Peeping Tom killed for viewing naked woman riding through town

Lady Godiva (Godgifu)

In ancient Greece, men’s sexuality was much more harshly regulated than women’s sexuality was. Today, in most jurisdictions, men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. Moreover, totalitarian laws attempt to suppress reproductive coercion in conjunction with strong, formal legal support for women’s reproductive choice. Rather than addressing such grotesque gender inequalities, scholars serving dominant ideology have constructed baroque theories of the male gaze oppressing women. The development of the popular legend of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom from the Middle Ages to the present illustrates the gender bias that disparages, devalues, and criminalizes men’s sexuality.

The historical Lady Godiva was a wealthy, powerful woman who died in Coventry in 1067. Her name was Godgifu in the Anglo-Saxon England of her birth. She was a devout Christian who greatly venerated Mary, the mother of Jesus. After being the widow of an earl, she married another earl, Earl Leofric of Mercia. Godgifu held a large amount of land in her own name. In particular, she owned the land of the small farming village of Coventry. The sixty-nine men peasants in Coventry were completely subservient to the wealthy, aristocratic woman Godgifu. She determined how much goods and/or money her peasants were required to deliver regularly to her household.[1] Godgifu had a position of extraordinary social privilege relative to almost all men throughout the world.

Gynocentric society constructs women as both vulnerable damsels and strong, independent heroes. That sort of myth-making occurred with respect to Godgifu no later than 1236. According to the chronicler Roger of Wendover, who died in 1236, Godgifu was a hero who saved Coventry’s peasants from her husband’s oppressive taxation. Roger anachronistically called Godgifu “the noble countess Godiva.” Here’s Roger’s account:

Leofric, Earl of Chester, a man of praiseworthy life, died on the thirty-first of August in the same year {1057}. He was buried in the monastery which he had founded at Coventry. Having founded this monastery by the advice of his wife the noble countess Godiva, at the prayer of a religious woman he placed monks within it. He so enriched them with lands, woods, and ornaments, that in all England there wasn’t a monastery with such abundance of gold, silver, gems, and costly garments.

The countess Godiva, a great lover of God’s mother, longed to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy toll. Often with urgent prayers she begged her husband that, with honor to Jesus Christ and his mother, he would free the town from this toll and all other heavy burdens. The earl sharply rebuked her for foolishly asking what was so much to his disadvantage. He forbade her ever again to speak to him on the subject. She, on the other hand, with a woman’s pertinacity, never ceased to exasperate her husband on that matter.

He at last responded,  “Mount your horse and ride naked before all the people, through the market of the town, from one end to the other. On your return, you shall have your request.” Godiva replied, “But will you give me permission, if I am willing to do it?” “I will,” said he.

The countess, beloved of God, then loosened her hair and let down her tresses. Her hair covered her whole body like a veil. Then she mounted her horse. Attended by two knights, she rode through the market-place, without being seen, except for her beautiful white legs.

Having completed her journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished husband. She obtained from him what she had asked: Earl Leofric freed the town of Coventry and its inhabitants from the toll. He confirmed that action by a charter. Earl Leofric, also at the instigation of his countess, munificently enriched with lands, buildings, and various ornaments the churches of Worcester, St. Mary of Stone, and St. Wereburg, along with the monasteries of Evesham, Wenloc, and Lenton. [2]

Like recent claims about violence against women, the myth of Lady Godiva rests on falsehoods. Since she herself owned the land of Coventry, Godiva didn’t need her husband’s permission to abolish rents on peasants living there. Moreover, she didn’t need her husband’s permission to ride naked through the town, just as she wouldn’t need her husband’s permission to have sex with another man. Roger’s account insistently credits Godiva and other women for whatever good deeds Leofric did. Wives today are also commonly credited for their husbands’ achievements. (“I owe all my success to my wonderful wife.” Audience nobs and claps approvingly.) On the other hand, the man is socially constructed as the villain, without any credit to women for his viciousness. In short, the myth of Lady Godiva displays characteristic features of gynocentric social constructions.

In Roger of Wendover’s early version of the myth, the two knights who escorted Godiva surely saw her, as did all who looked on her and saw only her beautiful white legs.[3] Repression of men’s gaze was a latter development. The Peeping Tom figure in the Lady Godiva myth apparently dates from the mid-seventeenth century. An account from 1723 presents Godiva as a tyrant like present-day administrators of college sex codes:

{Godiva commanded} all persons to keep within doors and from their windows, on pain of death. Notwithstanding this severe penalty, there was one, who could not forbear giving a look, out of curiosity, but it cost him his life. In memory of this event, there is a statue of a man, looking out of a window, always kept in a certain house of Coventry. [4]

The vastly disproportionate imprisonment of men doesn’t reflect essential sex differences. It reflects devaluation of men’s lives and anti-men gender bias in defining crimes and administering criminal justice. The same gender bias produced Peeping Tom’s crime.

Later accounts of Peeping Tom’s crime omit Godiva imposing a death penalty on anyone looking at her while she rode naked through town. These accounts claim that Peeping Tom died without any earthly cause, or similarly became blind. One eighteenth-century account suggests that the villagers rallied in support of their naked woman overlord and blinded Peeping Tom.[5] That’s about as humane as current practices of incarcerating men too poor to pay government-imposed sex taxes (“child support obligations”).

In support of the dominant gynocentric order, a nineteenth-century English lord wrote a poem celebrating Godiva. The lord’s poem naturalized brutal punishment of Peeping Tom for his crime of looking at a naked woman riding through town. Baron Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland under Queen Victoria, imagined:

And one low churl, compact of thankless earth,
The fatal byword of all years to come,
Boring a little auger-hole in fear,
Peep’d – but his eyes, before they had their will,
Were shrivell’d into darkness in his head,
And dropt before him. So the Powers, who wait
On noble deeds, cancell’d a sense misused [6]

No one today would write such poetry about a young man who kissed a woman without first asking for affirmative consent. Instead, college bureaucrat would conduct a show trial and then summarily kick him out of college.

Gynocentric society strongly controls what men can licitly see and say. Claims about crimes of the male gaze and verbal violence against women are social constructions much like the myth of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom.[7] Peasant men must confront their overlords and insist on their liberty of sight and speech, even in relation to women.

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[1] Godgifu’s death is dated September 10, 1067 in the thirteenth-century statute book for Coventry Priory. French (1992) p. 4. According to the Liber Eliensis, a chronicle written in the 1170s, Godgifu was the widow of an earl before she married Earl Leofric. Fairweather (2005) p. 177. On Godgifu’s possessions and authority in Coventry, Donoghue (2003) pp. 37-8. Id. p. 22 notes that women commonly held the key to the household chest for valuables and money.

[2] Entry for the year 1057, from Latin trans. Giles (1849) vol. 1, pp. 314-5. I’ve modernized the English and non-substantially adapted it for readability. I’ve also made a correction based on the Latin. In Anglo-Saxon England, the wife of an earl would not be called a countess. Charters referred to Godgifu as “the earl’s wife Godgifu” and “his bed-partner.” Donoghue (2003) p. 16.

[3] Hartland observes with respect to Roger of Wendover’s version, “Peeping Tom is an impossibility in this version of the tale.” Hartland (1890) p. 217.

[4] Rapin Thoyras (1724), Book 5, entry for 1061, from French translated, with my modernization, vol. 1, p. 135. On mid-seventeenth-century witnesses to the Peeping Tom figure, Donoghue (2003) pp. 71-5.

[5] Donoghue (2003) p. 71. Rede (1838) p. 115 states:

one, whose name has not survived, looked forth upon her, and was stricken blind, as some affirm, by the vengeance of Heaven; or, according to others, was deprived of sight by the inhabitants.

Rede appended to his article a long doggerel poem in which the Peeping Tom figure proclaims his life-long love for Lady Godiva. One stanza:

I cannot rend thee from my dying thought,
So closely art thou with my being wrought,
That life and dreams of thee must ebb away,
But when my soul has flown and I am clay.

Id. p. 118. That poem reflects the foolish, man-oppressing ideology of courtly love.

[6] Alfred Lord Tennyson, Godiva (1840) ll. 66-72.

[7] The scholarly literature lacks critical awareness of men’s social position and merely echoes dominant ideology. French (1992) is a resolutely gynocentric study of the sort that gynocentric academia values highly. In service to dominant ideology, Donoghue (2003) displays what academics regard as impressive cant:

The Godiva legend is about many things, but it always concerns the dynamics of the voyeuristic gaze — its eroticism, the position of the woman’s body in a public space, and the transgressive nature of the gazing.

Id. p. 127. Donoghue follows authorities who reduce all of cinema to the male gaze:

Film criticism has shown that the medium functions through the imposition of the same male gaze articulated by the Godiva legend. … The perspective of the viewer, the position of the idealized woman’s body in a contrived public space, and other affinities between the medium of cinema and the plot of the legend have made the film adaptations more than just a retelling of a quaint medieval story. … In the most general sense, the medium constructs the perspective of the film viewer as voyeur and idealizes the display of a woman’s body as the object of the gaze. The construction is not a function of any particular film or even the aggregate of all, but rather of the medium itself. Any legend would have trouble competing against such a powerful and ubiquitous institution. The cultural work the legend once did on a modest scale is now overwhelmed by the very medium of a world-wide industry.

Id. pp. 6, 127. The world-wide industry most relevant to the Godiva legend is better understood to be the prison-industrial complex. Men are vastly disproportionately imprisoned. In the U.S., imprisonment has grown to extraordinary relevance with an utterly broken criminal justice system. Demonization and criminalization of men is the most relevant context for understanding the development of the myth of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom.

Draeger (2011) shows the effects on moral practice of uncritical reception of the myth of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. In the mode of a teacher in the Jim Crow South counseling blacks not to be uppity, Draeger explains:

male looks evoke a troubling history and men need to know that looking is often synonymous with the devaluing of women even when they are not intended that way. … Gender asymmetries accelerate the troublesome nature of such looks because they tap into attitudes that devalue woman. … Gazing into a woman’s eyes is appropriate, while talking to her chest typically is not. Conventional norms vary, but showing respect for others requires properly navigating them. Some women might welcome lewd looks and might even be disappointed if they are not forthcoming.

Id. pp. 47-8. Such practical advice shows no awareness of the historical injustices of criminalizing men seducing women and the continuing effects of anti-men criminal bias today.

More popular writing also shows gynocentric reception of the myth of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. See. e.g. Octavia Randolph, “The Truth about Lady Godiva,” and Mimi Matthews, “The Legend of Lady Godiva: Depictions in Art, Literature, and History.” The later features a fine specimen of the dominant ideology’s rank-and-file disseminators.

[image] Lady Godiva nude on her horse. Oil painting by John Collier, 1898. Thanks to Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, and Wikimedia Commons.


Donoghue, Daniel. 2003. Lady Godiva: a literary history of a legend. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Draeger, John. 2011. “What Peeping Tom Did Wrong.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 14 (1): 41-49.

Fairweather, Janet, trans. 2005. Liber Eliensis: a history of the Isle of Ely from the seventh century to the twelfth. Woodbridge: Boydell.

French, Katherine L. 1992. “The legend of Lady Godiva and the image of the female body.” Journal of Medieval History. 18 (1): 3-19.

Giles, J.A., trans. 1849. Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of history, Comprising the history of England from the descent of the Saxons to A.D. 1235; formerly ascribed to Matthew Paris. London: H.G. Bohn. (Latin text).

Hartland, E. Sidney. 1890. “Peeping Tom and Lady Godiva.” Folklore. 1 (2): 207-226.

Rapin Thoyras, Paul de. 1725 (Book 5). Histoire d’Angleterre. La Haye: Alexandre de Rogissart. (English translation).

Rede, Leman, 1838. “Peeping Tom of Coventry and the Lady Godiva.” The New Monthly Magazine and Humorist, ed. Theodore Hook. 52: 115-8.

Alan of Lille’s knotty knot more twisted in modern authoritative norms

undoing knot

I can scarcely unknot a knotty knot,
and demonstrate an undemonstrable monstrosity

{Vix nodosum valeo nodum denodare,
et indemonstrabile monstrum demonstrare} [1]

So begins Alan of Lille’s brilliant, twelfth-century Latin poem on love and sex. The first part of the poem condemns love broadly, without differentiating between the starkly different social positions of men and women.[2] Then, in a scholarly mode, the poem considers whether an unmarried man should seek sex with a virgin woman or a married woman.

Alan of Lille argued strongly in favor of unmarried men having sex with virgin women. The choice in his view is obvious:

Who, not bereft of wit, an enemy to reason,
brings together tears with joy, laughter with suffering,
brings together mud with gems, the owl with the peacock,
compares straw to flowers, Thersites to Adonis?

Just as a summer day is more pleasing than a frosty one,
the nascent rose than a flower that has withered,
so the Venus of a married woman might be called positive,
while the love of tender virgin is superlative.

{Quis, nisi mentis inops, hostis rationi,
flectum confert gaudio, risum passioni,
lutum gemmae conferens, noctuam pavoni,
flori faenum comparat, Tersitem Adoni?

Sicut bruma gratior dies est aestiva,
floreque decrepita rosa primitiva,
sic matronae Venus est quasi positiva,
cum Venus virgunculae sit superlativa.}

Unlike women, men often feel the need to pay for sex. In the Middle Ages, love with a married woman was a losing transaction:

Once she is lured by love of money,
a woman is prepared for the crime of adultery.
Though exhausted by adultery, she commits adultery to exhaustion
so that coin may be squeezed from the purse of her adulterer.

Once he is drunk by the drink of Venus,
his purse’s sated belly is forced to vomit.
Then he is totally lost, wholly plucked bare,
and he, once rich, now plays the philosopher.

{Amore pecuniae postquam inescatur,
ad moechie facinus mulier armatur.
Dum moechando teritur, terendo moechatur,
ut a moechi loculo nummus emungatur.

Ille, postquam Veneris potu debriatur,
cogitur ad vomitum venter bursae satur,
Totus perit igitur, totus deplumatur,
et qui dives fuerat, iam philosophatur.}

Throughout history, men have been punished more severely for adultery than women have. So it was in medieval Europe:

No one who is wise attempts such sport,
or takes pleasure in a pleasure that fear sours,
where dread, horror, and grief appear,
where security is wholly absent,

where the adulterer is often drugged by the sleep of death
as he, adulterer, mechanically commits adultery,
where often the purse below the penis is cut away,
where often the twin brothers are beheaded

{Nullus qui sit sapiens talem ludum temptat,
tali gaudet gaudio, timor quem fermentat,
metus, horror, gemitus ubi se praesentat,
ubi se securitas penitus absentat,

Ubi saepe sompnio mortis soporatur
moechus, dum mechanice cum moecha moechatur,
ubi saepe mentulae bursa sincopatur,
ubi saepe geminus frater decollatur.} [3]

Most persons today are ignorant of bias against men in defining crimes and administering criminal justice. Most persons today are ignorant about the proportion of men among victims of sexual assault. Yet even in our ignorant age, most persons can understanding the force of medieval reason in unmarried men preferring to have sex with virgin women rather than married women.

Here some enlightenment: in the U.S., having sex with a married woman is now more rational for a man than having sex with a virgin woman. The U.S. “child support” system now effectively awards a woman roughly 25% of a man’s income for eighteen years or more if she manages to have sex with him and bear a child. The government imposes those sex payments on a man even if the woman raped the man. The only way a man can legally avoid the system of state-imposed sex payments is by having sex with a married woman. Under long-established law, the husband, not the biological father, is legally obligated to pay “child support” for any children that his wife bears within their marriage. Hence by having sex with a married woman, an unmarried man is free of potentially enormous financial obligations under current sex law.

Most learned persons in the Middle Ages surely would recognize that “child support” in today’s sex law reflects ignorance, bigotry, and astonishing irrationality. Most learned person today are simply afraid to discuss publicly this vital issue.

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[1] Undoing the Knot / Vix nodosum valeo, Latin text and English translation (lightly adapted) from Wetherbee (2013) pp. 520-1. Subsequent quotes are similarly from id. pp. 520-5. Wetherbee’s Latin text is based on that of Häring (1978).

Vix nodosum valeo shows intimate knowledge of Alan of Lille’s De Planctu Naturae. The former has many verbal correspondences with the later. Vix nodosum valeo is also associated with De Planctu Naturae in manuscripts. In one manuscript, it is explicitly attributed to Alan. Id. pp. xxxvii-i, 550-1. Wetherbee considers the poem’s attribution to Alan of Lille plausible, but not beyond question.

[2] The treatment of love in Vix nodosum valeo extensively uses antithesis. In trivializing literature of men’s sexed protest, Bernard of Cluny’s De contemptu mundi extensively used antithesis in referring to women.

[3] The Latin term alluding to castration, sincopatur, has common roots with the name Sincopus. Sincopus is the main character in a medieval Latin poem in which castration is a key motif. That poem was written about 1100.

[image] Undoing a knotty knot. Photo thanks to Don Harder, who made it available under a Creative Commons By-NC 2.0 license.


Häring, Nikolaus M. 1978. “The poem Vix nodosum by Alan of Lille.” Medievalia 3: 165-85.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, ed. and trans. 2013. Alan of Lille {Alanus de Insulis}. Literary works. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 22. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

shun Danaids, reject violence against men, and rewrite the Aeneid

Aeneas carrying his father Anchises

The goddess Juno relentlessly raged, destroying the city. With his neighbors having their throats slit, Anchises refused to leave. Aeneas pleaded with his father not to root his family in death. Then he grabbed his sword to die fighting. Creusa wailed that her husband was neglecting her needs. If not for two omens suddenly portending a glorious future for their young son outside their native city, they would have died with many others.

Aeneas didn’t resent his father for his lack of foresight and for allowing their city to collapse. Preparing to flee, Aeneas said to his father:

So come, dear father, climb up onto my shoulders!
I will carry you on my back. This labor of love
will never wear me down. Whatever falls to us now,
we both will share one peril, one path to safety.

Aeneas clasped his young son’s hand and then walked quickly on the dark path leading away from home. Creusa followed far behind. What Virgil left unsaid readers of Tertullian would have understood: Creusa lingered to pack all her jewelry.

At the shrine of the goddess of marriage outside the city, Aeneas noticed that his wife was missing. Aeneas retraced his steps back into the terror of the city and urgently searched for Creusa. He cried out her name again and again despite the danger of attracting attention. Then he saw her ghost, who spoke to him:

My dear husband, why so eager to give yourself
to such mad flights of grief? It was by the will
of heaven these things have come to pass.
Divine law forbids you to bear away Creusa.
The king of high Olympus will not let you.

The Great Mother of Gods detains me on these shores.
Farewell. Cherish the child that we created.

Three times Aeneas tried to grab Creusa’s neck and embrace her. But there was nothing to grab. He felt only “a phantom sifting through my fingers, light as wind, quick as a dream in flight.” Aeneas returned to his father and son outside the city at the shrine of marriage. Then he lifted his father onto his back, held his son’s hand, and headed toward the mountains.

Aeneas failed to punish Helen for her crime that had engendered such brutal violence against men. He had seen Helen in the city, impure woman, hiding silently in the shrine of hearth, home, and family. With his anger flaring to avenge her crime, Aeneas thought:

To execute a woman brings no glory —
that brings no fame, no praise of victory.
Yet I’ll destroy this evil, bring it justice —
I will be praised for that. I’ll satisfy my heart
with flames of vengeance for the ashes of my people.

Suddenly Aeneas’s mother appeared. She grasped his hand, held him back, and scolded him:

Child, what grief could incite such blazing anger?
Why such fury? Where is your love for us?

Give up your hatred for lovely Helen
and blameworthy Paris, since it is the gods,
the ruthless gods, who topple wealthy Troy.
Look around. I’ll sweep it all away, the mist
so murky, dark, and swirling around you now.
It clouds your vision, dulls your mortal sight.
You are my son. Never fear my orders.
Never refuse to bow to my commands.

Aeneas’s goddess mother Venus blamed Paris for Helen and Paris’s sexual affair. That’s common gynocentric blindness. She had used Helen as a pawn to win a beauty contest against Juno, who came to hate the Trojans with a hatred that forever festered. Nonetheless, Aeneas’s mother described Juno and Jove fighting together against Aeneas’s Troy. That’s a bizarre vision. She herself knew of Jove’s favor to Aeneas and the Trojans. Mother goddesses engage in divine intrigues far beyond the minds of men. Even if their mothers object, men must trust their own judgments.

Amid terrible violence against men in the Trojan War and in the Trojans’ invasion of Italy, modern gynocentric critics have failed to take seriously women’s violence and violence against women. An eminent Virgilian scholar summarized his view of the central ethic of the Aeneid:

humbled victims should not be killed, even when human nature cries out for retaliation. This is a dictum that goes as much against received heroic behavior, as canonically catalogued in the texts of Homer, as it does against man’s innate propensity for anger and vengeance for hurt.

Through the behavior of Juno, the first thirty-three lines of the Aeneid depict woman’s innate propensity for anger and vengeance for hurt. With respect to humbled victims, Aeneas didn’t perceive Helen to be a humbled victim:

She’ll ride like a queen in triumph with her trophies?
Feast her eyes on her husband, parents, children too?
Her retinue fawning round her, Phrygian ladies, slaves?
That — with {Trojan King} Priam put to the sword? And Troy up in flames?

Nonetheless, the eminent Virgilian scholar declared:

For Aeneas actually to kill a woman would be unthinkable.

Aeneas killed many men. Within the ethics of the Aeneid, Aeneas failed to kill Helen because he was subservient to his mother. More generally, men in their humanness often lack sufficient self-assertion in relation to women. Vulcan’s solicitousness in response to Venus’s request to make a shield for Aeneas is the paradigmatic example of yes dearism in meninist literary criticism. Within the ancient Greek epic cycle, Menelaus’s inanimate sword drooped when he saw Helen’s bare breasts. After he killed Penthesilea on the battlefield, Achilles became a weeping, lovesick man lashing out violently against a man ridiculing his folly. Aeneas parallels Achilles not just in raging violence against men, but also in emotional vulnerability with respect to women.

Arruns’s actions tell of Aeneas’s failures and his fate. Arruns recognized that women are typically superior to men in guile. He recognized the importance in war of always changing and shifting. With the woman warrior Camilla leading the Italian forces in battle and killing many Trojan men, Arruns commendably sought to kill her. He cunningly circled and stalked her, ducking from sight whenever she turned to face him. Then Camilla wildly pursued a Trojan priest of the goddess Cybele, who had as servants castrated men. Camilla sought not the man, but his golden clothes. Arruns flung his spear at her with a winged prayer to Apollo, “highest of gods.” His spear struck deep under her bared breast and killed her:

Camilla’s life breath fled with a groan of outrage
down to the shades below.

Arruns himself died sprawled in nameless dust, with none of the glory he deserved. He didn’t understand the complex configuration of gods that run the world.

Apollo, the god to whom Arruns prayed, denied Arruns his deserved glory. A goddess servant of Apollo’s twin Diana killed Arruns with an arrow shot, quite unlike those of Cupid. The true hierarchy of gods explains Arruns’s fate. Jove, not Apollo, is formally the highest of gods. Yet gynocentrism is even more powerful than Jove. Gynocentrism denies men praise of victory for destroying a raging, man-killing woman.

Misrepresentation of women’s social position portends Aeneas’s violent death. When the Italian leader Turnus killed the young Trojan warrior Pallas, Turnus stripped from him a heavy sword-belt of gold:

engraved with a monstrous crime: how one night,
their wedding night, that troop of grooms was butchered,
fouling their wedding chambers with pools of blood —
all carved by Clonus, Eurytus’s son, in priceless gold.
Now Turnus glories in that spoil, exults to make it his.

What strange misunderstanding could prompt Pallas to wear a luxurious gold sword-belt showing the Danaids killing their husbands on their wedding night? It was a common delusion. Turnus didn’t melt the heavy sword-belt for its precious gold. He too proudly wore it. Later, when Turnus was on the ground, supplicating to Aeneas for his life, the sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids determined his fate:

There Aeneas, ferocious in armor, stood,
shifting his gaze, holding back, his sword-arm still,
from Turnus’s pleading, his halting change of heart
grew stronger, when suddenly he saw, on that tall body,
the belt with shining studs that his young friend Pallas
had once worn. Turnus, who had cut him down,
displayed his enemy’s battle-emblem like a trophy.
Aeneas stared — the spoils commemorated
his wild grief, and he burned with terrible rage.
“Will you escape, decked in loot stripped from one of mine?
Never. Pallas strikes this blow. Pallas sacrifices you now,
makes you pay the price with your own guilty blood!”
In the same breath, blazing with wrath he plants
his iron sword hilt-deep in his enemy’s heart.
Limbs limp with the chill of death,
Turnus’s life breath fled with a groan of outrage
down to the shades below.

Pallas, the man who initially wore the golden sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids, was to Aeneas “one of mine.” Aeneas misunderstood the horror of men proudly wearing that golden sword-belt. The last two lines above (which are one line in the Latin) conclude the Aeneid. They are the same lines that mark the death of Camilla after she had effectively seized control of the Italian forces. The Aeneid is concerned not just with the complexities of love, but also with the complexities of women and men’s relationships more generally.

Wearing the golden sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids indicates men’s delusions about violence and paternal authority. The Danaids killed their husbands on their wedding night in accordance with their father’s orders. That’s false comfort to men who understand their vulnerability to women’s violence. In the Aeneid, Juno’s rage wasn’t under Jove’s authority. Moreover, Aeneas’s mother acted on her own initiative to stop Aeneas from killing Helen. In reality, women control violence. Statues of the Danaids and their father stood in front of Augustus’s temple of Palatine Apollo. Augustus wanted his rule to encompass women. The delusions of Pallus, Turnus, and Aeneas, along with the ignoble death of Arruns after praying to Apollo and killing Camilla, should have troubled Augustus.

When Aeneas met his father Anchises in the kingdom of dead, Anchises was in a field, reviewing his cherished heirs’ fates and fortunes, their manly values and acts of valor. Three times Aeneas tried to grab his father’s neck and embrace him. But there was nothing to grab. He felt only “a phantom sifting through my fingers, light as wind, quick as a dream in flight.” Anchises infused his son’s soul with love of glory to come, of wars that must be waged, ordeals that must be shouldered. With respect to women, Anchises mentioned only Lavinia bearing a son for Aeneas in his old age. Anchises said nothing about Creusa, Juno, or the Danaids. Aeneas left the kingdom of the dead through the Ivory Gate of false dreams.

To create a new republic, women and men must re-write the Aeneid. George Washington, “father of his country,” procured for his mantel a bronze of Aeneas carrying his father from their collapsing native city. In his farewell address, Washington warned his beloved country against insidious wiles of foreign influence, factionalism, and the absolute power of an individual. He addressed his farewell to friends and citizens. His farewell said nothing about men in relation to women, or about women at all. George Washington didn’t understand the Aeneid. We must start again, and do better.

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All the quotes above, with the exception of two, are from the Aeneid of Virgil, written in Latin in the years leading up to Virgil’s death in 19 BGC. I’ve adapted the quotes from the translations of Fagles (2006) and Ruden (2008), the latter of which follows closely the Latin lines, as well as my study of the Latin text. Citations by book and line number of the Latin text: 2.707-10 (So come, dear father…); 2.776-9,788-9 (My dear husband…); 2.792-4 (a phantom…); 2.583-7 (To execute a woman…); 2.594-5, 601-7 (Child, what grief…); 2.578-81 (She’ll ride like a queen…); 11.831 (Camilla’s life breath…); 10.497-500 (engraved with a monstrous crime…); 12.938-52 (There Aeneas, ferocious in armor…); 6.701-2 (a phantom…). Tony Kline has graciously made a fine English translation of the Aeneid available to everyone online.

The eminent Virgilian scholar quoted above is Michael C.J. Putnam, from Putnam (2011) p. 132 (humbled victims…), p. 108 (For Aeneas actually to kill a woman…). Id. p. 15 states: “The Aeneid, we learn at last, is a poem that is concerned as much with the complexities of love as of war.” By war, Putnam means only organized men-on-men violence.

The above post draws insight from other important scholarly work on the Aeneid. Harrison (1998) extensively discusses the sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids and the sculptures of the Danaids and Danaus on the portico of Augustus’s temple of Palatine Apollo in Rome. Harrison interprets the Danaids not as women acting violently in service to paternal authority, but as a monstrous foreign threat:

Placed in the portico of Augustus’ temple of Palatine Apollo, the depictions of the Danaids, barbarians prepared to commit the most appalling crimes, are trophies representing the kind of monstrous opposition overcome at Actium through the support of Apollo, who matches Augustus in his role as civilised victor over barbarians.

Id. p. 236. That interpretation seems to me to place the Danaids too distant from key domestic concerns.

Arruns has attracted relatively little attention in scholarly study of the Aeneid. Scholars have commonly disparaged him. Channeling dominant gynocentric ideology, Anderson (1999), pp. 207-8, calls Arruns a “cowardly fanatic” and declares, “nobody weeps for Arruns: his victory in inglorious.” Camilla, in contrast, he describes as “high and heroic.” Kepple (1976) insightfully describes parallels between Arruns and Aeneas, but doesn’t explore implications for men’s relations with women.

Konstan (1987) explores the complexity of divine intrigues among Venus, Juno, and Jove. Anticipating a theme that has become central to meninist criticism, Konstan observes:

The mystery of the poem, as I understand it, is in a vision that insists simultaneously on order and opposition, and on an opposition which is integral to the order.

Id. p. 24. The failure of men to offer any opposition to women is a critical cultural issue of our time and a fundamental threat to a humane order.

The medieval Virgilian tradition shows awareness of conflict between women and men in the legend of Virgil in the basket and Virgil’s revenge. For sources on this important legend, Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008) pp. 457-8, 874-90. In a closely related medieval legend, Hippocrates also found himself hoisted in a basket. More generally, medieval literature of men’s sexed protest is a vital resource for re-writing the Aeneid.

On the reception of Virgil in the New World (Americas), Ziolkowski (1993) pp. 19-24, 146-93. Id. p. 147, mentions George Washington’s mantelpiece, citing Gummere (1963) p. 15.

Lee (1979) studies the relations of fathers and sons in the Aeneid and perceives “an ineffably sad view”:

Aeneas is the loving, suffering son and also the unavailing father in the epic named for him. And for all his pietas his father cannot help him in his final moment of need, nor is he of avail when his many surrogate sons fall to their fates.

Id. pp. 175, 7. While this view seems to me to capture an important aspect of life, men’s impotence shouldn’t be overly generalized. Fathers can teach and sons can learn fuller, more earthy appreciation for women.

[image] Aeneas carries his father Anchises from burning Troy. Oil on canvas painting by Charles-André van Loo, made in 1729. Held in the Louvre Museum (Paris), item INV. 6278. Thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, William S. 1999. “The Saddest Book – Aeneid 11.” Ch. 11 (pp. 195-209) in Perkell, Christine G, ed. 1999. Reading Vergil’s Aeneid: an interpretive guide. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Fagles, Robert, trans. 2006. Virgil. The Aeneid. New York: Viking.

Gummere, Richard M. 1963. The American colonial mind and the classical tradition: essays in comparative culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Harrison, Stephen J. 1998. “The Sword-Belt of Pallas (Aeneid X. 495-505): Moral Symbolism and Political Ideology.” Pp. 223-42 in Stahl, Hans-Peter, and Elaine Fantham, eds. Vergil’s Aeneid: Augustan epic and political context. London: Duckworth, in association with the Classical Press of Wales.

Kepple, Laurence R. 1976. “Arruns and the Death of Aeneas.” The American Journal of Philology. 97 (4): 344-360.

Konstan, David. 1987. “Venus’s enigmatic smile.” Vergilius. 32: 18-25.

Lee, M. Owen. 1979. Fathers and sons in Virgil’s Aeneid: tum genitor natum. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Putnam, Michael C. J. 2011. The humanness of heroes: studies in the conclusion of Virgil’s Aeneid. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. (Davis’s online review; West’s online review)

Ruden, Sarah, trans. 2008. Virgil. The Aeneid. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., and Michael C. J. Putnam. 2008. The Virgilian tradition: the first fifteen hundred years. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. 1993. Virgil and the moderns. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

studies of cuckolding in beyond Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life

Soviet intellectual life

Titles of recent scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals declare “Three hundred years of low non-paternity in a human population” and “Cuckolded fathers rare in human populations.” These recent scientific publications indicate that for the past several centuries the share of persons falsely identifying their biological father has been about 1% to 2%.[1] The latter scientific publication called this finding “reassuring news for many fathers.” While that publication carries a publication date of May, 2016, its reassuring news has already been disseminated across about 1000 web sites. The public propaganda apparatus wasn’t so powerful and fast-moving at the height of its development in the Soviet Union under Premier Leonid Brezhnev.

Recent scientific studies of cuckolding have been of remarkably poor intellectual quality. By what basis is 1% to 2% cuckolding “low” or “rare”? Biological reproduction is the fundamental imperative in the evolution of life. Moreover, most men care greatly about their biological children. Knowledge about their father thoroughly informs most persons understandings of love. Even a cuckolding share of 1% implies about 3 million persons in the U.S. today are deceived about the identify of their biological father.[2] At the same time, cuckolding of men has been institutionalized in laws and normative practices. That’s such a serious problem that the public propaganda apparatus seems determined to trivialize and suppress discussion of it.

The finding that cuckolding shares have been about 1% to 2% for the past several centuries is interesting. In a recently published letter, leaders in scientific study of cuckolding have provided additional evidence supporting their hypothesis that “women may have become more sexually liberated, and now engage in relatively more extramarital affairs.”[3] That hypothesis indicates well the dominant discourse that shapes scientific studies of cuckolding. Married men who engage in extramarital affairs are cheaters. Married women who engage in extramarital affairs are “sexually liberated.” In contrast to widely disseminated myths, men historically have been more harshly punished for adultery than women have. Elite discussion of paternity proceeds under the sexist axioms that repressing women’s sexuality is bad and reactionary, while repressing men’s sexuality is good and progressive.

Modern contraceptives and modern patterns of mixed-sex association are less distinctive historically than the public propaganda apparatus teaches. A variety of techniques to disconnect sex from having children have existed throughout history. These include withdrawal of penis from vagina before ejaculation, having sex of non-reproductive type, having sex of reproductive type with genitally mutilated men (types of eunuchs), abortion, and infanticide. Moreover, in contrast to dominant myths, most women have never been confined to the home. Most women and men in all large societies throughout history have had difficult lives that require them to move about in search of food, shelter, and work to earn such goods.[4] Most women and men throughout history have never lacked opportunities to have extra-marital sex.

Children in the past provided much greater value in household labor, social protection, social status, and provisioning in old age. Even if cuckolded, a husband benefits from these values of having children. In ancient Rome, husbands sought to be cuckolded in order to gain offspring. To gain income for their households, wives worked as home-based prostitutes with the support of their husbands. In such an enterprise, non-biological children were merely an additional output of the main business.

For cuckolding shares over the long duration, reduction in children’s value to parents has probably offset more frequent mixed-sex interaction and greater ideological support for female promiscuity. Children today in high-income societies are largely valued as a high-cost good. To a husband, the value of that good is much less if the child isn’t actually his biological child. Wives, most of whom understand the great injury to their husbands of cuckolding them in high-child-cost circumstances, have kept cuckolding shares from rising with the help of modern contraception and modern abortion.[5]

Studies of cuckolding (“extra-pair paternity”) must be appraised with appreciation for Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life. Today, countries formally professing liberal, enlightenment commitments to truth, freedom of expression, and vigorously competing viewpoints have developed intellectual life that’s more stagnant and mendacious than Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life. In all matters concerning the relationship between women and men, elites today must ritually affirm bizarre fabrications and conform to the ideological dictates of the public propaganda apparatus. This intellectual context greatly biases scientific claims. Consider some examples:

Given the importance of the issue, cuckolding studies are surely subject to even larger anti-men gender bias. Consider some related questions:

No one wants to address these questions. Even just asking these questions could entail serious personal harm as a consequence. In today’s intellectual life, scientific study of cuckolding should be evaluated with deep skepticism, particularly if it seems to be directed to attracting attention and acclaim within the public propaganda apparatus. A reasonable judgment seems to me that evaluating such studies isn’t worth the intellectual effort. Determining the cuckolding share is far from the most interesting and pressing issues concerning paternity today.

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[1] Greeff & Erasmus (2015), Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016a). I previously estimated a cuckolding share of 5% of children in high-income Western countries. Given the additional published data and analysis, the best estimate of that cuckolding share might now be regarded as 2%.

[2] The literature has a variety of other weakness apparent in just cursory reading. Greeff & Erasmus (2015), p. 396 refers to the time before wide-spread availability of hormonal birth-control pills (1950s and earlier) as “before the invention of contraception.” The context indicates that they mean “before the invention of birth-control pills.” Their implicit belief that birth-limiting measures weren’t effective before birth-control pills is inconsistent with basic demographic facts.

Harris (2015) appears to have only rhetorical value. It’s basic claim is that the cuckolding data don’t support “a hypothesis that women are currently less faithful than they were in the past.” That’s a claim that registers as chivalric in dominant ideology. Given data that the cuckolding shares centuries before birth-control pills and in decades after birth-control pills don’t differ significantly, a reasonable null hypothesis is that women are currently engaged in more extra-pair copulations so as to offset the pregnancy-reducing effect of contraception on extra-pair copulations. The data that Harris (2015) presents have a variety of serious weaknesses. These data don’t support rejecting Larmuseau et. al.’s hypothesis as a null hypothesis.

Harris (2015)’s first sentence indicates a tendentious presentation. It declares:

Several recent studies using genetic tools have indicated extra pair paternity (EPP) rates in humans appear, in various cultures, to be around 1%, a degree well below previously proposed levels of 10-30%. … In a recent article in TREE, Larmuseau et al. noted that the 1% EPP rates have stayed near constant over several human societies and over the past few hundred years.{reference numbers omitted}

A fair reading of the referenced article, Larmuseau et al. {2016a}, indicates a primary claim of 1% to 2% EPP. The phrase “previously proposed levels of 10-30%” refers to Pagel (2012). The most relevant claim in that reference suggests that Harris has engaged in straw-personing:

What scant evidence there is in humans suggests that domestic fathers might not be the biological fathers in 5 to 10 percent of births, without knowing it.

Pagel (2012) p. 316.

Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016b) effectively rebuts Harris, but not without problems of its own. Consider:

Using the genetic EPP {extra-pair paternity} rate definition, it is clear that the EPC {extra-pair copulation} rate would in fact equal the EPP rate if the likelihood of conception following an EPC act was the same as that following within-pair copulation.

Id. p. 1. That’s true only if the frequency of the copulation acts (extra-pair and within-pair) are equal. Note that the relevant scientific literature includes evidence that women are more likely to seek extra-pair copulation during the fertile period of their monthly cycle. Thus the “likelilihood of conception” from extra-pair and within-pair copulation acts isn’t typically equal. In addition, the references to “rates” for numbers not defined per time unit is a rather common type of sloppy writing.

[3] Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016b) p. 1.

[4] A wife confined within her spacious, suburban, oppressive house, forbidden to seek personal fulfillment in wage labor outside the house, has little relation to the reality of most men’s and women’s lives throughout history.

[5] Average family size, which decreased sharply before the development of modern contraceptives, indicates in part the decreasing value of children. Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016b), p. 2, hypothesizes that the cuckoldry share has been about 1% to 2% for the past several centuries because it results from women intentionally seeking extra-pair conception when their partner is infertile. That hypothesis ignores the large reduction in the value of children. It also ignores women’s concern for their partner’s interests. To the extent that a man seeks to be a social father despite his infertility, he and his partner could make a variety of explicit arrangements to realize that interest. Making an infertile man a cuckold isn’t necessary for him to become a social father.

[image] Soviet WWII poster captioned in English translation “For the motherland, for Stalin!” If this poster remains subject to copyright ownership under U.S. copyright law, I use it above in accordance with the fair-use provisions of that law. Image via Pinterest user Pawel Komosa, ProPAganda Media.


Greeff, Jaco M, and Johannes C. Erasmus. 2015. “Three hundred years of low non-paternity in a human population.” Heredity. 115 (5): 396-404.

Harris, D. James. 2016. “Does Contraceptive Use Lead to Increased Affairs? A Response to Larmuseau et al.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. TREE 2130, Article in Press.

Larmuseau, Maarten, Koenraad Matthijs, and Tom Wenseleers. 2016a. “Cuckolded fathers rare in human populations.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. TREE-D-16-00022R1 (2086, Article in Press).

Larmuseau, Maarten, Koenraad Matthijs, and Tom Wenseleers. 2016b. “Long-term Trends in Human Extra-Pair Paternity: Increased Infidelity or Adaptive Strategy? A Reply to Harris.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. TREE 2131, Article in Press.

Pagel, Mark D. 2012. Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind. New York : W.W. Norton.

rosy-fingered Dawn (Eos) raping men: the untold story

Eos chasing Tithonus

Eos the rosy-fingered one, also called Dawn, was wild for men. Every morning, her faced flushed, she thought of men rising. Dreaming of her trouble-maker bad-boy lover Ares, she vaulted across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot.

Demeter has Iason, who gives her a triple plowing, why should I wait here for boys to smile at me? They want me. I know they want me. They’re afraid to talk to me, because if they talk to me, they’ll want to kiss me, and if they just kiss me, they could get locked up for sexual assault. Being in prison — that’s awful. There are already so many men in prison. They have to wear ugly clothes, they can’t go shopping, and no matter how bad they feel they can’t post sad-face photos on facebook to get likes and encouragement from their friends. Whatever.

Hey, I can save men from being imprisoned as rapists. But it’s not enough for me to text a guy “come drink and then we can have hot sex” and then have sex eight hours later. If he says he didn’t rape me, but a judge thinks he did, he could still be imprisoned for rape. A man can be charged with a sex attack just for brushing up against a woman in a crowded London metro. Or even a woman just dreaming of rape can get a guy punished worse than Prometheus. Wow, just wow.

Well, here’s a divine plan: I’ll abduct them, then ravish them. It’ll be like I rape them, except women don’t rape, so as long as I rape them, no will get charged with rape. I’m not a rapist, just because I abduct men and force them to have sex with me. I’m a woman goddess. And even ordinary mortal women aren’t rapists, even if they rape children.

There’s nothing that Zeus can do that I can’t do better. He had to turn into a swan to bed Leda. I’m more beautiful than a swan. Have you heard about Europa? Zeus was just as ridiculous as Aristotle carrying Phyllis when he turned into a bull to carry off Europa. I don’t need any of that bull. I’ll just grab the dreamy ones and carry them off myself. And I’ll give a hunk a golden shower only if he puts his face to the dirt, strokes my feet, and begs me to!

When Cephalus was in the second month of his marriage to Procris, Eos abducted him and raped him. She abducted Tithonus and raped him. Eos also abducted Orion and raped him. Rosy-fingered Dawn was a serial rapist. How many persons get out of bed every morning ignorant about rape and apathetic about the mass incarceration of men?

Eos abducting Cephalus

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Theoi offers a compilation of citations about Eos / Dawn / Aurora in ancient literature, as well as citations about Zeus’s amorous activities. Hesiod in Theogony, ll. 963-1020, lists goddess who had sex with mortal men and bore children from them. Given the power imbalance between goddess and mortals, in a modern, non-sexist view of rape, all such intercourse would be regarded as rape. Lefkowitz observed:

In the {ancient Greek} vases catalogued by Sophia Kaempf-Dimitriadou {(1979)}, there are more scenes depicting Eos and her lovers than scenes portraying Zeus, either with female mortals or with Ganymede. Illustrations of the myth of Eos and Cephalus had special appeal for an Athenian audience, because Cephalus was a local boy

Lefkowitz (2007) p. 70. Id., Ch. 6, discusses ancient illustrations of goddesses raping men.

[images] (1) Eos chasing Tithonus. Decoration on an Attic red-figure oinochoe. Made c. 470-460 BCE. Held in Louvre Museum (Paris), item G438, Canino Collection, 1845. Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Eos abducting Cephalus. Decoration on an Attic red-figure lekythos. Made c. 470-460 BGC. Held in National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Inv. 11158. Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.


Kaempf-Dimitriadou, Sophia. 1979. Die Liebe der Götter in der attischen Kunst des 5. Jahrhunderts vor Christus: 11. Beiheft zur Halbjahresschrift Antike Kunst. Bern: Francke.

Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2007. Women in Greek myth. 2nd edition. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Pyrrhic loss: battle of sexes necessary for achieving gender equality

Pyrrhic Dance

Pyrrhic (weapon) dances in the ancient Greco-Roman world depicted gender equality in fighting. Yet men fought and died in actual inter-society battles in vastly disproportionate numbers. Women rationalized not fighting outside the home in a variety of ways.[1] In short, gender equality in Pyrrhic dance wasn’t actually about equally shouldering the burdens of fighting foreign enemies.

Gender equality in Pyrrhic dance is best understood as a domestic political ideal. Pyrrhic dance was explicitly associated with the battle of the sexes and gender equality. Yes dearism destroys societies. The point of ancient Pyrrhic dance was to encourage men to fight with women domestically. Men must be willing to battle with women to constrain gynocentric tyranny.

Archaic Greek Pyrrhic dance seems to have been associated with elite men warriors. Under the social power of feminization, Pyrrhic dance changed. A wise old man in fifth-century BGC Athens complained:

I get so angry when I see young men, dancing the martial dances {Pyrrhic dances} at the Panathenea festivals, and instead of raising their shield high above their naked bodies and swinging it vigorously about, they just hold it down low, in front of their dick!  No respect at all for our thrice-born goddess, Athena! [2]

Women were incorporated into the dances for cultural boasting. Xenophon reported:

After they had made libations and sung the paean, two Thracians rose up first and began a dance in full armour to the music of a flute, leaping high and lightly and using their sabres. One finally struck the other, as everybody thought, and the second man fell, in a rather skilful way. The Paphlagonians set up a cry. Then the first man despoiled the other of his arms and marched out singing the Sitalcas. Other Thracians carried off the fallen dancer, as though he were dead. In fact, he had not been hurt at all. After this, some Aenianians and Magnesians arose and danced under arms the so-called carpaea. … Then a Mysian came in carrying a light shield in each hand. At one moment in his dance he would go through a pantomime as though two men were arrayed against him. He would use his shields as though against one antagonist, and again he would whirl and throw somersaults while holding the shields in his hands. The spectacle was a fine one. Lastly, he danced the Persian dance, clashing his shields together and crouching down and then rising up again.  All this he did, keeping time to the music of the flute. After him the Mantineans and some of the other Arcadians arose, arrayed in the finest arms and accoutrements they could command. They marched in time to the accompaniment of a flute playing the martial rhythm. They sang the paean and danced, just as the Arcadians do in their festal processions in honour of the gods. And the Paphlagonians, as they looked on, thought it most strange that all the dances were under arms. Thereupon the Mysian, seeing how astounded they were, persuaded one of the Arcadians who had a dancing girl to let him bring her in, after dressing her up in the finest way he could and giving her a light shield. She danced the Pyrrhic with grace. Then there was great applause, and the Paphlagonians asked whether women also fought by their side. The Greeks replied that these women were precisely the ones who put the King to flight from his camp. [3]

In fourth-century BGC Athens, Plato’s imagined ideal laws required boys and girls to be taught equally Pyrrhic dance. About six hundred years later, Apuleius, with his keen sense for the absurdity of everyday sexism, described girls and boys dancing together the Pyrrhic dance for a large public festival.[4]

A poem fortunately preserved in the Anthologia Latina shows Pyrrhic dance’s relation to gender equality. It depicts the battle of the sexes that brings peace and gender equality through the potent functioning of a soothing instrument:

On a Pyrrhic dance

In the precinct of Venus are simulated the battles of Mars,
when the two sexes come against each other.
The Pyrrhic dance pitches the female group against the males
and it moves like a soldier in the conduct of arms,
although the weapons aren’t tipped with stiff steel,
but being made of boxwood only give off sound.
Thus do they alternately aim javelins and protect themselves with shields.
No man or woman is hurt in their coming together.
The play has fighting, but the contests bring peace,
because the soothing instrument commands them to retire as equals.

{De pyrrhica

In spatio Veneris simulantur proelia Martis,
cum sese adversum sexus uterque venit.
Femineam maribus nam confert pyrrhica classem
et velut in morem militis arma movet,
quae tamen haut ullo chalybis sunt tecta rigore,
sed solum reddunt buxea tela sonum.
Sic alterna petunt iaculis clipeisque teguntur.
Nec sibi congressu vir nocet an mulier.
Lusus habet pugnam, sed dant certamina pacem,
nam remeare iubent organa blanda pares.} [5]

Not depicting masculine sexuality as distinctively violent, the male and female dancers alternate javelin thrusts and shielding. The battle of the sexes, when conducted appropriately, hurts neither men nor women. It brings about peace and gender equality.[6]

With modern intensification of gynocentric dominance, many men are afraid to confront women. They refuse to engage in the battle of the sexes. The resulting gender rout further intensifies gynocentrism. Loss of Pyrrhic dance is extraordinarily damaging to society.

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[1] The ancient Greco-Roman world didn’t achieve modern ideals of gender equality. Sexuality in ancient Athens was regulated with a harsh gender double standard. Ancient Rome was founded with an express commitment to gender subordination. Nonetheless, across all social classes and all ordinary activities, life in the ancient Greco-Roman world was probably more gender equal than life today in high-income Western countries professing gender equality. Life for most persons in the pre-modern world — men and women — was nasty, brutish, and short.

Within the context of the Trojan War’s brutal violence against men, Euripides, Andromache ll. 1129-41, describes Neoptolemus’s Pyrrhic dance in response to actual, vicious violence against him. For analysis, Cairns (2012).

[2] Aristophanes, Clouds 988-9 (first produced in Athens in 423 BGC), from Greek trans. George Theodoridis (2007). An alternate translation:

It sends me into a fury when I see one of them dance Pallas Athena’s martial dance steps {Pyrrhic dance} screening his butt with a shield, quite ignoring Athena.

Roche (2005) p. 177. The context is clearly homoeroticism:

When a boy oiled himself, he’d never rub his body below his navel and so his balls would glisten with a soft, cool dew, much like the skin of a quince. And when he went for walks with his lovers he wouldn’t make his voice all soft and sleazy or drop his glances coyly at other boys like a pimp.

See ll. 980-4, trans. Theodoridis. On the history of Pyrrhic dance in classical Athens, Spaltro (2011) Ch. 2.

[3] Xenophon, Anabasis (Ascent) 6.1.5-13, from Greek trans. Carleton L. Brownson for the Loeb Classical Library (1922). In the Epic Cycle, Neoptolemos, whose natal name was Pyrrhos, was the first Greek to leap from the Trojan horse. Neoptolemos slayed the Trojan King Priam.

[4] Plato, Laws 7.796c5-10; 12.942d3-5. Women between the age of marriage and age forty apparently were excluded from military service. On gender equality in in Pyrrhic dance in Plato’s Laws, Spaltro (2011) pp. 94-7. For Pyrrhic dance in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, see id. 10.29.4. Metamorphoses is thought to have been written in the late second century GC.

[5] Anthologia Latina 104 (R115), Latin text from Kay (2006) p. 45, my translation, with help from id. p. 151. This epigram follows four other epigrams on performing arts: 100 (pantomime), 101 (funambulist (tight-rope walker)), 102 (citharode (singer accompanying a stringed instrument)), and 103 (lyrist). The poetic context is thus realistic. Processing in the underworld, Aeneas’s son Silvius leans on a “tipless spear of honor” (hasta pura). Aeneid 6.760. The spear cited above may have been similar.

[6] A sarcophagus discovered near Troy in 1994 and dating to about 500 BGC suggests the domestic, inter-sexual significance of the Pyrrhic dance. The sarcophagus has been tendentiously mis-interpreted to satisfy dominant gynocentric interests. For insightful analysis, Neer (2012).

[image] Pyrrhic dance. Neo-attican relief from about 100-50 BGC, modeled after relief from 350-300 BGC. Held in Museo Pio-Clementino (Vatican City)‎, Sala delle Muse. Thanks to Sailko and Wikimedia Commons.


Cairns, Francis. 2012. “Pyrrhic dancing and politics in Euripides’ Andromache.” Quaderni Urbinati Di Cultura Classica. 129: 31-47.

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

Neer, Richard. 2012. “‘A tomb both great and blameless’: Marriage and murder on a sarcophagus from the Hellespont.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 61/62: 98-115.

Roche, Paul, trans. 2005. Aristophanes. The complete plays. New York, N.Y.: New American Library.

Spaltro, Frances L. 2011. Why should I dance for Athena? Pyrrhic dance and the choral world of Plato’s Laws. Ph. D. University of Chicago, Division of the Humanities, Department of Classical Languages and Literatures.

being cuckolded is impotent husbands’ best hope for future

London cuckold

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

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

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

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

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

{De eo qui uxorem suam prostare faciebat pro filiis habendis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

husbands can work with wives reluctant to work outside the home

Penelope, wife of Ulysses

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

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

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

The wise Tiresias explained:

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

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

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

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

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

On a pimp for his own wife

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

{De lenone uxoris suae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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