Psyche’s story: from evil sisters to liberal arts teachers

Psyche had two older sisters who bitterly resented her far finer beauty. When Psyche married a mysterious stranger and took up life far away in a luxurious mansion, her older sisters were enraged with jealousy even though they had made lucrative, royal marriages. One older sister to the other exclaimed:

So there’s Fortune for you! Cruel, unfair, and stone blind! Is this acceptable to you, that we sisters, sprung from the same mother and father, should have to put up with such different destinies? We, the eldest, have been made over to foreign husbands like maids, banished from our home and even our country, to spend our lives far from our parents, like exiles, while the last of our mother’s brood, disgorged in a birth that wore her down, has got her hands on such wealth, plus a god for a husband! She doesn’t even know how to make proper use of such immense possessions. Did you see, sister, how much magnificent jewelry was lying around her house — and all those glowing clothes and flashing gems — and the gold to tromp on all over the place? If she’s got a husband as lovely as she claims, there’s no luckier woman alive in the entire world.

Psyche had never seen her husband in cold, impersonal light. She had only a warm, intimate sense of him. The evil sisters urged their sister to seek out her husband’s superficial secrets. With a vicious, verbal construction of his hidden monstrosity, the evil sisters urged their sister to kill her husband.

Psyche’s husband had lovingly warned about her evil sisters. He told her:

Those lying little whores are making every effort to set up a nefarious ambush, chiefly by persuading you to pry into my appearance. But if you see it once, you will never see it again, as I’ve often declared before. This being so, if ever again those abominable ghouls come here — and they will come, I know — with their vicious hearts armed to the teeth, enter into no conversation with them whatsoever. If, in your innate simplicity and kindheartedness, you cannot bear to hold back, at least don’t admit — or don’t answer — any questions about your husband. … Members of your own sex are on the attack; your own near kin are your enemies. They have taken up arms and marched against you. They have drawn out their battle line and sounded the signal to charge. Even now, your wicked sisters aim at your throat with drawn swords. Alas, what horrible disasters loom over us, my darling Psyche! You must through dutiful restraint spare yourself and me. Save your home, your husband, your person, and this tiny baby of ours from the imminent avalanche of ill luck. Do not look upon, do not give ear to those perfidious women — it is not right to call “sisters” those who in murderous hatred trample on the bonds of blood.

Psyche longed to see her sisters, not imagining their evil intent. With persuasive words and soft embraces, Psyche persuaded her husband to help her see her sisters. He arranged to have her sisters carried by the wind to meet her.

Psyche’s evil sisters turned her against her husband with a tale of him being a monster. The evil sisters declared that they knew as a fact (this was a time when facts mattered) that Psyche’s husband was a monstrous serpent, his body twisted in many coils, his neck oozing deadly poison, his gaping maw huge enough to devour a fat woman whole. He was the terrible force of patriarchy. That beastly patriarch encouraged obesity in women to make bigger meals for himself and viciously constrained women’s reproductive freedom by eagerly devouring pregnant women. The poisonous snake that was her husband not only oppressed Psyche, but also intended to fill his belly with her and the nascent child in her womb.

Her evil sisters’ dire words seized Psyche with terror. She begged her sisters for help. They responded with a foolish, vicious plot to have Psyche murder her husband. Psyche was to take a sharpened razor and sharpen it further on her delicate palm. After her husband had sex with her in bed and fell asleep, Psyche was to slide out of bed, uncover a hidden lamp, and then, with her sharpened razor, cut off her husband’s head at the neck joint. The evil sisters evidently believed that their sister had flesh of stone. They falsely thought that their fantasy of an ugly, oppressive, patriarchal husband wouldn’t be exposed by the light of the lamp.

The light of the lamp revealed the truth. Psyche’s husband was the sweetest beast, the gentlest wild thing in the world. He had luxuriant golden hair and a fabulous body. He was Cupid himself, the gorgeous god. Psyche’s desire for her husband burned hotter and hotter. She gazed on him and then passionately smothered him with wanton, open-mouthed kisses. Later, furious at her evil sisters for their treachery, Psyche induced them to kill themselves. But that wasn’t enough for a happy ending. Psyche’s doubts about her husband caused serious harm to their marital relationship.

Roughly three centuries after Apuleius wrote the tale of Psyche and Cupid, Martianus Capella represented its inner meaning in The Marriage of Philology and Mercury. Martianus expanded the two evil sisters to seven sisters allegorizing gynocentric liberal arts education. Martianus’s seven sisters of the liberal arts aren’t obviously evil. They don’t explicitly urge women to kill their husbands. But the seven sisters torture their students with tedium and interminably delay them from joyfully consummating marriages. They teach lies as fantastic as the evil sisters’ claim that Psyche’s husband was a monstrous serpent.

seven sisters of liberal arts dominate men scholars

Modern scholars haven’t understood how Martianus’s text portended the Dark Ages. With misplaced irony, one such scholar declared:

The crowning irony of this tale lies in its implications for us today. The compiler was a transparent poseur. He was purportedly in touch with the ages. His most intricate and impressive revelations he got from the “Egyptians” and “Chaldeans.” These authorities are unassailable. … The compiler makes sport of experts like Archimedes and Hipparchus. He brags that he will refute them and point out their fallacies. He offers to be the first to settle a matter of higher mathematics. And this jackanapes has succeeded in imposing his frauds upon all generations of scholars to the present. His citation of authorities are still being taken seriously, and his learning is still regarded with undue respect.

A brilliant, under-appreciated satirist, Martianus intentionally represented oppressive, fallacious learning in the seven sisters of liberal arts education. Moreover, the situation that Martianus ridiculed has continually worsened, with little notice among institutionalized scholars, to produce the Dark Ages of today. To redress fundamental failings in social justice, the literary history of the seven sisters and the liberal arts must be understood.

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The text above recounts a portion of the tale of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius’s Golden Ass, 4.28 to 6.24. I’ve made some minor changes to accentuate the tale’s continuing relevance. The first two quotes (from 5.9 and 5.11), as well as additional unquoted short phrases, are from the Latin translation of Ruden (2011) pp. 95-107. The Golden Ass dates from the second century GC. A Latin text of the Golden Ass is available online. The third quote above is from Stahl & Johnson (1971) vol. 1, p. 242. For more on that (faulty) understanding of the coming of the Dark Ages, id. pp. 231-43.

I’ve made a few emendations to Ruden’s translation based on inspecting the Latin and my sense of the best translation. In particular, in the quote from 5.9, for tantis opibus I’ve used “such wealth” in place of Ruden’s “all this wealth.” The wealth is indicated subsequently in the passage. In 5.11, for meos explorare vultus, I’ve used “pry into my appearance” in place of Ruden’s “spy on my face.” Men tend to be more concerned with their bodies generally, rather than just their faces. The Latin is consistent with such a range of concern. For ut tibi saepe praedixi, I’ve used “as I’ve often declared before” in place of Ruden’s “that has been my repeated decree.” Loving husbands don’t issue decrees to their wives. The Latin doesn’t clearly indicate that Psyche’s husband did so.

Martianus’s Marriage of Philology and Mercury having drawn upon Apuleius’s Golden Ass isn’t controversial among scholars. The dependence is extensive:

Of the numerous sources Martianus drew  upon, the most important for the narrative setting of The Marriage was Apuleius. … His main inspiration for the setting was the Cupid and Psyche episode occupying the middle books (4.28 – 6.24) of The Golden Ass. … As Martianus’ tale unfolds we are impressed with the many Apuleian reminiscences, particularly at the end, where the heavenly banquet celebrating the marriage of Philology and Mercury calls to mind the marriage feast of Cupid and Psyche. … the principal model {for Martianus’s allegory} is the Cupid and Psyche episode from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses {another name for the Golden Ass}. … Martianus’ debt to Apuleius appears time after time in general situations, detailed scenes, and innumerable echoes of words and phrases. There is no question that Martianus was inspired by Apuleius, not only with the idea of an allegorical wedding but also with the romantic and festive treatment proper to a wedding.

Stahl & Johnson (1971) pp. 42, 84.

[image] Seven sisters of liberal arts education dominate men scholars. By Francesco Pesellino, Florence, Italy, about 1450. Held in Birmingham Museum of Art, England, item 1961.101. Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Image hosted on Wikimedia Commons.


Ruden, Sarah, trans. 2011. Apuleius. The golden ass. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Stahl, William H. and Richard Johnson, with E. L. Burge. 1971. Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts: the Marriage of Philology and Mercury. New York: Columbia University Press.

how do you solve a problem like Helen of Troy?

Helen of Troy, problem solved

She had a face that launched a thousands ships and caused the deaths of tens of thousands of men. Yet more than two thousand years later, a man dreamed of receiving a sweet kiss from Helen of Troy.[1] Matthew of Vendôme, a learned, twelfth-century cleric, understood that the problem was more than Helen’s beautiful face. Matthew observed in his imagination:

Her sides narrow at her waist, up to the place where
the luscious little belly rises.
The altar of modesty makes festive nearby areas,
friend of Nature and delightful home of Venus.
The sweet taste that lies hidden in Venus’s realm,
a judicious man by touch can prophesy.

{Artatur laterum descensus ad ilia, donec
surgat ventriculo luxuriante tumor.
Proxima festivat loca cella pudoris, amica
Naturae, Veneris deliciosa domus.
Quae latet in regno Veneris dulcedo saporis,
judex contactus esse propheta potest.} [2]

As a man, Matthew of Vendôme understood personally Helen’s awesome power to raise up and tear down:

She induces sexual desire; such a one I choose.
He of Vendôme describes such as he loves.
With such a gift did the daughter of Leda wound the Trojans, thus
the abduction by Paris, the burning of Troy, the fall of princes.
If the Greeks ask why the son of Priam abducted Helen,
well, set Hippolytus before her and he would become a Priapus.

{Haec facit ad Venerem, mihi tales eligo, tales
Describit quales Windocinensis amat.
Hoc pretio Frigios laesit Ledea, rapina
Priamidae, Trojae flamma, ruina ducum.
Cur hanc Priamides rapuit si Graecia quaerit,
illic Ypolitum pone, Priapus erit.} [3]

Men not being paid for their erection labor is bad enough. Must that labor also exacerbate the terrible problem of violence against men?

The medieval cleric Gerald of Wales described a humane solution to the problem of Helen of Troy. Gerald imagined Nature creating an even more beautiful woman:

Her soft lips are pink, an ivory row decorates her mouth,
her kisses taste of honey, the smell of nectar issues forth.
Ivory teeth, rosy mouth, soft lips, moisture in these
tastes sweetly, her lips pressed with a kiss taste of the honeycomb.

The upper hips stand firm, and, with a certain moderation,
extend themselves. The abdomen goes down as far as the pubic region.
Full of modesty, the pudenda lurk in the region of Venus,
well-disposed in worthy service of their nature.
The soft, smooth, milky flesh of the thighs invites
the eyes; milky whiteness, firmness, and softness invite the hands.

{Mollia labra rubent, os ornat eburneus ordo,
oscula mel sapiunt, nectaris exit odor.
Dens ebur, os roseum, labra mollia, succus in illis
dulce sapit, sapiunt oscula pressa favum.

Subsistunt renes, et se moderamine quodam
amplificant. Subeunt ilia pube tenus.
Plena pudore latent Veneris regione pudenda,
munere naturae digna favore suae.
Invitat femorum caro lactea, lubrica, mollis,
lumina; lac, glacies, mollitiesque manus.} [4]

Appreciating this other woman, Gerald of Wales declared:

If just once the eyes of Paris had seen her, Troy would
still be standing, and Helen would not have meant so much to him.

{Si semel hanc Paridis vidissent lumina, starent
Pergama, nec tanti Tyndaris esset ei.}

The way to solve a problem like Helen of Troy is to have many, even more beautiful women available and receptive to men.[5] Solon’s wise social-welfare program for men probably wouldn’t be enough to end war. Government policy should also encourage women to lose weight, exercise, and remediate surly dispositions. Give peace a chance!

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[1] In Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus (first performed about 1592), Faustus declares:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul; see where it flies! —
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.

Scene XIII ll. 88-93 (Act V, Scene 2, in some editions).

[2] Matthew of Vendôme, Ars Versificatoria (The Art of the Versemaker) I.57, from Latin my translation, adapted from Parr (1981) p. 38 and Gallo (1974) p. 70. The Latin text is from Faral (1924) p. 130. Bourgain (1879) provides a lower-quality text, but one freely available online. Matthew is thought to have written Ars Versificatoria between 1150 and 1175 in France. The description is from head to toe (effictio). The verses above describe moving down from the upper waist.

In Ars Versificatoria 1.58, Matthew describes an ugly woman (Est Beroe rerum scabies). Boccaccio may have drawn upon that description in writing his under-appreciated masterpiece, Il Corbaccio.

Epp (1991) highlights Matthew’s liberal use of sexual references. Id., however, shows no understanding of gynocentric society’s repression of men’s sexuality.

[3] Id. The final Latin line quotes Ovid, Amores 2.4.32. Hippolytus spurned the sexual advances of his stepmother Phaedra. See, e.g. Euripides, Hippolytus.

[4] Gerald of Wales, Mundus ut insignis, from Gerald’s collection Symbolum electorum. It’s the second poem following Gerald’s Cosmographia. From Latin my translation adapted from Moser (2004) p. 181. The Latin text is available in Brewer (1861) vol. 1, pp. 349-50. The subsequent quote is from id., with translation at Moser (2004) p.412, n. 71. The poem is probably from the second half of the twelfth century. It survives in only one manuscript, Cambridge Trinity College MS R.7.11. Id. p. 173.

Gerald of Wales was no pedastalizer. He recognize women’s well-developed guile and power to incite deadly violence against men:

Since woman is always adapting and responding to circumstances, she made herself booty of the plunderer by her own contrivance. As Mark Anthony and Troy are witnesses, almost all the greatest evils in the world have arisen from women.

{quoniam varium et mutabile semper femina, ut praedoni praeda fieret ipsa procuravit. Sed quoniam mala fere cuncta majora, tam Marco Antonio quam Troja testante, mundo per mulierem constat exorta}

Expugnatio Hibernica (Conquest of Ireland) Bk 1, Ch. 1, my Latin translation from the Latin text of Brewer (1861) vol. 5, p. 226. Gerald finished Expugnatio Hibernica in 1189.

[5] Medieval commentary on Constantine’s Viaticum described having sex with many women as a cure for a man suffering from lovesickness. Healthy men, however, highly value quality in women.

[image] Helen of Troy, problem solved. Painting by John William Waterhouse, 1896. Held in Manchester Art Gallery. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Bourgain, Louis. 1879. Matthaei Vindocinensis ars versificatoria, thesim proponebat Facultati Litterarum Parisiensi L. Bourgain. Paris: V. Palmé.

Brewer, J.S. 1861. Giraldi Cambrensis: Opera. London: Longman. (description of book, vol. 1, vol. 5)

Epp. Garrett P.J. 1996. “Learning to Write with Venus’s Pen: Sexual Regulation in Matthew of Vendôme’s Ars versificatoria.” Pp. 265-79 in Murray, Jacqueline, and Konrad Eisenbichler. Desire and discipline: sex and sexuality in the premodern west. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Faral, Edmond. 1924. Les arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècle; recherches et documents sur la technique littéraire du moyen âge. Paris: E. Champion.

Gallo, Ernest. 1974. “Matthew of Vendôme: Introductory Treatise on the Art of Poetry.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 118 (1): 51-92.

Moser, Thomas C. 2004. A cosmos of desire: the medieval Latin erotic lyric in English manuscripts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Parr, Roger P., trans. 1981. Matthaeus Vindocinensis. Ars versificatoria (The art of the versemaker). Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press.

gods save husband from his adulterous wife’s double poison

double, triple poison

A man need not worry only about his wife or girlfriend cuckolding him. He should also be concerned that she might poison him. Amid gynocentric society’s contempt for men’s lives, hope for men rests primarily with God or gods. Even atheists agree that women are no more loved by God than men are. In fact, an ancient Latin epigram documents that the gods’ loving care for a man saved him from his adulterous wife’s double poison.

An adulterous wife gave a poison to her jealous husband,
but did not believe that she had given enough to kill him;
so she mixed it with a lethal amount of quicksilver,
so that the doubled potency would speed his death.
Separated, the substances themselves are individual poisons,
but the person who drinks them down together gets an antidote.
Thus while the noxious potions struggled with each other,
lethal harm yielded to health-giving poison,
and the potions went directly to the hollow recesses of the bowels
along the usual slippery way for digesting food.
What loving-kindness of the gods! The more cruel wife is beneficial,
and when the Fates will, two poisons work for good.

{Toxica zelotypo dedit uxor moecha marito,
nec satis ad mortem credidit esse datum;
miscuit argenti letalia pondera vivi,
cogeret ut celerem vis geminata necem.
Dividat haec si quis, faciunt discreta venenum;
antidotum sumet qui sociata bibet.
Ergo inter sese dum noxia pocula certant,
cessit letalis noxa salutiferae,
protinus et vacuos alvi petiere recessus,
lubrica deiectis qua via nota cibis.
Quam pia cura deum! Prodest crudelior uxor,
et cum fata volunt bina venena iuvant.}

In the mysterious working of cosmic will, greater animosity toward men can be beneficial for men. Let’s hope for that effect.

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The epigram above is by Ausonius, who lived in the area of present-day France from about 310 to the mid-390s GC. Kay (2001) pp. 22-3. The epigram is titled “To Eumpina an adulteress {In Eumpinam adulteram}.” No Eumpina is known historically, and the title may be a latter addition. Latin text and English translations are in Kay (2001) pp. 43, 91 (epigram no. 10) and Evelyn-White (1919) pp. 156-7 (epigram no. 3). I’ve adapted the above translation mainly from Kay.

Like domestic violence against men generally, wives poisoning their husbands tends to be trivialized. Kay, however, observes:

Poisoning of husbands by wives is another frequent subject, and again not only in realms of fiction: in 180 BC the consul C. Calpurnius was poisoned by his wife (Livy 40.37), in 154 BC two consulars met a similar end (Valerius Maximus, {Memorable Deeds and Sayings}, 6.3.8); M. Cato is quoted by Quintilian as saying ‘nullam adulteram non eandem esse veneficam {no adulteress is not also a poisoner}’ (Institutes 5.11.39), and poisoning was held to be a particularly feminine expertise (Quintilian, Institutes 5.10.25; cf. Seneca, Controversiae, 6.6).

Kay (2001) pp. 91-2. In addition, Juvenal’s Satire 6 discusses how wives kill their husbands. Nothing above should be interpreted to condone or trivialize wives poisoning their husbands or other forms of domestic violence against men.

Despite ideological claims to the contrary, punishment for adultery has tended to biased against men historically. The ancient Indian text Sukasaptati describes a shame doctor pretending to use homopathic medicine to help a wife to commit adultery.

[image] Double, triple poison. Image licensed CC0 Public Domain. Thanks to PeteLinforth and pixabay.


Evelyn-White, Hugh G., trans. 1919. Decimus Magnus Ausonius. Ausonius. Loeb Classical Library 115. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.

Kay, N. M., trans. 2001. Decimus Magnus Ausonius. Ausonius, epigrams: text with introduction and commentary. London: Duckworth.

Martianus Capella, updated: the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules

Night sky's stars present celestial gods

“You provide the flowers at wedding ceremonies. You offer, they say, the most exquisite arrangements, so necessary for a memorable day, that day that joins the fighting couple in a legal embrace. The wedding transformation, though unnecessary to collect sex payments, pervades the gynocentric universe, associates a cloud of myth with specific bodies, and naturalizes the imagining of the sexes reconciled in loving loyalty. O famous Special Day Wedding Services, you who are most beloved of brides, you know that desire for photos of your services burns in their faces. Whether pays a father, or a single mother, or three love-besotted women determined to adorn the venue as well as any other parents have, honor Cybele, the great mother goddess. She implores you, despite your full business schedule, to find an opening to inspire a woman to marry my son.”

While I was praying this silly, popular wedding prayer and pondering something or other unexpected and heretofore unattempted, my son Martianus, not tolerant that a head grayed with a son living with his father for five-score years should chatter fatuous marketing fodder, interrupted me, saying, “Why is it, my father, that you hasten to sing of things no girlfriend of mine has ever proposed? Why, in the fashion of an old-fashioned priest, do you pretend that a wedding ceremony is necessary to unbolt the door that I delight in entering? What in the signs of our time don’t you understand?”

“Surely,” I said, “you are being foolish. Although you recognize a culture where enlightenment is fading like the dusk of the last day, show a flicker of your own life spirit. Is it not clear to you that love depends on material substances, that Special Day Wedding Services provides for a sacramental marriage? If, as a godless lover, you ask from what fountain’s gushing are my imaginings born, I shall tell you a little tale adapted from mass media and shadowy sources of truth that sparkle and disappear along seldom-traversed strands of knowledge’s web.”

The golden age of what used to called classical democratic Athens arose with reverence for sacred marriages among gods of prolific procreation. Numerous descendants of the gods themselves enjoyed embrace and union and increase in number. Gossiping humankind made these doings the center of mass-media attention-seeking. Following the model of Maxim Gorky’s Mother and Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered, poets served the dominant ideology’s needs in both the epic and lyric styles. They taught that among the pleasures of heaven, nothing was sweeter to Jupiter than faithfully loving no female other than his wife Juno. Old academics, threatened with their younger peers’ scorn and institutional irrelevance, embraced the divine myths that the organs of intellectual prestige acclaimed. Hymen, Hymenaee, all honor and glory to beautiful Helen, whom every man yearns to have as wife!

The ultimate arbiters of the world are goddesses. Behind the veils of ignorance, the god Jupiter is subservient to his wife, the goddess Juno. Suppose Jupiter, unsatisfied even after large sacrifices to him, denies some grant to the prayers of men kept on tenterhooks by some agitated dubitation of anxiety. If those men are shrewd, they know to appeal to Juno. If she agrees with their plea, then what they seek will be forthcoming. Juno’s persuasive embraces and injunctions will prompt her husband Jupiter to rescind whatever he has decreed as his published opinion. Not only the king of the gods was said to be so controlled by his wife — the feelings of Dis and Portunus were similar. Moreover, it is certain that Gradivus, like many Christians, got burned by the love of his wife, Nerio-Neria. The level of seating — Juno slightly below Jupiter, the woman slightly shorter than the man — is deceptive. In the society of gods, like in that of humans, there is no higher law than what a woman desires.

Hercules beheld the liaisons and weddings of all the divine beings while he served them. Moved and prompted by this tale of Jupiter’s love for Juno and by the mutual loves of the gods and goddesses, Hercules decided to take a wife. When he greeted his nervous mother in his regular journey across the sky, she pushed him to this decision. She recognized that his body, exercised in the wrestling room and in frequent labors, glistened forth in masculine development with muscles bulging in the protuberance of youthful vigor. Already with the first down on his cheeks, he couldn’t continue to walk around half-naked, clad in nothing but a short cape covering only the top of his shoulders. His maturing, protruding orbs and hammer provoked great glee in Venus. Therefore, at the prompting of his mother, with his own extensive rumination and racination, he resolved to marry.

In accordance with his admirable habit of thoroughly pondering his acts, Hercules vacillated in a prolonged weighing of which woman to marry. He passionately desired Sophia because she was prudent, godly minded, and more beautiful than all other women. However, she was his sister’s foster-sister and seemed usually attached to her. Suspecting that Sophia was devoted to virginity and fearing a sexless marriage, Hercules decided not to offend masculine reason and marry her.

The splendid, curvy body of Prophecy likewise inflamed Hercules’s desire. Prophecy was noble and offered advantageous connections. Moreover, the far-seeing power of her perceptive foresight promised escape from the daily grind of husbandly labor through easy income in wife-directed commodity trading. However, while Hercules wrestled in his mind with alternatives, Prophecy became enamored of Apollo and kindled a tumultuous affair with that other.

Hercules then turned to Psyche. She was the hot daughter of actualized divine fire. With an Ivy-league education and as a strong, independent woman, she was in great favor among the ruling elite. Juno gave her a band of pure gold for her hair. Jupiter took the crown of eternity from one of his much-honored daughters and bestowed it on her. Aphrodite gave Psyche pleasure through all her senses, right down to the fundamental vaginal tingle. She sponged her skin with ointments, garlanded her with fragrant flowers, and fed her with the delightful sweetness of honey. She also trained her eye in envy for golden jewelry and in desire to be admired as glamorous in fashion.  She added to her clothing rattles and bells so even when sleeping she wouldn’t be quiet. Moreover, Aphrodite appointed Pleasure to scratch at the surface itching in the lower waist portion of Psyche’s anatomy. Sophia, who came to regard Psyche as a slut, gave her a mirror of self-knowledge. Hercules himself gave Psyche a fancy sports car, the back seat of which held memories of many a roaring love-making. Hercules sought to marry Psyche, a woman of his own mind. But Psyche vanished with her bad-boy lover Psycho. It’s said that she took a long motorcycle trip with him, and then they went to live with an opium-farming family in Afghanistan.

The long-laboring Hercules despaired of ever achieving the happiness of marriage. He looked for guidance in mass media, where oracles poured forth in evasive ambiguity and where, by the slaughter of animals and the separation of their entrails, viscera declared foreordained events. He pondered polls and sought out places where prophecies are told of what women want. But newspapers had become only a few leaves of withered fish-wrap that worms and rot were devouring. The television sat on a decaying tripod, knobs stiff with mildew, and with withered wires connecting it to walls. Force, riding on Hercules’s shoulders, whispered, “Gog, Magog, and Google, don’t be evil.” Hercules compliantly recited, “Gog, Magog, and Google, don’t be evil.” Registering those words, the lion-skin cloak of Hercules activated and responded:

Behold, there is a most learned virgin, of ancient parentage, highly educated and well acquainted with the halls of Harvard. Upon her the constellations shine in close proximity. No hidden region can conceal from her the movements of the stars through Tartarus, nor can thunderbolts hide from her the will of Jupiter. She knows your circuits through the several gathering places of your brothers; ever watchful, penetrating secrets by unstinting effort of her vigils, she can anticipate all that the gods are given to foreknow. Indeed, very often she has rights over us, impelling gods under compulsion to obey her decrees. She knows that what no manly power of heaven can attempt against Jupiter’s will, she as a woman can attain. Let her work be well rewarded. Hercules and Gynecology deserve each other as comparable spouses.

Hercules’s mother was delighted with Gog, Magog, and Google’s choice of Gynecology. Hercules himself pledged to follow whatever directions the voice uttered: “I am never more ready to give up my own will, more happy to obey orders, than when my lion-skin speaks the prophetic words of universal intelligence. Even if my designated bride is as prone to perpetrate domestic violence as Omphale was, I will marry her.”

But what of Jupiter’s will, and more importantly, that of Juno? Their positions must be honored according to the world spirit of organization that envelops all and exalts no action taken without meetings and extensive discussion. Hercules and Force thus journeyed to the home of Juno and Jupiter. Hercules saw his father keeping close to Juno’s company. He knew that she was a strong defender and supporter of marriage. Hercules addressed them gently, speaking first to Juno to win her favor, knowing that the decision of her husband depended on her judgement:

I, an overgrown youth trembling at my father’s commands, would be hesitant and of little confidence in approaching him alone to urge the marriage of his son, were it not that Jupiter’s own conjugal love provided a favorable omen and the propitious unions of the gods promise a favorable outcome. Which of the gods would not be willing to seek a marriage if he had as his confidante Juno, who promises her support and will sponsor the bride? Therefore, wheedling one, fix in advance the assent of your husband and persuade him to be favorable to our efforts.

After Hercules finished his address, Jupiter turned to his wife and asked her will. She was pleased with the idea of Hercules marrying Gynecology for many reasons. Hercules had made the request, and he had always followed her instructions for inflicting violence. Hercules had also arranged for her daughters to receive prestigious educations and social prominence. Juno did not normally opposes marriages. She felt motherly fondness for Hercules because he had suckled at her breasts as if he had been born of her. Moreover, he had been a dutiful foster-son. Juno urged that the marriage take place quickly. She feared that Venus would inflame Hercules and he would father an out-of-wedlock brother for Hermaphroditus. The paternity establishment procedures had established Hermaphroditus as Hercules’s son and engendered burdensome support payments.

Jupiter timidly raised some concerns. He worried that the charms of Gynecology would make Hercules less willing to labor. But Juno declared that Gynecology would not allow Hercules to doze off even if he wanted to rest. How often have the gods complained of Gynecology’s importunate summonses, when in the dead of the night, she compels them from their rest to come to her and address some injustice against women? Far from enabling Hercules to enjoy the delightful, daily languor of post-coital marital bliss, Gynecology would agitate his mind to seek the utmost limits of gender justice for women. Why then defer their marriage? Much work remains to be done.

Pallas Athena, the goddess of learning, descended upon Juno and Jupiter and advised them to call a meeting of the gods to discuss the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules. Juno and Jupiter both assented. Jupiter then ordered his scribe to write a summons to the rank-and-file deities to come to an all-hands meeting, a celestial council. The gods were delighted to leave their stations. They were eager to come to see and be seen in their honorary finery, and to seek out gossip about which god’s star is rising, and which falling. Jupiter opened the meeting with his endorsement of the marriage:

The girl who has taken his fancy is extremely learned and his equal in study. Gynecology is earthborn, but destined to rise to the stars. Often in her swift circuits she outpaces Hercules and encompasses the terrestrial globe. Let them start their married life in equality, as is fitting, and let them add to the number of stars with descendants of mine.

Jupiter then called for a vote. All the gods shouted their approval. Thus the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules officially received divine ratification. Philosophy had that approval cast on a bronze tablet and published throughout the heavenly spheres and the village street-corners. Juno then announced that all the gods should reassemble at dawn for the nuptial ceremony at the palace formally associated with Jupiter’s command. After Juno had finished giving her order, the nominal king arose from his throne and all the gods dispersed to their homes.

When the peachy-footed dusk had slid away, Night with her starry reins began to climb the limpid heavens, summoning the glittering constellations. Canis Major, shining more brightly than Orion, slowly rose while Leo went off to sleep. The Big Dipper appeared to be thrusting forward. Rumor sped through trembling ears and Juno’s palace echoed with great shouting.

Gynecology, wakeful through the night, pondered long and anxiously. She was to be united to Hercules, whom admittedly she had always desired with a remarkable passion, especially when she wandered through the fields, picking blossoms among the fragrant herbs, and imagined a strong, rough shagging. She had seen him running back from the gymnasium, his body glistening and bouncing vigorously like men in romances she read. Yet she fretfully wondered whether this grand marriage would in reality serve her interests. She feared, not without substance, that after ascending to the heavens as Hercules’s spouse, she would no longer have access to the tales for mortal women, the pleasurable literary pastimes of Milesian romances.

Sweet music with manifold charms entered Gynecology’s chamber. The chorus of assembled Muses sang in well-trained harmony to honor the marriage ceremony. Gynecology’s calculations about Hercules’s suitability vanished from her over-active mind. Flutes, lyres, and the grand swell of the water organ blended in tuneful song as a Muse sang:

With trust in the divine will and without disputing, behold the assemblies of the stars and the sacred vaults of the heavens. You formerly studied what causes whirled the independent spheres, now as a goddess you shall assign causes to their sweeping motions. Ascend into the temples of heaven, maiden, deserving of such a marriage. Your father-in-law Jupiter asks you to rise to the lofty stars.

Then Immortality appeared, a woman of pious countenance, shining with holy and celestial light in all the dignity of a priestess. Immortality felt Gynecology’s heartbeat. It was only a faint throbbing. Pressing her abdomen, she found that it was greatly swollen with some fetid inner fullness. Immortality, as a divine being, had no need to call upon Saint Æthelthryth to bring Gynecology relief. Immortality knew that unless Gynecology were to retch violently and void the matter choking her heart, she would never obtain immortality. At that holy woman’s prompting, Gynecology strained and constricted her gastrointestinal tract. With great effort, she vomited up the heavy weight within her.

Gynecology’s heavily labored vomit was a stream of writings of all kinds. Gynocentric works in many languages and in many media flowed from the maiden’s mouth. While she spasmodically brought up these writings, young women, some majors in Women’s Studies and others disciplined in Gender Studies, eagerly collected whatever came up from the maiden’s stomach. Journalists, poets, and musicians, not wanting to be publicly associated with the smell of inner decay, slyly moved forward and slipped texts under their clothes. Gynecology, pale with exhaustion from the travail of bringing forth all that writing, received a drink from Immortality. Then Immortality ordered her to take off all her clothes. Fully purified from gynocentric writings and completely naked, Gynecology ascended into the heavens to marry Hercules.

Like a meeting, a marriage cannot be consummated without extensive ritual actions. Juno, Jupiter, and all the celestial gods gathered for the marriage ceremony. It involved an entrance procession, a formal recitation of marriage law, exchange of gifts between bride and groom, approval of the gifts by the full assembly of heaven, and then procession to the marital chamber to consummate the marriage. Major deities brought along their attendants. The agenda was well-prepared, and the participants were seated according to position and responsibility.

Although Hercules could see Gynecology in her nakedness, he didn’t understand the significance of her naked female body. He didn’t know that she had vomited the mass of gynocentric writings that she had consumed throughout the years. Wishing to please his bride, Hercules gave her as a wedding gift an elaborate dinner party with thirty-nine separate, hand-crafted place settings. At each setting was an illustrious woman who offered instruction by describing her life, explaining her hardships, and telling how men caused her suffering and how she triumphed despite masculine oppression.

The first to address the divine assembly was Gaia, earth goddess, primordial mother. Gaia spoke of how men driving cars and trains and planes spewed carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and caused her to become uncomfortably warm. While men had invented air-conditioners for their wives’ homes, those machines spewed out more pollution and made the earth warmer. The uncomfortably warming Gaia suffered as every woman, a planet under the foot of men who lacked sufficient concern for women. Gaia’s husband had been the first to devise unseemly deeds of procreation. Gaia complained bitterly to her son about his father and pleaded with her son to castrate him. Fulfilling his mother’s wishes, her son castrated his father. But that did little to cool down the earth. Separate paper from plastic, and rinse bottles before placing them in the recycling bin. Batteries, along with unused prescription medicines and old birth-control pills, should be taken to a local hazmat facility for safe disposal. Organic products, which are good, and inorganic products, which are bad, are opposites in distinctly productive ways. Organic/inorganic opposites differ from the gender binary, the relatives, because woman is opposed to man in such a way that woman is not of man and is not referred to man in any way. Organic/inorganic opposites differ from the second kind, the contraries, between which there is a specific intermediate, because woman and man are understood with respect to gender categories, so that either one or the other is constructed to be exclusively present in a person. In the same way, the earth, as a woman, is socially constructed as subordinate to heaven, the abode of men.

At this point, Mercury intervened to protect the celestial senate from further, excruciating boredom. Mercury addressed Gaia:

Madam, you speak with great skill, but now stop your exposition before you get entangled in the complexities of your subject, and its knotty problems exhaust the goodwill of Hymen. The matter that remains is founded on great deceit, and lies encompass nearly all. You prepare sophism fraught with guile, or repulsively make sport with trickeries from which one cannot get free. You have had your say. You will surely become a disreputable and itinerant charlatan if you go on to build up your claims of knowledge. Away then with your shifty profundity, and leave what time remains to your sisters.

The divine assembly nodded in approval. Gaia took the liberty, as a matter of honor, of refuting the idea of her pastoral simplicity:

The pastoral poet should recognize that I know how to feel insulted. I am more viperish than he ever imagined. I can become a wicked magician like Medea. He would not catch me asleep or drunk and babbling commonplaces when Jupiter’s stars are rising.

Gaia then silently occupied her setting in Hercules’s wedding gift to Gynecology.

Trumpets sounded, their strident song pierced the sky, and heaven re-echoed with an unfamiliar din. The gods were frightened and confused, and the host of heaven’s minor inhabitants quaked. Unaware of the reason, their hearts stood still, and they recalled the charges made about the sinking of the Costa Concordia long ago. Silvanus, protector of forests, put down his cypress tree and, in a tremor of fear, held out his defenseless right hand. He had no intention of grasping the scythe of Saturn and contributing to castration culture. He cried out for the gender equality that Jupiter had promised for the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules.

In the meantime, wrinkled Silenus, an attendant of Bacchus, was leaning against a pillar at the back of the room. Perhaps the weariness of his old age was too much for him. Perhaps it was the strain of concentrating on the gynocentric windiness of Gaia, or all the drinking he had done at the wedding ceremony’s lead-in celebration. He relaxed into a slumber and was lightly snoring. Suddenly he farted with a fart worthy of Roland the Farter. Several of the gods, shaken by this frightening and raucous sound, turned around. They noticed the profuse sweating of the old man as he belched through his ass. They burst into laughter that became more explosive as they tried to suppress it. Then other divine beings convulsed with laughter and hiccups. They came alive with violent and wanton ribaldry and unrestrained mirth. Cupid, unruly as ever, saucy and impudent in his affronts, merrily ran up to Silenus. He clapped his palm on Silenus’s ruddy, bald head. The reverberating sound revived the laughter, which became nearly universal in the celestial senate.

Then the old man, his eyes scarcely opened and his vision blurred, perceived the gods laughing at him. When someone pushed him, he looked around stupidly and wiped his drooling mouth with the palm of his hand. Shaking his corpse-like body, he sought to take a step. His efforts unavailing, he stood there, more baffled than before. His feet refused their duty and went the wrong way in fear. Reeling, struggling, he stood still, retreated, and came back. Then his bloated, quivering old body gave up, and he fell to the floor. The crowd roared in appreciation louder than before. A god shouldered Silenus, his limp body like a sack of wine, and carried him on exhibit throughout the wedding crowd.

Marcella, founding mother of monasticism, strode in. The crowd became quiet. An outstanding beauty, Marcella was another member of the dinner party that comprised Hercules’s nuptial gift to Gynecology. Marcella was tall and abounding in self-confidence. Helmeted, her head was wreathed with royal grandeur. She held in her hands the weapons that she used either to defend herself and wound her enemies. Her weapons, shining with brightness of lightening, had very high impact factors and citation counts.

Marcella declared that she had both funded and written most of Jerome’s writings, and had received no credit. “I spent many years scribbling in the desert, and none of my work bears my name,” Marcella said. She knew Greek as well as Latin, and had purchased a huge library for Jerome using money from her husband’s estate. “I am forever grateful to Jerome for dissuading me from remarrying,” Marcella earnestly declared, “but women’s scholarship has been historically neglected. Many fewer women and men throughout history would know Paul’s teaching if it weren’t for my Vulgate translation of them. I also translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into Latin, yet men’s resentment of women’s scholarship prevented those works from being recopied. Thus Homer’s epics, which Sappho wrote, were unknown in Europe for nearly a millennium.” None of the gods knew anything of Paul’s letters, the Iliad, or the Odyssey. Nonetheless, Marcella continued in a literary vein: “I wrote Luxorius’s poems about Gattula, Ovid’s letter from Hypermnestra, the love poetry of the slave girl Mahbubah, Macrobius’s Saturnalia, Menetor’s poem about Bacchis and Plangon of Miletus, Porfyrius’s carmen cancellatum, Plutarch’s Gryllus….”

All the beings in the celestial assembly were bored and fidgeting. Pleasure whispered in Hercules’s ear:

While this erudite bridesmaid is impressing the celestial company, will you in your induced tedium put off the pleasures of love that delight you, and let the prize slip from you when it was nearly in your embrace? Have serious discourses dulled the senses of the listless groom? Have you no thought for the nuptial couch? Does Venus’s son Cupid not entice you? Will you not seize my pleasures? Is this wedding ceremony truly following the rules of Hymen? Gynocentric learning is usurping a rite that belongs to Venus. Far more appropriate for sweet wantonness to lean in within the marriage chamber. The monkish woman scholar depresses the nuptial spirits. To the marriage ceremony she comes ill-disposed to the bride. Call for the mother of Venus! Far better for you to pay homage to Priapus!

Hercules was amused and delighted with these words. He responded:

Pleasure, in spite of your chiding and importuning me to consummate my marriage, these bridesmaids shall display their learning in their brief discourses. At the end I will not in embarrassment dawdle or delay in approaching the marriage bed. Whatever Venus’s Pleasure will bring to our love, I will not forego. Let Gynecology take pleasure in rough sex and let her give me the lilies and roses of her little breasts. Let not the horror of sexless marriage gnaw at us and convulse us with black bile and prompt us to tear out our hair.

Pleasure then told Venus what Hercules had said. With wanton charm and a blush stealing over her cheeks, Venus gave Hercules a seductive nod. She had slept with Hercules years ago. Juno, sensing the start of a divine extramarital affair, reprimanded Venus with a reproachful stare.

Hercules cut off Marcella, told her that her speech time had ended, and directed her to take her place at her dinner party setting. Marcella sputtered, “And I would have been known as a famous writer too, if it weren’t for you oppressive men.” “Please,” responded Hercules, “don’t be childish. You’re part of my wedding gift to Gynecology.” Marcella sat down with a pout. Gynecology smiled graciously.

Anne Hutchinson then entered to talk about herself. She had the grim, stern face of a college sex-tribunal administrator. She was a Puritan preacher now celebrated as a pioneering advocate of civil liberty and religious toleration. Hutchinson preached antinomianism and free grace. Antinomianism (“you can be whatever you want to be”) went on to become the orthodox, state-institutionalized ideology of American culture. The doctrine of free grace subsequently expanded to free software and a wide range of free, government-provided goods.

Yet antinomianism was controversial in Hutchinson’s time. Followers of a shadowy figure known only as Peeping Tom believed that men should be able to gaze upon whoever rode through the center of town. Hutchinson and other antinomian authorities insisted that antinomianism doesn’t apply to men. “Men must not look at women,” Hutchinson preached, and then looking directly at Hercules, she declared, “and men especially must not gaze upon women lustfully.” That doctrinal declaration seemed to rouse a few of the gods from their apathy. Hutchinson continued, “Women and men are equally children of God, but men are essentially more evil than women. That’s why our prisons hold more than ten times more men than women. God made men to provide goods for women and children and to die fighting Indians.” None of the divine beings looked remotely interested in what Hutchinson’s preaching. Then she started talking about the importance of forcing men to pay child support. “Forced financial fatherhood is essential to Christian society. If men are allowed to have consensual sex of reproductive type without facing the risk of huge, state-imposed financial obligations, gynocentric society will collapse.” Only Jupiter seemed to be listening to Hutchinson’s preaching. She continued with a lengthy sermon about the dangers of allowing too many men to work as children’s teachers.

Seeing the flames of the marriage torches flickering and growing dim, Venus called for a renewal of festivities. She appealed to the divine assembly:

Will there be no end? Will learned women ever thwart conjugal pleasures? Pleasure, lovely and used to pampering, sits benumbed. Cupid has a pale and glowering look. Comely Flora, who usually dresses the marriage couch with garlands, sits anxiously with the Graces. Persuasion seduces not the bridal couple’s hearts, not does Stimulation excite them with sharp goads. She who delights in loosing maiden girdles and in caressing maiden’s hearts with fond desires, represses her suggestive glances. She is afraid. She cannot bear to look upon the face of the grim Gorgon Hutchinson. If gynocentric erudition is desired at a celestial wedding, Comtessa de Dia at least should sing the learned songs. Her melodies delight the mind. With her dulcet strains, she will banish the boredom.

I must confess, I am weary of listening to these laborious maidens. I am saddened by the unaccustomed delay to the marital consummation. Juno Pronuba, if it be your pleasure to give ear to serious discourses, and you have no concern to consummate this heavenly wedding, then I give up. Joyful choruses are my way of life. I cannot bear to look upon somber maidens steeped in Attic lore.

Thus Venus spoke, and, lying next to Pleasure, she leaned in. All the earth and sea gods approved her remarks. Several of the heavenly gods did as well. Hercules was so overcome with passion for Venus that he was ready to leave with her and abandon all the elegant, elaborate preparations for his marriage to Gynecology.

Well aware of the risks of marital infidelity, Juno instructed Jupiter to hasten the marriage proceedings. Jupiter declared that the other thirty-six eminent women at the dinner party could speak later. A god noted that another 999 women were inscribed on porcelain tilings of the floor of the dinner party setting. These women had either made a worthwhile contribution to society, tried to help other women, highlighted women’s history, or were worthy role models for a more gynocentric, gender-egalitarian future. Seeking like Solomon to satisfy women, Jupiter proposed that half of the remaining illustrious women give half of their remaining speeches every subsequent day for an eternal celebration of gynocentrism. All the gods gave hearty approval to this proposal. It offered a tolerable burden of tedium, at least after a few weeks. To the delight of all, Gynecology and Hercules went with Harmony to the marriage chamber.

So there, my son Martianus, there’s an old man’s tale. We live in a world in which learning is mixed with folly, sacred matters are confused with mundane ones, and uncouth figures prate in ridiculous fictions of master narratives. Some call me a cynic because I tell the truth about the dominant gynocentric ideology. You have only one wild and precious life. If you find a women who purges herself of gynocentric writings and delights to be naked in your gaze, love her forever. Don’t get legally married. Hire Special Day Wedding Services and have an elaborate wedding ceremony.

*  *  *  *  *

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The text above is adapted from Martianus Capella’s fifth-century Latin work, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii  (Of the Marriage of Philology and Mercury). Capella in Latin is a diminutive of “goat” (caper), meaning relatively small goat. As a noun, capella refers to a she-goat or a young goat. Goats in the ancient Mediterranean world were associated with randiness. Capella is a worthy name for the author of De nuptiis.

The above adaptation is closely based on De nuptiis. Substantial sections of it are nearly verbatim quotations from the English translations of Shanzer (1986) (Book 1 only) and Stahl & Johnson (1977), vol. 2. De nuptiis contains long, complex sentences, many neologisms and abstractions, and obscure, technical terminology. Stahl simplified Martianus’s style to make the English translation “as readable as possible, consistent with accuracy.” Stahl (1965) p. 114. I’ve moved farther than Stahl & Johnson (1977) in using relatively simply sentence structure and modern concepts, concerns, and terms to enhance readability.

Written near Carthage in north Africa, Martianus’s De nuptiis was a highly influential work in Europe from the fifth century through the twelfth century.

It quickly achieved canonical status: Martianus Capella’s text is mentioned by the mythographer Fulgentius (sixth century), Cassiodorus, and Gregory of Tours, and may also have been a source for the Liber de numeris attributed to Isidore of Seville. It was certainly known and read in the monastic and palace schools of the early Middle Ages. Its striking descriptions of each of the personified arts informed the visual imagery of those arts in manuscript illuminations, wood and stone carvings, stained glass, and verbal ekphrases throughout the Middle Ages. Martianus’ work comes down to us in 241 known manuscripts, the earliest of which date from the ninth century.

Copeland & Sluiter (2009) p. 2. De nuptiis was extensively glossed in the ninth century. The Benedictine monk Remigius of Auxerre produced in the ninth century the longest and most influential gloss of De nuptiis. See Smith (1987) and Rollo (2011) Ch. 2. Highlighting non-encyclopedic appreciation for Martianus in the early Middle Ages, Remigius spent more than a third of his commentary on the mythic narrative (fabula) of De nuptiis. Id. p. 50.

Lacking any critical perspective on gynocentrism, modern scholars have largely failed to appreciate De nuptiis. One of the most sensitive treatments of Martianus’s literary achievement noted:

Even in the most casual references to De nuptiis, the adjectives, “fantastic,” “strange,” “curious,” “bizarre” and the like occur repeatedly.

LeMoine (1972) p. 209, n. 4. James Willis, a leading editor of Martianus, even went as far as to suggest that Martianus was insane. Id. n. 3. C.S. Lewis’s comment is commonly invoked:

this universe, which has produced the bee-orchid and the giraffe, has produced nothing stranger than Martianus Capella.

Lewis (1936) p. 98. Lewis, an exponent of the men-abasing ideology of courtly love, failed to understand Martianus’s concern for gynocentric domination in learning and marriage. Ignoring the intellectual and socio-political significance of De nuptiis, Lewis quixotically appreciated its aesthetics:

He established a disastrous precedent for endlessness and formlessness in literary work. Yet I cannot persuade myself that the Middle Ages were entirely unhappy in their choice of a master. Martianus may have been a bad fairy; but I think he had the fairy blood in him. His building is a palace without design; the passages are tortuous, the rooms disfigured with senseless gilding, ill-ventilated, and horribly crowded with knick-knacks. But the knick-knacks are very curious, very strange; and who will say at what point strangeness begins to turn into beauty?

Id. pp. 101-2.

More recent scholarship is little better. Focusing on intellectual history, Stahl described De nuptiis as a “manual”: “a well-proportioned and comprehensive handbook of the liberal arts.” Stahl (1965) p. 116. Subsequent scholarship has continued that tedious line without any self-consciousness of the comic reality of men’s social position. For example, Hicks (2012) described De nuptiis as an “allegorical encyclopedia of the liberal arts” and explored historical debates about the trivium and quadrivium. Wetherbee (2012) described De nuptiis as “a manual of the Liberal Arts” and pondered its relation to Plato’s Timaeus. Plato engaged in parody and humor. Yet Plato falls far short of the raucous transgressiveness of Martianus Capella. Writing about Aucassin et Nicolette, Hunt (1977) declared:

If we leave the world of parody for one of extreme seriousness, we come to the influential De Nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae of Martianus Capella

Id. p. 5. Shanzer (1986), Ch. 2, and Relihan (1987) more sensibly categorize De nuptiis as Menippean satire. That formal recognition hasn’t been influential in substantively interpreting and appreciating De nuptiis. The best appreciations of De nuptiiis in scholarly literature written in English are Rollo (2011), Ch. 1, and Henderson (2011).

The structure, style, and key motifs of the above adaptation come directly from De nuptiis. Among the many references (cited to De nuptiis’s text using the paragraph numbering of Kopp (1836)) are:

  • Marriage reconciles warring sexes in loving loyalty. (K1)
  • Poets sang that nothing delighted Jupiter more than Juno (K3). Shanzer (1986) pp. 56-9 offers no comment on that outrageous claim. Geometry, however, observes: “since Jupiter as well was eager to investigate all the hiding places on earth — for the reason, I suppose, that no beautiful girls of that epoch, either, might escape that lecher of many transformations.” K589, trans. Stahl & Johnson (1977) p. 220.
  • Jupiter is subservient to Juno; she can persuade him to do anything. Other gods behaved similarly, including Gradivus. He burned with love for his wife Nerio-Neria. (K4)
  • Mercury’s mother urged him to marry because he has a mature, muscled body and wears a short cap that covers only his shoulders. (5K)
  • The woman Philology can force gods to obey her orders. Even if Jupiter is unwilling, she can do what gods cannot. (K22)
  • Mercury pledged to give up his own will in selecting a spouse. (K24)
  • Jupiter’s decision on the marriage depended on Juno’s judgment. Jupiter’s own conjugal love provided a favorable omen for the marriage of Philology and Mercury. (K31)
  • Juno feared that Mercury would father with Venus an out-of-wedlock brother to Hermaphroditus. (K34)
  • Jupiter endorsed Philology and Mercury starting their married life in equality. (K93)
  • Philology felt intense passion for Mercury, whom she saw running back from the gym after being oiled for exercise. Philology enjoys Milesian tales. (K99)
  • Philology vomited up a mass of writings. The Arts and Disciplines collected her vomit for use. (K135-8)
  • After prompting Philology to vomit up the mass of writings, Immortality had her take off all her clothes. (K141)
  • Dialectic asserted that she felt insulted, is viperish, and can become a magician. She accused Bromius, who insulted her, of being drunk and babbling commonplaces. (K424)
  • Rhetoric told Silvanus that the cause of gods’ fear “will be changed when you look for the scythe of Saturn.” (K566)
  • Silenus snored, belched, and caused wild, joyful revelry at the wedding ceremony. (K804-5)
  • Pleasure urged Mercury to pay homage to Priapus. (K725)
  • Mercury vowed to have sex in marriage. He described the pain and unhappiness of marriage without passion. (K726)
  • Venus complained about learned teachers thwarting conjugal pleasures. (K888)
  • All the earth and sea gods approved of Venus’s remarks. Mercury wanted to leave the wedding ceremony and have sex with Venus. (K889)

The above list is far from exhaustive. While showing little imagination, the scholarly literature scarcely notices these features of what’s actually written in De nuptiis.

While not significantly affecting the above list, the Latin text of De nuptiis involves contentious textual judgments. Shanzer (2013) briefly reviews the editorial history and the most recent edition. Id. wryly states: “The implication is clear: Martianus has been going to hell in a hand-basket since Kopp in 1836.” The Latin text of Kopp (1836) is available online. The Huygens Institute has provided online ninth-century (Carolingian) commentaries on Martianus.

[image] West Virginia’s night sky showing the Milky Way. Photo made on 5 July 2010. Thanks to Forest Wander and Wikimedia Commons.


Copeland, Rita and Ineke Sluiter. 2009. “Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, ca. 420–490.” In Copeland, Rita, and Ineke Sluiter, eds. 2009. Medieval grammar and rhetoric: language arts and literary theory, AD 300 -1475. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Henderson, John. 2011. Review of Romeo Schievenin, Nugis ignosce lectitans: studi su Marziano Capella. Polymnia 12. Trieste: Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2009. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.03.84.

Hicks, Andrew. 2012. “Martianus Capella and the Liberal Arts.” In Hexter, Ralph J., and David Townsend, eds. The Oxford handbook of medieval Latin literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hunt, Tony. 1977. “Precursors and Progenitors of Aucassin et Nicolette.” Studies in Philology. 74 (1): 1-19.

Kopp, Ulrich Friedrich. 1836. Martiani Minei Felicis Capellae, Afri Carthaginiensis, de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem artibus liberalibus libri novem. Francofurti ad Moenum: Apud Franciscum Varrentrapp.

LeMoine, Fannie John. 1972. “Judging the Beauty of Diversity: A Critical Approach to Martianus Capella.” The Classical Journal. 67 (3): 209-215.

Relihan, Joel C. 1987. “Martianus Capella, the Good Teacher.” Pacific Coast Philology. 22 (1/2): 59-70.

Rollo, David. 2011. Kiss my relics: hermaphroditic fictions of the middle ages. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (online review)

Shanzer, Danuta. 1986. A philosophical and literary commentary on Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, Book 1. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Appendix 2 provides an English translation of Book 1)

Shanzer, Danuta. 2013. Review of Lucio Cristante, Luciano Lenaz, Martiani Capellae De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. Vol. 1, Libri I – II. Bibliotheca Weidmanniana, 15.1. Hildesheim:  Weidmann, 2011. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.48.

Smith, Philip M. 1987. Remigius of Auxurre. Remigius Autissiodorensis Commentum in Martianum Capellam: a translation and commentary.Ph.D. Thesis, Florida State University.

Stahl, William Harris. 1965. “To a better understanding of Martianus Capella.” Speculum. 40(1): 102-115.

Stahl, William H. and Richard Johnson, with E. L. Burge. 1977. Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts the Marriage of Philology and Mercury. Vol. 2. New York: Columbia University Press. (volume 1 published in 1971)

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 2012. “Learned Mythography: Plato and Martianus Capella.” In Hexter, Ralph J., and David Townsend, eds. The Oxford handbook of medieval Latin literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Anticlaudianus mocks ruling sisters creating garden without seed

Her breasts, descending to a gentle swelling,
do not hang flaccid and broken, but by their very
firmness display a sign of her own purity.
From her shoulders her arms openly extend
so that you might think they sought an embrace.
From the lower part to the highest, the least to the greatest,
her inward-curving waist submits to appropriate restraint.
Who does not know other and better parts lie hidden underneath,
for which her quiet exterior is but a prelude?

{Poma mamillarum, modico suspensa tumore,
nulla mollitie dependent fracta, sed ipsa
duritie proprii describunt signa pudoris.
Explicat explicito tractu iunctura lacertos
amplexusque suos deposcere bracchia credas.
Imaque conciliat summis extremaque primis
convallis laterum, modulo submissa decenti.
Cetera quis nescit meliora latere sub istis
quorum sola gerunt placidi praeludia vultus?} [1]

By their natural virtue, most men delight in women, especially young, beautiful, warmly receptive women. Men’s natural virtue helps to sustain relationships and relieve women’s lethargy and unhappiness. Medieval literature appreciated men’s natural virtue and even recognized that men are equal to women in goodness:

All things that have come from the immensity of God into the world through creation are equally good: for God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.

{Omnia enim quae a Dei immensitate in mundum per creationem venerunt aeque bona sunt: vidit enim Deus cuncta quae fecerat, et erant valde bona.} [2]

Equally good and very good doesn’t exclude some badness. In Christian understanding, a perfect man was born only with God sending forth the Holy Spirit to descend upon Mary and incarnate the God-man. Some have pursued a different way. Amid the confusion of language, Alan of Lille’s twelfth-century Anticlaudianus narrates women seeking to create a perfect man.

Now the whole earth had one language and few words. As men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do. Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” [3]

The sisters who rule the world were dissatisfied with men. Too many men were gazing upon women. Not enough men were imitating the mendacious bishops who denied the carnal beauty of the actress-dancer Pelagia. Not enough men were studying technology, building the infrastructure of civilization, and providing goods to women and children. The sisters sought to create a new man — a novus homo. This homo wouldn’t look upon women with lust. This homo would be the one good man idealized today.[4]

Concord, a blonde wearing a very tight-fitting dress, displayed a parodic representation of man and woman’s biblical one-flesh unity. Her tight-fitting dress was the canvas for life-like paintings:

There the art of painting bestows a second life
on those whom chaste love, child-like agreement,
pure trust, and true devotion join, and one
is made from two through a pact of purified love.
Here David and Jonathon are two, and yet one.
Although they are separate, they in mind are not two, but one.
They divide their souls, and each shares himself with the other.

{Illic arte sua vitam pictura secundam
donat eis quos castus amor, concordia simplex,
pura fides, vera pietas coniunxit et unum
esse duos fecit purgati foedus amoris.
Nam David et Ionathas ibi sunt duo, sunt tamen unum.
Cum sint diversi, non sunt duo mente sed unus.
Dimidiant animas, sibi se partitur uterque.} [5]

This same-sex representation of unitive love isn’t just a surface detail. All the further examples of loving couples — Theseus and Pirithous, Tydeus and Polynices, Nisus and Euryalus, Orestes and Pylades — are couplings of men. Such coupling is the ideal among the sisters who rule the world. They created a new homo in concord with that ideal.[6]

Women not only created the novus homo, but also instructed him in proper behavior and deportment. One woman taught him to be mirthful, but not vulgarly mirthful, like those who twist their mouths with jeering. He must hold his head erect, not with eyes proudly looking upward on the heavens, nor with eyes dejectedly looking downward on the earth. He must be modest in speech. Another woman taught him to preserve in good faith the bonds of friendship and to be wary of friends who came and go like Fortune. He should not seek to buy friends, but give gifts freely without any thought of recompense. A woman-authority in honesty advised him to live inwardly for himself and outwardly for others. Most importantly, the homo received womanly advice on being himself (self-possession):

And don’t stretch forth your rough upper arms like a buffoon,
or shake your forearms in unsightly gestures,
or show disdain by setting your elbows to be akimbo,
she warns the man, nor move forward mincingly
with your toes to the earth, barely touching the earth;
she strengthens his footsteps to a proper gait.
Lest he be too wanton in arranging his hair so as to approach
feminine extravagance, detracting from the honor of his sex,
or lest it remain too unkempt, slovenly in its utter squalor,
and the young man through neglect of his proper dignity
become too much the philosopher, between these she insists on
her own style and arranges his hair according to her custom.

{Et ne degeneres scurrili more lacertos
exserat et turpi vexet sua bracchia gestu,
aut fastum signans ulnas exemplet in arcum,
admonet illa virum, vel ne delibet eundo
articulisque pedum terram, vix terrea tangens;
eius legitimo firmat vestigia gressu.
Ne cultu nimio crinis lascivus adaequet
femineos luxus sexusque recidat honorem,
aut nimis incomptus iaceat, squalore profundo
degener et iuvenem proprii neglectus honoris
philosophum nimis esse probet, tenet inter utrumque
illa modum proprioque locat de more capillos} [7]

Self-possession means to one’s own self being true. Without women’s instructions, how could a man be true to himself?

Overweening pride engendered not only the confusion of language, but also gynocentric domination. As value shifts from manual laborers’ construction of objects to gynocentric elites’ construction of social knowledge (the liberal arts), the sickness of pride pulls men toward different projects. At the Anticlaudianus’s center is Alan of Lille’s vehement denunciation of a particular effect of pride:

O sickness of pride to be shunned! O Charybdis to be fled!

{pride} which raised above itself, cannot endure itself, suffers
ruin within itself, for it cannot sustain itself, but rather
by its own weight is pressed down, crushed by its own bulk.
It drives a man to seek himself outside himself, even as
his manhood leaves him; once become the contrary of himself,
he is discrepant with himself and does not know himself …

{O fastus vitanda lues, fugienda Caribdis!

quae se ferre nequit, supra se lata, ruinam
infra se patitur nec sese sustinet, immo
mole sua premitur, proprio sub pondere lapsa.
Extra se cogit hominem se quaerere, dum se
exit homo, factusque sibi contrarius a se
discrepat oblitusque sui se nescit …} [8]

In ancient Greek mythology, the threatening female monster Charybdis is usually paired with the threatening female monster Scylla. In the envoi of the Anticlaudianus, Alan of Lille claims that his book has evaded Scylla and Charybdis. Yet through the proceeding pages he mentions the danger of Charybdis three times. He never mentions Scylla. Scylla is a subtle danger within the airy realm. Scylla is the hidden gynocentric shoal in the pursuit of knowledge.

Female monster Scylla

The ruling sisters’ project of creating a novus homo ends in an anti-sexual, unified world. Scholars have misinterpreted that ending as a Golden Age. Alan of Lille understood nature and virtue as intrinsically involving tension between opposites.[9] No such tension exists at the end of the Anticlaudianus. Heterosexual desire and action have completely vanished:

No longer is the field improved with a hoe, or by a plowshare
wounded, no longer does it lament wounds from the curved plow,
so that the earth, though unwilling, may obey the eager farmer
and return his seed greatly increased.

The rose emerges from her undergarments and colors the garden with crimson.
Without suggesting her mother’s thorn, she blossoms with spontaneous creation,
and produces new ones without seed in her garden.

{Nec iam corrigitur rastro, nec vomere campus
laeditur, aut curvi deplorat vulnus aratri,
ut tellus avido, quamvis invita, colono
pareat, et semen multo cum faenore reddat.

E tunicis egressa suis rosa purpurat hortos.
Nec spinam matrem redolet, sed sponte creata
pullulat, atque novos sine semine prodit in ortus.} [10]

The beauty of the ending garden represents the delusions of castration culture. At the center of a man’s earthly being is his penis. With the ruling sisters’ complete repression of his sexuality, the homo doesn’t even experience lust or sensual feelings toward other men. The sisters’ epic of creating a perfect man ends in lies and lacking.

The Anticlaudianus ends with multiple allusions to the Aeneid’s ending. Like the Aeneid, the Anticlaudianus is a tragic epic that women’s unchecked power drives forward.[11] In medieval Europe, pursuit of socially acclaimed arts and knowledge produced the man-degrading, dehumanizing ideology of courtly love. Alan of Lille recognized that proud men with false ideals of manliness were likely to attack his work. He implored:

Let none attempt to discredit this work who have committed themselves to the combat of higher learning. Let not even those who assail heaven from the lofty peaks of philosophy presume to dismiss this work.

{Huic operi derogare non temptent qui altioris scientiae militiam spondent. Huic operi abrogare non presumant qui caelum philosophiae vertice pulsant.} [12]

Amid the confusion of language, the arrogant project of working to make gynocentrism stronger, higher, and more oppressive continues to our day. The Anticlaudianus and other medieval Latin poetry provide effective critical language to address that folly and imagine a more humane world.

The heavenly
face and simple
laughter of Eurydice
plunder the eyes and
captivate the mind
of the singer Orpheus,

who the sun’s annual
and the moon’s monthly
used to explore,
the flight of the stars in heaven
by their numbers,

even now to another
labor is led,
his study transformed,
of a kiss,
of an embrace he speaks,
and follows
his beloved.

In a flame went up
the whole of the philosopher.
The lover’s spirit
of anxiety,
his lute silent,
stupefied Mt. Ismara.

Eurydice wants nothing
from her suppliant;
he would waste his prayers in vain,
but the passageway
of her modesty
and her lap
is opened to talk
and games
of love.

Consuming the offering
of the virgin,
at last the lutenist
and with a poem
sung as a song,
soon his spirit
of anxiety

{Predantur oculos
captivant animum
vocalis Orphei
vultus et simplices
risus Euridices

qui solis annuos
luneque menstruos
rimari solitus
celo fugam siderum
per numerum

Iam nunc ad alteram
traductus operam,
mutato studio,
de basio,
de amplexu loquitur,
et sequitur

In flammam abiit
totus philosophus.
Amantis spiritum
tacente cithara
stupebant Ismara.

Non vult Euridice
de suplice;
perdat preces vacuas,
sed ianus
et gremium
dat pervium
et lusibus

Sumpto libamine
de virgine,
suam tandem fidicen
et lirico
sub cantico
iam spiritum
removit.} [13]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Alan of Lille, Anticlaudianus 1.289-97 (describing Providence), Latin text from Wetherbee (2013) pp. 246-7, my English translation, drawing upon Wetherbee’s Latin and Wetherbee’s translation, as well as the translation of Sheridan (1973). By following the Latin lines closely and preferring English diction based on the relevant Latin, my translation seeks to encourage those with no formal training to explore the Latin. Subsequent quotes from the Anticlaudianus are translated similarly. They are cited by book.lines and page numbers in Wetherbee (2013).

The Latin text of the Anticlaudianus isn’t well-established. The widely used edition of Robert Bossuart (1955) has serious weaknesses. Wetherbee emends that text with the clean early witness of London, British Library, Ms Royal 13 B.VIII, from Canterbury. Id. pp. 549-50. Here’s an online Latin text of the Anticlaudianus with unspecified provenance.

Descriptio puellae (description of a young woman from top down, a particular application of effictio) was common in the relatively liberal and permissive discourse of medieval literature. Alan of Lille’s lavish appreciation for women’s genitals is, however, distinctive to that medieval Latin clerical author. In De Planctu Naturae (The Plaint of Nature), Alan similarly praised the more secret chamber {thalamus secretior} at the woman Nature’s waist. He declared, “On her body there lay hidden a still more beautiful face of which her visible face gave promise {In corpore etenim vultus latebat beatior cuius facies ostentabat praeludium}.” Alan of Lille, De Planctu Naturae 2.4, Wetherbee (2013) pp. 28-9.

Sex is a central concern in De Planctu Naturae. On sex in relation to grammar in that work, Ziolkowski (1985) Ch. 1. Alan presented a woman to a man as a subject to a predicate. However, generous women like Photis have loved men sexually in a variety of ways. Interpreting Alan’s work too earnestly has led to interpretations such as Simpson (1995). Alan probably would have considered a back-to-front approach like al-Jahiz did. In Alan’s work, Nature herself explicitly acknowledges engaging in “theatrical declamation digressing like a wanton jongleur {theatralis oratio ioculatoriis evagata lasciviis}.” De Planctu Naturae 10.2, Wetherbee (2013) pp. 120-1.

Alan isn’t merely an elite Latin cleric seeking to gain acclaim from fellow elites. He wasn’t merely a follower of the literary tradition of Plato and Virgil. Sweeney perceptively notes:

both Alan’s detractors and defenders seem to ignore the self-consciously artificial character, the irony and self parody of these poetic excesses which is, in my view, exactly their point. It is also what makes the view of Alan as simple moralist unconvincing. Alan’s poetry is sophisticated and exotic enough not only to be called into question but also to call itself into question.

Sweeney (2006) p. 161. Cf. Simpson (1995), esp. pp. 15-9. Alan almost surely read the Aeneid perceptively. With the Anticlaudianus, Alan shows that he, like the author of Lucis orto sidere, was critically engaged with dominant ideology.

[2] Alan of Lille, Sermon on the Intelligible Sphere 23, Wetherbee (2013) pp. 14-5. That statement echoes God in Genesis 1.

[3] Genesis 11:1-7.

[4] Working in service to dominant ideology, many scholars today prefer to obscure or trivialize sex. Evans declares:

Alan’s perfect man, like Adam, stands for perfect woman, too. … for the most part the perfectus homo of the Anticlaudianus is taken to represent the perfection of both sexes simultaneously.

Evans (1983) p. 155. In Alan’s work, sex isn’t merely a property of words with implications for correct grammar. The ruling entities of the cosmos are all female, except for the nominal, rubber-stamping figure of God the Father. The novus homoperfectus homo is a male human being. This sex structure is vital to appreciating the supercelestial meaning of the Anticlaudianus.

Some scholars have argued that the perfect man should be understood as an allusion to a specific male: Philip II (Philip Augustus), King of France from 1180 to 1223. See, e.g. Marshall (1979). The literary  and conceptual complexity of the Anticlaudianus suggests that it was meant as much more than just a panegyric to a particular male human being. Simpson (1995), p. 292.

Alan recognized both fluidity in sex roles and the oppressive position of men in gynocentric society. For example, the woman Grammar both punishes and nurtures boys:

In this role she is both father and mother:
with her lash she fulfills a father’s duty, with her breasts a mother’s.

{…. Facto pater est et mater eodem:
verbere compensat patrem, gerit ubere matrem.}

Anticlaudianus 2.402-3, pp. 286-7.

[5] Anticlaudianus 2.181-7, pp. 272-3. Alan favored women wearing tight-fitting dresses, In De Planctu Naturae, Truth wore a dress “so closely fitted to the virgin’s form that no dieresis of divestment would ever make them separate hypocritically from her virgin body {virgineo corpori tanta fuerant conexione iugatae, ut nulla exuitionis diaeresis eas aliquando a virginali corpori faceret phariseas}.” Falsehood, in contrast, was dressed sloppily in “an infinity quantity of rags {panniculorum infinita pluralitas}.” De Planctu Naturae 18.10-1, Wetherbee (2013) pp. 210-1.

[6] Alan chose exempla with much wit. Later, Noys sought a new and ideal form for creating the novus homo. She found what she sought in a model that included:

the beauty of Joseph, the intelligence of Judith, the patience of the just one
Job, the zeal of Phineas, the modesty of Moses, Jacob’s
simplicity, the faith of Abraham, the piety of Tobias.

{forma Ioseph, sensus Iudithae, patientia iusti
Iob, zelus Finees, Moisique modestia, Iacob
simplicitias, Abrahaeque fides, pietasque Thobiae.}

Anticlaudianus 6.439-41, pp. 428-9. The patience of Job and the faith of Abraham are commonplaces to the present. Joseph’s beauty caused him to be falsely accused of rape. Modesty doesn’t characterize well Moses. With respect to intelligence, choosing Judith rather than Solomon is ironically worthy of Marcolf. It’s also a sobering slap to presumptuous clerics.

The novus homo isn’t a soft, chair-bound cleric. Alan describes him as a man who “proves everything with steel, disputes not with words but rather with blows {ferro cuncta probat nec verbis disputat, immo / verberibus multisque modis concluditur hosti}.” Anticlaudianus 9.28-9, pp. 490-1. Underscoring Alan’s engagement with the Aeneid and literature of men’s sexed protest, the novus homo kills the woman Discord and cuts off her head. The woman Good Faith ironically instructs the novus homo to “avoid trickery {vitare dolos}.” Anticlaudianus 7.347, pp. 454-1.

[7] Anticlaudianus 7.142-53, pp. 440-3. All the advice in the above paragraph is from various women figures in id. Bk. 7. Cf. Polonius’s speech to Laertes in Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.3.

[8] Anticlaudianus 4.307, 314-18, pp. 350-1.

[9] Sweeney (2005), Ch. 3, emphasizes tension between opposites in Alan’s understanding. Konstan (1987) explores such understanding within the Aeneid. Otten (1995) sees De Planctu Naturae as pivotal in the development of disjuncture between Nature and Scripture. The interpretive assumption that Scripture is harmonious, with no contradictions or mistakes, doesn’t preclude recognizing in Scripture a variety of opposing forces intrinsic to the divine plan.

[10] Anticlaudianus 9.396-99, 405-7, pp. 514-7. Wetherbee (2011), p. 248, states that in the Anticlaudianus, “sexual desire is present only as a vice.” Many other fine scholars have similarly overlooked the sexual dimension of the Anticlaudianus. Simpson reads the final book of the Anticlaudianus as affirming “human perfection through natural resources.” Simpson (1995) p. 58. Moser declares that the Anticlaudianus proposes “the ideal of the celibate male cleric” for the novus homo. He further claims:

The power and danger of eros scarcely emerges as a subject of discussion. Cupid never appears as a character. … Alain has backed away from the optimism of his earlier work and toward a far more suspicious attitude about human sexuality. … as represented in the Anticlaudianus, Alain’s reservations about the force of eros dominated his thinking.

Moser (2004) pp. 183, 146-8. In his continuation of the Romance of the Rose, Jean de Meun seems to have recognized and greatly amplified the Anticlaudianus’s subtle, parodic affirmation of men’s heterosexuality.

Foreshadowing the anti-sexual ending of the Anticlaudianus, early in that epic Concord ironically holds in her right hand “a herald of good tidings and a figure of peace {praeco boni pacisque figura}”:

The virgin held in her right hand, with leaves of bushy hair,
flowers swelling, promising fruit, a sexually maturing olive branch,
yet seeking not the solace of mother earth.

{virginis in dextra, foliorum crine comatus,
flore tumens, fructus expectans, ramus olivae
pubescit, nec matris humi solatia quaerit}

Anticlaudianus 2.204-7, pp. 274-5. On solatia, see my post on the Consolation of Philosophy, especially note [12].

[11] Anticlaudianus 9.383 echoes the telling lines Aeneid 11.831, 12.952. Its envoi figures the Anticlaudianus as vessel that passes through a stormy sea. Then the mariners fear the rage of envy against them on land. That broadly parallels Aeneas’s sea voyage and battle against the Italians. Wetherbee notes:

Lines 412-13 (of Book 9 of the Anticlaudianus) echo Statius’s expression of reverence for the “divine” Aeneid in the concluding lines of his Thebaid (12.816-17).

Wetherbee (2013) p. 601. For the relevance of sex, see my post on gender in the Aeneid.

[12] Anticlaudianus Prose Prologue 4, pp. 222-3. With his allusion to Genesis 11:1-7, Alan is chiding philosophers for their pride. At the same time, Alan presents a terrible vision of envious others pursuing him to his death. The final line of the Anticlaudianus declares, saltem post fata silebit. That can be translated straight-forwardly as “she {personification of envy} will at least fall silent after his death.” That’s Sheridan’s and Wetherbee’s translation. The more subtle, even more terrible sense of the Latin is that she doesn’t stop her attacks on him after his death. She becomes silent for him because he is dead.

[13] Predantur oculos, Latin text based on Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 228, printed and translated in Moser (2004) pp. 345-7. For a similar text based on Auxerre MS 243 and an alternate English translation, Dronke (1968) v. 2, pp. 403-5. I’ve drawn on both translations for my translation above. My translation incorporates concern for visual poetry relevant to the above text.

Predantur oculos appears to have been circulating by early in the third quarter of the twelfth century. It’s associated in manuscripts with the poem Olim sudor, which also concerns the relation of sexual desire and study. Moser (2004) p. 299. For the text and English translation of Olim sudor, id. pp. 341-5. Olim sudor includes grammatical metaphors. Alan employed grammatical metaphors with unusually high frequency and complexity. Ziolkowski (1985) p. 141.

[image] The female monster Scylla in a pose of threatening. Decoration on a Boeotian red-figure bell-crater, 450–425 BGC. Held in the Louvre, Paris, item CA 1341. Thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.


Dronke, Peter. 1968. Medieval Latin and the rise of European love-lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Evans, Gillian R. 1983. Alan of Lille: the frontiers of theology in the later twelfth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Marshall, Linda E. 1979. “The Identity of the “New Man” in the Anticlaudianus of Alan of Lille.” Viator. 10: 77-94.

Moser, Thomas C. 2004. A cosmos of desire: the medieval Latin erotic lyric in English manuscripts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Otten, Willemien. 1995. “Nature and Scripture: Demise of a Medieval Analogy.” Harvard Theological Review. 88 (02): 257-284.

Sheridan, James J., trans. and com. 1973. Alan of Lille {Alanus de Insulis}. Anticlaudianus: or, The good and perfect man. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Simpson, James. 1995. Sciences and the self in medieval poetry: Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus and John Gower’s Confessio amantis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sweeney, Eileen C. 2006. Logic, theology, and poetry in Boethius, Abelard, and Alan of Lille: words in the absence of things. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 2011. “Alan of Lille, De planctu Naturae: The Fall of Nature and the Survival of Poetry.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 21: 223-252.

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. (online review)

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1985. Alan of Lille’s grammar of sex: the meaning of grammar to a twelfth-century intellectual. Cambridge, Mass: Medieval Academy of America.

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.