being cuckolded is impotent husbands’ best hope for future

London cuckold

Current, official paternity establishment procedures institutionalize the cuckolding of men. Men have been completely impotent in addressing that social injustice and many other social injustices against men. Moreover, despite impassioned admonishments not to marry, many men still get married. What is impotent husbands’ best hope for the future?

An impotent husband in sixth-century Vandal north Africa shows how men can make the best of their circumstances. Whether as a result of a sexless marriage, being castrated, or some other difficulty, the husband Proconius was unable to sire children. Most women in the ancient world, including in ancient Athens, worked outside the home.[1] Women probably enjoyed such work no more than men do. Proconius offered his wife an opportunity to work within the home as a prostitute. She accepted, as would many men would if they had equally good opportunities to work as home-based prostitutes. By having his wife work as a prostitute, Proconius not only increased family income, but also increased the probability of having children in his family.

The Latin poet Luxorius ironically condemned the impotent husband’s pragmatic, multi-pronged strategy for increasing family income and having children. Luxorius wrote:

About he who made his wife a prostitute in order to have children

Unable to perpetuate your father’s lineage,
you hear yourself called father. Pious adulterer,
you damn your wife’s chaste loins
to bear for you bastard sons,
herself not knowing from which seed they have arisen.
Perhaps that detestable arrangement might have been
bearable for awhile, Proconius,
if yours could ever as an adult know
that his mother could say …

{De eo qui uxorem suam prostare faciebat pro filiis habendis

Stirpe negata patrium nomen
non pater audis. Castus adulter
coiugis castae viscera damnas,
pariat spurios ut tibi natos,
inscia quo sint semine creti.
Fuerant forsan ista ferenda
foeda, Proconi, vota parumper,
scire vel ipsam si tuus umquam
posset adultus dicere matrem …} [2]

The concluding incompleteness poetically emphasizes the burden of the unspeakable. How could the mother explain to her son that she doesn’t even know who his true biological father is? How could she say what her husband wanted and what she did? Gynocentric society not only makes men impotent, but also makes unspeakable men’s interests with respect to reproductive rights and custody of children. That unspeakability extends even to a man’s mother. Only a great poet like Luxorius can challenge the silencing of men’s interests.

Husbands tolerant of cuckolding can benefit greatly from their wives’ strong, independent sexuality. Cuckolded men have commonly been ridiculed. But a husband like Cinna, a Roman figure from about 2000 years ago, had many blessings:

By Marulla, you Cinna, have become the father of seven
non-freeborn children; for none of them is yours,
and none is the son of a friend or neighbor,
but, as they were conceived on couches and mats,
they reveal their mother’s adulteries by their heads.
This one, who struts around with curly hair like a Moor,
confesses himself the offspring of Santra the cook.
That one, with flat nostrils and blubber lips,
is the very image of Pannychus the wrestling coach.
Who is ignorant that the third is the pastry-cook’s,
when he knows and sees bleary-eyed Dama?
The fourth, with the brow and pale complexion of a passive homosexual,
was born for you from your concubine Lygdus;
Sodomize your son, if you like; it’s no sin.
Ah yes, this one with the pointed head and long ears
that move like a donkey’s typically do,
who could deny that he’s the son of Cyrta the amusing idiot?
Two sisters, one black, the other red,
are Crotus the flautist’s and Carpus the bailiff’s.
You’d now have a brood as numerous as Niobe’s,
if Coresus and Dindymus hadn’t been eunuchs.

{Pater ex Marulla, Cinna, factus es septem
non liberorum: namque nec tuus quisquam
nec est amici filiusve vicini,
sed in grabatis tegetibusque concepti
materna produnt capitibus suis furta.
Hic qui retorto crine Maurus incedit
subolem fatetur esse se coci Santrae.
At ille sima nare, turgidis labris
ipsa est imago Pannychi palaestritae.
Pistoris esse tertium quis ignorat,
quicumque lippum novit et videt Damam?
Quartus cinaeda fronte, candido vultu
ex concubino natus est tibi Lygdo;
percide, si vis, filium: nefas non est.
Hunc vero acuto capite et auribus longis,
quae sic moventur ut solent asellorum,
quis morionis filium negat Cyrtae?
Duae sorores, illa nigra et haec rufa,
Croti choraulae vilicique sunt Carpi.
Iam Niobidarum grex tibi foret plenus
si spado Coresus Dindymusque non esset.} [3]

Men throughout history have received much joy from having physical custody of children and providing loving child support. Moreover, in the ancient world, children were economic and social assets. With his large, diverse family, Cinna had a rich position as a father.

If men today are unwilling to fight for social justice and challenge castration culture, they should at least recognize their impotence. Being impotent, men can marry without fear of sexless marriage. Wanting to be fathers, they can live in the audacity of hoping to be cuckolded.

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[1] Many scholars continue to believe absurd claims that women in ancient Athens and in other non-modern societies were confined within the home. Cohen (1991), Ch. 6, underscores the ridiculousness of such belief.

[2] Anthologia Latina 317 (R322), from Latin my translation, with help from Rosenblum (1961) p. 36 (poem 36). The Latin text is from Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982) p. 257, with my minor adaptations to the editorial presentation. Rosenblum has a nearly identical Latin text. In the penultimate line, I’ve followed the primary manuscript reading scire vel (which Rosenblum follows), rather than Shackleton Bailey’s emendation ille vel.

The reading and interpretation of the last two lines have raised considerable scholarly debate. Rosenblum (1961), pp. 203-4, reviews various readings and interpretations. Rosenblum favors the reading above for the last two lines. He translates them as “if ever your son when grown-up could say that his mother herself knew.” He glosses those lines as:

You adopted this shameful way of being a father, Proconius. However, you are not the boy’s father, and what is more, the boy can never say who is his real father because even his mother cannot tell. This makes your detestable desire intolerable.

Id. pp. 133, 204. As Rosenblum himself observes, in this reading “the element of surprise is lacking.” The mother’s uncertainty about her son’s biological father is already clear from line 5. Luxorius’s poetry shows great sensitivity to men’s lived experiences and men’s interests. My translation and interpretation are consistent with Luxorius’s overall style and concerns.

[3] Martial, Epigrams 6.39, Latin text from Shackleton Bailey (1993) p. 28, my translation, with help from Shackleton Bailey’s translation, id. p. 29, and those of Tom Gardner and Mark Brustman.

[image] An Answer to the London Cuckold. Published about 1685-8. EBBA ID: 21787,  Pepys Library, Magdalene College – Pepys 4.123. Both images thanks to University of California, Santa Barbara, English Broadside Ballad Archive.


Cohen, David. 1991. Law, sexuality, and society: the enforcement of morals in classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Riese, Alexander, and David R. Shackleton Bailey. 1982. Anthologia latina: sive poesis latinae supplementum. Pars. 1. Carmina in codicibus scripta. Fasc. 1. Libri Salmasiani aliorumque carmina. Stutgardiae: In aedibus Teubneri. Online prior edition Riese (1894).

Rosenblum, Morris. 1961. Luxorius: a Latin poet among the Vandals; together with a text of the poems and an English translation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Shackleton Bailey, D.R., trans. 1993. Martial. Epigrams. Loeb Classical Library 95, 480. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

husbands can work with wives reluctant to work outside the home

Penelope, wife of Ulysses

Despite much social pressure to work full-time for money outside the home, some wives are nonetheless reluctant to take such jobs. That puts husbands in the difficult, burdensome position of being primary wage-earners for their families.  Husbands with wives reluctant to work full-time for money outside the home should explain to them how their position, an aspect of socially entrenched female privilege, oppresses men. Drawing upon insights from classical literature, such husbands might discuss working together with their wives in a home-based prostitution enterprise.

Wives and husbands can achieve a more equal economic partnership through a home-based prostitution enterprise. According to the esteemed Roman author Horace, the renowned seer Tiresias advised Ulysses (the Roman name for Odysseus) to pursue such an enterprise with his wife Penelope. Penelope was renowned for her chastity since the time of Homer’s Odyssey. Ulysses queried incredulously:

Do you think her services can be bought, a woman of such honesty and virtue, whom the suitors could not turn away from the right track? [1]

The wise Tiresias explained:

Yes. The young men who came were frugal in giving. They were more interested in the kitchen’s offerings than those of Venus. This is why your Penelope is virtuous. Give her just one taste of a nice bit of profit from one old man, having you as her partner, and she’ll be just like the dog that can never be scared away from the greasy hide.

Penelope’s true virtue was in her willingness to work as a partner with her husband. While not all women are like that, other women similarly partnered with their husbands. Apuleius in the second century GC described husband and wife partners who developed a thriving prostitution enterprise with a broader customer base and a more elaborate business model:

His whole house is that of a pimp, his whole household corrupt. He himself is infamous, his wife a whore, and his sons are of the same caliber. All day and night young people have their fling. There is kicking at the doors and noisy singing at the windows, the dining room is swarming with revelers, and the bedroom is open to adulterers. Nobody needs to fear going in, provided he has paid the price to the husband. This way the disgrace of his own bed becomes a source of income. Once he smartly earned money with his own body; now he publicly does so with the body of his wife. Most visitors make arrangements with the man himself — this is not a lie! — yes, with the man himself about a night with his wife! And there we see that famous “secret understanding” between man and woman. Those who have brought along ample means to pay for the wife are watched by nobody and can leave when they wish. But those who arrive more empty-handed on a given sign are “caught in adultery.” As if they have come for a writing lesson, they may not leave before they have “written something” {a financial promissory instrument}. [2]

Unfortunately, due to the social devaluation of men’s sexuality, husbands lack equal opportunity to work as prostitutes. Nonetheless, wife and husband working together as business partners in a home-based prostitution enterprise is an important step toward gender-egalitarian marriage.

Classical literature warns of risk in husband and wife working together as sexual business partners. The wife may find a better partner:

On a pimp for his own wife

Wretched Greek, well-practiced in your ingenious art of pimping,
you began to act as your wife’s procurer,
and, when your wife’s strong allure had clawed a man,
you were accustomed to have him thrown out of his house.
But one clever fellow scorned the net you had stretched out for him,
and himself determined to stay in your house.
Thus once let in, (he won over your wife)
and thrust you wretched out of your own home.
This alone proves true the jocund poet’s words:
“While cutting the goat’s throat, you yourself were made a gelding.”

{De lenone uxoris suae

Graecule, consueta lenandi callidus arte,
coepisti adductor coniugis esse tuae,
et, quem forte procax penitus conroserate uxor,
consueras propria praecipitare domo.
Sed praetensa catus derisit retia quidam,
quurverastatuens horemaneredomo.
Nam semel admissus (derisit retia quidam)
teque tuis miserum depulit e laribus.
Solus vera probas iucundi verba poetae:
“dum iugulas hircum, factus es ipse caper.”} [3]

The anti-men bias of criminal law is associated with men being harshly punished for adultery (losing their home) and women scarcely being punished at all. Moreover, wives can easily have their husbands thrown out of the marital home. Men who fail to act with true, praiseworthy chivalry towards their wives run great personal risk. But men who sufficiently value ideals of gender equality should accept that risk.

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[1] Horace, Satires 2.5.77-83, from Latin trans. Davie (2011) pp. 51-2. The subsequent quote is from id. In this and subsequent quotes, I’ve made some non-substantive changes to make the quotes easier to read. Here’s the Latin text and Tony Kline’s alternate online English translation.

[2] Apuleius, Apologia (A Discourse on Magic) 75, from Latin trans. Hunink in Harrison, Hilton & Hunink (2001) pp. 95-6. Thanks to James J. O’Donnell of Georgetown University, here’s an online Latin text, with a helpful English crib, as well as a alternate, more fluid English translation.

Pursuing adultery for financial gain apparently was a well-recognized practice in the ancient world. See Demosthenes 59.41 (Against Neaera); Lysias 1.4; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 5, Ch. 2 (1130a25). Augustan legislation explicitly prohibited pimping one’s wife:

Anyone who makes a profit from his wife’s adultery is punished, for it is no small crime to have pimped for one’s wife.

Ulpian, Digest, from Latin trans. Cohen (1991) p. 130.

[3] Anthologia Latina 116 (R127), Latin text from Kay (2006) p. 48, my translation, with help from id. p. 197. Lines 6-7 have textual problems. The repetition of the half-line of l. 5 in l. 7 is obviously incorrect. Above I follow Kay’s sensible interpretations.

[image] Penelope, wife of Ulysses (Odysseus). Manuscript illumination from f. 1r of Ovid, Héroïdes, traduction d’Octavien de Saint-Gelais, 1497. Thanks to Gallica and Wikimedia Commons.


Cohen, David. 1991. Law, sexuality, and society: the enforcement of morals in classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davie, John, trans. 2011. Horace. Satires and epistles. New York: Oxford University Press.

Harrison, S. J., John Hilton, and Vincent Hunink, trans. 2001. Apuleius: rhetorical works. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kay, N. M. 2006. Epigrams from the Anthologia Latina: text, translation and commentary. London: Duckworth.

what do men want? Gattula shows women’s misunderstandings

Oni like Gattula

Many women don’t understand why men prefer to be pigs. Some think that men are dogs (if not u, Doug!), ready to snap their leashes as soon as a woman shakes her bones. No one today dares tell women the truth about women and men. But back in the sixth century in Vandal north Africa, Luxorius wrote Latin poetry fearlessly. Consider his poem to the ugly exotic dancer Gattula:

To an ugly lutist

When you dance, Gattula, your wretched body
gives no one pleasure, you horrid one.
You instead prove yourself to be an insane lutist
who makes her ugly face worse with her gyrations,
and, as long as you displease, prompts everyone’s jokes.
Do you believe that your finger-cymbals delight the public?
No one possesses such a judgment of mind
that he wouldn’t, on account of you, abandon that joy.

{In psaltriam foedam

Cum saltas misero, Gattula, corpore
nec cuiquam libitum est, horrida, quod facis.
Insanam potius te probo psaltriam,
quae foedam faciem motibus ingravas,
et, dum displiceas, quosque patras iocos.
Credis quod populos cymbala mulceant?
Nemo iudicium tale animi gerit
pro te ut non etiam gaudia deserat.} [1]

Not just any exotic dancing girl is alluring to men. As hateful as it is to say today (yes, you can dance even if you’re obese), most men want a woman with an attractive body and a lovely face.

Throughout the ages, men have commonly been forced to pay for sex under the oppressive social structures of gynocentrism. But what if a woman offered to pay a man for sex? Could money compensate for a woman’s ugliness, or even for her anti-meninist attitude? In another poem to Gattula, Luxorius delivered a clear answer:

Another about the same {Gattula}, who promised a bribe to be loved

Why do you make a promise of payment, Gattula, to be loved?
Give payment so that you won’t hate yourself at the same time!
Why waste your bribes? Why promise gifts to so many men?
Accept payment from me for not giving me anything!
There is no lover so passionate and equally insane
that he doesn’t believe you are a monstrous evil.
But if some fornicator should happen to rise from the dead,
whom somebody like you pleases, give your gifts to him!

{Item de ea, quod ut amaretur praemia promittebat

Quid facis ut pretium promittens, Gattula, ameris?
Da pretium ne te oderis ipsa simul!
Praemia cur perdis? Cur spondes munera tantis?
Accipe tu pretium ne mihi dona feras!
Non est tam petulans pariterque insanus amator
qui te non credat prodigiale malum.
Sed si forte aliquis moechus surrexit ab umbris,
cui talis placeas, huic tua dona dato!} [2]

Gattula apparently offers Luxorius money to have sex with her. In the second line, Luxorius proposes that she pay him for not having sex with her in return for her payment. The underlying understanding is that a woman paying money to have sex with a man is shameful and reason for her self-hate. That understanding reflects the social construction of women’s superior sexual value relative to men. In the fourth line, Luxorius even offers to pay Gattula for not having sex with him. That line ironically gestures to social belief that, whatever the circumstances, men must pay money to women. In any case, Luxorius isn’t willing to have sex with Gattula even if she pays him. No amount of money can compensate for a woman’s ugliness and anti-meninist attitude.

The concluding image of a fornicator rising from the dead shows Luxorius’s poetic creativity and daring. In sixth-century Vandal north Africa, both Christianity and more traditional Greco-Roman beliefs were vibrant cultural resources. Just as Luxorius apparently created a counterpart to Jerome’s Paula, here Luxorius seems to have created a counterpart to Jesus. In Luxorius’s time and place, Jesus of Nazareth undoubtedly was the most famous person that many claimed to have risen from the dead. No one believed that Jesus was a fornicator. A woman like Gattula would not have pleased Jesus. Yet Jesus invites all sinners to come to him for forgiveness, love, and personal transformation. Jesus would have accepted Gattula’s sincere gift of self to him.

Even most Christian men don’t quite manage to be exactly like Jesus. A woman must appreciate not just what a man wants, but also what a man actually is.

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[1] Anthologia Latina 356 (R361), from Latin my translation, with help from Rosenblum (1961) p. 157 (poem 75) and Starks (2011) p. 252. The Latin text is from Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982) p. 279, with my minor adaptations to the editorial presentation. Rosenblum has a nearly identical Latin text, but in line 5 has the primary manuscript reading feras rather than Shackleton’s emendation patras.

Gattula is an unusual name probably associated with a racially mixed woman. Starks (2011) p. 253.

[2] Anthologia Latina 357 (R362), cited as for Anthologia Latina 356. The titles to this and the previous epigram are probably not original to Luxorius.

Aristophanes indicates that some men were willing to accept gifts and money for having sex with ugly, old women. In Aristophanes’s Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Festival), a women curses “an old hag {who} seduces with gifts the boyfriend of a young girl.” Thesmophoriazusae l. 344, from Greek trans. George Theodoridis. In Plutus (Wealth), an old woman explains of her “lovely young stud of a lover”:

He was so modest with his requests. Very much so. For instance, he’d ask for, say, twenty drachmas for a cloak, or eight drachmas for a pair of shoes… and he’d get me to buy little skirts for his sisters or a dress for his mum… once he asked me for a sack of wheat…

Plutus, l. 981-7, from Greek trans. Theodoridis.

[image] Reclining oni. Ink and watercolor decoration on paper fan. By Kobayashi Kiyochika in late 19th-early 20th century Japan. Item S2003.8.1314, from the Robert O. Muller Collection of the Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC.


Riese, Alexander, and David R. Shackleton Bailey. 1982. Anthologia latina: sive poesis latinae supplementum. Pars. 1. Carmina in codicibus scripta. Fasc. 1. Libri Salmasiani aliorumque carmina. Stutgardiae: In aedibus Teubneri. Online prior edition: Riese (1894).

Rosenblum, Morris. 1961. Luxorius: a Latin poet among the Vandals; together with a text of the poems and an English translation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Starks, John H., Jr. 2011. “Was Black Beautiful in Vandal Africa?” Ch. 14 (pp. 239-57) in Orrells, Daniel, Gurminder K. Bhambra, and Tessa Roynon, eds. African Athena: new agendas. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Menelaus ordered forgetfulness in response to Helen’s betrayal & lies

clouds of oblivion

Telemachus and Pisistratus arrived at King Menelaus’s palace during the double wedding of Hermione and Megapenthes. Hermione, a golden-haired, breath-taking beauty, was the daughter of Menelaus and his wife Helen. Megapenthes, Menelaus’s strong, full-grown son, was born of Menelaus’s mistress during the time that Helen had left him for Paris. Amid the great joy and merriment of the double wedding, bitter memories clung to Helen and Menelaus.

Menelaus and Helen recognized Telemachus as being Odysseus’s son. Odysseus had fought with Menelaus in the brutal Trojan War to restore Helen to Menelaus. Menelaus mournfully recalled “all who died on the wide plain of Troy those years ago.” Menelaus grieved most sorely — “relentless, heartbreaking grief” — for Odysseus. Poring over his memory of Odysseus, Menelaus remembered that no one had struggled harder than Odysseus to win the war. Recognizing herself as the “shameless whore that I was,” Helen acknowledged that she was the cause of the horrible violence against men at Troy.[1] The double wedding became a fierce battle of emotions.

To win that battle, Helen drugged everyone. Into the mixing bowl for the wine she “slipped a drug, heart’s-ease, dissolving anger, / magic to make us all forget our pains…” Then she told a tale about Odysseus:

Scarring his own body with mortifying strokes,
throwing filthy rags on his back like any slave,
he slipped into the enemy’s city, roamed its streets —
all disguised, a totally different man, a beggar,
hardly the figure he cut among Achaea’s ships.
That’s how Odysseus infiltrated Troy,
and no one knew him at all …
I alone, I spotted him for the man he was,
kept questioning him — the crafty one kept dodging.
But after I’d bathed him, rubbed him down with oil,
given him clothes to wear and sworn a binding oath
not to reveal him as Odysseus to the Trojans, not
till he was back at his swift ships and shelters,
then at last he revealed to me, step by step,
the whole Achaean strategy. And once he’d cut
a troop of Trojans down with his long bronze sword,
back he went to his comrades, filled with information.

Menelaus wasn’t drugged enough to lose his mind. He sarcastically responded to Helen:

There was a tale, my lady. So well told.

Then Menelaus told about Odysseus:

What a piece of work the hero dared and carried off
in the wooden horse where all our best encamped,
our champions armed with bloody death for Troy …
when along you came, Helen — roused, no doubt,
by a dark power bent on giving Troy some glory,
and dashing Prince Deiphobus squired your every step.
Three times you sauntered round our hollow ambush,
feeling, stroking its flanks,
challenging all our fighters, calling each by name —
yours was the voice of all our long-lost wives!
And Diomedes and I, crouched tight in the midst
with great Odysseus, hearing you singing out,
were both keen to spring up and sally forth
or give you a sudden answer from inside,
but Odysseus damped our ardor, reined us back.
Then all the rest of the troops kept stock-still,
all but Anticlus. He was hot to salute you now
but Odysseus clamped his great hands on the man’s mouth
and shut it, brutally — yes, he saved us all.

Helen became the Trojan prince Deiphobus’s mistress after her Trojan lover Paris died in the war. Despite Helen’s tale, Menelaus evidently believed that Helen sought to betray him and his Greek compatriots to the Trojans. Yet Menelaus didn’t harm Helen. He accepted her back as his wife and even slept in the same bed as her. How could he do that?

Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica narrates how Menelaus coped with Helen’s betrayal. After the feast upon the Greeks’ return home, Menelaus and Helen lay in bed together. They said nothing to each other. Neither slept. Helen broke their silence:

Don’t start being angry, Menelaus, with me.
I did not leave your home and bed of my own accord.
But mighty Alexander {Paris} and the sons of Troy
Came and snatched me away while you were far from home.
I was constantly seeking to die a miserable death,
By means of the cruel noose or else by the lethal sword,
But people in the palace used soothing words to stop me,
In spite of the grief I felt for you and our dear daughter.
For her sake, for our wedded joy and for your own sake
I beg you to forget the terrible trouble I’ve caused you. [2]

Helen thus lied to her husband. Then she didn’t beg for his forgiveness. She begged for his forgetfulness.[3] Menelaus “in his wisdom” endorsed forgetfulness:

Stop thinking now about the suffering of our hearts.
Let that all be locked inside the black abode
Of oblivion. It’s wrong to keep recalling evil deeds.

Forgetfulness isn’t a reasonable way to deal with a woman like Helen, a serial liar who put men in great danger. Back in Troy, when Menelaus found Helen within the innermost part of the palace, he was going to kill her. But she showed him her bare breasts and his inanimate sword drooped:

Strange amazement came over him, and seeing her brilliant
Beauty he could no longer put his sword to her throat.
He stood there like a trunk of dead wood in a mountain
Forest, which neither the swift blasts of the north wind
Can shake when they hurtle through the air nor those of the south.
Like that, astonished, he stayed a long time, his strength quite broken
By the sight of his consort. Suddenly gone from his mind
Were all the wrongs that she had done to their marriage bed. [4]

Later, in their marriage bed, after Helen broke their silence with her lies, they physically united:

Joyfully then they lay down side by side
And their hearts recalled how they were joined in marriage.
Just as ivy and a grapevine intertwine
Their stems so closely together that no wind is ever
Strong enough to separate them, thus those two
Clung closely in the passionate embrace of love.

A beautiful woman can go unpunished despite causing many men’s deaths. She can get away with telling extravagant lies as excuses. She can conquer the greatest military (or intellectual) heroes. With respect to women, Menelaus was a poor leader in endorsing forgetfulness. Men must remember Helen’s words and deeds. Men must understand their own weaknesses and avoid becoming entangled with poison ivy in the form of a Helenish woman.

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[1] Homer, The Odyssey 4.98-9 (all who died), 4.108 (relentless, heart-breaking grief), 4.145 (shameless whore), from Greek trans. Fagles (1996) pp. 127-9. The Greek text, with a linear English translation, is available through the excellent Chicago Homer site. Subsequent quotations from the Odyssey (cited by Greek lines and pages in Fagles’s translation) are 4.219-21, p. 131 (slipped a drug…); 4.244-58, p. 132 (scarring his own body…); 4.266, p. 132 (there was a tale…); 4.271-88, p. 133 (what a piece of work…).

[2] Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 14.155-64, from Greek trans. James (2004) p. 224.

Earlier Helen indicated that Paris hadn’t forced her to elope with him to Troy. Speaking to Paris within her own mind, Helen lamented:

How I wish the Harpies had long ago carried me off,
When I first followed you under some deadly doom of heaven.

Posthomerica 10.396-7, trans. James (2004) p. 173. The narrator explains:

Her words were less a lament for her husband than tearful regret
For the terrible wrong she had done.

Id. 10.405-6, p. 173.

Subsequent quotes above (cited by line numbers and pages in James translation) are from 14.166-8, p. 224 (stop thinking…); 13.393-400, p. 215 (strange amazement…); 14.173-8, p. 224 (joyfully then…).

[3] On Helen’s lies, Maciver (2011). Making excuses was a common action in the traditional Greco-Roman understanding of reconciliation for interpersonal wrongs. Konstan (2010). Christian understanding and practice of forgiveness was rather different. Konstan cites the words of Charles Griswold: “forgiving cannot be forgetting.” Id. p. 64

[4] Helen similarly over-powered the other Greek warriors who survived the Trojan War. When Helen boarded the Greek ship with other captive Trojan women for the journey back from Troy to Greece:

Round her the soldiers
marveled at the sight of that flawless woman’s
Splendid beauty and loveliness. Not one of them dared
Attack her with abusive words even in secret,
Still less openly. They stared as though at a goddess,
With delight, for she was a sight they had all longed for.

Posthomerica 14.57-64, trans. James (2004) p. 221. Merely to test his fellow Greek men’s devaluation of their own lives, Menelaus had earlier spoken more sensibly:

She is of less
Concern to me than you who are killed before my eyes
In battle. Good riddance to her and her utterly puny
Paramour. Heaven emptied her heart of all good sense
The day she abandoned my home and marriage bed.
Now Priam and Troy shall concern themselves for her affairs.
Let us be on our way at once. It’s better by far
To escape the horrors of war than to be destroyed.

Id. 6.24-31, p. 98. Gynocentric society consistently devalues men’s lives.

[image] Clouds of oblivion. Photograph by Douglas Galbi.


Fagles, Robert, trans. 1996. Homer. The Odyssey. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking.

James, Alan, trans. 2004. Quintus of Smyrna. The Trojan epic: Posthomerica. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Konstan, David. 2010. Before forgiveness: the origins of a moral idea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maciver, Calum A. 2011. “Reading Helen’s excuses in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica.” Classical Quarterly. 61 (2): 690-703.

Luxorius refigured Jerome’s patron Paula as oft-remarrying widow

Judith beheading Holofernes

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, now commonly known as Saint Jerome, was a prominent scholar and writer in the Roman Empire in the early fifth century. One of Jerome’s patrons and close companions was Paula. She was an elite Roman woman who had been widowed. With Jerome’s vigorous encouragement, Paula never remarried. She instead pursued a life of Christian chastity, piety, and study. Writing in Vandal north Africa in the early sixth century, Luxorius seems to have re-figured Paula as a widow who killed three husbands. Luxorius’s Paula eagerly sought a fourth husband, even though he was incapable of having sex with her.

Anacreonitic-meter poem to an impotent doctor who married a woman widowed three times

After so many tombs have been filled,
and crowds of funerals
and various husbands
ill-fatedly killed
by a wrinkled old woman,
you now, surgeon,
are pleased to be called her fourth husband.
But you, although alive, are entombed,
for you lack the proper member
without which no marriage can be held together.
Now I ask, who understands
Paula having married again?
Nobody! Why then did she do this?
She desired to change quickly
the mourning clothes that she,
a nefarious wife, had obtained,
so that a fourth and then fifth
husband can come.

{Anacreontium in medicum inpotentem, qui ter viduam duxit uxorem

Post tot repleta busta
et funerum catervas
ac dispares maritos,
rugosa quos peremit
fatis anus sinistris,
tu nunc, chirurge, quartus
coniunx vocate plaudis.
Sed vivus es sepultus,
dum parte qua decebat
nil contines mariti.
Iam posco, cui videtur
nupsisse Paula rursus?
Nulli. Quid ergo fecit?
Mutare mox lugubrem
quam sumpserat cupivit
uxor nefanda vestem,
ut quartus atque quintus
possit venire coniunx.} [1]

Luxorius almost surely knew of Jerome and Paula. Jerome translated Hebrew scripture and the New Testament into Latin to make the influential Vulgate Bible. Moreover, Jerome corresponded with Augustine of Hippo, a prominent church leader and scholar in north Africa. Christianity was an important strand in the vibrant Roman culture of early sixth-century Vandal north Africa. Scholars have commonly assumed that Luxorius was Christian.[2] Even if Luxorius wasn’t Christian, Jerome and Paula were probably well-known in Luxorius’s elite Roman circles.

Luxorius’s Paula isn’t the conventional, extremely lustful widow. Her immoderate desire isn’t sexual. She even marries a man who is impotent. Her desire seems to be to acquire and kill husbands. She is thoroughly evil — a nefarious woman who continually seeks to remarry. Jerome’s Paula came to be venerated as a saint. Luxorius’s Paula is a particularly perverse counterpart to Jerome’s Paula.[3]

Luxorius’s Paula may have been a poetic response to moral polarization among religious factions in north Africa. Manichaeans, with whom the young Augustine had considerable contact, emphasized duality of good and evil. Donatists, who were particularly important in Carthage, rejected any Christian accommodation with worldly powers. Donatists insisted on living in rigorous adherence to Christian moral ideals. Whether as a Christian or as a follower of more traditional Greco-Roman beliefs, Luxorius seems to have understood the world through particular, unusual persons, rather than through moral abstractions.

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[1] Anthologia Latina 304 (R309), from Latin my translation, with help from Rosenblum (1961) pp. 125, 127. Id. numbers the poem 23. The Latin text is from Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982) pp. 249-50, with my minor adaptations to the editorial presentation. Rosenblum has a nearly identical Latin text.

[2] Rosenblum (1961) p. 45. Evidence put forward for Luxorius being a Christian is rather weak. Id. pp. 46-8. Irrespective of Luxorius’s personal beliefs, he probably had considerable knowledge of Christian beliefs and culture. In one poem, he seems to have expanded upon the figure of Saint Marina.

[3] Luxorius’s account of Paula is obviously unrealistic. A surgeon, even if his is impotent, is unlikely to be foolish enough to marry a woman who has killed her previous three husbands.

[image] Judith Beheading Holofernes. Cf. Judith 10:11–13:10. Oil painting by Caravaggio, c. 1598-9. Held in Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Riese, Alexander, and David R. Shackleton Bailey. 1982. Anthologia latina: sive poesis latinae supplementum. Pars. 1. Carmina in codicibus scripta. Fasc. 1. Libri Salmasiani aliorumque carmina. Stutgardiae: In aedibus Teubneri. Online prior edition: Riese (1894).

Rosenblum, Morris. 1961. Luxorius: a Latin poet among the Vandals; together with a text of the poems and an English translation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Theano & Hypermnestra rationalized gender inequality for women

man treating another man's war wound

Men live a significantly shorter lifespan on average than women, and about four times as many men die from violence as do women. At the same time, about fifteen times more men than women are held in prisons. These fundamental anti-men gender inequalities are rationalized and socially obscured in a variety of ways. Hippodameia and Theano in Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica and Hypermnestra in Ovid’s Heroides show how ridiculous claims pass for reason to keep men exposed to vastly greater mortal danger and punishment.

Amid the brutal battle between Trojans and Greeks outside the walls of Troy, the young Trojan woman Hippodameia urged other young Trojan woman to take up “an equal share of fighting.” According to Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica, written about 1750 years ago, Hippodameia urged her sister Trojans:

Friends, let the hearts within your breasts be brave,
no less than those of our husbands, who for the fatherland
are fighting the foe on behalf of our children and ourselves
with no relief from suffering. Let us also fill
our hearts with courage and take an equal share of fighting.
We are not far removed from the strength of men.
The vigor that there is in them also is in us.
Our food is the same. So what advantage is given to men
by heaven? Let us then not shrink from battle. [1]

Men being socially used for war is no advantage for men. Asserting otherwise is obfuscatory rhetoric of dominant gynocentric interests. Hippodameia further showed how men’s deaths are rhetorically constructed as relatively unimportant:

Our affliction is such that we can delay no longer
the joining of battle. Better by far to die in the fighting
than afterward to be led with our helpless children
by foreign masters under painful compulsion,
our city in flames and our men no longer living. [2]

Military victory in the ancient world often involved androcide: all the men in the defeated society were killed. The women and children from the defeated society, however, were assimilated into the victorious society.  On any reasonable measure of personal welfare, being alive is better than being dead. The heroic claim “better to die fighting” is reasonable only in the context of men dying whether they fight or surrender. Women have traditionally had much better alternatives than men in war.

Another Trojan woman, Theano, illustrates how women’s privileges persist. After Hippodameia’s speech to them, the Trojan women were impassioned to head onto the battlefield. They were ready to take up “hateful fighting” and to put “their hands to instruments of pain.” Theano, however, dissuaded the Trojan women from shouldering an equal share of the horrendous fighting:

Why this desire to work amid the fearful fighting?
You poor things, you have never worked in a battle before.
In your ignorant keenness for an intolerable task
you rush without a thought. Your strength won’t equal
that of the Danaans {Greeks} who are trained in fighting. [3]

Just because women have never done a horrendous job before, doesn’t mean that women can’t do it. All the dirty, dangerous jobs that men traditionally have done, and continue to do vastly disproportionately, women could do equally. What’s needed is a strong public commitment to bringing about that outcome, or at least a public commitment like that for bringing about gender equality among corporate executives and elite scientists.

Theano smoothly shifted between recognizing the unity of the human race and the diversity of individuals to endorsing the exploitation of men as soldiers. Theano rationalized for the Trojan women:

All humans belong to a single race, and yet the work
that they pursue is varied; that work is the best
which each one plies with understanding in his mind.
Therefore stay away from the noisy battle
and busy yourselves with the looms inside your homes.
War shall be the business of our menfolk. [4]

From an individualistic perspective, each person should choose the job that she finds most suitable for her. Men have various interests and abilities, just as women do. Yet when assigning horrendous jobs, defining crimes, or specifying the last persons off sinking ships, gynocentric society naturalizes disadvantages for men. Underscoring that her arguments for the anti-men gender division of labor are rationalizations, Theano concluded with a contextual rationalization: “there is no desperate need for women to join in the fighting.”[5] In the U.S., such rationalizations have allowed men-only Selective Service registration to persist for decades despite intense public concern for gender equality.

Quintus of Smyrna’s virtuoso display of rationalizations for anti-men gender inequality probably drew on earlier literature. Quintus wrote in Greek, probably in the third century GC. Ovid, writing his Heroides in Latin about the time of Jesus of Nazareth’s birth, included related rationalizations in Hypermnestra’s letter to Lynceus.[6] Hypermenstra’s father Danaus was one of the many men throughout history who have encouraged women to defy traditional gender roles. When an enemy ruler coercively married his fifty sons to Danaus’s fifty daughters, Danaus assigned his daughters the mission of killing their husbands on their wedding night. While her husband was asleep, three times Hypermenstra put a sword to his throat. Yet she balked at her warrior mission:

I am a woman and a maiden, gentle in nature and in years;
Soft hands are not suited to fierce weapons.

What crime has been committed by me that I am not allowed to be virtuous?
What have I to do with a sword? What does a girl have to do with warlike weapons?
The wool and the distaff are more suitable for my hands. [7]

The strength of one hands has no relevance to killing with a sword a sleeping man. A girl can kill a sleeping man as easily as a man can. Men are no more naturally vicious and evil than women are. Simply because he is a man, a man doesn’t necessarily have anything more to do with warlike weapons than he has to do with wool and distaff. Men are forced to strive to be virtuous in horrible ways. The social construction of gender throughout history has tended to assign killing to men. Yet culpability for killings in war belongs at least equally to women.

Assigning men responsibility for war is a deeply entrenched, brutally oppressive gender inequality. Hippodameia and Theano in Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica and Hypermnestra in Ovid’s Heroides show how rhetorical rationalizations keep men assigned to horrible violence against men. Removing men-only compulsory military registration is merely a small step toward greater emancipation of men and true gender equality.

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[1] Quintus of Smyrna. Posthomerica 1.409-19, from Greek trans. James (2007) p. 13. Id. capitalizes the first word of every poetic line. To make the translation more readable for persons not accustomed to reading poetry, I’ve changed the capitalization to that of prose. All quotes from Posthomerica are similarly from id. A.S. Way’s English translation (1913) of the Posthomerica for the Loeb Classical Library is available online.

The text is isn’t clear whether the woman’s name is Hippodameia or Tisiphone. I follow James (2004) in using Hippodameia. Other recent scholarly work uses Tisiphone. The paired speeches of Hippodameia and Theanos about the Trojan women going into battle are “unprecedented in the surviving narratives about the Trojan War.” Maciver (2012b) p. 60.

Hippodameia appealed to the example of the Amazons as women warriors. But that example is inapt. The Amazons hated men. Most Trojan woman, like most women generally, probably didn’t hate men. Moreover, Achilles easily killed Penthesileia in battle. She was the Amazons’ leader and their most proficient warrior. Women should fight not because they hatefully and foolishly seek to be like Amazons, but because they recognize their obligation to uphold the ideal of gender equality.

Dillon notes that Theodorus of Asine, a neo-Platonist philosopher from the first half of the fourth century, presented arguments favoring gender equality. Three of Theodorus of Asine’s arguments are closely related to arguments that Hippodameia and Theano make. Dillon (1995). Dillon fails to recognize how little effect these and many other arguments through the ages have had on anti-men gender inequality.

Making current canonical-form scholarly claims and showing little originality, Boyten describes Penthesileia as a hero modeled on Hector. According to Boyten, Penthesileia is a threat to masculinity and gender:

Her presence threatens not only Achilleus’ masculine heroism, but also the social structure through her impact on women en masse. … Thus, I argue, Penthesileia’s presence and its consequences can be understood in a wider context as exploration not only of, and challenge to {emphasis in original}, gender, but also with regards to other forms of convention, including genre itself.

Boyten (2011) p. 26. For elaboration, see id. Ch. 1. Boyten’s understanding of gender presents no challenge whatsoever to dominant gynocentric ideology.

The Posthomerica has been appreciated as brilliant literature by critics from the late-fifteenth century to the nineteenth century. However, in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Posthomerica was roundly disparaged. Over the past decades, scholars have begun to recognize again its literary merit. On the critical reception, Baumback & Bär (2007i) pp. 15-25. Id. pp. 2-8 dates this epic to the third century GC. Boyten (2011) and Maciver (2012) are more recent, lengthy studies appreciating Quintus’s poetic work.

[2] Posthomerica 1.431-5. Hekabe (Hecuba) envisions a similar fate after the death of her son Paris. Id. 10.380-4.

In the Aeneid, Virgil shows through the example of the Volscian Camilla gynocentrism translated to the battlefield. Camilla, a woman, is the focus of attention when she joins the fighting among the many allies of Turnus. Aeneid 7.803-17. In her death speech, she assumes her own preeminence and issues orders for Turnus. Aeneid 11.823-7. For a reading a Camilla in accordance with dominant gender ideology and the hackneyed academic theme of ambiguity, Becker (1997). For parallels between Virgil’s depiction of Camilla and Quintus’s depiction of Penthesileia, Fratantuono (2016).

[3] Posthomerica 1.451-55. The earlier quotes in the above paragraph are from 1.436 (“hateful fighting”) and 1.446 (“hands to instruments of pain”).

[4] Posthomerica 1.464-9. Quintus associates Theano with Athena through the Theano of Iliad 6.297-310. Homer’s Theano is a priestess of Athena. Given the sophisms of Theano in the Posthomerica, that association seems intended ironically.

Homer provides a straight-forward depiction of women’s privilege in war. In the Odyssey, the Trojan warrior Hector, heading out to fatal battle, tells his wife Andromache:

So please go home and tend to your own tasks,
the distaff and the loom, and keep the women
working hard as well. As for the fighting,
men will see to that, all who were born in Troy
but I most of all.

6.490-3, from Greek trans. Fagles (1990) p. 212.

[5] Posthomerica 1.474. In desperate circumstances, the women of Lavinium fought against the Trojan forces:

Even the mothers strove their utmost — the true love of their native land showed them the way and Camilla was their example. Wildly they hurled missiles from the walls and rushed to do the work of steel with stumps and stakes of oak wood hardened in the fire, longing to be first to die in defense of the walls of their city.

Aeneid 11.891-5, from Latin trans. West (1990) p. 263. On intertextuality of the speeches of Hippodameia (Tisiphone) and Theano with the Aeneid and the Argonautica, Maciver (2012).

[6] The relationship between the Posthomerica and earlier Latin literature has been a matter of scholarly contention. Passages in the Posthomerica are clearly similar to passages in the Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. James (2007). Whether that similarity comes from an earlier, common source or Quintus adapting Virgil and Ovid isn’t clear.

[7] Ovid, Heroides 14.55-6, 64-66, from Latin trans. James M. Hunter.

[image] Man treating another man’s war wound. D. R. Howe (Glencoe, MN) treats the wounds of Private First Class D. A. Crum (New Brighton, PA), “H” Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, during Operation Hue City. Thanks to the U.S.  National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia Commons.


Baumbach, Manuel, Silvio Bär, eds. with Nicola Dümmler. 2007. Quintus Smyrnaeus: transforming Homer in second Sophistic epic. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter.

Baumbach, Manuel and Silvio Bär. 2007i. “An Introduction to Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica.” Pp. 1-26 in Baumbach, Bär & Dümmler (2007).

Becker, Trudy Harrington, 1997. “Ambiguity and the Female Warrior: Vergil’s Camilla.” Electronic Antiquity 4:1.

Boyten, Bellini. 2011. Epic journeys: studies in the reception of the hero and heroism in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica. Ph. D. Thesis, University College London.

Dillon, John M. 1995. “The equality of the sexes: variations on a rhetorical theme in the fourth century AD.” Hermathena. 158: 27-35.

Fagles, Robert, trans. 1990. Homer. The Iliad. New York, N.Y.: Viking.

Fratantuono, Lee M. 2016. “The Penthesilead of Quintus Smyrnaeus: A Study in Epic Reversal.” Wiener Studien, Zeitschrift für Klassische Philologie und Patristik, forthcoming.

James, Alan, trans. 2004. Quintus of Smyrna. The Trojan epic: Posthomerica. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.

James, Alan. 2007. “Quintus of Smyrna and Virgil — A Matter of Prejudice.” Pp. 145-57 in Baumbach, Bär & Dümmler (2007).

Maciver, Calum Alasdair. 2012. Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica: engaging Homer in late antiquity. Leiden: Brill. (review)

Maciver, Calum A. 2012b. “Representative Bees in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica.” Classical Philology. 107 (1): 53-69.

West, David, trans. 1990. Virgil. The Aeneid. London, England: Penguin Books.

Omphale pummeled Hercules: not just ancient Greek myth

Omphale abusing Hercules

Hercules was sold as a slave to the Lydian queen Omphale. Their relationship became like that of a wife and husband. About 1850 years ago, Lucian explained:

No doubt you have seen some picture of him: he is Omphale’s slave, dressed up in an absurd costume, his lion-skin and club transferred to her, as though she were the true Heracles, while he, in saffron robe and purple jacket, is combing wool and wincing under Omphale’s slipper. [1]

The phrase “wincing under Omphale’s slipper” refers to Omphale beating Hercules with her slipper. Domestic violence against men, like violence against men generally, tends to be ignored or trivialized. Yet ancient literature has preserved evidence of the extent and seriousness of domestic violence against men.

An epigram from fourth-century Alexandria takes a no-nonsense approach to domestic violence against men. It forthrightly recognizes women’s rule, which many scholars still refuse to recognize today. It also declares the pervasiveness of domestic violence against men despite men’s own shameful denials:

If you boast that you don’t in any way obey your wife’s orders, you are talking nonsense, for you are not made of tree or stone, as the saying is. You suffer what most or all of us suffer: you are ruled by a woman. But if you say, “She doesn’t smack me with her slipper, nor do I have an unchaste wife whom I must put up with and shut my eyes,” then I say your servitude is milder than that of others. You have sold yourself to a chaste and not very severe mistress. [2]

Societies typically restrict and punish domestic violence against men to a much lesser extent than domestic violence against women. If men and women have an equal propensity to engage in illegitimate violence, then with social control biased toward punishing men, women are more likely to engage in domestic violence than men are.

Men’s lack of assertiveness toward women contributes to domestic violence against men. About 2000 years ago, a Roman poet preserved an account of the young lover Chaerestratus’s relationship with the courtesan Chrysis. That account underscores men’s psychological vulnerability to domestic violence. Chaerestratus confides to his slave Davus:

“Davus, very soon — I’m absolutely serious — I intend to put my agonies behind me.” Chaerestratus says this, chewing his bleeding fingernail. “Why should I embarrass my sober relations with my scandalous behaviour? Why should I wreck my inheritance at that filthy threshold by getting a bad reputation, drunkenly singing with my torch gone out in front of Chrysis’ dripping door?”

“Well done, lad. Be wise, slaughter a lamb for the gods who drive evil away.”

“But, Davus, do you think she’ll cry if I leave her?”

“You’re messing about! You’ll get a beating from her red slipper, lad, to stop you struggling and gnawing at her tight nets. Now you are fierce and violent, but if she called you, right away you’d say, ‘Whatever shall I do, then? Not go, even now, when she invites me and positively begs me?’ No, if you have got away whole and in one piece, not even now.” [3]

Despite Chrysis beating him, Chaerestratus struggled to refuse her summons. To reduce domestic violence, men must learn to stand up to women psychologically, to set boundaries, and to have enough self-respect and self-confidence to leave a woman and not come back.

As the example of Hercules shows, any man, no matter how strong, can be a victim of domestic violence against men. Men are reluctant to defend themselves physically against women. Moreover, using objects and attacking an intimate partner when he is physically vulnerable, even the smallest, weakest woman can do a man serious harm. That obvious reality is denied to shame and blame men victims:

On a man who used to be hit by his wife

Given that you claim descent from the line of Barbatus in order that ferocious Varitinna may be related to you, why are your temples beaten by a lady’s slipper, and why has your little goatee fallen out, plucked by her demeaning hand? Stop at once pretending that you have heroic ancestors and that the strength of a fierce line courses in your limbs. She is rather the descendant of the Salautensian line, who has the courage to lay low her husband with her heel. [4]

This epigram, probably from early sixth-century Vandal north Africa, despicably illustrates victim blaming and shaming. A descendant of a proud line of warriors may experience domestic violence. That is a painful reality. Ridiculing the suffering of such men is truly shameful.

Myths about Hercules are more worthy of being taken seriously than are domestic violence myths widely disseminated through authoritative channels in recent decades. The completely absurd claim that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women has appeared many times in newspaper articles, law reviews, judicial opinions, and congressional records. The apotheosis of Hercules is more plausible than that claim. Modern myths about domestic violence mainly deploy crude stereotypes. Ancient myths about Hercules, in contrast, are creative and wide-ranging. Modern myths about domestic violence have enormously damaged human relationships and human institutions. Ancient myths about Hercules broadly enrich understanding of the human condition. To better understand the serious problem of domestic violence, think about Omphale pummeling Hercules.

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[1] Lucian, Quomodo Historia Conscribenda Sit (The Way to Write History) 10, from Greek trans. H.W. and F.G. Fowler (1905). Heracles is an ancient Greek hero who in Roman myth was known as Hercules. Omphale lived in Lydia (in present-day Turkey). Hercules served at least a year as a slave to Omphale. At some point they had a son. The name of their son is variously recorded as Lamos, Agelaus, and Tyrsenus.

In Lucian, Dialogi Deorum (Dialogues of the Gods) 15 (13), Asclepius declares to Hercules, “I was never a slave like you, never combed wool in Lydia, masquerading in a purple shawl and being slippered by an Omphale.” Trans. id. Ancient Greek includes a specific term for whacking with a slipper: βλαυτοω.

Latin literature refers to Omphale beating Hercules with her slipper and to domestic violence against men more generally. In Terence, Eunuchus ll. 1078 (Act 5, Scene 7), Gnatho expresses in an aside his wish that Thais would beat her lover Thraso (“I only wish I may see your head stroked down with a slipper”). Trans. Henry Thomas Riley (1874). In Ovid, Heroides 9.73-4, Deianira writes to Hercules, “You are said … to have been afraid at the threats of your mistress.” Trans. James M. Hunter (2013). In Turpilius, fragment 147, a man refers to a woman beating his head with a sandal.

[2] Palladas, Greek Anthology 10.55, from Greek trans. Paton (1920).

[3] Persius 5.161-74, from Latin trans. Braund (2004) p. 111. Although the text is written as satire, it captures aspects of reality that are difficult to express otherwise.

[4] Anthologia Latina 145 (R156), from Latin trans. Kay (2006) p. 273. The victim services organization has commendables rejected anti-men bigotry in domestic violence services. It is one of the rare domestic violence organizations that clearly rejects sex discrimination against men victims.

[image] Omphale abusing Hercules. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, 1603. Held in Louvre Museum, Paris. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Braund, Susanna Morton, trans. 2004. Juvenal and Persius. Loeb Classical Library 91. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kay, N. M. 2006. Epigrams from the Anthologia Latina: text, translation and commentary. London: Duckworth.

Paton, W.R. 1920. The Greek Anthology with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann (vol. I, bks. 1-6; vol. II, bks. 7-8; vol. III, bk. 9; vol IV, bks. 10-12; vol. V, bks. 13-16).

erasing woman raping man: the old virgin in Codex Salmasianus

Apparently unknown for nearly a thousand years, Luxorius brilliant, transgressive collection of epigrams have survived in only one manuscript. Luxorius seems to have authored his epigrams early in the sixth century GC. A manuscript containing 91 of Luxorius’s epigrams was written in the late seventh or early eighth century. That manuscript is called the Codex Salmasianus. Luxorius’s epigram collection apparently was unknown until the Codex Salmasianus was found and presented to a prominent scholar in 1615.[1] Yet establishing what Luxorius wrote still requires careful study and analysis.

Codex Salmasianus: Luxorius epigram on old virgin woman

How many generations of copies separate the Codex Salmasianus from Luxorius’s autograph or dictated manuscript isn’t known. When scribes copied texts, they sometimes made mistakes. Moreover, scribes would sometimes change text to reflect their views of what should be written. A scholar of Luxorius’s poetry stated in 1961:

the text became more and more corrupt in the course of successive copying and recopying. Copious emendations were required; much work in that respect still remains. [2]

A scholarly work published in 2011 explained, “reading of many passages is still a matter of debate.”

Behavioral philology can help to elucidate Luxorius’s text. The fundamental principle of behavioral philology is that stable patterns exist in human discourse across thousands of years. Human biology and human groups have considerable stability across thousands of years. Language emerged within that biological-cultural stability.[3] Behavioral philology brings to the reading of ancient manuscripts insights from current, deeply rooted patterns of discourse.

Consider Luxorius’s epigram “To an aged virgin who is getting married.” Here’s an English translation of the best current Latin reading, along with a proposed emendation (in parentheses) of the last line:

To an aged virgin who is getting married

Virgin, whom Phlegethon calls his sister,
old enough that you could be Saturn’s parent,
you whom Nyx and Erebus and Chaos bore,
with many heavy wrinkles as numerous as your years,
you to whom an elephant gave his face and skin,
whose mother was an old monkey who gave birth
to you in the fields of Libya when the world was new,
who long ago fittingly, in the place of Ceres’s daughter,
could have been given as wife to Dis to live among the dead:
why do you burn with such wanton passion,
now and for some time since death for you has been all that remains?
Is it that you yearn for a large inscription on your tomb,
so that widespread fame will thus speak of you:
old woman raped by a guilty man
(old woman guilty of raping man)

{In vetulam virginem nubentem

Virgo, quam Phlegethon vocat sororem,
Saturni potior parens senecta,
quam Nox atque Erebus tulit Chaosque,
cui rugae totidem graves, quot anni,
cui vultus elefans dedit cutemque,
mater simia quam creavit arvis
grandaeva in Libycis novo sub orbe,
olim quae decuit marita Diti
pro nata Cereris dari per umbras:
quis te tam petulans suburit ardor,
nunc cum iam exitium tibi supersit?
An hoc pro titulo cupis sepulcri,
Ut te cognita fama sic loquatur,
quod stuprata viro est anus nocenti
(quod stupratus vir est anu nocenti)} [4]

Combining learned classical allusions with animal imagery, Luxorius’s epigram ridicules a lustful old woman who has never had sex. While anyone daring to utter such words today would be harshly punished, freedom of expression was much greater under the Roman emperors and within the early Islamic caliphates. Yet the last line in the epigram, as received in the Codex Salmasianus, makes no sense in context. Why would a man rape an ugly, lustful old woman? Even if a man were to do that, what does such action have to do with the rest of the epigram?

Behavioral philology provides a clear answer. The best available statistics on rape today show that men raping women is about as prevalent as women raping men. The former issue is widely described as a major public problem. The latter issue is commonly ignored. Public discourse is strongly biased toward declaring men to be rapists, and ignoring women raping men under the same meaning of words. A female teacher sexually abusing a middle-school boy and receiving no jail time attracts almost no mainstream media attention.[5] Such a communicative effect can best be understood as a deeply rooted bias of gynocentric society. Such bias can easily account for a scribe re-writing the last line of Luxorius’s epigram to change a woman raping a man into a man raping a woman. Behavioral philology provides reasonable grounds for emending the last line to reverse its subject and object.

Luxorius himself is unlikely to have obscured women raping men. In a poem about Marina, Luxorius celebrated and honored men’s sexuality in a context associated with falsely accusing men of rape. Luxorius taunted a woman for hating men. Moreover, Luxorius was unafraid to challenge and expose corrupt intellectual practices. Even narrowly within the received Latin text of the epigram, the titular, sepulchral inscription “old woman raped by a guilty man” subverts itself. The “guilty man” is a presumptive construct of anti-men bias in discussing rape.

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[1] For discussion of the textual record of Luxorius’s epigrams, Rosenblum (1961) pp. 97-108. A few of Luxorius’s epigrams appear in other manuscripts dating from the late ninth through the eleventh centuries.

[2] Id. p. 102. The subsequent quote is from Wasyl (2011) p. 170, n. 32.

[3] Henrich (2013) Ch. 13.

[4] Anthologia Latina 296, Latin text from Wasyl (2011) p. 198, my translation with help from the translations of Rosenblum (1961), p. 121, and Beck (2012), p. 47. Rosenblum and Beck number the poem 15. In Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982), this epigram is n. 296; in Reise (1894), n. 301. I’ve used the Wasyl text, with minor changes to editorial paratext, as the best version of the text according to the most current scholarship. The Latin texts in all these versions are nearly identical. The titles to Luxorius’s epigrams are thought to be later additions.

Rosumblum translated the last line of Luxorius’s epigram as: ‘“Old lady raped by a sex criminal”?’ Rosenblum (1961) p. 121. The quotation marks and question mark are editorial, as is clear from the manuscript image above. While providing the Latin text but no specific translation note, Beck translated the final line as: ‘“Here lies an old woman, convicted of raping a man”?’ Beck (2012) p. 47. Beck thus reversed what a leading classical scholar has described as the clear meaning of the received Latin text. Beck’s poetic insight, however, is penetrating.

[5] The structural anti-men bias has produced astonishing effects. Under the operation of current U.S. law, men are forced to pay “child support” to their rapists, e.g., the case of a 15-year-old boy whom a female teacher raped.

[image] Codex Salmasianus, last eight lines (ll. 7-14) from Luxorius’s epigram Virgo, quam Phlegethon vocat sororem. The scribe mis-ordered lines 4-7 as {6,7,4,5}. In the final line, the scribe corrected the final e with a faint line through it and with an i inserted above the final t. In addition, Claude Saumaise (Salmasius), the scholar who received the text in 1615, corrected stubrata to stuprata in the final line. In the image, see the caret (^) above the s of stubrata, and stuprata written in the left margin. Detail from p. 162 in Anthologia latina {Anthologie dite de Saumaise}, Bibliothèque nationale de France Latin 10318, ark:/12148/btv1b8479004f. Thanks to BnF’s Gallica.


Beck, Art, trans. 2012. Luxorius. Opera omnia or, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone. Los Angeles: Otis Books | Seismicity Editions.

Henrich, Joseph. 2015. The secret of our success: how culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Riese, Alexander, and David R. Shackleton Bailey. 1982. Anthologia latina: sive poesis latinae supplementum. Pars. 1. Carmina in codicibus scripta. Fasc. 1. Libri Salmasiani aliorumque carmina. Stutgardiae: In aedibus Teubneri. Online prior edition: Riese (1894).

Rosenblum, Morris. 1961. Luxorius: a Latin poet among the Vandals; together with a text of the poems and an English translation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2011. Genres rediscovered: studies in Latin miniature epic, love elegy, and epigram of the Romano-Barbaric age. Krakow: Jagiellonian University Press.