respect men’s real fears: dangers of gyno-idolatry

Byzantine Greek fire, a naval weapon

In twelfth-century France, a young man was hunting with his dogs in April. While men are commonly regarded as dogs, men themselves typically distinguish between persons and dogs. Most men have no interest in becoming romantically involved with a female dog, a bitch. Yet a young man hunting with his dogs in April might be stirred with love:

In April time, when the wood is decked green
and the field with rosy flowers is dressed,
tender youth is inflamed with love.

Inflamed with love is tender youth,
all the little birds sing out together
and the wild blackbird calls sweetly.

{ Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus
et pratum roseis ornatur floribus,
iuuentus tenera feruet amoribus.

Feruet amoribus iuuentus tenera,
pie cum concinit omnis auicula,
et cantat dulciter siluestris merula. } [1]

Sunsets and feeling lonely tend to prompt men to yearn for love. This young man had never before loved a woman. His heart felt pain:

Coming back from the hunt at that time of year,
with the sun going down to set in the west,
I started to call for my wandering dogs.

Looking around I could not find them,
which gave me no small sadness
so I did not stop seeking them.

{ Venatu rediens eodem tempore,
sol cum descenderat uergente cardine,
errantes catulos cepi requirere.

Quos circumspeciens nusquam reperio,
unde non modicum sed satis doleo;
non cessans igitur perditos querito. }

A young, beautiful, warmly receptive woman is far more attractive to most men than is a dog, or even a group of dogs that he might have together.

The mischievous man-child Cupid and his award-winning mother Venus assailed the young man. Cupid, leaning on his bow and looking as sexy as Apollo, said:

To stop worrying is my advice to you now.
It is not right to hunt at times like this;
rather we must play at love.

Perhaps you do not know of Cupid’s games?
It would be a great shame if such a fine youth
didn’t frequently play in the court of Venus.

If you should once play in her game of love,
for nothing else would you ever give it up,
but forever faithfully serve her in your soul.

{ Dimittas moneo laborem itaque;
non est conueniens hoc tali tempore
venari; potius debemus ludere.

Ignoras forsitan ludos Cupidinis,
sed ualde dedecet, si talis iuuenis
non ludit sepius in aula Veneris.

Si semel luseris in eius curia,
non eam deseres ulla penuria,
illi sed seruies mente continua. } [2]

The young man thought of love. He was shaken, scared, and taken:

Hearing his words, I was shaken to the core;
as if in great fear I fell to the ground,
and so a new flame burst out inside me.

{ Ad cuius monitus totus contremui,
uelut exterritus ad terram cecidi;
sic nouis ignibus statim incalui. }

The young man hunting with his dogs in April was hunted and snared in thought. In springtime, nature is beautiful, fecund, undeniably real, and influential.[3]

De ramis cadunt folia: manuscript

Men have good reason to fear the fire of their love. Men understand that spring is only a season, and that winter will come:

The leaves fall from the branches,
for all that is green has died,
warmth now has left all
and departed,
for the last of the Zodiac signs
the sun has reached.

{ De ramis cadunt folia,
nam viror totus periit;
iam calor liquit omnia
et abiit
nam signa caeli ultima
sol petiit. } [4]

Margery Kempe’s husband understood what that stanza means. Yet for generation after generation, despite gynocentric oppression, men have been on fire in love for women:

Now all that is, freezes,
but I alone am hot;
or rather it’s my heart
that burns.
This fire is a girl
for whom I languish.

My fire is nourished by the kiss
and soft touch of the girl.
In her eyes shines
the light of lights.
None across the whole age
is more divine.

Greek fire is extinguished
with wine turned bitter,
but this fire is never extinguished
for the saddest lover.
Rather, it’s sustained by fuel
most fruitful.

{ Modo frigescit quicquid est,
sed solus ego caleo;
immo sic mihi cordi est
quod ardeo;
hic ignis tamen virgo est,
qua langueo.

Nutritur ignis osculo
et leni tactu virginis
in suo lucet oculo
lux luminis,
nec est in toto saeculo
plus numinis.

Ignis graecus extinguitur
cum vino iam acerrimo,
sed iste non extinguitur
immo fomento alitur
uberrimo. }

Men’s fundamental sin is gyno-idolatry. Lucretius, the great dispeller of delusions, described the problem clearly in ancient Rome. Christians in medieval Europe understood Lucretius. Consider the man-narrator’s claim: “In her eyes shines / the light of lights. None across the whole age / is more divine.” In Christian understanding, Jesus is the King of Kings and the light of the world.[5] Regarding a human woman, one not even the mother of Jesus, as more divine than Jesus is blasphemy.

The final stanza makes an obscure comparison to Greek fire. Greek fire literally means an incendiary weapon that the Byzantine navy used. In this poetic context, Greek fire alludes to sexual passion, particularly sexual passion associated with eating and drinking at Greco-Roman symposia. At his last supper with his disciplines, Jesus poured wine and told his disciples to take that, his blood, and drink of it. Thirsting in the passion of his crucifixion for humanity’s sins, Jesus was given only sour wine to drink.[6] With understanding of the passion of Christ, Christian disciples were expected to leave behind the sexual passions of Greco-Roman symposia. But not all Christians substantially did so. The saddest lover is the Christian so enthralled in gyno-idolatry that his delusions continually fuel the fire of his love.

The medieval Christian poet was willing to describe gyno-idolatry explicitly. Gyno-idolatry was understood as a fundamental danger for men:

As in kindling
fire burns ardently
when it is introduced,
so my mind
for you, goddess,
is inflamed and burns up.

Say, who is so hard,
who is so pure,
devoid of all sin,
and capable of such being,
that none of your gifts
could seduce him?

Long live Cato,
to whom God gave
such rigidity,
but by your flower
he would be held, burning
in love.

{ Ut in lignis
ardet ignis,
siccis cum subducitur,
sic mens mea
pro te, dea,
fervet et comburitur.

Dic, quis durus,
quis tam purus,
carens omni crimine,
esse potest,
quem non dotes
tuae possint flectere?

Vivat Cato,
Dei dato,
qui sic fuit rigidus:
in amore
tuo flore
captus erit fervidus. } [7]

In the relatively liberal and tolerant circumstances of medieval Europe, a beautiful, young woman’s gifts could be described without fear of censorship, virtual stone-throwing, or attack by an angry, ignorant mob. Thus the poet-narrator declared:

Venus would have wished
your locks
to be her own,
if she had seen them,
and she would have mourned
because they excelled her own.

Your face and throat
are without wrinkles,
and your angelic visage
indicates to humans
that you are heavenly,
not earthly.

Your teeth
shine, seated
within your beautiful lips,
which if ever
I might touch,
give honeyed kisses.

And your
beautifully small,
not swelling,
gleam white,
whiter than snow.

What about the hands,
a belly so flat,
and a graceful figure —
you are so formed,
so adorned —
could one be better fashioned?

Your legs radiate sleekly —
but why say more?
The goddesses
of heaven
and earth
you surpass
in beauty and lineage.

{ Fore suum
crinem tuum
Venus ipsa cuperet,
si videret;
et doloret
suum quod exuperet.

Frons et gula
sine ruga
et visus angelicus
te caelestem,
non terrestrem,
denotant hominibus.

Tibi dentes
sunt candentes,
pulcre sedent labia,
que si quando
ore tango
mellea dant suavia.

Et tuarum
forma satis parvula
non tumescit,
sed albescit,
nive magis candida.

Quid quod manus,
venter planus
et statura gracilis
te sic formant
et cohornant
quod nimis es habilis?

Nitent crura.
Sed quid plura?
deas pulchritudine
et caelestes
et terrestres
superas et genere. }

So the man makes his beloved woman into a goddess, or rather, he imagines her to be better than a goddess. With respect to a beautiful woman, gyno-idolatry among men is completely understandable:

And therefore,
blessed girl,
no one should be surprised
if my mind
for you, goddess,
has been wounded by Venus.

{ Et idcirco,
pia virgo,
nulli sit mirabile,
si mens mea
pro te, dea,
lesa sit a Venere. }

If men are to lose their chains and become liberated, they must recognize their primary weakness. Men must reject gyno-idolatry and embrace women as equal human beings.

Meninism is the simple idea that men are equal to women as human beings. If you’re not a meninist, you’re a bigot. Unfortunately, most men aren’t meninists. Much work remains to be done to achieve social justice for men.

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[1] Carmina Rivipullensia 1, titled “Quomodo primum amavit {How he has loved for the first time},” first line “Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus {In April time, when the wood is decked green},” st. 1-2, Latin text and English translation from Preater (2015). This poem is probably from the twelfth century and survives only in MS Ripoll 74. On that manuscript, see note [1] in my post on the medieval joy of sex.

The subsequent three quotes above are similarly sourced (with a few minor changes in translation) from “Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus”: st. 4-5 (Coming back from the hunt…), 8-10 (To stop worrying…), 11 (Hearing his words…). For the translation of line 8.3, Dronke (1979) p. 21. The poem has 11 stanzas in total. For a Latin text and French translation, Wolff (2001) pp. 20-3.

[2] Thiébaux perceives Cupid’s “insinuating, gently bullying mockery” of the young man; the poem displays “light malice in treating this relation between the lover and the god.” That is the style of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Thiébaux (1974) p. 101. Id., pp. 101-2, provides a slightly inaccurate translation of the poem.

In st. 8, the original reading in the third line was Veneri {of Venus} rather than venari:

The manuscript originally read “Veneri”, but it is corrected to “venari” in the same hand as the original.

Raby (1957) v. 2, p. 238. See also Dronke (1979) pp. 20-1.

[3] Another medieval Latin poem tells of a man unsuccessfully hunting with his dogs. When he blew his horn to recall his dogs, a king’s daughter was stirred with love:

At this sound a noble maiden
trembled all over, about to enter her father’s land.
That young man, discerning, hastened towards her.
He saw and spoke with her, felt his lips kissing hers.
Then he and the king’s daughter, considering the matter,
traversed the utmost boundary of love.

{ Ad cuius sonitum erilis filia
Tota contremuit itura patria,
Quam cernens iuvenis adiit properans:
Vidit et loquitur, sensit os osculans:
Et sibi consulens et regis filie
Extremum Veneris concessit linee. }

“Surgens Manerius summo diluculo {Arising in the early dawn, Manerius},” ll. 13-8 (the last three couplets of the poem), Latin text from Raby (1933), my English translation, benefiting from that of Thiébaux (1974). The poem, commonly called Manerius, dates from before 1168. It survives in cod. Vat. Christ. No. 344, fol. 38, where it’s entitled “De quodam iuvene {About a certain young man}.” Raby (1933) p. 205. A man raising his horn and blowing vigorously displays his potency. If a man cannot be chaste, he should at least be careful.

[4] “De ramis cadunt folia” st. 1, Latin text from Dronke (1965) v. 1, p. 288, my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Hase (nd). The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced. It covers st. 4-6, the last three stanzas of the poem.

This twelfth-century poem is relatively well-known for a Latin lyric. Raby (1959) n. 234, p. 353, and Brittain (1962) provide Latin texts, with the latter including an English translation. A Latin reading blog provides a Latin text with learning notes and Helen Waddell’s English translation. This poem survives, with musical notation, only in the conductus-manuscripts of Saint-Martial, BnF (Paris) lat. 3719 fol. 42r-v. Dronke (1965) v. 1, p. 288. Here’s a modern sung adaptation from the album Les Chants Funestes by O Quam Tristis.

[5] Calling Jesus the King of Kings {βασιλεὺς τῶν βασιλευόντων}: 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 91:16; Jesus as light of the world {φώς τοῦ κόσμου}: John 8:12, 9:5.

[6] Jesus giving wine to his disciples: Matthew 26:27-9, Mark 14:23-5, Luke 22:17-8; soldiers giving sour wine to Jesus on the cross: Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, John 19:29. The Latin reading blog notes:

Greek fire was a weapon used by the Byzantines against ships. It is of unknown composition. The statement by the poet that this fire can be extinguished by vinegar (vinum acrum) is of course nonsense.

That note seems to me to miss the poetic point.

[7] Carmina Rivipullensia 3, titled “In praise of his girlfriend {Laudes amicae},” first line “Sidus clarum {Bright star},” st. 4-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001) (but retaining medieval Latin spellings), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation and the English translation of Hase (nd). The subsequent two quotes are similarly sourced from st. 7-12 (Venus would have wished…) and 13 (And therefore…). This song has a total of 14 stanzas. On the question form of verse 11, Dronke (1979) p. 22. Dronke interprets that stanza as implying the woman’s inexpressible beauty.

[images] (1) Byzantine Greek fire being used against the enemy ship of Thomas the Slav. From the Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, folio 34v. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Manuscript text, including musical notation, from the beginning of “De ramis cadunt folia.” Folio 42r in Miscellanea of manuscripts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Latin 3719.


Brittain, Frederick. 1962. The Penguin Book of Latin Verse; with plain prose translations of each poem. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Hase, Patrick, trans. nd. “Carminia Mediaevalia.” Online on liguae.

Preater, Jason. 2015. “Cancionero de Ripoll- In April Time.” Online (June 27, 2015) at Writing Finger.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1933. “Surgens Manerius Summo Diluculo… .” Speculum. 8 (2): 204-208.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1957. A History of Secular Latin poetry in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon.

Thiébaux, Marcelle. 1974. The Stag of Love; the chase in medieval literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

“I had a dream”: medieval imagining of gender justice

medieval dream lovers

Men today seared in the flames of vicious gender injustice can scarcely imagine a comforting night of compassion and love. As if human rights weren’t men’s rights, men are persecuted for the gaze of their eyes and the spread of their legs. Men are convicted of serious crimes without even the possibility of speaking and being believed. Men carry the crushing gender burden of soliciting amorous relations and then paying for the check, as if the bank of justice is bankrupt and men’s lives don’t matter.

Burning inwardly with violent wrath,
in bitterness let me speak to my soul.

{ Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi
in amaritudine loquar mee menti. } [1]

A young man in twelfth-century France had a dream one night. He sees in front of his eyes a beautiful woman. That day he had called out to a beautiful woman, but she ignored him. The young woman in the Song of Songs had a similar experience when she called to a young man whom she loved.[2] So who is this young woman who appears to the young man in his dream?

Her shapeliness at first fills me with doubt:
is this the young woman to whom I called by day?

{ Cuius forma mihi primum satis est dubitata,
an foret haec virgo fuerat quae luce vocata. } [3]

Women and men deserve better than being ignored by those they love. That amorous injustice predominately hurts men, as the dominant structure of prostitution historically attests. Men deserve medieval Latin poetic justice:

But after recognizing this woman to be lovelier than the other,
I forget the other and caress this one’s breasts.
She moves into my embrace, chest close to chest,
and that beautiful girl gives me kisses in a million ways.
I feel joy that almost no other woman would give me.

{ Postquam cognovi quod erat speciosior illa,
illa neglecta, fuit illico tacta papilla.
Venit in amplexus, pectus iacuit prope pectus;
oscula mille modis dum dat mihi pulchra puella,
gaudia persensi quae vix mihi nunc daret ulla. }

As the learned know, most men are romantically simple. So was this young man:

Her kisses join with mine, yet my hope vainly pushed up,
for when I seek to hug her tender neck,
she flees to I know not where, not even uttering a single word.

{ Oscula iungebat, sed me spes vana ferebat.
Namque sui tenerum volo dum circumdare collum,
nescio quo fugit, nec verbum protulit unum. }

Aeneas had a similar experience when he sought to hold on to his wife and his father.[4] Yet despite crushing gynocentric oppression, this man held onto the dream of gender justice. He retained hope in Aeneas’s mother Venus:

So I grieve much, but I judge I would grieve even more
if, what I held in my dream, I wouldn’t watchfully retain.

{ Unde nimis doleo, puto sed magis inde dolebo,
ni, quod per somnium tenui, vigilans retinebo. }

He held onto the dream that men one day would have poetic justice in love.

Another young man in twelfth-century France had a dream. He recounted:

In April time, I was sleeping alone
in a green meadow already quite flowery,
when a most beautiful girl, with a shining face,
a descendant coming from royal blood,
appeared in front of me. With her ornate robe
she fashioned for me with great effort a breeze.
While enlivening me that way, she sometimes with sweet
kisses joined her honey-dripping mouth to mine,
and she would have joined flank-to-flank with me,
but at first she feared that I would respond harshly.

{ Aprilis tempore, dum solus dormio
In prato viridi, iam satis florido,
Virgo pulcherrima, vultu sidereo,
Et proles sanguine progressa regio,
Ante me visa est, que suo pallio
Auram mihi facit cum magno studio.
Auram dum ventilat, interdum dulcia
Ore mellifluo iungebat basia,
Et latus lateri iunxisset pariter,
Sed primum timuit ne ferrem graviter. } [5]

In the relatively tolerant Middle Ages, kisses were not considered to be equivalent to full-on, flank-to-flank sexual assault. Not a vicious rapist, this young woman sought to please the man she loved. She explained that she had come to him with a life-and-death problem:

At the call of Venus
I come to you, beloved young man;
Cupid’s torch has inflamed my heart.
I love you with my soul and whole body.
If you don’t love me as I love you,
trust me that I will die from excessive grief.
And so I beg you, the glory of young men,
that you not disregard me, but give me solace.

{ Monitu Veneris
ad te devenio, dilecte iuvenis;
face Cupidinis succensa pectore,
Mente te diligo cum toto corpore.
Ni me dilxeris sicut te diligo,
credas quod moriar dolore nimio.
Quare te deprecor, o decus iuvenum,
ut non me negligas, sed des solacium. }

In traditional Greco-Roman religion, no one could resist the love-spurring strike of Cupid, acting under gynocentrism according to the will of his mother Venus. In what’s known as the Great Commandment, the sacred law of the Jews declares: “love your neighbor as yourself { בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ }.” Jesus of Nazareth urged his Christian disciples to follow the Jewish Great Commandment. He added, “love one another as I have loved you {diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos}.”[6] Neither of these commandments are quite equivalent to the Cupid-stricken young woman’s request: “love me as I love you {me dilxeris sicut te diligo}.” She shrewdly further supported her request with the threat of her death. Men have long striven to save women from death. Few men in the ancient world would be so harsh and unmerciful as to reject this woman’s Greco-Roman Jewish-Christian supplication.

Nonetheless, the beautiful young woman gave additional strong reasons for the young man to love her. She declared:

Nor can you rightly now disregard me,
since I am coming from royal blood.
Gold and ornate robes, purple vestments,
grey Celtic garments, and various animal-skins —
more I will give to you, if you will be welcoming
and, as I love you, so you will love me.
If you seek a beautiful and illustrious figure,
here I am; take me, since I love you.
Because no more beautiful woman exists for you in our age,
I desire that you have the most beautiful lover.

{ Nec iuste poteris nunc me negligere,
quippe sum regio progressa sanguine.
Aurum et pallia, vestes purpureas,
rhenones griseos et pelles varias,
plures tibi dabo, si gratus fueris
et, ut te diligo, sic me dilexeris.
Si pulchram faciem quaeris et splendidam,
hic sum; me teneas, quia te deligam.
Cum nullus pulchrior te sit in saeculo,
ut pulchram habeas amicam cupio. }

Men tend to strive for high social status in order to be attractive to women. This woman offered to raise the man’s social status through her own high status. Moreover, husbands historically have disproportionately carried the gender burden of working outside the home to provide goods to their wives. This woman offered to provide luxurious material goods to the man she loved.[7] Most importantly, men tend to value highly a woman with an attractive physical figure and beautiful appearance. This young woman was the most beautiful woman of her time. Oppressed with men’s burden of soliciting amorous relationships, what man wouldn’t be delighted with this woman’s urgent request for love?

Men are generally generous and eager to please women. Not surprisingly, the sleeping young man promptly responded to the young woman’s plea:

Immediately aroused by these words of the young woman,
I seize her with a firm embrace.
I kiss her cheeks, caress her breasts,
after which I fill fully her sweet secret.
Thus I can deduce I would be exceptionally
happy, indeed so and more than exceptionally,
if I could hold that girl when I were awake,
whom I held in the field until I was awake.

{ His verbis virginis commotus illico,
ipsam amplexibus duris circumligo.
Genas deosculans papillas palpito,
post illud dulcius secretum compleo.
Inferre igitur possum quod nimium
felix ipse forem et plus quam nimium,
illam si virginem tenerem vigilans
quam prato tenui, dum fui vigilans. } [8]

He had a dream one day. He had a dream that men would no longer be shackled with repeated rejections in love. He had a dream that men would no longer be regarded as generic humans — “man” — but welcomed and treated with dignity as distinctively gendered persons. He had a dream that academia and all societies throughout the world would rise up and live out the true meaning of gender equality. While many men wallow in the valley of despair, committing suicide much more frequently than women, he had a dream in a green flowering field in April. He had a dream of gender justice and togetherness.

dream love

We must not be unmindful of the suffering that the men-abasing ideology of courtly love has generated throughout history. While a man had a dream of gender justice and togetherness in twelfth-century France, another man about that time and place sang of his despair, exile, and impending death:

All mercy’s gone, all pity lost —
though at the best I still knew none —
since she who should yield mercy most
shows me the least of anyone.
Wrongful it seems, now, in my view,
to see a creature’s love betrayed
who’d seek no other good but you,
then let him die without your aid.

Since she, my Lady, shows no care
to earn my thanks, nor pay Love’s rights
since she’ll not hear my constant prayer
and my love yields her no delights,
I say no more; I silent go;
she gives me death; let death reply.
My Lady won’t embrace me so
I leave, exiled to pain close by.

{ Merces es perduda, per ver,
Et eu non o saubi anc mai,
Car cilh qui plus en degr’ aver,
No.n a ges; et on la querrai?
A! can mal sembla, qui la ve,
Qued aquest chaitiu deziron
Que ja ses leis non aura be,
Laisse morrir, que no l.aon

Pus ab midons no.m pot valer
Precs ni merces ni.l dreihz qu’eu ai,
Ni a leis no ven a plazer
Qu’eu l’am, ja mais no.lh o dirai.
Aissi.m part de leis e.m recre;
Mort m’a, e per mort li respon ,
E vau m’en, pus ilh no.m rete,
Chaitius, en issilh, no sai on. } [9]

Women must do more to aid men. Men’s deaths should not be a matter of indifference. Men care for women and labor to protect them from death, even in dreams. Beginning from within their imagination, women should do the same for men.

Now is the time to make real the promises of gender equality. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of men-hating me-too-ism to the sunlit path of gender justice. Now is the time to lift our world from the quicksands of gender bigotry to the solid rock of sexual intimacy. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.[10]

A medieval man had a dream. His dream is still a dream today, a horribly unknown dream, a dream that deserves to be fulfilled one day.

On that day, blue-collar men operating garbage trucks in Florida will know their children, and their children their fathers, and men will be disproportionately incarcerated no more.

On that day, career women in New York City will live to ripe old ages with their satisfied lovers, not their cats and dogs.

On that day, a man speaking out for justice at the University of Cambridge won’t be smeared with a milkshake, and activists in Portland will fight for men thrown in debtor’s prison because they lack reproductive rights.

On that day, women and men academics at the University of Texas won’t discount men’s labor within the home, and a woman academic at Southwestern Illinois College will be embarrassed to have helped develop a sexism scale that is deeply sexist.

On that day, a woman executive leading a mega-corp in California will marry a handsome, young, penniless and uneducated immigrant from Mexico, and she will respect him for the work he does for their family within their home.

Love between women and men will not flourish until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. The vision still has its time, it presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint.

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[1] Twelfth-century poem (c. 1165) known as the Archpoet’s Confession, ll. 1-2, Latin text from Latin wikisource, my English translation. A.S. Kline has a full translation, reproduced on linguae. This poem is included in the Carmina Burana as no. 191. Writing the poem with classical Latin spelling changes Estuans to Aestuans and mee to meae.

[2] Song of Songs 5:6, which is part of the dream sequence 5:2-7.

[3] Carmina Rivipullensia 8, titled “Aliud somnium {Another dream},” first line “Illud si verum fieret quod somnia monstrant {If it turns out to be true what dreams show},” ll. 5-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. This poem is probably from the twelfth century and survives only in MS Ripoll 74. On that manuscript, see note [1] in my post on the medieval joy of sex.

The subsequent three quotes above are similarly from this poem, ll. 7-11 (But after recognizing…), 12-4 (Her kisses join with mine…), 15-6 (So I grieve much…). The poem has 16 lines.

[4] Aeneid 2.793-4 and 6.701-2. A woman had a similar experience in a dream:

I held out my arms and pressed my body to his.
Utterly drained of blood I froze,
for he had vanished! I was holding nothing!
Freed from sleep, I cried out loudly:
“Where are you fleeing, please. Why so swiftly?
Halt your step, or if you will, I too shall enter,
for I want to live with you for ever!”

{ Extensis brachiis corpus applicui,
exsanguis penitus tota derigui
Evanuit enim! nichil retinui!
Sopore libera exclamo fortiter:
“Quo fugis, amabo? Cur tam celeriter?
Siste gradum, si vis inibo partier,
nam tecum viver volo perhenniter!” }

“Foebus abierat subtractis cursibus {Phoebus had fled, his voyage done},” Latin text and English translation (modified to follow the Latin more closely) from Dronke (1965) v. 2, pp. 334-6. This poem apparently was written in northern Italy about 1000 GC. Here’s a less literal, poetic translation of the whole poem. Poetic imagination is wonderfully unbounded. Yet in relation to dominant social structures, a woman coming in love to a man in his dream is far more transgressive.

[5] Carmina Rivipullensia 7, titled “De somnio {About a dream},” first line “Si vera somnia forent, quae somnio {If the dreams I dream would be true},” ll. 3-12, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. Here’s a partial Spanish translation. The subsequent three quotes are similarly from this poem: ll. 13(2nd half)-20 (At the call of Venus…), 21-30 (Nor can you rightly now…), 31-8 (Immediately aroused…). Line 38 is the last line of the poem.

[6] For the Great Commandment of Jewish law, Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew text differs subtly from subsequent Greek and English translations. For Jesus teaching the Great Commandment to his disciples, Matthew 19:19, 22:39; James 2:8. For Jesus extending that commandment to imitating his love, John 15:12. The Gospels and Christian epistles were originally written in Greek. I have quoted John in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, the Biblical text most widely read in medieval Europe.

[7] Dronke, a leading expositor of men-abasing courtly love, read the young women’s righteous offer to the young men as alluding to Satan tempting Jesus (Matthew 4:9, Luke 4:6-7). Dronke (1965) v. 2, p. 339. That seems to me a hellish misreading of a Christian gesture of turning the world upside-down for justice.

Dronke interprets “De somnio” as “a humorous piece of wishful thinking” with “delightful elements of burlesque.” Id. pp. 339, 341. That description, which might equally serve as a classical interpretation of the Gospels, expresses an aspect of “De somnio.” Yet Christian literary work and Christian beliefs incorporate such characteristics into a more profound understanding of the world. The tenth-century Latin epic Walthurius brilliantly displays that understanding.

[8] An earlier reading corrects the last line to “quam prato tenui dum fui somnians.” See. e.g. Raby (1959) p. 339 (no. 227). But the original text makes good poetic sense and should be preserved. Dronke (1979) pp. 23-4.

[9] Bernart de Ventadorn, “Can vei la lauzeta mover {Now when I see the skylark lift},” st. 6-7, Occitan text and English translation (W.D. Snodgrass) from Kehew (2005) p. 77. An alternate manuscript spelling is “Qan vei la lauzeta mover.” Here’s the full Occitan text of the song (another source). The song survives with a melody; here’s a performance of it. Bernart is regarded as “one of the greatest love poets among the troubadours.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 74. He was active in the middle of the twelfth century.

Above I’ve made some insubstantial changes to Snodgrass’s translation. In addition, I changed line 7.8 from “I leave, exiled to pain for aye” to “I leave, exiled to pain close by.” That change preserves the meter and rhyme. It seems to me more understandable (the woman he loves curtly dismisses him from her presence) and more poignant. In Snodgrass’s text and translation, the subsequent stanza then gives the lover’s further action: “I leave to wander, none knows where.” A more literal translation of the Occitan text for 7.7-8 is “If she abandons me, I will go away / a wretch in exile, I know not where.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 79 (from stanza 5 in that text).

[10] The text above draws upon Martin Luther King’s famous speech for social justice, “I have a dream.” He delivered that speech, which drew upon a wide range of sources, on August 28, 1963. The parallels between dominant institutions’ views of racial justice in 1963 and dominant institutions’ views of gender justice today provides a critical perspective on urgently needed change.

[images] (1) Medieval woman and man hugging each other in bed. The depicted man (minnesinger) is Herr Hug von Werbenwag. He lived in thirteenth-century Germanic lands. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 252r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Medieval man dreaming while woman hugs him. The depicted man (minnesinger) here apparently is Herr Konrad von Altstetteng. He is known to have sung between 1320 and 1327 about the Upper Rhine Valley. Similarly from UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 249v.


Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the Verses of the Troubadours: a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Raby, F. J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

men must do anything for women: Arnaut Daniel’s medieval protest

Raimon Berenguier IV

In early thirteenth-century France, Raimon Berenguier IV, the Count of Provence, described a hundred women in a desperate situation:

Friend Sir Arnaut, a hundred ladies of rank
go overseas and halfway to the Holy Land,
they are unable to complete their voyage
nor return home directly by any means
but through you, by this condition:
you let out a fart generating such wind
that the ladies will come to be saved.
Will you do it, or not? I would like to know.

{ Amics N’Arnauz, cent domnas de parage
van outramar e son a meça via,
e non podon acomplir lor viage
n’endrez tornar per nuilla ren qe sia
se per vos non, qe es per tal coven
c’un pez fassaz de qe·s movan tal ven
que las domnas vadan a salvamen.
Farez l’o non? Q’eu saber lo volria. } [1]

The Count’s friend Arnaut Catalan was dedicated to serving women. He responded:

Lord Count, it is my habit always
to defend ladies concerning love.
Although farting is not to my liking,
I will do so, for if I did not,
I would be badly lacking toward ladies.
And I assure you that, if by other means
they could not be saved,
after the fart I would try fully shitting myself.

{ Seingner En Coms, en ai un tal usage
c’ades manteing domnas en drudaria.
Si tot lo peiz no m’en ven d’agradage,
eu lo farei, qe s’eu no lo faria
falliria vas domnas malamen.
E dic vos ben qe, si per altramen
no podion anar a salvamen,
apres lo peiz toz mi concagaria. }

Men must do whatever is necessary to help women, no matter how degrading to men such action is. Some may raise practical objections:

Friend Sir Arnaut, you speak very badly
and will receive great blame from the men
that must transport so many pleasant, comely hearts
by ass-wind to the holy ground of Syria.

{ Amics N’Arnauz, trop parlaz malamen
per lo gran blasme qe n’aurez de la gen
qe vol passar tan gen cors avinen
a vent de cul en terra de Suria. }

Imagine a man farting and shitting so prodigiously as to drive a sailboat from the middle of the Mediterranean all the way to the Holy Land. That’s a crappy way to sail. But all that matters is that women get what they want. Arnaut Catalan explained:

Lord Count, it is much better by a hundred times
that I should fart than so many lively, pleasing hearts
should come to grief through foolish principle,
for I can wash myself, however much I shit myself.

{ Seingner En Coms, molt es miellz per un cen
q’eu fasa·l peiz qe tan gai cors plazen
se perdison per fol enseingnamen,
qe·m puosc lavar qan cunqigaz me sia. }

Men face an enormous burden of performance in serving women. Men are expected to go down in sinking ships to save women. At the same time, men are socially unappreciated and face acute hardships and injustices. What is to be done?

Men must support other men who show the strength and knowledge to say no to women. Consider the case of Lady Ena and Bernart de Cornilh in southern France late in the twelfth century. Bernart sought Lady Ena’s love. In response, she showed him her back, and then:

she put her hand behind her thigh
and showed him the hole underneath
and said “If you blow me gently here
I’ll make you my lover dear.”

{ Elha mes tras la cueissa’l man
E’l mostrèt lo trauc sotiran
E dis: “S’aicí’m cornatz de plan,
Ieu vos farai mon drut certan.” } [2]

In other words, she virtually slapped him in the face, shit all over him, and then told him to thank her for that. Bernart de Cornilh wisely said no to being so degraded in love.

Raimon de Durfort

The troubadours Truc Malec and Raimon de Durfort in response defended Lady Ena and attacked Bernart. Truc Malec declared that Bernart had wronged her body:

He dishonored it out of folly,
while I would have liked to have blown there
cheerfully, without a sad heart.

{ Celh lo soanet per foldat,
E ieu lai vòlgr’ aver cornat
Alegrament, ses còr irat. } [3]

Raimon de Durfort added that Bernart should be sexually assaulted:

Evil it will be if he isn’t forced
to blow a pregnant mare.

{ Mal estarà qui no’l destrenh
Tant que cornès un’ egua prenh. }

Underscoring the twisted world of self-abasing men, Raimon condemned Bernart for not acting like a true courtly lover:

False lady-lover, learn
from me what you don’t know.
Wrongly you have courted
a lady, and then debased yourself.

{ Fals domnejador, aprendètz
De mi aiçò que non sabètz:
Per fals vos tenc car enquerètz
Dòmna, pueis vos i sordegetz. } [4]

Under gynocentrism, men are kept dazed and confused through the use of words in a way opposite of what they actually mean. Thus a man who refuses a lady’s request to put his mouth to her anus and blow has “degraded” himself. That’s like declaring that a husband has raped his wife when she has sex with him out of love for him.[5]

Arnaut Daniel

Exquisitely skilled in the use of words, the eminent troubadour Arnaut Daniel defended Bernart de Cornilh. Arnaut gave good reasons for not putting one’s mouth to a woman’s anus:

because the anus is rough, dirty, and hairy,
and not for one day does it remain dry,
and there the swamp is mighty deep,
because the rot inside ferments it,
such that its heart flows out, then shrinks;
and I don’t want him ever to be a lover,
he who puts his mouth to the anus.

{ Que’l còrns es fèrs, laitz e pelutz
E nul jorn non estai essutz
Et es prion dins la palutz
Per que relent’ ensús lo glutz
Qu’adès per si cor ne redutz;
E non vòlh que mais sia drutz
Cel que sa boch’ al còrn condutz. } [6]

Like most men, Arnaut Daniel was first concerned for women:

There will truly be other tests,
more attractive, with greater value,
and if Bernart pulled himself away,
by Christ, he did but a knowing act,
because fear and terror seized him,
because if the stream had come from above,
it’d have scalded his neck and cheeks.
And it’s not right for a lady to kiss
a man who blows a stinking anus.

Bernart, I don’t at all agree
with the words of Raimon de Durfort
that you were ever at fault:
for if you had blown for amusement,
well you would have found a strong counterpoint,
and the smell would soon have killed you,
for manure in a garden doesn’t smell worse.
And you, despite whoever disparages you,
praise God who has delivered you.

{ Pro i agra d’autres assais,
De plus bèls que valgron mais,
E si En Bernatz s’en estrai,
Per Crist, anc-no’i fetz que savais,
Car l’en pres paors et esglais.
Car si’l vengués d’amont lo rais
Tot l’escaldèra’l còl e’l cais ;
E no’is coven que dòmna bais
Aquel qui cornès còr putnais.

Bernatz, ges eu non m’acòrt
Al dich Raimon de Durfòrt
Que vos anc mais n’aguessetz tòrt;
Que si cornavatz per depòrt,
Ben trobavatz fòrt contrafòrt,
E la pudors agra’us tòst mort,
Que peitz òlh non fa fems en órt;
E vos, qui que’us en desconòrt,
Lauzatz en Deu que’us n’a estòrt. }

These words of Arnaut Daniel should be taken seriously. Petrarch called Arnaut “the grand master of love, who in his land  / is still honored for his strange and beautiful language {gran maestro d’amor, ch’a la sua terra / ancor fa onor, col suo dir strano e bello}.”[7] In Dante’s Purgatorio, Guido Guinizelli, whom Dante regarded as his father in lyric poetry, deferred to Arnaut:

{he} was a greater craftsman of his mother tongue.
In songs of love and in the prose romance
he surpassed all. Let fools talk all they want
of the Limogian poet’s excellence —
they turn their faces more toward fame than truth,
settling their judgment by what others say
before they hear how reason rules, or art.

{ fu miglior fabbro del parlar materno.
Versi d’amore e prose di romanzi
soverchiò tutti; e lascia dir li stolti
che quel di Lemosì credon ch’avanzi
A voce più ch’al ver drizzan li volti,
e così ferman sua oppinïone
prima ch’arte o ragion per lor s’ascolti. } [8]

Boccaccio in his brilliant Corbaccio may well have drawn inspiration from Arnaut’s song. Thus the “three crowns {tre corone}” of Italian literature agree about Arnaut’s importance. Even within gynocentric society, any man should feel free to say no when a woman he hardly know asks him to put his mouth to her anus and blow.

Nonetheless, Raimon de Durfort refused to defer to Arnaut’s poetic insight. Raimon insisted that a man must serve a woman as she requests. Raimon declared:

If any noble lady in the world,
had shown me her anus and cunt,
in this way, just as they are,
and then addressed me: “Sir Raimon,
blow me here, in my rear.
I would lower my face forward,
as if seeking to drink from a spring.
A lover who thus answers his lady,
well deserves to receive her heart’s joy.

{ Non es bona dòmn’ el mon,
Si’m mostrava’l còrn e l’con
Tot atretal com ilh se son
E pueis m’apelava : ‘N Raimon,
Cornatz m’aicí sobre’l reon,
Qu’ieu no’i baissès la car’ el front
Com si volgués beure en fon:
Drutz qu’a sa dòmna aissí respon,
Ben tanh que de son còr l’aon. } [9]

Raimon declared that he would blow in the anuses of hundreds of thousands of women, even if quite a few of their anuses were foul. He also disparaged Bernart de Cornilh and his humane defender Arnaut Daniel. He sung to Bernart:

You surpass in wretchedness
even Arnaut the student,
ruined by dice and board games,
who goes around like a penitent,
poor of clothing and of cash.

{ Pus ètz malastrucs sobriers
Non es Arnautz l’escoliers,
Cui confondon dat e tauliers
E vai coma penedensiers
Paupres de draps e de deniers }

Literary writers have often been impoverished. To make matters worse, meninist literary critics today are marginalized and excluded from the schools. Speaking truthfully about men in relation to women isn’t rewarding.

Most men feel that they must do anything that women want. Yet the great medieval troubadour Arnaut Daniel recognized his responsibility to speak out against appalling debasement of men. More writers today should do likewise. Men must acquire the learning necessary to know to say no to women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Raimon Berenguier IV, Count of Provence {Coms de Proensa} and Arnaut Catalan, “Amics N’Arnauz, cent domnas de parage {Friend Sir Arnaut, a hundred ladies of rank}” (tenso), st. 1, Occitan text and English translation of Ruth Harvey (modified) via Rialto. Gatti (2017) provides a slightly different text and an Italian translation. The subsequent three quotes are seriatim from this song and cover all of it.

A related tenso between Arnaut and King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso X the Wise) concerns sailing with farts. Arnaut petitioned the king to be named what might rightly be called a Rear Admiral:

My lord, I come now to ask
you for a boon, if you please:
I’d like to be your admiral
over the bounding seas.
If you grant me this, in all good faith
I promise to drive your entire fleet
with the force of a windy fart,
and they’ll sail with astonishing speed!

{ Senher abatyons conven quer
un don que·m donez, si vos play
que vulh vostr’almiral seer
en cela vostra mar da lay.
E sy o faz, en bona fe,
c’a totas las naus que la son a
eu les faray tal vent de me
c’or anon totas a bandon. }

“Senher abatyons conven quer, {alternately} Sénher, adars ie ‘us venh querer {My lord, I come now to ask},” st. 1, Occitan text from Gatti (2017), English translation from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 187; Gatti provides an Italian translation. Here’s an alternate Occitan text.

King Alfonse granted Arnaut’s petition and declared him (Rear) “Admiral Gas {Almiral Sisom}.” In gratitude, Arnaut promised a wind that would bring his lady and a hundred other women to King Alfonse. But King Alfonse objected to sending ladies with farting:

He is no true lover who intends
to manufacture such a wind!

{ que non é bon doneador
quen esto fezer a cyente. }

St. 4, ll. 7-8, sourced as previously. This song seems to allude to “Amics N’Arnauz, cent domnas de parage.” In addition, both troubadours “play upon the specific metrical form and rhymes from the song of the lark by Bernart Ventadorn, ‘Qan vei la lauzeta mover {When I see the lark beat his winds},’ reducing it to a scurrilous mockery involving a bird (sison {francolin}) that was famous for flatulence.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 187, reference omitted and bird name added. The analysis of Gatti (2007) supports attributing this poem in part to Arnaut Catalan.

[2] Raimon de Durfort, “Truc Malèc, a vos me tenh {Truc Malec, I hold on to you},” 2.6-9, Occitan text from Martínez Malo (2005), English translation (modified) from trobar. This song is the second in a temporal series of four songs concerning what has come to be known as the Cornilh Affair. The second, third, and fourth poems in the series are Truc Malec, “En Raimon, be’us tenc a grat {Sir Raimon, I am in your debt}“; Arnaut Daniel, “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs {Though Raimon and Truc Malec}“; and Raimon de Durfort, “Ben es malastrucs dolens {He is rather unhappy and afflicted}.” Martínez Malo (2005) pp. 84-93 provides Occitan text and Spanish translation for all four. Trobar provides Occitan text and English translation for all four, to which the titles are linked. All quotes above from songs in this series are sourced as above, except where otherwise noted. The songs refer to Bernart de Cornilh. He was from Cercina, a rural borough of Florence.

According to Taylor summarizing Lazzerini (1981), “there is no doubt that corn has the clear meaning of cul.” Taylor (2015) p. 345. Lazzerini (1989) further analyzes another reference to the ass.

Truc (Turc) Malec sung in the late twelfth century. Taylor (2015) p. 524. Raimon de Durfort must be from the same time. Neither is known apart from this sequence of songs and their joint vida:

Raimon de Durfort and Lord Turc Malec were two knights from Quercy who composed the sirventes about the lady called Milady Aia, the one who said to the knight of Cornil that she would not love him if he did not blow in her arse. And here are written the sirventes.

{ Raimons de Dufort e·N Turc Malec si foron du cavallier de Caersi que feiren los sirventes de la domna que ac nom ma donna n’Aia, aquella que dis al cavalier de Cornil qu’ella no l’amaria si el no la cornava el cul. Et aqui son escritz los sirventes. }

Egan (1984) pp. 31-2.

[3] Truc Malec, “En Raimon, be’us tenc a grat {Sir Raimon, I am in your debt}” ll. 7-9.

[4] Raimon de Durfort, “Truc Malèc, a vos me tenh {Truc Malec, I hold on to you},” st. 6 (final stanza).

[5] Jewers similarly asserts:

In essence, troubadour lyric betrays a configuration of power and gender that privileges the male, while it reifies and objectifies the female. … The lesson of the affaire Cornilh has something to teach us about the nature and status of the counter-text: it lays bare the rank misogyny underlying and underpinning the lyric system and exploits it to a comically absurd degree, demystifying the male subject as well as it cruelly lays bare the female object.

Jewers (2002) pp. 37, 43. For a frank confession of this game, Dummitt (2019).

[6] Arnaut Daniel, “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs {Though Raimon and Truc Malec},” 2.3-9, with English translation of this song benefitting from that of Wilhelm (1981) pp. 75-7 and trobar. Here’s a modern French translation. The subsequent quote is similarly st. 2-3.

According to his vida, Arnaut Daniel was born of a noble family living at the castle of Ribérac in the department of Dordogne. He studied Latin, but gave up that study to compose Occitan songs as a joglar {minstrel}. He apparently was active from about 1180 to 1195. Paden & Paden (2007) p. 114. Arnaut’s songs “represent the pinnacle of  trobar clus, the art of ‘closed compositions’ in which the sense of the song is disguised with elaborate patterns of rhyme and versification.” Id. Arnaut is credited with having invented a complex poetic form, the sestina. About nineteen of his songs, two with melodies, have survived.

Arnaut was a courageous poet willing to challenge men’s unlimited subservience to women. In his song “En cest sonet coind’e leri {In this little song, pretty and joyful},” Arnaut declared:

I am Arnaut, who hoards the wind
and chases the rabbit with the ox
and swims against the swelling tide.

{ Ieu sui Arnautz q’amàs l’aura,
E chatz la lebre ab lo bou
E nadi contra suberna. }

Occitan text and English translation from Wilhelm (1981) pp. 42-3. Paden & Paden (2007) pp. 117-8 offers an alternate translation, as does James H. Donalson (2003). Here’s a modern French translation of Pèire Bec (2012).

Lacking Arnaut’s concern for social justice, the famous sophist Jacques Lacan quoted Arnaut’s “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs” in full and used it in his attempt to kiss the ass of dominant ideology. He thus gained a pungent insight:

Having been the focus of attacks by feminists during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Lacan sought a way to ensure that his theory would reinforce, rather than contradict, the feminist agenda. His own efforts in this realm led him to the conclusion that there is no possible sexual relationship.

Labbie (2006) p. 97. Lacan could have supported his claim “there is no sexual relationship” by surveying married men or discussing Margery Kempe’s husband. Instead Lacan discussed at length the gap, explored what slipped out from there, and signified it throughout his work.

[7] Petrarch, Triumphus Cupidinis 4.41-2, cited and translated in Kay (2016) p. 155, n. 3.

[8] Dante, Commedia, Purgatorio 26.117-23, Italian text from the Princeton Dante Project, English translation (modified slightly) from Esolen (2004). The Limogian poet is the troubadour Guirant de Bornelh, who sung in late-twelfth and early-thirteenth century Provence.

Regarding Arnaut’s “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs,” the eminent Dante scholar Paget Toynbee comically couldn’t even bring himself to name it explicitly:

The tenor of one of these {of Arnaut’s songs}, which forms part of a poetical controversy with two other troubadours concerning the conduct of a certain lady, sufficiently accounts for the place in Purgatory assigned to him by D. {Dante}.

Toynbee (1898) p. 50, entry for “Arnaldo Daniello {Arnaut Daniel}.”

[9] Raimon de Durfort, “Ben es malastrucs dolens {He is rather unhappy and afflicted},” st. 2. The subsequent is st. 4.1-5.

[images] (1) Raimon Berenguier IV, Count of Barcelona, detail from portrait of Queen Petronila of Aragon and Count Ramon Berenguier IV of Barcelona. The latter isn’t the same person as Raimon Berenguier IV, Count of Provence. Painting made in 1634, original of Filippo Ariosto (1586). Preserved as acccession # P005881 in the Museo del Prado (Spain). (2) Illuminated initial with Raimon de Durfort. Vida of Turc Malec and Raimon de Durfort in text on top. Folio 186v in Recueil des poésies des troubadours, contenant leurs vies. Made in the thirteenth century. Preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) Ms. 854. (3) Illuminated initial with Arnaut Daniel. From folio 65r in BnF Ms. 854.


Dummitt, Christopher. 2019. “‘I Basically Just Made It Up’: Confessions of a Social Constructionist.” Quillette. Sept. 17.

Egan, Margarita. 1984. The Vidas of the Troubadours. Garland Library of Medieval Literature: series B: translations, 6. New York: Garland Pub.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004. Dante Alighieri. Purgatory {second section of the Divine Comedy}. New York: Modern Library.

Gatti, Luca. 2017. “Tra Arnaldi e protettori: edizioni e prospettive critiche di due tenzoni scatologiche (BdT 184,1 e T 21,1).” Pp. 85-94 in Isabel De Riquer, Dominique Billy, Giovanni Palumbo, eds. Actes du XXVIIe Congrès international de linguistique et de philologie romanes (Nancy, 15-20 juillet 2013), Section 14: Littératures médiévales.

Jewers, Caroline. 2002. “The Cornilh Affair: Obscenity and the Counter-text in the Occitan Troubadours, or, the Gift of the Gap.” Mediterranean Studies. 11: 29-43.

Kay, Tristan. 2016. Dante’s Lyric Redemption: eros, salvation, vernacular tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Labbie, Erin Felicia. 2006. Lacan’s Medievalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lazzerini, Lucia. 1981-83. “Cornar lo corn: sulla tenzone tra Raimon de Durfort, Truc Malec e Arnaut Danielm.” Medioevo Romanzo 8: 339–70.

Lazzerini, Lucia. 1989. “Postilla al corn: raboi.” Medioevo Romanzo 14: 39–50.

Martínez Malo, Jesús. 2005. “Cornatz lo còrn.” Litoral: école lacanienne de psychanalyse, L’amour Lacan II. 36: 49-98.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Taylor, Robert A. 2015. A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Troubadours and Old Occitan Literature. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Toynbee, Paget Jackson. 1898. A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. and trans. 1981. The Poetry of Arnaut Daniel. New York: Garland Publ.

medieval wife’s sexual entitlement banged against her husband’s love

Guilhelm (William) IX of Aquitaine

In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition, many believe that trobairitz and troubadours were medieval folk singers who sang only ennobling love songs. That’s fake history, the medievalism of fantasy, an ideological fabrication in support of today’s men-oppressing cult of courtly love. Trobairitz and troubadours were elite women and men. Their songs included earthy appreciation for sexuality and lower bodily functions as well as sophisticated, critical considerations of dominant structures of gynocentric gender oppression. A unjustly marginalized song of trobairitz and troubadour, wife and husband, deserves more attention than numerous conventional songs of men-abasing courtly love.

In this greatly under-appreciated song, a troubadour singing to a trobairitz described in the third person a difficult marital situation. He recounted:

I have heard a lady who complained
about her husband, and I can tell you her grievance:
he never put it in more than half-way when she gave herself to him,
and for this she wanted her right to be upheld,
so that the lacking and the harm to her
he would come to rectify at once,
no more doing her wrong
with what he holds out.

{ Una dona ai auzit que s’es clamada
de son marit. e sai·us dir de que·s rancura:
qu’anc non lo·y mes mas de mieg, pus li fon dada;
e d’aquo volia que·l fezes drechura,
que la falhida e·l dan
li esmende d’er enan
e que no·l fes tort en re
d’aquo que li·n arete. }

The medieval Christian ideal of marriage was an equal conjugal partnership, not courtly love. Medieval Christian spouses had an obligation to fulfill each other’s requests for sex. That was called the marital debt. Yet women’s sexuality has long been valued more highly than men’s. Women are thus prone to acquire a sense of sexual entitlement. The wife described herself as “giving herself” to her husband, and she didn’t appreciate her husband giving himself to her. She wanted more than he gave. Like a woman claiming child support from a man that she has raped, the wife asserted her sexual right.

Not sexually ungenerous, the husband didn’t go in more than half-way out of love for his wife. The troubadour recounted:

And her husband responded to her as it pleased him,
and told her the reason he gave it to her in moderation:
he had a bigger one than any man of that place,
and he feared that she surely would die
if he didn’t hold back,
for he had one so large,
that he could kill her with it
if he had no compassion for her.

{ E son marit li respos si com l’agrada,
et dis razo per que lo·j mes de mezura:
major l’a que negus hom de l’encontrada;
e temeria que fos de mort segura
si non l’anava palpan,
c’a desmezura l’a gran:
ausir la poiria be
si no·l avia merce. }

Dying in love passion is a gender-neutral poetic figure. Lucius, transformed into a donkey in Apuleius’s second-century Metamorphoses, wrongly worried about hurting a woman with his penis. Many men similarly internalize representations of their love-making organ as a weapon of violence. Such poetic simple-mindedness harms both men and women.

In response to the troubadour’s account, the trobairitz identified the husband as her husband. She asserted her evaluation of the matter:

All that you have heard him say is the boasting
of my husband, who doesn’t, I believe, have one so large.
I believe not even half of what he says he has,
such have I felt a lack and an inadequacy.
And he says that he might kill me with it,
yet of that I have no fear;
indeed, the one he has for me is too small,
and about this he has lied to me.

{ Tot aiso que l’auzes dir es guabaria
a mo marit, qu’ieu non cug n’aja sobreira;
ni la mitat d’aco que di cre que sia,
que·l frachur’ay ieu sentid’ e la nessieira.
E ditz que aussiria m’en,
et ieu no·n ai espaven;
ans l’a a mos obs petit,
e d’aco eys a mentit. }

Men’s bodies and men’s performance are subject to the female gaze and female evaluation. Is it any wonder that men feel pressure to put meat on table?

In response to the trobairitz belittling her husband, the troubadour identified himself as her husband. He strongly criticized his wife for not appreciating his compassion for her:

Wife, what you seek is grand madness!
And I should warn you well from the start,
that I could destroy one who has no other illness,
and you would want to die in such a way?
If I hadn’t had such sense,
as to have consideration,
it would be choosing sorrow
for you, and there’s no gratitude for me.

{ Molher, vos aves dezir de gran folia!
E deuria vos ben castiar la premieira,
qu’ieu l’ausis, c’anc non ac autra malautia:
e vos volriatz morir d’aital maneira?
S’ieu non agues tan de sen
com ai avut chauzimen,
pessaza for’ essernit
de vos: e no m’es grazit. }

Most husbands love their wives and seek to do what is best for their wives. Wives should show more gratitude for their husbands, as Boncompagno taught wives in twelfth-century Bologna.

The trobairitz, a strong, independent woman, instructed her husband on what he should do in bed with her. She declared:

Husband, you should cease the harm you do
and reduce the evil done to me, discerning a better way.
If you can do it so that you hear me cry out and yell,
by ruling over me in my loins and killing it,
I will give you a fighting partner
who triumphs, but doesn’t strike,
who is pleased when he is struck
and doesn’t become less daring.

{ Marit, de trastot lo dan vos fas fi faire
e del mal que·m podetz far, al mieu albire:
si me·n podetz far sentir qu’en crit ni·n braire
per iustiziar mi en ren e per ausire.
E darai vos batallier
que·us vensera, mas no fier;
e platz li cant es feritz,
e ies non es mens arditz. }

Throughout history, some women have enjoyed rough sex. Men naturally fear hurting a beloved woman. Men also rightly fear being wrongly prosecuted for sexual assault. But ultimately women rule over men. The husband declared:

Wife, since as a liar
you regard me, I’ll put it all in:
because you’re not grateful for restraint,
you will then give up your spirit!

{ Molher, pos per messongier
m’avetz, metrai lo·us entier:
pus lo fleis no m’es grazitz,
e issir n’a l’esperitz! }

Jesus’s passion ended with him giving up his spirit. For faithful Christians, that salvific act of love offers hope for abundant life and complete joy. The wife recognized that passion ultimately lives not in words but in action. She knowingly chided her husband:

Husband, I ask for us to abstain
from what is worth only a penny;
much boasting we have heard,
nothing more than empty words!

{ Maritz, ja part nous enquier
del valeissen d’un denier;
que mans gabs avem auzitz
que non eran mas los critz! }

In other words, the wife proposed that they engage in marital sex, rather than just talk about it. Men’s sexuality is enormously important to women. This song poignantly moved from a third-personal story to a first-personal negotiation of intimacy between spouses within a Christian understanding of passion.

troubadour-knight with big weapon

Vitally important medieval literature has been marginalized through men’s lack of meninist self-consciousness and the overwhelming force of gynocentric interests. Troubadours have been socially constructed as idealized instructors in courtly love. They in our day thus serve to instruct men in oppressive, fruitless self-abasement in loving women. Trobairitz have been falsely interpreted as proto-anti-meninists who further demonstrate the truth of dominant myths. Love separated from truth cannot stand the test of enlightenment. Study medieval literature and truly swerve now!

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The above quotes are from the medieval trobairitz / troubadour song (tenso) “Una dona ai auzit que s’es clamada {I have heard a lady who complained}.” The quotes cover the whole song. This song also exists in a somewhat different version “D’una domn’ai auzit dir que s’es clamada {I have heard of a lady who complained}.” In Chansonnier C (MS BnF 856), this song is wrongly attributed to Guillem de Sant Didier (Guillem de Sant-Leidier). Scholars now regard it to have been composed at least in part by the early fourteenth-century troubadour Peire Duran. Sakari (1992), Sansone (2000), Sansone (2001).

An anonymous trobairitz apparently co-composed this song. Some scholars wrongly deny a trobairitz authority to co-write such a song. However, medieval women, like medieval men, composed a wide range of works. Some scholars also regard this tenso as “fictive.” See, e.g. Taylor (2015) p. 483. This tenso likely draws upon a classical literary tradition represented by Lucius as a donkey having a sexual affair with an elite woman in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses. However, the tenso may be real in the sense that a trobairitz and troubadour, who were wife and husband, together composed and sung this song about a matter of personal concern to them in early fourteenth-century Occitania.

Troubadours lacked the privileged position of trobairitz. Like many wives pursuing careers today, trobairitz were more likely to compose and sing for their own aspirations and personal fulfillment, not because they were forced to earn money as sexually devalued persons.

The Occitan text above is that of Sansone (2000), which provides a scholarly critical edition of the song. The English translation is mine, benefiting from the Italian translation of id. and the English translation of a slightly different version in Nappholz (1994) pp. 92-95.

On giving up one’s spirit as Christian death, see Jesus’s death as described in Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:46, and John 19:30. In the Vulgate, Luke 23:46 states:

Father, into your hands a commend my spirit. Having said this, he breathed his last.

{ Pater in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum et haec dicens exspiravit. }

[images] (1) Troubadour-knight Guilhem IX of Aquitaine with thin spear. Illuminated initial on folio 142v of Recueil des poésies des troubadours, contenant leurs vies (Chansonnier I), made in second half of the 13th century. MS preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). Département des manuscrits. Français 854. (2) Troubadour-knight carrying large weapon. Illuminated initial on folio 89v in BnF Français 854.


Nappholz, Carol Jane, trans. 1994. Unsung Women: the anonymous female voice in troubadour poetry. New York: Lang.

Sakari, Aimo. 1992. “L’attribution de D’una domn’ai auzit dir que s’es clamada (234,8).” Actes de Montpellier 1990, l’Association Internationale d’Études Occitanes (AIÉO). III: 1145-1152.

Sansone, Giuseppe. 2000. “Per il testo della tenzone fittizia attribuita a Peire Duran.” Romania. 118 (469): 219-235.

Sansone, Giuseppe. 2001. “Una difficile paternità: la tenzone di Peire Duran.” Pp. S. 478-486 in Kremnitz, Georg, ed. Le Rayonnement de la Civilisation Occitane à l’Aube d’un Nouveau Millénaire: 12-19 Septembre 1999. Wien: Ed. Praesens Wissenschaftsverl.

Taylor, Robert A. 2015. A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Troubadours and Old Occitan Literature. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Christian comedy: epic jesting with the Lord in the Waltharius

raising Lazarus

With the heavily armed Frankish men rapidly approaching, Walter of Aquitaine went to the entrance of the cave where his beloved-betrothed Hildegund had retreated. There he said:

Now before the entryway I speak a haughty boast:
none of the Franks returning from here will be able to say
to his wife that he has with impunity taken any of our great treasure.

{ Hac coram porta verbum modo iacto superbum:
Hinc nullus rediens uxori dicere Francus
Praesumet se impune gazae quid tollere tantae. } [1]

Epic heroes generically boast to their fellow warriors. Walter boasted to his betrothed, and his boast addressed the household matter of what other men would say to their wives. Is epic struggle ultimately about husbands seeking to win their wives’ admiration?

Not yet having finished his speech, suddenly to the earth
he fell and begged forgiveness for such he had said.

{ Necdum sermonem complevit, humotenus ecce
Corruit et veniam petiit, quia talia dixit. }

Walter didn’t beg forgiveness for travestying epic conventions. He apparently begged forgiveness for his pride, the most serious sin in Christian thought of the time.[2] He went on to acknowledge that he would escape alive the forthcoming battle only “god willing {volens deo}.”

The epic’s ending isn’t obviously pious. Walter fought against his close friend Hagen and the Frankish king Gunther. Walter escaped that battle alive, but not unwounded:

After it was finished, each of them was marked:
there lay King Gunther’s foot, there Walter’s palm,
and here the still-quivering eye of Hagen.
In just such a way they divided the Avarish bracelets.
Two of them sat together (the third was still lying on the ground)
and they wiped the torrential river of blood off the flowers.
In the meantime, Alpharides called back the fearful girl
with a shout. She came and bandaged each wound.

{ Postquam finis adest, insignia quemque notabant:
Illic Guntharii regis pes, palma iacebat
Waltharii nec non tremulus Haganonis ocellus.
Sic sic armillas partiti sunt Avarenses!
Consedere duo, nam tertius ille iacebat,
Sanguinis undantem tergentes floribus amnem.
Haec inter timidam revocat clamore puellam
Alpharides, veniens quae saucia quaeque ligavit. }

The “Avarish bracelets” are treasure that Walter and Hildegund stole from the poem’s Pannonian Avar king Attila the Hun. The word “Avarish {Avarenses}” probably was meant to pun with “avarice {avaritia}.”[3] The wounds to the three men invoke self-punishment to prevent further sinning, as described in Mark 9:42-8. Mark there connects the ancient understanding of righting interpersonal wrongs to Christian self-consciousness in seeking forgiveness. The name Alpharides is an epic patronymic for Walter, son of King Alphere of Aquitaine. Despite his cut-off eye twitching on the ground, Hagen managed to help Walter wipe their blood from flowers. Resonating with that incongruity is the fearful girl. She is Hildegund, the strong, independent woman who administered the finances of Attila the Hun’s kingdom. She acted with Christian compassion for all, like Jesus the Good Physician. In addition to bandaging the men’s wounds, she offered them wine.[4] Then Walter and Hagen “playfully jest with each other while drinking {inter pocula scurrili certamine ludunt}.” That’s the epically bizarre ending to the fighting in the Waltharius.

The Waltharius closes off epic narration in a distinctly Christian way. Walter returned to his home kingdom. There Hildegund and he were married. After his father died, Walter reigned as king for thirty years:

What kind of battles and what great triumphs he often
received… behold, my blunted pen refuses to write any more.

This is the poetry of Walter. May Jesus save you!

{ Qualia bella dehinc vel quantos saepe triumphos
Ceperit, ecce stilus renuit signare retunsus.

Haec est Waltharii poesis. vos salvet Iesus. }

In Christian understanding, God became the fully human Jesus, born in a small provincial town to a carpenter and an undistinguished young woman. Jesus engaged in ordinary life, ate with everyone, and playfully mocked his disciples. Jesus healed the sick in earthy ways and raised the dead Lazarus to life through drama that non-Christian Greco-Roman elites would regard as ridiculous. God, like the pen of the Waltharius’s author, refused with Jesus to write the proper matter of epic.

The prologue to the Waltharius subtly sets out its Christian program. The difficulty in interpreting it comes from not fully appreciating Christianity historically. One medieval scholar explained:

The ludus poeticus (poetic play) requires leisure, it represents a jest or witty game by contrast with serious literature; it can be used almost synonymously with nugae ‘trifles’ and be equated with iocus ‘jest’; and on rare occasions it can designate poetry at large as opposed to serious, political work.[5]

Are the Christian gospels poetry, or serious, political work? An eminent medievalist, ignoring the problem and idealizing a distinction between jest and earnest, categorized the Waltharius unequivocally in medieval thought:

The epic of Waltharius, then, was considered lusus, like all poetry without a Christian-ethical trend.[6]

Such high-level interpretation has driven philological reading of the prologue:

One gets the sense that the poet is not entirely serious when using the commonplaces of epic narratives dealing with war; whether this sort of parodying is intended as critique, however, and what value we are to give such a critique, is far from clear. … the preface states unequivocally that the poem is not intended for edification, but for amusement [7]

Here’s what the last seven verses of the prologue say in a reasonable translation:

Servant of the highest God, do not look down on the words of this little book.
It does not sing of God’s nourishing, but resounds with amazing deeds of
the young man Walter, maimed through much fighting.
It requires one to jest with the Lord rather than to petition the Lord.
When read through, it shortens the undistinguished hours of the long-aged day.
May you, holy priest, be happy through further years,
may Gerald your dear brother be in your mind.

{ Serve dei summi, ne despice verba libelli,
Non canit alma dei, resonat sed mira tyronis,
Nomine Waltharius, per proelia multa resectus.
Ludendum magis est dominum quam sit rogitandum,
Perlectus longaevi stringit inampla diei.
Sis felix sanctus per tempora plura sacerdos,
Sit tibi mente tua Geraldus carus adelphus. } [8]

The final two lines invoke brotherly affection and simple happiness. That provides meaningful context for the key, central verse: ludendum magis est dominum quam sit rogitandum. That verse has been uniformly translated with the sense, “It requires one to play rather than pray to the Lord.” However, the words ludendum {play / jest} and rogitandum {pray / petition} bracket the line with dominum {Lord} in the middle. Grammatically, dominum could go with either participle, or both. Inter-personal jesting better reflects the Waltharius’s Christian sense than does the more ordinary Christian practice of petitioning God for help or nourishment. Not merely mocking classical epic, the Waltharius brings to classical epic an extraordinary Christian sense of human comedy.[9]

Jesus talking with Samaritan woman at well

The Christian gospels aren’t an epic story of a hero-savior. They are more like the Life of Aesop. They overturn the dominant order and offer salvation in ordinary life. That salvation comes through God who becomes the friend and companion of humans, humans who repeatedly act wrongly.[10] The Waltharius engages in the literary way of the Christian gospels.

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[1] Waltharius, ll. 561-3, Latin text and English trans. (modified slightly) from Ring (2016). My modifications to Ring’s translation benefited from also studying the translation of Kratz (1984). The subsequent three quotes are similarly from Waltharius ll. 564-5 (Not yet having finished…); 1401-8 (After it was finished…); 570 (God willing); 1424 (playful jest); 1451-2, 1456 (What kind of battles…). Line 1456 is the last verse of the poem.

[2] Stone (2013) p. 59. Walter indicates his Christian piety when, in receiving wine from Hildegund, he makes the sign of the Cross. Waltharius l. 225. Superbia is the Latin word corresponding to “pride.” Walter isn’t generally characterized with superbia, while King Gunther is. Id. p. 61. But Walter displays much pride in l. 805-17. Ghosh (2015) p. 165, Ring (2016) p. 180, n. 178-9.

[3] Waltharius, ll. 4-5, 11, associate the Pannonians with the Huns and state that King Attila ruled over them. The historical Pannonians, Huns, and Avars were three different populations. Ring (2016) p. 166, n. 22. The interpretation of Avarish {Avarenses} and the subsequent textual points in the above paragraph come mainly from the excellent textual notes in id.

[4] Women couldn’t be Christian priests in medieval Europe. Yet Hildegund quasi-sacramentally offers wine twice. On the first occasion, Walter made the sign of the Cross when receiving wine from her. Waltharius l. 225.

[5] Green (2002) p. 32. Green observed:

Hrotswitha meant her poetic legends to be regarded as fictional, she nonetheless dedicates them with a wish that they be read to pass away the time when the reader is worn out by labour.

Id. p. 33. In the tenth century in Lower Saxony (Germany), Hrotswitha wrote in her Dedicatio 7:

and, when worn out by various labour,
deign to read these verses for entertainment.

{ et, cum sis certe vario lassata labore,
ludens dignare hos modulos legere. }

Latin text and English trans. from id. p. 211, n. 103.

In addition to valuing entertainment, medieval thinkers recognized fundamental significance for laughter. About the end of the tenth century and writing at the Abbey of St. Gall, where some regard the author of Waltharius to have resided, Notker III (Notker Labeo) asserted: “the human is a animal that is rational, mortal, and capable of laughter {homo est animal rationale, mortale, risus capax}.” De Definitione, Latin text as cited in Adolf (1947) p. 251. That definition adopts a definition of “man” that Boethius cited to Lady Philosophy. Adolf insightfully observed:

laughter might have been considered the natural consequence of combining two qualities as contradictory as mortality and reason. Indeed modern theories on laughter have reached exactly this conclusion. … it all boils down to the opposition between ‘mortale’ and ‘rationale’ — strange bedfellows indeed, only to be reconciled by laughter.

Id. p. 253. Jesus embraced and transformed human’s mortality and ridiculousness. Thus, not surprisingly, Notker’s definition of the human was widely taught in medieval Christian Europe:

The standard school-example of a definition was homo est animal rationale, mortale, risus capax: “Man is an animal, rational, mortal and capable of laughing.” A ninth century grammar written in France offers the alternative porcus est animal mortale, irrationale, cibum capiens, quadrupedale, grunnibile: “A pig is an animal, mortal, irrational, food-taking, four-footed and capable of grunting.”

McKeown (2010), Ch. 8 supplement (modified insubstantially for readability).

[6] Curtius (1953) p. 430. This statement comes in the section “Comic Elements in the Epic” within a lengthy, rambling excursus entitled “Jest and Earnest in Medieval Literature.” Medieval Europe differed from classical antiquity:

From what has so far been set forth, it follows that the polarity “jest and earnest” is, from the late antique period onward, a conceptual and formal schema which appears not only in rhetorical theory, in poetry, and in poetics, but also in the circle of the ideal of life established by the panegyric style (in this respect it is comparable to the topos puer senex). … We may, then, view the phenomenon as a fresh substantiation of the view that the Middle Ages loved all kinds of crossings and mixtures of stylistic genres. And in fact we find in the Middle Ages ludicra within domains and genres which, to our modern taste, schooled by classicistic aesthetics, absolutely exclude any such mixtures.

Id. p. 424. It’s not just that “the Middle Ages loved all kinds of crossings and mixtures of stylistic genres” like a person might love strawberry ice cream. The Christianity of the gospels authorized “all kinds of crossings and mixtures of stylistic genres.” The European Middle Ages were deeply Christian.

[7] Ghosh (2015) p. 181. In his Ph.D. Thesis, Ghosh stated that “in Waltharius Christian morality appears to have little of a role to play”; the Waltharius’s narrator “did not attempt to reflect deeply on any moral problems that might have been posed by his narrative.” Ghosh (2009) pp. iii (abstract), 167. For the latter quote, also Ghosh (2015) p. 182.

Ziolkowski presented a more nuanced view:

His reference {that of the author of the Waltharius, perhaps Gerald} to play points at once to the reader, who by perusing the Waltharius is opting not to perform the sacred task of praying, and to the contents of the poem, which despite the gore spilt in the battles have a playful side that precludes categorizing the Waltharius as either undiluted heroism or undiluted tragedy. The poem, like most of life, is far more artful and complicated than that.

Ziolkowski (2001) p. 51. Ordinary life usually isn’t undiluted heroism or undiluted tragedy, but it’s also not typically thought of as poetic. Through the incarnation of God as the man Jesus, ordinary life became poetic in a Christian perspective.

Responding to Ziolkowski, Ghosh shifted slightly toward a now-fashionable academic position of ambiguity and ambivalence. Ghosh stated:

But a refusal to portray just heroism or tragedy is coupled equally with a refusal to portray just a secular or religious moral, and perhaps the playful element of the poem can be read as a sophisticated rejection of such binaries in favour of (a rather modern-seeming) lack of commitment to any particular position.

Ghosh (2015) p. 183, n. 146. The author of the Waltharius more likely was committed to particular Christian perspective well-appreciated in the European Middle Ages, but little recognized today.

[8] Waltharius, prologue ll. 16-22. My translation above differs significantly in the Waltharius’s statement of how it should be read (prologue l. 19). Other translations emphasize mere entertainment. “It requires one to play rather than pray to the Lord” in Ring (2016). “It is for playing more than praying to the Lord” in Kratz (1984). “The aim is to delight, rather than to instruct in religious terms” in Murdoch (1996) p. 93. “If and when it is important to play rather than to pray to the lord” in Ziolkowski (2001) p. 51. “It is more for entertainment than for beseeching God” in Ghosh (2015) p. 181, n. 142. These translations aren’t incorrect. But “It requires one to jest with the Lord rather than to petition the Lord” seems to me a better translation in context. I’m grateful for an expert Latin philologist pointing out to me that ludere with the accusative generally means “mock,” but that lighter meanings are possible.

[9] On the Waltharius mocking classical epic and Germanic folk legend, Kratz (1980). The Waltharius is a Christian epic that builds upon early Jewish Christians speaking in tongues with the coming of the Holy Spirit:

And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mockingly said, “They are filled with new wine.”

{ ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηπόρουν ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι ἕτεροι δὲ διαχλευάζοντες ἔλεγον ὅτι γλεύκους μεμεστωμένοι εἰσίν }

Acts 2:12-13. According to Stone, the Waltharius “glorifies lay noblemen as Christian warriors.” Stone (2013) p. 70. Cf. Ghosh (2015) pp. 165-70. The Christian warrior Walter isn’t  an ideal; he is a human, comic figure.

[10] The gospels repeatedly depict the disciples falling asleep when they should be awake, seeking high positions as Jesus’s disciples instead of being humble, seeking to fight violently when they should accept God’s plan, and being weak of heart and willing to betray their friend and master Jesus. See, e.g. Luke 22:39-46, 54-62, John 18:10-11, Mark 14:45-50, John 6:66-7.

[images] (1) The Raising of Lazarus. Made by Duccio di Buoninsegna about 1310-11 to be part of the altarpiece for the high altar of Siena Cathedral in Italy. Preserved as accession number APx 1975.01 in the Kimbell Art Museum (Forth Worth, Texas). (2) Jesus conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well. Made by Jacob van Oost the Younger in 1668 in Bruges. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Adolf, Helen. 1947. “On Mediaeval Laughter.” Speculum. 22 (2): 251-253.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. 1953. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Translated from the Germany by Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books.

Ghosh, Shami. 2009. The Barbarian Past in Early Medieval Historical Narrative. Ph. D. Thesis. University of Toronto.

Ghosh, Shami. 2015. Writing the Barbarian Past: studies in early Medieval historical narrative. Brill’s series on the Early Middle Ages, v. 24. Leiden: Brill (based on Ghosh (2009)).

Green, Dennis Howard. 2002. The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: fact and fiction, 1150-1220. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kratz, Dennis M. 1980. Mocking Epic: Waltharius, Alexandreis, and the problem of Christian heroism. Madrid, España: J.P. Turanzas.

Kratz, Dennis M., ed. and trans. 1984. Waltharius and Ruodlieb. New York: Garland Pub.

McKeown, J. C. 2010. Classical Latin: an introductory course. Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett.

Murdoch, Brian. 1996. The German Hero: politics and pragmatism in early medieval poetry. London: The Hambledon Press.

Ring, Abram, ed. and trans. 2016. Waltharius. Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations 22. Leuven: Peeters. (A. M. Juster’s review)

Stone, Rachel. 2013. “Waltharius and Carolingian Morality: Satire and Lay Values.” Early Medieval Europe. 21 (1): 50-70.

Ziolkowski, Jan. 2001. “Fighting Words: Wordplay and Swordplay in the Waltharius.” Pp. 29-51 in Olsen, Karin E., Antonina Harbus, and Tette Hofstra, eds. 2001. Germanic Texts and Latin Models: Medieval Reconstructions; papers presented at an international conference held July 1-3, 1998, at the University of Groningen. Leuven: Peeters.

what men want most: honest, frank discussion in medieval France

man desiring woman

In our age of demonizing men’s sexuality, men perceiving an attractive woman to be attractive is nearly unthinkable. The male gaze has been disparaged and punished to the point of death. Men inducing women to love (“seducing them”) has also been thoroughly criminalized. Men’s perceptions and feelings, however, have not always been so harshly repressed. In the relatively liberal and tolerant circumstances of medieval Europe, men even discussed what they want most physically from a woman.

The man trobairitz Sifre shared a woman’s love with another man, probably her husband. He asked his professional colleague Mir Bernart which half of the woman he should seek. Mir Bernart compassionately responded:

Sifre, I think you’re fortunate
to have asked me for advice,
and I’ll give you the best of that,
because I’ve thought deeply of desired service.
I’ll tell you the truth without shading:
if in sharing you take my word, to be blunt,
you assuredly should prefer the part with the cunt.

{ Sifre, be·us tenc per arribat
car cosselh m’aves demandat,
et ieu donar lo·us ay onrat
car fort en cossir de prion:
so sapchatz ben en veritat,
que, si·m creziatz d’est mercat,
per ver penriatz daus la con.} [1]

Sifre chided Mir Bernart for speaking so knowingly and plainly. Sifre declared that he prefers the upper part, where a woman cuts her hair, but doesn’t remove all of it. Mir Bernart responded with a commitment to truth and the dignity of humanism:

Sifre, you’re refusing the best, the ultimate
and thus what every man loves most.
According to nature and custom
of good lovers through the world,
the lower part is worth more than the face.
And let no troubadour make excuses for me,
for none answers more nobly than I do.

{ Sifren, lo mielhs laissatz e·l pus
e so que mays ama cascus
segon la natura e·l us
que fan’autre bon drut pel mon
val may so d’aval no fa·l mus.
E ja trobaires no·m n’escus,
c’om genser de mi no’y respon. }

Even in the relatively liberal and tolerant circumstances of medieval Europe, men attacked other men for speaking frankly about women. So Sifre tore into Mir Bernart:

Mir Bernart, I am all but enraged
that you give an uncouth answer
and set a much higher value on that bringing
ruination to lovers and husbands alike:
a gentle advance is worth more,
embracing and caressing and kissing
mouth and eyes and face and forehead.

{ Mir Bernat, per pauc no·m n’irays
car mi respondes motz savays
e sela part prezatz trop mays
que los drutz e·ls maritz cofon,
que may ne val us gens assays
c’om embratz e manei e bays
boca et huelh e car’e froll. } [2]

While an unplanned pregnancy can bring ruination to men, that’s only because men are deprived of any reproductive rights whatsoever. Some men facing a disastrous unplanned pregnancy resort to abortion coercion. But that sad reality doesn’t usually change men’s preferences. Mir Bernart stood his ground and boldly insisted on truth-telling:

Sifre, do not imagine I shall shift my ground,
abandoning the best for the worst,
for every day I embrace and kiss
brother, cousin or second-cousin.
But I maintain that I am right in thinking
that all love-making arises
from the end where love is most hidden.

{ Sifren, no’us cuges qu’ie·m biais
ni·l mielhs per lo sordeior lais,
que tot dia abras e bays
fraire e cozi e segall.
Mas d’ayso die que soy verays,
que tota drudaria nays
d’aquel cap don pus se rescon. }

The discussion between Sifre and Mir Bernart then degenerated into trading insults. Having a serious, truthful discussion about men’s interests and concerns has never been easy.

troubadour sending song

In the thirteenth century, sophisticated trobairitz songs expressing men’s subordinate position in sexual feudalism and vigorously critiquing that structure of gender oppression were coming to an end. Crude wailing and sensational spectacles more easily attract attention. They also tend to support lies. Truth-telling is an art and a craft that must be cultivated. Late in the thirteenth century, a man trobairitz lamented:

For now no art is less admired
than the worthy craft of song.
These days the nobles’ tastes run
to entertainments less inspired.
Wailing mingles with disgrace:
all that once engendered praise
from the memory has died.
Now the world is mostly lies.

{ Qu’er non es grazitz lunhs mestiers
menhs en cort, que de belh saber
de trobar; qu’auzir e vezer
hi vol hom mais captenhs leugiers
e critz mesclatz ab dezonor;
Quar tot quan sol donar lauzor,
es al pus del tot oblidat,
que·l mons es quays totz en barat. } [3]

These words resonate among the prevalent lies of today.

Dare to think about what is true. Young, attractive, warmly receptive women have enormous power over men. That’s not just a matter of a pretty face. Men admire women’s breasts and women’s buttocks. But the ultimate foundation of men’s gyno-idolatry is almost surely women’s vaginas. With good evolutionary reason, that’s the part of a woman that most men want most.

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[1] Sifre and Mir Bernart “Mir Bernat, mas vos ay trobat {Mir Bernart, since I have found you} st. 2, Occitan text and English translation (modified) from Harvey, Paterson & Radaelli (2010) pp. 1168-9. Subsequent quotes from the same song are similarly sourced. This song probably was composed in Carcassonne (in Occitania, in southern France) in the later decades of the twelfth century. Id. p. 1170. Here’s an online Occitan text of the whole song.

[2] In a cobla (one-stanza song), the man trobairitz Raimon Rigaut supported Sifre’s position:

Never for love of her cunt
did I request my lady’s love,
but rather for her clear face
and smiling mouth;
I could easily enter the cunts
of many, if only I asked for them,
but I prefer frequent kissing
to the cunt that kills desire.

{ Anc per amor del con
A midons non quis s’amor,
Mas per sa fresca color
E per sa boca rien,
Qu’ieu pron cons trobaria
Ab mantas, s’ieu lo lur queria,
Per qu’ieu am mais baisar soven
Que’l con, qu’amorta lo talen. }

Occitan text and English translation (modified) from Lazar (1989) p. 263. Here’s a nearly identical Occitan text online. While a man generally experiences detumescence after ejaculating in a woman’s vagina, most men are quite eager to have that experience. Raimon Rigaut composed in the middle of the thirteenth century. For other trobairitz / troubadour songs frankly discussing sexuality, Bec (1984).

[3] Guiraut Riquier, “Be·m degra de chantar tener {It would be best if I refrained},” st. 3, Occitan text and English translation (Kehew) from Kehew (2005) pp. 308-9.  Born in Narbonne about 1230, Guiraut Riquier composed his songs from 1254 to 1292 in the courts of the Viscount of Narbonne, Alfonso X of Castile and León, and Henri II of Rodez. He is the last troubadour known, and this, his last song, was composed in 1292. Id. pp. 306-07. Here’s an online Occitan text of the whole song.

[images] (1) Man and woman in illuminated initials. From folio 2v and 2r in a chansonnier (Chansonnier Gil) made in the 14th century. Preserved as MS Barcelona Biblioteca de Catalunya 146. (2) Man trobairitz sending forth a letter. Illumination on folio 4r of the chansonnier of Matfré Ermengau, Breviari d’amor et Lettre à sa soeur {Breviary of love and Letter to his beloved woman}, made in the 14th century. Preserved as MS Bibliothèque nationale de France. Français 857.


Bec, Pierre. 1984. Burlesque et Obscénité chez les Troubadours: pour une approche du contre-texte médiéval. Paris: Stock.

Harvey, Ruth, Linda M. Paterson, and Anna Radaelli. 2010. The Troubadour Tensos and Partimens: a critical edition. Cambridge: Brewer.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the Verses of the Troubadours: a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Lazar, Moshe. 1989. “Carmina Erotica, Carmina Iocosa: The Body and the Bawdy in Medieval Love Songs.” Pp. 249-276 in Lazar, Moshe, and Norris J. Lacy, eds. Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages: texts and contexts. Fairfax, Va: George Mason University Press.

the now-inconceivable joy of sex in medieval times

medieval lovers

Sex in the age of mechanical reproduction commonly consists of robotic, minutely regulated affairs among persons earnestly trying to convince themselves that they’re alive. How many lovelorn persons desperately stroking their smartphones today even know what it means to have a roll in the hay? Why do they read a massively reproduced instruction book on the joy of sex? Fully alive, flesh-and-blood human beings acted differently in medieval times. Rather than faithfully believing in rape culture, medieval persons regarded sex as natural and pleasing.

Let the young man and virgin woman, both beautiful,
press against each other on the couch in the dark
and hug each other in turn repeatedly,
giving themselves many sweet embraces.

While holding her let the young man
kiss her with cheek close,
caressing her chest and nipples
and her fittingly satisfying little thing.

Thighs to thighs joined,
entering upon the fruit of Love,
let all clamor cease,
and so love be fulfilled.

{ Iuvenis et virgo pulcra
in obscuro premant fulcra,
et vicissim perconexus
dulces sibi dent amplexus.

Hosculetur hos, maxillam,
iuvenis dum tenet illam;
tangat pectus et papillam
satis aptam et puxillam.

Femur femori iungatur,
fructus Veneris summatur:
tunc omnino cesset clamor:
adimplebitur sic amor. } [1]

Late in the twelfth century, a monk at the Catalonian monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll apparently copied the above poem about two young lovers. These two young lovers didn’t sign a series of formal affirmative consent forms at each step in their amorous relationship. They behaved the way most young women and men yearn to do:

Tenderly I held her legs, without her resisting,
and with her consent caressed her above her thighs.
She didn’t then forbid me to caress her snowy-white breasts,
which to caress was for me extremely sweet.
We went to bed, both our bodies were entwined;
the rest, which she permitted me to take, wasn’t done reluctantly.

{ Cuius crus tenerum tenui, quod non negat ipsa,
Insuper ex coxas, sponte sua tetigi;
Nec vetuit niveas post me tractare papillas,
Quas tractare mihi dulce nimis fuerat.
Venimus ad lectum, connectimur insimul ambo;
Cetera, que licuit sumere, non piguit. } [2]

Like most men throughout history, this young man didn’t want to rape the young woman that he loved. The young man’s concern for the young woman’s consent contrasts with how she burst into his bedroom without asking permission:

Although I intended to open the closed, latched doors by hand,
a Venus herself burst through while I was separating them.
A beautiful young woman approached via that means
to give me loving kisses in a thousand ways.
Flora was her name, and florid were her deeds.
She bore honey in her throat and spoke honeyed words.

{ Cunque manu clausas valvas aperire volebam,
fregit poste seram protinus ipsa Venus.
Venerat illius conductu pulcra puella,
hoscula mille modis que mihi cara daret.
Flora sibi nomen, quia florida sunt sua facta,
gutture mella gerens, mellea verba dedit. } [3]

That young man didn’t file a sexual assault charge against the young woman. With generosity of spirit, he delighted in her enthusiastic consent to sex with him.

Medieval young women enthusiastically consented to sex with young men. That was especially so in the spring:

All young persons then
are burning in love;
he seeks her who desires him,
and thus he loves and is loved.

And the young woman aptly
seeks such who is young,
so that in an equal way she wants
only to love and to be loved.

{ Omnis ergo adolescens
in amore sit fervescens.
Querat cum quo delectetur
et, ut amet, sic ametur.

Et amicum virgo decens
talem querat qui sit recens
atque velit modo pari
tam amare quam amari. } [4]

The joy of sex is dissipating amid the opening chasm of sexual totalitarianism. In 2017, a journalist, a Beijing Bureau Chief, had a drunken hook-up with a journalist friend studying Chinese. Months later, piling on to an accusation about a sexual encounter five years earlier, she publicly denounced him. He became a target of online mobbing, his friends turned against him, and he was forced to resign as the president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China. Then his employer, the Los Angeles Times, fired him. All this took place without any thorough, reasoned, multi-sided inquiry into the facts. A subsequent analysis that apparently attempted to be fair nonetheless declared:

Given the millennia during which women have had to take male abuse and suffer under institutionalized denial of and indifference to it, it is perhaps understandable that there is a willingness to shrug off the prospect that some unfairly accused men will become roadkill on the way to a more equitable future. [5]

That’s the childish sentiment that two wrongs will make a right. That’s the amoral consequentialism put forward by Walter Duranty, Ezra Klein, and other news-media thought leaders. That’s profoundly ignorant and narrow-minded history distorted with grotesque anti-men gender bigotry.

Earnestly believed, cartoonish stories of oppressors and victims provide foundations for unfathomable cruelty. Why did Stalin’s bureaucratic interrogators regularly stick heated metal rods into men’s anuses? Why did they crush men’s testicles with the toes of their jackboots?[6] Because those Russian men were bourgeoisie, whatever that means, and those Russian men were thus enemies of the working class, an ideological abstraction. A Spanish school teacher recently taught her students that boys should be castrated at birth. Sexual totalitarianism today teaches that men have been oppressors, and women have been victims throughout history.

How in such circumstances can women and men today experience the joy of sex as medieval men and women did? The great ancient poet-philosopher Lucretius provides the answer: women and men must make a true and authentic swerve from dominant delusions. They must live in the day-to-day reality of ordinary life, not in abstract ideology. Women and men today must conceive the vitality of medieval life, especially the imaginative vitality of medieval Latin literature.

medieval couple in bed

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[1] Carmina Rivipullensia 17, titled “De aestate {About summer},” first line “Redit estas cunctis grata {Summer returns promising pleasure to all},” ll. 21-32, Latin text from Stock  (1971) p. 52, my English translation benefiting from those of id. p. 53 and Lazar (1989) p. 255. Here’s an online Latin text. Latin texts of the Ripoll love poems are also available in Raby (1959) pp. 332-40. All the poems of Carmina Rivipullensia are available in the first published edition, d’Olwer (1923), which is freely available online. The leading critical edition is Moralejo (1986), which unfortunately is difficult to acquire.

Carmina Rivipullensia survives in a single manuscript, MS Ripoll 74, now preserved in the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó (Barcelona). The twenty-two Latin poems of Carmina Rivipullensia exist in a distinctive scribal hand written on three pages of a tenth-century Liber glossarum held at the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia. Based on the script, the songs were apparently written in that book late in the twelfth century. Dronke (1979) argues that Carmina Rivipullensia in MS Ripoll 74 represents an author’s work-in-progress. Traill (2006) convincingly argues that the poems are a copy. Traill suggests that a cleric wrote the love poems in Metz in the Lorraine region of northeastern France, perhaps in 1150 or 1151. A monk at Ripoll then copied those poems into the Ripoll glossary late in the twelfth century when the source book was to be returned to the monastery of St. Victor of Marseille.

[2] Carmina Rivipullensia 4, titled “Quomode prius convenimus {How we first came together in love},” first line “Sol nimium fervens medium dum scandit Olimpi {At noon the hot sun, climbing Mt. Olympus, blazed down excessively},” ll. 17-22, Latin text from Stock (1971) pp. 54-6, my English translation benefiting from those of id. and Lazar (1989) p. 254. On nimium rather than ramium as the second word of the first line, Dronke (1979) p. 23. Dronke interprets this text as a dream encounter, but it seems realistic to me. Id.

The poem’s reference to “the rest {cetera}” associates the poem with Ovid, Amores 1.5.23-4. A twelfth-century Latin love poem commented in conclusion:

But who ignores the “et cetera”?
It surpasses every expectation.

{ Sed quis nescit cetera?
Predicatus uincitur. }

Walter of Châtillon, “Declinante frigore {The winter cold was waning}” (St-Omer 17), ll. 48-9, Latin text from Traill (2013) p. 36, English trans. from Lazar (1989) p. 253. Traill provides the full Latin text and English translation for the poem. An alternate translation of the last line: “The one proclaimed victor was overcome.” Traill (2013) p. 37. On that translation with respect to the proverbial expression “we often see the victor vanquished by the one he has defeated {victorem a victo superari saepe videmus},” id. p. lvi. Cf. Horace, Epistles 2.1.156.

An eminent medieval Latin scholar aptly declared:

the erotic was a normal aspect of the love experience in the Middle Ages. The suppression of the erotic in medieval poetry is a distinctively modern prejudice

Stock (1971) p. 13.

[3] “Sol nimium fervens medium dum scandit Olimpi {At noon the hot sun, climbing Mt. Olympus, blazed down excessively},” ll. 11-6, Latin text from Stock  (1971) p. 54, my English translation benefiting from that of id. p. 55. This song provides a gender-critical perspective on a common figure of ancient Greek and Roman love elegy: “lament outside the door {παρακλαυσίθυρον}” and the “shut-out lover {exclusus amator}.” This gender-critical depiction of a love affair has the added poignancy of being a dream. Although the loving narrator was “deeply wounded by betrayal {alto vulnere lesus}” and had “weary members {pernimium membra},” he still felt the flame of love, especially at noon with a hot sun (ll. 1-7). He generously concludes his song:

I so desire this happy young woman to live across all time,
adding only this: that she live especially for me.

{ Hanc igitur cupio felicem vivere semper,
hoc tamen addendo, vivat ut ipsa mihi. }

“Sol nimium fervens,” ll. 23-4, sourced as for previous quote.

[4] “Redit estas cunctis grata {Summer returns promising pleasure to all},” ll. 13-20, Latin text from Stock  (1971) p. 52, my English translation benefiting from those of id. p. 53 and Lazar (1989) p. 255. The concern here for gender equality in love is similar to that of the Arundel Lyrics. Medieval church doctrine asserted that marriage should be a conjugal partnership of equals, in contrast to the men-abasing ideology of courtly love. This understanding of love expresses the commandment to love like the love between God and humans. See John 13:34, 15:12.

[5] Yoffe (2019).

[6] Described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, quoted in Morson (2019). Sexual assault against men has been prevalent historically, yet its magnitude today is almost wholly ignored.

[images] (1) Medieval lovers. Illuminated initial (C) in manuscript copy of Aldobrandino of Siena’s Le Régime du corps. Made in third quarter of the thirteenth century (perhaps c. 1285) in northern France. On folio 9v of British Library MS. Sloane 2435. (2) Medieval couple in bed. Illumination in manuscript of Laurent de Premierfait’s 1414 French translation of Boccaccio’s Decameron; illumination made about 1419 by the Cité des Dames Master for John the Fearless of Burgandy. Folio 91r in Vatican Library MS.


d’Olwer, Lluís Nicolau. 1923. “L’escola poetica de Ripoll en els segles X-XIII.” Anuari del Institut d’Estudies Catalans. 6: 3-84.

Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Lazar, Moshe. 1989. “Carmina Erotica, Carmina Iocosa: The Body and the Bawdy in Medieval Love Songs.” Pp. 249-276 in Lazar, Moshe, and Norris J. Lacy, eds. Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages: texts and contexts. Fairfax, Va: George Mason University Press.

Moralejo, José-Luis. 1986. Carmina Rivipullensia: (Ms. 74, Rivipullensis) = Cancionero de Ripoll. Barcelona: Bosch.

Morson, Gary Saul. 2019. “How the great truth dawned: On the Soviet virtue of cruelty.” New Criterion. Sept. 2019 edition.

Raby, F. J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Stock, Brian, trans. 1971. Medieval Latin Lyrics: Translated and introduced by Brian Stock, original woodcuts by Fritz Kredel. Boston: David Godine, Publisher.

Traill, David A. 2006. “The Origin of the Ripoll Poems.” In Actas do IV Congresso Internacional de Latim Medieval Hispânico (Lisboa, 12-15 de Outubro de 2005). Centro de Estudos Clássicos das Universidades de Lisboa.

Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the Shorter Poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford Medieval Texts.

Yoffe, Emily. 2019. “METOO: I’m Radioactive.” Reason. Oct. 2019 issue.

sexual tension between Walter & Hildegund in tenth-century Europe

medieval love as chess game

Returning triumphantly from leading the Huns in savage battle, Walter of Aquitaine entered the chamber of King Attila the Hun. There he met Hildegund of Burgundy. She was the beautiful young woman to whom he had been betrothed from childhood. Attila the Hun had taken both Hildegund and Walter from their parents as hostages. Alone in the king’s chamber, they embraced and enjoyed sweet kisses.

Hildegund administered the kingdom on behalf of Attila’s wife Ospirin. But Walter was no boot-licking General Belisarius. With manly self-assertion he said to Hildegund after his exhausting martial work:

Swiftly bring me here drink! I am tired and out of breath.

{ Ocius huc potum ferto, quia fessus anhelo. } [1]

She, striving to please her man, brought him a precious goblet filled with undiluted wine. He held her hand, and she looked at him intently. He then offered her a drink from the goblet. He said:

We have both endured exile so long —
not being unaware of what by luck our parents
arranged between us for our future life.
How long will we remain silent about this?

{ Exilium pariter patimur iam tempore tanto,
Non ignorantes, quid nostri forte parentes
Inter se nostra de re fecere futura.
Quamne diu tacito premimus haec ipsa palato? }

He wants to talk about marriage? He wants to talk about marriage when they’re alone in the king’s bedroom and have embraced and kissed and started drinking? Most men are romantically simple. What sort of man was Walter?

Hildegund thought that Walter was satirizing her and the idea of getting married. She remained silent for awhile. Then she burst out in epic eloquence:

Why fake in speech what you reject deep in your breast,
and with your mouth urge what you spurn with all your heart,
as if it were a great shame to marry such a bride?

{ Quid lingua simulas, quod ab imo pectore damnas,
Oreque persuades, toto quod corde refutas,
Sit veluti talem pudor ingens ducere nuptam? } [2]

In a more colloquial translation, “So you’re gay, so you’re just not into me, is that it?” Walter, a wise young man with extraordinary masculine self-control, had important plans. He also was learned in the game of love. He confidently dismissed Hildegund’s words:

Away with what you say! Set straight your sense!
Since no one is here but us alone,
know that I spoke nothing from a deceiving mind,
don’t think anything nebulous or false was mixed in.
If I knew you would focus for me a ready mind,
and faithfully, carefully keep your vows through everything,
then I would offer you all the mysteries of my heart.

{ Absit quod memoras, dextrorsum porrige sensum!
Noris me nihilum simulata mente locutum,
Nec quicquam nebulae vel falsi interfore crede!
Nullus adest nobis exceptis namque duobus.
Si nossem temet mihi promptam impendere mentem
Atque fidem votis servare per omnia cautis,
Pandere cuncta tibi cordis mysteria vellem. }

Scarcely anyone today can even imagine a man speaking such words to a woman. That’s why there’s now an epidemic of sexless marriages. To overcome that imaginative and performative disability, recognize reality and natural laws of cause and effect:

At last the maiden, bowing at the man’s knees, proclaimed:
“To wherever you call me, my lord, I will eagerly follow,
nor would I prefer anything above your pleasing commands.”

{ Tandem virgo viri genibus curvata profatur:
“Ad quaecumque vocas, mi domne, sequar studiose
Nec quicquam placitis malim praeponere iussis.” } [3]

Walter himself couldn’t overturn gynocentrism. But he acted so as to secure Hildegund’s respect for him.

With a careful plan and faithful execution, Hildegund and Walter escaped from the court of Attila the Hun. Walter carried heavy armor and weapons so that, if necessary, he could fight to protect Hildegund and himself. After forty days of flight, he spotted a well-protected cave nestled in the lush Vosges valley of northeastern France. Declaring that he needed rest, he led Hildegund to that cave.

Needing rest is natural, even for men, yet in seeking rest men run the risk of appearing weak. Men have the burden of continually maintaining a strong masculine frame to retain women’s passion for them. Walter masterfully handled that burden:

Putting aside his heavy burdens of war, he then said,
collapsing into the maiden’s lap: “Keep a careful watch,
Hildegund, and if you see a dark dust-cloud rising,
awaken me with your charming touch of gentle reminding,
and even if you should see a huge troop advancing,
take care, my dear girl, not to disturb my sleep immediately,
for from here one can see clearly to a far distance.
Attentively scan all points around the region.

{ Bellica tum demum deponens pondera dixit
Virginis in gremium fusus: “circumspice caute,
Hiltgunt, et nebulam si tolli videris atram,
Attactu blando me surgere commonitato,
Et licet ingentem conspexeris ire catervam,
Ne excutias somno subito, mi cara, caveto,
Nam procul hinc acies potis es transmittere puras.
Instanter cunctam circa explora regionem.” } [4]

Walter putting his head into Hildegund’s lap shows fine masculine initiative. Even better was his wry assertion of masculine self-confidence: if a huge troop is advancing to attack us, don’t wake me too soon. I want to enjoy a little more sleep before I deal with that problem. Readers should understand that Hildegund scanned the region with a smile on her face and a tingle in her loins.

Soon Hildegund spotted a group of heavily armed men advancing on horseback. Because she hadn’t learned the lesson that Erec taught Enide, she woke Walter when the group of armed men was still far away. Walter casually wiped his eyes to enliven them from his deep sleep. Then with sleep-stiff limbs he put on his clothes and armed himself. He began to prepare for battle by whipping his sword through the air.

The armed men approached closely, their spears flashing. Stupefied with fear, Hildegund cried out:

“We have the Huns here,” she said,
and falling to the ground in great sorrow spoke out:
“I beg, my lord, that my neck be cut by your sword,
so that I, not obtaining union with you in the marriage bed,
shall not suffer carnal intercourse with any other.”

{ “Hunos hic,” inquit, “habemus,”
In terramque cadens effatur talia tristis:
“Obsecro, mi senior, gladio mea colla secentur,
Ut, quae non merui pacto thalamo sociari,
Nullius ulterius patiar consortia carnis.” }

A virgin woman yearning to experience her beloved man’s sword is completely understandable. While Jephthah allowed his daughter to bully him into killing her, Walter was a strong, independent man. He thus refused to do what a woman begged him to do:

In response the young man said: “Shall your innocent blood stain me?”
And, “How can my strong sword strike down my enemies,
if it does not now spare so faithful a friend?
Away with your request! Toss fear from your mind!
The one who has often led me out of various dangers
can here, I believe, rout this enemy of ours.

{ Tum iuvenis: “cruor innocuus me tinxerit?” inquit
Et: “quo forte modo gladius potis est inimicos
Sternere, tam fidae si nunc non parcit amicae?
Absit quod rogitas; mentis depone pavorem.
Qui me de variis eduxit saepe periclis,
Hic valet hic hostes, credo, confundere nostros.” }

While he rejected yes-dearism, Walter like far too many men didn’t sufficiently value his own life. Facing brutal fighting against a numerous foe, including the highly skilled warrior Hagen, Walter said to Hildegund:

If only, God willing, I can disrupt his strength,
then,” he said, “from this battle my life shall be saved for you, Hildegund, my spouse.”

{ “Quam si forte volente deo intercepero solam,
Tunc,” ait “ex pugna tibi, Hiltgunt sponsa, reservor.” }

Every man’s life deserves to be saved for its intrinsic value and dignity, irrespective of whether he has a loving spouse. Epic violence against men continues because not every man has the courage to reject it.

Walter at least rejected Hildegund’s entreaty to kill her with his sword. Men are made for loving, not killing. At the same time, men should not expect romance to be simple. A man must be strong and skilled enough to build and sustain sexual tension to enjoy a long and loving conjugal partnership.

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[1] Waltharius, l. 223, Latin text and English trans. (modified slightly) from Ring (2016). A monk apparently wrote the Waltharius some time between 840 and 965 in a Germanic area.

Subsequent quotes are from Waltharius ll. 231-4 (We have both endured…), 237-9 (Why fake in speech…), 241-7 (Away with what you say…), 248-50 (At last the maiden…), 503-10 (Putting aside his heavy burdens…), 543(2nd half)-547 (We have the Huns…), 548-53 (In response the young man said…), 570-1 (If only, God willing…). The Latin text is from Ring (2016). That’s the leading critical edition. It’s slightly superior textually to a freely available online Latin text (part 1, part 2, part 3), but also includes documentation of textual variants. The English translation is my responsibility. I have benefited greatly from the translations of Ring (2016) and Kratz (1984).

[2] Hildegund regarded Walter’s prior words as spoken “in irony {per hyroniam}.” On the medieval meaning of that term:

One fragmentary manuscript of the Waltharius glosses the Latin hyoniam with the Germanic word spot (whence the modern German Spott), meaning “mockery” or even “sarcasm”

Ring (2016) pp. 170-1, n. 62, citing the published fragment images of Green (2004). The manuscript is known as Manuscript I and dates to the mid-eleventh-century. The Germanic gloss is from the twelfth century. Ring (2016) p. 22.

[3] Hildegrund poignantly alludes to the words that Ruth the Moabite spoke to her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth 1:16.

[4] Nickel associates Walter putting his head in Hildegund’s lap with a folkloric tradition in which a warrior puts his head into a princess’s lap under a tree and asks her to examine his head for lice. In a still surviving oral version, when the man falls asleep and the princess looks up in the tree, she sees eleven hanged women in the branches. Nickel (1973) p. 141. This folktale motif is completely different in tone from the corresponding events in the Waltharius. Ring rightly calls the relationship between the stories “highly speculative.” Ring (2016) p. 176, n. 121.

[image] Woman and man engaged in chess game of love. The depicted minnesinger is Margrave Otto von Brandenburg (Otto IV, 1266–1308). Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 13r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. On love as a game of chess, see e.g. Bernart d’Auriac, “S’ieu agues len de saber e de sen,” and more generally, Blakeslee (1985).


Blakeslee, Merritt R. 1985. “Lo dous jocx sotils: la partie d’échecs amoureuse dans la poésie des troubadours.” Cahiers De Civilisation Médiévale. 28 (110): 213-222.

Green, Jonathan. 2004. “Waltharius fragments from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.” Zeitschrift Für Deutsches Altertum Und Deutsche Literatur. 133 (1): 61-74.

Nickel, Helmut. 1973. “About the Sword of the Huns and the ‘Urepos’ of the Steppes.” Metropolitan Museum Journal. 7: 131-142.

Kratz, Dennis M., ed. and trans. 1984. Waltharius and Ruodlieb. New York: Garland Pub.

Ring, Abram, ed. and trans. 2016. Waltharius. Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations 22. Leuven: Peeters. (A. M. Juster’s review)