Carnival is a Euro-Christian festival with roots in Dionysian revelry. As a religious festival it was important for preparing for the observation of Lent. Lent is a time of fasting to deepen the individual Christian’s spirituality; it is a time of penance and almsgiving set up to remind Catholic Christians of “the need for acts of penance to serve as punishment for sins and acts of charity to make up for them. Basically the idea is to do good things to balance out all of the bad, as well as avoiding more bad things” (Johnson 1994, 50). Etymologically, carnival derives from carnevale (Italian) and carne-le-vare (Latin)—the removal of meat or “goodbye to flesh”. Of course, it is more than the eating of meat that is in question; the indulgence in physical activities that gratify the body’s desires, of which sex seems to be the most troubling, is also encapsulated in carnevale. Medieval Carnival therefore was a festival of physical abandonment—unlimited eating, * A version of this paper will be published in a special issue of Sexuality and Culture 2011. This version was revised for presentation and discussion at the Catholic Theology Conference. 2 drinking and rejecting societal codes of conduct (Noel 2009). In that concern with disciplining the body/ unruly flesh that is symbolised in and reinscribed by the excesses of carnival that I saw a hint of the problem that the body poses for Christians (Hence, the title of the presentation).
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