By Helmet Puff
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2000)
Introduction: In this essay, I will disclose rhetorical strategies used to negotiate “female sodomy” in a legal document from the pre-Reformation German Empire. By sodomy, “that utterly confused category” (to invoke Foucault’s phrase), I mean the panoply of same-sex erotic activities among men and among women. Female sodomy, however, is my own coinage, introduced into the terminological void to inform present-day readers about my project, whereas documents like the one edited and discussed here tend to rely on profuse description. The term is designed to resonate with medieval and Renaissance inscriptions of homoeroticism, often called sodomy from a theological or legal vantage point (although primarily applied to males). Yet by its imaginative qualification as female, female sodomy is coined to characterize a range of significations beyond the transgression of the sexual order and is meant to reach into the precarious domain of emotions, passions, and desires. There is another reason to introduce this neologism. Female sodomy illuminates precisely those highly significant moments when knowledge of female homoeroticism penetrated the male sphere. In these encounters, female homoeroticism was cast in masculine terms such as sodomy. By coining the term female sodomy, I want to call attention to the strategies used to represent women who erotically associated or were associated with their own sex, and to reveal a phenomenon which often escaped categorization in the relevant sources.