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From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (review)

From: Parergon
Volume 21, Number 1, January 2004
pp. 190-192 | 10.1353/pgn.2004.0021

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190 Reviews Parergon 21.1 (2004) knots. Another useful source for the early seventh century is the Greek biography of Saint Gregory of Agrigento, written by a Greek monk in Rome, Leontios. By contrast, Mullet explains the very modern power of rhetoric with her interesting analyses of the speeches after the death of Princess Diana. She rightly concludes: ‘Rhetoric was not the canker in the cultural blood of the Byzantines; it was the cultural bloodstream itself.’ Equally unexpected is the icon framing Boris Yeltsin in Cormack’s stimulating essay. The editor and several contributors naturally refer to the seminal work On Issues by Hermogenes, although some were unaware of the excellent edition and translation by Malcolm Heath (Oxford, 1995), For the equally important third and fourth century commentators on his work, most quoted from the Rhetores Graeci of Walz or of Spengel, although the translation of Menander of Laodicea was mentioned by Angelov, Webb, Mullett and Maguire (D. A. Russell and N. G. Wilson, ed. & trans. of Menander Rhetor, On Epideictic, OUP, 1981). For English translations of Sopater, Syrianus and Marcellinus, see my forthcoming The Art of Public Speaking: Lectures on Greek Rhetoric (Mellen Press, New York, 2003/4). The less important treatise of Aphthonius on preliminary exercises was translated by Nadeau in 1952, and partly revised in Matsen, 1990, but all quotations in this collection came from Rabe (Teubner 1926). It remains to be said that there are enough first-rate essays in this book, some on rhetoric in general and some applying its laws to specific works of literature and art, to make it a valuable addition to this inadequately represented area of scholarship. It suggests that it was a very stimulating symposium. John R. C. Martyn School of Fine Arts, Classics and Archaeology University of Melbourne Karras, Ruth Mazo, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (The Middle Ages Series), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003; paper; pp. 246; RRP US$17.50; ISBN 0812218345. From Boys to Men offers a thoughtful and lucid introduction to concepts of masculinity available in the late Middle Ages in the north-western regions of Europe. Just as ‘recent scholarship in women’s history has chipped away at the idea of a monolithic medieval view of women’ (p. 2), Karras emphasises the nuances, varieties, oppositions and incompatibilities that are found not only Reviews 191 Parergon 21.1 (2004) between, but even within differing versions of medieval masculinity. While Karras argues that ‘the acquisition of masculinity in the European later Middle Ages was primarily a matter of proving oneself against others’ (p. 67), this desire to dominate was expressed very differently in divergent social milieux. This study considers three versions of medieval masculinity in their youthful, formative phases, thus focusing on ‘how men learned to be men’ (p. 3). Karras begins with the best known, and perhaps best studied, version of medieval masculinity: the knight. Physical violence was a key component of chivalric masculinity, and ‘even those who did not participate themselves in wars or tournaments were deeply affected by the chivalric ethos’ (p. 21). The ideal of military prowess ‘was in constant tension with another ideal, that of gentility and courtliness’, including the knight’s career as a lover (p. 25); thus, ‘women were one of the currencies in which the knight’s success was measured’(p. 51) by male peers. Karras also explores the homosocial bonds between knights, and the possibility of sexual relationships between ‘brothers-in-arms’. Social superiority was another fundamental feature of chivalric masculinity: ‘chivalry allowed one social group to see itself not only as an elite who followed a higher code, but also as the real men whose activity was indispensable to society’ (p. 24). However, Karras also notes that while the ideals of courtly literature were important to the self-image of the knightly class, aspects of late medieval knighthood deviated significantly from these ideals. For instance, the expense of the chivalric lifestyle was sometimes met by less than noble means, such as mercenary activities. The second version of masculinity to be considered is that of the student. Within the formative environment of the university, young men swapped weapons of steel for...