Anne of France & lessons for daughters in history of anti-meninism

Anne of France

Anne of France, who came to be known as “Madame La Grande,” was the oldest and favorite daughter of King Louis XI. Just before his death, he appointed her and her husband regent of the succeeding King Charles VIII, her younger brother. Anne dominated both her husband and her younger brother. As regent for King Charles, she was effectively ruler of France from 1483 to 1491. When King Charles begin ruling France himself, Anne then shifted to ruling her husband’s Duchy of Bourbon. She was a very powerful and highly privileged woman.[1]

Anne of France provided lessons not just for her daughter, but for all women. She taught the values and morals of a strong, independent woman with enormous political ambition:

Conscious always of her royal heritage, having served as virtual king of France for eight years, and in a moment when she faced her own mortality, Anne of France looked to her royal forebears when she decided to set down her own life-lessons for her daughter. Although clearly informed by her reading of books like those of Christine de Pizan — who was, like Anne herself, a woman writing to women — Anne aimed for something more than a simple guide to good behavior when she distilled her experience into the lessons she intended for her daughter. … Just as her father had defined the ideal king, Anne used her lessons to construct an ideal princess. … Anne presents a guidebook on governance for Suzanne {her daughter}, one not altogether unlike Machiavelli’s more famous book of advice for a would-be prince, written some fifteen years later. [2]

Intellectual historians, who have been predominately men, haven’t appreciated the importance of Anne of France. She trumped Machiavelli with thinking that few today realize continues to manipulate them.

Anne of France’s lessons for her daughter provide an extraordinary window into the unknown history of medieval anti-meninism. From the commanding heights of French royalty, Anne of France taught blunt lessons of anti-meninism:

there is no man of worth, however noble he may be, who does not use treachery, nor to whom it does not seem good sport to deceive or trick women of rank from one good family or another, it doesn’t matter which. And Doctor Lienard says there is no man so perfect who, in matters of love, is truthful or keeps his word, however firm or fervent — which I certainly believe. One time I heard a noble woman of great rank tell about a knight she knew who, in such a situation, took a solemn oath of his own free will, on his honor as a gentleman, on the altar and on a missal where Mass is said everyday — and this knight did not keep his oath for more than four hours! And, as she told me, the oath was very reasonable and, with all respect to his honor and conscience, he had no excuse whatsoever for breaking it except his own lust, weak will, and sudden change of heart. Therefore, my daughter, whatever flattering speeches or great signs of love that someone may make you, trust none of them. [3]

Not all men are like that. Some men aspire to be as dynamic and responsive to circumstances as women are.[4] All men shouldn’t be distrusted. History and the gender composition of prisoners show how readily society criminalizes men for seeking love. Latin literature documents at least one women with sympathy for outrageous persecution of men. Yet the massive historical stream of anti-meninist literature, which is deeply connected to the very act of writing in forcing pen to matter-mother, has shaped society from today’s affirmative-consent college sex codes to men not having any reproductive rights whatsoever.[5]

Until recently, men have written the bulk of anti-meninist literature, while women have written relatively little. The relative paucity of women’s writing indicates women’s shrewdness. After all, others will viciously attack you for whatever you write in accordance with the enormity of their misunderstandings. Anne of France, however, wrote fearlessly and openly. For example, in words preserved in writing to our day, Anne of France instructed her daughter:

never behave as those arrogant mothers who display themselves with their daughters, next to whom they look like grandmothers! Such women are mocked. … I do not mean to say that a noblewoman, whatever her age or rank, should not, within reason, show herself to best advantage over others, but whatever beauty a woman has had, once she has passed the age of forty, there is no clothing, however beautiful, that can make the wrinkles on her face disappear.

Few today would dare utter such words, to say nothing of putting such words into writing.

Anne of France was deadly serious about imbuing her daughter with anti-meninism. Anne instructed her daughter:

suffer no man to touch your body, no matter who he is, no holding of hands or pressing of feet. In conclusion, my daughter, remember those three aforementioned daughters who were the cause of their mother’s deaths, and do not behave so that your bad conduct is the cause of mine. [6]

That’s every daughter’s deepest fear: her bad behavior will cause her mother’s death. Anti-meninism fundamentally rests on belief that men are so evil that they shouldn’t be allowed to touch women. If a woman allows a man to touch her, she will cause her mother’s death. That potent psychological manipulation perpetuates anti-meninism from one generation of women to the next.[7]

Anne of France teaching her daughter lessons

A medieval scholar, like Anne herself, a woman writing to women, recently recognized Anne of France’s enormous importance for women. Anne of France’s lessons for her daughter are teachings of pure woman:

The world of the Lessons is curiously but significantly free of male control. For all the attention paid to Suzanne’s life as a daughter {of Anne}, paternal authority is absent. While a wife must be obedient {at least according to formal regulations}, the husband she must obey is an elusive presence, prone to folly, mistakes, and of course, absence, either because of war or death. As a mother, Suzanne must pay particular attention to the rearing of daughters; sons are never mentioned. [8]

Anne of France’s thinking seems to project an ideal anti-meninist world in which all males are eliminated. Women seeking to understand the effects of anti-meninism on their lives need to think through the history of women:

Only foolish women think nothing of their foremothers — of their mothers and grandmothers, or their aunts and sisters.

Anne of France was a leading foremother of medieval anti-meninism:

she shaped the lives of many influential women. At the moment of her death, two of them had taken their own places on the stage of early modern power and politics: Margaret of Austria, whom Anne raised and educated for ten years, was regent of the Netherlands for her nephew, the Habsburg emperor Charles V, while Louise of Savoy, who had been sent by her father to Anne of France when the girl was seven, had already served as regent of France for her son, Francis I, and would be called upon a second time to fulfill that role. They were only two of the generation of women she had influenced; in Brantôme’s words, “there were no ladies or daughters of great houses in her time who did not receive lessons from her.” Having shaped the next generation and distilled her principles into her Lessons, Anne of France had become a “mother” for women to “think back through.”

Women struggling with fear of causing their mother’s death should think back through Anne of France. Women beyond the age of forty, wandering whether they have lost their physical allure, should think back through Anne of France. Most importantly, woman wondering how anti-meninism has become strong enough to give them a life alone with their cats amid a civilization ready to collapse — they should think back through Anne of France.

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[1] Jansen (2004) pp. 4-5, 71-2. Matarasso (2001), p. 19, observes: “there is no doubt that it was she {Anne of France}, not her husband, who was the dominant partner.” Matarasso also observed of Anne of France:

{she} could be both haughty and grasping in her public life. Cupidity was a characteristic she shared with many, but even in that age of ostentatious spending, when spenders needed to be getters, Madame’s lust for gold was remarked on.

Id. p. 107. Anne of France liked marble fountains. She acquired an Italian one that had been located in the city of Lyon. She also kept a menagerie of exotic animals. She pressured Lorenzo de Medici to give her his prized giraffe. Id.

[2] Jansen (2004) pp. 16, 17, 77.

[3] Les enseignements d’Anne de France, duchesse de Bourbonnois et d’Auvergne, à sa fille Susanne de Bourbon (The Lessons of Anne of France, duchess of Bourbon and Auvergne, to her daughter Susanne of Bourbon), from French trans. Jansen (2004) pp. 39-40. The subsequent two quotes are from id. p. 62 (women past the age of forty) and p. 43 (causing death of mother). Chazaud (1878) provides the French text. Chazaud dates Les enseignements to 1503-5; Jansen prefers the dating 1497-8. Jansen (2004) p. 10. Here’s a bibliography of scholarly work on Anne of France.

“Doctor Lienard ” is Leonardo di Matteo of Udine, an Italian Dominican prior born about 1400. Jansen (2004) p. 30, n. 12.

In discussing seduction, Anne of France declared, “the sin of the man who pursued her is even worse.” Id. p. 62. For adultery and for seduction, as for most crimes, gynocentric society is biased toward blaming men and exonerating women.

[4] Virgil, Aeneid 4.569, recognized women’s capabilities: varium et mutabile semper femina (woman is always varying and circumstantially responsive).

[5] On theorizing writing, see note [8] in my post on Bernard of Cluny.

[6] Anne of France also wrote Histoire du siege de Brest. That story features brutal violence against men. Matarasso (2001) pp. 196-7. Matarasso observed:

The Enseignements {Anne of France’s lessons for her daughter} are singularly lacking in love, almost shocking so when one considers that they were compiled by a mother for her only child, a girl of twelve or perhaps thirteen.

Id. p. 194. Anti-meninism tends to be associated not just with contempt for men, but also lack of true love for women and children.

[7] Anne of France was highly skilled in manipulating persons:

She learned to mask her natural arrogance and her impatience to get things done. … No one could play a waiting game better than she. She worked at one remove, through men who were often unaware that they were being manipulated. Again and again during her years in power she promised the earth only to renege when she had gained her ends.

Matarasso (2001) p. 20. Historians haven’t recognized the extent to which Anne of France manipulated women, including her own daughter.

[8] Jansen (2004) p. 89. The subsequent two quotes are from id. pp. 89-90. Matarasso excuses Anne of France and blames men for Anne of France’s anti-meninism and for her other lessons for her daughter:

Growing up at court in the late fifteenth century was a confusing business for a girl. The position of the noblewoman in the Middle Ages was deeply ambiguous.

Matarasso (2001) p. 37. Anne of France was a poor, over-privileged dear. Relative to her, peasant men had the advantage of clearly knowing the position of their harsh, brutal, and relatively short lives. Of course, books that Anne of France and other noblewomen had the learning and leisure to read also oppressed them:

the books that were their mainstay gave them deeply confusing and in the main negative views of themselves, of marriage and of their role in society. To become, as Anne did, one’s own woman in spite of it, must be hailed as a triumph of nature over nurture. … {Anne of France} passed on to her own daughter in her “Precepts” the low opinion of women which she herself had absorbed from men and books (it must be said that she had a low opinion of human nature generally).

Id. The manipulative claim, “you’ll be the death of me, your mother” almost surely wasn’t a tactic that Anne of France learned from men. More generally, if men are to be blamed for medieval anti-meninism, women should be credited for medieval literature of men’s sexed protests.

[images] (1) Anne of France. Detail from the Moulins Triptych. Made 1489-99 by Master of Moulins (Jean Hey). Thanks to the Yorck Project and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Anne of France giving lessons to her daughter Suzanne. Prefatory etching in Chazaud (1878).


Chazaud, A.M. 1878. Les enseignements d’Anne de France, duchesse de Bourbonnois et d’Auvergne, à sa fille Susanne de Bourbon. Moulins: C. Desrosiers.

Jansen, Sharon L. 2004. Anne of France: lessons for my daughter. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer. (Linda Lierheimer’s review) (Judith Fai-Podlipnik’s review)

Matarasso, Pauline Maud. 2001. Queen’s mate: three women of power in France on the eve of the Renaissance. Aldershot: Ashgate.

with castrated father, Perceval taught to be woman-pleaser

Holy Grail saves men

The myth of the Holy Grail became central to European culture mainly through Chrétien de Troyes’s late-twelfth-century French romance Perceval, The Story of the Grail. Perceval’s father was castrated and his two older brothers killed in violence against men. Perceval’s mother taught Percival to be, like the fatherless knight Boucicaut, a woman-server. Do you want to know the wisdom of the Archpriest of Talavera? Ask! Generations of students have been taught to remain silent. To discover the Holy Grail is to break the spell of gynocentrism.[1]

In the traditional understanding of chivalry, a good knight focused on performing at night in bed with his wife. Perceval’s mother, reflecting deeply rooted medieval anti-meninism, valued her husband for his skills in violence against men. She told Perceval:

No braver, more worthy knight,
Ever existed, more famous
And more feared, anywhere in all
The Western Islands, than your father. [2]

A man being famous and feared relates to a good knight only through the men-oppressing cultural construction of courtly love. That gender construct encourages the brutalization of men:

Your father, let me tell you,
Was wounded between the legs
And his whole body was crippled,
All the lands, and the immense
Treasure his bravery had won
Began to fall away,
and he died terribly poor. [3]

Perceval’s father didn’t respect the worth of his own sword and didn’t use it properly. He should have married a rich, beautiful woman like Circe and enjoyed an easy life. Men who fight to acquire wealth that is easily taken away are fools. What men naturally have is wondrously good. Men need only to take care not to be castrated.

Men must also ignore teaching that devalues their lives, even when that teaching comes from their own mothers. Perceval’s mother saw her husband suffering from castration. She saw her two older sons die in violence against men. Yet she taught her son Perceval:

Should you find a lady in need —
Anywhere, near or far —
Or a girl in need of protection,
Always offer your aid,
If they ask for it, for there’s no honor
That isn’t built on that base.

The honor of being a woman-server is built on the base of gynocentric society. Breaking the spell of gynocentrism starts with men saying “no” to damseling women.

Mothers should develop in their sons a sense of entitlement to love simply for being the men that they are. Perceval’s mother, in contrast, described love for Perceval as a rare gift that he should neither seek nor expect:

And if you court a woman,
Be careful you don’t harass her:
Do nothing that might displease her.
A kiss means a lot to a girl,
So if she allows you a kiss
Don’t ask for anything more:
Renounce it, I beg you, in my name.

The best response to such motherly advice is, “Hey mom, I’m hungry. Make me a sandwich!” Then read some medieval women’s love poetry for men’s seductive learning.

Perceval listened to his mother without understanding and foolishly thought to follow her advice. One day, he came across a girl sleeping alone on a bed in a tent. He entered the tent:

And the boy, innocent fool
That he was, said, “Girl, I greet you,
As my mother taught me I should.
That’s what she taught me: always
Greet a girl, no matter
Where you happen to find her.”

Imagining that they are doing what their mothers told them to do, boy-men are a menace to civilized society. So it was with Perceval. The girl told him to leave:

“But first I’ll kiss you,”
Said the boy, “no matter what,
Just as my mother taught me.”
“Oh no, you won’t, by God!”
Said the girl, “Not if I
Can help it! Leave, before
He finds you, or you’re good as dead.”

Unconcerned about that threat of violence, Perceval forcefully grabbed her and kissed her twenty times or more. That’s bad. That’s wrong. Perceval actions reduced the girl to misery, made her lover furious, and caused at least one other man to have his head chopped off. Perceval should never have sought to do as his mother taught him.

Perceval’s best moment came when he followed advice of the noble man Gornemant de Goort. Gornemant advised Perceval to stop telling others that he was doing what his mother taught him. Gornemant also advised Perceval not to speak too much.

One day when seeking lodging, Perceval met the beautiful woman Blanchefleur. She took him by the hand and led him to a secret room. There she sat next to him on a bed covered with a silken feather-quilt. Perceval said and did nothing. He maintained manly silence and immobility until Blanchefleur first spoke to him. She apologized that she could not offer him a better dinner.

Perceval went to bed by himself. He slept soundly and peacefully. Banchefleur, however, was too emotionally tormented to sleep. She got up during the night and went to Perceval’s room. She was dressed only in a nightshirt and a short cloak of bright red silk. Perceval was asleep:

And when she reached his bed
She stood there, weeping and sighing.
And then she knelt, bending
Over him, the tears flowing
So freely that they covered his face:
She could manage nothing more.
The flood of tears woke him,
Startled, wondering why
His face was covered with water.
And then he saw her kneeling
Next to his bed, and felt her
Clutching him round the neck.

Perceval didn’t tell her to leave. He didn’t accuse her of sexual harassment. He didn’t even blame her for wetting his bed. In short, Perceval acted with decency and compassion.

The rest of the story follows the pattern of manipulating men to engage in violence against men. Blanchefleur declared to Perceval that she was going to kill herself tomorrow. Stay away from crazy! She explained that some strong, bad, famous knight was besieging her castle. That’s not Perceval’s problem. But gynocentric ideas of glory, bravery, and courage promote dangerous, anti-meninist action to save a damsel in distress:

Ah, what an opportunity
For glory, if he’s brave enough
To seize it. And that’s what she came for,
Dropping her tears on his face,
In spite of the story she’d told him.
She’d come for that and nothing
Else, hoping, if he had
The courage, he’d decide to fight
For her castle, and for her lands, and for her.

An ersatz holy trinity is her, her, her. Perceval held her in his arms and kissed her. She didn’t tell him to stop. She spent the whole night with him, kissing all night long. That’s how men are used and abused.

Blanchefleur goaded Perceval into a dangerous fight. She said to him:

I see quite plainly that neither
Your age nor your courage are such
That you could possibly stand
Against so famous a knight,
So fierce and strong, as now
Awaits you, outside, for man
To man you’re bound to lose.

Perceval didn’t understand what she was doing:

“Just wait and see,” he said,
For I’m certainly going to fight him,
And nothing you say will stop me.”
She’d spoken as if to hold him
Back, thought this was a battle
She longed for.

The fatherless Perceval needed the guidance of the Archpriest of Talavera. The Holy Grail is knowing the story of the glass flask. The alternative is continuing the folly of knights like Perceval and Suero de Quinones. Only with guile can men be freed from the spell of gynocentrism.[4]

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[1] Recent scholarly work drawing on John of Salisbury’s Policraticus, Patrick Colm Hogan’s cognitive literary criticism, and Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic literary criticism has concluded:

Only something experienced as the agency of an immanent exteriority, for Chrétien grace, might bring natural pity or subcortical empathy to crave justice sufficiently to undo the totalising grip of those cravings for self-advancement to which necessities of flesh and exigencies of politics would seem to bind us. Absent such transformation, Chrétien intimates, what is wounded in psychic-sexual and socio-political life cannot begin to be healed.

Wehrs (2014) p. 294. The Archpriest of Talavara’s writing can be understood as an artifact of immanent exteriority.

[2] Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval, the story of the Grail (Perceval, le Conte du Graal) ll. 416-19, from Old French trans. Raffel (1999) p. 14. The line numbers are Raffel’s. They correspond closely to those of the Old French text. Chrétien apparently wrote Perceval about 1190.

The University of Ottawa has made available online an Old French text of Chrétien’s Perceval (switch text encoding from Unicode to Western to see the text correctly). Kirk McElhearn has provided the early part of the story, with the Old French and his modern English translation. Here’s a summary of the story. For literary history of Perceval, Alan Lupack at the Camelot Project.

[3] Chrétien, Perceval ll. 435-41,trans. Raffel (1999) p. 15. While in Perceval the father dies of grief after the death of his two sons in violence against men, in the thirteen-century Bliocadran Prologue the father (Bliocadran) is killed in a knightly tournament three days before Perceval is born. Eleven of Bliocadran’s brothers had also been killed in tournaments. To “protect” her son, Perceval’s mother takes him deep into an isolated, waste forest:

he must see no man
except the trusted few.
Thus she planned to protect him

Bliocadran Prologue ll. 481-3, from Old French trans. Rosenberg (2008). Perceval’s mother taught him that knights are devils:

If you should see any people
who are all dressed up
as if they were covered in iron,
remember they are really devils,
wicked and winged,
all ready to devour you.
Don’t stop to talk with them,
but run and come back home
and cross yourself with care

Id. ll. 755-76. The Bliocadran Prologue blames men for violence against men. It exonerate women, in particular Perceval’s mother, from responsibility for violence against men. Seeking to protect men from the distorted, men-destroying, medieval European understanding of chivalry is, however, unquestionably a praiseworthy endeavor. Better understanding of the Holy Grail contributes to that endeavor.

Castration was a significant issue for men in medieval Europe, as it is in different forms for men today. In Chrétien’s Perceval, the Fisher King was also castrated:

He was wounded in battle, and so badly
Hurt, so maimed, that without
Help he can’t even walk.
A spear struck him right
Between the legs, and the pain
Is still so great that riding
A horse is impossible.

Id. ll. 3510-16.

Subsequent quotes above from Chrétien’s Perceval are from (cited by line number in Raffel’s translation) ll. 533-8 (Should you find a lady in need…), 543-49 (And if you court a woman…), 681-86 (And the boy, innocent fool…), 693-99 (“But first I’ll kiss you,”…), 1965-76 (And when she reached his bed…), 2038-46 (Ah, what an opportunity…), 2118-24 (I see quite plainly that neither…), 2125-30 (“Just wait and see,” he said…).

[4] Tan’s insightful article concludes:

While the reader may well overlook the fact that Chrétien pioneers a new genre of lay theological inquiry in Perceval, he can scarcely avoid being affected by the rich spiritual dynamics of the narrative.

Tan (2014) p. 149. May the rich spiritual dynamics of Perceval today work to break the spell of gynocentrism!

[image] Bloody, captured man descends to the table of the Holy Grail. “Seven hands from heaven ” image from Estoire del Saint Graal, La Queste del Saint Graal, Morte Artu. Manuscript made in Northern France, first quarter of the 14th century. f. 76v of Royal 14 E III. Thanks to British Library.


Raffel, Burton, trans. 1999. Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval, the story of the grail. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rosenberg, Samuel N., tans. Lenora D. Wolfgang, intro. 2008. Introduction. Bliocadran (translation). The Camelot Project. Robbins Library, University of Rochester. Worldwide: Internet.

Tan, Sylvester George. 2014. “Perceval’s Unknown Sin: Narrative Theology in Chrétien’s Story of the Grail.” Arthuriana. 24 (3): 129-157.

Wehrs, Donald R. 2014. “Emotional Significance and Predation’s Uneasy Conscience in John of Salisbury and Chrétien’s Perceval.” Literature and Theology. 28 (3): 284-298.

realism of judgment & punishment in popular 14th-century vision

Saint Michael balancing souls in judgment

In France about 1372, the knight Geoffrey de la Tour Landry wrote a book to instruct his young daughters “how to govern themselves, and to keep themselves from evil.” To get material for his book, Geoffrey had two priests and two clerics read to him “the Bible, stories of kings, chronicles of France and England, and many other strange histories.”[1] Those readings probably included a popular, realistic story of a hermit’s vision of judgment and punishment.

The context of the hermit’s vision is a knight and his deceased wife. The knight loved his wife greatly. They were married only a short time before she died. The knight sought comfort from his uncle, a hermit. The knight wanted to know whether his wife was damned or saved. His uncle the hermit went into his chapel, prayed for a long time, and fell asleep. Then the hermit had a vision:

he saw the wife’s soul before Saint Michael the Archangel, with the Fiend on the other side. She was standing in a balance, her good deeds beside her. On the other side of the scale was the devil with all her evil deeds — like her gowns made of very fine cloth and furred with Calabrian fur, grey squirrel fur, and ermine.

The devil cried out in a high voice, “Sir, this woman had ten pair of gowns, long and short, and you know well half of them would have been enough, that is a long gown, two skirts and two short gowns. She might have been satisfied with those. The value of one of her gowns was too much by half compared to poor people’s coarse woolen clothes. They suffer such cold and hardship, yet she never took pity on them.”

Then the devil took the gowns and rings and jewels that men had given her for love, and also the vain and evil words she had said about others because of envy, and taken away their good reputations. Leaving behind no sin that she had done, he put them together in the balance and weighed them compared to her good deeds. The weighed much more than all the good she had ever done.

Thus the devil took her and forced her to put on her gowns that were now burning like fire, and he took her to Hell, the poor soul crying piteously. [2]

The idea of a post-death weighing of a person’s merits goes back at least to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. From as early as the second century, Christians envisioned Saint Michael the Archangel as the master of the scales that weighed persons’ merits in judgment after death.[3] Post-death punishment reversing the effects of bad behavior is another ancient idea. In this vision, the women who enjoyed luxurious gowns wears those gowns burning like fire after her death.[4] The hermit’s vision presents these ancient punishment figures with contemporary, realistic detail: ten gowns of specific types and “furred with Calabrian fur, grey squirrel fur, and ermine,” compared to others’ “coarse woolen clothes.”  The hermit’s vision isn’t a literary work. It has, however, a striking combination of other-worldly vision and contemporary realism.[5]

A literary masterpiece of other-worldly vision and contemporary realism is Dante’s Commedia. Dante wrote his Commedia about a half-century before Geoffrey de la Tour Landry wrote his book of instruction for his daughters. Geoffrey, a soldier, almost surely hadn’t read Dante’s Commedia. Geoffrey may not even have been able to read and write. He may have “written” his book in the sense of giving oral directions to a cleric inscribing words. Perhaps the peculiar literary feature of other-worldly vision and contemporary realism arose through an authorial collaboration between a man of the contemporary world and a man of learned books. Dante can be understood as having combined both men within himself.

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[1] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry (Book of the Knight of Tour Landry / Book of the Knight of the Tower) Prologue, from Old French trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 32. For the Old French text and early modern English translations, see note [1] in my post on imprisoning a man.

[2] Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, Ch. 50 (Du chevalier qui eut III femmes (“Of the knight who had three wives”)) trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 125. The Old French description of the poor people’s clothes is I bonnes cottes de burel (“one good coat of coarse wool”). William Caxton’s translation, perhaps reflecting his experience as a mercer, is “1. ellys of burell or fryse.” Offord (1971) p. 74 (Ch. 51 in Caxton’s translation). Burell and fryse were types of coarse woolen cloth. Id. pp. 264, 275.

The privilege of elite women relative to ordinary men is obvious reality. Yet discussion of it tends to be suppressed in gynocentric society.

[3] In the apocrypal Testament of Abraham (probably written by Jewish Christians in Egypt in the second century), Saint Michael the Archangel supervises weighing the merits of souls in post-death judgment. Johnson (2005) p. 88. Dikê, the ancient Greek goddess of justice, was associated with holding a balance, e.g. in Bacchylides, Fragment 5 and Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 55 ff. For these and other relevant texts in English translations, see Dikê on the Theoi site.

[4] Such a reversal occurs in Lotario dei Segni’s De miseria humanae conditionis. He wrote that work in Italy in 1195. In Italian, punishment relating literally to undoing the sin is known as contrapasso. For the history of that idea, see note [5] in my post on De miseria humanae conditionis.

[5] For an additional example of realism, consider Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, Ch. 17 (Comment nulle femme ne doit estre jalouse (“How women shouldn’t be jealous”)):

One time the wife chided this woman and reviled her concerning her husband. The second damsel said, “By my faith, what you say isn’t true.”

“You lie,” the first damsel replied, and thus they began to fight and to hit each other fiercely. And she who was accused took a staff and smote the other on the nose with such a stroke that she broke the bone.

Trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 125. This story occurs as Ch. 15 in Caxton’s translation. Today, discussion of women’s violence, particularly women’s domestic violence, is often sternly repressed. In today’s orthodoxy, women are strong, independent, and equal to men, except that women are much less violent and evil than men.

[image] Last Judgement. In the lower part of the center panel, Saint Michael the Archangel balances souls in judgment. Triptych, oil on wood, 1466–1473. By Hans Memling. Held in National Museum, Gdańsk. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. For a painting more focused on Saint Michael and his balance of justice, see the Last Judgment of Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1446-52.


Barnhouse, Rebecca, trans. 2006. Geoffrey de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of the tower: manners for young medieval women. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Johnson, Richard F. 2005. Saint Michael the Archangel in medieval English legend. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press.

Offord, M. Y., ed. 1971. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. William Caxton. The book of the knight of the Tower. London: Oxford University Press.

Burchard of Worms’ penitential in tradition of Seneca’s Controversiae

penitential confession

De minimis non curat lex. Res ipsa loquitur. De lege ferenda. A teacher’s most fundamental task is to attract the attention of students. Without students, there is no teaching business. Without students’ attention, they learn nothing. Burchard of Worms, a well-educated, eleventh-century bishop, surely knew these truths.[1] In building up a cathedral school at Worms, he sought to attract and train priests to serve the people of his diocese. He thus presented penitential canons in the time-tested classical Latin style of Seneca’s Controversiae.

Burchard of Worms wrote a law book, his Decretum, explicitly for school teaching. He dedicated his book to Provost Brunicho of Worms. Brunicho may well have been the chief operational officer of the cathedral school at Worms. Burchard stated in his dedication to Brunicho:

you, beloved, requested that I deliver this little book, now at last concisely assembled, to young boys for study, so that what our coworkers, today in their maturity, had neglected due to the ineptitude of their predecessors, is handed over to those now of tender age and to others willing to learn. Indeed let them first be made apt students, and afterward both teachers and leaders of the people, and let them learn in schools what some day they ought to say to those committed to themselves. [2]

Many men are reluctant and fearful of speaking about the sins of women. That’s readily understandable. But young men tend to be interested in the sins of women, particularly sexual sins. To serve the needs of his schools, Burchard wrote sensational descriptions of women’s sins.

Burchard’s most sensational descriptions of women’s sins occur in the section of the Decretum most relevant to actual priestly work among the people. Hearing confessions and forgiving persons for their sins has been at least since the sixth century a major, day-to-day responsibility of working priests. Burchard included in his Decretum an explicit list of questions and responses for the use of priests in conducting confessions and administering penance.[3] Aspiring priests could thus easily understand how their studies related to their future job responsibilities.

Burchard’s Decretum engaged students creatively. For priests just as for other bureaucrats, uninspired workers tend to view their jobs as routine and tedious. Burchard inspired imagination in student-priests studying the work of hearing confessions:

“Perhaps, most beloved,” the priest should tell the penitent, “you are unable to remember everything you have done. Therefore, I will interrogate you. Be careful not to hide anything by diabolical deception.” [4]

Many of Burchard’s interrogations are sensational:

Have you tasted your husband’s semen in order to make his love for you burn greater through your diabolical deeds? If you have, you should do seven years of penance on the appointed fast days.

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They take their menstrual blood, mix it into food or drink, and give it to their men to eat or drink to love them more. If you have done this, you should do five years of penance on the appointed fast days.

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They take a live fish and put it in their vagina, keeping it there for a while until it is dead. Then they cook or roast it and give it to their husbands to eat, doing this in order to make the men be more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days.

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They lie face down on the ground, uncover their buttocks, and tell someone to make bread on their naked buttocks. When they have cooked it, they give it to their husbands to eat. They do this to make them more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days. [5]

These interrogations have literary sophistication scarcely imaginable in respected discourse today. Burchard sensationally figured oral sex as tasting your husband’s semen. While baking bread was a well-recognized medieval figure for having sex, Burchard sensationally dilated that figure and connected it explicitly to eating. Within the work of priests, eating bread evokes the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Within cultural circumstances disparaging and criminalizing men’s sexuality, Burchard affirmed wives’ gratitude and giving of thanks for their husbands’ sexual effort.[6]

Despite the burden of husbands’ work for their wives and families, some wives throughout history have lacked appreciation for their husbands. Juvenal, along with other classic Latin authors, recognized the problem of women killing their husbands with poison and other means. To the serious problem of domestic violence against men, Burchard brought great imagination:

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They take off their clothes and smear honey all over their naked body. With the honey on their body they roll themselves back and forth over wheat on a sheet spread on the ground. They carefully collect all the grains of wheat sticking to their moist body, put them in a mill, turn the mill in the opposite direction of the sun, grind the wheat into flour, and bake bread from it. They then serve it to their husbands to eat, who then grow weak and die. If you have, you should do penance for forty days on bread and water. [7]

The woman’s naked body smeared with honey alludes to the bodily allure of women. But this interrogation reverses the figure of the woman’s eagerness and gratitude for the man’s service. Turning against the sexual-Eucharistic figure of making and eating bread, the mill turns backwards, and the husband dies. The penance of forty days on bread and water, associated with Christ’s purification in the desert, points forward to redemption and life-embracing relationships between women and men.[8]

With the modern dominance of gynocentric vernaculars, medieval Latin literature has been disastrously under-read. Those scholars working to buttress the dominant ideology have tended to dismiss medieval Latin literature as fantastical ragings of medieval monks isolated in their cells. Medieval canon law tends merely to provide grist for modern moral smugness.[9] Modern ignorance and narrow-mindedness obscures the wonders of medieval Latin literature.

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[1] A canon of Worms wrote an admiring life of Burchard of Worms, apparently soon after Burchard’s death. According to that life, Burchard was born of a high-status family and studied in various places.

Burchard’s education was probably quite similar to that described by his contemporary Walter, bishop of Speyer, who worked on the Decretum with him. In his Libellus de studio poetae qui et scolasticus, the first book in his Vita of St. Christopher, Walter described reading various Latin writers from antiquity and late antiquity, including Boethius, Horace, Persius, Juvenal, Terence, and Vergil.

Austin (2004) p. 929, n. 1. Here’s a short, modern biography of Burchard of Worms.

[2] Burchard of Worms, Preface to the Decretum, from Latin trans. Somerville & Clark (1998) p. 100. Schmitz (1898), available online, provides an early critical edition of the Latin text. An earlier Latin edition is in Patrologia Latina 140, cc. 949-76. Burchard’s preface emphasizes the usefulness of his work and the importance of training and teaching priests.

[3] The priestly job responsibility of hearing private confessions seems to have been first formalized in Ireland in the sixth century. For overviews of medieval literature and practice of penance, Frantzen (1983) and Meens (2014).

Most of Burchard’s Decretum describes sins and associated penances. Bk. 19, Ch. 5, however, is entitled Corrector sive Medicus (“Edifier or Physician“). It provides prefatory instructions (ordo) to priests on confessions. It then includes questions and prescribed penances for affirmative answers.

Burchard adopted Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, in part from Book 6 of Halitgar of Cambrai’s early ninth-century “practical guide for confessors.” Hamilton (2001) p. 39. The question form, however, apparently comes from the the late-ninth-century Paenitentiale mixtum Pseudo-Bedae-Egberti. Burchard’s penitential ordo is similar to that of Regino of Prüm’s tenth-century penitential. Burchard, however, provided about 190 questions compared to Regino’s about forty. Körntgen (2006) pp. 109-10. Burchard’s sensational questions aren’t part of Regino’s penitential.

[4] Burchard of Worms, Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, Introduction, from Latin trans. Körntgen (2006) p. 114.

[5] Burchard of Worms, Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, from Latin trans. Shinners (1997) pp. 451-3, with my non-substantial adaptations. Shinners labels the above interrogations 154, 164, 160, and 161, respectively. The Latin text in Schmitz (1898), pp. 445, 447-8, numbers them 166, 176, 172, 173. While many penitential canons were carried through centuries and across different penitentials, Burchard himself apparently created these and other imaginative penitentials. Körntgen (2006) p. 110.

Oral sex is mentioned in some early penitentials. The tenth-century Anglo-Saxon Scriftboc Penitential (less properly also called Confessionale Pseudo-Egberti) states:

Whoever releases seed into the mouth is to fast seven years.

Whichever freeman has intercourse with his wife during the menstrual period is to fast forty days. And whoever drinks a man’s blood or his seed is to fast for five years.

X02.04.01 & X05.01.01 trans. Frantzen (2003), in Cultural Index / Sex: Male-Female. See also Payer (1984) pp. 29-30. The penitential canon closest to the above canons of Burchard is in the Arundel Penitential of the tenth or eleventh century:

If she mixes a fish that dies in childbirth with menstrual blood, makes it into bread, and gives it to her husband to eat and drink, she should do five years of severe penance.

{Si qua piscem in puerperio suo mortuum vel panen super vases (?) confectum suas vel menstruum sanguinem suum marito suo ad manducandum vel ad bibendum dederit, V annos graviter peniteat.}

Arundel Penitential 81, Latin text printed in Schmitz (1883) p. 459, my Latin translation.

[6] Medieval penitentials don’t include canons about men administering aphrodisiacs to their wives. Payer (1980) p. 351. Medieval wives apparently provided men with all the sexual love that they needed. Medieval men’s relatively difficult, exhausting lives may have contributed to making them tired in bed. Medieval canon law supported men’s limited energy reserves by establishing sex canons such that marital sex was licit less than 44 days a year after accounting for holy days and restrictions related to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Hamilton (2001) p. 197. On the other hand, one of Burchard’s canons penalized men having sex with their wives from behind, like a dog (“retro, canino more”). Schmitz (1898) p. 421 (canon 52). Some men may on occasion have preferred that position. The truly chivalrous medieval man was always ready to perform his duty even despite his own personal preference.

Juan Ruiz’s early fourteenth-century Spanish masterpiece, Libro de buen amor, includes a lyrical poem known as “Cruz cruzada, panadera” (Libro, stanzas 115-22). That poem mixes baking bread with religious and sexual allusions. It’s widely regarded as one of the most obscene poems in medieval literature. Some of Burchard of Worms’s Latin penitential canons are arguably more creative and more obscene.

[7] Burchard of Worms, Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, from Latin trans. Shinners (1997) p. 455 (canon 179). The Latin text of Schmitz (1898), p. 451, numbers this canon 193.

[8] Frantzen, a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature, pointed the field toward literary study of early medieval penitentials in Frantzen (1983) Ch. 7, and Frantzen (1991). But the field of Anglo-Saxon studies hasn’t been welcoming to Frantzen’s challenging, non-conformist viewpoints.

While the literariness of Burchard’s penitential seems obvious, scholars have failed to recognize and understand it. Payer took too narrow a view of “functional utility”:

They {penitentials} were practical handbooks which would have had no conceivable raison d’etre aside from their functional utility in the administration of private penance. … There is no indication that the penitentials were conceived to have any other independent literary value such as a treatise of Augustine or a Biblical commentary of Jerome might have.

Payer (1984) p. 119. Austin declares, “we ought to look beneath the surface and not take his collection {Burchard’s penitential} at face value.” Austin (2004) p. 957. But she emphasized its theoretical-jurisprudential sophistication along with its use in straightforward pastoral care. Körntgen focused on just teaching, but took too narrow of a view of teaching:

it is hardly conceivable that a priest would have read the complete catalogue {in Burchard’s Bk. 19, Ch. 5} to the penitent believer. Should we therefore assume that Burchard’s penitential is a literary fiction, which was never intended to be used in the practice of penance? The practical significance of the work might be found in a different context. Burchard stresses in his preface that at least one of his aims for the whole collection was to educate the young clerics connected to the cathedral school in Worms. For such educational purposes the consequent amplification of the questionnaire would have provided the perfect assistance. Pupils in Worms and elsewhere could learn which kind of crimes they could encounter in the process of hearing confession and the kind of penances they should dispense for these. The question format, moreover, together with the fact that it was embedded in the ordo, provided a direct connection to the process of hearing confession. Pupils in this way not only learnt about the material side of penance, that is the possible kinds of sin and appropriate forms of penance; but also its ritual side, that is the liturgy of penance and the specific order in which confession should be heard and a penance determined.

Körntgen (2006) p. 114. The literary fictions included in Burchard’s penitentials, like the literary fictions in Seneca’s Controversiae, have practical teaching value in attracting attention. Scholars who question that claim could verify it by presenting Burchard’s sensational penitentials within the classroom. However, under some current totalitarian university administrations, such thought and expression probably would be inadvisable.

[9] Current laws regulating sexual behavior, paternity, and child custody are effectively more punitive, oppressive, and absurd than anything found in medieval canon laws. Men in the U.S. today have forced financial fatherhood legally imposed on them despite fraud and an explicit, written contract to the contrary. Many paternity judgments that impose crushing financial obligations on men are legally established through undue influence, mis-representation, and mis-service. Abortion laws effectively provide free choice to neither women nor men. The Crabtree case provides a fitting exemplar of the bigotry and irrationality of today’s family law.

[image] Penitent in confession with priest in Lviv, Ukraine. Thanks to Vodnik and Wikimedia Commons.


Austin, Greta. 2004. “Jurisprudence in the Service of Pastoral Care: The Decretum of Burchard of Worms.” Speculum. 79 (4): 929-959.

Frantzen, Allen J. 1983. The literature of penance in Anglo-Saxon England. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Frantzen, Allen J. 1991. “The ‘Literariness’ of the Penitentials.” English translation of new introduction to Frantzen, Allen J. 1991. La littérature de la pénitence dans l’Angleterre Anglo-Saxonne. Fribourg (Suisse): Éditions Universitaires {French trans. of Frantzen (1983)}.

Frantzen, Allen J. 2003. Anglo-Saxon Penitentials: A Cultural Database. Worldwide: Internet.

Hamilton, Sarah. 2001. The practice of penance, 900-1050. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Royal Historical Society.

Körntgen, Ludger. 2006. “Canon law and the practice of penance: Burchard of Worms’s penitential.” Early Medieval Europe. 14 (1): 103-117.

Meens, Rob. 2014. Penance in medieval Europe, 600-1200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Payer, Pierre J. 1980. “Early medieval regulations concerning marital sexual relations.” Journal of Medieval History. 6 (4): 353-376.

Payer, Pierre J. 1984. Sex and the penitentials: the development of a sexual code, 550-1150. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Schmitz, Hermann Joseph. 1883. Die bussbücher und die bussdisciplin der kirche. Mainz: F. Kirchheim.

Schmitz, Hermann Joseph. 1898. Die Bussbücher und die Bussdisciplin der Kirche: nach handschriftlichen Quellen dargestellt. Vol. 2. Die Bussbücher und das kanonische Bussverfahren. Düsseldorf : L. Schwann.

Shinners, John Raymond. 1997. Medieval popular religion, 1000-1500: a reader. Peterborough, Ont., Canada: Broadview Press.

Somerville, Robert, and Bruce Clark Brasington. 1998. Prefaces to Canon Law books in Latin Christianity: selected translations, 500-1245. New Haven: Yale University Press.

medieval knight taught his daughters concern for violence against men

dead knights after battle of Crécy

The fourteenth-century French knight Geoffrey de La Tour Landry experienced personally horrendous violence against men. Surviving records indicate that he was at the siege of Aguillon in 1346, fought on the losing side in the Battle of Auray in 1364, engaged in the siege at Cherbourg in 1378, and served in war in Brittany in 1380 and 1383.[1] Within this time of the Hundred Years’ War, noblemen such as Geoffrey had an average lifespan nearly ten years less than noblewomen. Women throughout history have played an important role in inciting men to violence against men. In a loving book of teachings for his daughters, Geoffrey used biblical stories to instruct his daughters to act with concern for violence against men.

The biblical story of the massacre at Shechem shows the deep roots of contempt for men’s lives. In that story, the young woman Dinah went, apparently by herself, to visit with the women of the tribe of Shechem.[2] Today, that’s like a scantily dressed woman walking alone through a high-crime area at midnight on a Friday night. All well-educated persons know that every woman has the right to do that. But few consider that such action tends to increase the job hazards of police officers, who are predominately men. Men suffer fourteen times more occupational fatalities than women do. Men suffer four times more deaths from violence than women do. Everyone, including women, should act with loving concern to lessen violence against men.

Dinah visiting the woman of Shechem was a critical link in a chain of events resulting in massacre of all the males of Shechem. When Shechem, the prince of the region, saw Dinah, he fell in love with her. Dinah and Shechem had sex during the time of Dinah’s visit to the women of Shechem. The Hebrew text doesn’t actually indicate that Shechem raped Dinah.[3] Consistent with the sordid history of criminalizing men from the “rape of Lucretia” to recent rape hoaxes, the Latin text of the Vulgate Bible presumed that Shechem raped Dinah. Many modern biblical translations, as well as most biblical commentators, have similarly promoted raping-men culture.

Horrific violence resulted from the allegation of rape. After he allegedly raped Dinah, Shechem pleaded with Dinah’s father and brothers to allow him to marry Dinah. Dinah’s brothers deceitfully promised to allow that marriage if the men of Shechem had themselves circumcised. Evidently Dinah herself didn’t object to marrying Shechem. Desperately in love Dinah, Shechem induced all the men of Shechem to be circumcised. While the men were suffering from the pain of male genital mutilation. Dinah’s brothers massacred all the men of Shechem. That killing in turn put Dinah’s family at risk of retaliatory violence against men from the friends of Shechem.

In medieval Europe, Geoffrey de la Tour Landry wanted his daughters to be enlightened persons who act with concern for violence against men. Characterizing Dinah going among the tribe of Shechem as being frivolous and light-hearted, Geoffrey urged his daughters:

Look on this example and see how many evils and misfortunes are caused by foolish women. Because of her youth and her frivolous spirits, a great deal of blood was shed. [4]

Underscoring the lesson of the biblical story of the massacre at Shechem, Geffrey appended to it a story about more than a thousand Greek men killed. A Greek king had a daughter. Her fole amour (“foolish love”) for an earl caused a horrendous war in which more than a thousand men were killed. A wise man came to the king and said it would have been better if his daughter had never been born. The king ordered his own daughter cut into pieces just as more than a thousand men had been from her lack of concern for violence against men. If you want to understand violence against women, you must seek to understand much more prevalent violence against men.

The story of more than a thousand Greek men killed parallels in its ending the biblical story of about a hundred thousand Israelite and Benjaminite men killed. In the later story, a Levite resided in a remote area of Ephraim with his concubine.[5] She became angry with him and left him to live with her father. The Levite, rather than acquiring another concubine, sought to speak tenderly to her and convince her to come back to live with him. The Levite thus undertook the long journey to his concubine’s father’s house. The concubine’s father greeted the Levite with joy and offered him much food and drink. Evidently the concubine’s father regarded the Levite as a worthy companion for his daughter. She apparently agreed to return to live with the Levite.

The ultimate results of the concubine leaving the Levite were horrific killings. On the way home, the Levite and his concubine desperately needed a place to stay for a night. A man from Ephraim generously hosted the Levite and his concubine. Unfortunately, at night a crowd of Benjaminite men gathered and demanded that they be given the Levite to rape. Men traditionally have shown their love for others by being willing to die for them. In this story, the Levite had his concubine accept sexual abuse for him. The Benjaminites gang-raped her all night long. In the morning, she was dead. The Levite, outraged, sought vengeance. Her hacked her dead body into twelve pieces and sent a piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Violence against women, even just unsubstantiated claims of violence against a woman, is a powerfully tool to incite men to violence against men. The resulting war between the Israelites and the Benjaminites killed about 100,000 men. In addition, nearly all the inhabitants of the Benjaminite city of Gibeah were killed.

Geoffrey de la Tour Landry used the biblical story of about a hundred thousand Israelite and Benjaminite men killed to instruct his daughters to restrain their responses in anger against their husbands over minor matters. Geoffrey’s version of the story emphasizes that the Levite was a good, noble man, the woman was his wife, and her anger arose from a relatively unimportant matter. Close personal relationships inevitably involve some annoyances and anger. In this story, the wife left her husband over a minor matter. In Geoffrey’s telling of the story, the wife’s father told her that she had done wrong and should return to her husband. Geoffrey explicitly noted that the wife leaving her husband over a minor matter resulted in about thirty-three thousand persons being killed. Geoffrey instructed his daughters:

This is a good example for you of how a woman ought not to leave her husband and household-head for any anger or ill-will between them. [6]

Given the way current domestic-violence laws gender-profile men for arrest and destroy men’s lives without any due process of law, caring women today should be even more careful to restrain their anger against their husbands for minor matters.

Geoffrey warned his daughters about the terrible consequences of false accusations of rape. Today, the problem of false rape accusations tends to be trivialized in accordance with the dominant ideology of eviscerating due process of law for accused men. Yet throughout most of history, false accusations of rape, like rape itself, were treated as very serious matters. Adapting the biblical story of the false rape accusation against Joseph, Geoffrey urged his daughters to be truthful and good:

God exalts always the just and those truly loyal, and the false queen {who made a false accusation of rape} was punished. Within a little time afterwards, she died wickedly and suddenly of an evil death. And in this way God rewarded each of them after their merit. [7]

A false accusation of rape can cause a man to be imprisoned for many years. Prisons are violent places. Imprisonment itself is an act of violence that isn’t justified under a false charge. Fathers and mothers who care about violence against men should teach their children not to make false accusations of rape.

In our benighted times, caring persons can find better moral guidance in medieval literature than in much of today’s academic scholarship and public-affairs writing. Despite its prevalence, violence against men is scarcely recognized as such. The medieval knight Geoffrey de la Tour Landry knew personally horrendous violence against men. His fatherly instruction to his daughters about violence against men deserves to be taken seriously and studied carefully.

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[1] For the scant biographical information on Geoffrey de la Tour Landry, Wright (1906) Introduction, Offord (1971) pp. xxxiv-xxxviii, and Barnhouse (2006) pp. 3-5. Geoffrey had at least three daughters with his wife Jeanne de Rouge and at least one son. Their son Charles died on St. Chrispin’s Day fighting in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. They may have had another son who also served as a soldier. Geoffrey addressed his book to his three daughters: Jeanne, Anne, and Marie.

[2] For the story, Genesis 34.

[3] A thorough evaluation of the linguistic evidence concluded:

The widespread opinion that the verb ‘innâ in the Pi’el {story of the massacre at Shechem} refers to “rape” or “sexual abuse” is not acceptable. It suffers from a lack of analysis of all the biblical material and of the distribution of ‘innâ with a female object in the Hebrew Bible. … ‘innâ in Gen. xxxiv 2 does not describe Shechem’s rape or sexual abuse of Dinah, but evaluates Shechem’s previously described actions (“take” and “sleep with”) as a debasement of Dinah from a social-juridical point of view.

Wolde (2002) pp. 543-4. Bechtel (1994) provides a historical contextualization of the story while setting out a “modern definition of rape” that precludes men being raped. Id. p. 20. Actions today are labeled rape with grotesque anti-men prejudice.

[4] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry (Book of the Knight of Tour Landry / Book of the Knight of the Tower) Ch. 56 (Of the daughter of Jacob), from Old French trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 82. Montaiglon (1854) provides an Old French text. William Caxton’s English translation of 1484 follows the Old French text closely here and throughout. Odford (1971) p. 82.

[5] For the story, Judges 19-20.

[6] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier Ch. 71 (Of little disputes), from Old French of Montaiglon (1854), my English translation. All subsequent English translations are from id. For Caxton’s translation, Offord (1971) p. 102. Schroeder (2007), p. 122, quotes much of the story, but elides the reference to thirty-three thousand persons being killed (men and women). In considering biblical stories, id. consistently ignores violence against men.

[7] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier Ch. 58 (Of the wife of the Pharaoh and Joseph the son of Jacob), from Old French my translation. For Caxton’s translation, Offord (1971) p. 84. Geoffrey conflates Pharaoh and his vizier Potiphar, and thus makes Potiphar’s wife the Pharaoh’s wife (the queen). For the biblical story, Genesis 39:1-20.

Geoffrey interpreted biblical stories which much more sensitivity to men victims than do modern interpreters. A recent work supporting dominant gynocentric ideology with laughably tendentious interpretations of historical texts ironically concluded:

In this book we have dealt with disturbing biblical stories, but we have also observed that the interpretations {emphasis in original} of these stories are frequently more troubling than the stories themselves. We have seen that the history of scriptural interpretation includes blind spots, glaring inconsistencies, and outrageous claims on the one hand, and empathy, insight, and compassion on the other. Perhaps this exploration of the stories of Dinah, Tamar, the Levite’s concubine, Susanna, the martyrs of the church, and others will help us become aware of our own interpretive blind spots. The lessons of history may teach us the importance of using reverence and care in approaching both sacred texts and the stories told by victims of violence, listening to the voice of each with ears that hear.

Schroeder (2007) p. 239. Schroeder and many other scholars today appear to be deaf and blind to violence against men and ignorant of the reality of rape.

[image] Edward II counting the dead men on the battlefied of Crécy. Manuscript of Jean Froissart, Chroniques, Vol. 1. Made in Paris, c. 1410. Folio 144r in The Hague, KB, 72 A 25. Thanks to Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library of the Netherlands) and Wikimedia Commons.


Barnhouse, Rebecca, trans. 2006. Geoffrey de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of the tower: manners for young medieval women. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bechtel, Lyn M. 1994. “What if Dinah is not raped? (Genesis 34).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 62: 19-36.

Montaiglon, Anatole de, ed. 1854. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, pour l’enseignement de ses filles. Pub. d’aprés les manuscrits de Paris et de Londres. Paris: P. Jannet.

Offord, M. Y., ed. 1971. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. William Caxton. The book of the knight of the Tower. London: Oxford University Press.

Schroeder, Joy A. 2007. Dinah’s lament: the biblical legacy of sexual violence in Christian interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wolde, Ellen van. 2002. “Does innâ denote rape?: a semantic analysis of a controversial word.” Vetus Testamentum. 52 (4).

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1906. William Caxton. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of La Tour-Landry: compiled for the instruction of his daughters. London: Published for the Early English Text Society, by K. Paul, Trench, Trübner.

Plutarch’s Gryllus proves “men are pigs” is a virtuous ideal

men are pigs

Men are pigs, some say disparagingly today. That’s regarded as disparagement only because of men’s different bodies. Men cannot speak from their different bodies. In Plutarch’s Gryllus, a differently bodied man — Gryllus the pig — is magically given the ability to speak. Gryllus convincingly establishes the innate virtue of being male for all animals but men.[1] Men must become pigs if human societies are to achieve a virtuous ideal of gender equality.

The cultural construction of gender forces men to struggle to be virtuous. Gryllus astutely points out, “men do not naturally possess manliness.” Men must engage, symbolically or literally, in violence against men and acquire wounds on their chests to be respected as men. To be virtuous is a burden of masculine performance and cultured achievement.[2] Women are valued for nothing more than their natural bodily features. Men lack women’s gender privilege. Gryllus, a male pig, lives with his fellow male pigs without the need to do any work. The woman-witch Circe provides for their welfare. Almost all men lack opportunity for a similar life. Gryllus thus refers to “men, the most unfortunate of all creatures!”[3]

Gryllus explains that animals other than men live without the gender oppression of men. According to Gryllus, animals other than men don’t have to pay females for sex if they’re not guileful enough to get sex without paying. Animals other than men don’t have to seduce women and get criminalized for their efforts. Animals other than humans just do it like they do on the Discovery Channel:

The females are not coy and do not cloak their desires with deceits or trickeries or denials; nor do the males, driven on by the sting of mad lust, purchase the act of procreation by money or toil or servitude. No! Both parties celebrate at the proper time a love without deceit or hire, a love which in the season of spring awakens, like the burgeoning of plants and trees, the desire of animals, and then immediately extinguishes it.

Good governments should support all human adults’ entitlement to sex. The goal is to give humans equal sexual capabilities to other animals. That’s a crucial component to enlightened efforts to raise human welfare.

The generic “man” throughout the history of human literature indicates lack of self-conscious speaking about bodily men. Inability to appreciate the bodily distinctiveness of men separates men from other male animals. Male pigs don’t write about an abstract, sexless pig. They probably don’t even think about one. Not reasoning about a fantasy is reasonable. Pigs think about their real bodily conditions and real bodily desires. Male pigs think as animals with male genitalia. That’s good sense. That’s reasonable.[4]

Urging men to act like pigs promotes a virtuous ideal of gender equality. Dominant ideology today urges the domestication of men and the feminization of their temperament. That’s a strategy to achieve gender equality through gender uniformity. Gryllus recognizes that such a strategy works for animals. He also recognizes that it makes male animals spiritless and without courage.[5] Moreover, domestication tends to be associated with the extreme of outright neutering. A more temperate and sensible approach retains the courage of animals. Gryllus points out that animals naturally behave in accordance with gender equality. In acting like pigs and refusing to return to the oppressive position of men, men uphold a virtuous ideal of gender equality.

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[1] In Homer’s Odyssey Bk. 10, Circe was a woman with beautiful hair and an enthralling voice. She was also a witch. She turned half of Odysseus’s men into pigs. The setting of Plutarch’s Gryllus is Odysseus asking Circe to turn them back into men. She declares that the men prefer to be pigs. She gives one of the men-pigs named Gryllus the power of speech to convince Odysseus that being a pig is superior to being a man.

Here’s an online English translation of Gryllus (Loeb Classical Library, 1957). All the quotes above from Gryllus are from the Loeb translation. An edition of the Greek text. is also available online. Gryllus is also known under the Latin title Bruta animalia ratione uti (Non-human animals are rational) and the Greek title ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΥ ΤΑ ΑΛΟΓΑ ΛΟΓΩΙ ΧΡΗΣΘΑΙ (On the fact that unreasoning creatures employ reason). While leading scholars now attribute the work to Plutarch, the authorship of Gryllus has been questioned. Whether attribution to Plutarch is correct isn’t relevant to the above discussion.

[2] The quote from Gryllus is from 988B. The Loeb edition translates ανδρεία as “courage.” Konstan (2011), p. 378, provides the more linguistically rooted translation “manliness.” The English word “virtue” comes from the Latin word virtus. Virtus is rooted in vir. Vir means male human being. The Greek term associated with virtue is ἀρετή (arete). That term is linguistically rooted in excellence of any kind. The Greek term thus highlights the burden of performance and achievement associated with being a man. For an insightful discussion of how Plutarch plays with the ancient Greek understanding of virtue, Konstan (2011).

[3] Gryllus in Greek states: ζῷον αὖθις ἀνθρώπους γενομένους. Reflecting the obliteration of male human beings in gynocentric society, the Greek term ἀνθρώπους is commonly mistranslated as human being. See, e.g. Konstan (2011) p. 374. The context in Gryllus makes clear that the reference is to male human beings.

[4] The intelligence of pigs has deep implications for today’s academia:

Limiting one’s engagement with society through a preference for abstraction and dogmatic figures or for archaizing rhetorical practices can become an escapist fantasy. … an important implication of the Gryllus, then, that as the recipients of certain vestments of elite culture, the learned risk alienation — that is, at some point of extravagance paideia becomes merely an introspective fantasy.

Herchenroeder (2008) p. 374. That introspective fantasy is without male bodily awareness. Dyssebia at least recognizes that Gryllus isn’t more sophistic than Odysseus.

[5] Gryllus 987E-F (4.22). Herchenroeder (2008), pp. 366-74, considers at length domestication, but without any understanding of men’s actual position in gynocentric society. Herchenroeder thus fundamentally misunderstands the substance of Gryllus’s parody of men’s misunderstanding.

[image] The Big Pig. Thanks to Daniele Pieroni for sharing on flickr, CC-BY-SA.


Herchenroeder, Lucas. 2008. “Tί γàρ τοῦτο πρὸς τὸν λόγον; Plutarch’s Gryllus and the So-Called Grylloi.” American Journal of Philology. 129 (3): 347-79.

Konstan, David. 2011. “A Pig Convicts Itself of Unreason: The Implicit Argument of Plutarch’s Gryllus.” Hyperboreus. 16-17: 371-85.

knight Boucicaut lost woman-savy father & spent life fighting men

knights in brutal battle

The knight Jean I Le Maingre, called Boucicaut, rose to become Marshal of France in 1356. The name Boucicaut came from an obscure French term for a fishing basket.[1] The knight Boucicaut was as skilled in catching women as he was in fighting men. Boucicaut had a son, Jean II Le Maingre, also called Boucicaut. The older Boucicaut died just two years after his son was born. Without his father’s guidance, the younger Boucicaut grew up to be a benighted chivalrous knight who spent his life in abject service to women and in brutal fighting with men.

Just one story makes clear that the older Boucicaut rejected the man-oppressing ideology of courtly love. One day at a feast, three eminent ladies chatted at length with each other about their amusements. In response to one lady’s verbal challenge, each confessed to having a man seeking her love. Then they agreed to reveal their lovers’ names. The first said her lover was Boucicaut. The second said Boucicaut, too. The third said her lover was Boucicaut as well. Boucicaut wasn’t a man pining away with one-itis. Like the great teacher of love Ovid, Boucicaut sought them all.

The ladies were outraged at Boucicaut’s behavior. They declared:

Certainly he isn’t as loyal or true as we supposed. He is a mocker and deceiver of ladies. Let’s send for him. [2]

With the intensification of gynocentrism, medieval men were required to come when ladies beckoned them. Boucicaut came and said, “My ladies, how may I please you?” The ladies ordered Boucicaut to sit at their feet. He refused. He insisted on sitting on a chair or stool.[3] One of the ladies then interrogated him:

How is it, Boucicaut, that we have been so deceived by you? We thought you were faithful and true, but you’re nothing but a mocker of ladies. …You desired my fair cousin here, and me as well, and you swore to each of us that you loved her best above all creatures. This was a great lie. You are false and deceitful and you ought not be counted among good knights.

This was in the days before the criminalization of seduction. Yet Boucicaut still felt the need to defend his behavior and his interest in good nights. He declared:

you may have spoken, but you aren’t in the right, and I’ll tell you why. At the time that I said so to each of you, it was the truth. And therefore you’re wrong to think of me as deceitful. But I suppose I must bear with your judgment.

Even a famous knight cannot argue with women. All men must accept women’s judgments.

Men, however, should not accept being treated as chattel slaves. One of the women declared:

Let’s draw lots for him, and the one with the shortest straw will have him.

Boucicaut was not a piece of meat. He was a man, a human being with his own wishes and desires, a person with as much God-given dignity as any woman. Boucicaut rightly responded:

Nay, my ladies, by the sacrament of God, I am not to be dealt with this way. There isn’t a woman here with whom I’ll tarry.

Boucicaut then got up and walked out. That was a great moment in men’s history. But few persons today know about it, because history from its beginnings has revolved around women.

The Boucicaut most prominent in history is the younger Boucicaut, Jean II Le Maingre. He was born in 1366. His father, the older Boucicaut, died just two years later. The fatherless younger Boucicaut became a bellicose knight. At the age of twelve he participated in a battle in Normandy as a page serving Duke Louis of Bourbon. At age sixteen, he was knighted on the eve of the Battle of Roosebeke and reportedly killed a man who had chided him as being merely a child. By age twenty-five, Boucicaut had fought in three campaigns against the Lithuanians, had participated in two battles against the English, and had soldiered in the Balkans as a mercenary. King Charles VI appointed the twenty-five-year-old Boucicaut marshal of France. Boucicaut subsequently participated in extended military actions against the Turks, war against the Venetians, and a variety of raids in the Mediterranean. In 1415, Boucicaut was captured in a battle with the English. He died a prisoner in England in 1421. He had spent his whole life engaged in violence against men.[4]

As Suero de Quinones would subsequently do, the younger Boucicaut staged an extravagant public ritual of men brutally tilting at other men. In the spring of 1390, Boucicaut and two fellow knights challenged to single combat any man, French or foreign, with any agreed weapons. In the resulting tournament at Saint Inglevert near Calais, Boucicaut fought single combat with eighteen men. He knocked off his opponent’s iron helmet twelve times, and had his helmet knocked off seven times. Blows to the head are not good for men’s health. Further underscoring the extent of the violence, Boucicaut broke five lances against his opponent’s body, and had five lances broken against his own body. Boucicaut struck three of his opponents with such force that he unhorsed them.[5] Treating violence against men as sport in medieval Europe corresponds to relatively little concern about violence against men today.

The younger Boucicaut was also a leading woman-server. When informed that he had returned the curtsies of two women who were prostitutes, Boucicaut declared:

I would rather have paid my salutations to ten harlots than have omitted them to one lady worthy of respect. [6]

In 1399, Boucicaut founded a chivalric order to defend women: Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (“Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady”). The knights of this order pledged to defend the honor, fame, praise, and property of ladies. Other knights waited for a lady to ask him to fight for her. The knights of Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche publicly declared in advance their willingness to fight for women’s interests.[7] That was in a society in which noble men had a life expectancy nearly ten years less than noble women. These medieval knights were forefathers of today’s ignorant, benighted warriors for “gender equality for women.”

The older Boucicaut could have taught his son the younger Boucicaut much about how to have a long, pleasurable life. Fatherless men easily become servants of the gynocentric order. It must be overthrown. Let the ruling classes tremble at a men’s revolution. Ordinary men have nothing to lose but their chains. Working men of the world, unite!

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[1] Barnhouse (2006), p. 139, gives 1356 as the date that the older Boucicaut became marshal (maréchal) of France. On Boucicaut being derived from an Old French word for fishing basket, Curry, Pépin & Taylor (2015) p. 177.

Little is know about the older Boucicaut. Jehan Le Fèvre, who was well practiced in currying favor, denounced Boucicaut for unscrupulously seeking profit at the royal court. Id., referring to Le Fèvre’s Le Songe du vergier. Geoffrey de la Tour Landry referred to the older Boucicaut as “a wise man and well thought of by the other knights.” Geoffrey also referred to “Charny and Boucicaut … such venerated and renowned knights.” Geoffrey, Knight of the Tower, Ch. 22 (Of three ladies who rebuked Boucicaut) & Ch. 114 (How every good woman ought to guard her reputation well), from French trans. Barnhouse (2006) pp. 140, 216.

Here’s some biographies of medieval soldiers.

[2] Geoffrey, Knight of the Tower, Ch. 22 (Of three ladies who rebuked Boucicaut), from French trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 140. All the subsequent quotes except for the final one are from id. Here’s a French text of the Knight of the Tower.

Other knights in Boucicaut’s time also showed self-confidence and guile in dealing with ladies. Geoffrey wrote:

I remembered the things the soldiers said about their encounters with ladies and damsels, whose love they asked for. If one lady wouldn’t listen to their prayers, another soldier would ask for her love without even waiting. And the men didn’t care what answer the ladies gave them, because they had neither fear nor shame, being so hardened and accustomed to acting this way.

Prologue, trans. id. p. 32.

[3] Boucicaut excuse for not sitting at the ladies’ feet was, “I might break my points and laces.” Barnhouse explains:

He’s referring to the laces that attach his hose to his doublet; should they break, his hose would fall, exposing his legs. You can imagine the embarrassment for Boucicaut, and the delight of the three ladies, should that happen.

Id. p. 141. That’s a superficial reading of the situation. Boucicaut actually may have been seductively reminding the ladies of their desire for him and asserting his unwillingness to be abjectly subservient to their desire.

[4] On the younger Boucicaut’s life, Housley (2003), Brough (2012), Hoornstra (2013). The main historical source on Boucicaut’s life is Le livre des fais {faicts} du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, written in 1409.

[5] Froissart’s Chronicles (written about 1380), provides an account of the tournament at Saint Inglevert. Steve Muhlberger has provided a tally of the combat from which the above account draws. Muhlberger has also made available an English translation of relevant sections of Le livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut.

[6] Huizinga (1937) p. 63, apparently from Livre des fais, but I haven’t been able to locate the reference in that text.

[7] Le livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, ch. 38-9, discussed in Hoornstra (2013) pp. 128-9. Boucicaut participated in the “Court of Love” (Cour Amoreuse) in Paris in 1401. Id. p. 129. He also reportedly was an author of Le Livre des cent ballades, composed in 1389. That book supported and celebrated the man-oppressing delusions of courtly love.

[image] Battle between Portuguese and English army and a French vanguard of the King of Castile. Manuscript of Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre by Jean of Wavrin. France, c. 1470-80. Manuscript Royal 14 E IV f. 201v . Thanks to British Library.


Barnhouse, Rebecca, trans. 2006. Geoffrey de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of the tower: manners for young medieval women. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brough, Gideon. 2012. Entry for “Boucicaut, Jean II le Maingre (ca. 1366–1421). In Martel, Gordon, ed. The encyclopedia of war. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Curry, Anne, Guilhem Pépin, and Craig Taylor.  2015. “The French Army at the Battle and Its Commanders.” Ch. 11 (pp. 158-77) in Curry, Anne, and Malcolm Mercer, eds. 2015. The Battle of Agincourt. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with Royal Armouries.

Hoornstra, David S. 2013. “Boucicaut fils and the Great Hiatus: Insights from the Career of Jean II Le Meingre, called Boucicaut.” Pp. 105-144 in Villalon, L. J. Andrew, and Donald J. Kagay, eds. The Hundred Years War. Part III. Leiden: Brill.

Housley, Norman. 2003. “One man and his wars: the depiction of warfare by Marshal Boucicaut’s biographer.” Journal of Medieval History. 29 (1): 27-40.

Huizinga, Johan, trans. by Frederik Jan Hopman. 1937. The waning of the middle ages: study of the forms of life, thought and art in France and the Netherlands in the xivth and xvth centuries. London: E. Arnold & Co.

Salabaetto & Madama Iancofiore revised Exemplum de decem cofris

Venus and Mars in bed

Early in twelfth-century Spain, Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis brought stories from Jewish and Arabic culture into Latin literature. One of those stories is the Exemplum de decem cofris (Instructive story of ten chests). That exemplum concerns persons aspiring to holiness overcoming unjust commercial trickery with their own commercial guile. In the Decameron, Boccaccio transformed that exemplum into the love-seeking Salabaetto overcoming Madama Iancofiore’s financial exploitation of his love affair with her.

In the Exemplum de decem cofris, a Spaniard was initially defrauded of 1000 talents. The Spaniard was traveling to Mecca. In Egypt, he decided that he wanted to cross into the desert. Traveling to Mecca is a holy obligation of Muslims. Going into the desert is a common figure of ascetic spiritual-seeking. Before the Spaniard went into the desert, he entrusted his wealth of 1000 talents to a reputably trustworthy local businessperson. When the Spaniard return to reclaim his deposit, the local businessperson denied receiving any deposit.

With the help of an old woman, the Spaniard recovered his money. The old woman was a charitable, God-praising, holy hermit. She devised a ploy for him. They arranged to have a confederate ask the businessperson to hold a luxurious chest. The confederate claimed that the chest held part of his wealth. He claimed that another nine similar chest would soon arrive. Before the deposit arrangement was concluded, the Spaniard showed up and demanded his money. Not wanting his confiscation of the deposit to become known, the businessperson returned the money to the Spaniard. The confederate then concluded his deposit deal. But the one chest he placed on deposit contained only stones. The other nine he never sent. The commercial trickster was thus in turn commercially tricked, not by more roguish characters, but by persons with high spiritual aspirations.[1]

Boccaccio’s version replaced the generic personal framework of high spiritual aspirations with Salabaetto’s natural desire for enjoyable sex with the lovely Madama Iancofiore. Salabaetto arrived in Palermo, Sicily, with a shipment of wool cloth. Madama Iancofiore received word of Salabaetto’s wealth. She began to give him amorous looks. He fell in love with her. Her maidservant go-between contacted Salabaetto:

she told him, her eyes practically brimming over with tears, that her mistress was so taken with his good looks and his pleasant manners that she could find no rest, day or night, and that it was her most ardent desire that he should meet with her in secret at some bathhouse whenever it would please him to do so. [2]

Salabaetto eagerly agreed to such a meeting.

The bathhouse meeting had exotic, erotic arrangements. Salabaetto arrived at the bathhouse at the appointed time. Then two slave girls with a mattress arrived. They covered the mattress with fine silk sheets and exquisitely embroidered pillows. The slave girls then took off all their cloths and scrubbed down the bath. Salabaetto probably enjoyed watching them work. Then the lady herself arrived with two more slave girls. Madama Iancofiore passionately greeted Salabaetto, hugging and kissing him. She told him:

Except for you, there’s no other man in the world who could have led me to do this, my darling Tuscan. You set my soul on fire.

Then, at Madama Iancofiore’s request, she and Salabaetto took their clothes off and entered the bath naked. The two slave girls attended them:

Refusing to allow either one of them to lay a hand on him, she {Madama Iancofiore} herself washed Salabaetto from head to foot with marvelous care, using soap scented with musk and cloves, after which she had the slave girls wash her and rub her down. When they {the slave girls} were done, they fetched two finely woven sheets, brilliantly white, which emitted such an odor of roses that it seemed as if the entire room were filled with them. After wrapping Salabaetto in one of the sheets and the lady in the other, they lifted them up and carried them to the bed that had been prepared for them. When the couple had finished perspiring, the sheets wound about them were removed, and they found themselves lying naked on the ones covering the bed. Beautiful little vials of silver were then taken from the basket, some filled with rose water, others with the water of orange blossoms and jasmine flowers, and yet others with the oil of oranges, which the slave girls sprinkled all over them. Finally, boxes of sweets and the most precious wines were produced, with which the couple refreshed themselves for a while.

Men’s fantasies are easy to ridicule. Yet Salabaetto seemed to be experiencing a fantasy realized:

Salabaetto was convinced he was in Paradise, and as he looked the lady up and down a thousand times — for she was certainly very beautiful — every hour seemed like a hundred years to him until the slave girls would go away and he might find himself in her arms. When, at the lady’s command, they finally withdrew, leaving a little light burning in the room, she and Salabaetto embraced one another passionately. And there the two of them passed a very long hour together, to Salabaetto’s immense delight, for he imagined that she was being utterly consumed by her love for him.

Madama Iancofiore then decided it was time for them to get up and leave the bathhouse. They got up, dressed, and took some more sweets and wine. Before they left the bathhouse, Madama Iancofiore invited Salabaetto to her house that evening for dinner and to spend the night.

Salabaetto’s night with Madama Iancofiore convinced him that she would take care of him completely, both sexually and financially. Madama Iancofiore arranged for a lavish dinner. She put on display in her room an array of her gowns and other expensive goods. All the appearances were compelling to Salabaetto:

All of these things, both taken together and considered individually, convinced him that she had to be a great lady with a substantial fortune, and although he had heard rumors quite to the contrary about the life she led, there was nothing in the world that would make him believe them. Furthermore, even if he did lend some credence to the suspicion that she had tricked others in the past, nothing in the world could persuade him that such a thing might happen to him.

They passed a fiercely passionate night together. In relation to a woman, every man relishes believing that he is truly, uniquely loved. Every man yearns to believe that his beloved woman has the means and the will not to treat him like a wallet.

Like most men, Salabaetto was willing to do anything for a woman who seemed to love him. When Salabaetto sold his stockpile of wool cloth for 500 gold florins, an informant told Madama Salabaetto of the transaction. She then arranged to deceive him:

one evening when he had gone to her place, she began to joke around and romp with him, hugging and kissing him with such a show of being on fire for him that it seemed as if she were going to die of love in his arms. Furthermore, she kept insisting that he accept two exquisite silver goblets of hers, which he refused, since on more than one occasion he had received things from her worth a good thirty gold florins without ever being able to get her to take anything from him that was worth so much as a tiny silver coin. At last, when she had gotten him absolutely red hot with her show of passion and generosity, one of her slave girls called her away from the room, as she had been ordered to do earlier. After a long while, the lady returned, and weeping, threw herself facedown on the bed, where she began to give vent to the most pitiful lamentation a woman has ever uttered.

When Salabaetto sought to comfort her and understand the cause of her lamentation, she explained that she had received a letter from her brother in Messina. She had to send him 1000 gold florins within a week, or he would have his head cut off. Salabaetto offered to lend her the 500 gold florins he had received if she would pay him back within two weeks. She promised to do so. Salabaetto gladly lent her all his money without any written contract.

After Madama Iancofiore had acquired all of Salabaetto’s money, she pushed away from him. She began making excuses for not spending the night with him. Months went by without her repaying the money he had lent her. Salabaetto realized he had been duped:

There was nothing he could say against her, however, unless she were willing to confirm it, for he had no written evidence of their arrangement, nor had there been any witnesses to it. Moreover, he was ashamed to go and complain about her to anyone, not just because he had been warned about her beforehand, but also because of the well-deserved ridicule he expected to be exposed to because of his stupidity.

Salabaetto’s business superiors instructed him to return with the money from the sale of the wool cloth. Instead of returning home to Pisa, Salabaetto absconded to Naples.

Salabaetto found help not from a holy person, but from a smart, shrewd public administrator who was his close personal friend. That friend was Pietro dello Canigiano, the treasurer to Her Highness the Empress of Constantinople. With Canigiano’s advice and help, Salabaetto returned to Palermo with a large shipment of bales and twenty oil casks. Salabaetto declared that shipment to be worth more than 2000 gold florins. Moreover, Salabaetto informed the customs officer than another shipment worth more than 3000 gold florins would soon be arriving. Madama Iancofiore covertly received information about his new business. She concluded that she had closed her game too early and extracted much less from Salabaetto than she could have.

This time, Salabaetto gamed Madama Iancofiore’s game. When Madama Iancofiore sent for him and received him warmly, Salabaetto pretended to forgive her. He claimed that he had come to start a business in Palermo so that he could be always near her. Madama Iancofiore lovingly apologized for the times when she had refused to get together with him and for not paying him back his money within the promised time. Madama Iancofiore told Salabaetto of personal difficulties and the hardships of women in general:

You must know how terribly sad and deeply distressed I was at the time, and that for a person in such a condition, no matter how much she may love another, there is no way she can put on as cheerful a countenance and be as attentive toward him as he would like her to be. Furthermore, you must know how difficult it is for a woman to find a thousand gold florins, for all day long people tell us lies and fail to keep their promises to us, so that we, too, are forced to lie to others. And it was for this reason alone, and not because of some other failing on my part, that I didn’t pay you back.

Madama Iancofiore then returned to Salabaetto his 500 gold florins. They both continued their love affair as if there had never been a breach of faith.

Salabaetto, however, wasn’t satisfied just to get the money he was due and to resume regularly having sex with Madama Iancofiore. One day, arriving at Madama Iancofiore’s house for dinner and to spend the night with her, Salabaetto presented himself as distraught and melancholy. He explained that pirates had captured the ship bringing his additional merchandise. He needed 1000 gold florins to pay his share of the pirates’ ransom for the ship. Madama Iancofiore suggested that he borrow that sum from a moneylender that she knew. The moneylender, who was actually a confederate of Madama Iancofiore, charged a 30% fee and required a substantial pledge of goods as a guarantee. Salabaetto agreed to the exorbitant terms and secured the loan with the goods he had brought. The deal was sealed with a formal written contract.

Salabaetto left on the next ship to Naples. He held the 500 gold florins that Madama Iancofiore had returned to him, plus the 1000 gold florins he had borrowed from her confederate, who had actually gotten that sum from her. Salabaetto never returned to Palermo and Madama Iancofiore. When she and her confederate opened the storeroom to seize Salabaetto’s forefeited guarantee, they found that almost all the bales contained merely rough, cheap fibers. All the casks, which they thought were filled with oil, had only a small amount of oil at the top. The casks contained mainly seawater. The guarantee for the 1000 florin loan turned out to be worth no more than 200 florins. Madama Iancofiore, a woman who regularly fleeced men in love with her, was herself fleeced.

Boccaccio ingeniously personalized the Exemplum de decem cofris. Rather than the generic figures in that exemplum, Boccaccio gave characters names. Rather than abstract holiness, Boccaccio’s Salabaetto aspired to the passionate love of worldly, ordinary men. Madama Iacofiore was the human, worldly woman that many men, blinded by ideology, refuse to recognize. Boccaccio filled his story with realistic detail. In his astonishingly daring work, Boccaccio brought medieval didactic literature generically to the Gospels.

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[1] Petrus Alfonsi, Disciplina Clericalis Ch. 15 (Exemplum de decem cofris). A translation from the Latin into English is available in Hermes & Quarrie (1977) pp. 128-30. Here’s the Latin text.

A nearly identical version of the story appears as Gesta Romanorum Tale 118 (De fallacio et dolo), Latin text Oesterley (1872) pp. 461-3, English trans. Swan & Hooper (1877) pp. 210-2. In Gesta Romanorum, the Spaniard becomes a generic knight, the knight seeks to go on pilgrimage from Egypt without specific reference to Mecca, and the knight moves stones from the path of the old woman, rather than her performing that deed for all. The old woman was a vetula pannis heremitalibus (“old woman wrapped in the clothes of a hermit”). For chests, Gesta Romanorum uses cophinos rather than cofris.

Exemplum de decem cofris is a prevalent tale type. It also exists in Jacob de Cessolis’s late thirteenth-century work, Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium super ludo scacchorum (Book of the customs of men and the duties of nobles and the game of chess), section “The Fifth Pawn (Merchant).” That book and Gesta Romanorum were two of the most popular books in medieval Europe.

In the Aarne-Thompson classification, Exemplum de decem cofris is AT 1617: “Unjust Banker Deceived into Delivering Deposits by making him expect even larger.” Folktale motifs J1141.6 and K455.9 are also associated with the tale. Aarne & Thompson (1961), Thompson (1955).

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 8, Story 10, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 679.  Subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 680-6. The storyteller is Dioneo. Id. p. 929, n. 2, observes that the opening paragraph contains several words of Arabic origin. A European sense of the exotic coexists in the story with personal and commercial realism.

[image] Venus and Mars in bed, while Vulcan looks on. Illumination of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean le Meung’s Roman de la Rose. Manuscript from central France, c. 1380. British Library, Egerton 881, f. 141v.


Aarne, Antti and Sith Thompson. 1961. The Types of the folktale: a classification and bibliography. Antti Aarne’s “Verzeichnis der Märchentypen” (FF Communications. °N 3) Translated and enlarged by Stith Thompson. 2nd revision. Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia.

Hermes, Eberhard and P. R. Quarrie, ed. and trans. 1977. Petrus Alfonsi. The Disciplina clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Oesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann.

Rebhorn, Wayne A., trans. 2013. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York : W.W. Norton & Company.

Swan, Charles, trans. and Wynnard Hooper, ed. 1877. Gesta Romanorum. London: George Bell & Sons.

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