Poetics, Pornography, and Play in Warner of Rouen’s Moriuht

Teaching, research, and more

Warner of Rouen’s Moriuht, dedicated to Robert II, Archbishop of Rouen (d. 1037) and his mother Gunnor, is a striking combination of literary critique and graphic, even brutal, sexual humor. Extant in one manuscript witness alongside Warner’s other poetic satires, the poem follows the adventures of Irish grammarian Moriuht as he attempts to save his wife from Vikings, including his own enslavement and numerous sexual encounters with Vikings, nuns, and possibly the countess of Rouen. As scholars of Moriuht have commented, part of the pleasure of this obscene invective would have been its allusive quality, as Warner refers not only to Horace and Virgil but also to Juvenalian satire. This paper will explore one particular Juvenalian reference that casts both sexuality and poetic prowess as a kind of performance: the speaker’s repeated accusations that Moriuht is “playing Ravola.” This allusion recalls the Ravola of Juvenal’s Satire 9—caught out performing oral sex on a woman like “the slave who licks the pastries”—and the satire’s hapless addressee, Naevolus, whose sexual exploitation by his patron Virro renders him unhappy but knowledgeable about his patron’s secrets, the foil to the satirist himself. The poet, it seems, must always play a part for his patron, rhetorical if not sexual. What separates the successful Warner from the embarrassing Moriuht, then, is not only Moriuht’s nationality or ineptitude with poetic meter. Warner also satirizes his inability to play the part of the self-aware client poet, while letting his own patrons in on the joke.