chaucer,” Speculum 68 (1993): 74–94; see also Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Meanings and Uses of Raptus in Chaucer’s Time,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 20 (1998): 101–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    F.J. E. Raby, A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. 54. For further definition of comedies, see Tony Hunt, “Chrétien and the Comediae,” Mediaeval Studies 40 (1978): 122–24.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Peter Dronke, “A Note on Pamphilus,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 42 (1979): 226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    See n. 3, above. The most comprehensive edition of the poems in the Latin original is by Gustave Cohen, La “comédie” latine en France au XIIe siècle, 2 vols. (Paris: Société d’Edition “Les Belles Lettres,” 1931), and a convenient English translation is Alison Goddard Elliott, Seven Medieval Latin Comedies (New York: Garland, 1984).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Copeland, “Introduction: Dissenting Critical Practices,” Criticism and Dissent in the Middle Ages, ed. Rita Copeland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 6.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See John Noonan, “The Power to Choose,” Viator 4 (1973): 418–34; Charles Donahue, Jr., “The Canon Law on the Foundation of Marriage and Social Practice in the Later Middle Ages,” Journal of Family History 8 (1983): 144–58; Michael M. Sheehan, “The Choice of Marriage Partners in the Middle Ages,” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, n. s. I (1978): 1–33; rpt. in Michael M. Sheehan, Marriage, Family and Law in Medieval Europe: Collected Studies, ed. James K. Farge (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), pp. 87–117; and James Brundage, Law, Sex, and Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 11.
    Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 184–85. Feminist historians as well have pointed out this connection; see Penny Schein Gold, The Lady and the Virgin: Image, Attitude, and Experience in Twelfth-Century France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 147–48, and Gloria K. Fiero, ed. and trans. with Wendy Pfeffer and Mathé Allain, Three Medieval Views of Women (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 12.
    See Leo Curran, “Rape and Rape Victims in the Metamorphoses,” Arethusa 11 (1978): 213–41; Patricia Klindienst Joplin, “The Voice of the Shuttle is Ours,” Stanford Literature Review 1 (1984): 25–53; Julie Hemker, “Rape and the Founding of Rome,” Helios 12 (1985): 41–47; and Leslie Cahoon, “Raping the Rose: Jean de Meun’s Reading of Ovid’s Amores,” Classical and Modern Literature 6 (1986): 261–85. I have argued that Ovid’s account of Tereus’s rape and mutilation of Philomela in the Metamorphoses was an influence on Pamphilus, in “The Transformation of Ovid in the Twelfth-Century Pamphilus,” in Desiring Discourse: The Literature of Love, Ovid Through Chaucer, ed. Cynthia Gravlee and James J. Paxson (London: Associated University Presses, 1998), pp. 72–86.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Ovid, Ars Amatoria I. 673–78, in Amores, Faciei Femineae, Ars Amatoria, Remedia, Amoris, ed. E.J. Kenney (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961). Woods cites this passage as an example of the prominence of rape in school texts in the Middle Ages (pp. 56–58).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Ovid, The Art of Love, trans. Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955), p. 126.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Ed. Keith Bate, Three Latin Comedies (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1976), pp. 13–34; trans. Elliott, pp. 26–49.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Woods, p. 58; she cites Elliott, p. xxix; and Anne Howland Schotter, “Rhetoric versus Rape in the Medieval Latin Pamphilus,” Philological Quarterly 71 (1992): 243–60.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    See John F. Plummer, Vox Feminae: Studies in Medieval Woman’s Song (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1981), and Gravdal, “Camouflaging Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in the Medieval Pastourelle,” Romanic Review 76 (1985): 360–73. On the resistance to rape in female saints’ lives, see Gravdal, Ravishing, pp. 21–41 and Maureen Quilligan, “The Name of the Author: Self-Representation in Christine de Pizan’s Livre de la cité des dames,” Exemplaria 4 (1992): 217–23.Google Scholar

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© Elizabeth Robertson and Christine M. Rose 2001

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  • Anne Howland Schotter

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