Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chaucer: "raptus" vs "stuprum"

My Chaucer class read "Adam Scriveyne" (text and audio at that link, via the Chaucer MetaPage) last week; we got through a bit on Wednesday, and I asked them to think about the "rubbe and scrape" bit for Friday.

Before I sent them off Wednesday, we talked a little bit about writing on parchment, and making corrections. As I understand it, when you make parchment, you stretch it lots, and then you rub it to "polish" it, preparing the surface to take ink without blotting it all over the place.

When you make an error in writing on parchment, you take a knife and scrape away the inked layer of parchment, and then you rub the parchment again to polish it. If you leave it as just scraped, your ink will tend to blob and run on the uneven surface.

So either Chaucer is an idiot and can't remember how to correct a manuscript mistake, or he's a lousy poet and couldn't think of a rhyme for "rubbe," or there's something interesting up in the order he chose.

So, Friday, I reminded them of the release record their biographical introduction talks about, the May 4, 1380 entry where Cecily Chaumpaigne releases Chaucer from everything related to his "raptus" of her. (The original's in Latin, of course.) And then I introduced them to Chris Cannon's finding of a second release, dated May 7, 1380, on the public roles [see: Raptus in the Chaumpiegne Release and a Newly Discovered Document Concerning the Life of Geoffrey Chaucer By: Cannon, Christopher; Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 1993 Jan; 68 (1): 79-94. (journal article)], and so forth.

I want to get them thinking about how "Adam Scriveyn" imagines Chaucer's text as raped, and metonymically, perhaps, Chaucer as rape victim, so that when we get to "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and such, we'll have a better starting point.

But, as we were talking, it occured to me that in Shakespeare's Titus, "stuprum" is the word used to describe a sexual violation, Lavinia's rape, not "raptus." I looked it up in my English/Latin dictionary, and it suggests that "stuprum" has more the meaning of sexual violation, while "raptus" is more about abduction (which is one of the meanings Cannon talks about, of course). But, my little English/Latin dictionary is pretty basic, and certainly not going to be specific about medieval legal terminology.

So here's my question: any medieval or early modern Latinists out there have a sense of whether "stuprum" was or wasn't used in legal writings?

Thanks, o great scholarly community!


  1. OK, I don't know jack about "stuprum," but I just thought I'd chime in and say that H.A. Kelly took issue with Cannon's article and replied in this article: "Meanings and Uses of Raptus in Chaucer's Time," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 20 (1998) 101-65. I haven't read either in a long time, but I think I remember finding Cannon persuasive. And I think he might have taken the argument up again in his book on Chaucer's language (can't remember the title now) but I'm not sure.

    Oh, and also, Carolyn Dinshaw does a reading of "rape" in "Adam Scriveyn" similar to yours in Chaucer's Sexual Poetics.

    Anyway, thought you'd be interested.

  2. Ahh, once again, Dr. V, I owe you thanks! I really appreciate all your feedback and help as I've been working to prep this class. I should put an acknowledgments page on my syllabus, but that would give things away!

    I'd forgotten all about Kelly's article, thanks!

    I didn't introduce Dinshaw's reading because *Chaucer's Sexual Poetics* is one of the books a student will be reviewing for the class, so I hope it will come up there.

    I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I did more than introduce the class to the basic issue or thought of this stuff myself; the ideas are in NO way my own, as I acknowledged in the class. It's just that I can give the names of the people who introduced me to these ideas in class, and not really on my blog, if you know what I mean.

    I rest on the shoulders of medievalists WAY smarter and more informed than I am.

    I didn't talk about the stuprum question in class, either, but that's the only thing about this issue that comes out of my brain, and it's a question at best.

  3. Hmm. Don't know about the legal side of things. My Oxford Latin Dictionary (ed. Glare) gives the first definition of stuprum to be 'dishonour, shame', and the second to be 'Illicit sexual intercourse in any form (whether forced or not) or an instance of it'. [Modern Italian 'stupro' is 'rape, or sexual assault']. Raptus, on the other hand, in its three definitions are variations of snatching, tearing away, plunder, abduction. This dictionary isn't particularly 'medieval' but its a safe place to start.
    It should be said that the MED comes only close to the raptus senses of the word 'rape' rather than our modern colouring of the word with its sexual sense. Rape, in its first sense, means haste here.

    Of course the really interesting thing about this poem is that we now know who Adam is: see Linne Mooney's article in this month's Speculum.

  4. Does anyone know of a place where you can actually look at the entire document that Cannon explores in his essay? I'm researching this and was hoping to do a close textual anyalsis on more of the document than Cannon presents.