The First Sodomite

Robert Mills

in Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2015 | ISBN: 9780226169125
Published online September 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780226169262 | DOI:
The First Sodomite

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter focuses on the myth of Orpheus as it was mediated in medieval culture, with particular reference to Ovid’s discussion of Orpheus’s turn to “tender males” following his loss of Eurydice in the underworld. The chapter begins by interrogating the varied responses to the story in the Middle Ages. Orpheus’s pederastic turn provided some writers with opportunities to envision erotic possibilities that would otherwise remain unspeakable. One text, the verse Ovide moralisé, even interprets Orpheus’s devotion to homoerotic behavior as representing a virtuous rejection of the company of women. Visual images also confront Orpheus’s erotic inclinations cryptically, culminating in a famous drawing of the death of Orpheus by Albrecht Dürer. The chapter also considers the motif of “retro-vision” in the Orpheus legend, comparing Orpheus’s fate with that of Lot’s wife in the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom, who is also punished for the crime of looking back. The chapter concludes by considering recent attempts to rehabilitate the Orpheus myth in queer and feminist scholarship, and asks why today the legend of Orpheus the “first sodomite” appears to have fallen by the wayside.

Keywords: Orpheus; Eurydice; Albrecht Dürer; pederasty; Ovid; Ovide moralisé; Lot’s wife; backward looking; Sodom

Chapter.  21077 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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