General statements about particular phenomena or objects in the Middle Ages are easy to make, especially when they concern salacious subjects and tease out modern fantasies about that past time. Since it might be rather sobering for the modern audience to discard these myths, critical approaches have a hard time to be listened to. Nevertheless, as our examination of the chastity belt in particular demonstrates, even though many writers colported, expanded, disseminated, and discussed the myth of the chastity belt as a fast of historical truth, and even though a number of museums and collections still claim to own authentic specimens, an objective interpretation of the relevant documents convincingly reveals the mythical nature of this curious object. When artists such as Conrad Kyser, Hans Vogtherr the Younger, Heinrich Aldegrever, and Peter Flotner included the chastity belt in their drawings or woodcuts, and when writers such as Sercambi utilized the motif of the chastity belt for satirical purposes, then they did not intend to demonstrate that the chastity belt actually existed and was in common use. They only revealed through their work that they were aware of and enjoyed toying with this element of male erotic fantasy.

By the same token, if a modern artist or writer were to incorporate an entirely imaginative object or theme into his/her image or text, which subsequently would widely appeal to the public taste for fantasy, which as UFOs or crop circles, this would not suddenly translate into evidence that they actually exist. But myths are so profoundly appealing because they escape the critical examination and make blunt statements that are far removed from being rational, logical, and factual. Myths survive all rational analysis because the authorities supporting the myths are always far removed and mostly untraceable. The more various writers and even scholars since the eighteenth century discussed the medieval chastity belt, the more it seemed to gain in its authenticity status.

The myth of the chastity belt, however, can be unraveled, and it is high time we dismiss it entirely as one of those many icons popular opinion likes to associate with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially because of numerous fakes in European museums and collections, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century caricature drawings, and several literary examples from the same period. Satire, on the one hand, and political propaganda on the other, not to forget the rich tradition of ironic treatments of the chastity belt in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature and the visual arts, powerfully merged to provide the foundation for a myth that continues to exert its influence on modern fantasy about the Middle Ages, especially disseminated via the world wide web and its endless possibilities for everyone to publish practically anything.

Albrecht Classen, The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process (2007)


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