The Dead Sea of Sodomy: Giordano da Pisa on Men Who Have Sex With Men

  • Bernard Schlager
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


Between the years 1303 and 1307 and again in 1309, the Dominican friar Giordano of Pisa (ca. 1260–1311) undertook an active and popular preaching ministry in the city of Florence. Some seven hundred of Giordano’s Florentine sermons survive from these years (most likely written down by several different recorders as they were being delivered), and they reveal a preacher at the height of his powers. Certainly erudite in their content (Giordano quotes a wide range of secular and religious authorities from the classical era as well as his own), these sermons also reflect the talents of a preaching friar able to sermonize effectively on a wide variety of topics to an audience he understood very well. To the citizens of the Florentine commune Giordano condemned the practice of vendetta and urged them to build a city of fraternal love; to bankers and merchants he warned of the dangers of avarice and usury; to women he spoke about the virtues of marriage and the evils of prostitution; and to people of all classes he engaged in catechetical preaching—expounding on the tenets of Christianity and explaining the mysteries of the faith to his listeners.1


Thirteenth Century Male Homosexual Homosexual Activity Male Sodomite Divine Plan 
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  1. 1.
    From the point of view of sources, structure, and delivery techniques, the sermons of Giordano were composed and delivered according to the popular sermo modernus style, originating in the early thirteenth century and heavily favored by Dominican preachers of Giordano’s day. For instance, his vernacular sermons contain four of the five items of the sermo modernus (theme, introduction, division, and clause—like other Dominicans of his era, he omits the protheme that announced a subtheme and followed the theme). Giordano’s sermons also reveal his expert use of florilegia (manuals of handy authoritative quotations) and exempla (collections of pithy moral stories), both of which were favorite sources used by early mendicant preachers in their sermon-making. On the sermo modernus, see Daniel R. Lesnick, Preaching in Medieval Florence: The Social World of Franciscan and Dominican Spirituality (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1989), pp. 96–108.Google Scholar
  2. See M. Michèle Mulchahey, “First the Bow is Bent in Study ...”: Dominican Education Before 1350 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1998), n. 20, p. 406, on the structure of Giordano’s vernacular sermons. On Giordano’s Florentine audiences and for a good overview of themes in his preaching,Google Scholar
  3. see Carlo Delcorno, Giordano da Pisa e l’antica predicazione volgare (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1975), pp. 43–80.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Cities were a natural environment for the mendicant orders, of course, and Italian Dominicans of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries found receptive and enthusiastic audiences for their preaching among the growing well-to-do merchant classes there. On the urban-related themes and content of Giordano’s sermons, see Cecilia Iannella, Giordano da Pisa: Etica Urbana e Forme della Società, Studi Medioevali 8 (Pisa: ETS, 1999).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    D. L. D’Avray, The Preaching of the Friars: Sermons Diffused from Paris before 1300 (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 30–36 discusses the urban focus of mendicant preachers and the relatively high level of religious and secular education among late-medieval Italian preaching audiences. A focused study of mendicant preaching in one city is offeredGoogle Scholar
  6. by Bernadette Patton, Preaching Friars and the Civic Ethos: Siena, 1380–1480 (London: Centre for Medieval Studies, 1992), pp. 307–35. For book-length studies of Italian cities where late-medieval religious leaders strove to address the new religious needs of urban populations,Google Scholar
  7. see David Herlihy, Medieval and Renaissance Pistoia: The Social History of an Italian Town, 1200–1430 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967)Google Scholar
  8. and William M. Bowsky, A Medieval Italian Commune: Siena under the Nine, 1287–1355 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    On late-medieval views of the city, including mention of Giordano’s use of urban imagery in his sermons, see Chiara Frugoni, A Distant City: Images of Urban Experience in the Medieval World, trans. William McCuaig (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 97–101, 177–78, and 186–88.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    The term “sodomy,” referring primarily to male homosexual acts, was coined by Peter Damian in his Book of Gomorrah (ca. 1050 ce.), a work especially concerned with what the author believed was rampant homosexual activity between clerics. See Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 29–30 and 45–51 andGoogle Scholar
  11. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 210–12.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Giordano of Pisa quoted in Michael Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 27.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Giordano da Pisa, Sermon 91, in Giordano da Rivalto, Prediche Inedite del b. Giordano da Rivalto dell’ordine de’ predicatori, recitate in Firenze dal 1302 al 1305, ed. Enrico Narducci (Bologna: G. Romagnoli, 1867), pp. 441–50. See also Sermon 30 in Prediche del beato fra Giordano da Rivalto dell’ordine dei predicatori, recitate in Firenze dal MCCCIII al MCCCVI, ed. D. Moreni (Florence: Magheri, 1831), vol. 1, p. 230, in which the preacher rails against Florentine men who prostituted their sons: According to Giordano, some men encouraged their sons to seek gifts from older male suitors.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    For a discussion of Bernardino of Siena’s extensive comments on sodomy, see Franco Mormando, The Preacher’s Demons: Bernardino of Siena and the Social Underworld of Early Renaissance Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 109–63. On Savonarola and his role in the persecution of male homosexual activity, consult Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, pp. 204–23.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    See, for instance, Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice: Homosexuality in the Later Medieval Period (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1979).Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    On Paul of Hungary, see William A. Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order (New York: Alba House, 1973), vol. 2, p. 238.Google Scholar
  17. 39.
    See, especially, Boswell, pp. 316–331. On attempts by medieval Christian church authorities to demonize male homosexual activity and the 1200s as a pivotal century in the persecution of male homosexual behavior, see R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (New York: Blackwell, 1987), pp. 91–94. Although Giordano may not have been acquainted with Albert’s teaching in any detailed sense, he would have known it indirectly given Albert’s role as an especially influential teacher of Thomas.Google Scholar
  18. 43.
    For a succinct outline of the medieval church’s insistence that all sexual intercourse have a procreative purpose, see John T. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), pp. 246–57.Google Scholar
  19. 51.
    Boswell, p. 329. On Aquinas and homosexuality, see also Vern L. Bullough, “The Sin Against Nature and Homosexuality” in: Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James Brundage (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1982), pp. 64–66.Google Scholar

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© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

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  • Bernard Schlager

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