Medieval Text Reveals A NSFW Poem About A Talking Vulva

Sex is a constant theme of the human experience, regardless of time, place, or culture - and the Middle Age is no exception. Wikimedia Commons / University of Heidelberg

When you think of raunchy displays of sexuality, you probably don't immediately think of Medieval parchments found in a dusty Austrian monastery. However, a centuries-old text reveals that the imagination of the Middle Ages was surprisingly unprudish when it came to sexuality.

Scholars at the Austrian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medieval Research (OeAW) recently analyzed a newly discovered fragment of the text Rosendorn, translated as The Rose Thorn, that’s two centuries older than any other known copy.

Although it looks like a fairly bland historical document at first glance, the Rosendorn actually details a surprisingly vivid piece of erotic satire. The poem is about a young female virgin arguing with her vulva about who is more appreciated by men. According to The History Blog, the quarrel leads to the woman and vulva departing from each other, hoping to prove who truly is the most desirable. 

However, the break up spirals into disaster. The vulva is used and abused by every man it encounters, while the woman offers herself to a gang of men who trample her. In the end, the woman and her vulva agree they are better together, at which point the male narrator – who has been watching all of this drama unfold from afar – reunites the duo through the act of sex. 

All’s well that ends well, I guess? 

Christine Glassner, a researcher from the OeAW who worked on the project, explained in a statement that the poem is an “incredibly clever” narrative that explores whether a person can ever be separated from their sexuality. 

The newly discovered strip was found in the archives of Melk Abbey in Austria. The parchment consists of a thin strip just 22 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters wide (8.7 by 0.6 inches), so only a few letters per line are recognizable. Nevertheless, through painstaking analysis, the team managed to piece together the story and discover it was written 200 years earlier than previously thought, towards the end of the 13th century. It’s believed this kind of erotic poetry was recited and possibly performed, but rarely ever written down. 

The sexual themes of the poem could also provide an invaluable insight into how sexuality was viewed in the Middle Ages. It’s easy to assume people from pre-modern ages had a nun-like attitude towards sexuality or were perhaps too busy warding off plagues and fearing God to indulge in such decadent pleasures. However, sex remains a constant theme of the human experience, regardless of time, place, or culture – and the Middle Ages are no exception.

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