An Analysis of Sex and Sexuality in With His Venom by Sappho and the Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

Sex is an extraordinarily controversial topic, particularly in literature and media. Youth

grows up believing sex is performed mutually and happily between two people in love. Media does not help this image, considering most media deepens this concept of sex and love being virtually inseparable. This is what a majority of humanity sees in their journey for love and lust. Most choose to stay ignorant, or blind, to most of the not-so-great parts of sex. This includes rape, the unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of another person with or without force and without the consent of the victim. This also includes sex with friends and

having “no strings attached”. Homosexuality also tends to be overlooked in media, along with woman dominance. All of these are often ignored because they aren’t the most dominant source controlling the media (excluding literature) and they don’t happen every day to everyone and some are too horrible or offensive to think about regularly. While some aspects of these themes are being shown more and more readily, many still choose to ignore their existence. Literature, however, has nearly always elaborated on the truth of strong feelings involved in “sex” and intercourse and continues to say what goes unsaid. Even though the popular culture displays sexual relationships as loving and mutual, literature portrays sex more accurately in the elaboration of a certain violence and disorder that may be seen throughout the sexual relationship.

The Cask of Amontillado is a brilliant short story written by Edgar Allan Poe. Initially, the story opens with a strong and direct idea. Montresor, the narrator of the story makes it very known that the story is about punishment and is greatly shown through the direct and repetitive nature of his speaking. Revolving around the intense pleasure or regret gained from the true hatred from the narrator of his “friend” (Poe, 2), Fortunato, the story takes great pride in its originality and depth. Fortunato seemingly did nothing to Montresor besides become successful

and “happy, as once [Montresor] was.” (Poe, 2). One may infer that Poe could have intended

Montresor to gain a seeming sexual pleasure from the intense hatred being released and appeased in his mind. One of the quite unique takes on this story is the potential for closeted homosexuality. In the Periodical Research in the American Classroom written by Jeffery Charis- Carlson, the writer elaborates on the potential of blatant homosexuality between Fortunato and Montresor in The Cask of Amontillado. This is shown through Montresor’s symbolic femininity and Fortunato’s evident masculinity. Montresor is associated throughout this story with femininity because of his way of speaking and his submission to Fortunato throughout the story until the very end. Poe likely intended the reader to find Montresor feminine by associating him with typically feminine traits. These roles may potentially be why Montresor became jealous and attempted to switch roles with Fortunato. It also states that Montresor means “my treasure” and is a term of endearment to “the fortunate” Fortunato. Richard Rust write a book called Punish

with Impunity that explains the potential origins of Poe’s short story as this work brings a better and stronger insight into the writings of Poe, showing that people most likely aren’t just guessing what Poe meant while he was writing. His inspiration for the short story may have rooted from his encounters with a man named English that would back the true revenge on the tale, bringing a greater understanding of the emotions and confusion of love, lust, and hate formed within. This all boils down to the way we view sex, and sex does not always need to be deemed as coitus.

Sex, in reality, isn’t always perfect and loving. Poetry captures this truth in the divinest sense. Sappho wrote a very short poem called With His Venom. Despite the size of this brilliant work, it’s sharp, impactful, and bursting with truth. She swept the nation with her poems that expressed the truth of desire, braking many expectations and boundaries because of the depth and truth of her work. However, many controversies arise from her writing due to the underlying

interpretations of gender divide and homosexuality, seeing that Sappho was often equated to a lesbian. Gender seems to “complicate” and perhaps even “subvert the underlying paradigms of intertextuality” according to Rosenmeyer in Materiali e discussioni per l’analisi dei testi classici, meaning because she was a homosexual woman in this time period, most readers were not able to take her seriously. However, looking past bias views of the writer that many had, she had a fantastic way of expressing true emotion and unbiased views on real issues in her writings. In this poem specifically, she informs her readers that his “venom” is “irresistible and bittersweet” and explained that his love strikes her down. She is unafraid to make people aware of the bittersweet and addictive nature of love and romanticism, which here, could be plutonic or sexual. Sex is easily conceptualized in one specific way, as we spoke about in class.

Most literature can easily capture more aspects of sex and love and strong emotions than most popular media, because of who tends to be in charge of it. Seemingly, media’s goal is to make sex as mainstream as possible and to sell to as many viewers as possible. Literature is written and published by nearly anyone who wishes to write and the goal seems to be to capture truth. With his Venom is not too dissimilar 85 written by the legendary Catullus in the way that both heavily rely on the idea that there is a strife in the love and desire. He explains that he “hate[s] and love[s]” and he doesn’t know why. Much like the speaker in With His Venom, they’re both in “bittersweet” “torment” with their burning love and hate for the desires they feel. While both of these may seem like very simple and short poems, there’s a lot more to the both of them than meets the eye. Bishop elaborates on the true depth of 85 in his book, Latomus. He spends this chapter explaining the structure of this poem and clears up many possibilities about the true meaning of the poem. Looking into the meaning more deeply, he indicates that love and hate are emotions revolved around a definite object, much like sexuality in his opinion. He also

mentioned that there is no definite object in the poem, making the poems center no longer about external conflict but “interior turmoil”.

All in all, both of these brilliant poems are much deeper than they appear to be. They are more than two different people speaking about their issues finding true delight in sex, they detail much further in the true aspects of sexual relations; that they’re not perfect and much more realistic than media views them to be. The difference between the societal and media portrayals of sex and the nature of the actual act is a lack of emotional attachment. Societal expectations of sex are always tied to love and consent, completely ruling out other, less desirable aspects of sex such as rape and emotionless, “no strings attached❞ sex. Further, gender and sexual orientation bias are quite prominent throughout all aspects of society, whether it be in person, in the media, or even the readers of books upon the writers. Literature, on the other hand, more accurately portrays the darker sides of sex as exemplified by the works mentioned above by Edgar Allan Poe and Sappho. These authors, as well as many others, are unafraid to expose and detail the true nature of sex, proving what we’ve discussed; that sex and intimacy has more to it than just romanticism and feelings of love and commitment as many believe.

References.

Bishop, D. (n.d.). Catullus 85 Structure, Hellenistic Parallels, and the Topos Latomus with

Societe D’Etudes Latines De Bruxelles. (3rd ed. Vol. 30 pp. 633-642).

Charis-Carlson, J. (2002). Periodical Research in the American Classroom. (Vol. 12, pp. 198-

207). Ohio State UP.

Dern, J. Poe’s Public Speakers: Rhetorical Strategies in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of

Amontillado” In the Edgar Allan Poe Review. (2nd ed. Vol. 2. Pp. 53-70). Penn State UP. Greene, E. (1996). Re-reading Sappho: Reception and Transmission. (Revised ed., Vol. 3).

University of California.

Poe, E., & Shaw, B. (1909). The Cask of Amontillado. In Selected tales of mystery. London:

Sidgwick & Jackson.

Rust, R. (2001). Poe, Thomas Dunn English, and “The Cask of Amontillado”” The Edgar Allan

Poe Review. In Punish With Impunity (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 33-52). Penn State UP. Sappho. (n.d.). With His Venom.

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