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Fragment of ‘The Rose Thorn,’ a Poem About a Talking Vulva, Dated to the 1300s

The section of the erotic Medieval fantasy was found in the binding of book in Austria’s Melk monastery

Section of fragment found (Stift Melk)
smithsonian.com

The poem “Der Rosendorn” or “The Rose Thorn” is known from two manuscript copies dating to around 1500. But a new fragment of the poem discovered in the library of Melk Abbey in Austria’s Wachau Valley dates from 200 years before that, meaning that someone was writing about a talking vulva much earlier in the Middle Ages than previously believed.

Yes, reports Kate Connolly at The Guardian, the poem is actually a dialogue between a woman and her vulva, discussing which of them men are more attracted to.

The fragment is a long thin strip of parchment on which a few letters per line are visible, according to a press release from the Austria's Academy of Sciences. When researchers tried to identify the letters, they found they corresponded with the text of “The Rose Thorn.” Previously, copies of the poem were found in the Dresden and Karlsrue Codices and were dated from around 1500.

The parchment on which the poem was written was cut up and reused as binding in a Latin theological text. Whether the poem was sacrificed because of its content is hard to say; we can “really only guess,” says Christine Glaßner of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medieval Research.

The earlier date for the poem helps push back the timeline for Medieval erotic poetry and suggests openness about sexuality appeared in the German speaking world earlier than previously thought.

The tale of the loquacious genitalia begins with a male narrator who shares how he first came across a young woman arguing with her vulva during her daily soak in rosewater. The dialogue between the two is witty, and the woman contends that men are primarily attracted to her looks. The vulva contends the young woman puts too much emphasis on her appearance. The two decide to go their separate ways, to disastrous result. Ultimately, they realize they must reunite. The narrator then steps in to offer his aid, and —in moment that in 2019 that reads, decidedly, creepy—pushes the two back together in a less-than-chivalrous manner.

Glaßner says the poem is more than just an erotic Medieval fantasy. “[A]t its core is an incredibly clever story, because of the very fact that it demonstrates that you cannot separate a person from their sex,” she tells Connolly.

While this may be the German language’s earliest talking vulva, it’s not the only one in literature: The French tale Le Chevalier qui faisoit parler les cons et les culs employs talking vulvas. French philosopher Denis Diderot’s 1748 novel, Les bijoux indiscrets, is about a magic ring that makes vulvas talk. The premise even shows up in modern times, appearing, for instance, in the cult 1977 movie Chatterbox, or Virginia and the Talking Vagina.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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