Towards a Critical Queer and Gendered Analysis of the Kanonarion

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This webinar discusses the penitential manual known as the Kanonarion as a source for the history of sexuality and gender in Byzantium.

The tradition of the Kanonarion, initially attributed to a certain John, monk and deacon, offers instructions for hearing confession of various sins of the flesh and imposing penances of excommunication, prayer, and fasting. Amongst other things, the Kanonarion gathers and transmits knowledge of ways that men might have sex with each other, including anal intercourse, intercrural or interfemoral frottage, mutual masturbation, and simple hand jobs. It also reports incest among brothers. Oral sex is, perhaps surprisingly, missing from the list. The manual also makes distinctions among sex between consenting adults, sex between adults where one is partner is under duress or in service to the other, and sex between adults and minors. The manual does not have a concept of sexual orientation; it does distinguish between occasional offences and persistent habits. The text is also rich in detail about cross-sex and solo sexual activities. And for all of these, it offers a program of repentance and reform mitigated by oikonomia.

The goal of our discussion will be to explore the ways the text can expand and augment our understanding of the history of sexuality and gender in Byzantium.


Convener: Matthew Kinloch


Greek text: Miguel Arranz, I penitenziali bizantini: Il Protokanonarion o Kanonarion Primitivo di Giovanni Monaco e Diacono e il Deuterokanonarion o “Secondo Kanonarion” di Basilio Monaco (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 1993), pp. 30-128.

English translation: Frans van de Paverd, The Kanonarion by John, Monk and Deacon and Didascalia Patrum, Kanonika 12 (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 2006), pp. 37-56.

Basic Background: Spyros Troianos, “Byzantine Canon Law to 1100,” in The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500, ed. Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2012), pp. 158-60.