Thursday, July 5, 2012

"A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Having spent years studying the medieval period, I've learned people of the Middle Ages would have agreed with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Some of the best examples of ribaldry or risqué humor originated in medieval times. Can you guess what's being referred to in these medieval riddles? 
  1. I'm told a certain something grows in its pouch, swells and stands up, lifts its covering. A proud bride grasped that boneless wonder; the daughter of a king covered that swollen thing with clothing.
  2. A strange thing hangs by a man's thigh, hidden by a garment. It has a hole in its head. It is stiff and strong and its firm bearing reaps a reward. When the man hitches his clothing high above his knee, he wants the head of that hanging thing to poke the old hole (of fitting length) it has often filled before.
  3. I am a wondrous creature, a joy to women, useful to neighbors; not any citizens do I injure, except my slayer. Very high is my foundation. I stand in a bed, hair underneath somewhere. Sometimes ventures a fully beautiful churl's daughter, licentious maid, that she grabs onto me, rushes me to the redness, ravages my head, fixes me in confinement. She soon feels my meeting, she who forced me in, the curly-haired woman. Wet is her eye.
  4. The young man came over to the corner where he knew she stood. He stepped up. Eager and agile, lifted his tunic. With hard hands, thrust through her girdle. Something stiff, worked on the standing. One his will. Both swayed and shook. The young man hurried, was sometimes useful, served well, but always tired sooner than she, weary of the work. Under her girdle began to grow. A hero's reward for laying on dough.
"Just copying another boring manuscript here."
Uh-huh. Right.
Have you guessed the answer to any of these examples? I'll bet none of them is what you’re thinking of right now! These examples of ribaldry date from the tenth-century, and come from the Exeter Book. Monks in the service of Bishop Leofric of Exeter copied them. Yes, you read that correctly - monks! Don't be so shocked. The medieval period was an age of overwhelming illiteracy and monks were often among the rare few who could read and write. 

In the Middle Ages, humorists often used sex as a metaphor, implying sexual situations where none existed, particularly in the form of riddles above. We often think medieval people had no sense of humor, in part because of the supremacy of the Church in their lives, but humor has always been a part of historical traditions. The Church couldn't have frowned too much on it, particularly if monks were set to the task of transcribing salacious riddles. 

Speaking of which, here are the answers:
  1. Bread dough
  2. A key
  3. An onion
  4. Churning
So, whatever you were thinking of as alternative answers, get your dirty, little mind out of the gutter!


Anita Davison said...

Fabulous pots and I loved the title. And of course I got the answers wrong, wasn't I supposed to?

Lisa Yarde said...

Of course and I'll bet you have lots of company.

Deana Zhollis said...

I liked that. Those were pretty cool images. It might help writing those delicious scenes a bit better by relying on common objects for description. They were very creative to not have so many literate writers and readers

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks Deana, the medieval world is full of surprises.

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