Epic Chastity

The first trick to unpacking the larger concept of chastity within the context of an epic poem is to accept at the start that chastity, not unlike gender and sexuality, is a spectrum, or even a multi-dimensional cartesian plane. While this is relatively contemporary terminology, the application of the genius of chastity in this way is, in fact, very old, as the word “chastity” proper, traditionally houses a wide variety of images and resonances. The first and arguably most obvious of these resonances is, of course, the chastity of maintained [female] virginity before marriage, but chastity in this context might also pertain to the innocence of one who is unlearned of sexual attitudes and behaviors, as well as the commitment of that [female] virgin to remain sexually inactive and untouched until marriage. As soon as marriage enters the conversation, however, the dimension of the chastity begins to morph. Under these terms, chastity might now mean fidelity, before and after marriage vows and after the after-marriage vows, but it might also go a step further to form a logical progression linking virginal fidelity to marriage and marital fidelity to childbirth– what? Exactly. It would seem that a woman who bore and continues to bear child after child is the last of persons to be considered “chaste” in the first sense of the word, but then again, we are dealing with a spectrum; and this is the exact moment at which the concept begins to fold back on itself and round out to bring our attention all the way back to concentrated innocence and going so far as to package this innocence in the vision of small children, a constellation, perhaps of all the honesty, fidelity, sweetness, vulnerability, youth, and physically unblemished or touched bodies and minds that floods the field of vision of “chastity.” –M.K. Foster

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