Medieval testimonies brought back by Christian voyagers into Hell delve into
the infernal punishments administered to the souls of the sinners. In this literature, written by monks for monks, the emphasis on sexual deviations is indicative of a constant battle to repress desire, as well as of a need to destroy the object of this desire. The punitive treatment administered to those who violate the rules and allow themselves to be corrupted by lust, elicits a variety of fantasies where torture, cruelty, and lechery are fused together in unbridled poetry. In pursuance of this worship of chastity, bodies, which should be separated and chaste on Earth, are instead mixed together naked and are desecrated in Hell. In condemning eroticism and desire, the monks result in describing a sexuality that is considerably more seditious. This paper analyzes the extent to which this literature allows the study of the attitude monks adopted towards sexual practices.
Coppo di Marcovaldo (attribution), Inferno, mosaico, 1250-70. Batistério de São João, Florença, Itália.