Theorizing Black Venus
Ve·nus [ME, fro L. Vener-, Venus] I: the Roman goddess of natural produc-
tivityand in later times of love and beauty-compare
The African woman belongs to the dream world of primal psychological con-
ceptions. - Hans Werner Debrunner, Presence
Prestige: Africans in Europe
During the Middle Ages, between
religious scholar
Peter Abelard wrote to his beloved HelOIse of the
Song of Songs:
"The bride of Canticles, an Ethiopian ... rejoices: '1 am black but
comely. . . . [and] she did well to say that because she is black and
lovely therefore chosen and taken into the king's bed chamber ...
to that secret place. As far as the Ethiopian ... such a wife prefers
hidden pleasures." The erudite continues, "Besides, it so happens
that the skin of black women, less agreeable to the gaze, is softer to
touch and the pleasures one derives from their love are more deli-
cious and delightful."
This compilation of letters, simply titled
Lettres completes d'Ahilard et d'Hiloise,
is studied and exalted for a
variety of reasons. Yet the most memorable passages of this treasure
of a text are those that matter-of-factly explain the significance of
blackness and the nature of black female sexuality and black female
bodies. A not-at-all odd coupling of theology and sensuality, Abe-
lard's erotically laden explications couched in religious frames ofref-
erence mark the beginning of a sexualized narrative projected onto
black women that has found its place particularly among France's
nineteenth-century male literary cadre. One need not look into the
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