Ganymede and Helen

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Ganymede and Helen

“Ganymede and Helen,” a propagandistic text circa the 12th or 13th century puts two wonderfully beautiful specimens of the sexes in debate over love; love between a man and a woman, defended by Helen, and love between two men, fought for by Ganymede. Helen represents the orthodoxy while Ganymede provides the dissenting opinion; however, by the end, Helen is declared the winner and Ganymede asks for her hand in marriage. This turn is surprising, for moments before Ganymede is pro-man love and seems to act thus only because it is how society deems he should.

It is not Ganymede who makes advances on Helen, but she who longs for his accompaniment. She is “not asked” so “she asks, and entices, / [o]ffering him her lap, her kisses, and her bosom” (27-8). Later, she even says that the creator “tried to make woman more beautiful than man, / [s]o that he may attract man to mate with woman” (146-7). However, Ganymede does not know how to receive this affection, not “knowing the role expected of him” (31) and instead chooses to be passive. From the start we see Ganymede is not interested in Helen, despite her beauty he clearly rejects her and everything she has to offer. In the book Sodom and Gomorrah, Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller postulates that Ganymede is the “representative of gay people in general . . . without any temporal or regional limitation” (Hergemöller 20). His character epitomizes homosexuality, he is an emblem of the lifestyle, and the fact that he speaks here against heterosexual love is almost poetic.

The character of Helen on the other hand seems confused as to her own sexuality, is she or is she not a virgin? The speaker says that she no longer has her maidenhead, or rather the “mo...

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...s a lesson to be learned from the poem and the characters at the end: love is between a man and a woman; anything else and be damned by God. As the Pope was not swayed by Damian’s book, neither would most of those who read or heard this tale. Helen’s argument, although compelling and logical, supported by Reason, is in place to persuade and convince the Ganymedes of the medieval world to marry a woman they do not love, or fear God’s wrath.

Works Cited

Brożyna, Martha A. Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages. Jefferson,

North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005.

Hergemöller, Bernd-Ulrich. Sodom and Gomorrah. Gateshead, England:

Europian Union, 2001.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the

Eurpoean Middle Ages. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1998.
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