The “Infirmity of Others”

in Impotence

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780226500768
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226500935 | DOI:
The “Infirmity of Others”

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A cursory review of high and low literary references to “unperforming husbands” and “eunuchs or impotent fellows” makes it clear that many people in early modern Europe found the subject of impotence inherently funny. To understand why requires an understanding of both popular notions of the workings of the sexual organs and the functions served by jokes of bedroom fiascoes. Before turning to the reasons why some would treat the issue of impotence lightly, it has to be stressed that right through the seventeenth century, there were those who still regarded it as caused by witchcraft. In the Middle Ages there always had been some who attributed sexual dysfunctions to problems of diet, regimen, and excesses, but only in the eighteenth century did such views supplant the Christian notion that sexual problems were a sign of man's fallen state. The most famous victim of seventeenth-century sexual witchcraft was supposedly Charles II of Spain.

Keywords: impotence; Europe; witchcraft; Middle Ages; sexual dysfunctions; Charles II; sexual problems

Chapter.  11096 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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