On the Lusty Month of May

Today in London it is the sort of hot that it should not be in May. I am talking about wearing short shorts and writing on the deck hot. I am talking I ate mangoes and hot sauce for lunch hot. I am talking the sort of hot that it should be in August, not May, the middle of Spring. Instead of thinking about how this means that the planet is going through a series of changes that are going to be a very serious challenge for life as we know it, I am going to talk to you about how on days like this you can sort of understand why medieval people were extremely horny for May.

In general, medieval people were extremely into Spring writ large, and they thought about Spring much in the way that I stubbornly do – Spring is defined as occurring between the vernal equinox in mid-March, and when we hit the Summer solstice, or midsummer in mid-June. That is what Spring is. I DGAF if you think it is defined by calendrical dates. Be wrong on your own blog.

Anyway, because people loved Spring so much there is a lot of good ass writing about it. The Secreta Secretorum, a twelfth century psuedo-Artistotelian work that tried to encapsulate all world knowledge in a chill way wrote about it saying that in Spring:

“The air waxes clear; the winds blow softly, snows dissolve, rivers run. Springs surge up among the mountains, moisture is drawn to the tree-top, branches bud, seeds sprout, grains spring, meadows grow green. Flowers are fair and fresh, trees are clad with new leaves, and the soil is arrayed with herbs and grasses. Beasts beget offspring, pastures are covered with growth and resume a new vigour, birds sing, and the nightingale’s song sounds and echoes.”

So this is lovely, obviously, but it also underlines something interesting. The reason that people are paying this much attention to the seasons, and the reason they can write so elegantly about flowers and stuff, despite being manly men, is that this is a reflection of a world that is way more intimately tied to nature. As I will never tire of telling you – eighty-five percent of the European population at this time were peasants and spent all their damn time down the farm in fields. As a result, you better believe they were taking account of what was going on outside. More free flowing water means better watered crops. Flowers opening up means more food. Warmer weather means that when you are out in the field, or the barn, or the farmyard you aren’t freezing your tits off.

May, from the Liber ruralium commodorum,
Pietro de’ Crescenzi

You know how happy you are to get to Spring?  (I mean, if you live in a place with Winter. I know you hot weather people don’t give a damn.) Well imagine how happy you would be to get to Spring if you didn’t have central heating, indoor plumbing with hot water, and you worked outside all day. Yuh huh.

Now also imagine that you didn’t have an international supply line of food that brings you a) tomatoes, b) in the middle of winter. Think about how eating seasonally when you have no backups means that by the time you hit February it’s been nothing but, like, turnip greens for quite some time when you look at the vegetable menu. Think about how happy you would be to just eat a goddamn salad. In a world before Chilean imports, you need Spring for that.

But here’s the thing, even though Spring decidedly rules, not all bits of Spring are alike in European Christendom. See the most important religious festival of the year is smack dab in the middle of Spring. Easter, famously, is a moveable feast. That means it can occur anytime from March until late April. That is a bit of a downer, because while Easter Sunday itself is a big old party, the forty days before it are famously, not. Lent was not a joke in the medieval period. Your ass went vegan, prayed a lot, and ate much smaller meals. I mean, that was maybe not gonna be much of a choice anyway after the Winter has dwindled your food supplies, but that is not the point. You were meant to be emulating Jesus’s self imposed fasting in the desert. So make with the fasting.

On top of the fact that you were not supposed to be eating very much during Lent, there is also the fact that you were not supposed to be having fun generally. By fun generally, I of course mean having sex. Once again, right-thinking, God-fearing Christians were supposed to be like Jesus in the desert – thinking on God and their own salvation. Not rubbing on each other and having a generally nice time. Absolutely not. That means you were probs contending with an empty stomach and Spring fever until at least the end of March, but more likely sometime into April.

And that is why people wrote horny stuff about Spring and also May.

No I am serious – that passage of the Secreta Secretorum up there? Yeah here is the next bit:

“The earth puts on its full raiment and beauty, and looks like a lovely bride and a very fair maiden adorned with jewels and clad in many colours to appear in men’s sight on her wedding-day.”

You know how you sometimes just … wanna have sex with the concept of Spring? Yeah-ha. This is not a one off though! The medieval equivalent of a best seller, Guillaume de Lorris’s Roman de la Rose opens by setting the scene “in May, in the lusty season” (“en mai […] / Ou tens amorous.”) If you wanted to write a poem about rich people cucking each other you had best believe you would set it in May. Cuz that is the horny time. It is just a fact!

Our good friend Chaucer, in his time-honoured extremely horny way wrote about May in the same way, in is Legend of Good Women saying:

“Save, certainly, when the month of  May
Is come, and I hear the birds all sing,
And the flowers all begin to spring,
Farewell my book and my devotion!
And then am I in such condition
That, of all the flowers in the mead,
Love I most the white and red I see,
Such as men call daisies in our town.
For them I have so great an affection,
As I have said, at the start of May,
That in my bed there dawns no day
When I’m not up and walking in the  mead
To see this flower to the sun freed,
When it rises early on the morrow;
That blissful sight softens all my sorrow,
So glad am I when I am in its presence
To show it all and every reverence,
As she that is the flower of all flowers,
Whom every virtue and honour dowers,
And ever alike fair and fresh of hue,
And I love it, and ever the love renew,
And ever shall until my heart shall die;
Though I swear not, and this I tell’s no lie,
No creature loved hotter in his life.”

So yeah here we are talking about how May is great because Chaucer loves daisies so much, and I am sure that you, my gentle readers, have almost certainly spotted that this is what we in the business call an allegory. The daisies be pretty girls. Get it? Yeah I know it isn’t subtle. And in May the girls. are. out. Out of the house, cuz they are in the fields, and more available to flirt with because they are not praying all the time. So if you are trying to grab a date May is the time to do so.[1]

In our locked in world this is all very depressing, as none of us are getting to enjoy going on dates. It is hard to be surrounded by a sexy month and also know the medieval people were horny for it when we, ourselves, are very much curtailed in our universal phoar. Even there we are not without medieval guidance. The poem A Bird in Bishopswood (which you can hear my esteemed colleague Eric Weiskott read aloud in middle English at that link. Do it!) set in the forest in what is now London’s Bethnal Green, sees its author during “the merry month of May” having a solitary walk “weary of [him]self … in grief for [his] life, and all [his] joy gone”.[2] Relatable AF. He hears a beautiful bird singing and tries to capture her to remind himself of the beauties of May during the Winter. But he doesn’t have the right equipment to capture her so instead checks himself and walks away quietly so she will continue to sing, undisturbed. Damn.

Once again this, is an allegory. Sometimes beautiful things can’t be had! And the best reaction to that is to just let them do their thing peacefully as opposed to struggling to attain them when doing so is impossible. That struggle only serves to heighten our extant sadness. Don’t do it! Try to just enjoy the ephemerality of beauty around us!

Cambridge Trinity MS B.11.22, f. 2r.

A Bird in Bishopswood is in many ways the lesson that we can all take away from this weird lockdown May. It is possible to enjoy things just the way they are, even if it isn’t our ideal situation! Yeah, we do not get to enjoy dating and flirting and pubs and … you know what? Imma stop that list. Sure, we can’t meet other people IRL, but there are tech work arounds and social-distanced park meet ups available. Yeah because it is the twenty-first century, we can usually get nice things to eat most of the year – but it is alphonso mango season right the fuck now, my friends. Can’t get one of those babies in December. That in and of itself is sexy. And yeah, many of us have not been blessed with the sensation of another human’s touch, let alone sex with another person, for months. But the sun on your skin? Come on now, yes.

At the minute our world is smaller and slower for sad and not fun reasons. I would submit that the way to make that easier is to look at another smaller, slower era for ways to deal with that. We can start by getting hyped for what is left of May.

Now if you will excuse me imma eat a Solero on the deck. Who’s to say that’s not sexy?

[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women, at http://mcllibrary.org/GoodWomen/, <Accessed, 20/05/2020>.
[2]Medieval Literature and Antiquities: Studies in Honour of Basil Cottle, ed. Myra Stokes and T. L. Burton (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987), pp. 71-87.

If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my patreon. If not, that is chill too!

For more on the medieval secrets to enjoying yourself, see:
On the Medieval secret to a balling Christmas for once
On Michaelmas

For more on the ultimate medieval literary trope, courtly love, see:
On courtly love and pick-up artists
On incels and courtly love
On courtly love, sexual coercion, and killing your idols
On Hotline Bling and courtly love
On power and the entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women, or, the thing that is actually ‘medieval’ about Trump

For more advice based on the medieval period, see:
On the ideal form of women
The history of penis-in-vagina as default sex at Bish!
On women and desire

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, George Michael evangelist.

3 thoughts on “On the Lusty Month of May”

  1. I’ve never had an Alphonso mango and now seeing they’re considered the “king of mangoes,” color me intrigued. My favorite mango is the Mexican one, Ataulfo. Probably easier to get for me in the US.


  2. In hot climates, we get less excited about spring, but we very much get excited about autumn, in a very similar manner. Rain means there will be crops next year. Even today, the amount of rainfall is very much a topic of conversation. (Live in Israel)


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