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postmedieval

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 161–178 | Cite as

The Isle of Hermaphrodites: Disorienting the place of intersex in the Middle Ages

  • M. W. Bychowski
Article

Abstract

What is the place of intersex in medieval studies? How have non-binary bodies been oriented and reoriented as marginal by medieval literature and history? Might medieval intersex studies disorient such mappings of power? To provide inroads to these questions, this article puts medieval studies and intersex studies into conversation. Affirming the premise that non-binary scholarship offers necessary insights to the history of non-binary bodies, this critical analysis of the intersexual bodies on the Hereford Mappa Mundi and in the Book of John Mandeville utilizes the theoretical frameworks of Cheryl Chase and Hilary Malatino. In so doing, the essay proceeds to first orient the place of intersex using medieval pilgrimage as an experienced and imagined practice, generating and using objects such as Mappa Mundi to position certain places and communities as spiritual centers, loca sancta, eschewing other locations and peoples to the margins. Second, this essay unpacks how the second half of the Book of John Mandeville reorients relations to the margins through a sort of “boundary-lust,” imaginatively embodied by the Isle of “Hermaphrodites;” a medieval conception of intersex invoking the ancient parentage of Hermes the God of Travel and Boundaries and Aphrodite the God of Lust and Sex. To conclude, the passages describing the intersex bodies in Mandeville’s Book are close read alongside intersex and queer studies to conceive of how non-binary bodies disoriented the universality and centrality of binary gender for medieval writers and readers in much the same way that intersex continues to de-centralize the flow of power in modern mappings of gender and sexuality.

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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