studies of cuckolding in beyond Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life

Soviet intellectual life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pagel (2012) p. 316.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Eos chasing Tithonus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eos abducting Cephalus

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

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

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

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


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

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

Pyrrhic loss: battle of sexes necessary for achieving gender equality

Pyrrhic Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a Pyrrhic dance

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

{De pyrrhica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

being cuckolded is impotent husbands’ best hope for future

London cuckold

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

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

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

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

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

{De eo qui uxorem suam prostare faciebat pro filiis habendis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

husbands can work with wives reluctant to work outside the home

Penelope, wife of Ulysses

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

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

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

The wise Tiresias explained:

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

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

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

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

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

On a pimp for his own wife

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

{De lenone uxoris suae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

what do men want? Gattula shows women’s misunderstandings

Oni like Gattula

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

To an ugly lutist

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

{In psaltriam foedam

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

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

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

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

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

{Item de ea, quod ut amaretur praemia promittebat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

clouds of oblivion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Menelaus told about Odysseus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Id. 10.405-6, p. 173.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Judith beheading Holofernes

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

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

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

{Anacreontium in medicum inpotentem, qui ter viduam duxit uxorem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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