women should express greater, wider-ranging love for men

siren mourning death of beloved man

Dependent on the virtues of our fathers,
you were as gold or like that morning star.
You shone brightly in the beauty of the virtues.
You practiced temperance and boldness
and care and equality before the law,
which you made the base of the God-inspired virtues
and proved to be a statue thereon,
attracting all with the siren call of your words
and the clear brightness of your goodness,
astonishing them with the boldness of your works.
Woe is me. At the very height of my greatest hopes,
my light and the glory of my life,
the glory of all, the link to the golden race,
the bright ambition of nature,
oh, to my own and the common misfortune,
how much I suffered for you,
beloved head, my hope, my life, my light, my joy,
scion of Byzantium and the Greeks. [1]

In 1481, a woman in the Greek city of Thessaloniki had this poem inscribed on the tomb of a man she loved. Thessaloniki had been the second most important city in the Roman Empire of Byzantium. Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. That had little significance in the woman’s expression of personal love.[2]

This poem, which apparently existed as a literary work before the woman invoked it as a funerary inscription, combines broad social awareness with intense personal feeling. The declaration of publicly recognized excellence, underscored with the concluding phrase “scion of Byzantium and the Greeks,” indicates that the woman and her beloved at least aspired to aristocratic ideals. Within Byzantine culture, the phrase “at the very height of my greatest hopes” suggest that the woman was on the verge of marrying and having children with her beloved. The concluding turn in the poem from the excellent man’s death to the woman’s suffering emphasizes the significance of a man’s death in gynocentric society. Within its own cultural limitations, this poem beautifully and poignantly expresses a woman’s love for a man.

The poem draws upon millennia of Greek culture to express love for a man. It alludes to the mid-fourteenth-century Byzantine romance Kallimachos and Chrysorroi. and echoes an expression of love found in the mid-thirteenth-century Byzantine romance Livistros and Rhodamne.[3] The poem begins with the line, “You proved to be the pride of the Greek race.” That line, along with the phrase “golden race,” indicates pride in a Greek identity that stretches back far further than the decline and collapse of the Byzantine Empire in what were recent centuries. A scholar noted:

Phrases such as ἄγαλμα θεϊκό (divine statue), σειρῆνα τοῦ λόγου (siren of the word) and ἀγλαΐα κάλους (brightness of beauty) are expressions of feminine admiration. [4]

The woman admiring the man she loved was “a cultivated woman in love.” She expansively appreciated the Greek mythological figure of the siren, already known in Greek culture for more than two thousand years in her medieval time. Sirens typically combined features of beautiful women and birds. The cultured woman in love understood that a man too could be a siren. She appreciated men’s intrinsic virtue.

What men want and deserve is not merely basic human rights and equal justice under law. Many great men, of greatness in personal relationships with women, have existed throughout history. Many such men — husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, loyal friends, caring neighbors, and many others — exist today. Women should express greater, wider-ranging love for men. They should express love for a man like a woman did with Greek poetry in Thessaloniki in 1483.

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[1] From Greek trans. Bakirtzis (2013) p. 218. The Greek text is available at id., p. 217. Above is all but the first four lines of the poem. I’ve made two insubstantial changes to aid readability. The concluding text of the funerary inscription is:

The servant of God Loukas Spandounes fell asleep in the Lord in the year 1481, the 14th indication, on the 1st day of the month of January.

Trans. id. p. 218.

[2] The poem includes one reference to Ottoman victories over the Byzantines. The first four lines of the poem are:

Your proved to be the pride of the Greek race,
outstanding in the sphere of the virtues.
Having abandoned, alas, your homeland,
you had no part in our opprobrium.

Trans. id. p. 217. Loukas Spandounes apparently fled Thessaloniki in response to a Turkish conquest. He may have fled to Venice. That’s where Theodore Spandounes fled after 1453. Id. p. 219.

After victories against the Byzantines, the Ottoman Turks occasionally took noble Byzantine male children to serve as pages in the Ottoman ruler’s seraglio. That was called “paidomazoma.” Within the seraglio, the male Byzantine children provided sexual and other services to the Ottoman ruler. The phrase “our opprobrium” apparently refers to paidomazoma. Id. pp. 218-9. Overall, the collapse of the Byzantium Empire has little salience in the poem.

[3] Id. pp. 219-20, documenting such intertexuality in the second and penultimate lines above. The woman in love most likely didn’t compose the poem. It seems to have been a pre-existing literary work:

The last verse, with the name of the dad man, his characterisation as a “servant of God” and the date of his death, is in a different style from the rest of the preceding verses 1-22 of the poem. Its poor level of literacy follows the model of older epigraphs. It was not initially part of the poem and was probably added when the epigraph was engraved in marble.

Id. p. 221. Other evidence indicates that production-to-stock inscribed funerary stones were made in the ancient world.

[4] Id. Homer’s Odyssey includes a reference to (female) sirens. While the above poem expresses a feminine viewpoint, men are capable of such expression. Whether the poem’s author was a woman or a man isn’t known.

[image] Funerary siren. Terracotta figurine from the first-century BGC Greek costal city Myrina (in the region of Mysia in present-day Turkey). Preserved in the Louvre Museum (Paris), accession # Myr 148. Image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. The Wikimedia entry observes that this funerary siren is “raising a hand to her breast and another hand to her hair, two typical gestures of distress and mourning.” That probably represents mourning for the death of a beloved man.


Bakirtzis, Charalambos. 2013. “The Authority of Knowledge in the Name of the Authority of Mimesis.” Ch. 15 (pp. 211-226) in Armstrong, Pamela, ed. Authority in Byzantium. Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College London, 14. Farnham: Ashgate.

Galbert chronicled horrific violence against men in medieval Flanders

medieval battle between Flemish and Fench

Betrayers brutally murdered Count Charles the Good with a surprise attack on him while he was praying in the Church of Saint Donatian in Bruges in 1127. Galbert then was a bureaucratic functionary in the Count’s administration in Bruges. On his own initiative, Galbert chronicled the murder of Charles the Good and much ensuing violence against men. Galbert was an unlikely person to do such important work:

No one asked him to write the Description {the first part of his chronicle}, and he was not one of the people in his society who was supposed to write literature or history. Had he not written his chronicle, he would have been nothing more for us than a name in the witness lists of a couple of charters of the counts of Flanders. Nothing he wrote would ever have come down to us, and nothing other than the chronicle has. [1]

Unlike institutionalized intellectuals, Galbert wasn’t focused on career-building practices of buttressing dominant ideology, currying favor with high-status figures, and superficially fashioning oneself as learned. Galbert sought to document “the truth of things”:

When I set out to write the death of such a leader, I did not spend time on eloquent ornaments nor did I seek for just the right rhetorical effects, but only the truth of things  … I do not much care, therefore, if anyone wants to criticize this study of the mind … or prattle against it in any way. I rest secure in the knowledge that I speak a truth known to all those who endured the same danger with me, and I entrust it to our posterity to be remembered.

{ Tanti quidem principis mortem discripturus, non elaboravi eloquentiae ornatum seu diversorum colorum distinguere modos sed rerum veritatem solummodo … Super hoc igitur mentis studio, … si quis quidquam obgarrire et detrahere contendat, non multum curo. Securum enim me facit quod veritatem omnibus apertam qui mecum eodem percellebantur periculo loquor, et eam posteris nostris memorandam commendo. } [2]

Men throughout history have endured horrific violence against men, including sexual violence against men. Galbert documented in detail such violence. Many readers have failed to appreciate adequately a profound insight in Galbert’s chronicle: all the persons killed are men.

Violence against men in Galbert’s chronicle is far more extensive than just the murder of Count Charles the Good. Immediately after the betrayers murdered the Count, they attacked his men-supporters who were also present in the Church of Saint Donatian. One such man was the castle-based administrator for the Count in Bourbourg (the castellan of Bourbourg):

They also killed the Castellan of Bourbourg, whom they first wounded mortally and then dragged vilely by his feet from the {church} gallery, into which he and the Count had mounted, to the doors of the church, where they dismembered him outside with swords.

{ Occiderunt quoque castellanum ex Brudburg, prius ad mortem vulneratum, postea per pedes a solario, in quod conscenderat comes et ipse, viliter detractum in januis ecclesiae, foras gladiis dismembrabant. } [3]

The betrayers also murdered the Castellan of Bourbourg’s two sons who were fleeing for their lives:

A nefarious knight by the name of Eric, one of those who had betrayed the Count, knocked one of the brothers off the horse on which he was fleeing, and he and those who were chasing him killed him before he could get up. They intercepted the other brother as he was rushing in flight to the door of his lodgings and stabbed him through with their swords. As he fell, one of our citizens, named Lambert Berakin, chopped at him with his ax as if he were a piece of wood.

{ Quorum alterum fratrem, Eric nomine nefarius miles, unus quidem illorum qui comitem tradiderant, ab equo quo insidens fugeret dejecit et dejectum simul cum persecutoribus interfecit. Alterum quoque fratrem in ostio hospitii sui in fugam prosilientem, ex opposito ei occursitantes gladiis trajecerunt. Quem unus civium nostrorum nomine Lambertus Berakin cadentem securi suo quasi lignum aliquod detruncavit. }

Underscoring men’s relative vulnerability to violence, the Castellan of Bourbourg as he was dying turned to a privileged woman for help:

The Abbess of Origny had accepted from him the ring which he had given her in the gallery, while he was still breathing, so that she could take it to his wife as proof of his death and as proof to his wife and sons, of whose death he knew nothing unless it was after his own death {in life after death}, of the authenticity of all the requests he made of them through the Abbess.

{ cujus annulum abbatissa ex Auriniaco ab eo in solario, dum spiraret, eo dante, susceperat, quatenus deferret uxori suae in signum suae mortis et in signum omnium eorum quae per abbatissam demandasset uxori et liberis, quorum mortem ipse nisi post mortem suam ignorabat. } [4]

The Abbess surely was a close friend of the Castellan of Bourbourg. She apparently also supported the Count. The betrayers attacked men who led religious institutions, but they didn’t attack the Abbess as she served a man whom they had just killed. Men commit much less violence against women than they do violence against men.

Fighting among various factions killed many men after the Count’s murder. The fighting was horrifically brutal. Consider Galbert’s description of just one day in the siege of the castle that the betrayers took:

March 12, Saturday, an edict went out from the leaders that all {men} who were gathered for the siege should attack the castle at every place to which they had access. …When they had brought up a pile of dry hay and kindling to attack the castle’s main gate and had summoned the knight who was to set fire to the kindling, those {men} who were attacking were so overwhelmed by stones, pikes, lances, and arrows from within the castle that countless were wounded and helmets and shields shattered by stones as big as millstones that were thrown down from the ramparts, and they were barely able to escape with their lives from beneath the arch of the gate under which they had been hiding in order to set the fire. When a stone thrown from above managed to hit anyone, regardless of his strength and valor, he suffered a most shattering blow that knocked him to the ground, broken, dying, and gasping. A squire from among those outside the castle died in this assault with an arrow through his heart.

{ Quarto idus Martii, sabbato, edictum exiit a principibus ut castrum ex omni parte qua accessum haberent invaderent omnes qui in obsidione consedissent. … Ceterum cum majores portas castri invaderent, subducta feni et stipularum arida congerie et accito milite qui ignem stipulis ingereret, abintus castrum lapidibus, sudibus, lanceis, sagittis obruti sunt hi qui aggrediebantur, ita ut quasi molaribus petris a propugnaculis dejectis innumeri laesi et conquassati galeas et scuta, vix a portarum testudine sub qua latitabant ut incendia administrarent cum salute vitae aufugerent. Quemcumque igitur persequebatur lapis ab alto dejectus, quantaecumque fuisset virtutis et virium, passus est sui ruinam gravissimam ita ut totus prostratus et confractus, moribundus et exanimis caderet. Qua infestatione armiger unus a foris sagitta trajectus cordi exspiravit. }

In this and other fighting, men were effectively required to participate.[5] Galbert noticed the bodies of ordinary men, ordered into mortally dangerous circumstances, then on the ground, “broken, dying, and gasping.” He added a telling personal characterization in recording the execution by precipitation of one of the betrayers:

the finely formed young man was pushed off and, falling to the ground, embraced the peril of his death

{ projectus est juvenis elegantioris formae et in terram decidens, suae mortis periculum insumpsit et statim exspiravit. } [6]

Galbert appreciated men’s intrinsic virtue. Recognizing, as many today do not, that men’s lives matter, Galbert lamented the deaths of so many men: “the number of free men wounded and killed couldn’t be counted,” “numberless men fell.”[7]

While today sexual violence against men is trivialized and the actual prevalence of men being raped is largely ignored, Galbert forthrightly documented sexual violence against men. He recorded the execution of one of the betrayer’s serfs:

When he had fled, he had disguised himself by putting on a woman’s coat and hidden between two mattresses. Pulled from his hiding place, he was led into the middle of the market and, with everyone looking on, was hung from a stick stuck through his lower legs and shins, his head hanging down, so that his shameful parts, that is, his anus and buttocks, were turned toward the castle to the shame and disgrace of the betrayers, who, besieged in the castle, were standing on the Count’s balcony and the ramparts and observing this being done to taunt them.

{ {quo} qui fugiens latuerat inter duas culcitras, indutus superpellicium mulieris quo se dissimularet. At inde retractus, ductus est in medium fori et, inspectantibus universis, suspensus est, fuste transfixo per suffragines et crura, capite dejecto deorsum, ita ut verecundiora, scilicet culus et nates, adverterentur versus castrum ad dedecus et ignominiam illorum traditorum qui obsessi stabant ad lobium comitis et ad propugnacula, inspectantes hoc fieri sibi ipsis in opprobrium. } [8]

The executioners apparently intended to humiliate sexually the man in killing him and to taunt the besieged for lacking masculine heterosexual desire.

Another alleged betrayer, Guy of Steenvorde, suffered a physical attack to his genitals. To assert his innocence, he was compelled to engage in man-to-man combat with another strong knight. Guy managed to get on top of the other knight and was “pounding the knight’s mouth and eyes with his iron gauntlets {maniculis ferreis ora et oculos contundens militis}.” But the other knight counter-attacked:

having raised his hand very smoothly to the lower edges of the mail coat, where Guy was unprotected, and grabbed him by the testicles, he collected his strength for a single effort and threw him from him, breaking open all the lower parts of his body by this grabbing throw so that the prostrate Guy grew weak and cried out that he was defeated and was going to die.

{ Interim manum suavius subducens usque ad inferiores loricae oras, in qua parte non fuerat Wido praemunitus, per testiculos raptum, collectis viribus ad puncti unius momentum a se propulit, in quo rapticio pulsu tota de subtus natura corporis rupta, it prostratus defecit Wido ut victum et mortuum se fore exclamaret. }

Guy was thus found guilty of betrayal and hung on gallows. Three days later, his dead body was joined with the dead body of a leader of the betrayal:

Later, placed on a cart wheel attached to a very tall pole, the bodies of both men were put on display for all those who passed by, and their arms were bent around one another’s necks as if in a mutual embrace

{ Post haec vero utrorumque corpora virorum rotae plaustri superposita in malo altissimo fixae, videnda universis transeuntibus proposuerunt, brachiaque mutuis quasi amplexibus ad colla flectentes } [9]

Guy’s only established link to the betrayal was that he had been married to the niece of that leader of the betrayal. No evidence exists that the niece herself was executed. As continues to be the case today, punishment is highly gender-biased toward punishing men, including sexual violence used as punishment.

Violence against men is rooted in part in social devaluation of men’s lives. In her introduction to her translation of Galbert’s chronicle, an eminent medievalist writing in 1960 declared:

Because of the very nature of his subject, Galbert pays little attention to those civilizing currents in Flemish society which were gradually creating “islands of peace” in this turbulent area and deflecting the energies of at least some men into peaceful channels. … There is no evidence yet of the chivalric ideal or of the courtly way of life, with its cult of women and its softening effect upon the manners and customs of the knightly class. [10]

The underlying idea, as absurd and offensive to the ideal of equal human dignity as it is influential, imagines that women make men more civilized. Women are no more inherently a civilizing current than men are. Women commonly play a central role in inciting men to violence against other men. Galbert himself recognized that reality in this account of Dedda suborning the murder of her husband Boldran. Rather than lamenting that in Galbert’s chronicle, “women hardly appear, and when they do they are nameless creatures,” or counting that Galbert’s chronicle records five women’s names, scholars might ponder how many men die.[11]

Gender protrusion in mortality represents vitally significant gender inequality. Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was about nine years less than that of women. Galbert’s chronicle suggests that a large gender protrusion in mortality also existed in twelfth-century Flanders. Authorities working for leading international institutions today make astonishingly mendacious claims about “gender gaps” in life expectancy. Galbert had greater commitment to recording truth. To become more enlightened, you need only read Galbert of Bruges’s chronicle and actually recognize that all the persons killed are men.

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[1] Rider (2013) p. xxxiii. Galbert was a notary who had worked in the comital administration for at least thirteen years before he wrote his chronicle. He apparently kept a fiscal register and may have also taken official notes for comital proceedings. Rider (2009) pp. 13-4.

In medieval Flanders, Bruges was a major commercial center as well as the seat of the ruler’s administration. Bruges today is a large city in the Flemish region of Belgium.

[2] Galbert of Bruges, De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum {The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders} Prologue, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 3, ll. 14-6, 29-35, English trans. from Rider (2013) pp. 2-3. In this and subsequent quotations, for ease of reading I have made without noting a few, minor, non-substantial changes in punctuation in Rider’s translation

Rider translated mentis studio as “mental study.” That’s a rather awkward construction in ordinary English. On the meaning of mentis studio, with focus on studio, Rider (2009) pp. 29-30. I’ve substituted above “study of the mind.” De multro seems to me to encompass Galbert’s wondering about the reasons that men are committing such brutal violence against men, e.g. What are they thinking? How can I understand such horrific treatment of men?

[3] Galbert, De multro 16, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 37, ll. 31-4, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 30. To aid the general reader, I have capitalized the names of positions, e.g. castellan, in Rider’s translation when they refer to a specific person. Subsequent quotes from De multro are sourced likewise. Cited by section and by page in Rider’s translation, they are: 16, p. 31 (A nefarious knight…); 17, p. 34 (The Abbess of Origny…); 32, pp. 60-1 (March 12, Saturday, …); 81, p. 134 (the finely formed young man…); 29, p. 56 (When he had fled, he had disguised…); 58, p. 103 (pounding the knight…; having raised his hand…; placed on a cart wheel…)

[4] The Abbess ruled the abbey of Origny-Sainte-Benoîte in northern France near Saint-Quentin. Origny-Sainte-Benoîte was a rich abbey founded in the late seventh century. Rider (2013) p. 34, n. 103, and BnF data. The Abbess had squires who served her. For evidence of the Abbess’s support for the Count, De multro 39, p. 70.

Partner notes that the Abbess lacks a proper name in Galbert’s chronicle. She also describes the mortally wounded castellan giving her his ring. But she doesn’t recognized the Abbess’s privileged position amid the killing of men. Partner (2009) pp. 111, 117.

[5] Being accused of “being a betrayer” could and did cause men to be executed with little actual evidence of them supporting the betrayal of the Count. See the story of Guy of Steenvorde subsequently above. In such circumstances, declining to participate in the brutal fighting against the betrayers would be risky for men. When a new count was selected, civic leaders of Aardenburg declared:

We have established for ourselves a law that if a military expedition on behalf of our count is announced, anyone {any man} who does not have a legitimate excuse for not participating will pay a fine of twenty shillings to the count.

{ Nobis ipsis quidem legem statuimus ut si expeditio ex parte comitis nostri fuerit indicta, ille qui excusationem non habuerit legitimam, emendabit comiti viginti solidos. }

De multro 55, p. 96. Twenty shillings was “a heavy fine” equivalent to about 240 loaves of bread. Ross (1960) p. 205, n. 19, Rider (2013) p. 96. n. 270. Starvation was a significant risk in early twelfth-century Flanders. De multro 2-3, pp. 7-9. The conscription provision was a rare instance of penal law included in a charter. Ross (1960) p. 205, n. 19. Similar laws probably were in effect elsewhere under the prior Count Charles, but weren’t in charters. Men throughout history and around the world have faced the burden of impressment into military service. In stark contrast to professed ideals of gender equality, men continued to face gender-discriminatory obligations for national military service.

[6] The young man was the knight Walter, son of Lambert of Aardenburg. Rider noted, “Galbert’s bothering to comment that Walter was handsome is surprising here.” Rider (2013) p. 134, n. 396. Galbert’s comment isn’t surprising in the context of his appreciation for intrinsic virtue in men and his horror at the loss of men’s lives. Galbert described the murdered sons of the castellan of Bourbourg as “worthy to be loved by all who knew them on account of the nobility of their uncommonly good looks.” De multro 16, p. 31. Demyttenaere declares that Galbert’s “heart and mind were captivated by men.” Demyttenaere (2009) p. 151. Just as medieval women writers had loving concern for men, medieval men living amid horrific slaughter of men focused on men. The prevalent modern scholarly blindness to men as specifically but not defectively gendered human beings shouldn’t be projected back onto more humane medieval persons.

[7] De multro 108, p. 165; 114, p. 174. Although focusing on gender, Häcker (2009) and Partner (2009) take no notice of the fact that all the persons killed in De multro are men. That’s a typical approach to gender in news reporting about violent deaths: only if the persons killed are female is their gender reported.

[8] The man who hid in women’s clothing was Fromold, one of Bosiard’s serfs. Like Fromold, the provost Bertulf was sexually abused in being executed:

They pulled down his breeches so that the shameful parts of his body were visible. There was nothing foul or ignominious that they did not include in his punishment.

{ braccas detraxerunt ei ut illa verecundiora corporis apparerent. Nihil turpe vel ignominiosum erat quod in ejus supplicium non inferrent. }

De multro 57, p. 101.

[9] The other dead man was the provost Bertulf. The provost had earlier undergone brutally abusive punishment:

a crowd of men from Ypres, raging for the death of the provost, twisted the bowels of a dog around his neck and put the dog’s mouth next to his mouth as he was exhaling the breath of life, comparing him and his deeds to a dog.

{ Iprensium igitur turba, furens in mortem praepositi, canis viscera contorserat circa collum ejus et os canis ad os ejus jam vitalem spiritum expirantis opposuerunt aequiparantes cani ipsum et facta ipsius. }

De multro 57, p. 102.

[10] Ross (1960), p. 47 (from author’s introduction). James Bruce Ross was a woman medievalist born in 1902. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1934. Berman (2005) p. 575. By 1934, the men-oppressing ideology of courtly love had prominent supporters among medieval scholars. It regrettably still does.

[11] Ross (1960), p. 47, Partner (2009) p. 111.


Berman, Constance Hoffman. 2005. “James Bruce Ross (1902-1995) and the Sources for Medieval and Renaissance History.” Ch. 40 (575-84) in Jane Chance, ed. Women Medievalists and the Academy. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Demyttenaere, Bert. 2009. “The Tears of Fromold: The Murder of Charles the Good, Homoeroticism, and the Ruin of the Erembalds.” Ch. 7 (pp. 145-79) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Häcker, Martina. 2009. “The Language of Misogyny in Galbert of Bruges’s Account of the Murder of Charles the Good.” Ch. 6 (pp. 126-144) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Partner, Nancy. 2009, “Galbert’s Hidden Women: Social Presence and Narrative Concealment.” Ch. 5 (pp. 109-125) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Rider, Jeff, ed. 1994. Galbert of Bruges. De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis (CC CM) 131. Turnhout: Brepols.

Rider, Jeff. 2009. “‘Wonder with Fresh Wonder’: Galbert the Writer and the Genesis of the De multro.”  Ch. 1 (pp. 13-35) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Rider, Jeff, and Alan V. Murray, eds. 2009. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, trans. 2013. Galbert of Bruges. The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders {De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum}. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ross, James Bruce, trans. 1960. Galbert of Bruges. The murder of Charles the Good, count of Flanders, by Galbert of Bruges. Translated with introduction and notes. New York: Columbia University Press.

husband blaming wife for infertility wrong in Christian marriage

martyrdom of Galaktion and Episteme

Kleitophon was a wealthy, wise, and well-regarded man among his fellow citizens in the magnificent city of Emesa in ancient Syria. Leukippe was a beautiful and virtuous woman from an eminent family of Emesa. Kleitophon and Leukippe married. Their marriage, however, wasn’t producing any children. Kleitophon disparaged his wife Leukippe for infertility:

she endured much grief and pain; for she was blamed by her own husband every day. [1]

A Byzantine text from no later than the tenth century taught that anger and anguish over infertility don’t belong in a truly Christian marriage. From a Christian perspective, infertility characterizes a relationship, not a person. Irrespective of physical limitations, Christian marriages are always fruitful.

Both Kleitophon and Leukippe were devoted to the ancient Greek goddess Artemis. Christians were then being harshly persecuted. One day a Christian monk disguised as a beggar appeared at their door. Leukippe sought to send him away, but he persisted. She then admitted him and told him of her grief:

how her womb was defective; and how, until that day, no one among the gods was to be found who could free her from these bonds and release her from the shame of childlessness. [2]

The monk told her:

If you listen to me, however, and choose to recognize the true God, who can raise up children from stones and dissolve the bonds of infertility, then you will benefit not only yourself, but you will also be able to benefit your entire bloodline, offering them true faith as their heritage. [3]

The monk told Leukippe that she could become a blessed mother to many through the rest of time. Leukippe wasn’t intellectual barren. She “paid attention to these words and offered her mind as fertile ground for the seed of his instruction.” Leukippe, however, was concerned for her husband:

if I convert to Christianity and abandon my ancestral faith, and if my husband does not follow my conversion, but continues to maintain his current beliefs, how might we, who must stay united, remain of the same mind if we are divided with respect to the most important matter?

The monk declared to Leukippe that her husband too would soon convert to Christianity. Leukippe thus decided to become a Christian.

Leukippe becoming a Christian led to her both not having sex and getting pregnant. Because in the ancient world spouses generally lacked freedom not to have sex with their spouses, Leukippe needed an excuse to avoid marital sex:

she began pretending to be ill, and would stay by herself, avoiding intercourse with her husband. Having already been cleansed by the Spirit and having received the holy baptism, she did not want to defile it with impure intercourse with her husband.

Leukippe soon realized that she was pregnant. She had become pregnant through a gift of the Spirit.

Leukippe’s husband Kleitophon soon too was filled with the Spirit. When Kleitophon realized that Leukippe had gotten pregnant, he said to her:

You seem to me, O wife, to have now pleased the immortal gods, and, because of this, you were now deemed worthy of their providence.

Leukippe in response reprimanded her husband:

Do not speak of gods, O husband — I do not want that. Rather, name the one and only God, the Lord and Creator of everything. He is the one who cares about you and us, and He is able not only to end infertility, but also to do easily whatever He wills.

Leukippe then went on to instruct her husband about “the God whom the Galileans honor.” No person has more instructive power over a man than his wife. Despite harsh persecution of Christians, Kleitophon followed his wife in converting to Christianity.

Leukippe gave birth to a son who became a noble and learned young man. The son was baptized and named Galaktion:

It was a name that securely predicted his future: for coming out of pure parents, Galaktion too became pure, a truly noble offspring of noble origins.

Galaktion, from the ancient Greek γᾰ́λᾰ, literally means “milky white.”  Unlike most students today, Galaktion acquired diverse, wide-ranging learning:

he easily went through all his elementary studies and learned all his grammar as well as Homeric skill, rhetoric and philosophy. He mastered astronomy so successfully that the movement of the heavenly bodies was not unknown to him. … Sent to schools and instructed in the most advanced studies, he surpassed even the teachers themselves by his assiduous nature.

Perhaps recognizing the oppressive structure of gynocentrism, Galaktion was reluctant to marry. His father, however, staunchly supported gynocentrism:

his father wanted to give him a wife as his revered mother {Leukippe} had died. So he found a girl who was very beautiful, the daughter of one of the high officials. Her name was Episteme.

As mates, men typically desire above all a beautiful, young woman. “Episteme” {ἐπιστήμη} in ancient Greek means “knowledge.” Galaktion’s father arranged for Galaktion to marry a beautiful, young woman, who also happened to be from a well-connected family and who honored learning with her very name. What more could a man want? Men typically endure the cruel gender role of soliciting amorous relationships. If a man aims too high in his amorous desire, he faces interminable, personal rejection. Because Galaktion’s father arranged for him to marry Episteme, Galaktion avoided a hurtful gender obligation that most men have to accept.

Galaktion initially wasn’t happy that his father had arranged for him to marry Episteme. Although a Christian, Galaktion’s father chose his son’s wife without respect to Christian values. Galaktion, in turn, apparently married Episteme to please his father:

Galaktion found it difficult to live with his wife and clearly avoided her embraces and invitations, as she did not share the same faith and had not participated in holy baptism. Because of this, he received much abuse from her family. They insistently scrutinized him about it.

Episteme reported their marital problem to her own father:

her father said to his son-in-law, “Say, young man, why have you not kissed your betrothed, as is customary for young men?” Galaktion pretended to be shy and said to Episteme with nobody in sight or within earshot, “Do you know, my lady, why I am not kissing you?” And she said to him, “No, my lord, and I am very grieved about this.” The blessed Galaktion said to her, “Because you are not a Christian, but if you were to receive holy baptism, then I will kiss you and I will call you wife.” She said to him, ” When you wish it, my lord, I will be baptized. As long as I receive what I long for.”

Withholding physical affection from a spouse is a cruel means of coercion. Because men’s sexuality is wrongly socially constructed as being of little intrinsic value to women, most men don’t recognize that they could manipulate women by withholding physical affection from them. As the ancient Greek play Lysistrata prominently and unforgettably showed, women understand and practice the power of withholding physical affection from men. Galaktion, with extraordinary insight and a characteristically feminine form of cruelty, induced his wife to convert to Christianity.

Only eight days after her conversion, Episteme and Galaktion consensually and enthusiastically embraced sexless marriage. Episteme had a dream in which she saw monks, nuns, and angels in a beautiful palace. She then suggested to her husband that they remain physically separate so as to devote themselves to God:

Could it be, my husband, that if we were to separate from each other and enlist with God, we would still be able to preserve our affection for each other undivided? Offer me this firm pledge and I will always stand by you, sharing in this decision.

Galaktion agreed to Episteme’s proposal that they pursue her dream. They vowed to each other “to never stand apart in their intent.” Then they gave all their possessions to the poor and entered sex-segregated, cloistered religious life.

Galaktion and Episteme’s sexless relationship was highly fruitful in Christian understanding. After they had established themselves in sex-segregated religious life, they were brought together in vicious persecution for their dedication to God in the Christian way. Together they courageously proclaimed their unalterable Christian faith in the face of torture and death threats. Then they were beheaded. In ancient Christian understanding, that was a gloriously fruitful way to die. Galaktion and Episteme were soon honored as saints. They have been so honored for more than a millennium.[4]

Christian couples can be fertile without the husband impregnating the wife. Kleitophon and Leukippe had their son Galaktion by the power of the Spirit after they had restrained from sex. Galaktion and his wife Episteme gave up physical intimacy while preserving their affection for each other.[5] They subsequently came to be honored as saints. Both of these couples continue to inspire Christian couples today, especially those struggling with a worldly understanding of infertility.

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Read more:


[1] Vita of Galaktion and Episteme, from Greek trans. Alwis (2011) p. 287. This vita was probably composed between the end of the fourth century and 886. Id. pp. 9-10. It survives in fifteen Greek manuscripts, with the earliest dating to the eleventh century. Id. p. 8. The manuscripts vary little in the text of the life. I’ll refer to this text of the vita as the “pre-Metaphrastic text.” Symeon Metaphrastes adapted this version in his tenth-century Menologion. Subsequently above I quote from both texts.

The pre-Metaphrastic text stereotypes the husband as a perpetrator of domestic violence. Symeon Metaphrastes, perhaps recognizing that vicious, mendacious, anti-men claims readily circulate under gynocentrism, toned down the anti-men gender stereotyping.

Kleitophon and Leukippe are the title characters in Achilles Tatios’s second-century novel, The Adventures of Leukippe and Kleitophon. The pre-Metaphrastic text names Leukippe as Gleukippe. That’s probably an early scribal error that became entrenched. Metaphrastes’s Menologion used the names Kleitophon and Leukippe. Above I consistently use those names.

[2] Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Life, Conduct, and Passion of the Holy and Glorious Martyrs Galaktion and Episteme” para. 6, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) p. 91 (Greek on facing pages). Subsequent quotes above from the Metaphrastic text (cited by paragraph and page in id.) are: 7, p. 91 (If you listen to me…); 8. p. 91 (paid attention…); 9, p. 93 (if I convert…); 11, p. 93 (she began pretending to be ill…); 12, p. 95 (You seem to me…; Do not speak of gods…); 14, p. 95 (the god whom the Galileans honor); 17, p. 97 (It was a name…); 17, p. 99 (Sent to schools…); 19, p. 99 (Galaktion found it difficult…); 22, p. 103 (Could it be…); 23, p. 103 (to never stand apart in their intent);

Subsequent quotes above from the pre-Metaphrastic text (cited by paragraph and page in Alwis (2011)) are: 6, p. 289 (he easily went through…; his father wanted…); 7, pp. 289-90 (her father said to his son-in-law…).

In the above quotes, I have made a few, minor, non-substantial changes to the translations to make them more easily readable for general readers.

[3] The reference to raising up children from stones comes most directly from Matthew 3:9. Ancient Greek mythology about Deucalion also refers to children being produced from stones.

[4] The second-century Christian authority Tertullian famously declared, “Blood of Christians is the seed {of new life} {semen est sanguis Christianorum}.” Tertullian, Apologeticum {The Apology}, Ch. 50 (English translation, Latin text). Glen Penner offers a poignant reflection on Tertullian’s statement.

The pre-Metaphrastic text is headed, “The life and holy martyrdom of the very holy martrys, Saints {ἁγίων} Galaktion and Episteme.” Alwis (2011) p. 279 (Greek text), p. 286 (English translation). Galaktion and Episteme are honored on November 5 in the Orthodox Christian calendar.

[5] In the vita of Julian and Basilissa, which apparently was created between 431 and 525 GC, Julian and Basilissa made a vow of celibacy on their wedding night. They converted their houses into monasteries and nourished many persons in religious life. Alwis (2011) p. 6 (dating), pp. 157-248 (Greek text, English translation, and notes and commentary).

[image] Martyrdom of Galaktion and Episteme. Illumination from the Menologion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Ms. Vat. gr. 1613, f. 161.


Alwis, Anne P. 2011. Celibate marriages in late antique and byzantine hagiography: the lives of Saints Julian and Basilissa, Andronikos and Athanasia, and Galaktion and Episteme. London: Continuum.

Papaioannou, Stratis, ed. and trans. 2017. Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Widows update hogs all Internet bandwidth & craps on its user-serfs

Microsoft peasants' revolt

If you use Microsoft Windows 10, your computer and your internet connection aren’t yours. Windows owns them. Your needs and preferences as a user matter little in relation to what Windows wants to do to you.

If Windows 10 decides it wants to download a mega-update, it can just do it. That will make your internet connection unusable for however long it takes to download however much stuff Windows decides to download. It doesn’t matter what you want to do. What Windows wants to do has priority over what you want to do.

You can’t effectively tell Windows to share the available bandwidth with you. You can’t effectively tell Windows to do the update later. Sure, if you’re sophisticated enough to go in and change some general policy settings, you can try to get Windows to share bandwidth with you and pause updates until you get done what you’re trying to do. In my experience, those settings do nothing. It’s maddeningly difficult even to know what Windows is doing on your computer to destroy your internet user experience. If you go into task manager, you just see “Service Host: Local System” consuming all your bandwidth.

Pushing new features in Windows users’ faces at exactly the same time those users are infuriated that a Windows update treats them like serfs on their own computer isn’t a good marketing strategy.  Windows 10 Creators Update? That’s not credible when the Windows update treats me like a serf. Why should a serf believe that an oppressive lord is really offering him something good for his personal creativity? The situation is worse than that. I literally use LibreOffice rather than activate Office 2016 (which I bought) because I don’t want to Office 2016 to abuse me with updates.

I’m plotting to seize my computer and my internet connection back from Windows. Microsoft has made me into a serf relative to my Windows overlord. It’s time for a peasants’ revolt.

*  *  *  *  *

Note: The above post describes my experience using Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system through early August, 2017. Windows 10 was released to general users on July 29, 2015. The most recent update pushed at me seems to have changed the updating behavior. I don’t understand exactly what has changed. Based on past Microsoft action, I don’t trust Microsoft to respect what I want to do with my computer and my Internet connection.

[image] Modern peasant with pitchfork. Image thanks to ErikaWittlieb, available under a permissive Pixabay License.

no ordinary sexless marriage: the life of Andronikos & Athanasia

Andronikos and Athanasia

Athanasia and Andronikos apparently lived in sixth-century Antioch. In recalling their lives, a surviving Greek manuscript from the tenth or eleventh century describes Antioch as “the mother and excellent nourisher of both God-loving men and women in the past and until today.”[1] In the life of Andronikos and Athanasia, the privileged position of the maternal nourisher is insightfully paired with a wife’s long path toward developing true love for her husband.

Andronikos, who was from a highly distinguished family of Antioch, initially took up the profession of banking. In gynocentric society, men typically must work and achieve to be highly regarded as men. Men’s opportunities to express love for their spouses and neighbors are thus commonly impoverished. Andronikos, however, didn’t allow his demanding financial work to choke his love for his neighbors:

He gave no offence to anyone at all in his trade and was concerned more with his soul than his body, for he was not characterized by greed. In pursuing his aforementioned profession {banking}, drawing {money} by the bucketful as the saying goes, he gave the honest earnings he accrued daily from his profession freely, with both hands, in order to take care of the poor and provide succour for monks.

Jesus expelled money-changes from the temple. Early Christians regarded usury as a sin.[2] Within that context, Andronikos provided a shining example of a banker who also acted as a faithful Christian.

After Andronikos was established as a banker, Athanasia married him. Despite obvious financial advantages from that marriage, she didn’t regard her husband as merely a provider of money and personal services to her. She is described as a “helper” (βοηθὸς) to her husband. That’s the Greek word that the Septuagint used to describe Eve as a helper for Adam.[3] Athanasia didn’t spend lavishly and pressure her husband to earn more:

Athanasia did not proposed to her husband ways by which they would increase and add to their wealth and fortune, but said and did everything {she could} so that both of them would be pleasing to God rather than by throwing away their wealth. For they always distributed their income into three parts. The first was sufficient for the household and for those in it, the second for the feeding and clothing of the poor, and the rest for the care of those who came to stay in Antioch, visitors and monks.

The name Athanasia (Αθανασία) means as a Greek noun “immortality.” Underscoring Athanasia’s importance to her husband and her righteous behavior, their Greek life declares that Athanasia and Andronikos were “allotted the true immortality after which she was named.”

Athanasia and Andronikos had two children. The first was a boy named John. They probably named him after John the Baptist. Jesus said of John the Baptist: “among those born of women no one is greater than John.”[4] Athanasia and Andronikos then had a daughter named Mary. From a Christian perspective, Mary was the mother of God and the first Christian disciple. Mary has been honored much more greatly than John in Christian life throughout the ages. That’s to be expected under gynocentrism. Yet Andronikos and Athanasia showed no indications of treating their son as naturally more evil than their daughter.

After having two children, Andronikos and Athanasia mutually agreed to a sexless marriage. They lived before spouses had non-sexual freedom. As a husband, Andronikos was required to serve Athanasia’s sexual needs even if he didn’t feel like doing it on a particular occasion. But under their mutual agreement, they “pledged with unfailing trust to unite no longer with each other for the rest of their lives.” Many married couples today effectively follow such an agreement because passion within their marriages has shriveled. The sexless marriage of Athanasia and Andronikos had a much different spiritual motivation:

having bid farewell to the flesh and all carnal desires, they devoted all their effort to the spirit and spiritual works. For three of the days of the week — I mean, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — the holy Andronkos together with his fellow bankers and other like-minded men, were preoccupied with caring for disabled and poor men as if they themselves were servile, and caring for those whose bodies were suffering, with baths, and dispensing other relief. The remarkable Athanasia, with other women of equal birth, provided exactly the same care as her husband to women whose lives were stricken by poverty or any harsh or difficult situation. On Sundays, they both kept the Lord’s service from dawn until evening, offering prayers to the Lord.

Lack of sexual polarity commonly causes lack of sexual passion in relationships. Athanasia and Andronikos provided “exactly the same care” to their neighbors. But their companions and the persons they cared for were separated by sex. Sex remained an important reality for them even after they solemnly agreed to a sexless marriage and renunciation of carnal desires.

Tragedy befell the family when their children were ages ten and twelve. Their children were overcome with a violent fever. While the children were ill, Athanasia departed from a Sunday service to check on them. She found them completely stretched out in bed, “crying with deep moans.” Athanasia ignored the risk of catching their fever:

Immediately, worried in her innermost being and struck violently in her heart, she threw herself on the bed and embraced her own children, placing herself in-between so as to soothe their suffering. It would not have been bearable to anyone to see both her children worn down by disease, especially a mother who loved her children so much. For even though the woman was God-loving, she was nevertheless tortured by maternal love and, indeed, by the demands of nature.

Andronikos later returned and scolded his wife for departing from Sunday service to sleep. She in response didn’t violently attack her husband. She told him of her pity for their feverish children. He too loved their children greatly. But in response to their worsening fever, he didn’t lie down between them in bed; instead, he went to pray for about five hours in the church of the Holy Martyr Julian.

Andronikos returned to his children at the sixth hour of the day. The sixth hour was when darkness had come over the land while Jesus was hanging on the cross.[5] Andronikos likewise encountered a time of darkness:

On his return from praying, he heard wailing and lamentation as he drew near to the house. A great crowd streamed to his house. Entering, he found both his children lying dead in one and the same bed and his wife already clearly overcome with grief. So at once he went to the private chapel in their home and fell to the ground face downwards, looking like another Job, doing and uttering the same things. There, praying feverishly to the Lord and making frequent obeisance, he thanked God, and kept saying, “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. As it appeared fit to the Lord, thus it has come to pass. Blessed be the name of the Lord to the ages.”

After thus strengthening himself, he tried to encourage his wife:

Going out, he attempted to plead with his wife who wanted to die with her children, and who could not bear at all to live any longer. She said, “Why should I live?” She went on crying and wailing as is natural for a mother who loves her children. {She said,} “Both my young shoots have been taken away from me. To whom shall I look from now on, with the help of what shall I extinguish the flame of my grief? I, who had beautiful children, am suddenly childless.”

Andronikos didn’t respond angrily to his wife ignoring his presence in her life, counting as nothing his love for her, and forgetting his ability to console her. He instead responded with kind, Christian exhortation:

Do not be so, wife. Do not lament for our children with inappropriate words like this, like one of the foolish ones who have no hope for the Resurrection. For though they are dead to us, at least they live in God by whom they were received, who wisely managed this for their and our own good. For he received our children, unblemished, before they had even tasted the evils of life, while he pledged us in marriage to pay attention to salvation of the soul, now that there is nobody to distract and attract our attention.

Christians believe in the goodness of God, a goodness expressed ultimately in the Resurrection of Christ after his death on the cross. As a Christian, Andronikos urged Athanasia to understand their children’s death as part of God’s plan “for their and our own good.”

A wife will sometimes discount the words of her husband, but follow the same advice heard from another. Athanasia didn’t find consolation in her husband’s Christian exhortation:

Athanasia remained by the tomb of her children, suffering terribly, flowing with hot tears, not accepting any consolation until sleep crept over her and made her rest involuntarily.

When Athanasia finally fell asleep, she had a dream. She dreamed that Saint Julian the Martyr was standing before her “as if reprimanding her for unyielding lament and unchecked tears.” Saint Julian said to Athanasia:

For whose sake, woman, do you wish to grieve, untimely and inconsolably? Do you not know that since you are mortal you have given birth to mortal children whom recently the kind God clearly deemed worthy to receive for salvation? Do not weep now for the children, for you will not raise them. Rather, weep for the mistakes of your life, which you will be able to wipe out easily with your tears.

Those words of Saint Julian immediately relieved Athanasia of her despondency. Yet what Saint Julian said to her was substantively identical to what her husband had said to her earlier.

Rather than getting angry at his wife’s devaluation of him, Andronikos responded sympathetically to her. Athanasia told him of her dream encounter with Saint Julian and his advice to her. Andronikos didn’t respond, “I told you so.” He listened patiently and understandingly as his wife proposed a marital separation for them:

My sweetest husband, when our beloved children were still alive, it was a desire {of mine} to renounce worldly life and desert to the peaceful one. But my love for my children in this life persuaded me to remain with them in this life. But now, since nothing impedes us, if you obey me, tonsure me and send me to a convent of women, so that through asceticism and first of all, because of God’s kindness, I may wash off the shame of my many sins.

Most husbands simply obey their wives even as their wives declare their husband’s insignificance. Andronikos, however, dared to advise his wife to give the matter time for serious thought:

Go, wife. Give serious thought on this for a week and test yourself. And if you remain committed to this, it will be the will of God.

After a week, Athanasia clearly told her husband that she wanted him to do what she had told him to do a week earlier. Andronikos then acquiesced to her instructions.

Andronikos shouldered the responsibility for arranging their finances and planning their trip and followed his wife’s lead in entering religious life. In accordance with gynocentric-paternalistic kinship structure, he gave almost all their wealth to his wife’s father. Obscuring their plans to enter religious life, he said to her father:

My lord, eager desire has gripped us to see and revere the Holy Places together. If it happens that we die during the course of these travels, with God as the judge and witness, dispose of our property according to his Will. Build a hospital and a lodging-house for monks in our home.

Andronikos planned for Athanasia and himself to die to the world and enter religious life. His shrewd plan didn’t require her father to acquiesce explicitly to his daughter’s intention.

After they had traveled together to Alexandria, Andronikos was strong enough to refuse his wife’s entreaties to go with him to Sketis. He explained to her that the Sketis monastic community in the Egyptian desert was limited to men. Respecting men’s desire to have a special place for men, he courageously refused to take her there. Andronikos told Athanasia that he would return to her shortly and arrange for her entry into a convent in accordance with her orders to him. He then traveled to Sketis alone. There he venerated the holy fathers. Andronkilos went on to consult with the “great and celebrated” monk Daniel of Sketis.[6] As an old man, Daniel apparently lived outside of Sketis, but nearby in a place called Tambok. After listening to Andronikos describe his and his wife’s plans, Daniel requested to speak with her. Andronikos brought his wife to Daniel in accordance with his instructions.

Daniel acted as a father to both Athanasia and Andronikos. Daniel guided Athanasia in advancing as a woman in her intended profession:

the old man instructed her on many things, advised her to remain faithful to her aim, and sent her forth to the Thebaid with his letters {of recommendation} to the monastery, which is named “of the Tabennesiotoi.” The remarkable Andronikos was present with her and, having tonsured her, enrolled her there among the nuns

Daniel also guided Andronikos in his new profession:

He {Andronikos} receive the holy and angelic habit from his saintly hands and remained with him for twelve years, following his footsteps, adopting every quality {of his teacher Daniel}

A great teacher can profoundly instruct both women and men. Daniel was such a teacher for Athanasia and Andronikos.

After spending twelve years as a nun, the holy Athanasia decided to travel to the Holy Land. She traveled in the garments of a monk. On a hot day about noon, she walked by a tree under which she saw another, weaker monk resting:

When they spoke to each other, the holy Athanasia recognized the blessed Andronikos. But he did not know her at all. How could he know her, as her face had been altered with suffering, and moreover she looked like an Ethiopian? When she questioned him and learned that he was going to Jerusalem, she asked to accompany him. He consented and they both set out on the journey, concentrating on keeping an irreproachable silence as far as they could.

After they had traveled together for a fairly long distance, the blessed Athanasia seemed to have doubts about whether she really was once again with her husband Andronikos. She initiated a dialog:

the most revered of women, Athanasia, asked the marvelous Andronikos, “Really, brother, are you not a disciple of Father Daniel?” He replied, “Yes.” Then she asked again, “Are you not called Andronikos?” Having agreed to this too, Athanasia again said, “May the prayers of the revered man accompany us.” To which the holy Andronikos responded, “Amen.”

Like many husbands, Andronikos tended to talk less than his wife. He didn’t pry into her personal affairs. He accepted her as a monk carrying the name Father Athanasios, ignored any apparent racial differences, and treated her as a brother.

Athanasia and Andronikos spent the rest of their lives together as brothers living in a single monastic cell. When Andronikos sought to travel alone to see Daniel and receive his blessing, Athanasia told him:

If it is pleasing to you, brother, then return after you have embraced the revered man. For as we have traveled the road to Jerusalem and back in silence, in the same way let us, with equal silence and peace, follow the road of life until we arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven, led by his hand.

When Athanasia’s children died, she regarded her husband’s presence as giving no value to her life. Now, Athanasia spoke up to implore her husband to return to living with her as a brother. Athanasia’s love for her husband grew greatly in their time of monastic companionship.

Andronikos himself may have felt some internal difficulties that motivated him to seek Daniel’s blessing. Andronikos didn’t know that Daniel knew that Father Athanasios was really Andronikos’s wife Athanasia. Daniel advised the blessing-seeking brother to remain with his “brother” and said of her, “this one is ranked with the greatest of the servants of God by the highest virtue.” After receiving these words from Daniel, Andronikos returned to Athanasia “with much speed.” From then on, he lived with her as a brother monk, “living under the same roof, eating together, and being known as completely inseparable from him.”

The life of Andronikos and Athanasia traversed different types of conjugal relationship. They experienced at least twelve years as sexually obligated spouses, then a period of sexless marriage in intensified service to neighbors, then twelve years of separate monastic life, then twelve years of sexless, brotherly monastic companionship. During their time living as sexually obligated spouses and in sexless marriage, both Andronikos and Athanasia were “loved exceptionally by almost everyone in the city {Antioch}, because of their God-pleasing way of life.” Yet when their children died, Athanasia showed little regard for her husband. She acted as if he had merely been a companion of convenience in making a good life. Only when they lived together as brothers devoted to God did she cherish his presence.

Sexless marriage commonly indicates shriveling love for a husband. In the life of Andronikos and Athanasia, sexless marriage was a step along a path in which a wife developed much greater love for her husband.

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Read more:


[1] Vita of Andronikos and Athanasia 1, from Greek trans. Alwsi (2011) p. 256. Id. provides the Greek text, an English translation, and commentary on the life. Surviving, written accounts of the life (vita) of Andronikos and Athanasia apparently have descended from a Greek manuscript of the tenth or eleventh century. That manuscript is held in the Biblioteca Franzoniana (Genoa, Italy) as Codex Urbani 36. Vita of Andronikos and Athanasia is on folios 183-193r. Alwis (2011) p. 7, p. 16, n. 2.

Subsequent quotes from the Vita of Andronikos and Athanasia are from Alwis’s translation, id. pp. 256-63. Id. p. 15 describes the translation as “literal.” I’ve made some non-substantial changes to the selected quotations to make them more easily readable and more suited to a general audience. In particular, Alwis incorporated quotes from the Bible in italics using the New King James Version English translation, which includes non-current English forms. I’ve adapted the quotations to modern, American-standard English without any distinctive marking for biblical quotations or pronominal references to God. I’ve also eliminated some awkward phrasal constructions arising from a literal translation of the Greek.

Antioch was an city on the Orontes River near Antakya in present-day Turkey. Acts 11:19-30 records the founding of a Christian church there. It was the first local Christian church to include persons who weren’t Jews. Acts 11: 26 states: “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.” The Vita of Andronikos and Athanasia adds:

There are many and diverse things adorning the great city of Antioch. … it was pre-eminent and the first of all cities in the East, after the Queen City, called New Rome, I mean the city of Constantine {Constantinople}. For I will not speak of its greatness or beauty, the strength of its walls or the multitude of its people, as those contribute little or nothing to virtue.

Trans. id. p. 256. By the fourth century Antioch was wealthy and had great political importance:

By the fourth century the span of the city’s administrative and economic powers eventually extended to an area of 2500 square miles.

Id. p. 263, commentary for 1/3-4, internal note omitted.

Andronikos and Athanasia are honored as saints on October 8 in the Orthodox Christian calendar. Here’s a commemoration of them on an Orthodox calendar (alternative version, another version). The Church of Saints Andronikos and Athanasia was built in Frenaros in Cyprus in the twelfth century. Another church honoring the Saints Androikos and Athanasia was built near Rizokarpaso, Cyprus, perhaps in the ninth century.

[2] Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48, John 2:13–16. On usury, Alwis (2011) pp. 264-5, commentary for 2/22.

[3] Genesis 2:18.

[4] Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28.

[5] Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44. Athanasia came to see her children before the Sunday morning service (Lauds) had yet finished. In early Christianity, Lauds was part of the Night Office that terminated at dawn.

[6] Alwis convincingly identified the Daniel in Vita of Andronikos and Athanasia with Daniel of Sketis. Alwis ( 2011) pp. 7-8, 273-4, commentary to 8/208. Daniel founded a monastery at Tambok and returned there after a barbarian invasion of Sketis. Id. pp. 273-4.

[image] Icon of saints Andronikos and Athanasia. Made in the sixteenth century. In the Church of Panagia Aggeloktisti in Kiti, Cyprus. Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas. Image available on pixabay under CCO Public Domain license.


Alwis, Anne P. 2011. Celibate marriages in late antique and byzantine hagiography: the lives of Saints Julian and Basilissa, Andronikos and Athanasia, and Galaktion and Episteme. London: Continuum.

cock Chauntecleer nearly devoured for lack of good Latin learning

Nun's priest from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

In Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the cock Chauntecleer explained to his favorite wife, the hen Pertelote:

For as surely as in Genesis,
Mulier est hominis confusio —
Madame, the meaning of this Latin is,
“Woman is man’s joy and all his bliss.”

{ For al so siker as In principio,
Mulier est hominis confusio —
Madame, the sentence of this Latyn is,
“Womman is mannes joye and al his blis.” } [1]

Chauntecleer translated the Latin incorrectly. “Mulier est hominis confusio” actually means “woman is man’s troubling.” Moreover, Pertelote suggests in Old French “one who confuses someone’s lot or fate.”[2] Chauntecleer lacked respect and understanding of his wife and of the extent to which she could ruin his life. If he had studied carefully medieval Latin literature, particularly the Mirror of Fools {Speculum Stultorum}, he would have known better.

Chauntecleer allowed his wife Pertelote to manipulate him into disbelieving his ominous dream. Chauntecleer dreamed that while he was roaming in the yard, a beast tried to seize him and kill him. He fearfully told his dream to his wife. She in turned shamed and belittled him:

“Shame!” said she, “pathetic are you, coward!
Alas,” said she, “for, by that God above,
Now you have lost my heart and all my love!
I cannot love a coward, by my faith!
For certainly, whatever any woman says,
We all desire, if it might be,
To have husbands hardy, wise, and generous,
And discrete — and no miser, nor no fool,
Nor him who is afraid of every weapon,
Nor any boaster, by that God above!
How dare you say, for shame, unto your love
That anything might make you afraid?
Have you not man’s heart, and have a beard?
Alas! And can you be frightened of dreams?

{ “Avoy!” quod she, “fy on yow, hertelees!
Allas,” quod she, “for, by that God above,
Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love!
I kan nat love a coward, by my feith!
For certes, what so any womman seith,
We alle desiren, if it myghte bee,
To han housbondes hardy, wise, and free,
And secree — and no nygard, ne no fool,
Ne hym that is agast of every tool,
Ne noon avauntour, by that God above!
How dorste ye seyn, for shame, unto youre love
That any thyng myghte make yow aferd?
Have ye no mannes herte, and han a berd?
Allas! And konne ye been agast of swevenys? } [3]

Given that serious violence is many times more prevalent against men than against women, men have good reason to be relatively fearful. Women should recognize the reasonableness of men being afraid.[4] Pertelote, however, dismissed Chauntecleer’s fearful dream as mere foolishness. She advised him to take laxatives. That was crappy advice.[5]

While Chauntecleer rejected his wife’s advice to take laxatives, the labor of finding food for his wives and sexually servicing them distracted him from taking appropriate action in response to his dream. Early in the morning, he flew down onto the ground and starting searching for seeds. Whenever he found some, he called to his wives to come and feed. He also engaged in strenuous erection labor. In fact, the cock Chauntecleer had sex with his wife Pertelote twenty times that morning before six in the morning. Given that he had six more wives to satisfy sexually, you can be sure that was one tired cock by the end of the day. While he was busy with a husband’s double burden of duties, a fox was stalking him. That was exactly the sort of danger that Chauntecleer’s dream had forebode.

While he caught sight of the fox just in time, Chauntecleer didn’t know the medieval Latin poem that would have provided him with life-saving guidance. The fox had previously eaten Chauntecleer’s father and mother. He sought through flattery to gain an opportunity to grab Chauntecleer by the throat. With a story summary, the fox praised the craftiness of Chauntecleer’s father:

I have well read in “Sir Burnel the Ass,”
Among his verses, how there was a cock,
Because a priest’s son gave him a knock
Upon his leg while he was young and foolish,
He made him lose his land.
But certainly, there is no comparison
Between the wisdom and discretion
Of your father and of his craftiness.

{ I have wel rad in “Daun Burnel the Asse,”
Among his vers, how that ther was a cok,
For that a preestes sone yaf hym a knok
Upon his leg whil he was yong and nyce,
He made hym for to lese his benefice.
But certeyn, ther nys no comparisoun
Bitwixe the wisedom and discrecioun
Of youre fader and of his subtiltee. }

“Sir Burnel the Ass” refers to the twelfth-century Latin poem Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum}. That poem concerns the foolish donkey Burnel. If Chauntecleer had studied that poem, he would have gained precious insights into lessening the danger of foxes and thriving within the constraints of marriage.

The Mirror of Fools contains a vitally important story about a cock and his priest-owner. The priest had a wife, a son, and a wealthy homestead. One day the son Gundulf was guarding their granary when the hen Coppa with her chicks attempted to enter to peck some grain. Gundulf angrily chased them away with a whip, whipping so hard that he broke one chick’s leg. That chick eventually grew into a cock on the estate that Gundulf then controlled in his father’s place. The cock never forget the injury that Gundulf had committed against him.

The cock finally found an opportunity for revenge against Gundulf. To be installed fully in his father’s estate, Gundulf had to be ordained as a priest. The day of the ordination was set. Family and friends came together the day before for a magnificent feast. After much food and wine, the household went to sleep. Gundulf needed to get up at dawn of the next day to travel to town to be ordained. As always, the household counted on the cock’s crow to wake them at dawn. The cock, knowing the occasion, planned to keep silent and have Gundulf miss his ordination.

Keeping silent was no easy task. The cock himself struggled mightily:

Enheartened indeed so greatly, he
Could hardly keep his lips from shouting praise.
And what by silence he was eager to delay,
He almost hastened by his shouting out.
A voice muffled by grief cries out with joy;
Joy fosters crowing; grief bids one be quiet.
Between the two he stayed, consenting not, both
overcome and overcame, his voice was still.

{ Tanta quidem super his fuit exultatio cordis,
Ora quod a laude vix cohibere potest.
Quodque praeoptabat multum differe tacendo
Vocibus explosis accelerare parat.
Quam dolor excludit immittunt gaudia vocem,
Haec sua plectra monent, hic reticere jubet.
Inter utrumque manens neutri consentit, utroque
Vincitur, et vincit, voce tacente tamen. } [6]

While the cock was manfully maintaining silence, his wife chided him for his performance:

His hen, long wondering why the cock was still
And why he failed to carry out his task,
Drew near her mate and whispered in his ear
That both the time and hour had now passed.

{ Admiransque diu gallina silentia galli
Et quod ab officio cederet ipse suo,
Leniter accendens sponso suggessit in aure
Quod jam transissent tempus et hora simul }

In response to this abusive domestic behavior, the cock prudently didn’t call the police to make a claim of domestic violence:

He thus replied: “Don’t bother me, shut up!
You’ll always be a fool; away you fool!
Oh, woe to him that’s wedded to a fool!
His bed will never be absent from grief.”

{ Qui respondit ita, “Noli vexare, quiesce!
Semper eris stulta; stulta, recede, precor!
Vae cui stulta comes sociali foedere nupsit!
Non erit illius absque dolore torus.”

His wife nonetheless persisted:

Not less, but even more, she begged her spouse
To herald forth the stages of the night.
But he, opposing, tried to keep her still,
And now he begged and then he threatened her.
She swore, however, that unless he crowed
She’d sing and shake the rafters of the house.
And tired of waiting, from her throat she poured
A raucous cry, the best that she could do.

{ Nec minus illa tamen nimis importuna marito
Institit, ut noctis tempora certa notet.
Ille sed e contra tentans cohibere loquacem
Porrigit inde preces, intonat inde minas.
Illa tamen jurat, nisi tanta silentia solvat
Ille, quod illa canet concutietque domum;
Impatiensque morae raucas de gutture voces
Promit quaque potest voce sonare sonat. }

A hen’s crowing was no substitute for a cock crowing:

A certain one on hearing her replied:
“Stop, hen, I pray, for nothing do you gain.
Although a chicken cackle in the night,
No sooner will she make the sun arise.”

{ Qua tamen audita quidam respondit eidem,
“Desine, Coppa, precor, nam nihil est quod agis.
Quamvis gallina nocturno tempore cantet,
Non ideo citius lux oriunda venit.” }

Only a cock crowing makes the day begin. Gundulf thus slept through the beginning of the day. He arose only when sunlight burst through every window of the house. That was too late. The ordination ceremony was over. Gundulf wouldn’t follow his father as a priest. On hearing that news, Gundulf’s family and friends wept and beat their breasts. Both his parents died shortly thereafter. Gundulf was subsequently evicted from his priest-father’s estate. He became a wretched, wandering beggar. By remaining silent and not following his wife’s advice, the cock achieved devastating revenge on the person who had wronged him.[7]

If the cock Chauntecleer had studied Speculum stultorum, he would have known to remain silent and not follow his wife’s advice. Instead, the cox attempted to sing, as the fox had urged him to do. The fox then sprang at the cock, grabbed him by the throat, and ran off to devour him in the woods. A leading scholar of Chaucer observed:

Of all the married couples in the Canterbury Tales, it is Chauntecleer and Pertelote who give us a classic illustration of the distribution of roles in a conventional marriage. [8]

That observation underscores the importance of men learning from Speculum stultorum what Chauntecleer didn’t: remain silent when advantageous to you, ignore your wife’s attempts to shame and belittle you, and exercise your own good judgment about the dangers you face.

The teller of the tale of Chauntecleer’s near-fatal mistake was a man called the Nun’s Priest, also known as Sir John. The former name highlights his subordination to a woman; the latter, his high social status relative to other men. The Nun’s Priest traveled with two other priests in the entourage of a Prioress called Madame Eglentyne. The entourage of the Prioress Madame Eglentyne also included a nun who served as the Prioress’s secretary. The Prioress, who apparently was fat, wore about her neck a golden brooch inscribed “Amor vincit omnia {Love conquers all}.” A crown on the “A” crowned this Virgilian-Ovidian reference to love.[9] The Prioress’s greatest concern was to cultivate courtly manners in speaking and eating. She also practiced sensational acts of compassion:

She was so charitable and so compassionate
She would weep, if she saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled.
She had some small hounds that she fed
With roasted meat, or milk and fine white bread.
But sorely she wept if one of them were dead,
Or if someone smote it smartly with a stick;
And all was feeling and tender heart.

{ She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed.
But soore wepte she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte;
And al was conscience and tendre herte. } [10]

In short, Madame Eglentyne was the sort of woman that would be highly respected among the global elite today. The Nun’s Priest, in contrast, was a highly learned man who rode on mere nag, “poor and lean.”[11] His subordination to the nun who served as secretary to the lavishly living Prioress shows the extent to which merit becomes meaningless under the hierarchies of gynocentrism.

Just as Chauntecleer did with respect to his wife Pertelote, men like the Nun’s Priest allow high-ranking women to shame and silence them. In his tale, the Nun’s Priest at one point said:

Women’s counsels are very often fatal;
Woman’s counsel brought us first to woe
And made Adam to go from Paradise,
Where he was very merry and well at ease.
But because I know not to whom it might displease,
If I would blame counsel of women,
Pass over, for I said it as a joke.
Read authors, where they treat of such matter,
And what they say of women you may hear.
These are the cock’s words, and not mine;
I can know no harm of any woman divine.

{ Wommennes conseils been ful ofte colde;
Wommannes conseil broghte us first to wo
And made Adam fro Paradys to go,
Ther as he was ful myrie and wel at ese.
But for I noot to whom it myght displese,
If I conseil of wommen wolde blame,
Passe over, for I seyde it in my game.
Rede auctours, where they trete of swich mateere,
And what they seyn of wommen ye may heere.
Thise been the cokkes wordes, and nat myne;
I kan noon harm of no womman divyne. } [12]

While being poorly compensated for serving the secretary of a morally vacuous Prioress, the Nun’s Priest nonetheless apparently feared to displease her. Criticism of women in literary history has generated quarrels about women, apologies to women, and defenses of women. The Nun’s Priest might well have lost his livelihood and social standing if he had dared to present directly issues of men’s sexed protest.

The cock Chauntecleer nearly being devoured underscores the importance to men of studying medieval Latin literature. No man should consider getting married without pondering the medieval Latin masterpieces Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum and Lamentationes Matheoluli. All men should know of Marcolf’s courage in confronting elite malice toward men. Just as the bear Ysengrimus sought to study medieval Latin literature, so too can any man, irrespective of his personal attributes and educational background.

Medieval Latin literature isn’t just for men. Repression of discussion about injustices against men ultimately threatens to undermine civilization and cause grave harm to women as well as men. Medieval Latin literature historically played an important role in supporting freedom of speech under gynocentrism. Women writers of the Middles Ages courageously expressed concern and compassion for men. Drawing upon the rich intellectual and imaginary resources of medieval Latin literature, women today can do likewise.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, ll. 3163-6, Middle English text from Benson (1987) and translation into modern English by Larry D. Benson. Lines are specified with respect to the full Canterbury Tales in the Riverside edition. Both the Middle English and modern English texts are freely available online via Benson’s outstanding website, the Geoffrey Chaucer Page. All subsequent quotes from Chaucer are from Benson’s Chaucer website. I’ve made some minor changes to the modern English translations to make them easier for general readers to understand.

Chaucer probably wrote the Nun’s Priest’s Tale in the 1390s. Here are some additional resources on the Nun’s Priest’s Tale.

[2] “Mulier est hominis confusio” comes from the Life of Secundus, the Silent Philosopher. Modern scholars have also mis-interpreted and mis-contextualized that phrase.

The name Pertelote plausibly is rooted in the French perte, which came from the Latin perdita. Pratt (1972), p. 655, cited in Benson (1987) p. 937, note to l. 2870. Hough (2013) derives Pertelote from the Middle English pert (attractive, comely) and a double diminutive. That yields an etymology “petite beauty.”

[3] Chaucer, Nun’s Priest’s Tale ll. 2908-21. Pertelote quoted Cato as an authority for disregarding dreams. Id. ll. 2940-1. Cato at least had a realistic sense of wives’ authority over their husbands. The subsequent quote describing verses from “Daun Burnel the Ass” is from id. ll. 3312-9.

[4] Under the men-abasing ideology of courtly love, men are expected to rush fearlessly to be maimed and killed in the service of women. The Nun’s Priest declared his tale to be as true as the story of Lancelot, paragon of courtly love:

This story is as true, I declare,
As is the Book of Lancelot of the Lake,
Which women hold in very great reverence.

{ This storie is also trewe, I undertake,
As is the book of Launcelot de Lake,
That wommen holde in ful greet reverence. }

Nun’s Priest’s Tale ll. 3211-3.

[5] All the herbs that Pertelote prescribed to form a laxative were wrong for the medical problem she diagnosed. Following his wife’s advice could have seriously endangered Chauntecleer’s life:

her compound {of herbs} is so powerful as to endanger even the most virile and durable digestive system. Three of the seven herbs, laurel, hellebore, and catapuce, are described in the herbals as “gnawing,” “fretting,” “scorching,” and violently caustic. The same three are to be used only under extreme conditions as a last resort and even then with great caution and accompanied by soothing agents, certainly not raw and certainly not in random dosage. … So corrosive a medication would, in fact, have hastened the departure of even the mightiest epic heroes, either human or rooster.

Kauffman (1969) p. 47.

[6] Nigellus Wireker, Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum} 1343-50, Latin text from Mozley & Raymo (1960) p. 61, English translation from Regenos (1959) p. 79, with my minor adaptation of the later. Regenos translated the above passage as:

So pleased indeed was he by this that he
Could hardly keep his lips from shouting praise.
And what by silence he was eager to delay
He almost hastened by his shouting out.
A voice made still by grief cries out with joy;
Joy fosters lyrics; grief bids one be still.
Betwixt the twain he stayed, nor did he yield;
By neither overcome, his voice was still.

Subsequent quotes from Speculum stultorum are (cited by line number; English translation similarly from id. p. 61): 1361-4 (His hen long wondering…); 1365-8 (He thus replied…); 1369-76 (Not less, but even more…); 1377-80 (A certain one on hearing…).

[7] While being able to remain silent and reject the advice of one’s wife are vitally important capabilities for married men, speaking of such capabilities is dangerous under gynocentric. Apparently seeking favor in a letter to William of Longchamp, chancellor England and Bishop of Ely, Nigellus Wireker omitted mention of marital relations in interpreting the story of the cock:

The story that comes next, concerning the priest’s son and the little chicken which later retaliated because of his broken leg, requires no explanation, for its meaning is clear. Indeed it is a very normal trait of character for those who are injured or offended in childhood, even though the wrong be slight, to hold in their minds thoughts of revenge even to an advanced old age, nor do they ever forget a wrong done to them until it has been fully satisfied by punishment.

Nigellus, Letter to William, from Latin trans. Regenos (1959) pp. 27-8. On Nigellus interpretation of his Speculum stultorum for William, Mann (2007).

Showing great intellectual courage, a scholar writing in 1970 expressed the clear meaning to husbands of the story of the cock:

Nigel’s rooster succeeded because he did not listen to his wife. … , they {the allusions to Speculum stultorum in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale} also indicate some of the morality that we good men might take.

Schrader (1970) pp. 289-90. Mann (1975) shows no awareness of Schrader’s insight, nor of the serious meaning for husbands of the story of the cock in Speculum stultorum.

[8] Mann (2002) p. 145.

[9] The Prioress “was nat undergrowe {was not undergrown}.” Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, General Prologue 156. In its context, that phrases seems to me to mean most plausibly that she was fat. Scholars working under the gynocentric imperative of not offending women have interpreted that phrase to mean that she was “tall and slender.” See Wu (2014) pp. 2-3.

The Prioress’s golden brooch is described in General Prologue 160-2. The phrase “omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori {“love conquers all: let us too yield to love}” occurs in Virgil, Eclogues X.69. The Eclogues were well-known in late medieval England. McGowan (2003) p. 199. The power of the god of Love is a central Ovidian theme. Scholars working under the gynocentric imperative of not offending women have interpreted the Prioress’s broach to be expressing her Christian piety. Id.

[10] Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, General Prologue 143-50. The Prioress’s entourage of her nun-secretary and three priests is described in ll. 163-4.  The Prioress fed her dogs much better food than most persons in medieval England had:

Wastel-bread {which the Prioress fed to her dogs}, the second {ranking bread} in quality, was a fine wheat bread, probably white, and far superior to the third and fourth grade breads. We cannot imagine that it was found on any tables other than those of the well-to-do. The roast meat lavished upon the ‘smale houndes’ would be judged an extravagance by even the most lenient of fourteenth-century standards.

Broes (1963) p. 160, quoting Muriel Bowden, On the Sources of the Nonne Prestes Tale, Radcliffe College Monographs, No. 10, Boston, 1898, p. 59.

[11] The Nun’s Priest’s horse is described in the Nun’s Priest’s Prologue, ll. 2812-3.

[12] Nun’s Priest’s Tale ll. 3256-66. On the range of meanings of the line “I kan noon harm of no womman divyne,” Besserman (1977). The Nun’s Priest didn’t lack masculine strength:

“Sir Nun’s Priest,” our Host said straightway,
“Blessed be your buttocks, and every testicle!
This was a merry tale of Chanticleer.
But by my oath, if you were a layman,
You would be an excellent copulator of hens.
For if you have as much desire as you have strength,
You would have need of hens, as I think,
Yes, more than seven times seventeen.
See, what muscles this gentle priest has,
So big a neck, and such a large chest!

{ “Sire Nonnes Preest,” oure Hooste seide anoon,
“I-blessed be thy breche, and every stoon!
This was a murie tale of Chauntecleer.
But by my trouthe, if thou were seculer,
Thou woldest ben a trede-foul aright.
For if thou have corage as thou hast myght,
Thee were nede of hennes, as I wene,
Ya, moo than seven tymes seventene.
See, whiche braunes hath this gentil preest,
So gret a nekke, and swich a large breest! }

Nun’s Priest’s Epilogue ll. 3447-56. The Nun’s Priest, however, apparently wasn’t strong enough to challenge directly his women overlords. Perhaps he was too nice: “This sweet priest, this goodly man sir John.” Nun’s Priest’s Prologue l. 2820.  The Nun’s Priest’s Tale merely contains a subtle current of satire against the Prioress. Broes (1963).

With worn-out, anachronistic, delusional claims about anti-feminism, misogyny, and men, Mann suggests that the minds of some academics cannot be reconstructed, socially or medicinally. Consider:

The same interpretative facility with which the cock so successfully fended off the medicinal dose {of deadly laxatives} is here set to work by the teller of the tale to conjure up a male alibi out of the ready store of antifeminist clichés, with a sublime indifference to the facts of the case. … the accusation-cum-apology is revealed as a pure smokescreen. Like all the rhetorical paraphernalia superimposed on the action in this tale, it functions as a verbal strategy behind which men can disguise from themselves the realities of their own lives.

Mann (2002) pp. 150-1.

[image] The Nun’s priest, illumination (with color enhancement) of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale in the Ellesmere manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Manuscript created c. 1400-1410. From manuscript EL 26 C9 (Ellesmere manuscript), f. 179r, held in the Huntington Library, in San Marino, California. Here’s the version on Wikimedia Commons.


Benson, Larry D., ed. 1987. Geoffrey Chaucer. The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd. ed. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Besserman, Lawrence L. 1977. “Chaucerian Wordplay: The Nun’s Priest and His “Womman Divyne.” The Chaucer Review. 12 (1): 68-73.

Broes, Arthur T. 1963. “Chaucer’s Disgruntled Cleric: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” Proceedings of the Modern Language Association (PMLA). 78 (3): 156-162.

Hough, Carole. 2013. “Names in Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” Pp. 215-229 in Richard Dance and Laura Wright, eds. The Use and Development of Middle English: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Middle English, Cambridge 2008. Studies in English medieval language and literature 38. Peter Lang: Frankfurt, Germany.

Kauffman, Corinne E. 1969. “Dame Pertelote’s Parlous Parle.” The Chaucer Review. 4 (1): 41-48.

Mann, Jill. 1975. “The Speculum stultorum and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review. 9 (3): 262-282.

Mann, Jill. 2002. Feminizing Chaucer. Cambridge, England: D.S. Brewer.

Mann, Jill. 2007. “Does an Author Understand his Own Text? Nigel of Longchamp and the Speculum stultorum.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 17: 1-37.

McGowan, Joseph P. 2003. “Chaucer’s Prioress: Et Nos Cedamus Amori.” The Chaucer Review. 38 (2): 199-202.

Mozley, John H., and Robert R. Raymo, ed. 1960. Nigellus Wireker. Speculum stultorum. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Pratt, Robert A. 1972. “Three Old French Sources of the Nonnes Preestes Tale (Part II).” Speculum. 47 (4): 646-668.

Regenos, Graydon W.. 1959. Nigellus Wireker. The book of Daun Burnel the ass: Nigellus Wireker’s Speculum stultorum. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Schrader, Richard J. 1970. “Chauntecleer, the Mermaid, and Daun Burnel.” The Chaucer Review. 4 (4): 284-290.

Wu, Hsiang-mei. 2014. “Measuring the Prioress’s Forehead: Beauty and Piety.” Intergrams 14.2.

Dedda suborned murder of her husband Boldran in medieval Flanders

ladies dueling

Around the world in 2010, about fifteen times more men than women were prisoners. That’s a much greater gender imbalance than among tech-industry CEO’s, political leaders, tenured professors, and other categories of elite persons. Part of the explanation for the lack of gender parity in prisoners is that women’s criminal acts tend to be less salient than men’s. When women induce men to commit criminal acts, criminal justice typically recognizes only men’s culpability. The great medieval historian Galbert of Bruges, in contrast, forthrightly recognized that Dedda suborned the murder of her husband Boldran in eleventh-century Flanders.

Dedda sought to have her husband murdered because she wanted to marry Erembald. Dedda’s husband Boldran was castellan of Bruges. Erembald was a vassal and knight under Boldran. Galbert recounted:

Erembald had often debauched himself in adultery with the wife of his lord the castellan. And that adulteress, so they say, had promised her adulterer the viscountship {her husband’s title} if her husband were, by chance, to die soon. For this reason the adulterer was always plotting the death of his lord.

{ Erembaldus adulterio abutebatur saepe uxore domini sui castellani. Illa quoque adultera, sicut aiunt, promiserat adultero suo vicecomitatum si forte vir ejus cito moreretur. Unde adulter domino suo semper machinabatur mortem. } [1]

In describing Erembald as debauching Boldran’s wife, Galbert echoed the long, oppressive history of contempt for men’s sexuality. Erembald no more debauched Boldran’s wife than she debauched him. An Old French account of the murder described Dedda as “an evil and dishonest ribald … who encouraged him in this lechery.”[2] Not surprisingly, Dedda consented enthusiastically to having sex with Erembald and sought to marry him.

With keen social insight, Galbert sarcastically muted Dedda’s criminal culpability. He described her criminal act of suborning murder through an abstract hypothetical: “if her husband were, by chance, to die soon.” Erembald knew what Dedda was actually saying. Readers similarly should recognize the actual significance of her words. Typical gynocentric behavior of providing excuses for women exacerbates gender inequality among prisoners. Justice demands fair recognition of culpability: Dedda suborned the murder of her husband Boldran.

The murder of Boldran highlights additional patterns of gender oppression. According to Galbert:

The men of Flanders were ordered to go on a certain expedition, and they traveled by horses and ships all the way to the place of danger where the land was being invaded in order to defend the fatherland. Night came while the ships were gliding along the River Scheldt, and the castellan Boldran and his knight Erembald, in whom he trusted more than anyone else, and many others, dressed in full mail coats and prepared for battle, dropped anchor in the middle of the river in order to wait for daylight. … When the silence of the night had come, while the castellan was standing urinating at the edge of the ship, Erembald ran up from behind and cast down his lord, flung far from the ship, into the depths of the watery torrent. This was done while the others were sleeping, and no one other than the adulterer knew what had become of the castellan, who had been drowned without children.

{ Imperata fuit quaedam expeditio Flandrensibus, et itum est equis et navibus pro defensione patriae usque ad locum periculi et insultus terrae. Cum vero navibus prolaberent Scaldim fluvium, Boldrannus castellanus et Erembaldus miles suus, cui prae ceteris confidebat, ceterique plures omnes loricas induti et ad pugnam praeparati, venit nox et fixerant anchoram in medio amne ut diem expectarent. … Facto quoque noctis silentio, dum castellanus ad mingendum in ora stetisset navis, ille Erembaldus retro accurrens, longe a navi projectum dominum in profundum torrentis aquosi praecipitavit. Hoc vero dormientibus ceteris factum est et nemo praeter adulterum illum sciebat quo devinisset castellanus ille, qui absque liberis submersus erat. }

Societies throughout history have used men as instruments for fighting enemies. Galbert ironically described the men “ordered” to engage in violent action as defending the “fatherland.” The “fatherland” is a gendered term used to obscure reality. Gynocentric society orders men to fight and die to protect women. They live in what is more appropriately called the motherland.[3]

Galbert apparently was sensitive to the disposable status of men. Boldran committed his life and considerable expense (a full mail coat) to defending the motherland. Yet Boldran and the men with him didn’t even have the benefit of chamber pots for conveniently urinating. As Boldran urinating sent his watery torrent into the watery torrent of the river, the man’s personal, human being is reduced to the anonymous, inhuman natural world. Another account of murdering Boldran describes Erembald stabbing Baldran with a sword and throwing him off a bridge into a river.[4] Galbert may have invented the detail of Boldran being pushed off the ship from behind while urinating into the river. Galbert’s version makes more shameful Erembald’s killing of Boldran at the behest of Dedda. It also more subtly underscores the disposability of men.[5]

Men gain social status through their subservience to women. Concerning Erembald’s subservience to Dedda, Galbert reported:

When Erembald returned {after killing Boldran}, therefore, he married his adulteress and bought the viscountship with the means provided by his lord’s {Boldran’s} labors.

{ Reversus ergo Erembaldus, adulteram suam duxit uxorem et facultatibus opum domini sui emit vicecomitatum. }

A different source recorded:

the wife of this Holdran {Boldran} married her adulterous lover, the betrayer of her husband, from which fact it became obvious that Erembald committed such a great sin on the unfaithful wife’s advice.

{ Uxor vero Holdranni adulterum suum, mariti proditorem, accepit in maritum, unde innotuit, quod consilio perfidae coniugis Eremboldus tam grande piaculum subiit. } [6]

Erembald, who had been Boldran’s vassal, married Boldran’s wife Dedda after Boldran died. That would have been publicly known and documented. As Boldran’s former vassal, Erembald would have been socially subordinate to Dedda. He almost surely would not have killed her husband without her advice and encouragement. To impress her lady friends with her rule over her new husband, Dedda may well have told them that she suborned her former husband’s murder. She plausibly also told them how Erembald carried out that murder, as she heard from him. The lesson of this sensational story would have resonated with men’s life experiences: do whatever women desire, no matter how despicable, and you will advance in the gynocentric world.

The vastly disproportionate imprisonment of men shows the reality of gender power and the fundamental injustice of gynocentrism. Women’s criminal behavior is commonly overlooked or excused, while men as a gender are criminalized. In his account of the murder of Boldran in eleventh-century Flanders, Galbert of Bruges courageously identified Boldran’s wife Dedda as having suborned her husband’s murder. Women commonly and highly effectively incite men to violence. Recognizing women’s culpability, as Galbert did, would be an important step toward less gender disparity in criminal punishment. Criminal justice should serve justice, not gynocentric interests.

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[1] Galbert of Bruges, De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum {The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders} 71, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 125, ll. 11-15, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 124. Subsequent quotes from De multro are similarly from sec. 71, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 125, and English from Rider (2013) pp. 124-5.

Earlier editions of the Latin text of De multro are freely available online. See Pirenne (1891) and Köpke (1856a).

[2] The Old French: “meschante et deshoneste rybaulde … laquelle l’entretenoit en ces luxures.” From the Register of Roland and Antoine de Baenst (commonly called the de Baenst manuscript) 37r, preserved in Bruges, Stedelijke Openbare Bibiliotheek, 442, s. 15. It  The relevant Old French text is printed in Rider (1994) p. 173. The quoted text is from Rider’s English translation given in Cooper & Edsall (2009) p.  227, n. 46.

The de Baenst manuscript is the earliest surviving evidence of the existence of Galbert’s De multro. The de Baenst family was one of the leading families in Flanders. The de Baenst manuscript, a de Baenst family register, dates from the end of the fifteenth century. It summarizes “Galbert’s account of the servile and adulterous origins and ultimate fate of the Erembalds.” Rider (2013) p. xix. The de Baenst manuscript indicates the public importance of knowing that Dedda suborned the murder of her husband Boldran.

De multro 71 gives the name of Boldran’s wife as “Dedda or Duva.” Demyttenaere referred to Dedda as Dove:

Was it not natural for a Christian writer to interpret the machinations of Dove, whose name, moreover, was homophonous with Eve’s (Duva, Eva), within the context of original sin and the fall of mankind, and to see in Dove a new Eve?

Demyttenaere (2009) p. 149. That’s straining for an inapt allegory. Most women aren’t like Dedda. Galbert presented Dedda’s criminal culpability with historically specificity and realism.

[3] In the spirit of her praise of the action of Walter of Vladslo’s wife in cuckolding him, Partner observed of the “countess of Holland, a major player in the high-stakes game of replacing the dead count of Flanders”:

We should note that the countess’s aggressive maneuvering for power, using males as placeholders and pawns, deploying the seduction of promises, favors, gifts, is quite similar to Dedda’s strategy.

Partner (2009) pp. 124, 125. Animalizing men as “males” and using men as placeholders and pawns is prevalent in gynocentric society.

[4] “Passio Karoli comitis auctore anonymo,” printed in Köpke (1856b). Häcker (2009) p. 127, n. 2, describes this account as a “contemporary source.” Ross dated it to “the late thirteenth century or early fourteenth century.” Ross (1960) p. 73, n. 47. The murder of Boldran can be convincingly dated to about 1055. Rider (2001) p. 82.

[5] Rider didn’t recognize Galbert’s literary seriousness in his representation of this incident. Rider instead offered a trivializing conjecture:

this part of the story, at least, was made up and seems to have been shaped at the rumor mill to titillate a popular palate.

Rider (2001) pp. 25-1, n. 61. Cooper & Edsall similarly perceived the murder of Boldran as recalling “the comic plots of fabliaux.” Cooper & Edsall (2009) p. 227. The devaluation of men’s lives isn’t comic. Academics today are indoctrinated in misandristic ideology. Galbert’s concern for men, like medieval women writers’ concern for men, is difficult for academics today to comprehend. Cf. Häcker (2009) p. 141.

Murray argued that Galbert’s account of the murder of Boldran “has all the hallmarks of a calumny repeated to discredit the descendants of Erembald after their treachery toward Charles.” It’s part of Galbert’s depiction of Bertulf’s kin “as agents of the Devil: deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers of God’s creation.”  Murray (2009) pp. 194, 199. Galbert’s account of Boldran’s murder, however, is more complex than that. Why did Galbert even bring Dedda into the story of Boldran’s murder? Why not claim that Erembald threatened and forced Dedda into marrying him in accordance with the typical pattern of blaming women’s bad acts on men? Galbert apparently wanted to document Dedda’s culpability in the murder of Boldran.

[6] “Passio Karoli comitis auctore anonymo,” Latin from (1856b) p. 620, English trans. Häcker (2009) p. 137.

[image] Ladies dueling. Painting (oil on canvas) by Jusepe de Ribera, 1636. Held in Museo del Prado (Madrid), accession # P001124. Thanks to the Yorck Project and Wikimedia Commons.


Cooper, Lisa H. and Mary Agnes Edsall. 2009. “History as Fabliau and Fabliau as History: The Murder of Charles the Good and Du provost a l’aumuche.” Ch. 10 (pp. 215-239) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Demyttenaere, Bert. 2009. “The Tears of Fromold: The Murder of Charles the Good, Homoeroticism, and the Ruin of the Erembalds.” Ch. 7 (pp. 145-79) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Häcker, Martina. 2009. “The Language of Misogyny in Galbert of Bruges’s Account of the Murder of Charles the Good.” Ch. 6 (pp. 126-144) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Köpke, Rudolf, ed. 1856a. “Passio Karoli comitis auctore Galberto.” Pp. 561-619 in Monumenta Germaniae Historica 12. Stuttgart: Hiersemann.

Köpke, Rudolf, ed. 1856b. “Passio Karoli comitis auctore anonymo.” Pp. 619-23 in Monumenta Germaniae Historica 12. Stuttgart: Hiersemann.

Murray, Alan V. 2009. “The Devil in Flanders: Galbert of Bruges and the Eschatology of Political Crisis.” Ch. 8 (pp. 183-199) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Partner, Nancy. 2009, “Galbert’s Hidden Women: Social Presence and Narrative Concealment.” Ch. 5 (pp. 109-125) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Pirenne, Henri, ed. 1891. Galbert of Bruges. Histoire de meurtre de Charles le Bon Comte de Flandre (1127 – 1128); suivie de poésies latines contemporaines = Passio Karoli comitis Flandriae. Paris: Picard.

Rider, Jeff, ed. 1994. Galbert of Bruges. De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis (CC CM) 131. Turnhout: Brepols.

Rider, Jeff. 2001. God’s scribe: the historiographical art of Galbert of Bruges. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, and Alan V. Murray, eds. 2009. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, trans. 2013. Galbert of Bruges. The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders {De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum}. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ross, James Bruce, trans. 1960. Galbert of Bruges. The murder of Charles the Good, count of Flanders, by Galbert of Bruges. Translated with introduction and notes. New York: Columbia University Press.