Document Type


Peer Reviewed



Par fiance bien tenir: Medieval Same-Sex Kinship and Sworn Brotherhood in Le Roman de Thèbes This article adds to the growing archive on medieval same-sex unions by examining an overlooked scene in an often overlooked early medieval French romance, the mid-twelfth-century Roman de Thèbes. An Old French rewriting of Statius’ Latin epic, The Thebaid, Thèbes features a formal ceremony of sworn brotherhood between two of the main characters, the knights Polynices and Tydeus. In contrast to the slightly later Roman d’Enéas, Thèbes does not counter such same-sex bonds with a heterosexual love relationship. Rather, Thèbes posits competing constructions of masculinity and kinship in its representation of the warring sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, and the sworn brotherhood of Polynices and Tydeus. Thus, Thèbes participates in the complex negotiations occurring in twelfth-century France about masculinity’s relationship to violence and kinship systems. While Thèbes does feature some nascent romance elements dealing with femininity, Thèbes’ strongest statements about gender concern masculinity as an ever-shifting social construct. And, one of the politically legitimate expressions of medieval masculinity that Thèbes features is that of sworn brotherhood between two knights, a representation that demonstrates that it is not just gender that shifts over time but also definitions of family and kinship.

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Copyright © 2013