Jack’s Naughty Bits: Alain de Lillie, The Plaint of Nature

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Jack's Naughty Bits

is, sadly, no lack of gay bashing in the history of literature. But the fact that authors have felt the
need to attack homosexuality signals that it has always had a certain presence and impact in their cultures.
The Pearl Poet’s fourteenth century condemnation of same sex practices, which I excerpted some weeks ago,
is a testament to their prevalence in late medieval England. This week’s excerpt, taken from Alain de Lille’s
The Plaint of Nature, demonstrates that there was no lack of same sex sex taking place in twelfth-century France either.


I’m less interested, however, in the fact that Alain’s text is conspicuously homophobic and more
interested in the manner in which his homophobia is expressed. The Plaint of Nature is, to my knowledge, unique
among literary texts in being a condemnation of homosexuality as an error of grammar. In Alain’s scheme,
sex and Latin are analogous, and the sexual practices that Alain doesn’t approve of correspond to
grammatical errors and irregular Latin forms: male to male sex is a confusion of subject for object,
masturbation is a reflexive verb that should be transitive, women on top are deponent verbs (passive forms
that take active meanings) and gay men are the opposite. So while the excerpt below isn’t sexy, per se, it is
certainly one of the oddest writings about sex I have ever read, and instructive of the lengths to which
authors will go to attempt to de-naturalize homosexuality.

* * *

From The Plaint of Nature by Alain of Lille

adapted from the James J. Sheridan translation

By adopting a highly irregular grammar, the human race has fallen from its high estate and inverted the
rules of Venus . . .


The plan of Nature gave special attention, as the evidence of the rules of grammar confirms, to two
genders, namely, the masculine and feminine (although some men, deprived of the outward sign of sex,
could, in my opinion, be classified as of neuter gender) . . . Reproduction demands that the masculine joins
the feminine to itself. If irregular combinations among members of the same sex should come into
common practice, so that members of the same sex should be mutually connected, those combinations
would never be able to gain acceptance  . . . For if the masculine gender, by a certain violence of
unreasonable logic, should seek one of a gender entirely similar to itself, this bond and union cannot be
called a graceful trope or figure of speech but will bear the stain of an outlandish and unpardonable
linguistic error.


The regular procedure  . . . should assign the role of subadjacent [bottom] to the part
characteristic of the female sex and should place that part that is specific to the male sex in the prestigious
position of superjacent [top] . . .


In addition to this . . . the conjugations should restrict themselves entirely to . . . the transitive
and should not admit intransitive, reflexive or passive forms . . . Furthermore, the active type should not go
over to the passive nor should the passive, laying aside its proper character, return to the active or adopt the
rule of deponents . . .


With the signs of the discipline of grammar . . . my speech has now inscribed on the tablet of
your mind an account of the ruination of Venus . . . In wretchedness and lamentation, I have sung my song
of complaint.

©Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies