change must come: learn from Lygdamus & Propertius vs. domina Cynthia

Men can understand the experience of Lygdamus and Propertius. They were under Cynthia’s thumb. A highly privileged domina {ruling lady} in first-century BGC Rome, Cynthia held Lygdamus as her household slave. He carried messages for her, served her drinks, and did anything else that she commanded. Propertius was nominally a free man, but he made himself Cynthia’s slave in love. Too many men today live in slavery to women. The time for change has come.

Propertius endured Cynthia’s numerous infidelities. Pretending to visit Lanuvium’s cave in which a fearsome snake tests a women’s virginity, Cynthia actually took work as beard and first for a pathic seeking an assignation. He was a young, well-shaven wealthy man with close-clipped ponies, a silk-lined carriage, and two exotic dogs sporting luxurious collars. Cynthia, plucking the man and his ponies for all they had, drove the carriage hard along the Appian Way to Lanuvium. The young man held a passive position in the carriage.[1] In a pervasive pattern that meninist critical theory has uncovered and encompassed, Propertius with Cynthia and this young man constructed a hard tableau of men’s soft subjugation to women’s subjectivity. Women often financially exploit men, even men who have no sexual interest in them.

Cynthia herself meanly controlled Propertius sexually. After enjoying a relationship with a more sexually receptive woman, Propertius sought to reconcile with the distraught Cynthia. Lygdamus brought her Propertius’s propitiatory message. She responded with hostility, hatred for a highly skilled woman, and prophecies against Propertius:

Were you put up to this, Lygdamus? A slave’s
false witness bears harsh penalty.
This man who’s cast me off when I did nothing, keeps
I won’t say whom within his house.
He would have me wasting in a lonely bed. Be pleased
to revile him for the death of me, Lygdamus.
She topped me not by morals but vile herbs. So he’s
caught by a thread-drawn rhombus wheel.
He’s lured by magic powers of toads, their swelled-up pus,
the desiccated bones of snakes,
and screech-owl’s feathers found in recent tombs, and wooden
fillets snatched from a funeral bier.
If my dreams aren’t vain, give evidence, Lygdamus.
He’ll pay in late but added pain, and lie at my feet.
His empty bed will be draped with dusty cobwebs, and Venus
will snore through their nights together.

{ haec te teste mihi promissast, Lygdame, merces?
est poena et servo rumpere teste fidem.
ille potest nullo miseram me linquere facto,
et qualem nolo dicere habere domi,
gaudet me vacuo solam tabescere lecto
si placet, insultet, Lygdame, morte mea.
non me moribus illa, sed herbis improba vicit
staminea rhombi ducitur ille rota.
illum turgentis sanie portenta rubetae
et lecta exsuctis anguibus ossa trahunt,
et strigis inventae per busta iacentia plumae,
cinctaque funesto lanea vitta toro.
si non vana canunt mea somnia, Lygdame, testor,
poena erit ante meos sera sed ampla pedes;
putris et in vacuo texetur aranea lecto:
noctibus illorum dormiet ipsa Venus. }[2]

Adding to her offenses, Cynthia attempted to seduce Lygdamus. She encouraged him to denounce Propertius by threatening to punish Lygdamus for false witness. She claimed that she was wasting away lonely in bed. There Lygdamus was. She urged him to blame Propertius for her death and insinuated that Lygdamus should bring her back to life with sexual companionship. She dreamed of again being the beloved lady-lord, with him lying as a slave at her feet. Because of the great power imbalance between them, a lady having sex with her man-slave is now widely regarded among the learned as illicit.

Even if Propertius was guilty of sexual faults, Cynthia treated him disrespectfully by seeking material advantage in traveling to Lanuvium for a threesome with two men. Propertius’s situation in relation to Cynthia was like that of Tibullus with respect to Delia:

I was the one, with my devotions, who snatched you
from gloomy sickness, when you were lying there.
I myself cleansed you by pure sulfur scattered round,
once the old woman had chanted her magic spell.
I myself expiated wild nightmares, lest they harm you,
three times averting them with sacred grain.
I myself in woolen headband and loose tunic
offered nine vows to Trivia in the silent night.
I’ve paid for all, yet now another enjoys love’s fruits;
that happy man benefits from my prayers.

{ ille ego cum tristi morbo defessa iaceres
te dicor votis eripuisse meis;
ipseque te circum lustravi sulpure puro,
carmine cum magico praecinuisset anus;
ipse procuravi, ne possent saeva nocere
somnia, ter sancta deveneranda mola;
ipse ego velatus filo tunicisque solutis
vota novem Triviae nocte silente dedi.
omnia persolvi: fruitur nunc alter amore,
et precibus felix utitur ille meis }[3]

Women should appreciate all that men do for them. Instead, women commonly love jerks, badboys, and offensive rock stars.

ancient Greek cup-bearer filling wine-jug

With true commitment to gender equality, Propertius decided to exercise equal freedom. He arranged a pleasurable situation for himself:

Because she had so often wronged our bed,
I chose to move my camp to another couch.
Near Aventine Diana a girl named Phyllis dwells,
prim when sober, but when she drinks, watch out!
And in Tarpeia’s Woods lives Teia: a pretty girl,
and she takes all comers when she’s drunk.
These two I invited, to soothe my lonely night
and stir new lust by a secret escapade.
We all three shared one little couch on a private lawn.
You ask how we lay? I was between the two.
Lygdamus filled our cups, the settings were summer glass,
the wine was Greek — a luscious Lesbian vintage.
An Egyptian piped, and Byblis rattled her castanets
with artless grace as we pelted her with roses,
and a dwarf, the famous Big Boy, was there to dance for us,
bobbing his stubby arms to the hollow flute.

{ cum fieret nostro totiens iniuria lecto,
mutato volui castra movere toro.
Phyllis Aventinae quaedamst vicina Dianae,
sobria grata parum: cum bibit, omne decet.
altera Tarpeios est inter Teïa lucos,
candida, sed potae non satis unus erit.
his ego constitui noctem lenire vocatis,
et Venere ignota furta novare mea.
unus erat tribus in secreta lectulus herba.
quaeris discubitus? inter utramque fui.
Lygdamus ad cyathos, vitrique aestiva supellex
et Methymnaei grata saliva meri.
Miletus tibicen erat, crotalistria Byblis,
(haec facilis spargi munda sine arte rosa),
Magnus et ipse suos breviter concretus in artus
iactabat truncas ad cava buxa manus. }[4]

It was a classic, one of those great times a man would remember through the ages. All should be grateful to the medieval scribes who, with much effort and some corruption, copied this text forward to our ignorant, bigoted, and repressive age.

reclining man at ancient Greek banquet

Within these lively and propitious circumstances, Propertius suffered terrible misfortune. Bad omens signaled impotence and one-itis:

But the flames kept flickering out in the lamps, though they were full,
and the table collapsed flat onto the floor;
and when I threw the dice, in hopes of a lucky Venus,
the sinister Dog was all I ever rolled.
Their songs fell on deaf ears, I was blind to their naked breasts:
I stood despairing at Lanuvium’s gates.

{ sed neque suppletis constabat flamma lucernis,
reccidit inque suos mensa supina pedes.
me quoque per talos Venerem quaerente secundam
semper damnosi subsiluere canes.
cantabant surdo, nudabant pectora caeco:
Lanuvii ad portas, ei mihi, solus eram }

Even amid the wine, song, and dancing, with Phyllis and Teia pressing their naked breasts against him, Propertius tragically endured the epic disaster of men’s impotence. He imagined penetrating Lanuvium’s cave with Cynthia. He thought only of her:

I admire
but don’t desire
any hand except for yours,
which I desire
with such fire
I could stop a lion short,
lady whom my heart adores!

fine rosette,
lovelier than any flower;
fine rosette,
do not let
me fall too far into your power!

It was chance that
acting madly
made me fall in love with you,
and the madness
keeps on lasting:
there is nothing I can do
before such beauty, pure and true!

fine rosette,
lovelier than any flower;
fine rosette,
do not let
me fall too far into your power!

{ Das que vejo
nom desejo
outra senhor se vós non,
e desejo
tan sobejo,
mataria hũu leom
senhor do meu coraçon:

fin roseta,
bella sobre toda fror,
fin roseta,
non me meta
en tal coita voss’amor!

Mha ventura
en loucura
me meteu de vos amar:
é loucura,
que me dura,
que me non posso en quitar,
ay fremosura sem par:

fin roseta,
bella sobre toda fror,
fin roseta,
non me meta
en tal coita voss’amor! }[5]

Impotent men relish flowery visions of their beloved women.

portrait of furious Medea

Then suddenly Cynthia threw open the courtyard gates,
her hair undone, but beautiful in her fury.
The goblet slipped from my limp fingers and fell to the ground,
and, flushed with wine as I was, my lips went pale.
Her eyes flashed fire, she raged as only a woman can:
a scene as frightful as a city’s sack.

{ nec mora, cum totas resupinat Cynthia valvas,
non operosa comis, sed furibunda decens.
pocula mi digitos inter cecidere remissos,
palluerunt ipso labra soluta mero.
fulminat illa oculis et quantum femina saevit,
spectaclum capta nec minus urbe fuit. }[6]

Just as Aeneas faltered against Helen amid the sack of Troy, Propertius feebly sputtered, “Cynthia, I’m sorry, really!” That wasn’t enough:

After these words she blazed forth in fury
driven by insane desire for war,
as in the Carthaginian fields
closed in by a circle of hunters
a lioness with yellow neck;
as a snake, nourished with malicious herbs,
that winds itself
and that, swollen, the frost covered:
it raises its head high for battle
and flashes from its mouth the three-forked tongue.

As the maenad every other year
rages through the city howling to Bacchus,
among the desert lairs of beasts,
gathered up with a bloodstained coat,
she calls her sister’s cruel band.

{ Dictis exarsit in iras,
insani Martis amore,
Poenorum qualis in arvis
venantum saepta corona,
fulva cervice leaena;
qualis mala gramina pastus,
tractu se colligit anguis,
tumidum quem bruma tegebat:
caput altum in proelia tollit,
linguis micat ore trisulcis
furit ululata per urbem
qualis trieterica Baccho
inter deserta ferarum,
palla subcincta cruenta,
vocat agmina saeva sororum }[7]

In contrast to gender-bigoted representations of domestic violence, violence against men has been prevalent throughout history. Here, however, Cynthia assaulted both women and men:

She scratched at Phyllis’s face with her nails, in a frenzy of wrath;
in terror Teia shrieked, “Help, neighbors! Fire!”
The local citizenry rushed out with torches high,
and wild shouts echoed up and down the street.
The girls, their hair all torn, their dresses ripped to shreds,
fled to the first wine-shop in the dim-lit road.
Cynthia came triumphant home, rejoiced in her spoils,
and gave me a bruising slap with the back of her hand,
and left a scar on my neck, and bit me till she drew blood,
and struck at my eyes most of all, for their offense.
And when she had exhausted her arms with beating me,
she noticed Lygdamus hiding under the couch
and yanked him out. He begged for help by my Guardian Spirit.
Lygdamus, what could I do? She’d taken us both!

{ Phyllidos iratos in vultum conicit ungues:
territa “vicini,” Teïa clamat “aquam!”
crimina sopitos turbant elata Quirites,
omnis et insana semita voce sonat.
illas direptisque comis tunicisque solutis
excipit obscurae prima taberna viae.
Cynthia gaudet in exuviis victrixque recurrit
et mea perversa sauciat ora manu,
imponitque notam collo morsuque cruentat,
praecipueque oculos, qui meruere, ferit.
atque ubi iam nostris lassavit bracchia plagis
Lygdamus, ad plutei fulcra sinistra latens
eruitur, geniumque meum protractus adorat.
Lygdame,nil potui: tecum ego captus eram. }[8]

Women make ferocious fighters. They certainly should be required to register for military drafts on an equal basis with men.

Medea flies away after massacring Jason's wife and children

Men readily surrender to women. So it was with Propertius:

Finally, pleading with outstretched arms, I sued for peace,
and letting me barely touch her feet, she said:
“If you wish me to forgive the crime you have committed,
here are the terms you must surrender by:
no more will you prowl the Pompeian shade in your finest clothes,
nor the Forum, when it is strewn with festive sand;
and beware of turning your gaze to the theater’s upper rows,
nor slow your pace, lured by some open sedan.
Above all, Lygdamus, prime cause of my complaint,
is to be sold. Put chains on both his feet.”
She thus laid down her terms. I said, “Your word is law!”
She laughed, gloating over the power she’d gained.

{ supplicibus palmis tum demum ad foedera veni,
cum vix tangendos praebuit illa pedes,
atque ait “admissae si vis me ignoscere culpae,
accipe, quae nostrae formula legis erit.
tu neque Pompeia spatiabere cultus in umbra,
nec cum lascivum sternet harena Forum.
colla cave inflectas ad summum obliqua theatrum,
aut lectica tuae se det aperta morae.
Lygdamus in primis, omnis mihi causa querelae,
veneat et pedibus vincula bina trahat.”
indixit leges: respondi ego “legibus utar.”
riserat imperio facta superba dato. }

Cynthia thus imposed strict controls on Propertius’s behavior. She ordered him not to dress smartly and stroll about Pompey or the Roman Forum. That was a typical way to make amorous acquaintances. She strictly controlled his male gaze: she forbade him to make eye contact with women in the theater’s upper row or with women riding in privilege in a sedan. Living under women’s power and control, men have long tolerated oppressive regulation of their sexuality. Thus any man who has studied literature recently has been taught that the male gaze is a terrible crime.

Women shouldn’t keep men as slaves. If emancipation of men remains unthinkable, women should at least refrain from treating their slaves brutally. Cynthia kept Propertius. She ordered Lygdamus to be sold. Underscoring her inhumanity to men, she required Propertius himself to put chains on Lygdamus’s feet. Moreover, she falsely accused Lygdamus of poisoning her as a pretext for having him tortured:

Burn Lygdamus, heat metal white hot for that slave:
I knew it, when I drank the wine his poisons stained.

{ Lygdamus uratur candescat lamina vernae:
sensi ego, cum insidiis pallida vina bibi. }

Women haven’t even begun to think about how to make reparations for what they have done to men slaves and to many other men. All should begin to think now.

Even worse than demanding an elaborate, expensive special-day wedding celebration, Cynthia complained to Propertius about her funeral ceremony. No one did enough, no one spent enough for a fine funeral:

And no one called my name when my eyes finally dimmed:
had you cried out, I’d have gained another day.
No guard was set over me to shake a split reed,
and a broken roof tile cut my head where it lay.
And who saw you bowed down with grief at my last rites
or wetting a black toga with your warm tears?
If you could not trouble to go beyond the gate, at least
you could have ordered my bier move more slowly.
Why were you not there, praying for winds for the fire?
Why, grudger, were my flames not scented with nard?
Was it too much to ask, to throw cheap hyacinths on my body,
and shatter a wine-jar to hallow my smoldering ashes?

{ at mihi non oculos quisquam inclamavit eunti:
unum impetrassem te revocante diem:
nec crepuit fissa me propter harundine custos,
laesit et obiectum tegula curta caput.
denique quis nostro curvum te funere vidit,
atram quis lacrimis incaluisse togam?
si piguit portas ultra procedere, at illuc
iussisses lectum lentius ire meum.
cur ventos non ipse rogis, ingrate, petisti?
cur nardo flammae non oluere meae?
hoc etiam grave erat, nulla mercede hyacinthos
inicere et fracto busta piare cado. }

A bride once thanked her mother-in-law for funding the nicest wedding she ever had. At least with a funeral, the relatives can be sure they’ll pay only once. Moreover, the ghost of the deceased typically doesn’t come back and complain if a few corners are cut for the sake of the living. In contrast to claims in mere media stories, as always, men are hurt the most.

Men too readily settle for a feminine ending. Cynthia expunged all signs of Propertius’s independent, inclusive sexuality:

Whatever those alien girls had touched, she purified
with incense, and with pure water she scoured our door;
and she ordered all the lamps emptied and filled again,
and thrice she grazed my brow with burning sulfur.

{ dein, quemcumque locum externae tetigere puellae,
suffiit, at pura limina tergit aqua,
imperat et totas iterum mutare lucernas,
terque meum tetigit sulpuris igne caput. }

Cynthia didn’t thus save her beloved man’s life. She dominated it. She pushed Propertius around and established peace with him under her thumb:

And after every cover that lay on the couch was changed,
I made my obeisance, and peace reigned over our bed.

{ atque ita mutato per singula pallia lecto
despondi, et toto solvimus arma toro. }

That’s a feminine ending just like Tibullus imagined with his beloved Delia:

She’ll rule the whole, all will be her care,
and I’ll rejoice in being nothing at home there.

{ illa regat cunctos, illi sint omnia curae:
at iuvet in tota me nihil esse domo. }[9]

In the sixteenth-century, an influential Catholic scholar stated:

The Senate of Marseilles had reason to agree to the request of a husband for permission to kill himself so as to escape his wife’s petulance. That evil can never be removed except by removing the other part. One cannot make any worthwhile arrangement with it except by fleeing from it or enduring it. Both of those two are fraught with large difficulties. That man understood, it seems to me, who said that a good marriage needs a blind wife and a deaf husband.

{ Le senat de Marseille eut raison d’accorder la requeste à celuy qui demandoit permission de se tuer pour s’exempter de la tempeste de sa femme: car c’est un mal qui ne s’emporte jamais qu’en emportant la piece, et qui n’a autre composition qui vaille que la fuite ou la souffrance, quoy que toutes les deux tres difficiles. Celuy là s’y entendoit, ce me semble, qui dict qu’un bon mariage se dressoit d’une femme aveugle avec un mary sourd. }[10]

Suicide kills about four times more men than women. Men shouldn’t turn to suicide or hope in sarcastic suicide quips. Even for Propertius after his embarrassing impotence and surrender to Cynthia, a better reading of the text indicates masculine assertion and vigorous action in bed:

And after every cover that lay on the couch was changed,
I responded firmly, and together we set free our weapons in bed.

{ atque ita mutato per singula pallia lecto
respondi, et toto solvimus arma toro. }[11]

That’s the actual manuscript reading. We don’t need no emendation. Stop being put down and pushed around. Change can come. You don’t have to live under her thumb.[12]

Peace can come other than through victory in war. It’s down to you and me. As Tibullus protested against Gallus, love poetically differs from war. Men’s genitals aren’t weapons, nor should women’s be used as weapons.[13] Women and men should love each other as they love themselves.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Propertius, Elegies 4.8.3-26. Alpheios provides a helpful Latin text. For freely available English translations, Corelis (1995), Holcombe (2009), Kline (2001a), and Alan Marshfield (2001). Dee observed:

while the description of Cynthia’s behavior reveals Propertius’ scarcely concealed admiration, there are no such ambivalences about the nepos {spendthrift}, whose disgraceful luxury and effeminacy he attacks in carefully chosen expressions of unusual intensity. … we cannot help sensing Propertius’ own satisfaction at his elegantly expressed malice.

Dee (1978) p. 46. Men should love other men as much as they love women.

Propertius offers “rich linguistic and rhetorical inventions and the steady obsession and bitter wit that nourish them.” Johnson (2009) p. xii. Literary scholarship in recent decades has tended to deny that Cynthia has an objective correlate in Propertius’s biography or men’s experience more broadly. That’s for men to consider and decide.

[2] Propertius, Elegies 3.6.19-34, Latin text from Goold (1990), English translation (with my small changes) from Holcombe (2009). While about 150 manuscripts of Propertius’s Elegies have survived, they perpetuate early textual corruptions. The best current Latin critical edition is Heyworth (2007). In this and subsequent quotes from Propertius, I use the Latin text of Goold, unless otherwise noted.

[3] Tibullus, Elegies 1.5.9-18, Latin text from Postgate (1913), English translation (modified slightly) from Kline (2001b). When Cynthia was ill, Propertius prayed to Jupiter / Jove to save her:

Jupiter, have mercy on my girl who’s sick,
spare death in one so beautiful.

For such a blessing I will write a sacred poem:
“through mighty Jove my girl is safe.”
She’ll sacrifice and at your feet will sit in worship,
telling stories of her troubles.

{ Iuppiter, affectae tandem miserere puellae:
tam formosa tuum mortua crimen erit.

pro quibus optatis sacro me carmine damno:
scribam ego ‘per magnumst salva puella Iovem’;
ante tuosque pedes illa ipsa operata sedebit,
narrabitque sedens longa pericla sua. }

Properties, Elegies, 2.28.1-2, 43-6, English translation (modified slightly) from Holcombe (2009).

[4] Propertius, Elegies 4.8.27-42, English translation (modified slightly) from Corelis (1995). The subsequent quote is similarly from 4.8.43-8 (But the flames kept flickering out…).

Phyllis commonly names an amorous woman in Latin love elegy. That name has roots in a Greek word for “beloved one {φίλος}.” Teia, from “of Teos,” is a more unusual name. It suggests pleasure:

Teos in Ionia was the birthplace of Anacreon, whose lyric poetry, full of wit and fancy, was mostly concerned with pleasure.

Currie (1973) p. 617.

[5] Joam {João} Lobeira (attributed, with considerable contention), “Song for Leonorette,” beginning “Senhor genta,” vv. 14-39, Galician-Portuguese text and English translation (with Cythiarette substituted for Leonorette) from Zenith (1995) pp. 168-71 (song 79). Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas has a slightly different presentation of the source text. This “song of love {cantiga d’amor}” survives only in the Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional (B 244/246bis). It probably dates from the thirteenth century, but that has been a matter of considerable controversy.

A slightly different verson of this song exists in the medieval lay Amadis de Gaula. While it’s known to have existed earlier, the earliest surviviling complete version of Amadis de Gaula dates to 1508. That text is written in Spanish. The Galician-Portuguesas text of this song in Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional may have been an insertion sometime after the thirteenth century. See Zenith (1005) p. 260 and notes for the song in Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas.

[6] Propertius, Elegies 4.8.51-6, English translation (modified slightly) from Corelis (1995). To make clearer the parallels with the sack of Troy, I’ve used the translation of v. 56 from Holcombe (2009). The phrase “limp fingers {digitos remissos}” subtly alludes to Propertius’s impotence with Phyllis and Teia.

Cynthia’s entrance is similar to that of the witch Meroe breaking into Socrates and Aristomenes’s bedroom in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses.

[7] Hosidius Geta, Medea vv. 284-93, 298-302, Latin text and English translation from Rondholz (2012). Mooney (1919) provides a freely available Latin text and English translation. Hosidius Geta’s Medea is a Virgilian cento written probably in the second century. It survives only in Codex Salmasianus (Codex Parisinus 10318). Tertullian refers to it in his De Prescriptione Haereticorum, written in 203 GC.

In creating his Medea cento, Hosidius Geta engaged in creative cultural appropriation:

these examples show very well how Hosidius Geta works with Vergilian phrases. The central thing he does is to endow them with new brutal and paradoxical overtones that they did not have before. The pleasure we get from them derives not from thinking who said these words and when in Vergilian poems, but from the simple understanding that these new overtones could not have appeared in Vergil’s text. It is the centonist who manages to say with the old words something completely new and, in its brutality, even unimaginable in Vergil’s oeuvre.

Shumilin (2015) p. 147. Hosidius Geta’s appropriation of the revered Virgil has as its central tendency “to make the text sound as savage, brutal and barbarous as possible.” Id. Modern classical scholarship would benefit from more daring and creative approaches like that of Hosidius Geta.

[8] Propertius, Elegies 4.8.57-70, English translation (modified slightly) from Corelis (1995). Subsequent quotes are similarly from 4.8.71-82 (Finally, pleading with outstretched arms…), 4.7.35-6 (Burn Lygdamus…), 4.7.23-34 (And no one called my name…), 4.8.83-6 (Whatever those alien girls had touched…), and 4.8.87-8 (And after every cover…), which concludes the poem.

Propertius’s surrender to Cynthia (culminating with v. 4.8.81: “Your word is law {legibus utar}!”) uses “plain borrowing from legal language, formula legis {formula of law}.” Dee (1978) p. 51, citing specifically v. 74.

Privileged Roman women mistreated not just men slaves, but also women slaves. After Cynthia’s death, Propertius lived with the woman Chloris, said to have been formerly a sex-worker. Chloris beat Cynthia’s former personal slave Lalage and put in chains another of Cynthia’s personal slaves, Petale. Propertius, Elegies 4.7.43-6.

[9] Tibullus, Elegies 1.5.29-30, Latin text from Postgate (1913), my English translation.

[10] Michel de Montaigne, Essays {Essais} III.5, “On some lines of Virgil {Sur des vers de Virgile},” French text from the Villey & Saulnier (1965) version of the 1595 edition of Essais, my English translation benefiting from that of Screech (1993) p. 984. My English translation follows the French text more accurately and has shorter sentences to be more easily readable.

Montaigne refers to a saying of King Alfonso V of Aragon (Alfonso the Magnanimous, reigned 1416 to 1458), as recorded by the Italian Antonio Beccadelli il Panormita in The Sayings and Deeds of King Alfonso of Aragon {De dictus et factis Alphonsi regis Aragonum} 3.7 (saying on a peaceful marriage). Beccadelli wrote this compilation about 1455. It became a widely read work.

Probably via his reading of Beccadelli, the Catholic priest Desiderius Erasmus included in his Apophthegmata Alfonso’s saying on marriage:

Alfonso King of Aragon used to say that a marriage could be lived out peacefully and without recrimination only if the husband was deaf and the wife blind. He implies, I think, that women as a whole are inclined to jealousy and that this is the source of quarrels and complaints. On the other side, women’s chattering is very irritating to husbands. The husband will escape that annoyance if he’s deaf. She won’t be troubled by suspicion of his adultery if she has no eyes.

{ Alphonsus Aragonum Rex dicere solebat, ita demum matrimonium tranquille citraque querimonias exigi posse, si maritus surdus fiat, uxor caeca: innuens, opinor, foemineum genus obnoxium esse zelotypiae, atque hinc oriri rixas & querimonias: rursum maritis permolestam esse uxorum garrulitatem, qua molestia cariturus sit, si fiat surdus: nec illa vexabitur adulterii suspicione, si careat oculis. }

Erasmus, Apophthegmata / Apophthegmatum opus {Aphorisms / Work on Aphorisms} 8.4, Latin text from LB (1703) vol. IV, p. 378 (section A), English translation (with my insubstantial changes) from Knott & Fantham (2014) vol. 38, p. 960 (no. 8.291). Erasmus’s Apophthegmata is different from, but related to, his Collection of Adages / Thousands of Adages {Collectanea Adagiorum / Adagiorum chiliades}.

In 1578, the English public figure John Florio claimed to have translated from Italian a gender-reversed version:

There never shall be quarreling in that house, where the man is blind and the wife deaf.

{ Non ci sara mai grido in quella casa, doue che il patrone è or∣bo, & la patrona sorda. There neuer shal be chiding in that house, where the man is blynd, and the wife deafe. }

Florio (1578) p. 28. Florio may have been pandering to gynocentrism under the rule of Elizabeth I.

[11] Propertius, Elegies 4.8.87-8, my English translation of v. 88. No consensus exists on the Latin text of v. 88. Variants: “despondi, et noto solvimus arma toro” in Goold (1990), “despondi, et toto solvimus arma toro” in Holcombe (2009), “respondi, et toto solvimus arma toro” in Hutchinson (2006). Hutchinson obolizes respondi and comments “need not resemble what it has replaced. Nothing convinces.” Id. p. 205.

The reading respondi, which all the manuscripts provide, makes good sense with sexual innuendo. Propertius had been impotent with Phyllis and Teia because his mind was on Cynthia. He then gets in bed with Cynthia. Men’s penises have commonly been disparaged as “weapons {arma}.” Resistance to respondi and reading v. 88 sexually is consistent with modern philology’s anti-penis gender bias. On ambiguity in interpreting this verse, Janan (2001) pp. 116, 126.

[12] The fundamental question of Propertius is a question for many men:

Even the conventions of servitium amoris {man slave of love} do not necessarily demand that the lover enthuse over his mistress’ tyranny, only that he comply. Why should Propertius be such a happy idiot?

Janan (2001) p. 123. Johnson suggests that Propertius is happy because he enjoy’s Cynthia’s “greatness of soul”:

under the whining and the prevarications and the grand renunciations lurks the old arrogance, the old determination to manipulate and to dominate: to have things her way. When the ghost announces that she has plans for Propertius once he arrives in hell, she asserts her mastery over him even as she does when, in the next poem, she forgives the man she has just beaten to a pulp, decides to have mercy on him, to treat his derelictions with a clemency worthy of Caesar, and thus shows her greatness of soul.

Johnson (2009) p. 89. A man typically doesn’t enjoy having a woman beat him to a pulp, even if the woman subsequently has mercy on him. Johnson seems to lack the imagination to escape the world of gynocentric devaluation of men:

Without her — he has said it again and again — without her, no poems, no poetic identity. … she is the catalyst of a new style of self-fashioning. … when Cynthia bursts into the middle of what was supposed to be a volume devoted to patriotic forms and patriotic feelings, when she scares her lover-poet out of his wits and roughs him up and then has her way with him, both her macabre visitation and her brutal interruption of his swinging bachelor soiree seem, on reflection, anything but astonishing. Propertius cannot get rid of Cynthia because she is his worse and better half, she is his fate and his salvation, she is his Id and Super-Ego. She is the source and the shape of his poetic identity.

Id. pp. 93, 94, 96. Yes, of course, Propertius owes all his success to Cynthia. That’s the form of a tediously conventional claim that men commonly make to enthusiastic applause: “I owe all my success to my wife / girlfriend / mother.”

[13] Middle English includes the term “cunte-beten,” meaning an impotent man. Current vulgar English has “pussy-wipped” (cf. “pistol-whipped”), meaning generally a woman’s domination of a man. Historically, representations of the penis have been much more disparaging than those of the vagina.

On loving one another, Leviticus 19:18, Galatians 5:14. Jesus, a Jew, explained God’s commandment in terms of his own personal witness to everyone: “love one another as I have loved you.” John 15,12, similarly John 13:34. On Jesus’s gospel in relation to the development of Latin love elegy, see my post about Parthenius and moral reflection.

[images] (1) Young man cup-bearer filing wine jug (oinochoe) at ancient Greek banquet. Painting by Cage Painter on Attic red-figure cup. Painted about 490-480 BGC. Preserved as accession # G 133 (Campana Collection, 1861) in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Reclining man at ancient Greek banquet. From the same fifth-century BGC cup as the previous image, and similarly sourced. (3) Portrait of Medea in pastel (cropped slightly). Drawing by Charles Antoine Coypel about 1715. Preserved as accession # 1974.25 (Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1953) in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Image thanks to The Met. (4) Medea flies away in a dragon-drawn chariot after massacring Jason’s wife and children. Painting on Red-Figure Calyx-Krater (Mixing Vessel). Attributed to the Policoro Painter working in southern Italy about 400 GC. Accession # 1991.1 (Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund) in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Image (cropped slightly) thanks to the Cleveland Museum of Art.


Corelis, Jon. 1995. Roman Erotic Elegy: Selections from Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid and Sulpicia. Salzburg Studies in English Literature, Poetic Drama & Poetic Theory 128. Salzburg: University of Salzburg.

Currie, H. MacL. 1973. “Propertius IV. 8 — A Reading.” Latomus. 32 (3): 616-622.

Dee, James H. 1978. “Elegy 4.8: A Propertian Comedy.” Transactions of the American Philological Association. 108: 41-53.

Florio, John. 1578. Florio his firste fruites which yeelde familiar speech, merie prouerbes, wittie sentences, and golden sayings. Also a perfect induction to the Italian, and English tongues, as in the table appeareth. The like heretofore, neuer by any man published. London: Imprinted at the three Cranes in the Vintree, by Thomas Dawson, for Thomas Woodcocke.

Goold, G. P., ed and trans. 1990. Propertius. Elegies. Loeb Classical Library 18. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Heyworth, S. J. 2007, ed. Propertius. Sexti Properti Elegos. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Antonio Ramírez de Verger)

Hutchinson, Gregory, ed. and trans. 2006. Propertius: Elegies Book IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holcombe, Colin John, trans. 2009. Sextus Propertius Elegies. Latin text and English translation. Ocaso Press. Online. Holcombe’s review of previous translations and characterization of his translation.

Janan, Micaela. 2001. The Politics of Desire: Propertius IV. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Johnson, W. R. 2009. A Latin Lover in Ancient Rome: Readings in Propertius and his Genre. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. (review by Randall Childree)

Kline, A. S., trans. 2001a. Sextus Propertius: The Elegies. A complete English translation with in-depth name index. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2001b. Tibullus. Elegies. Brindin Press Virtual Chapbook 40. Online. The Latin text here seems to me inferior to that of Postgate (1913 / 1988). Alternate presention without Latin text at Poetry in Translation.

Knott, Betty I., and Elaine Fantham, trans. 2014. Desiderius Erasmus. Apophthegmata. Collected Works of Erasmus, vols. 37 & 38. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

LB. 1703. Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami. Opera omnia emendatiora et auctiora … doctorumque … notis illustrata. Tomus quartus, complectens quae ad morum institutionem pertinent, quorum catalogum versa pagina docet. Lugduni Batavorum: curá & impensis Petri Lander Aa, 1703.

Mooney, Joseph J. 1919. Hosidius Geta’s Tragedy “Medea”: a Vergilian cento. Latin text with metrical translation. Appended is An Outline of Ancient Roman Magic. Cornish Bros: Birmingham.

Postgate, J. P. ed. and trans. 1913. Tibullus in Catullus. Tibullus. Pervigilium Veneris. Revised by G. P. Goold (1988). Loeb Classical Library 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rondholz, Anke. 2012. The Versatile Needle: Hosidius Geta’s Cento Medea and its tradition. Berlin: De Gruyter. (review by Marcos Carmignani)

Shumilin, Mikhail. 2015. “Hosidius Geta’s Cento Medea: Vergilian Tragedy or Tragedy against Vergil?Vergilius. 61: 131-156.

Zenith, Richard, trans. 1995. 113 Galician-Portuguese Troubadour Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, in association with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Instituto Camões.

Walahfrid’s rural rose & lily respond to love and war in Roman elegy

In the first century BGC, the eminent Roman military leader and poet Cornelius Gallus influentially associated love and war in Latin elegy. Gallus’s love elegy celebrated violence against men in war and men’s subordination to women in love. The learned Christian monk Walahfrid Strabo early in the ninth century confronted that oppressive literary legacy with poetically moving, personal love for men. Walahfrid recognized the reality of war and peace in figures of the rose and lily, but he colored both with Christian understanding of love.

Walahfrid grew up among a closely knit community of boys and men. When he was about eight years old, his parents gave him up as an oblate to the male-only Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau in central Europe. Men teachers personally taught Walahfrid all of what was then regarded as important learning.[1] He lived and learned with other boys, young men, and older men. Walahfrid formed warm friendships with them, became thoroughly learned, and developed special talent for writing Latin verse.

Within the historical context of pervasive violence against men, Walahfrid expressed shining love for his male friends. Perhaps drawing understanding from Aristophanes’s speech in Plato’s Symposium, Walahfrid shared a cosmic bond of love with a man friend:

When the brightness of the clear moon shines in the sky,
stand beneath the heavens. Discerning with wonder, watch
how the sky is brightened from the moon’s clear lamp
and with its one brightness embraces dear friends,
divided in body, but linked in mind by love.
If one face cannot look upon the other loving face,
let at least this light be a pledge of our love.
Your faithful friend has transmitted to you these little verses.
If on your part the chain of faith stands firm,
now I pray that you may be well and happy through all the ages.

{ Cum splendor lunae fulgescat ab aethere purae,
Tu sta sub aethere cernens speculamine miro,
Qualiter ex luna splendescat lampade pura
Et splendore suo caros amplectitur uno
Corpore divisos, sed mentis amore ligatos.
Si facies faciem spectare nequivit amantem,
Hoc saltim nobis lumen sit pignus amoris.
Hos tibi versiculos fidus transmisit amicus;
Si de parte tua fidei stat fixa catena,
Nunc precor, ut valeas felix per saecula cuncta. }[2]

The light reflected from the moon that brightens the night sky comes from the hidden sun. For the Christian Walahfrid, that’s a figure of God. The mutuality of faith in friendship that Walahfrid invokes at the end might naturally lead to a plea for a return letter.[3] Instead, with Christian charity, Walahfrid prays that his friend will be well and happy forever.

Walahfrid also expressed love for male friends using an expansive understanding of complementarity. Walahfrid wrote to his fellow cleric Liutger:

Like an only son to his mother, like to the earth Phoebus’s light,
like dewdrops to grass, fishes to the seas,
air to birds, murmurings of rivers to the meadow,
so your face, my little boy, is dear to me.
If that could be, which we think can be,
carry yourself to us swiftly, I pray.
Since I have learned that you have halted nearby,
I will find no rest until I see you sooner rather than later.
May the stars, dewdrops, and sand be exceeded in number
by your glory, life, health, and well-being.

{ Unicus ut matri, terris ut lumina Phoebi
Ut ros graminibus, piscibus unda freti,
Aer uti oscinibus, rivorum et murmura pratis.
Sic tua, pusiole, cara mihi facies.
Si fieri possit, fieri quod posse putamus,
Ingere te nostris visibus, oro, celer.
Nam quia te propius didici consistere nobis,
Non requiesco, nisi videro te citius.
Excedat numeros astrorum, roris, harenae,
Gloria, vita, salus atque valere tuum. }[4]

Walahfrid figured men’s friendship with natural complementarities that encompass great differences in form and matter, such as birds and air. Within these natural figures are Christian allusions. The verse “Like an only son to his mother, like to the earth Phoebus’s light {Unicus ut matri, terris ut lumina Phoebi}” explicitly refers to the traditional Greco-Roman god Phoebus Apollo. This verse as a chiasmus associates mother with earth and the unique son with Phoebus. It thus seems to allude to Mary and Jesus. God’s great promise in Hebrew scripture is the blessing of having descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore. Walahfrid focuses that macrocosmic blessing on the single person of his beloved friend Liutger. That daring figure draws upon Christian understanding of the maker of heaven and earth being incarnated in the one son Jesus.

In his book About the Cultivation of Gardens {De cultura hortorum}Walahfrid provided advice to boys and men in relation to plants. For boys living in dangerous family circumstances, Walahfrid offered practical counsel:

If ever hostile stepmothers mix sought-out poisons
into your drink, or combine into a treacherous meal
grief-producing aconitine, immediately take a drink
of healthful horehound. It presses against the suspected dangers.

{ Si quando infensae quaesita venena novercae
Potibus inmiscent dapibusve aconita dolosis
Tristia confundunt, extemplo sumpta salubris
Potio marrubii suspecta pericula pressat. }[5]

Like poisoning, rape is a high-profile concern. Young men, like other male primates, naturally know not to rape women. Men don’t need to be taught not to rape. Yet with their burgeoning masculine vitality, young men tend to be too sexually eager. Walahfrid advocated for chastity using a figure of the lily:

Lilies’ exhaled scent imbues the air for many hours,
but if one grinds the shining buds of their snow-white
flowers, it’s over. Amazingly one discovers every scattering
of nectar has quickly disappeared with the act.
Virginity, supported with its blessed fame, shines
in this flower, and as long as no sordid work disturbs
it and the ardor of illicit love doesn’t shatter it,
the lily emits its sweet scent. Yet once the glory of its integrity
falls to the ground, its scent changes into stinking.

{ Longius horum etiam spirans odor imbuit auras,
Sed si quis nivei candentia germina fructus
Triverit, aspersi mirabitur ilicet omnem
Nectaris ille fidem celeri periisse meatu,
Hoc quia virginitas fama subnixa beata
Flore nitet, quam si nullus labor exagitarit
Sordis et illiciti non fregerit ardor amoris,
Flagrat odore suo. Porro si gloria pessum
Integritatis eat, foetor mutabit odorem. }[6]

With earthy appreciation for the physicality of men’s sexual work, Walahfrid condemns the effect of illicit love on relationships between women and men. Licit love is different. Walahfrid understood the eternal importance of gratefully receiving men’s seminal blessing.

Erato, ancient Roman muse of love elegy

With Christian love for men, Walahfrid subtly refigured with flowers the union of love and war in Gallus’s love elegy. Like Tibullus, Walahfrid directed the muse of love poetry to rural activity in contrast to love entangled with war:

For so many wars, so many very famous, great deeds
you have put together memorials with sacred song.
Pious muse Erato of love elegy, scorn not the meager
riches of my greens, describe them in verse through me.

{ Quae tot bellorum, tot famosissima rerum
Magnarum monimenta sacro pia conficis ore,
Exiles, Erato, non dedignare meorum
Divitias holerum versu perstringere mecum. }[7]

Like its oxymoronic phrase “meager riches {exiles divitiae},” this invocation as a whole brings together sharply contrasting themes of epic poetry, Gallus’s love elegy, and gardening. Walahfrid probably didn’t mistake Clio, the muse of history, for Erato, the muse of love elegy. The invocation of Erato occurs in the description of “chervil {cerefolium}.” Walahfrid explicitly calls cerefolium a “Macedonian branch {Macedonia ramus}.” Its name is rooted in the Greek term χαιρέφῠλλον, built from components meaning “to enjoy {χαίρω}” and “leaf {φύλλον}.” While Gallus’s love elegy represents sufferings in love and war, it’s supposed to be read with pleasure.

Walahfrid’s plant descriptions begin with “sage {salvia}.” Salvia is etymologically rooted in wellness and being saved. Walahfrid, however, associated salvia with a developmental conflict:

But sage endures a civic evil, for the savage child
of the flowers, if not removed, will consume the parent,
and antagonistically kill off the ancient branches.

{ Sed tolerat civile malum: nam saeva parentem
Progenies florum, fuerit ni dempta, perurit
Et facit antiquos defungier invida ramos. }[8]

That’s a figure for Walahfrid’s literary program with respect to Gallus’s love elegy. His plant descriptions have at their center the lily (description 12) and conclude with the rose (description 33). Like Dante, Walahfrid was a Christian intensely interested in astronomy and numerical calculations.[9] From a Christian perspective, 12 and 33 immediately evoke Christ’s apostles and the Trinity. Walahfrid called upon the muse Erato in describing chervil (description 11), just before describing the lily. Walahfrid associated the lily with peace. He wanted readers to enjoy new leaves in poetry of love and war. His literary civil war is for a new understanding of love and peace.

garden in raised beds

After describing the rose, Walahfrid brought back the lily to join the rose. These two flowers together conclude his garden poetry:

Indeed these two famous types of admirable flowers
signify to the Church highest honors through the ages.
With the blood of martyrs the Church plucks gifts of roses;
lilies she carries in the brightness of shining faith.
O virgin mother, mother with a fruitful womb,
virgin with faith intact, spouse of a nominal spouse,
spouse, dove, queen of the home, faithful lover,
in war pluck roses, seize cheerful lilies in peace.

{ Haec duo namque probabilium genera inclyta florum
Ecclesiae summas signant per saecula palmas,
Sanguine martyrii carpit quae dona rosarum,
Liliaque in fidei gestat candore nitentis.
O mater virgo, fecundo germine mater,
Virgo fide intacta, sponsi de nomine sponsa,
Sponsa, columba, domus regina, fidelis amica,
Bello carpe rosas, laeta arripe lilia pace. }[10]

As has been common throughout its history, the Christian Church is here figured gynocentrically as the Virgin Mary. More distinctively, this passage associates war with martyrdom and peace with the brightness of shining faith. Mary, the preeminent disciple of earthly Christian love, transforms the meaning of war and peace:

To you Mary has come a flower from the royal tree of Jesse,
the one creator and savior from an ancient lineage.
By his words and life Jesus has sanctified lovely lilies.
With his death he colors roses. Peace and combat he left for members
of his church on earth, he having embraced the merit of both,
in both triumphs promising eternal reward.

{ Flos tibi sceptrigero venit generamine Iesse,
Unicus antiquae reparator stirpis et auctor;
Lilia qui verbis vitaque dicavit amoena,
Morte rosas tinguens, pacemque et proelia membris
Liquit in orbe suis, virtutem amplexus utramque.
Premiaque ambobus servans aeterna triumphis. }

The combat that Jesus embraced wasn’t military service on behalf of a worldly leader. Jesus fought by proclaiming the love of God for all, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, embracing the outcast, and consoling the downtrodden. The peace that Jesus left for his followers was the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.[11] Erato, the ancient Roman muse of love elegy, didn’t inspire Walahfrid in writing verses on his garden. Jesus did.

Walahfrid rejected Gallus’s love elegy and its men-devaluing poetry of love as war. Working in his small garden, Walahfrid himself dug up nettles with dirty, callused hands and fertilized the ground with cow manure. He wrote his garden verses “so that small matters would be adorned with vast honor {ut ingenti res parvae ornentur honore}.”[12] Walahfrid knew Ovid’s love elegy well and alluded to it frequently in his own verses. He escaped Gallus’s influence at least in part through his love for men:

I am yours, be mine, so what each has would be the other’s,
thus I am another like you, and you are another me.
By Ovid I put you to oath, my dear, you be well,
and, I beg, eagerly pray to the Lord for me.

{ Sum tuus, esto meus, quod uterque habet alterius sit,
Sic ego tu sim alter, tuque mihi alter ego.
Per nasum coniuro tuum, mi care, valeto,
Et Dominum pro me, quaeso, precare libens. }[13]

Walahfrid had compassion for men’s sufferings in love and would not celebrate men’s deaths in war. He sought to replace Gallus’s love elegy with poetry of love for men and gardening.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Walahfrid apparently studied grammar, logic, rhetoric, and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). In addition to writing excellent Latin poetry, Walahfrid also wrote biblical commentaries, liturgical history, lives of saints, and edited others’ similar works. On Walahfrid’s scholarly activities and interests, Booker (2005), Stevens (1971), and Stevens (2018).

[2] Walahfrid Strabo, “To a male friend {Ad amicum},” Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 403 (carmin 59), my English translation, benefiting from those of Godman (1985) p. 217, Duckett (1962) p. 160, Laistner (1931) p. 330, and Waddell (1929) p. 117. The title “Ad amicum” is from MS. St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 869, written in the second half of the ninth century. Godman suggested that “About friendship {De amicitia}” might be more appropriate as a title. Godman (1985) p. 38. On friendship among men in medieval Europe, Fiske (1965) and McGuire (1988).

Writing to Gottschalk of Orbais, Walahfrid wished “to profit from bearing fellowship of your light {lucrari lucisque tuae consortia ferre}.” Walahfrid, “To the monk Gottschalk, who is also Fulgentius {Gotesscalcho monacho, qui et Fulgentius}” (carmin 18) v. 27, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 363 (v. 15), my English translation. Fulgentius was a nickname that Walahfrid gave to Gottschalk. On light in relation to friendship in medieval literature, Fiske (1965) p. 453.

[3] In a letter to the cleric Liutger, Walahfrid makes just such a plea:

If you could visit, that would be enough, if I could see the beloved one.
But otherwise, write anything.

{ Visere si poeteris, sat erit, si videro gratum.
Sin alias, rescribe aliquid }

Walahfrid, “To Liutger the cleric {Ad Liutgerum clericum},” incipit “Dear, you come suddenly, and suddenly dear you also leave {Care venis subito, subito quoque care recedis}” (carmin 32) vv. 7-8, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 385, my English translation, benefiting from translations of Norton (1997) and Laistner (1931) p. 330, both of which translate the complete poem.

[4] Walahfrid, “To Liutger the cleric {Ad Liutgerum clericum},” incipit “With sweet services and a cultivated, welcoming mind {Dulcibus officiis et amica mente colendo}” (carmin 31) vv. 7-16, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 385, my English translation, benefiting from translations of Duckett (1962) p. 160 (part), and Laistner (1931) p. 330 (complete poem).

In a poem to one of his teachers, Walahfrid similarly used a natural simile:

A fish makes use of a river, just as a salamander heat;
thus I, pitiful, seek you — hail, dear master.

{ Piscis uti fluvios, sicut salamandra calorem,
sic te quaero miser, care magister ave. }

Walahfrid, “To master Prudentius {Ad Prudentium magistrum}, incipit “The kindly origin of your name would seize mercifully {Nominis alma tui capiat clementer origo” (carmin 61) vv. 9-10, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 402, my English translation.

Walahfrid expressed loving friendship to men of various ages. Liutger probably was about as old as Walahfrid. Prudentius was considerably older. When Walahfrid was about twenty, he wrote to a subdeacon named Bodo, who was perhaps about fifteen:

Toward all the better may God lead your sense
and to you forever bring great favors.
Shining-blonde dear, farewell, dearest always everywhere,
little shining-blonde boy, shining-blonde little boy.

{ Ad meliora tuos ducat deus omnia sensus
Et tibi perpetuo munera magna ferat.
Candide care vale carissime semper ubique
Pusio candidule, candide pusiole. }

Walahfrid, “To subdeacon Bodo {Ad Bodonem yppodiaconum},” incipit “These Strabo gives to you, dearest boy Bodo {Haec tibi dat Strabo, carissime pusio Bodo}” (carmin 34), vv. 13-6 (final verses of the poem), Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 386, my English translation, benefiting from that of Cabaniss (1953) p. 315. Walahfrid was writing from Aachen, where he went to live in 829. Since Walahfrid was born in 808, he was then about twenty. As a subdeacon, Bodo probably was about fifteen. Cabaniss (1953) pp. 316-7. For a translation of the complete letter, id. p. 315.

Fiske observed:

not only was friendship for these men a profoundly religious experience, a hierophany, a theophany at the heart of the Christian mysterium, but also that this is essentially Christian, in the sense that Christianity is the relation of persons in its two great mysteries, the Trinity and the Incarnation. Human persons, taken up by the Word into Trinitarian life and mutual love, make paradise and heaven understandable and desirable, for, as Aelred says, “What is sweeter than to love and be loved?”

Fiske (1965) p. 458. The referenced quote in full: “Nothing would seem sweeter to me, nothing more agreeable, nothing more practical, than to be loved and to love {nihil mihi dulcius, nihil iucundius, nihil utilius quam amari et amare videretur}.” From Aelred of Rievaulx, On spiritual friendship {De spirituali amicitia} 1, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Aelred of Rievaulx page for online courses by Fr. Luke Dysinger.

[5] Walahfrid Strabo, Book about the Cultivation of Gardens {Liber de cultura hortorum}, also less appropriately known as The Little Garden {Hortulus} (from Ch. 10, Horehound {Marrubium}), Latin text from Dümmler (1881), vol. 2, p. 342, my English translation, benefiting from that of Mitchell (2009), p. 47, and Payne & Blunt (1966) p. 43. In literature throughout the ages, stepmothers are dangerous to stepsons. Subsequent quotes from Walahfrid’s De cultura hortorum are similarly sourced.

Walahfrid dedicated De cultura hortorum to “Grimald, most learned father {Grimaldus pater doctissimus}.” Grimald (Grimald of Weissenburg) taught Walahfrid at Reichenau. The dedication suggests that Grimald was at that time an abbot elsewhere. Grimald was Abbot of St. Gall Monastery from 841 until his death in 872. Walahfrid died in 849. Hence the date of De cultura hortorum is probably about 845.

Walahfrid wrote De cultura hortorum in the hexameter verse of classical epic. Love elegy and epic weren’t rigidly separated genres. Parthenius of Nicaea dedicated his Greek story collection to Cornelius Gallus for use in writing “hexameter and elegiacs.” See note [5] in my post on moral reflection in Parthenius. Walahfrid writing De cultura hortorum in hexameters is best interpreted as underscoring its serious intent and its challenge to Gallus’s love elegy as a genre.

[6] Walahfrid, De cultura hortorum, from Ch. 26, Rose {Rosa}. Walahfrid also has a separate, earlier chapter for lilies, Ch. 15, Lily {Lilium}. Within Walahfrid’s garden, lilies are appropriately planted opposite roses.

[7] Walahfrid, De cultura hortorum, from Ch. 14, Chervil {Cerfolium}. Mitchell noted:

Walafrid may be confusing Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, and therefore of love and erotic poetry, with Clio, the muse of history.

Mitchell (2009) p. 55, n. 7. As argued above, I don’t think so.

[8] Walahfrid, De cultura hortorum, from Ch. 4, Sage {Salvia}. Walahfrid was older and presumably more poetically sophisticated when he wrote De cultura hortorum than when he wrote De imagine Tetrici. The leading scholar of the later poem declared:

The “De imagine Tetrici” is without the slightest doubt one of Walahfriďs masterpieces. It is also one of the most challenging political poems of the Latin Middle Ages. Though obviously modelled on the Vergilian eclogue, the dramatic elements of the poem are much more powerful than they are in the classical genre. There are rapid shifts of scene as well as unexpected transitions between reverie and reality. The imagery of the work is subtle and complex: reversed meaning and irony are everywhere to be suspected.

Herrin (1991) p. 119 (footnotes omitted). De cultura hortorum has been read much more superficially. The readers who have considered it most carefully have been horticulturalists:

They have demonstrated that Walahfrid’s reading in the ancient authorities on this subject was wide and extensive, and that his powers of observation are acute. But De Cultura Hortorum is much more than ‘pure gardening literature’ or a ‘cultural monument to the study of nature’ in ninth-century Reichenau. It is an imaginative work of high order, in which plants and vegetables, care and cultivation of the garden are presented in graphically human terms. The dense and intricate imagery of the passage discussed above {concerning the gourd} is illustrative of Walahfrid’s baroque fantasy, which can unite a profusion of similes and metaphors into a single coherent picture. The technique, judged in terms of exact horticultural information is uneconomical… .

Godman (1985) p. 39 (footnotes omitted). Walahrid’s De cultura hortorum, like his De imagine Tetrici, should be read with great appreciation for his poetic sophistication.

[9] On Dante and numerology, Nasti (2015). On Walahfrid’s interest in numerical computations, Stevens (1971) and Stevens (2018).

A dream-vision precursor to Dante’s Commedia is the Visio Wettini. In 824, the Reichenau monk and teacher Wetti dreamed that angels give him a personalized tour of eternal places of purging and punishment. Heito, a former abbot of Reichenau, wrote a prose version of Wetti’s dream shortly after it occurred. Walahfrid later, perhaps about 826, wrote his verse version. On Heito’s text, Pollard (2010). Pollard has done extraordinary work in editing an new critical edition of Heito’s text. For an English translation and commentary on Walahfrid’s Visio Wettini, Traill (1974). On the reception of both texts, Pollard (2015).

For a narrow analysis of illicit sexuality in the different versions of Visio Wettini, Diem (2016). Diem sought “fluid, negotiated, debated and contested” spaces. Id. p. 386. That’s a banal and tedious academic quest within today’s academic orthodoxy that strictly forbids considering meninist literary criticism. Diem finds that Walahfrid was more generous and forgiving toward men’s same-sex sexual acts than was Heito. That’s consistent with Walahfrid’s broad-minded love for men in contrast to the orientation toward men in Gallus’s love elegy.

[10] Walahfrid, De cultura hortorum, from Ch. 36, Rose {Rosa}. The subsequent quote is also from this chapter. On the shoot from the stump of Jesse, Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 1:1-16, Luke 3:23-38.

The “flower of the lily {fleur-de-lis}” became an important heraldic symbol. French Capetian kings represented themselves with the fleur-de-lis from the first, King Clovis in the fifth century, onward. On the history of the rose and lily as symbols, see note [5] on my post on “women flyting, serious fighting” and Caldwell (2014).

[11] See, e.g. Matthew 14:13-21, John 4:5-43, Luke 24:13-35, Philippians 4:7, and my post on Jesus’s work as a good physician.

[12] Walahfrid, De cultura hortorum, from Ch. 3, The Gardener’s Perservance and Labor’s Fruit {Instantia cultoris et fructus operis}. The quoted verse is the final verse before Walahfrid begins his set of 33 plant descriptions. On Walahfrid’s dirty, callused hands from his work in his garden and his spreading of cow manure, see Ch. 1, On the Cultivation of Gardens {De cultura hortorum}.

[13] Walahfrid, “To the presbyter Probus {Ad Probum presbyterum},” incipit “A gift given to a poet is equivalent to verses and measures {Versibus atque metris par est donare poetam}” (carmin 45), vv. 19-22, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, p. 394, my English translation. In this poem, Walahfrid declares the importance of distinctive tools to distinctive professions, notes the propensity of Irish to travel, and requests Probus to procure some books via an Irishman named Chronmal {Crónmáel}. Dümmler in footnotes documents in this and other of Walahfrid’s poems many allusions to Ovid’s love elegy.

[images] (1) Erato, Roman muse of love elegy. Marble statue from the second century GC. Preserved as accession # Inv. 317 in Vatican Museums, Museo Pio-Clementino, Muses Hall. Source image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a similar second-century statue of Erato. (2) Raised bed garden of Elmer and Joan Galbi on July 1, 2018, in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Source image thanks to Elmer Galbi.


Booker, Courtney. M. 2005. “A New Prologue of Walafrid Strabo.” Viator. 36: 83-106.

Cabaniss, Allen. 1953. “Bodo-Eleazar: A Famous Jewish Convert.” The Jewish Quarterly Review. 43 (4): 313-328.

Caldwell, Mary Channen. 2014. “‘Flower of the Lily’: Late-Medieval Religious and Heraldic Symbolism in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Français 146.” Early Music History. 33: 1-60.

Diem, Albrecht. 2016. “Teaching Sodomy in a Carolingian Monastery: A Study of Walahfrid Strabo’s and Heito’s Visio Wettini.” German History. 34 (3): 385-401.

Duckett, Eleanor Shipley. 1962. Carolingian Portraits: A Study in the Ninth Century. Ann Arbor: Michigan Press.

Dümmler, Ernst. 1881. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. Berlin: Weidmannos. (vol. 1, Internet Archive; vol. 2, Internet Archive, BnF)

Fiske, Adele. 1965. “Paradisus Homo Amicus.” Speculum. 40 (3): 436-459.

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Herren, Michael W. 1991. ‘The “De imagine Tetrici” of Walahfrid Strabo: Edition and Translation.’ The Journal of Medieval Latin. 1: 118-139.

Laistner, Max Ludwig Wolfram. 1931. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900. London: Methuen & Co.

McGuire, Brian Patrick. 1988. Friendship and Community: the monastic experience, 350-1250. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Mitchell, James, trans. 2009. Walahfrid Strabo. On the Cultivation of Gardens: a ninth century gardening book. San Francisco: Ithuriel’s Spear.

Nasti, Paola. 2015. “The Art of Teaching and the Nature of Love.” Ch. 11 (pp. 223-248) in Corbett, George, and Heather Webb, eds. Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy. Volume 1. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers.

Norton, Rictor. 1997. “Take up Riper Practices: The Gay Love Letters of Some Medieval Clerics.” Online essay.

Payne, Raef and Wilfrid Blunt. 1966. Hortulus: Walahfrid Strabo. Translated by Raef Payne. Commentary by Wilfrid Blunt. Hunt Facsimile Series, no. 2. Pittsburgh, PA: The Hunt Botanical Library.

Pollard, Richard Matthew. 2010. “Nonantola and Reichenau. A New Manuscript of Heito’s Visio Wettini and the Foundations for a New Critical Edition.” Revue Bénédictine. 120 (2): 243-294.

Pollard, Richard M. 2015. “Lasting Echoes of the Visio Wettini: from Early Medieval to Early Modern.” Presentation to session “Envisioning the Afterlife in the Middle Ages” at the 50th International Congress of Medieval Studies. May 14-17, 2015, at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, USA.

Stevens, Wesley M. 1971. “Walahfrid Strabo — A Student at Fulda.” Historical Papers. 6 (1): 13–20.

Stevens, Wesley M. 2018. Rhetoric and Reckoning in the Ninth century: the Vademecum of Walahfrid Strabo. Turnhout: Brepols.

Traill, David A. 1974. Walahfrid Strabo’s Visio Wettini: text, translation, and commentary. Bern: Herbert Lang.

Waddell, Helen. 1929 / rev. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.

Propertius & Prudentius show gender allocation of credit and blame

To demonstrate romantic sensibility and gain warm acclaim, a successful man often proclaims that he owes all his success to his wife. Under the common law of coverture, a husband is assigned responsibility for crimes his wife committed. Such examples aren’t unusual. Crediting women while blaming men underpins the modern idea of gender equality. Propertius and Prudentius attest to that also being a classical practice.

nude woman (maenad) in fresco in ancient Pompeii

In first century BGC Rome, the poet Propertius became famous for writing in the tradition of Gallus’s love elegy. The Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition of Propertius’s poems in English translation, published in 2009, declares on its book-back blurb:

Of all the great classical love poets, Propertius (c. 50-10 BC) is surely one of those with most immediate appeal for readers today. His helpless infatuation for the sinister figure of his mistress Cynthia forms the main subject of his poetry and is analyzed with a tormented but witty grandeur in all its changing moods, from ecstasy to suicidal despair. [1]

Propertius’s poems have immediate appeal to many readers today for their appalling celebration of men’s abasement to women. More men die from suicide than from homicide. Four times more men than women commit suicide. To make men’s lives matter, by far the most important policy would be to reduce the power of sinister women over men. Instead, women and men delight in reading about Propertius’s infatuation with Cynthia.

Like many successful men today, Propertius credited his mistress Cynthia for all his poetic success. She is the source of his poetry. She makes him a genius:

You ask, how do I write so many songs of love,
how my soft book comes forth, the talk of all.
Not Calliope nor Apollo sings me this;
my girl herself makes me a genius.
If I see her go forth in shining Coan silk,
from that silk gown a scroll of verse comes;
or if I see her tresses roam loose along her brow,
she goes rejoicing, famous for her hair;
or if her ivory fingers strike songs forth on the lyre,
I marvel how her skilled hands press the strings;
or when she droops her drowsy eyes that yearn for sleep,
I find a thousand new themes for my poems;
or if she throws her gown off to wrestle with me nude,
ah, then, then I compose whole Iliads!
Whatever she has done, whatever she has said,
great legends spring from nowhere into being.

{ Quaeritis, unde mihi totiens scribantur amores,
unde meus veniat mollis in ore liber.
non haec Calliope, non haec mihi cantat Apollo.
ingenium nobis ipsa puella facit.
sive illam Cois fulgentem incedere vidi,
totum de Coa veste volumen erit;
seu vidi ad frontem sparsos errare capillos,
gaudet laudatis ire superba comis;
sive lyrae carmen digitis percussit eburnis,
miramur, facilis ut premat arte manus;
seu compescentis somnum declinat ocellos,
invenio causas mille poeta novas;
seu nuda erepto mecum luctatur amictu,
tum vero longas condimus Iliadas;
seu quidquid fecit sivest quodcumque locuta,
maxima de nihilo nascitur historia. }[2]

Propertius imagined the Muses placing Cynthia in front of their dancing. Then they would give to Propertius poetic laurels. He understood Cynthia’s eminent place, “for without you my genius has no recognized value {nam sine te nostrum non valet ingenium}.”[3] In our age of individuality and intense concern for gender equity, how can such a fanciful gender allocation of credit be supported?

Although Cynthia is said to have created all of Propertius’s love poetry, women allegedly lack agency with respect to wrong-doing. The poet Prudentius, writing about 400 GC, underscored the importance of recognizing agency:

So did the horse, iron, bull, lion, rope, or olive
have criminal power within them when formed?
The cause in madness by which man is killed isn’t iron,
but the human hand, nor is a horse the creator of the frenzied insanity
of the circus, its folly and wild applause.
That’s mob mentality, destitute of reason, not the horses’ course,
that rages on. Shameful passion ruins a useful gift.

{ numquid equus, ferrum, taurus, leo, funis, olivum
in se vim sceleris, cum formarentur, habebant?
quod iugulatur homo, non ferrum causa furoris
sed manus est; nec equum vesania fervida circi
auctorem levitatis habet rabidive fragoris:
mens vulgi rationis inops, non cursus equorum
perfurit: infami studio perit utile donum. }[4]

God made Adam with freedom of choice. Adam didn’t have to be a slave to God or a slave to women:

“Go forth,” says the very parent, the maker and creator of Adam,
“Go forth, human, ennobled above all through my mouth’s breath,
not a slave, powerful, ruler of things, ruler also
and judge of your own mind. Subject yourself to me only
by your free will, so that your subjection will be itself a liberty
in your free judgement. I don’t force or constrain you by my might,
but remind you to flee injustice and pursue justice.
Light is companion of the just; the wicked’s companion is horrid death.
Choose the way of life. Virtue shall conduct you through the ages;
your fault in turn will condemn you for eternity.
With freedom granted, choose between these alternate fates.”

{ “vade,” ait ipse parens opifexque et conditor Adae,
“vade, homo, adflatu nostri praenobilis oris,
insubiecte, potens, rerum arbiter, arbiter idem
et iudex mentis propriae, mihi subdere soli
sponte tua, quo sit subiectio et ipsa soluto
libera iudicio, non cogo nec exigo per vim,
sed moneo iniustum fugias iustumque sequaris.
lux comes est iusti, comes est mors horrida iniqui,
elige rem vitae; tua virtus temet in aevum
provehat, aeternum damnet tua culpa vicissim,
praestet et alterutram permissa licentia sortem.” }[5]

With his own freedom and faulty choice, Adam fell. Eve, so blameless that she isn’t even named, bore no guilt for Adam’s fall:

By this kindness and so abundant gift, Adam is a wanderer.
He then transgresses established law, and with foresight
and volition chooses lethal ways, while believing more useful to himself
what, against God’s prohibiting, the clever serpent persuaded,
persuaded certainly by exhortations, not compelled by harsh
command. Accused of this criminal act, the woman
responded to God that, herself enticed by evil artifice,
she persuaded her man. Her man himself then freely
consented. Could he not have spurned her exhortations with the freedom
of his upright soul? He could have. For surely God earlier
urged him to follow the better way willingly, but he,
spurning counsel, believed more the savage enemy.

{ hac pietate vagus et tanto munere abundans,
transit propositum fas et letalia prudens
eligit atque volens, magis utile dum sibi credit
quod prohibente Deo persuasit callidus anguis,
persuasit certe hortatu, non inpulit acri
imperio; hoc mulier rea criminis exprobranti
respondit Domino, suadelis se malefabris
inlectam suasisse viro; vir et ipse libenter
consensit, licuitne hortantem spernere recti
libertate animi? licuit; namque et Deus ante
suaserat ut meliora volens sequeretur; at ille
spernens consilium saevo plus credidit hosti. }[6]

In theory, Adam could have chosen to do other than what Eve urged. Most men with wives or girlfriends understand that such a choice isn’t feasible in practice. Systemic gynocentrism is real. Under U.S. tax law, 90% of the “innocent spouses” granted tax relief for illegal joint marital tax filings are wives.[7] With remarkable foresight into social development, Prudentius assigned Adam all the blame for his fall.

Leading authorities work assiduously today to promote gender equality for women. Promoting “gender equality for women” isn’t the same as promoting gender equality; instead, it’s about crediting women for more and blaming men for more. That’s in fact the classical practice, now enhanced by the modern propaganda apparatus and the ideological zeal of rabid monotheistic post-modernists. Men living within the Roman colonial legacy should seek a divorce from the Sabine women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Lee (2009), from back cover.

[2] Propertius, Elegies 2.1.1-16, Latin text from Goold (1990), English translation (with my small changes) from Corelis (1995). A. S. Kline offers all of Propertius’s poems in English prose translation in a web-native presentation.

[3] Propertius, Elegies 2.30A.40, Latin text from Goold (1990), my English translation. Cf. 2.1.4.

[4] Prudentius, The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia} vv. 358-64, Latin text from Thomson (1949) p. 228, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) p. 21. These verses provide an early instance of the influential argument, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Subsequent quotes from Hamartigenia are similarly sourced.

A proposed reform of U.S. tax law defining “innocent spouse” tax relief similarly emphasizes agency:

the existing innocent spouse relief regime should be replaced with one that respects joint filers’ agency when signing joint returns and affords relief only when a joint filer was unable to exercise that agency.

McMahon (2014) p. 141. Agency in earning money within a marriage, however, has no legal relevance in determining the allocation of assets upon divorce. Moreover, since the spouse that works outside the home to earn money for the marriage has less time to spend with children, that spouse is highly disadvantaged in seeking custody of children of the marriage.

[5] Hamartigenia, vv. 697-707. Cf. Genesis 2:7 (“God formed the human from the dirt and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”), Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (“Behold, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. …”), James 1:25 (“the perfect law, the law of liberty”).

[6] Hamartigenia, vv. 708-19. In his Cathemerinon, Prudentius recognized Eve’s culpability in Adam’s fall:

Then the treacherous serpent
tempts the virgin’s untrained mind.
So with evil persuasion on her man, her partner,
she forces him to eat what was forbidden.
She herself will be ruined in the same way.

{ Hic draco perfidus indocile
virginis inlicit ingenium,
ut socium malesuada virum
mandere cogeret ex vetitis
ipsa pari peritura modo. }

Prudentius, Book of the Daily Round {Liber Cathemerinon} 3, “Hymn before the meal {Hymnus ante cibum},” st. 23 (vv. 111-5), Latin text from O’Daly (2012) p. 88, my English translation benefiting from that of id. p. 89 and Malamud (2011) p. 142.

Prudentius’s Hamartigenia distinctively treats Adam’s culpability:

Perhaps the most peculiar feature of the Hamartigenia to readers brought up on the Genesis account of the Creation and Fall of mankind and influenced by a literary tradition that has been fascinated by the figure of Eve is the way she is minimized, almost eliminated, from the narrative of the origin of sin. In this, Prudentius’s account of original sin differs greatly from the biblical account.

Malamud (2011) p. 140. Prudentius was a highly sophisticated writer who apparently understood gynocentric oppression. He may have been ironically invoking the classical practice of shifting blame from women to men.

[7] In enacting innocent spouse tax relief, the U.S. Congress clearly understood that such relief would vastly disproportionately benefit women:

All but one mention of innocent spouse relief in the Congressional Record referred to wives, most often divorced wives.

McMahon (2014) p. 149, n. 35. In Congressional debate concerning innocent spouse tax relief, Senator Jon Kyl declared: “Nine out of 10 innocent spouses are women.” Id. p. 49, citing statement of Senator Kyl in 1998. Available statistics on innocent spouse petitions are consistent with that claim:

Wives sought relief in 85.4 percent of total cases, 85.3 percent of the trial cases and 88.1 percent of appeals. Not only do women bring more cases, courts appear to be more sympathetic to wives than to husbands. Wives won 21.6 percent of their appeals and 37.4 percent of their trials and husbands won 0.0 percent of their appeals and 25.4 percent of their trial cases. As a result of the dominance wives have in bringing suit, wives won 89.5 percent of total taxpayer victories.

McMahon (2012) p. 662. Interpreted literally as a matter of reason and logic, innocent spouse law seems to undermine gender equality:

In the case of innocent spouse relief, in the attempt to help wives, relief might well cause more harm than good. For those spouses targeted for relief, we are creating a dangerous double standard. The reason for a more protective tax regime is that advocates worry that it is unfair to presume that wives can meaningfully evaluate the returns they sign. It is hard to see how this fails to send a signal to the nation that wives are not, or are at least not considered to be, equal members in marriage. This is not a message that we want Congress to send.

McMahon (2014) p. 184. More sophisticated interpretation better indicates the intended undermining of gender equality. The U.S. Congress gutted due process of law through domestic violence legislation enacted under grossly anti-men gender-bigoted claims about domestic violence. Gender-profiling husbands for arrest for domestic violence makes husband legally disadvantage spouses. Congress apparently intended to send a message of female privilege through its domestic violence laws. Congress plausibly sought to send a similar, politically advantageous message of female privilege with its innocent spouse tax law.

Innocent spouse law includes an open-ended opportunity to get tax relief under the heading “equitable relief.” According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service:

If you don’t qualify for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief, you may still qualify for equitable relief. To qualify for equitable relief, you must establish that under all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the deficiency or underpayment of tax.

The anti-men gender bias Congress intended is made more obvious with the additional explicit stipulation: “the IRS will take into account abuse and financial control by the nonrequesting spouse.”

[image] Nude woman (maenad) in Roman fresco in the Casa del Criptoportico (I 6,2) in Pompeii. Painted before 79 GC (probably first century). Image thanks to WolfgangRieger and Wikimedia Commons.


Corelis, Jon. 1995. Roman Erotic Elegy: Selections from Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid and Sulpicia. Salzburg Studies in English Literature, Poetic Drama & Poetic Theory 128. Salzburg: University of Salzburg.

Goold, G. P., ed and trans. 1990. Propertius. Elegies. Loeb Classical Library 18. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Lee, Guy, trans. 2009. Propertius. The Poems. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Malamud, Martha A. 2011. Prudentius. The Origin of Sin: An English Translation of the Hamartigenia. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 61. Cornell University Press. (review by Dennis E. Trout)

McMahon, Stephanie Hunter. 2012. “An Empirical Study of Innocent Spouse Relief: Do Courts Implement Congress’s Legislative Intent?Florida Tax Review. 12 (8): 629-707.

McMahon, Stephanie Hunter. 2014. “What Innocent Spouse Relief Says about Women and the Rest of Us.” Harvard Journal of Law & Gender. 37 (1): 141-184.

O’Daly, Gerard J. P. 2012. Days Linked by Song: Prudentius’ Cathemerinon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Catherine Conybeare)

Thomson, Henry John, ed. and trans. 1949. Prudentius. Loeb Classical Library 387, 398. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Tibullus with Parthenius against Gallus on gender in love & war

In the first century BGC, Parthenius of Nicaea supplied Cornelius Gallus with ancient Greek stories to use in his poetry. Gallus became renowned as the earliest of the great Latin love elegists.[1] A military leader who conquered five cities and became the ruler of the new Roman province of Egypt, Gallus contributed significantly to developing love elegy’s gendered figure of “love’s warfare {militia amoris}.” Like most modern scholars, Gallus failed to understand critically violence against men in Parthenius’s collection. Tibullus, another leading Latin love elegist of the first century BGC, evoked violence against men to create a sophisticated poetic rejection of Gallus’s love elegy.

Parthenius’s story concerning Pallene shows how violence against men is related to men’s love for women. Pallene was the daughter of Sithon, King of the Odomanti in Thrace. Renowned for her beauty and her pleasing temperament toward men, Pallene attracted many men who wanted to marry her. Sithon tested Pallene’s suitors by fighting each one to the death. The precious woman Pallene was thus positioned as a prize that either father or potential husband could earn at the cost of the other man’s life. In the parallel story of Hippodamia, King Oenamous, and Pelops, the father killed eighteen men suitors to assert his superior right to live with his daughter. Horrific violence against men is associated with women’s relatively high social value and privilege.

The social construction of gender under gynocentrism has defined men’s virtue in terms of their strength and fighting ability against other men. When King Sithon grew much older and physically weaker, he realized that he could no longer successfully fight against Pallene’s suitors. He thus considered himself no longer worthy to be the primary man-object of his daughter’s affection. Sithon arranged for two new suitors, Dryas and Cleitus, to fight to death for the prize of being able to marry Pallene. Men have long endured systemic sexual disadvantage relative to women. Men should not have to fight for women’s love any more than women should have to fight for men’s love.

Women are complicit in violence against men. Women, directly or indirectly, commonly motivate, incite, or determine violence against men. So it was with Pallene:

When the appointed combat day dawned, Pallene (who, so it turned out, had fallen in love with Cleitus) was very much afraid for him. She had not the heart to confess this to any of her attendants. But her cheeks so ran with tears that eventually her old tutor realised and diagnosed her condition. He told her to keep her spirits up and that things would go just as she wanted. Secretly he approached Dryas’s charioteer. He promised him a great deal of money if he would not insert the linch-pins in Dryas’s chariot-wheels. So when they went out to battle and Dryas charged at Cleitus, the wheels fell away from under his chariot. Cleitus rushed up to Dryas as he lay there and killed him.

{ τῆς δὲ ἀφωρισμένης ἡμέρας παρούσης, ἡ Παλλήνη (ἔτυχε γὰρ ἐρῶσα τοῦ Κλείτου) πάνυ ὀρρώδει περὶ αὐτοῦ· καὶ σημῆναι μὲν οὐκ ἐτόλμα τινὶ τῶν ἀμφ᾿ αὑτήν5, δάκρυα δὲ πολλὰ ἐχεῖτο τῶν παρειῶν αὐτῆς, ἕως ὅτε ὁ τροφεὺς αὐτῆς πρεσβύτης, ἀναπυνθανόμενος καὶ ἐπιγνοὺς τὸ πάθος, τῇ μὲν θαρρεῖν παρεκελεύσατο ὡς, ᾗ βούλεται, ταύτῃ τοῦ πράγματος χωρήσοντος· αὐτὸς δὲ κρύφα ὑπέρχεται τὸν ἡνίοχον τοῦ Δρύαντος καὶ αὐτῷ χρυσὸν πολὺν ὁμολογήσας πείθει διὰ τῶν ἁρματηγῶν τροχῶν μὴ διεῖναι τὰς περόνας. ἔνθα δή, ὡς ἐς μάχην ἐξῄεσαν καὶ ἤλαυνεν ὁ Δρύας ἐπὶ τὸν Κλεῖτον, καὶ οἱ τροχοὶ περιερρύησαν αὐτῷ τῶν ἁρμάτων καὶ οὕτως πεσόντα αὐτὸν ἐπιδραμὼν ὁ Κλεῖτος ἀναιρεῖ. }[2]

King Sithon had at least a primitive sense of justice. For her manipulation of the violence among men, he planned to immolate his daughter Pallone upon the funeral pyre for the unfairly killed Dryas. In modern societies, women’s tears prompt grossly gender-disparate sentences for similar crimes. In this story, the sky poured down rain and extinguished Dryas’s funeral fire. Interpreting this natural event to signal a divine mandate for women’s privilege, Sithon allowed Pallene to live and marry Cleitus.

Gallus, horseman on trilingual stela

Cornelius Gallus failed to perceive the critical perspective on gender and violence that Parthenius provided through his stories of sufferings in love. Gallus instead accepted the dominant Roman valuation of men and achieved preeminence within it. Gallus led a Roman army in Octavian’s successful invasion of Egypt in 30 BGC. As a reward for his military service, Gallus received the title of Imperial Adjunct. He was made chief administrator of the new Roman province of Egypt. With an inscription on a stela, Gallus celebrated his own military exploits, including “defeated the enemy; victor in two battles, conqueror of five cities {hostem vicit, bis acie victor, V urbium expugnator}.”[3] Gallus was a proud survivor of brutal violence against men.

Gallus also fought for women’s love. He had a love affair with an actress / courtesan called Cytheris, thought to be a Roman freedwoman named Volumnia. She, however, left him to follow Mark Antony in Gaul. Rome’s triumph over Cleopatra and Antony in Egypt almost surely didn’t mean that Gallus received Cytheris’s love. Gallus apparently fought for her love with four books of love elegy. Those books centered on a courtesan named Lycoris, probably a figure for Cytheris / Volumnia.[4] Virgil envisioned questioning Gallus’s insane, failed love:

All ask: “From where is that love of yours?” Apollo came:
“Gallus, what is this insanity?” he said, “Your dear Lycoris
is following another man through snows and horrid camps.”

{ omnes “unde amor iste” rogant “tibi?” venit Apollo:
“Galle, quid insanis?” inquit. “tua cura Lycoris
perque nives alium perque horrida castra secuta est.” }[5]

According to Virgil, Gallus himself, mired in a military engagement, was raving in love for his lost Lycoris:

Here are frigid springs, here are soft meadows, Lycoris,
here are the woods: here eternity itself to be spent with you.
Now insane love for the harsh god of war keeps me armed,
detained amid clashing weapons and hostile forces.
You are far from your fatherland — would I not believe such.
Ah! harsh one, Alpine snows and the cold Rhine you see
without me, alone. Ah! May the cold do you no harm!
Ah! May the sharp ice not cut your tender soles!

{ Hic gelidi fontes, hic mollia prata, Lycori,
hic nemus; hic ipso tecum consumerer aevo.
nunc insanus Amor duri me Martis in armis
tela inter media atque adversos detinet hostis.
tu procul a patria – nec sit mihi credere tantum –
Alpinas, a, dura nives et frigora Rheni
me sine sola vides. a, te ne frigora laedant!
a, tibi ne teneras glacies secet aspera plantas! }

Ovid described the outcome of Gallus’s manly struggles:

Gallus is famed in the West, and Gallus in the East,
and with Gallus shall be famed his Lycoris.

{ Gallus et Hesperiis et Gallus notus Eois,
et sua cum Gallo nota Lycoris erit. }[6]

Lycoris’s name indeed became famous with Gallus. That’s not the same as Gallus growing old with his beloved woman. Martial declared, “beautiful Lycoris was Gallus’s genius {ingenium Galli pulchra Lycoris erat}.”[7] That’s an early version of a now-common claim that a man owes all his success to a woman. An elegiac fragment from Parthenius seems to say, “derived no profit from sweet marriage { ‒⏑⏑ ] ος γλυκερῶν οὐκ ἀπελ [‒⏑⏑‒ }.” Gallus surely didn’t have a sweet marriage with Lycoris.[8]

Gallus’s successful violence against men also didn’t bring him enduring happiness. A short time after being made chief administrator of Egypt, he incurred the displeasure of Emperor Augustus. The Roman Senate condemned Gallus. He then committed suicide. Weak evidence suggests that he was subject to an order of “condemnation of memory {damnatio memoriae},” e.g. obliteration of the records of his life. If so, that obliteration wasn’t complete. Verses of Propertius on Gallus have survived:

And recently, dead for beautiful Lycoris, Gallus has
washed how many wounds in the waters of the infernal world.

{ et modo formosa quam multa Lycoride Gallus
mortuus inferna vulnera lavit aqua. }[9]

Gallus died violently, like many of Pallene’s suitors in Parthenius’s story. Gallus didn’t appreciate the deaths of those suitors.[10] Like most men, Gallus didn’t defy the oppression of men under gynocentrism. Gallus lived and died the difficult, violent life set out for men.

Unlike Gallus, Tibullus celebrated simple, peaceful country life. The first elegy in Tibullus’s first book begins:

Let another gather for himself wealth of yellow gold
and hold many acres of well-plowed soil,
let endless work terrify him, with an enemy nearby,
and sounds of war-trumpets driving away sleep.
Let my moderate means lead me to a quiet life,
while my hearth shines with constant flame.

{ Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti,
dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus. }[11]

Tibullus’s last elegy in that book begins:

Who was he who first brought forth the horrid sword?
How iron-willed and truly made of iron was he!
Then slaughter of men began, then war was born,
then a quicker road was opened to fearful death.
Perhaps that wretch merits blame for nothing: do we turn to evil
what he gave us to use on ferocious beasts?
That’s the curse of wealth in gold. No wars were made
when the beech-wood cup stood beside men’s feasts.
No fortresses or fences were there; the flock’s leader
sought sleep securely among the speckled sheep.
Then I might have lived, Valgius, and not known sad
arms nor heard the trumpet-call with trembling heart.
Now I’m dragged to war, and perhaps already some foe
carries the spear that will stick my side.

{ Quis fuit, horrendos primus qui protulit enses?
quam ferus et vere ferreus ille fuit!
tum caedes hominum generi, tum proelia nata,
tum brevior dirae mortis aperta via est.
an nihil ille miser meruit, nos ad mala nostra
vertimus, in saevas quod dedit ille feras?
divitis hoc vitium est auri, nec bella fuerunt,
faginus astabat cum scyphus ante dapes.
non arces, non vallus erat, somnumque petebat
securus varias dux gregis inter oves.
tunc mihi vita foret, Valgi, nec tristia nossem
arma nec audissem corde micante tubam.
nunc ad bella trahor, et iam quis forsitan hostis
haesura in nostro tela gerit latere. }[12]

As Tibullus knew from the stories of Parthenius, peace in an idyllic age before the invention of iron is merely a dream. Violence against men is as old as humans made woman and man.

Marie de Medici as Bellona

Tibullus understood that violence against men has women at its center. The first elegy of Tibullus’s first book, which begins with quiet country life and warm hearth, immediately changes that life slightly but significantly:

I don’t require the wealth of my forefathers,
such as the harvest piled together by my ancient ancestor.
A little field is enough — enough to sleep in peace
if I am able to rest my limbs on my usual bed.
What joy to hear the harsh winds as I recline,
holding my lady to my tender breast,
or, when winter wind from the south sheds frigid showers,
to sleep serenely, helped by an accompanying fire.

{ non ego divitias patrum fructusque requiro,
quos tulit antiquo condita messis avo:
parva seges satis est; satis est, requiescere lecto
si licet et solito membra levare toro.
quam iuvat immites ventos audire cubantem
et dominam tenero continuisse sinu
aut, gelidas hibernus aquas cum fuderit Auster,
securum somnos igne iuvante sequi. }[13]

Now Tibullus’s rustic dream includes a ruling “lady {domina}.” In the following, telling half-verse, he declares, “This is my fate {Hoc mihi contingat}.” Tibullus continues on to show that his fate of having a ruling lady disrupts his dream of a simple, rustic life. Gallus’s surviving elegiac verses connect sadness in love to military triumph:

sad, Lycoris, by your misbehavior

My fate will then be sweet to me, Caesar, when you
are the most important part of Roman history,
and when I read of many gods’ temples after your return
the richer for being adorned with your spoils.

{ tristia nequitia … Lycori

Fata mihi, Caesar, tum erunt mea dulcia, quom tu
maxima Romanae pars eris historiae
postque tuum reditum multorum templa deorum
fixa legam spolieis deivitiora tueis. }[14]

Tibullus’s patron Messalla, a figure of Gallus, and Tibullus’s beloved Delia, a figure of Lycoris, tear into his dream and reshape his fate:

Let him be wealthy, by right,
who can endure the raging seas and the mournful rain.
O, let however much gold and emeralds be lost,
rather than any girl would weep about my travels.
Messalla, for you war by land and sea is fitting,
so that your house might display enemy takings,
but the chains of a lovely girl bind me captive here,
and I sit as a doorman before her harsh entrance.
I’m not concerned for praise, my Delia, as long as
I’m with you. Please allow me to be called idle and lazy.
When my highest hour has come, let me gaze on you;
may I hold you, as I die, in my failing grasp.

{ sit dives iure, furorem
qui maris et tristes ferre potest pluvias.
o quantum est auri pereat potiusque smaragdi,
quam fleat ob nostras ulla puella vias.
te bellare decet terra, Messalla, marique,
ut domus hostiles praeferat exuvias:
me retinent vinctum formosae vincla puellae,
et sedeo duras ianitor ante fores.
non ego laudari curo, mea Delia; tecum
dum modo sim, quaeso segnis inersque vocer.
te spectem, suprema mihi cum venerit hora;
te teneam moriens deficiente manu. }[15]

Tibullus’s dream of rustic simplicity has evaporated. He’s enslaved in love. He’s desperate seeking the love of Delia, who locks him out of her house. With an allusion to sexual consummation, he without reason dies while she is still young. Other Tibullus elegies indicate that he’s forced to travel and fight in wars. Love has become as arbitrary as war, and love and war are poetically enmeshed:

Now trivial love is to be practiced, while breaking down doors
isn’t shameful and one delights in sowing quarrels.
Here I’m a good general and soldier. Go far away, you
ensigns and trumpets, carry wounds to greedy men,
and carry wealth to them. Secure with my gathered heap,
I’ll despise their riches, and despise hunger too.

{ nunc levis est tractanda venus, dum frangere postes
non pudet et rixas inseruisse iuvat.
hic ego dux milesque bonus: vos, signa tubaeque,
ite procul, cupidis vulnera ferte viris,
ferte et opes: ego composito securus acervo
dites despiciam despiciamque famem. }[16]

Tibullus has deliberately created semantic incoherence. Like a soldier seeking spoils, he despises hunger and is satisfied with gathering a heap of unspecified objects. The delight of love is the trivial, stupid action of breaking down doors and sowing quarrels. With this incoherence, Tibullus protested against war and against the love of Gallus’s love elegy.

While violence against men is effaced or excused within dominant gynocentric ideology, Tibullus recognized that Gallus’s love elegy endorses brutal violence against men. Tibullus mockingly declared its rules for men:

And for me let the rules be harsh, let me never be able
to praise another without her going for my eyes,
and if I’m thought to have wronged her, let me be taken by my hair
and flung face down in the middle of the street.

{ et mihi sint durae leges, laudare nec ullam
possim ego quin oculos appetat illa meos;
et si quid peccasse puter, ducarque capillis
in medias pronus proripiarque vias. }[17]

Justice systems have long treated men much more harshly than women. In the ancient world, blinding was a punishment for profaning the sacred. The woman is a sacred idol in Gallus’s love elegy. The man is merely a slave to be flung face down in the street. Ovid complained of his girlfriend, “If I praise another, wretched me, you tear out my hair with your fingernails {siquam laudavi, misero petis ungue capillos}.”[18] Urging Delia’s husband to allow him to be her guardian, Tibullus underscored men’s subordination to women in Gallus’s love elegy:

But trust her to my keeping: then I’ll not refuse
savage blows, or shrink from chains on my ankles.

{ at mihi servandam credas: non saeva recuso
verbera, detrecto non ego vincla pedum. }[19]

Men shouldn’t have to suffer savage blows from women or enslavement in love for women. Yet the abasement of men in Gallus’s love elegy is the same as the abasement of men as vassals in the sexual feudalism of troubadour and trobairitz love lyric. Like the violence against men celebrated in Homeric epic, domestic violence against men isn’t recognized within dominant gynocentric discourse. Scholarly discussion of domestic violence today, even with respect Roman elegy, is an appalling spectacle of ignorance and gender bigotry.[20]

Men in Gallus’s love elegy enjoy love as war. Gallus apparently was a patron of Tibullus’s near contemporary Propertius. Propertius wrote that his beloved girl abusing him was sweet:

Sweet to me was the lamplight brawl we had last night,
all the abuse from your insane tongue.
You be truly bold: attack my hair
and scratch my face with your lovely nails.
You threaten to bring a flame to burn out my eyes —
rip my clothes and strip bare my chest!
When crazed with wine, you knock over the table and
with your insane hand fling at me full cups.

Let love-rivals see the wounds of my bitten neck.
Let bruises inform that I’ve had my girl with me.
I want either to suffer in love or hear of suffering,

{ Dulcis ad hesternas fuerat mihi rixa lucernas,
vocis et insanae tot maledicta tuae.
tu vero nostros audax invade capillos
et mea formosis unguibus ora nota,
tu minitare oculos subiecta exurere flamma,
fac mea rescisso pectora nuda sinu!
cum furibunda mero mensam propellis et in me
proicis insana cymbia plena manu

in morso aequales videant mea vulnera collo:
me doceat livor mecum habuisse meam.
aut in amore dolere volo aut audire dolentem }[21]

Following Gallus, Propertius explicitly associated the pleasure of love with war:

Sweeter was love’s fire for Paris, with weapons engaged with Greeks,
so as to be able to bring pleasure to his Helen, daughter of Tyndareus.
When the Danaans were winning, with savage Hector remaining firm,
Paris waged the mightiest war in Helen’s embrace.
With weapons either with you or with a rival for you
will I always be: peace with you will never satisfy me.

{ dulcior ignis erat Paridi, cum Graia per arma
Tyndaridi poterat gaudia ferre suae:
dum vincunt Danai, dum restat barbarus Hector,
ille Helenae in gremio maxima bella gerit.
aut tecum aut pro te mihi cum rivalibus arma
semper erunt: in te pax mihi nulla placet. }

War is institutionally structured violence against men. That’s obvious, but scarcely acknowledged. Gallus’s love elegy similarly supports violence against men in love, and the subordination of men to women. Propertius didn’t challenge these premises of Gallus’s love elegy, but Tibullus did.

Bellona as Dutch woman in 1633

Tibullus ended his first book of love elegy with a deeply challenging depiction of love, war, and rustic peace. Tibullus’s tableau is as disturbing and subversive as Ausonius’s Wedding Cento:

From the woods the farmer rides, himself half-sober,
going home in a wagon with his wife and children.
But then love’s battles are inflamed. Torn hair
and broken doors the woman bewails.
She cries, her tender cheeks bruised. But the victor himself
cries that his own mad hands were so strong.
And lewd love supplies evil words to their quarrel;
between the angry couple love sits unconcerned.

{ rusticus e lucoque vehit, male sobrius ipse,
uxorem plaustro progeniemque domum.
sed veneris tunc bella calent, scissosque capillos
femina, perfractas conqueriturque fores;
flet teneras subtusa genas: sed victor et ipse
flet sibi dementes tam valuisse manus.
at lascivus Amor rixae mala verba ministrat,
inter et iratum lentus utrumque sedet. }[22]

Broken doors makes no sense relative to a couple going to their own home. That’s a figure imported from Gallus’s love elegy to this rustic scene. Torn hair and bruised cheeks are women’s self-injury in urbane lamenting of beloved men’s deaths. Relative to rustic marital love, the extra-normative love of Gallus’s love elegy plays with the couple, he half-sober and she perhaps completely drunk. The husband’s mad hands are those of the insane lover Gallus. Gallus’s love elegy here colonizes rustic love.

Tibullus in his subsequent eight verses thematically depicted men’s gender subordination to women in Gallus’s love elegy. To his earlier association of iron and war Tibullus added stone, a much more primitive substance:

Oh, he’s stone and iron, he whoever would strike his girl:
that pulls down the gods from the heavens.
Let it be enough to have torn thin clothes from her limbs.
Let it be enough to have tousled her adorned hair.
Having moved her to tears is enough, for four times blessed is he
whose anger is able to make a tender girl weep.
But he whose hands will be savage — he should carry
a shield and pike and be far from the gentle love goddess.

{ a lapis est ferrumque, suam quicumque puellam
verberat: e caelo deripit ille deos.
sit satis e membris tenuem rescindere vestem
sit satis ornatus dissoluisse comae
sit lacrimas movisse satis; quater ille beatus
quo tenera irato flere puella potest.
sed manibus qui saevus erit, scutumque sudemque
is gerat et miti sit procul a Venere. }

This gentle love goddess just spurred the rustic couple’s quarrel. Within heterosexual conflict, women’s violence is privileged. The girl may gouge out the boy’s eyes, but the gods protect the girl from the boy hitting her. To be repeatedly blessed with the fire of the woman’s passion, the man must successfully enact masculine love play: tearing off the woman’s thin clothes, tousling her hair, and dominating her emotionally. Tibullus elsewhere described the war-goddess Bellona, working on behalf of Love, savagely bloodying her own arms with a double-axe. Roman military service put to arms slave men, men conscripts, and citizen men compelled to fight according to gendered selective service. Associating men in the Roman army with savages unworthy of love devalues men’s lives relative to women’s lives.

Tibullus almost surely meant his concluding presentation of rustic domestic violence to be critical insight into Gallus’s love elegy. Tibullus’s patron Messalla served in the Roman army, as did Tibullus himself. Neither are plausibly interpreted in Tibullus’s elegy as truly savage men. The savage man unworthy of love is better interpreted as pointing to Gallus’s love elegy. That poetically associated love with war. It also supported men’s gender subordination in love and war. Tibullus’s first book of elegies concludes:

But come to us with wheat in your hand, nourishing Peace;
may your shining white breast flow with fruits before us.

{ at nobis, Pax alma, veni spicamque teneto,
profluat et pomis candidus ante sinus. }

This rustic image of feminine peace has an erotic charge. Violence against men arises primarily from men competing for women’s love and men striving to serve women. Peace isn’t a fruit of women’s breasts. Peace depends on men culturally sophisticated enough to strive to love other men as much as they naturally love women. Tibullus’s distinctive and sophisticated use of “country life {rura}” works ironically against the themes of “love {amor}” and “war / military service {militia}” established in Gallus’s love elegy.[23]

Parthenius’s stories of suffering in love are consistent with Tibullus’s subtle understanding of violence against men. Parthenius recounted persons overcoming insane love through moral reflection. Parthenius represented women culpably entangled in violence against men, including rape of men. He also presented solidarity among men as vital to gender equality and social justice. Parthenius dedicated his story collection to Gallus, yet Gallus didn’t appreciate its significance for love elegy. Tibullus, whether via Parthenius or some other source, understood from ancient Greek stories the key meninist theme of love for men.[24]

Meninist literary criticism encompasses, penetrates, and moves beyond both feminist theory and queer theory. Man, whether a generic abstraction for humans or an instantiation of toxic masculinity, must yeild to men as fully human beings worthy of love merely for their being. Men carry a seminal blessing. Men have created most of the material structure of modern civilization. Both women and men should love men. The future of humane civilization, if there is one, isn’t female. It’s meninist.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Ovid presented himself as fourth in a line of eminent elegists:

greedy fate gave
to Tibullus no time for friendship with me.
Tibullus was your successor, Gallus; Propertius his.
After them I myself came, fourth in order of time.

{ nec avara Tibullo
tempus amicitiae fata dedere meae
successor fuit hic tibi, Galle, Propertius illi;
quartus ab his serie temporis ipse fui }

Ovid, Sorrows {Tristia} 4.10.51-4, Latin text from Wheeler (1924) of the Loeb Classical Library, my English translation. Quintilian, writing in the middle of the first century GC, similarly listed four eminent Latin elegists:

In elegy, too, we challenge the Greeks. The most refined and elegant author seems to me to be Tibullus. Some prefer Propertius. Ovid is more self-indulgent than these two, Gallus more harsh.

{ Elegia quoque Graecos provocamus, cuius mihi tersus atque elegans maxime videtur auctor Tibullus. Sunt qui Propertium malint. Ovidius utroque lascivior, sicut durior Gallus. }

Quintilian, The Orator’s Education {Institutio Oratoria} 10.1.93, Latin text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Russell (2002). While Gallus was the first of the eminent Latin love elegists, Latin love elegy existed before Gallus. Raymond (2013) p. 66. Regarding Gallus’s position in the development of Latin love elegy, Claassen summarized:

He was perhaps the first to write poems that were shorter than those of Greek elegy, which usually dealt with a single topic, but were longer than the erotic epigrams (that had the same metric form) made popular by Catullus. Recent work on Gallus seems in general to concur that the poet set the “unhappy tone” for Roman elegiacs. Parthenius dedicated his erotic myths to Gallus, who may have been the first to draw himself as first-person participant within a myth.

Claassen (2017) pp. 322-3, n. 28.

[2] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 6.4-5 (About Pallene {Περὶ Παλλήνης}), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly to be more easily readable) from Lightfoot (2009). All the details of the story above are from Parthenius’s account. The manchette for this story states, “The story is told by Theagenes and in Hegesippus’ Palleniaca {Ἱστορεῖ Θεαγένης καὶ Ἡγήσιππος ἐν Παλληνιακοῖς}.” Id. Here’s the Greek text of Hercher (1858). For comparison to similar ancient Greek stories, Lightfoot (1999) pp. 403-7. Lightfoot’s commentary shows no concern for the horrific violence against men.

[3] Inscription on trilingual stela erected in Philae 29 BGC. Latin text (CIL 3.1414 7,5) from Packard Humanities Institute’s Epigraphy Database (simplified textual presentation), my English translation benefiting from those of Minas-Nerpelm & Pfeiffer (2010) pp. 281-2 and Török (2008) via Attalus. On what’s known of Gallus’s biography, Raymond (2013).

[4] On Gallus love for Cytheris / Volumnia and her leaving him for Mark Antony, Raymond (2013) p. 60. The fourth-century commentator Servius, writing on Virgil, Eclogue 10.1, states that Gallus was “an eminent poet {poeta eximius}”; Gallus “wrote four books on his love for Cytheris {amorum suorum de Cytheride scripsit libros quattuor}.”

[5] Virgil, Eclogue 10.21-3, Latin text from Fairclough & Goold (1999), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and A.S. Kline (2001). The subsequent quote is similarly from Eclogue 10.42-9.

[6] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 1.15.29-30, Latin text from Ehwald (1907) via Perseus, my English translation. Here are William Turpin’s textual notes and A.S. Kline’s translation of the full poem.

[7] Martial, Epigrams {Epigrammata} 8.73.6, Latin text from Heraeus & Borovskij (1925) via Perseus, my English translation.

[8] Parthenius of Nicaea, Poetic Fragments, fragment 27a, ancient Greek text (slightly simplified presentation) and English translation from Lightfoot (2009) pp. 516-7. Parthenius wrote a farewell poem to one traveling overseas (a propemptikon {προπεμπτικόν}). Parthenius, fragment 26, available in id. Gallus apparently wrote a propemptikon to Lycoris. Cairns (1979) p. 226. Nothing is known about the relation of Parthenius’s propemptikon to Gallus’s propemptikon.

Gallus almost surely never married Lycoris. Whether Gallus married isn’t known. Martial describes a Roman official in north Africa (Libya) named Gallus who had an adulterous, promiscuous wife. Martial suggests that Gallus’s wife preferred to penetrate sexually others:

Among the peoples of Libya, your wife, Gallus, has a bad reputation
for the ugly crime of immoderate greed.
But the stories are sheer lies. She isn’t accustomed to
take at all. To what then is she accustomed? To give.

{ Gentibus in Libycis uxor tua, Galle, male audit
immodicae foedo crimine avaritiae.
sed mera narrantur mendacia: non solet illa
accipere omnino. quid solet ergo? dare. }

Martial, Epigrammata 2.56, sourced as above. Galli were castrated men who served the goddess Cybele. They were thought to perform oral sex on women. Nicholas (2017) p. 26.

Whether Martial was referring specially to Cornelius Gallus in 2.56, or some other Roman official in north Africa named Gallus, isn’t clear. Propertius refers to three or four different men named Gallus (Kline (2001) identifies four; Somerville (2009) and others, three). However, given Cornelius Gallus’s eminence as both a literary author and a Roman official, this epigram likely cast a shadow on Cornelius Gallus in ancient readers’ minds.

Martial 4.16 insinuates that a man named Gallus was having sex with his stepmother. In particular, he wasn’t her stepson while she was his father’s wife, and after his father died, she lived with him. That reference to Gallus lacks the additional specificity of he being a Roman official in north Africa.

[9] Propertius, Elegies 2.34.91-2, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Mueller (1898) via Perseus, my English translation. A.S. Kline provides a freely available English translation of the whole poem. Cf. Propertius, Elegies 1.5, 1.10, and 1.13, all of which some scholars plausibly argue refer to Cornelius Gallus. Cairns (2006) argues that Gallus was a major influence on Propertius and that Gallus was a patron of Propertius.

[10] Cairns speculated, “the influence of Parthenius upon Gallus must have been strong.” Cairns (1979) p. 226. At least with respect to violence against men and gender, the evidence seems to me to suggest that Parthenius had little influence upon Gallus.

[11] Tibullus, Elegies {Elegiae} 1.1.1-6, Latin text from Postgate (1913), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and A.S. Kline (2001). The hearth shining with “constant {adsiduo}” flame seems to me to suggest light connecting earth and sky (“to the star {astro}”). Subsequent quotes from Tibullus are similarly sourced. For a straight-forward, accessible review of the themes of love, war, and country life in Tibullus, Brazouski (1979).

[12] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.10.1-14. Here are some English translation notes. The wonderful translation “How iron-willed and truly made of iron he was! {Quam ferus et vere ferreus ille fuit!}” is from A.S. Kline.

The manuscript reading vulgi in v. 1.10.11 is suspect. Recent editions emend to valgi. That implies Tibullus addressing his contemporary Valgius Rufus, a Roman senator and writer of Latin elegy. Two fifteenth-century manuscripts record the conjecture dulcis. The Gallus fragment from Qaṣr Ibrîm provides some additional support for dulcis. O’Hara (2005). O’Hara commented, “if we read dulcis, we find that the verses on the Gallus papyrus influenced Tibullus.” Id. p. 319. Gallus undoubtedly influenced Tibullus. As argued above, Tibullus at the broad thematic level seems to have written against Gallus’s love elegy.

[13] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.1.41-8. Tibullus contrasted the beloved “lady of the house {domina}” in v. 46 with references to the beloved “girl {puella}” of Gallus’s love elegy in vv. 52 and 55. Claassen observed: “It is now generally accepted that use of domina (‘mistress’) in the erotic sense in elegy originated with Gallus.” Id. p. 330.

[14] From Qaṣr Ibrîm papyrus with text attributed to Gallus; Latin text (simplified presentation) and English translation (adapted insubstantially) from Anderson, Parsons & Nisbet (1979) p. 140. This Gallus fragment has attracted enormous scholarly attention. See, e.g. the work of Adrian Pay, such as Pay (2016). For a comprehensive recent review and analysis, Claassen (2017) pp. 325-34.

[15] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.1.49-60. O’Rourke associated Tibullus 1 and 10 with the song of Ares and Aphrodite in the Odyssey and Empedoclean conflict between love and strike as represented in Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Concerning the emergence of Delia in Tibullus’s arms, O’Rourke stated:

Given Tibullus’ quasi-Epicurean desire to live a peaceful and secluded life, and the specific evocations of Lucretius earlier in the elegy, it is tempting to contemplate in this picture of Tibullus, loving and dying in Delia’s embrace at the opening of Book 1, an analogy with the embracing lovers Mars and Venus in parallel position at the opening of De rerum natura 1.

O’Rourke (2014) para. 10. Tibullus seems to me to have moved on to a critical perspective like that on Mars and Venus in Johannes de Hauvilla’s Architrenius.

[16] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.1.73-8. On Tibullus’s military travel with Messalla, 1.3.1-22. and on Messalla’s foreign military success, 1.7. Messalla’s triump occurred on September 25, 27 BGC. Tibullus imagines himself having died “following Messalla by land and sea {Messallam terra dum sequiturque mari}.” 1.3.56; cf. 1.1.45. Nonetheless, Tibullus also proclaims:

That man was iron who, when he could have possessed you,
foolishly preferred to follow after war and plunder.
Let him chase Cilicia’s routed troop before him,
and pitch his war camp on captured ground.
All covered in silver, all in gold,
let him conspicuously sit on his swift horse.
If only I myself might yoke oxen with you, Delia,
and graze flocks on the usual hill,
and while I hold you in my tender arms,
soft sleep be mine even on the rugged earth.

{ ferreus ille fuit qui, te cum posset habere,
maluerit praedas stultus et arma sequi.
ille licet Cilicum victas agat ante catervas,
ponat et in capto Martia castra solo,
totus et argento contectus, totus et auro,
insideat celeri conspiciendus equo;
ipse boves mea si tecum modo Delia possim
iungere et in solito pascere monte pecus,
et te dum liceat teneris retinere lacertis,
mollis et inculta sit mihi somnus humo. }

1.2.67-74. Conflicting claims and irony are central to Tibullus’s love elegy.

[17] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.69-72.

[18] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 2.7.7, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Ehwald (1907) via Perseus, my English translation. Here’s A.S. Kline’s translation of the whole poem.

[19] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.37-8. Women’s violence against men sometimes provokes men’s violence against women. In reality, much of domestic violence is mutual violence. Yet that mutual violence isn’t a normative expression of love. It’s thus distinct from the mutual violence that Tibullus depicted within Gallus’s love elegy:

Then I gave her juices and herbs to erase the bruises
that mutual love makes teeth imprint on the flesh.

{ tunc sucos herbasque dedi quis livor abiret
quem facit impresso mutua dente venus. }

Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.13-4.

[20] O’Rouke (2018) is best interpreted not as a unique authorial creation, but as reflecting pervasive gynocentric imperatives in discussing domestic volence. It approaches social-scientific literature on domestic violence with worse interpretive skills than mass-market newspaper columnists. It doesn’t consider obvious biases in survey questions about rape. The connection that it puts forward between military service and intimate-partner violence ignores gender bias in determinating perpetrators of domestic violence and gender bias in military service.

Under gynocentric dominance, scholars are compelled to make absurd claims even in relation to ancient Latin love elegy. Consider:

In Roman elegy, then, depictions of the domina’s abuse of her lover should not be taken as recognition that the perpetrator of domestic violence is not always the male: the bruising with which Propertius threatens Cynthia if she goes to bed clothed (2.15.17-20, quoted above, p. 116) is not symbolically equivalent to that which elsewhere he invites as a token of her true love (3.8.5-10) and displays, or wishes to display, to his peers as manly ‘war wounds’ (3.8.21-2). … Ultimately, then, the marks of physical violence in elegy, whether (imagined) on the male or the female body, always betoken male dominance and female servitude.

O’Rouke (2018) p. 124. Gynocentrism upholds female dominance in part by insisting, no matter what the facts, “male dominance and female servitude” is the unquestionably necessary and only permissible master narrative. According to dominant gynocentric ideology, the master narrative “male dominance and female servitude” must control all reading and thinking.

[21] Propertius, Elegies {Elegiae} 3.8.1-8, 21-3, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Mueller (1898) via Perseus, my English translation. A.S. Kline provides a freely available English translation of the whole poem. In 2.5, Propertius claims that he would never act with such violence toward a beloved woman. The subsequent quote above is similarly from 3.8.29-34.

Propertius’s representation of violence is consistent with Cynthia’s violence toward him when she discovered him enjoying a threesome with Phyllis and Teia:

She angrily thrusts her fingernails into Phyllis’s face.
Terrified, Teia cries out, “Help, neighbors, come with water!”
Their screamed claims disturb the sleeping Romans,
and the whole street becomes mad with resounding voices.
With torn hair and clothes ripped, Phylllis and Teia
escape into the nearby tavern on the dark street.
Cynthia rejoices in her spoils and victoriously runs back
and gashes my face with the back of her hand,
marks my neck, drawing blood with her bite,
and especially strikes my eyes, which deserve it.
And at last when her arms tire from beating me,
she drags forth Lygdamus from hiding at the bed’s
left side. Prostrate, he pleads to my guardian spirit.

{ Phyllidos iratos in vultum conicit ungues:
territa ‘vicini,’ Teþïa clamat, ‘aquam!’
crimina sopitos turbant elata Quirites,
omnis et insana semita voce sonat.
illas direptisque comis tunicisque solutis
excipit obscurae prima taberna viae.
Cynthia gaudet in exuviis victrixque recurrit
et mea perversa sauciat ora manu,
imponitque notam collo morsuque cruentat,
praecipueque oculos, qui meruere, ferit.
atque ubi iam nostris lassavit bracchia plagis,
Lygdamus, ad plutei fulcra sinistra latens,
eruitur geniumque meum prostratus adorat. }

Propertius, Elegiae 4.8.57-69, sourced as above.

[22] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.10.51-8. On the war-goddess Bellona bloodying her arms, 1.6.45-50. On Tibullus’s challenges to gender polarization, Nikoloutsos (2011) and Damer (2014).

Tibullus didn’t want his beloved girl Delia to suffer similar wounds through traditional female mourning practices after his death:

as for you — do not offend my ghost, but spare your loosened
hair and spare your tender cheeks, Delia.

{ tu manes ne laede meos, sed parce solutis
crinibus et teneris, Delia, parce genis. }

1.1.67-8. Tibullus also emphatically rejected committing violence against Delia:

I wouldn’t wish to strike you, but if such madness
were to come to me, I’d prefer to have no hands.

{ non ego te pulsare velim, sed venerit iste
si furor, optarim non habuisse manus. }


The subsequent two quotes above are from 1.10.59-66 (Oh, he’s stone and iron…) and 1.10.67-68 (But come to us with wheat…).

[23] Gaisser recognized rura {country life} as Tibullus’s distinctive contribution to Latin love elegy. She wrote:

we shall be concerned with the relation between amor and rura. The prevailing modern view sees these themes allied against militia: love and the country-side, or love in the countryside, is viewed as Tibullus’ alternative to participation in war. We will question this view … In 1.10 and 1.1 amor is by no means represented as the poet’s principal theme; it receives less emphasis than the rura and its qualities suffer in comparison or juxtaposition with those of the rura.

Gaisser (1983) pp. 58, 72. Gaisser perceived Tibullus to be challenging Propertius’s first book. Id. p. 72. Gallus plausibly was Propertius’s patron when Propertius wrote his first book. Cairns (2006) Ch. 3-4. Tibullus’s challenge to Propertius is more generally a challenge to the poetic figuring of love and war in Gallus’s love elegy.

[24] Tibullus didn’t necessarily have to read Parthenius’s collection in order to reflect upon gender in such stories of sufferings in love. Cairns (1979) documents that Hellenistic poetry was a major influence on Tibullus.

[images] (1) Gallus as a horseman attacking a crouching warrior-man. Drawing of engraving on trilingual stela from Philae. From Bresciani (1989), p. 98, Fig. 1. On the iconography, Minas-Nerpelm & Pfeiffer (2010) pp. 275-8. (2) Marie de’ Medici (lived from 1575 to 1642) as triumphal Bellona. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, as commissioned by Marie de’ Medici. Painted between 1621 and 1625. Preserved as accession # INV 1792 in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Image thanks to the Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Bellona, portrayed as a contemporary Dutch woman (cropped slightly). The shield depicts the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Painting by Rembrandt van Rijn. Painted in 1633. Preserved as accession # 32.100.23 (credit: The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Image thanks to the Met and Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, R. D., P. J. Parsons, and R. G. M. Nisbet. 1979. “Elegiacs by Gallus from Qaṣr Ibrîm.” The Journal of Roman Studies. 69: 125-155.

Brazouski, Antoinette. 1979. The Augustan Attitudes of the Poetic Persona of Tibullus. Ph.D. Thesis, Loyola University Chicago.

Bresciani, Edda. 1989. “La Stele Trilingue di Cornelio Gallo: una Rilettura Egittologica.” Egitto e Vicino Oriente. 12: 93-98.

Cairns, Francis. 1979. Tibullus: A Hellenistic Poet at Rome. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cairns, Francis. 2006. Sextus Propertius: the Augustan elegist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (review by Elina Pyy)

Claassen, Jo-Marie. 2017. “The Exiled Ovid’s Reception of Gallus.” The Classical Journal. 112 (3): 318-341.

Damer, Erika Zimmermann. 2014. “Gender Reversals and Intertextuality in Tibullus.” Classical World. 107 (4): 493-514.

Davis, P. J. 2012. “Reception of Elegy in Augustan and Post-Augustan Poetry.” Ch. 27 (pp. 441-458) in Gold, Barbara K., ed. A Companion to Roman Love Elegy. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Fairclough, H. Rushton, revised by G. P. Goold. 1999. Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1-6. Loeb Classical Library 63. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gaisser, Julia Haig. 1983. “Amor, rura and militia in Three Elegies of Tibullus: 1.1, 1.5 and 1.10.” Latomus. 42 (1): 58-72.

Kline, A. S. 2001. Tibullus. Elegies. Brindin Press Virtual Chapbook 40. Online. The Latin text here seems to me inferior to that of Postgate (1913 / 1988). Alternate presention without Latin text at Poetry in Translation.

Lightfoot, J. L. 1999. Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the  Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (review by Christopher Francese)

Lightfoot, J. L. 2009. Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library, 508. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (reviews by Giambattista D’Alessio, by Claudio De Stefani, and by Iiro Laukola)

Minas-Nerpelm, Martina and Stefan Pfeiffer. 2010. “Establishing Roman Rule In Egypt: The Trilingual Stela Of C. Cornelius Gallus From Philae.” Ch. 13 (pp. 265-298) in Lembke, Katja, Martina Minas-Nerpel, and Stefan Pfeiffer. Tradition and Transformation: Egypt under Roman rule: proceedings of the international conference, Hildesheim, Roemer- and Pelizaeus-Museum, 3-6 July 2008. Leiden: Brill.

Nicholas, Lucy. 2017. “Ovid’s Calculated Ambiguity.” Paper presented at Globalizing Ovid: An International Conference in Commemoration of the Bimillennium of Ovid’s Death. May 31–June 2, 2017, in Shanghai, China.

Nikoloutsos, Konstantinos P. 2011. “From Tomb to Womb: Tibullus 1.1 and the Discourse of Masculinity in Post-Civil War Rome.” Scholia: Studies in Classical Antiquity. 20 (1): 52-71.

O’Hara, James J. 2005. “War and the Sweet Life: The Gallus Fragment and the Text of Tibullus 1.10.11.” The Classical Quarterly. 55 (1): 317-319.

O’Rourke, Donncha. 2014. “Lovers in Arms: Empedoclean Love and Strife in Lucretius and the Elegists.” Dictynna 11, online.

O’Rourke, Donncha. 2018. “Make war not love: Militia amoris and domestic violence in Roman elegy.” Ch. 4 (pp. 110-139) in Gale, Monica R., and John H. D. Scourfield, eds. Texts and Violence in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pay, Adrian. 2016. “A (or Another) Note on Gallus Fr. 2.2-5 (Courtney).” Online.

Postgate, J.P. ed. and trans. 1913. Tibullus in Catullus. Tibullus. Pervigilium Veneris. Revised by G. P. Goold (1988). Loeb Classical Library 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Raymond, Emmanuelle. 2012. “Caius Cornelius Gallus: ‘The inventor of Latin love elegy.’” Ch. 3 (pp. 59-67) in Thorsen, Thea S., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Latin Love Elegy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, Donald A., ed. and trans. 2002. Quintilian. The Orator’s Education. Volume IV: Books 9-10. Loeb Classical Library 127. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Somerville, Ted. 2009. “The Pleonasm of the New Gallus, and the Gallus of the Monobiblos.” Mnemosyne. 62 (2): 295-297.

motherhood, fatherhood, and fundamental gender inequality

Women know their biological children for certain. Without modern DNA testing, men lack that certainty. That’s a fundamental gender inequality. Gynocentric societies have tended in recent decades to buttress that fundamental gender inequality by creating legal obstacles to men obtaining DNA paternity tests and by shaming men for being interested in the central evolutionary issue of biological paternity. Medieval European literature, in contrast, was deeply concerned with motherhood, fatherhood, and the fundamental gender inequality of cuckolding.

Mothers are powerful forces in their children’s lives. Men typically love and honor their mothers, and mothers are an expansive figure of happiness. For example, in a poem he wrote about 828, the distraught monk Walahfrid Strabo understood himself to be exiled from his beloved mother-home, the Benedictine abbey on Reichenau Island:

Look, my tears break forth as I recall
how good was the peace I then enjoyed,
when blessedness gave me a tiny
roof at Reichenau.

Holy may you always be, too much beloved
mother, consecrated by a battalion of saints,
by praise, growth, merit, honor there,
O blessed island!

Now too let us call holy,
where the mother of God is worshiped with frequent
ceremony, so that we joyfully sing justly,
O blessed island!

You are surrounded by deep waters,
yet are firmest in self-giving love,
with which you spread holy teachings to all,
O blessed island!

You whom I always desire to see,
by day, by night, you I recall,
to bring forth all the goodness you have borne for us,
O blessed island!

Now grow strong, be strong with flourishing,
so that following the Lord’s will,
together with your children you may be called
blessed Reichenau!

Let almighty Christ grant in his mercy this,
that I may return to rejoice in your home.
I will begin by saying, “Greetings, glorious
mother for eternity!”

{ Ecce prorumpunt lacrimae, recordor,
Quam bona dudum fruerer quiete,
Cum daret felix mihimet pusillum
Augia tectum.

Sancta sis semper nimiumque cara
Mater, ex sanctis cuneis dicata,
Laude, profectu, meritis, honore,
Insula felix.

Nunc item sanctam liceat vocare,
Qua Dei matris colitur patenter
Cultus, ut laeti merito sonemus,
Insula felix.

Tu licet cingaris aquis profundis,
Es tamen firmissima caritate,
Quae sacra in cunctos documenta spargis,
Insula felix.

Te quidem semper cupiens videre,
Per dies noctesque tui recordor,
Cuncta quae nobis bona ferre gestis,
Insula felix.

Nunc valens crescas, valeas vigendo,
Ut voluntatem Domini sequendo
Cum tuis natis pariter voceris
Augia felix!

Donet hoc Christi pietas tonantis,
Ut locis gaudere tuis reductus
Ordiar dicens: “Vale, gloriosa
Mater, in aevum!” }[1]

Men love their mothers from birth to eternity. The great mother is a central figure in European history and all of history.
gourd shaped like male genitals
Men’s and women’s relationships to their fathers are more complicated. Persons readily understand their mothers to be the ground of their being. A father’s contribution to human creation is superficially smaller. Yet Walahfrid Strabo, who cultivated the good earth in his ninth-century monastic garden, appreciated the significance of seed:

Hardly otherwise, from cheap seed the gourd strains to grow high.
Rising with its shield-like leaves, it awakens huge
shadows and via numerous stems pushes forth tethers.

{ Haud secus altipetax semente cucurbita vili
Assurgens, parmis foliorum suscitat umbras
Ingentes, crebrisque iacit retinacula ramis. }[2]

Although small and cheap, seed awakens the enormous potential of life against the contrasting shadows of death. Seed signifies the vigor, profusion, and tenacity of new life. Seed produces sons and daughters — fruit encompassing male and female, both with promise of future daughters and sons. The gourd, shaped like a man’s genitals, has a womb-like testicular structure full of seed:

Its body has every part, its womb every part, and inside are nourished
separately in hollowed enclosures many seeds,
which are able to promise to you a similar harvest.

{ Totum venter habet, totum alvus, et intus aluntur
Multa cavernoso seiunctim carcere grana,
Quae tibi consimilem possunt promittere messem. }[3]

Seed is essential to the generation and regeneration of a bountiful harvest. Seed matters for eternal life on earth.

testicle diagram

seeds inside gourd

Cuckolding cheapens seed and devalues fatherhood. Within the relatively liberal and tolerant medieval period, literature of men’s sexed protest and even views opposing cuckolding weren’t pervasively censored and suppressed. A late-eighth-century poem represents the dominant, gynocentric view of cuckolding. It celebrates cuckolding with the coming of the cuckoo:

Let the cuckoo come, that sweet friend of shepherds.
Let cheerful seeds burst forth in our hills,
let there be pasturing for the flock, sweet rest in the fields,
and green branches at hand to be shelters for weary persons.
Let goats come with full udders to milking,
and birds greet Phoebus with their various songs.
Look, quickly thus the cuckoo now comes;
everyone’s most welcomed guest, you are already sweet love,
everything awaits you — the sea, the earth, the sky —
welcome cuckoo, sweet splendor, through the ages welcome!

{ veniat cuculus, pastorum dulcis amicus!
Collibus in nostris erumpant germina laeta,
Pascua sint pecori, requies et dulcis in arvis,
Et virides rami praestent umbracula fessis,
Uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae,
Et volucres varia Phoebum sub voce salutent!
Quapropter citius cuculus nunc ecce venito!
Tu iam dulcis amor, cunctis gratissimus hospes:
Omnia te expectant, pelagus tellusque polusque,
Salve, dulce decus, cuculus, per saecula salve! }[4]

This ardent song celebrates the cuckoo’s work of cuckolding: sweet love, cheerful seed, milk-swollen breasts. The cuckoo is the sweet friend of the ignorant, cucked shepherd. The socially constructed female voice of Spring sings for the cuckoo:

I hope my cuckoo comes, dearest of birds.
To all the most welcomed guest, accustomed to
being on rooftops, he sings good songs with his red beak.

I hope my cuckoo comes with cheerful seed,
dispelling the cold, he the nourishing friend of Phoebus forever.
Phoebus loves the cuckoo in the clear, dawning light.
In his mouth the cuckoo will carry flowers and serve honey,
build homes, navigate the gentle waves,
and father children and dress the cheerful fields.

{ Opto meus veniat cuculus, carissimus ales.
omnibus iste solet fieri gratissimus hospes
in tectis, modulans rutilo bona carmina rostro.

Opto meus veniat cuculus cum germine laeto,
frigora depellat, Phoebo comes almus in aevum.
Phoebus amat cuculum crescenti luce serena.

Ore ferat flores cuculus, et mella ministrat,
aedificatque domus, placidas et navigat undas,
et generat soboles, laetos et vestiet agros. }

That’s the fantasy of a wife who’s feeling cold and weary with her husband. The cuckolding cuckoo will bring her flowers and kiss her with honeyed lips. He will procreate children with his red beak and cheerful seed. He will stay with her in bed after dawn while her husband is on a business trip and navigate her changing moods while always cheerfully dressing her surroundings. Just so gynocentric society celebrates cuckolding!

In the Middle Ages, some men bravely spoke out against cuckolding. The cuckoo and cuckolding make men’s lives tumultuous and force men to work to pay “child support” for children who aren’t theirs:

Let the cuckoo not come, he who generates fatherly labor by chance,
doubles divorce battles, disunites loving rest,
disturbs all, so that sea and land labor.

There are my riches, and there are cheerful dinner-parties;
rest is sweet along with a hot fire in the room.
Of this the cuckoo knows nothing, but that faithless one labors.

{ Non veniat cuculus, generat quia forte labores,
proelia congeminat, requiem disiungit amatam,
omnia disturbat; pelagi terraeque laborant.

Sunt mihi divitiae, sunt et convivia laeta,
est requies dulcis, calidus est ignis in aede.
haec cuculus nescit, sed perfidis ille laborat. }

Under the four-seas doctrine established in the sixteenth century, married men are financially responsible for children their wives produce with any man. Husbands thus face the risk of additional fatherly labor by the chance of being cuckolded. Moreover, cuckolding increases risk of divorce, which is primarily sought by wives. Divorce disastrously squanders a couple’s wealth through self-interested, pugnacious lawyers. Post-divorce, at least one spouse has to work harder in order for their aggregate welfare not to decline. Cuckolding destroys peaceful homes and fosters suspicion. A cuckoo has reason to fear being cuckolded in his own nest.

With the fading of the Middle Ages and subsequent intellectual decay, men developed extensive rationalizations for serenely embracing being cuckolded. Writing in the sixteenth century, the eminent and influential Catholic scholar Michel de Montaigne essayed:

Lucullus, Caesar, Pompey, Antony, Cato and other fine men were all cuckolds and knew it without making a commotion about it. … We should use our ingenuity to avoid making such useless discoveries that torture us. And so it was the custom of Roman husbands when returning home from a journey to send a messenger ahead to announce their arrival to their wives so as not to take them unaware. … “But people talk.” I know a hundred men who are cuckolds, yet honored and not disrespected. A decent man is sympathized with for it, not discredited by it. … “But even the ladies will laugh at me.” Well, what do they laugh at more readily nowadays than a peaceful, orderly marriage? Each one of you has cuckolded somebody, and Nature is ever equal, alternating and balancing accounts. The frequency of this misfortune ought by now to have limited its bitter taste. Look, being cuckolded will soon be customary.

{ Lucullus, Caesar, Pompeius, Antonius, Caton et d’autres braves hommes furent cocus, et le sceurent sans en exciter tumulte. … Il faut estre ingenieux à eviter cette ennuyeuse et inutile cognoissance. Et avoyent les Romains en coustume, revenans de voyage, d’envoyer au devant en la maison faire sçavoir leur arrivée aus femmes, pour ne les surprendre. … Mais le monde en parle. Je sçay çant honestes hommes coqus, honnestement et peu indecemment. Un galant homme en est pleint, non pas desestimé. … Mais jusques aux dames, elles s’en moqueront. Et de-quoy se moquent elles en ce temps plus volontiers que d’un mariage paisible et bien composé ? Chacun de vous a faict quelqu’un coqu : or nature est toute en pareilles, en compensation et vicissitude. La frequence de cet accident en doibt meshuy avoir moderé l’aigreur : le voylà tantost passé en coustume. }[5]

Modern-day students of Montaigne assure their intelligent readers that, in contrast to sensational tabloid claims, merely millions of men are unknowingly cuckolded. Hence absurd legal rulings of paternity and men’s complete lack of reproductive rights aren’t truly social injustices worthy of serious redress. That’s the quality of intellectual life in our benighted age of superstition and bigotry.

The deplorable ignorance of our age won’t be overcome until everyone studies medieval Latin poetry. Let change begin with you!

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[1] Walahfrid Strabo, “Sister Muse, lament for our pain {Musa nostrum plange soror dolorem}” st. 8-14, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, pp. 412-3, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985) pp. 227-9. Waddell (1929) pp. 110-3 is an abbreviated text. This poem is known under the titles “The Sapphic Poem {Metrum Saphicum}” and “Elegy on Reichenau.”

Walahfrid Strabo was born about 809 in Alemannia in the south-west region of Germany (Swabia). Strabo is a personal epithet meaning “Squinter” and wasn’t carried as a family name. When Walahfrid was about eight years old, his family placed him as an oblate in the Benedictine Abbey at Reichenau. That abbey is on an island in the lower branch of Lake Constance in central Europe.

At Reichenau, Wettin, Walahfrid’s tutor, and Grimald, the head of the abbey school, recognized Walahfrid to be a brilliant student. In 826, Walahfrid was sent from Reichenau to the monastery at Fulda to further his learning. There Walahfrid studied under the erudite and eminent scholar Hrabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda. Walahfrid probably wrote his “Elegy on Reichenau” between 827 and 829. He may have been influenced by his friend Gottschalk’s poem “How are you commanding me {Ut quid iubes}?”

Traill (1971) provides relevant analysis of “Elegy on Reichenau.” I regrettably have not been able to access that scholarly article. For biographical background on Walahfrid and the transmission of his work, Payne & Blunt (1966), pp. 1-18, and Öberseder & Schöllhammer (2016). Jeff Sypeck at Quid plura? has interesting posts on Walahfrid.

[2] Walahfrid Strabo, Book about the Cultivation of a Garden {Liber de cultura hortorum}, also known as The Little Garden {Hortulus} vv. 99-101 (from Ch. 7, The Gourd {Cucurbita}), Latin text from Dümmler (1881), vol. 2, p. 339, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985), p. 223, and Payne & Blunt (1966) p. 35. Here’s the physical layout of Walahfrid’s garden, with a German translation of De cultura hortorum.

Walahfrid dedicated De cultura hortorum to his former teacher Father Grimald, who had become Abbot of the St. Gall Monastery. For English translations of that dedication, Payne & Blunt (1966), p. 65, and Waddell (1929), p. 115.

[3] De cultura hortorum vv. 133-5, sourced as previously. Godman translated these verses in a way disparaging the gourd’s body:

they are all belly, all paunch; inside their cavernous confines
many seeds, each in its place, are nourished,
capable of promising a harvest comparable to the last.

Godman (1985) p. 223. Men’s genitals have been historically depreciated aesthetically and in action. Such depreciation isn’t warranted, especially with respect to Walahfrid’s description of the gourd. Walahfrid praises the sensuous delight that the gourd provides: “ripe segments for dessert repeatedly offer intoxicating flavor {placidum secmenta saporem / Ebria multotiens mensis praestare secundis}.” De cultura hortorum vv. 141-2. The dried gourd also serves as a wine-jar. Id. vv. 144-51.

[4] “All suddenly come together from the high mountains {Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis}” vv. 46-55, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 270-2, my English translation, benefiting from those of Godman (1985) pp. 145-9, Porter & Williams (2005), Steer (2000), pp. 80-3, and Waddell (1929) pp. 83-7, and some reading notes. Poesia Medievale (March 24, 2010) provides a freely accessible Italian translation.

This poem is also known by the titles “Debate between Spring and Winter {Conflictus veris et hiemis}” and “About the cuckoo {De cuculo}.” It has been attributed to Alcuin (Carmen 58), with some scholarly dispute. Here’s a review of the surviving manuscripts. Alcuin in the mid-790s wrote the prose work Dialogue on Rhetoric and on Virtues {Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus}.

The narrative opening (vv. 1-9) and the closing (by Palaemon, vv. 47-55) of “Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis” are “modelled specifically and unambiguously on Vergil’s third and seventh Eclogues.” Zogg (2017) abstract; see id. pp. 128-34. The French monk Ademar of Chabannes early in the eleventh century titled the poem “Virgil on Spring and Winter {Virgilus de vere et hyeme}.” This poem was also transmitted in an early ninth-century manuscript as part of the Appendix Vergiliana. Id. pp. 126, 137. This poem surely isn’t by Virgil. Its author plausibly gave the poem a Virgilian dress to foster its dissemination. Id. p. 137-8.

Like the nightingale, the cuckoo was a commonly invoked poetic bird in medieval Europe. In Alcuin’s “Verses on the Cuckoo {Versus de cuculo},” incipit “Weep for our cuckoo, sweetest Daphnis {Plangamus cuculum, Dafnin dulcissime, nostrum}” (Carmin 57), Alcuin figures as a cuckoo a beloved student who has departed. For Latin text, Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 269-60. Waddell (1929), pp. 79-81, provides an English translation of a slightly abbreviated text.

The subsequent two quotes from “Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis” are sourced as above and are vv. 10-12, 16-18, 28-30 (stanzas of Spring: I hope my cuckoo comes…) and vv. 19-21, 25-7 (stanzas of Winter: Let the cuckoo not come…).

Tuve interpreted this poem as asserting “a victorious principle of active growth” in which the cuckoo is “the bird of fruitfulness.” Tuve (1933), as cited by Steer (2000) p. 84, n. 176. Neither active growth nor fruitfulness requires cuckolding. Societies that respect and appreciate men are likely to be more fruitful in the long run.

[5] Michel de Montaigne, Essays {Essais} III.5, “On some lines of Virgil {Sur des vers de Virgile},” French text from the Villey & Saulnier (1965) version of the 1595 edition of Essais, English translation (modified slightly) from Screech (1993) pp. 975, 983.

[images] (1) Beautifully shaped butternut squash. Source image thanks to WCBackstein and pixabay. (2) Diagram of adult human testicle. Source image thanks to KDS444 and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) grown in Ukraine. Source image thanks to George Chernilevsky and Wikimedia Commons.


Dümmler, Ernst. 1881. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. Berlin: Weidmannos. (vol. 1, Internet Archive; vol. 2, Internet Archive, BnF)

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Öberseder, Lisa, and Carina Schöllhammer. 2016. “Walahfrid Strabo.” Frühmittelalter im Bodenseeraum. University of Salzburg, online.

Payne, Raef and Wilfrid Blunt. 1966. Hortulus: Walahfrid Strabo. Translated by Raef Payne. Commentary by Wilfrid Blunt. Hunt Facsimile Series, no. 2. Pittsburgh, PA: The Hunt Botanical Library.

Porter, Kenneth and Heather Williams, trans. 2005. “Suddenly, all come together from the tall mountains {Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis}.” German 312, Winter Poetry: Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Winter Poetry. Reading organized by Albrecht Classen at the University of Arizona, Nov. 14. Online.

Screech, M. A., trans. 1993. Michel De Montaigne: the Complete Essays. London, England: Penguin Books.

Steer, Carol Elizabeth. 2000. The Season of Winter in Art and Literature from Roman North Africa to Medieval France. M.A. Thesis, University of Manitoba, Canada.

Traill, David A. 1971. “The Addressee and interpretation of Walahfrid’s ‘Metrum Saphicum’.” Medievalia et humanistica / Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Culture. New series 2: 69-82. Clogan, Paul, ed. Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Review. Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University.

Tuve, Rosemond. 1933. Seasons and Months: Studies in a Tradition of Middle English Poetry. Paris: Librairie Universitaire S.A.

Waddell, Helen. 1929 / rev. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.

Zogg, Fabian. 2017. “Palaemon and Daphnis in a Medieval Poem: the Vergilian challenge of the Conflictus Veris et Hiemis.” Vergilius: Journal of the Vergilian Society. 63: 125-140.

husbands resisting subordination to their wives: an ongoing challenge

Penelope and Odysseus in conversation

Husbands commonly credit all their success to their wives and engage in small and large acts of yes-dearism. Doing otherwise is scarcely permitted within today’s social construction of gender equality. Ancient and medieval literature, however, described husbands resisting subordination to their wives and depicted tragic consequences of husbands’ uxorious weakness.

While women’s power has commonly been misrepresented to serve gynocentric interests, in reality husbands are barely able to resist subordination to their wives. About the year 799 in Charlemagne’s court, a learned poet warned husbands:

Be concerned about your own marriage partner.
Don’t let her mar your mind with enticing.
Sweet kisses to your knees, hands, neck, and cheeks
she’ll give, mingling them with soft words.
She’s accustomed to arm her own prayers with a potion
as great as the bow-carrying Cupid arms his energetic darts.

{ Esto et sollicitus propriae de parte iugalis,
Ne mentem maculet inliciendo tuam.
Oscula quae genibus, manibus, colloque, genisque
Blanda dabit, miscet lenia verba quibus,
Sueta preces tali proprias armare veneno,
Armat ut arcitenens impigra tela suo. } [1]

Husbands today are more likely to face their wives attacking them with bitchiness rather than blandishments. But the underlying, operative principle is the same: husbands will do anything to enjoy their wives’ love. Strong, independent husbands, or merely prudent ones, prepare to defend themselves against their wives’ attacks:

If you are secured with the metal helmet of a strong mind,
so that she would see her darts rebound,
then groaning she’ll retreat, giving feigned sighs,
grieving that her prayers have no weight.

{ Si tua mens fuerit munita casside forti,
Tela ut conspiciat hinc resilire sua,
Inde gemens rediet, ficta et suspiria dando,
Flensque suas pondus non habuisse preces. }

Resisting his wife’s attack isn’t sufficient for a husband to resist successfully being subordinate to his wife. If a direct attack fails, wives will seek to subordinate their husbands with a social offensive:

Soon a boy, or a nurse, or maybe her lying little maid
will say, “Why do you despise my lady’s requests?”
With her face downcast, she will offer a quieted sigh,
“He whom I presently see is always honored by me.
Whatever other wives request, they get, to do good or harm,
but I proceed to control over nothing promised.”
She should at last ask, they would say and run to kiss her,
and to you, “Why do you suffer to be irksome to her?”
But may your mind fight, as it would oppose a returning enemy.
Take care that recurring battles do not defeat you!

{ Mox puer, aut nutrix, aut fors ancillula mendax,
“Cur dominae,” dicet, “despicis orsa meae?”
Haec vultu verso tacito dabit ista susurro,
“Qui modo conspicitur est mihi semper honor,
Quaeque petunt aliae referunt, prosuntque, nocentque,
Voti nullius ast ego compos eo.”
Illa roget demum, dicent, et ad oscula currat,
Et tibi, “cur pateris esse molestus ei?”
At tua mens pugnet, redeunti obsistat ut hosti,
Bellaque ne vincant te recidiva time. }

Men lack sufficient education in fighting with words. Most husbands are eventually defeated. They are thus compelled to endure marital life subordinate to their wives.

Husbands’ uxoriousness is well-attested in literature across the ages. Written about 2700 years ago, the Book of Isaiah describes women of Jerusalem having expensive jewelry and luxurious clothing. Just before the fall of the Roman Empire, Prudentius similarly described women’s rich ornaments:

Not content with naturally implanted beauty,
woman puts on feigned external ornament
and, as if the creating Lord’s hand had imperfectly
made her face, she would finish it either with sapphires
sewn in to embellish a garland circling her brow,
or surround her flawless neck with blazing gems,
or hang from her ears weights of green jewels.
She even fastens white stones from seashells onto
her gleaming hair held with braided threads and golden chains.

{ nec enim contenta decore
ingenito externam mentitur femina formam
ac, velut artificis Domini manus inperfectum
os dederit, quod adhuc res exigat aut hyacinthus
pingere sutilibus redimitae frontis in arce,
colla vel ignitis sincera incingere sertis,
auribus aut gravidis virides suspendere bacas,
nectitur et nitidis concharum calculus albens
crinibus aureolisque riget coma texta catenis. } [2]

In ancient Rome, a much larger share of family income undoubtedly went to wives’ clothes and jewelry than to husbands’ clothes and jewelry. That remains the economic reality of consumer spending right up to our day. Far beyond the feeble regulatory efforts of sumptuary laws, husbands’ subordination to their wives has great economic significance to households and the economy at large.

Husbands’ subordination to their wives can have tragic consequences. Consider Odysseus. He was king of ancient Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus’s long struggle eventually resulted in him returning home from the disastrous Trojan War. He then killed all the suitors who were living with his wife and propositioning her. A “traveling man {homo viator},” Odysseus subsequently went to Epirus to consult the Oracle of Zeus at Dodona. There Euippe, daughter of King Tyrimmas of Dodona, entertained Odysseus warmly. Generous to women in providing joy and creating children, Odysseus had sex with Euippe.

Odysseus and Penelope in bed

After Odysseus returned home, Euippe give birth to a son named Euryalus. When Euryalus reached manhood, Euippe sent him to Ithaca with tokens indicating that he was Odysseus’s son. At Ithaca, Euryalus become the victim of a terrible crime:

By chance Odysseus wasn’t there at that time. But Penelope had found out what was going on — indeed she had earlier knowledge of Odysseus’s affair with Euippe — and she persuaded Odysseus, on his return, to kill Euryalus as a conspirator before he knew the truth of the matter. And so, through lack of self-control and because in other ways he wasn’t a reasonable man, Odysseus became the murderer of his own son.

{ τοῦ δὲ Ὀδυσσέως κατὰ τύχην τότε μὴ παρόντος, Πηνελόπη καταμαθοῦσα ταῦτα, καὶ ἄλλως δὲ προπεπυσμένη τὸν τῆς Εὐίππης ἔρωτα, πείθει τὸν Ὀδυσσέα παραγενόμενον, πρὶν ἢ γνῶναί τι τούτων ὡς ἔχει, κατακτεῖναι τὸν Εὐρύαλον ὡς ἐπιβουλεύοντα αὐτῷ. καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς μὲν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐγκρατὴς φῦναι μηδὲ ἄλλως ἐπιεικὴς, αὐτόχειρ τοῦ παιδὸς ἐγένετο. } [3]

Penelope thus incited her husband Odysseus to murder, yet all the culpability is attributed to him. Eventually, the common-law doctrine of coverture formalized a husband’s responsibility for any crimes his wife commits. Men must recognize entrenched, structural anti-men bias in law. This systemic injustice increases the harm that a husband risks in accepting subordination to his wife. Rather than merely listening and believing women, reasonable persons should engage in enlightened questioning. That’s true even for husbands in relation to what their wives tell them to do.

In medieval Europe, Christian church officials taught that marriage should be an equal conjugal partnership. Some medieval poets, in contrast, influentially promoted men-abasing “courtly” love. Many husbands have been and are subordinate to their wives. Injustice anywhere supports injustice everywhere. Our future doesn’t necessary have to be female. Husbands, engage in civil disobedience within gynocentric society: resist and refuse to be subordinate to your wives!

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[1] Theodulf of Orléans, “Bishop Theodulf’s Verses against the Judges {Versus Teodulfi Episcopi contra iudices},” incipit “Just magistrates, take the narrow path of judgment {Iudicci callem censores prendite iusti}” vv. 691-6, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 511, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985) p. 167. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly sourced from Contra iudices vv. 697-700 (If you are secured…) and vv. 701-10 (Soon a boy…).

For a biographic introduction to Theodulf and poetic translation of four short poems, Sypeck (2010). For English translations of Theodulf’s poems, Alexandrenko (1970), Blakeman (1991), and Andersson (2014). For contextualization of Theodulf’s writings, Greeley (2000).

To support the gynocentric imperative of men supporting women, women tend to be socially constructed as “weak” and “passive.” Scheck understood Theodulf to believe that “women are clearly weak … and therefore always dangerous.” Scheck 2008) p. 34. Theodulf understood women’s power. Gynocentrism strains to deny and obscure women’s power.

Women’s passivity compels men to act for them. One of the most onerous activities forced upon men is engaging in war. Theodolf described Charlemagne’s sons Charles and Louis:

Youthful and strong, of powerful build,
their hearts are fired with enthusiasm and resolute in their purpose.

{ Corpore praevalido quibus est nervosa iuventa
Corque capax studii consiliique tenax. }

Theodulf, “To King Charles {Ad Carolum regem},” incipit “The entire world resounds in your praise, my king {Te totus laudesque tuas, rex, personat orbis}” (Carmena 25) vv. 73-4, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 485, English translation from Godman (1985) p. 155. Theodulf’s description of Charles and Louis depicts them as well-suited to risk their lives in war. Women are ideologically passive with respect to war because war has been institutionally structured as violence against men. Cf. Scheck (2008) pp. 34-8. As the history of Charlemagne’s court makes clear, women are powerful political actors.

[2] Prudentius, The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia} vv. 264-72, Latin text from Thomson (1949) pp. 222-3, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) p. 18. Prudentius wrote Hamartigenia about 400 GC.

This passage reflects “a stock theme from moral diatribes and satire.” Malamud (2011) p. 18, n. 55. It also reflects a significant, enduring economic reality in relationships between women and men.

[3] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 3.2-3 (About Euippe {Περὶ Εὐίππης}), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly to be more easily readable) from Lightfoot (2009). Here’s the Greek text of Hercher (1858). The manchette for this story states, “Sophocles tells the story in his Euryalus {Ἱστορεῖ Σοφοκλῆς Εὐρυάλῳ}.” From Lightfoot (2009).

Lightfoot obscures the structural gender bias evident in this story:

The events are equally discreditable to Penelope, perhaps more strikingly, though the author treats them in a matter-of-fact way; her role is presumably influenced by that of Medea. Penelope is no stranger to vice: we are familiar with the innuendo (and worse) about her relationship with the suitors, but here we also see her less familiarly in the guise of the wicked stepmother.

Lightfoot (1999) p. 387 (footnotes omitted). Across all of literary history, Penelope has been overwhelming regarded as a highly praiseworthy woman. Women who commit evil acts are not merely stock characters. They are fully human beings, just as men are.

[images] (1) Penelope and Odysseus in conversation. Painting by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein in 1802. Preserved in a private collection. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Odysseus and Penelope in bed. Painting by Francesco Primaticcio about 1563. Preserved in the Wildenstein Collection, New York. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Alexandrenko, Nikolai A.. 1970. The Poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: a translation and critical study. Ph.D. Thesis. Tulane University.

Andersson, Theodore M., with Åslaug Ommundsen, and Leslie S. B. MacCoull. 2014. Theodulf of Orléans: the verse. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, v. 450. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Blakeman, Christorpher John. 1991. Commentary, with introduction, text and translation, on selected poems of Theodulf of Orleans (Sirmond III. 1-6). Ph.D. Thesis. The University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Dümmler, Ernst. 1881. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. Berlin: Weidmannos. (vol. 1, Internet Archive; vol. 2, Internet Archive, BnF)

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Greeley, June-Ann. 2000. Social Commentary in the Prose and Poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: a study in Carolingian humanism. Ph.D. Thesis. Fordham University.

Lightfoot, J. L. 1999. Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the  Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (review by Christopher Francese)

Lightfoot, J. L. 2009. Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library, 508. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (reviews by Giambattista D’Alessio, by Claudio De Stefani, and by Iiro Laukola)

Malamud, Martha A. 2011. Prudentius. The Origin of Sin: An English Translation of the Hamartigenia. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 61. Cornell University Press.

Scheck, Helene. 2008. Reform and Resistance: formations of female subjectivity in early medieval ecclesiastical culture. Albany: SUNY Press.

Sypeck, Jeff. 2010. “Four Poems by Theodulf of Orleans.” The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe. 13 (August), online.

Thomson, Henry John, ed. and trans. 1949. Prudentius. Loeb Classical Library 387, 398. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

women flyting, serious fighting: Homer’s Aeneas versus Rose & Lily

soldier and his father sleep together in trench

Scholars have documented that women are biologically superior to men in a variety of ways, including communicatively. However, within the disastrous tradition of epic violence against men, Homer’s Aeneas trivialized women flyting — women fighting with words. Fighting with words is superior to fighting physically, especially in modern bureaucratic societies with extensive institutions of penal punishment. Moreover, Achilles and Aeneas in Homer’s Iliad fight less vigorously and less viciously with words than do Rose and Lily in Sedulius Scottus’s ninth-century debate poem.

The Greek and Trojan armies, masses of armor-clad men and war horses, closed for battle on the plain outside Troy. Out from the lines of the two armies came the preeminent Greek warrior Achilles and the Trojan hero Aeneas. Achilles struck first with words. He taunted Aeneas for daring to have the courage to face him. Achilles reminded Aeneas that the last time they met in combat, Aeneas had fled. Achilles advised Aeneas to flee again: “a fool sees something after it’s done {ῥεχθὲν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω}.”[1] Achilles didn’t attack Aeneas with hate speech, as Facebook defines it. Achilles provided Aeneas with specific advice, coupled with valid general wisdom, based on a sound forecast of likely future events.

Aeneas responded defensively to Achilles’s words. He accused Achilles of acting like an unknowing child toward another child:

Son of Peleus, do not expect to frighten me with words
as if I were a child, since I myself know well
both taunts and improper words to say.

{ Πηλεΐδη, μὴ δή μ᾿ ἐπέεσσί γε νηπύτιον ὣς
ἔλπεο δειδίξεσθαι, ἐπεὶ σάφα οἶδα καὶ αὐτὸς
ἠμὲν κερτομίας ἠδ᾿ αἴσυλα μυθήσασθαι. } [2]

Aeneas then engaged in subtle, indirect aggression against Achilles — a verbal tactic far more sophisticated than those that children typically employ:

We know each other’s lineage, we know each other’s parents,
for we have heard the words told of old by mortals,
but by sight you have never seen my parents nor I yours.
They say that you were the issue of blameless Peleus,
and your mother was Thetis of lovely hair, the sea’s daughter.

{ ἴδμεν δ᾿ ἀλλήλων γενεήν, ἴδμεν δὲ τοκῆας,
πρόκλυτ᾿ ἀκούοντες ἔπεα θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων·
ὄψει δ᾿οὔτ᾿ ἄρ πω σὺ ἐμοὺς ἴδες οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐγὼ σούς.
φασὶ σὲ μὲν Πηλῆος ἀμύμονος ἔκγονον εἶναι,
μητρὸς δ᾿ ἐκ Θέτιδος καλλιπλοκάμου ἁλοσύδνης }

Later literary texts indicate that Thetis and Peleus had a rocky marriage. Achilles was left with Chiron as a foster-father and had little contact with either of his biological parents. Experiencing the love of both a mother and a father from birth helps a child become an emotionally stable adult. The difficult family history of Achilles was probably known to the Homeric author composing Aeneas’s response to Achilles. Aeneas implicitly taunted Achilles about his broken parental relations.

Confronting the battle-ready Achilles between the Greek and Trojan warrior lines, Aeneas spoke a long-winded account of his own lineage. The Iliad doesn’t indicate that Achilles stood with a puzzled look, yawned, or mockingly rolled his eyes. Perhaps sensing that such a response would be appropriate, Aeneas questioned the point of their words:

But come, let us thus talk like children no longer,
standing in the middle of the battle’s combat.
Reproaches are there for both of us to utter against each other,
many of them. A ship of a hundred benches could not bear the load.
Twisty is the tongue of mortals, abounding in many words
of all kinds, and the field of speech is wide on this and that side.
Whatever word you speak, such you could also hear.

{ ἀλλ᾿ ἄγε μηκέτι ταῦτα λεγώμεθα νηπύτιοι ὥς,
ἑσταότ᾿ ἐν μέσσῃ ὑσμίνῃ δηιοτῆτος.
ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι
πολλὰ μάλ’, οὐδ’ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.
στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ’ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ’ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ’ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ’ ἐπακούσαις. } [3]

These aren’t vicious words. These words probably wouldn’t even count as hate speech under Facebook’s capacious and capricious standards. The great classicist John Tzetzes castigated his scholarly rivals much more harshly than Achilles and Aeneas reproached each other on the battlefield before Troy.

Apparently unaware of his own inferiority as a man, Aeneas went on to belittle women’s aggressiveness in battling with words:

But what need have the two of us for strife and insulting,
to exchange insults with one another like women,
who when they have grown angry in soul-devouring strife
go out into the street-center and exchange insults,
saying much that is true and much false, for their rage drives them.
Yet you will not by words turn me back from my eagerness for combat,
not till we have fought face to face with our bronze tools. Come now,
let us test each other’s strength with our bronze spearheads.

{ ἀλλὰ τί ἢ ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικεῦσ’ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι
πόλλ’ ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί· χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει
ἀλκῆς δ᾽ οὔ μ᾽ ἐπέεσσιν ἀποτρέψεις μεμαῶτα
πρὶν χαλκῷ μαχέσασθαι ἐναντίον· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγε θᾶσσον
γευσόμεθ᾿ ἀλλήλων χαλκήρεσιν ἐγχείῃσιν. }

Women insult each other with vigor and rage and vicious falsehoods. Aeneas associated women’s verbal battling with childish behavior. Men instead seek to kill each other. Aeneas sought to end his exchange of feeble insults with Achilles and instead engage in deadly physical violence.[4] That’s foolish.

purple rose

Compared to Achilles and Aeneas’s soft flyting, medieval Latin literature documents women’s stronger fighting with words. Consider Rose hatefully disparaging Lily:

Purple signifies kingly power, purple makes the king’s glory;
dull white is a shabby and unattractive color to kings.
Dull white is pale, run-down, and wretched in the face;
purple is the color revered throughout all the world.

{ Purpura dat regnum, fit purpura gloria regni;
Regibus ingrato vilescunt alba colore.
Albida pallescunt misero marcentia vultu;
Puniceus color est toto venerabilis orbe. } [5]

In short, the purple Rose makes a racist attack on the white Lily. She disparages her for her color. That’s hate speech.

Lily responds with a vicious attack on Rose. Despite gynocentric belittling of men’s interests in paternity confidence, women know that men typically disfavor promiscuity in women with whom they would like to have an enduring, intimate bond. Lily thus alludes to Rose’s failure to secure the love of a man-god, impugns Rose’s sexual fidelity, and suggests that Rose is so withered and faded that she no longer shows a blush:

I, the earth’s golden-haired beauty, handsome Apollo
loves, he who has clothed my face in snow-white glory.
Rose, why do you so greatly proclaim, smeared with shameful pretense,
aware of your failings? Does your face not blush?

{ Me decus auricomum telluris pulcher Apollo
Diligit ac niveo faciem vestivit honore.
Quid, rosa, tanta refers pudibundo perlita fuco,
Conscia delicti? vultus tibi nonne rubescit? }

In response to Lily’s vicious attack on her, Rose asserts her nobility, denies everything, and declares that Apollo is actually her illustrious boyfriend-god:

I am Dawn’s sister, kin to the celestial gods,
and bright Apollo loves me; I am bright-red Apollo’s herald.
The morning star Venus gladdens to run before my face,
yet the nourishing loveliness of my virgin charm makes me blush.

{ Sum soror Aurorae, divis cognata supernis;
Et me Phebus amat, rutili sum nuncia Phebi;
Lucifer ante meum hilarescit currere vultum:
Ast mihi virginei decoris rubet alma venustas. } [6]

Rose insinuates that her relationship with Apollo is sexually charged. She signals that he with her is bright red in arousal even in the morning. That delights the love-goddess Venus. Yet Rose is no jaded slut. She has the nourishing loveliness of virgin charm, and she still blushes.

Lily in response pretends to be unconcerned about Rose’s claim of a rival, passionate relationship with Apollo. With sexually suggestive words and allusions to sin, Lily pities Rose:

Why do you spew forth words in protuberant speeches
that bring upon you merited punishment of eternal wounds?
Indeed your crown has been penetrated with sharp thorns.
Alas — how the thorns rend the rose’s garden!

{ Talia cur tumidis eructas verba loquelis,
Quae tibi dant meritas aeterno vulnere poenas?
Nam diadema tui spinis terebratur acutis:
Eheu – quam miserum laniant spineta rosetum! }

Lily suggests that Rose’s claim of a passionate relationship with Apollo is merely blustering words. But Lily also all but calls Rose a roadworn whore. That’s an extremely nasty attack on a woman.

Rose responds angrily to Lily’s nasty mock-pitying. Rose refigures herself as chaste:

You broken-down old woman, for why and what are you raving with words?
What disgraces you proclaim, all should be filled with praise.
The all-creator and preserver surrounded me with sharp thorns
and has safeguarded my rosy face with a very clear veil.

{ Ut quid deleras verbis, occata vetustas?
Quae tu probra refers, plena sunt omnia laude:
Conditor omnicreans spina me sepsit acuta,
Muniit et roseos praeclaro tegmine vultus. }

Healthy heterosexual men have long been socially constructed as a danger from which women must be safeguarded. Women, in contrast, are wonderful. The illustrious veil that Rose wears is so clear that no one can see it!

Most women, no matter what age, don’t imagine themselves to be old. So it is with Lily. She even asserts that, without any artificial assistance, her reproductive capabilities are exuberant:

My kind head is adorned with beautiful gold;
I’m not enclosed in a crown of thorns.
Milk in sweet abundance flows from my snow-white breasts;
so they say that I’m the blessed lady of green vegetation.

{ Aureoli decoris mihi vertex comitur almus
Nec sum spinigera crudelis septa corona,
Profluit at niveis dulci lac ubere mammis:
Sic holerum dominam me dicunt esse beatam. }

Through an implicit contrast with herself, Lily implies that Rose is a prickly, dried-up old woman. That’s very nasty. Achilles and Aeneas never struck each other with insults that nasty.

Rose and Lily’s father intervened to resolve their vicious quarrel. Like most fathers, Spring dearly loved his children. He lamented that they were fighting. In the lived reality of family life, fathers are typically subordinate to their daughters. Yet Spring dared to counsel his daughters:

Recognize that you are twin sisters from the earth.
Is it divine law for twins to provoke prideful quarrels?
O beautiful Rose, be quiet. Your glory shines upon the world,
but let royal Lily rule with brilliant scepters.
Your distinction and beauty will thus praise you both forever.
May Rose, model of modesty, bloom in our gardens,
and you, splendid Lily, multiply with the face of radiant Apollo.
You, Rose, give to crowned martyrs their red victory;
Lily adorns the long-robed throngs of virgins.

{ Gnoscite vos geminas tellure parente sorores.
Num fas germanas lites agitare superbas?
O rosa pulchra, tace: tua gloria claret in orbe;
Regia sed nitidis dominentur lilia sceptris.
Hinc decus et species vestrum vos laudat in aevum:
Forma pudicitiae nostris rosa gliscat in hortis,
Splendida Phebeo vos, lilia, crescite vultu;
Tu, rosa, martyribus rutilam das stemmate palmam,
Lilia virgineas turbas decorate stolatas. } [7]

Spring then gave his quarreling daughters the kiss of peace to reconcile them. The daughters in turn kissed each other. Rose mischievously poked Lily’s mouth with one of her thorns. That’s just normal sisterly play. Lily gave Rose a drink of ambrosial milk. Rose offered Lily the gift of royal purple flowers. No one was killed, not even any men.

white lily

The deadly weight of Homer epic should be pushed aside. Men today must decisively reject the goddess Athena’s advice to Odysseus:

But you be strong, for bear it you must,
and tell no one, no man nor any woman,
that from wanderings you have returned, and silently
endure your many griefs, and submit to the violence of men.

{ σὺ δὲ τετλάμεναι καὶ ἀνάγκῃ,
μηδέ τῳ ἐκφάσθαι μήτ᾿ ἀνδρῶν μήτε γυναικῶν,
πάντων, οὕνεκ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἦλθες ἀλώμενος, ἀλλὰ σιωπῇ
πάσχειν ἄλγεα πολλά, βίας ὑποδέγμενος ἀνδρῶν. } [8]

Men today must learn from medieval women. More culturally advanced persons fight with words, just like Rose and Lily did. The shift from physical fighting to verbal fighting increases women’s structural advantages under gynocentrism. That makes affirmative action to promote humanistic education for men and stimulus to overcome the gender droop in the awarding of graduate humanistic degrees vital matters of social justice. Without such action, humane society will not flourish and be fruitful.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Homer, Iliad 20.198, ancient Greek text from Murray (1925), English translation (modified insubstantially) from Hesk (2006) p. 16. Iliad 20.196-8 repeats Iliad 17.30-2 (Menelaus in flyting with Euphorbus about possession of Patroclus’s dead body).

Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent quotes from the Iliad similarly have Greek text from Murray (1925). Perseus has freely available online the Greek text of the Oxford Iliad edition (1920).

Influential English translations of the Iliad by George Chapman (1616) and by Alexander Pope (1725) are freely available through Project Gutenberg.

[2] Iliad 20.200-2, English translation (modified slightly) from Murray (1925). Above I use αἴσυλα rather than αἴσιμα in v. 202. That follows the manuscript reading, the Greek texts of Oxford (1920) and Nagy (1997) 15§6, and seems to me to make better sense. The subsequent quote is from Iliad 20.203-7, with English translation from Murray (1925), modified insubstantially.

[3] Iliad 20.244-50, my English translation, benefiting from those of Murray (1925), Hesk (2006) p. 27, Lattimore (1951) via Lentini (2013) §4, and Nagy (1999) 15§8. The subsequent quote above is from Iliad 20.251-8 and is similarly sourced.

In flyting with Achilles, Aeneas also refers to talking like a child in v. 20.200, 211. Cf. Idomeneus to Meriones with respect to their comradely boasting of fighting prowess, Iliad 13.292-3.

[4] Scholars have foolishly followed Aeneas in uncritically trivializing women’s flyting. Hesk declared:

Alongside his repetition of the idea that flyting is childish, Aeneas makes the additional suggestion that flyting is an unmanly activity. If you flyte too much or for too long, you are going to sound like women having a slanging match in the street (251-55). This analogy is striking because it indirectly feminizes Achilles’ love of neikos and eris. Thus, Achilles is being insulted by Aeneas, albeit indirectly. And while heroes several times reproach each other for ‘girlish’ behaviour, no other speaker in the Iliad comes close to making this extended comparison between heroic neikos and the wrangling of women. Aeneas is being innovative again.

Hesk (2006) p. 28 (footnote omitted). Aeneas is being innovative only in the sense of explicitly expressing a prevalent delusion of men:

Even women and children can quarrel, but only heroes can fight — a sentiment that reaffirms one of the central tenets of the heroic code.

Parks (1990) p. 124. Scholars have mis-interpreted women’s flyting to be merely a playful activity:

Aineias, however, seems to suggest that the ritual character of flyting may turn it into a ludic activity, or, at least, may weaken the aggressive charge of the insults, as Aineias’ simile describing a quarrel taking place among women suggests.

Lentini (2013) §4.

Achilles apparently was more perceptive than modern classical scholars. Distraught that Hector had killed Patroclus and lamenting that he could gain no advantage other than in violence against men, Achillles lamented his verbal incapability to his mother Thetis:

I am such as none else among the bronze-clad Achaeans
in war, but in marketplace wrangling others are truly better.

{ τοῖος ἐὼν οἷος οὔ τις Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων
ἐν πολέμῳ· ἀγορῇ δέ τ᾿ ἀμείνονές εἰσι καὶ ἄλλοι. }

Iliad, 18.105-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of Murray (1925) and Fagles (1990). I’ve translated ᾰ̓γορᾱ́ contextually as “marketplace wrangling”; the word encompasses both the assembly and the marketplace. In context it implies a “war of words,” a phrase that Fagles used in his translation. Murray used “counsel” with implicit reference to being in the assembly. Achilles, however, understood the power of women’s words. When he was a young man, Achilles’s mother Thetis persuaded him to pretend to be a girl.

[5] Sedulius Scottus, incipit “The cycles of the seasons were running their four-fold course {Cyclica quadrifidis currebant tempora metis}” (commonly titled “About the strife of the rose and the lily {De rosae liliique certamine}”) st. 2, Latin text from Godman (1985) pp. 282-5, my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Rand (1926) pp.  254-5. Subsequent quotes are seriatim from this poem and are similarly sourced. The Dante Medieval Archive provides an online Latin text of “Cyclica quadrifidis currebant tempora metis.”

The anonymous twelfth-century Latin poem with incipit “Once a certain topic I was reflecting upon in my mind {Dum quandam materiam mente meditarer}” (commonly titled “Contest of the Rose and the Violet”) is a later example of a flower debate poem. For full Latin text, Tobler (1893). Raby (1959) pp. 316-7 (no. 210) is an abbreviated version.

Bonvensin da la Riva, the leading figure of thirteenth-century Lombardian literature, wrote in the Milanese vernacular in the 1270s a poem entitled in Latin “The debate of the rose with the violet {Disputatio rose cum viola}.” A source for Dante, Bonvensin also wrote Book of the Three Scriptures {Libro delle tre scritture} (1274), with About black scripture {De scriptura nigra}, About red scripture {De scriptura rubra}, and About Golden scripture {De scriptura aurea} describing 12 punishments in Hell, Christ’s passion, and 12 glories in Heaven, respectively. On Bonvensin de la Riva, Kleinhenz (2004) vol. 1, pp. 145-7.

Both the rose and the lily have long been favored flowers in Christian tradition. The Song of Solomon associates the lily with beauty. Song of Solomon 2:1-2. Jesus praised the beauty of lilies. Luke 12:27. By the fourth century, red roses were associated with Christian martyrdom, and Heaven with a garden of roses. Seward (1955) p. 516. Heralding the arrival of Beatrice and the departure of Virgil in Dante’s Purgatory, a choir of a hundred angels sings:

“Blessed are you who come,” they said, and all
above and round with flowers they strewed the way,
saying, “Oh give the lilies with full hands!”

{ Tutti dicean: “Benedictus qui venis!”
e fior gittando e di sopra e dintorno,
“Manibus, oh, date lilïa plenis!” }

Dante, Purgatory {Purgatorio} 30.19-21, Italian text and English translation from Esolen (2004b). Cf. Mark 11:8-10 (entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem). Here lilies replace the cloaks and leafy branches spread for Jesus’s path into Jerusalem. Dante also rewrites Virgil’s Aeneid 7.883 (cf. Purgatorio 30.21) from a mournful lament to a cry of celebration. Guiding Dante through Heaven, Beatrice instructed:

Here is the rose wherein the Word divine
was made incarnate, here the lilies blow
whose fragrance leads men on the righteous way.

{ Quivi è la rosa in che ’l verbo divino
carne si fece; quivi son li gigli
al cui odor si prese il buon cammino. }

Dante, Paradise {Paradiso} 23.73-5, Italian text and English translation from Esolen (2004a). The rose refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the lilies to the apostles. Paradiso 31.112-26 describes the heavenly, eternal rose. In Siena in 1321, the year of Dante’s death, an additional six verses of terza rima were added to Simone Martini’s Maestà fresco. The first two of these verses recognized the exalted status of the rose and the lily:

The angelic flowers, the rose and the lily
with which the heavenly field is adorned
do not delight me more than good counsel

{ Li angelichi fiorecti, rose e gigli,
onde s’adorna lo celeste prato,
non mi dilettan più ch i buon’ consigli. }

Inscribed verses under the Madonna’s throne in Simone Martini’s Maestà, Italian text and English translation from Jacoff (2009) p. S90.

[6] I’ve translated Phoebus, an epithet for Apollo, as “bright Apollo,” and in conjunction with the adjective rutilus {yellowish red} “bright-red Apollo.” Rand reads Rose to be suggesting that Lily is getting old, and Lily to be “getting exceeding mad” at that insinuation. Rand (1926) p. 254. The insinuation of old age comes in contrast to diction alluding to sexual vitality. Rose is declaring that handsome Apollo loves her more passionately than Apollo loves Lily. Cf. Burt (2014) p. 214, which interprets Rose to be declaring that she is “sister of Aurora and Phoebus.” Phoebus is Apollo, and Rose is his sister only in the medieval sense of lover.

[7] Sedulius uses the plural noun lilia {lilies} to refer to Lily, the twin of Rose. I’ve translated that plural form as the singular name Lily in accordance with the overall sense of the poem.

Father Spring artfully and irenically conflates among his daughters the claimed honors. He gives Lily the royal scepter that Rose claimed in stanza 2. In European literary tradition, white is typically associated with modesty / virginity and purple with passion. But Father associates his purple daughter Rose with modesty. Rose describes Apollo as being bright red, but Father associates Apollo with his white daughter Lily.

A nature debate in Greek from the third century BGC, Callimachus’s Iamb 4, has a bramble bush as an external, conciliatory party. Konstan & Landry (2008) identify the bramble bush with Callimachus’s father. He had at least two children, Callimachus and a daughter Megatime. Sedulius Scottus knew Greek; whether he read Callimachus isn’t known.

Sedulius’s De rosae liliique certamine displays considerable learning in classical Latin literature. Burt stated:

Within “About the Contest of the Rose and the Lily” Scottus uses parallels with the Aeneid, Georgics and Eclogues. For example, the first line spoken by the Rose states, “Purple gives royal power, purple becomes the glory of the kingdom” (ll.5), which reflects the phrases ‘purple of kings’ and ‘painted purple moves not the king’ from the Georgics 2.495 and Aeneid 7.251-252 respectively. Later, the Rose claims, “And Phoebus loves me, I am the messenger of rosy Phoebus” (ll.14), which echoes Aeneid 3.119 and Eclogue 3.62.

Burt (2014) p. 58. Godman detects additional parallels to Virgil’s Eclogues, as well as a parallel to Venantius Fortunatus, Carm. 8.16.3. Godman (1985) pp. 283-5, notes, esp. note to v. 8 (parallel to Fortunatus).

De rosae liliique certamine is a sophisticated, “adult” poem. Godman describes it as a “lighter conception of the idyll”; “a comedy of manners.” Godman (1985) pp. 282-3, introductory note; id. p. 54. That reading isn’t consistent with the viciousness of the flyting. According to Burt, “the quarrel takes on the appearance of a dialectical school exercise.” Burt (2014) p. 62. The poem is far more sophisticated in its gender understanding, allusive language, and relation to the epic tradition than a mere school exercise.

[8] Homer, Odyssey 13.307-10, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Murray (1919). The goddess Athena urged Odysseus to give up crafty words. Odyssey 13.291-96. That’s bad advice. Men need to acquire more guile to achieve gender equality. Men must truly swerve.

Barker perceptively observed:

experiencing debate in the Iliad helps construct an audience engaged in thinking about how people interact with each other in the context of an arena in which public concerns are raised and contested. By establishing a place in its narrative to investigate debate, the Iliad invites the audience to reflect on where they are going to draw the lines, over what they will enter the debate. We are invited to look beyond the single (imagined or real) performance context to an Iliad that operates as aetiological — or foundational — for a world of ‘today’.

Barker (2004) p. 117. Classicists should take Barker’s observations to heart in addressing epic violence against men in the Iliad and in the world today.

[images] (1) Serbian soldier and his father rest after duty in the trenches near Belgrade during World War I. Image widely available on the Internet, authorial source unclear. (2) Purple rose. Source image thanks to Jon Bragg and Wikimedia Commons. (3) White Lily. Photo made on 14 July 2012 at Main Botanical Garden of Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Photo thanks to Андрей Корзун (Kor!An) and Wikimedia Commons.


Barker, Elton. 2004. “Achilles’ last stand: Institutionalising dissent in Homer’s Iliad.” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society. 50: 92-120.

Burt, Kathleen R. 2014. Argument in Poetry: (Re)Defining the Middle English Debate in Academic, Popular, and Physical Contexts. Paper 366. Ph.D. Thesis, Marquette University. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004a. Dante Alighieri. Paradise. New York: Modern Library.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004b. Dante Alighieri. Purgatory. New York: Modern Library.

Fagles, Robert, trans. and Bernard Knox, intro. and notes. 1990. The Iliad. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking.

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Hesk, Jon. 2006. “Homeric Flyting and How to Read It: Performance and Intratext in Iliad 20.83-109 and 20.178-258.” Ramus. 35 (1): 4-28 (cited to pp. 1-37 in online edition).

Jacoff, Rachel. 2009. ‘“Diligite iustitiam”: Loving Justice in Siena and Dante’s Paradiso.’ Issue in honor of John Freccero: Fifty Years with Dante and Italian Literature. MLN. 124 (5): S81-S95.

Kleinhenz, Christopher. 2004. Medieval Italy: an Encyclopedia. New York, London: Garland.

Konstan, David, and Leo Landrey. 2008. “Callimachus and the Bush in Iamb 4.” Classical World. 102 (1): 47-49.

Lentini, Giuseppe. 2013. “The Pragmatics of Verbal Abuse in Homer.” In Håkan Tell, ed. [email protected]: The Rhetoric of Abuse in Greek Literature. Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University.

Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by George E. Dimock. 1919. Homer. Odyssey. Loeb Classical Library 105. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by William F. Wyatt. 1925. Homer. Iliad. Loeb Classical Library 171. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nagy, Gregory. 1999. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Parks, Ward. 1990. Verbal Dueling in Heroic Narrative: The Homeric and Old English Traditions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rand, Edward Kennard. 1926. “Mediaeval Gloom and Mediaeval Uniformity.” Presidential address to the Medieval Academy of America, April 24, 1926. Speculum. 1 (3): 253-268.

Seward, Barbara. 1955. “Dante’s Mystic Rose.” Studies in Philology. 52 (4): 515-523.

Tobler, Adolf. 1893. “Streit zwischen Veilchen und Rose.” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen. 90: 152-158.

solidarity among men promotes gender equality & social justice

To overcome millennia of gynocentric oppression, solidarity among men is essential. When a person is killed, few even notice that he’s a man. Large anti-men bias in criminal justice generates little public concern. Holding behind bars in jails and prisons about fifteen times as many men as women matters less to elites than the gender distribution of winners of the Booker Prize. Men must strongly and loyally support each other in order to promote gender equality and social justice.

Bernart de Ventadorn, troubadour

Men relating to women easily slide into grotesque self-abasement. Consider the pathetic case of the twelfth-century man trobairitz Bernart de Ventadorn. He suffered from acute one-itis and gyno-idolatry for a beautiful woman lacking compassion for him. Bernart lamented:

She’s mastered cheating, trickery,
so that always I think she loves me.
Ah, sweetly she deceives me,
as her pretty face confounds me!
Lady, you’re gaining absolutely nothing:
in fact, I’m sure it’s toward your loss
that you treat your man so badly.

God, who nurtures all the world,
give her a heart to receive me,
for I don’t want to eat any food
and of nothing good I have plenty.
Toward the beautiful one, I’m humble,
and I render her rightful homage:
if she pleases, she can keep me or sell me.

Evil she is if she doesn’t call me
to come where she undresses alone
so that I can wait at her bidding
beside the bed, along the edge,
where I can pull off her close-fitting shoes
down on my knees, my head bent down:
if only she’ll offer me her foot.

{ Tan sap d’engenh e de ganda
c’ades cuit c’amar me volha.
be doussamen me truanda,
c’ab bel semblan me cofonda!
domna, so no·us es nuls enans,
que be cre qu’es vostres lo dans,
cossi que vostr’om mal prenda.

Deus, que tot lo mon garanda,
li met’ en cor que m’acolha,
c’a me no te pro vianda
ni negus bes no·m aonda.
tan sui vas la bela doptans,
per qu’e·m ren a leis merceyans:
si·lh platz, que·m don o que·m venda!

Mal o fara, si no·m manda
venir lai on se despolha,
qu’eu sia per sa comanda
pres del leih, josta l’esponda,
e·lh traya·ls sotlars be chaussans,
a genolhs et umilians,
si·lh platz que sos pes me tenda. } [1]

Despite treating Bernart badly, this woman owns him. Like the pathetic General Belisarius, Bernart wants to kiss her feet. Men deserve gender equality. Social justice won’t be achieved as long as men merely kiss women’s feet.

Writing in the first century BGC, Parthenius of Nicaea recorded a marvelous story of solidarity among men. In 277 BGC, Gauls from present-day southern France raided the ancient Greek city of Miletus, which is in the middle of the Aegean coast of present-day Turkey.[2] The raid occurred during the gynocentric, gender-exclusive women’s festival Thesmophoria. In the ancient world, when an enemy sacked a city, all the city’s men usually were killed. The Gauls’ raid on the gender-exclusive festival produced one happy outcome: no men were killed.[3] Because women are regarded under gynocentrism as having higher social value than men, the Gauls didn’t kill the women, but took them as captives.

Being a captive woman was much better than being a dead man. The Milesians paid the Gaulic raiders large ransoms of gold and silver to get back some of the Milesian women. As for the other Milesian women, some probably had dominated, abused, and tormented their husbands, who thus were pleased to be freed from them. Those women became instead the wives of Gaulic men. Those Gaulic men endured a Pyrrhic victory. As has commonly been the case, women suffered less than men did.

The Milesian woman Herippe disappeared before her husband Xanthus, a highly respected and well-born citizen of Miletus, was able to ransom her. Xanthus and Herippe together had a two-year-old child. Xanthus retained custody of their child. At the same time, Xanthus missed Herippe greatly. Converting just part of his possessions into the enormous sum of two thousand gold coins, he traveled all the way to southern France to ransom from the Gauls his beloved wife Herippe.

In the land of the Gauls, Xanthus found that Herippe had become the wife of one of the Gauls’ most distinguished leaders. Showing a generous heart, this Gaul received Xanthus readily and hospitably:

when Xanthus went in, he saw his wife, who threw her arms around him and drew him toward her with great affection.

{ εἰσελθὼν ὁρᾷ τὴν γυναῖκα, καὶ αὐτὸν ἐκείνη τὼ χεῖρε ἀμφιβαλοῦσα μάλα φιλοφρόνως προσηγάγετο. } [4]

The Gaul put on a banquet for Xanthus and seated Herippe next to Xanthus. As drinks were being circulated, the Gaul asked Xanthus how much money he had for Herippe’s ransom. Xanthus said that he had a thousand gold coins. The Gaul declared that Xanthus should keep three parts for himself, his wife, and his child, and give the fourth part as ransom.

Late that night, after the others had gone to bed, Herippe sharply criticized Xanthus for being willing to pay such a large ransom. Husbands must be able to endure their wives’ sharp criticism. In this case, Xanthus explained that he had another thousand gold coins hidden in the soles of his servant’s boots. Xanthus explained that he had been willing to pay a much larger ransom. In short, Xanthus made clear to Herippe how much he valued having her as his wife.

Herippe didn’t reciprocate her husband’s great love for her. Even worse, she viciously betrayed him:

The following day the woman told the Celtic how much gold her husband had. She tried to persuade the Gaul to kill Xanthus. She much preferred him, she said, to her native country and her child. As for Xanthus, she utterly detested him.

{ ἡ γυνὴ τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ τῷ Κελτῷ καταμηνύει τὸ πλῆθος τοῦ χρυσοῦ καὶ παρεκελεύετο κτεῖναι τὸν Ξάνθον, φάσκουσα πολὺ μᾶλλον αἱρεῖσθαι αὐτὸν τῆς τε πατρίδος καὶ τοῦ παιδίου· τὸν μὲν γὰρ Ξάνθον παντάπασιν ἀποστυγεῖν. }

Xanthus had no idea that his wife despised him. If he had even imagined that she as a captive of the Gauls would come to prefer her Gaulish husband to him, Xanthus would never had made the long journey with a huge amount of money to attempt to ransom her.

Herippe’s disloyalty to her native country, her contempt for her former husband, and her disregard for their young child didn’t please the Gaul. What Xanthus failed to perceive, the Gaul understood: Herippe was a wicked woman. In the ancient world, being a wicked woman wasn’t regarded as a praiseworthy display of strength and independence.

The Gaul decided to spring a surprise punishment on Herippe. He escorted Herippe and Xanthus to the border of Celtic country. Then he announced that he wanted to sacrifice an animal to the gods:

The sacrificial animal brought in, the Gaul bade Herippe take hold of it. She did, as she had often done in the past. Then, stretching up his sword, he brought it down and beheaded her. He tried to persuade Xanthus not to take it badly. He told him about her plot and permitted him to take all the gold back with him.

{ καὶ κομισθέντος ἱερείου, τὴν Ἡρίππην ἐκέλευεν ἀντιλαβέσθαι· τῆς δὲ κατασχούσης, ὡς καὶ ἄλλοτε σύνηθες αὐτῇ, ἐπανατεινάμενος τὸ ξίφος καθικνεῖται καὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῆς ἀφαιρεῖ, τῷ τε Ξάνθῳ παρεκελεύετο μὴ δυσφορεῖν, ἐξαγγείλας τὴν ἐπιβουλὴν αὐτῆς, ἐπέτρεπέ τε τὸ χρυσίον ἅπαν κομίζειν αὑτῷ. }

Today, the Gaul’s punishment of Herippe might seem barbaric. The Gaul might rightly regard today’s acute anti-men bias in punishment, as well as mass imprisonment of men, to be a travesty of justice.

Traditional folk justice is “tit for tat,” or “what goes around, comes around.” Early in the thirteenth century, a didactic poet recorded in German:

When a man gives malicious advice to another,
it is only right that he receive the same treatment.

{ Von reht iz uf in selben gat,
swer dem andern geit valschen rat. } [5]

The Gaul interpreted a similar ethos to apply equally to men and women. When his wife advised him to kill her former husband, he killed her after she became his former wife. The Gaul deserves credit for acting decisively in support of gender equality and solidarity among men, irrespective of race, Gaul or Greek. Upholding solidarity among men and promoting gender equality should progress to more humane practices. Yet some morally sanctioned action toward worthy ideals is better than no action at all.

The well-born ancient urban Greek and the sophisticated troubadour love poet are cultural heroes of gynocentric society. Too many men today are as obtuse as Xanthus was in relation to his wife. Too many men today seek to be feet-kissing servants to women like Benart de Ventadorn was. We all can learn from the ancient barbarian Gaul.

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[1] Bernart de Ventadorn, “When I see in the scrubland {Lancan vei per mei la landa}” st. 3-5 (vv. 15-35), Old Occitan text from Corpus des Troubadours, English translation (modified slightly) from Wilhelm (1970) pp. 125-6. At the excellent Brindin Press, James H. Donalson (2004) has an Occitan text and English translation of “Lancan vei per mei la landa” freely available online. Here’s a German translation. Other online Occitan texts and English translations are curiously missing the important third stanza.

For all the songs of Bernart, with English translations, Nichols (1962). For some analysis of his style, Clifford (1976).

[2] Lightfoot (1999) p. 413. The Gauls established a permanent settlement in the region of Asia Minor that came to be known as Galatia. Greeks colonized Miletus about three thousand years ago. By the sixth-century BGC, Miletus was one of the wealthiest Greek cities.

[3] Cf. Deuteronomy 20:13, Numbers 31:7-9, 17-8.

[4] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 8.4 (About Herippe {Περὶ Ἡρίππης}), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly to be more easily readable) from Lightfoot (2009). The subsequent two quotes are similarly from Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 8.7 (The following day…) and 8.9 (The sacrificial animal brought in…). The Perseus Digital Library has freely available the ancient Greek text of Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα in the Teubner edition of Hercher (1858). Lightfoot’s Greek text is considerably better.

Parthenius’s manchette for this story states:

The story is told by Aristodemus of Nysa in the first book of his Histories, except that he changes the names and calls the woman Euthymia instead of Herippe, and the barbarian Cauaras.

{ Ἱστορεῖ  Ἀριστόδημος ὁ Νυσαεὺς ἐν α΄Ἱστοριῶν περὶ τούτων, πλὴν ὅτι τὰ ὀνόματα ὑπαλλάττει ἀντὶ Ἡρίππης καλῶν Εὐθυμίαν, τὸν δὲ βάρβαρον Καυάραν }

Lightfoot (2009). Lightfoot notes that the Gaul’s name Cauaras suggest a connection to the area around Marseilles in southern France.

Lightfoot observed, “The thrust of this unusual story is to demonstrate male solidarity….” Lightfoot (1999) p. 413. Authorities acting under gynocentrism are interested in suppressing stories of solidarity among men. Lightfoot herself declared, “the theme {of the Herippe story} is misogynistic.” Id. p. 414. Under gynocentrism, labeling works “misogynistic” is a powerful tool of censorship and suppression.

[5] From Freidank’s early thirteenth-century collection of short proverbial sayings written in Middle High German verse and called Discernment {Bescheidenheit}, as transmitted in the Carmina Burana, Add. 17.39-40. Middle High German text and English translation from Traill (2018) v. 2, p. 573.

Person today don’t protest because men are betrayed and unjustly killed. The Gaul took decisive action in solidarity with his fellow man.

[image] Illuminated initial depicting Bernart de Ventadorn. On folio 15v of the Chansonnier provençal (Chansonnier K). Made in the second half of the thirteenth century. Preserved as MS. BnF Français 12473, via Gallica.


Clifford (Boitani), Paula. 1976. ‘“Fine words and joyful melodies”: some stylistic aspects of the love songs of Bernart de Ventadorn.’ Reading Medieval Studies. 2: 14-27

Lightfoot, J. L. 1999. Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the  Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (review by Christopher Francese)

Lightfoot, J. L. 2009. Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library, 508. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (reviews by Giambattista D’Alessio, by Claudio De Stefani, and by Iiro Laukola)

Nichols, Stephen G. 1962. The Songs of Bernart de Ventadorn: complete texts, translations, notes and glossary. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Wilhelm, James J. 1970. Seven Troubadours: The Creators of Modern Verse. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.