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.

[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.

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. 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.

Mirror of Fools: the eminent doctor Galen on short tails and penises

medieval speculum

In the brilliant medieval Latin poem Mirror of Fools, a man wanting a longer penis is figured as the donkey Burnel seeking a longer tail. The Mirror of Fools connects Maximian’s foolish devaluation of his penis (particularly Maximian’s Elegy 5) to medieval critique of demonizing men’s sexuality (particularly the twelfth-century Latin poem The Flea). For men as well as donkeys, lengthening of the penis occurs naturally with sexual arousal. At the same time, men’s sexual shortcomings are inseparable from social disparagement of men’s sexuality. The medieval mirror of knowledge encompassed knowledge of the whole world. Fools look into a mirror and see only themselves.

The tale of Burnel the donkey seeking a longer tail is set with subtle double-talk. Its opening fairy-tale simplicity of “once upon a time” immediately leads to undercutting sophistication:

It happened once an ass with ears immense
desired to have a tail in size to match.
Since with his head his tail could not compare,
he deeply groaned about its brevity.
‘Twas not because it failed to suit his needs;
instead, because it was so very short.
The doctors he consulted, with the thought
that they might work what nature could not do.

{ Auribus immensis quondam donatus asellus
institit ut caudam posset habere parem.
Cauda suo capiti quia se conferre nequibat,
altius ingemuit de brevitate sua.
Non quia longa satis non esset ad utilitatem;
ante tamen quam sic apocopata foret.
Consuluit medicos, quia quod natura nequibat
artis ab officio posse putabat eos. } [1]

With his big ears, big head, and anxiety about his tail’s shortness, Burnel alludes to the celibate medieval scholar dedicating his life to the wisdom of Athena. His tail doesn’t fail to suit his needs, for he has no need of it.[2] Yet he laments his organ’s perpetual shortness. Nature, understood to encompass a beautiful other, could make his tail grow longer. The foolish, narrow-minded scholar doesn’t understand. He consults doctors.

Galen, the medieval world’s most admired medical authority, provided uncharacteristic medical advice. The historical, boastful Galen championed true medical knowledge and skill. The Galen of the Mirror of Fools advised non-intervention and depreciated medical skill:

You must not scorn the gifts of nature, but
regard among your riches what she gives.
Believe me, that old tail upon your rump
is better than a brand-new tail would be.
Yet this annoys — you want a better tail;
you’ll get a worse one through the surgeon’s skills.
A new tail could not easily be grown,
not even if the old could be removed.

{ Quod natura dedit non sit tibi vile, sed illud
inter divitias amplius esse puta.
Crede mihi, vetus est tibi cauda salubrior ista
natibus innata quam foret illa nova.
Nec placet ista tamen, sed habere cupis meliorem;
artibus et curis insita pejor erit.
Sed neque de facili posset nova cauda creari,
qaumvis deposita cauda vetusta foret. }

According to this Galen, human knowledge is highly fallible. God alone is the only true doctor:

Physicians often fail and are deceived,
and things that harm are, vice versa, good.
Though he hold strictly to what art requires,
still things will not turn out as he may wish.
For God alone is healer of the sick;
it’s ours to wish, but his the power to do.
Without his help and guidance we are nought,
but he can do all things without our help.
Herbs, medicines, and sundry drugs we use,
but he by word alone makes all things well.
The people call us doctors, just in name;
but God is doctor both in name and deed.
Be sure to keep the tail he gave to you,
and seek not, fool, for anything besides.

{ Saepe quidem medici fallunt, falluntur et ipsi,
et vice conversa quae nocuere iuvant.
Esto, quod ars mandat, faciat, nec abinde recedat,
non tamen evenient quae cupis ipse tibi.
Solus enim Deus est morbis medicina salutis;
nos tantum velle possumus, ipse potest.
Nos nihil absque suo vel eo nos praeveniente
possumus; ipse sibi sufficit absque meo.
Nos herbis variis, pigmentis et speciebus
utimur; hic verbo singula sana facit.
Dicimur a populo medici, sed nomine solo;
sed Deus est medicus nomine reque simul.
Quam dedit ille tibi caudam retinere memento,
stulte, nec ulterius ulteriora petas. }

Using a direct quotation from Maximian’s elegy on his sexual impotence, Galen recognized that some men engage in idle sexual boasting while failing to perform:

All men can talk, but if you give good heed,
not everyone can thus join words to deeds.

What nature does not grant no one can do.

{ Dicere quisque potest, sed dictis jungere facta,
si bene perpendas, non ita quisque potest.

Quod natura negat reddere nemo potest. } [3]

Most men cannot perform like sexual superheroes. Yet most healthy, non-elderly men possess wonderful sexuality capabilities. A man with a short penis doesn’t need the learned skill of a doctor. As medical Latin lyrics observed, such a man needs only a caressing touch.

Galen then told Burnel a pseudo-realistic beast fable about two female cows. When Galen was a child, his father had on his farm two sister cows — Brownie, a black-haired cow, and Two-Horns, an auburn-haired cow.[4] One winter night, both cows lay down in a muddy pasture to sleep. The next morning they found their tails frozen to the ground. They couldn’t get up to journey home.

Two-Horns argued for cutting off their tails to get free and go home. She was worried about her calf, not yet five days old, back at home. She reasoned:

Why have a tail, or what’s it ever brought me?
What good or honor does a tail bestow?
Behold, I’m kept a captive by it! Why?
No honor but a burden is my tail.
Suppose with tail intact I could escape,
a muddy tail will ever weigh me down.
A dangling tail’s a burden and holds mud;
what can I see it bringing me but woe?

{ Quid mea cauda mihi vel quid sibi contulit unquam?
Quis fructus vel quae gloria cauda mihi?
En per eam teneor tanquam captiva, quid ergo?
Non honor est, sed onus, haec mea cauda mihi.
Esto quod hinc possem cauda remanente redire,
semper erunt oneri cauda lutumque mihi.
Attrahit ipsa lutum pendens oneratque ferentem;
quid tribuat video nil nisi triste mihi? }

Many unhappy women reason similarly about their boyfriends or husbands. Two-Horns took a knife and cut off her tail. She then gave the blade to Brownie. She urged her to cut herself free. A woman without a man strives to have her sisters be like her.

Brownie refused to follow the devilish advice of her sister Two-Horns. Brownie exclaimed:

No way that I should do what you advise!
When things go wrong there’s need for self-control;
you must not be too fast in time of grief.

A sweet relationship makes friendly ties;
ties made with me are very strong indeed.
What one unblessed by fortune fails to have,
another from his richer store may satisfy.
No creature is so excellent or grand
that it can do without another’s help.
The changing times with varied risks contend,
nor are all partnerships on equal terms.

{ Quod mihi persuades absit ut illud agam!
Rebus in adversis opus est moderamine multo,
non decet in gravibus praecipitare gradum.

Dulce relativum socialia foedera jungit;
fortius incedunt foedera juncta sibi.
Quod minus alter habet, sua quem fortuna gravavit,
suppleat alterius copia grata magis.
Nil ita praecipuum vel tam sublime creatum,
ut non alterius possit egere manu.
Tempora sive vices vario discrimine certant,
nec coeunt nexu foedera quaeque pari. }

Brownie went on to strengthen her relationship with her tail. Performing an aspect of a commendatio (commendation ceremony), Brownie proclaimed an encomium of her tail.[5] Her encomium was worthy of the Greek dancing girl’s encomium of Maximian’s penis:

Although my tail remains my hindmost part,
yet I deem nothing of more use to me

My tail’s a shield to me, a sword, and axe,
a lance, sling, rock, and club, an arrow, torch.
The tail provides my skin a faithful nurse,
and brushes off the dust that clings to it.
It washes, cleanses, and alone serves all
the members, being last, in service first.
If we note well what glory and what use
each member to its lady has served,
then it alone is worth more to its head
than other members; more busy too than they.

{ Corporis ergo mei quamvis pars ultima cauda,
utilius tamen hac nil reor esse mihi }

Cauda mihi clypeus, gladius mihi cauda, securis,
lancea, funda, lapis, clava, sagitta, faces.
Cauda colit corpus, cutis est fidissima nutrix,
pulveris abstergens quicquid adhaesit eis.
Haec lavat, haec tergit, haec omnibus una ministrat,
ultima membrorum, prima labore suo.
Si bene pensetur, quid honoris et utilitatis
contulerint dominae singula membra suae.
Sola suo capite membris sed et omnibus una
plus valet; est et eis officiosa magis. }

The Latin word for “member” (membrum), like the Latin word for “tail” (cauda), can also refer to a man’s penis.[6] The above appreciation for the member that best serves its lady leads immediately to more direct sexual imagery:

It alone prevents discerning the weak sex
openly in public; the tail covers the vagina.
These {personal tools} my tail unites at various times,
yet at certain times it pleases more.

{ Omnibus una cavens fragilis discrimina sexus
publica ne pateant, cauda pudenda tegit.
Haec mea cauda mihi vario pro tempore confert,
quae tamen est certo tempore grata magis. } [7]

The Latin word for vagina (pudendus) is linguistically rooted in “that which is a source of shame.” In prophecy of Isaiah about the ravaging of Jerusalem, unmarried women begged ordinary men to marry them so as to take away their shame. That’s the shame of a vagina without a tail. The central thrust of the passage isn’t obscure. For many persons other than those mired in rape-culture culture, a man pleases more at those certain times when he’s united with a woman. Appreciation for the tail “being last, in service first” draws upon both the Christian ideal of servant-leadership and the servant-leadership of a husband within the traditional understanding of chivalry.[8]

Like other desires, sexual desire can be disordered. Flies, especially fleas, biting a girl insistently and beyond any limits of clothing or resistance figures disordered masculine sexual desire. The twelfth-century Latin poem The Flea {De pulice} is an example of that sexual imagery. Consistent with the elaborate literary structure of the Mirror of Fools, Galen’s fable of the two sister cows confronts the masculine sexual imagery of biting flies with the masculine sexuality imagery of a comforting tail. That confrontation occurs in different feminine encompassing environments. One is summer’s raging heat like a women burning with excessive sexual desire. Another is beauty and fertility that inevitably incites sexual activity:

In the meantime the fruitful summer had come
to decorate the fields with early flowers.
It now had clothed the trees with leaves, the earth
with grass, and fashioned flowers with equal skill.
Birds freed from winter’s prison had escaped
to pay due tribute to the neighborhood.
The nightingale, to compensate her loss
of speech, fills all the woods with lovely song.
The swallow and the turtledove appear
at nature’s summons, each at time ordained.
The lark, dawn’s harbinger, comes with the thrush,
nor do they change the schedule of their lives.
The cuckoo with his repetitious song
declares the springtime, as he always does.
A blend of disharmonious sounds is heard,
and through the woods a thousand organs play.
The scent of flowers excels the songs of birds,
their songs excel the pipes; the flowers, sweet balm.
The wood resounds, the fields are sweet with thyme,
the flowers and fruits a spicy fragrance yield.

{ Venerat interea tempus quo fertilis aestas
prata solet primo pingere flore novo.
Induerat jam fronde nemus, jam gramine terram
texerat, intextis foribus arte pari.
Exierant volucres hiemis de carcere fracto,
solvere finitimis digna tributa locis.
Verba negata sibi redimens philomena sonoris
vocibus insistit, personat omne nemus.
Quos natura vocat, cum turture venit hirundo,
adventusque sui tempora certa tenent.
Nuntius aurorae merulam comitatur alauda,
nec sua permutant tempora lege nova.
Semper idem repetens veteri nova tempora voce
ostendit cuculus, nil novitatis habens.
Concentu parili vocum concordia discors
intonat, et silvis organa mille sonant.
Certat odor florum cantus superare volucrum,
organa vox superat; balsama vincit odor.
Dulce sonant silvae, redolent thymiamata campi,
floribus et fructu gignit amoma solum. }

The Song of Songs is similarly filled with gardens, fruits, and spices. In the Mirror of Fools, both the summer’s raging heat and this spring-like environment breeds flies and wasps. They passionately and hurtfully attack Brownie and Two-Horns. Brownie, who always has her tail with her, deflects the attacks. But the manless, tailless Two-Horns succumbs to them. She dies as an example for those who would disregard limits and enter into castration culture or inordinate sexual activity.[9]

Men who don’t appreciate their short penises are easy prey for mercenary doctors. Burnel didn’t understand Galen’s fable about the two sister cows. Burnel rejected Galen’s advice to accept the natural goodness of his tail. To satisfy Burnel, Galen then adopted the practices of a mercenary doctor. He advised Burnel:

Your tail from there can reach a proper length,
provided it keep contact with flesh.
But in the case of treatments and their costs,
it’s quite important that you have much means.
Strong remedies require a bulging purse,
large wounds demand much wealth and capital.

If then you do not fail to pay the bills,
I shall not fail to give you special care.
If you keep up the payments, I shall try
my skill, provided I still have my strength. [10]

{ Unde satis longa poterit tua crescere cauda,
dummodo cum reliqua foedera carne tenet.
Et tamen in curis et sumptibus enumerandis,
ut decet et debet, copia larga subest.
Ardua praegnantem poscunt medicamina bursam,
res et opes magnas vulnera magna volunt.

Sumptibus ergo tibi nisis tu defeceris ipse,
non tibi deficiet cura laborque meus.
Sumptibus insistas, nos artibus experiemur,
si valeant nostrae quod valuere manus. }

Galen sent Burnel to get medicines from Salerno, a leading medieval center of medical knowledge. The medicines Galen requested were as nonsensical as Burnel’s request to lengthen his tail. Among those medicines:

a small amount of milk of goose and kite,
a little flash of light and fear of wolf,
a dram of seven-year truce ‘twixt dog and hare,
the kisses which a lark has sent her hawk,
a pound of special peacock’s sweet refrain,
before however he has grown a tail

{ Anseris et milvi modicum de lacte recenti,
de lucis cursu deque timore lupi,
de canis et leporis septenni foedere drachmam,
oscula quae niso misit alauda suo,
pavonis propria libram do voce sonora,
ante tamen cauda quam sit adepta sibi }

With a subtle allusion to a donkey’s large penis, Galen urged the donkey Burnel to give himself a fifth foot to make the trip to Salerno quickly. When Burnel asked Galen for a blessing, Galen, speaking in what was Greek to the donkey, petitioned God to bring him a thousand woes.

Treatments for “erectile dysfunction” have become a big business. Those treatments assume that a man’s penis isn’t functioning properly. Yet the fundamental cause of men’s penises remaining short is cultural hostility to men’s sexuality. Men’s penises typically remain short because they lack encounters with young, beautiful, warmly receptive women, or at least a woman lovingly remembered as being among such. The “erectile dysfunction” business caters to fools.[11]

donkey Burnel in Nigel's Speculum stultorum

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[1] Nigel, Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum} 81-8, Latin text from Mozley & Raymo (1960) p. 32, English translation from Regenos (1959) p. 12, both with my adaptations. Regenos uses the name Brunellus for the donkey. The Latin text has Burnellus. See, e.g. ll. 595, 791, and comment in Mozley & Raymo (1960) pp. 148-9. I use the English form Burnel. That’s also the form that Chaucer used in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale (ll. 3312-16) of the Canterbury Tales.

Wright’s Latin text of Speculum stultorum is freely available online. Wright (1872) pp. 11-145. Regenos’s translation is based on that text, but incorporates corrections to that text from the subsequent scholarly literature. Regenos commented:

although Wright’s edition leaves much to be desired, it can be said with some degree of assurance, I think, that this translation is based on a reasonably sound text.

Regenos (1959) p. 20. To the best of my ability, I’ve checked Regenos translation against the Latin text of Mozley & Raymo (1960) and made any necessary corrections. Since I’ve supplied the relevant Latin text from the latter above, others can similarly verify the translations.

The Latin text consists largely of elegiac couplets that form a single, complete sentence. Regenos’s translation closely follows the lines of the Latin text. Readers who haven’t studied Latin can thus easily and beneficially compared the English to the Latin. To make both the English translation and the corresponding Latin text more accessible to such readers, I’ve used standard English sentence capitalization, and I’ve both capitalized and punctuated the English and Latin texts in parallel to the extent sensibly feasible. Where I’ve made a substantial change to the words of Regenos’s translation, I’ve noted the change at the end of the Latin text of the quotation.

Regenos’s translation is “a fairly literal translation” into iambic pentameters. He stated:

it has been my constant aim to render as faithfully as possible the full meaning of the original text, and certainly not to take undue liberties. Sometimes it has been most difficult to compress within the limits of two iambic pentameters the complete thought of a couplet, but patient endeavor has usually, if not always, made it possible.

Id. p. 19. Mozley (1963) is a considerly looser translation into many end-rhyming couplets. To my ear, Mozley’s translation now seems archaic and trivializing. Speculum stultorum ingeniously mixes the absurdly comic with respected wisdom and serious social commentary.

Speculum stultorum is sadly under-appreciated today. In the relatively liberal, tolerant, and enlightened time of the European Middle Ages, Speculum stultorum “enjoyed great success … {it} circulated especially widely from the end of the fourteenth century through the Reformation.” Ziolkowski (1994) p. 2. See also Mozley & Ramo (1960) pp. 8-9. Speculum stultorum survives in forty manuscripts, with thirty-four containing complete or nearly complete texts. Id. pp. 9-15, Mann (2007) p. 5.

Speculum stultorum was written at Canterbury, England, late in the twelfth century. The specific date of composition is a matter of some scholarly controversy. According to Ziolkowski, “most of it was written around 1179-80, but one section (perhaps a later revision by Nigel himself) is believed to date from 1185-87.” Ziolkowski (1994) p. 2. According to Mann, Speculum stultorum was written “some time in the 1190s.” Mann (2007) p. 34.

The author of the Speculum stultorum is variously specified in English as Nigellus Wireker, Nigel Whiteacre, Nigel of Langchamp (also Nigel Longchamp and Nigel de Longchamps), and Nigel of Canterbury. On the basis for these different names, Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 7-9, Mann (2009) pp. 99-100. In the references below, I use the WorldCat uniform author identifier Nigellus Wireker. Elsewhere I refer to the author as only Nigel.

Born about 1140, Nigel was a highly learned Benedictine monk living in the monastic community at Christ Church, Canterbury, in England. Nigel also wrote Miracles of the Holy Virgin Mother of God Mary, in verse {Miracula Sancte Dei genetricis uirginis Marie, uersifice}. That lengthy work consists of 2690 lines of elegiac distichs covering seventeen miracles. It is “the earliest surviving collection of versified Marian miracles in Latin.” Ziolkowsk (1994) p. 4. Nigel also wrote, in 2345 lines of dactylic, end-rhymed hexameters, The Passion of Saint Lawrence the Martyr {Passio Sancti Laurentii martiris}. For a brief review of all Nigel’s works, id. pp. 3-5.

Subsequent quotes above from Speculum stultorum are constructed in the same way as the first. The citations for the subsequent quotes, by line number for the Latin text in Mozley & Raymo (1960) and by page for the English translation in Regenos (1959): ll. 95-102, pp. 32-3 (You must not scorn…); .. 117-30, p. 33 (Physicians often fail…); ll. 171-2, 186, p. 35 (All men can talk…); ll. 243-50, pp. 37-8 (Why have a tail…); ll. 284-6, 345-52 (No way that I should do…); ll. 367-8, 375-84 (Athough my tail remains…); ll. 385-8, p. 42 (It alone prevents…); ll. 503-22, p. 47 (In the meantime the fruitful summer…); ll. 609-14, 623-6, pp. 50-1 (Your tail from there…); ll. 645-50, p. 52 (a small amount of milk…).

[2] As a highly learned monk, Nigel undoubtedly understood well devotion to Athena rather than to Venus. He wrote on the flyleaf of his manuscript of Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica:

As studious Nigel applied himself and avoided times of idleness,
he embroidered from various sources the writings of the present little book,
which he wished to survive him after death as the future of
his name and the undying memorial of his worthiness.

{ Ocia cum fugerit studiosi cura Nigelli
texuit ex uariis presentis scripta libelli,
quem superesse sibi uoluit post fata futurum
nominis et meriti memorabile non moriturum. }

From MS B. 15.5 (342) of Trinity College Cambridge, Latin text and English translation (which I’ve lineated) from Ziolkowski (1994) p. 282.

[3] Speculum stultorum 186 (Quod natura negat reddere nemo potest) quotes Maximian, Elegies 5.54. Speculum stultorum includes three other citiations of Maximian’s elegies (listed by line in Speculum stultorum / elegy.line in Maximian): 76 / 5.70, 496 / 1.222, 571 / 1.115. All four citations are from the context of Burnel and Galen’s initial interaction.

[4] In the Latin, Brownie has the name Brunetta. Two-Horns has the name Bicornis. Both Regenos (1959) and Mosley (1963) use the names Brunetta and Bicornis in their translations. However, both Latin names have clear English translations with meanings relevant in particular contexts of the Speculum stultorum. Thus I’ve used translated versions of the names above.

[5] With lack of appreciation for Speculum stultorum’s over-all figurative strategy in relation to penises and for its citations of Maximian’s elegies, Brownie’s encomium has been badly contextually and misinterpreted. Mann stated:

Brunetta {Brownie} then launched into a full-scale encomium of her tail, headed Commendatio Caudae, which obviously has it source in rhetorical school-exercises in praise of base or banally ridiculous objects.

Mann (2009) p. 125, with the above sentence citing via a footnote Pease (1926). Pease, in turn, explained the subject:

it is not this large field of the laudatio as a whole that I shall here plough over, but rather a curiously miscultivated portion of it to which the term “adoxography” has been given, in which the legitimate methods of the encomium are applied to persons or objects in themselves obviously unworthy of praise, as being trivial, ugly, useless, ridiculous, dangerous, or vicious.

Id. pp. 28-9. Tails, like penises, aren’t intrinsically contemptible, but they have historically been subject to disparagement. That’s particularly true in academia today.

[6] On tail {cauda} meaning a man’s penis, consider Horace, Satires 1.2.45-6: cuidam testis caudamque salacem demeterent ferro, translated as “a certain person cut off the testicles and lustful penis {of an adulterer}”; and Horace, Satires 2.7.47-50: acris ubi me / natura intendit, sub clara nuda lucerna / quaecumque excepit turgentis verbera caudae, / clunibus aut agitavit equum lasciva supinum, translated as “when insistent nature has made me stiff, whatever woman, naked in the lamp’s bright light, has taken my swollen tail’s blows.” For the English translation of the later, Cowan & Davie (2011).

On member {membrum} meaning a man’s penis or a woman’s vagina, e.g. Ovid, Amores 2.15.25: te nuda mea membra libidine surgent , translated as “my loving member to rise erect,” and De pulice 13: Ausus es interdum per membra libidinis ire , translated as “Sometimes you even dare to go through her loving member.” On these lines and their translations, see notes [2] and [3] in my post on De pulice.

[7] Regenos’s translation of these couplets show effects of pervasive, men-subordinating courtly love ideology:

Alone the tail protects the weaker sex
By hiding their pudenda from full view.
These things my tail provides for various times,
Yet at certain times it pleases more.

Regenos (1959) p. 42. I’ve provided a significantly improved translation above.

[8] For the Christian ideal of servant-leadership, Matthew 20:25-8.

[9] Two-Horns provided a quasi-epimythium for her demise:

I’ve lived a warning to many, and my death
will be a warning to all who lack moderation.

{ Exemplum multis vixi moriorque futuris
omnibus exemplum, non habitura modum. }

Speculum stultorum 577-8 (adapted to translate exemplum consistently and be more precise; for the second line of the couplet Regenos has “Will teach them all the need for self-control”). Nigel had great respect for women’s sensual allure. He had Burnel observe of an order of nuns:

Beneath black skirts they hide their lovely legs.
No girdles do they wear, nor underwear
in former times — if now, I do not know.

{ Sub tunicis nigris candida membra laten.
Cingula nulla ferunt sed nec femoralibus uti
consuetudo fuit, nescio si modo sit. }

Speculum stultorum 2390-2, p. 115. Marginal notes that Nigel apparently added to his manuscript of Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica indicate his concern for sexual moderation and restraint. He copied Ovid’s couplet of Phaedra to Hippolytus:

Let young men adorned like women be far from me;
a man’s beauty should be cultivated moderately.

{ Sint procul a nobis iuuenes ut femina compti
Fine coli modico forma uirilis habet. }

Latin text from Ziolkowski (1994) p. 289. Nigel also copied a version of On the Twelve Abuses of the World {De duodecim abusivis saeculi} that included the abuse “a woman with no respect {for modesty} is like a wild mind” {Assimilata feris mens nulla uerens mulieris}. Latin text from id. p. 294. Yet Nigel also provided a figure of the natural goodness of men’s sexuality:

Between the legs of the betrothed, in the dwelling of the father, and in the belly of the mother,
a man lays down for father, for betrothed, for mother.

{ In sponse gremio, patris in lare, matris in aluo,
pro patre, pro sponsa, pro genitrice iacet. }

Nigel, Epigrams 13.1-2, Latin text and English trans. (with my adaptation of the English translation) from id. pp. 264-5.

[10] “Keep contact with the flesh” and “bulging purse” allude to sexual activity and sexual potency. Using the later figure, Matheolus protested his wife’s lack of respect for his “shriveled purse.”

At a more literal level, Galen is acting as a greedy doctor. Nigel denounced love of money and greed:

let money and a packed purse be far from a monk.

{ ergo sit a monacho procul es et bursa referta. }

Nigel, Epigrams 8.10, Latin text and English trans. from Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 258-9. Nigel also was deeply engaged in the struggle of the monks of Christ Church Canterbury to continue their practice of disbursing money on causes they choose as worthy rather than financially supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King of England. Id. pp. 21-22, 25-30, 41-2; Mann (2009) pp. 144-7.

[11] Mann argued that Two-Horns’s choice to cut off her tail “is dictated by her natural urge to reunite herself with her calf,” while Burnel’s choice to seek a longer tail “is dictated by his asinine nature.” Mann (2009) p. 128. That’s a misleading distinction. Both Two-Horns and Burnel are contingently foolish in lacking respect for their natural tails. At the higher figurative level of the Speculum stultorum, females’ natural desire for calves naturally prompts them to appreciate penises, while males’ natural response to such females lengthens their penises.

[images] (1) Illumination of Vincent of Beauvais in a manuscript of his Speculum historiale translated into French by Jean de Vignay. Made in the late-fifteenth century. From British Library Royal MS 14 E 1 vol. 1, f. 3r. Thanks to the British Library and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Brunellus (Burnel) with Galen and a jester. Woodcut book illustration from a 1490 edition of the Speculum stultorum, Leipzig: Kachelofen, Konrad, leaf a1r. From book held in Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The British Library holds a manuscript with another medieval illustration of Brunellus / Burnel.


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

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.

Mann, Jill. 2009. From Aesop to Reynard: beast literature in medieval Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mozley, John H., trans. 1963. Nigellus Wireker. A mirror for fools: the book of Burnel the ass {Speculum stultorum}. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

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

Pease, Arthur Stanley. 1926. “Things without Honor.” Classical Philology. 21 (1): 27-42.

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

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1872. The Anglo Latin satirical poets and epigrammatists of the 12th century. Vol 1. Rolls Series. London: Longman.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. and trans. 1994. Nigellus Wireker. The passion of St. Lawrence: epigrams and marginal poems. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Saint Barbara can help men resisting being pressured into marriage

Saint Barbara crushing her father

Men, particularly those who sleep regularly with just one woman, face considerable social pressure to marry according to law. Yet thinking men know that marriage is a rotten legal institution. Why should a man enter into a contract that a woman can terminate at will and subject him to the grotesque anti-men discrimination of family courts? Why would a man enter a contract that makes him financially responsible for any children his wife might birth as a result of her extramarital sex?

Despite the irrationality of the legal institution of marriage, men are pressured into marriage. Some will tell a man to “man up and marry her.” That’s offensive to men who are fed up with being told what being a man means. Others will claim that an unmarried man isn’t treating his girlfriend fairly. That’s unfairly judgmental. She and he should be the ultimate judges of fairness in their consensual relationship. Some unmarried men might hear, “you should make an honest woman of her.” That comment reflects the sordid history of treating men’s sexuality as corrupting women. Men who forthrightly state their rational opposition to marriage are a courageous example of honesty. Those men can justifiably seek honesty from their girlfriends. Men who marry while being unwilling to talk about the injustices of legal marriage are dishonest. They don’t deserve an honest woman.

In our benighted age of anti-men bigotry, men being pressured to marry might pray to Saint Barbara to help them resist the vicious stupidity. Barbara was a strong, independent woman living in the third-century GC somewhere in the area from present-day Turkey to Lebanon. Her father was a wealthy, illustrious man who worshiped the traditional Greco-Roman gods. Most importantly, Barbara was beautiful. Many men eagerly sought to marry her. Her father pressured her to marry. After resisting brutal torture, Barbara died when her father beheaded her.

Barbara categorically renounced her fathers plans for her to marry. In the ancient world, just as today, daughters’ wishes commonly prevailed over their fathers’ preferences. When Barbara’s father came to her urging marriage, she:

did not wish even to hear about the matter, lest some of it taint her heart. She thus rejected it as something discordant and absurd and angrily pushed her father away. “Don’t ever say a word to me about this again,” she said, “for then you will not be called ‘father’ any more as you will drive me to suicide.”

Barbara’s father respected his daughter’s command to him. Yet he seemed to harbor considerable resentment from her forceful rejection of his ideal of her getting married.

Barbara and her father’s relationship broke fully when Barbara unilaterally intervened in his construction project. Her father had decided to build a bath. He hired craftsmen, gave them detailed instructions, and paid them in advance. Then he left on a trip. Barbara subsequently came to the construction site and saw that the craftsmen were building two windows. She urged them to add a third window:Saint Barbara directing construction

when they said, “Your father ordered it this way,” Barbara insisted that they add one more window. As they hesitated to make the addition and presented their fear of her father as a reasonable excuse, the blessed maiden showed them three of her fingers, and said, “you should build three, three windows. And if my father should be displeased about it, I will take the responsibility.” The workmen yielded and fulfilled her command.

When Barbara’s father returned home, he didn’t understand why his bath had a third window despite his construction orders. He asked the craftsmen why they hadn’t adhered to his orders:

When they attributed the responsibility for this innovation to his daughter, he summoned her and asked her about it. Not only did she not deny it, but also insisted that it should have been built this way and this it was good that it was done so.

When her further questioned her in private, she explained:

Look, this is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; all of creation is spiritually illuminated by this {three from one} light.

Underscoring her independent thinking, Barbara earlier had spat on the faces of her father’s statues of traditional Greco-Roman gods. That’s the sort of rebellious spirit men need to resist the intense pressure on them to marry.

Barbara’s father went mad with rage at her actions. Fathers love their children dearly, even after being deprived of their children’s presence through anti-men family court bias. Barbara’s father, however, became unlike a father:

The father forgot that he was a father and was on his way to becoming a tyrant and murderer: he drew the sword that hung from his shoulders and rushed to kill Barbara with his own hands.

When Barbara’s father raised his sword against her, she was miraculous transported to a distant mountain. He still sought to find her and kill her. After she was betrayed by shepherds, he found her:

he started beating her angrily with heavy blows. Then, grabbing her by the hair and dragging her by force, he imprisoned her in a small hut, establishing guards and securing the door with seals. … He then brought her in, handed her over to the governor, making him swear by his own gods that he would not spare his daughter (oh, what a paternal heart this father had!), but would treat her with the utmost violence and kill her with the most grievous tortures.

After seeing Barbara’s elegance and beauty, the governor wanted to marvel at her, rather than punish her. Barbara resolutely rejected that special, female-privileged opportunity for reprieve.

Barbara subsequently suffered brutal tortures and death. The governor had her stripped naked, scourged, and whipped. Then he had her wounds rubbed with haircloth. Subsequent punishments were even worse:

the governor ordered those present to scrape the martyr’s sides with iron claws, and, in addition, to burn her already scrapped limbs with lit torches, and then to strike her honorable head with a hammer. … {the governor ordered) that Barbara be stripped naked and be paraded through the entire land, and that she be flogged with even more whipping.

Barbara’s father-turned-monster nonetheless felt the social pressure of men’s gender role:

he judged that it would be a sign of weakness and soft-heartedness, if he himself did not inflict the fatal blow with his own hands, as if he reckoned it a clear disgrace not to become an innovator in wickedness.

Acting apart from the love of God the Father and the example of Abraham’s restrained hand before Isaac, Barbara’s father beheaded her.

Barbara’s father failed in his attempt to force her to marry. Moreover, Barbara became a saint now venerated for more than a millennium. Men being pressured to marry can look to Saint Barbara for strength and inspiration. Even at the risk of enraging their mothers and fathers, men should seek the truth about marriage rather than following false gods. True love requires truth.

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Veneration of Saint Barbara became common in the eastern Roman Empire from the ninth century. The specific version of her life above is from Symeon Metaphrastes late-tenth-century Menologion, “Passion of the Holy and Triumphant Martyr of Christ Barbara.” This account is set about the early fourth century in Helioupolis, a Roman city in Syria (now Baalbek, Lebanon). The name of Barbara’s father is Dioskoros. He seems to have been a single father.

A thunderbolt killed Barbara’s father Dioskoros immediately after he killed Barbara. Metaphrastes called the thunderbolt “God-sent fire,” and Diskoros’s death, “divine justice.” As a result of that explosive action, Saint Barbara become the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives. With greater reason, Saint Barbara deserves also to be regarded as the patron saint of men being pressured into marriage.

The above quotes are from Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Passion of the Holy and Triumphant Martyr of Christ Barbara,” from Greek (on facing pages) trans. Papaioannou (2017) (cited by paragraph in Greek text and page of English trans. in id): 5, p. 157 (did not wish even to hear…); 8, p. 159 (when they said…); 11, pp. 161, 163 (When they attributed…); 13, p. 163 (Look, this is the father…); 13, p. 163 (The father forgot…); 16, p. 167 (he started beating her…); 24, 28, pp. 171, 175 (the governor ordered…); 31, p. 177 (he judged that…).

[images] (1) Saint Barbara crushing her father under her feet, with a man kneeling in supplication before her. Panel painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1473. Thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Saint Barbara giving new orders on her father’s construction project. Painting (oil on panel) made between 1470 and 1500. Held in Walters Art Museum (Baltimore), accession #37.777. Thanks to Walters Art Museum and Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Galbert of Bruges described cuckolding of eminent Walter of Vladslo

In early twelfth-century Flanders, Walter of Vladslo was an eminent peer, second in eminence only to the Count of Flanders. Yet according to Galbert of Bruges’s twelfth-century journal, Walter of Vladslo was also a cuckold. Men, unlike women, face the problem of biological parental uncertainty. As Galbert’s history makes clear, this parental knowledge gender inequality can have dire consequences for eminent men as well as ordinary men.

child - who is its father?

Walter of Vladslo’s wife deceived him by switching infants. Galbert of Bruges reported:

The father truly believed to be his son the boy, to whom the supposed mother, the wife of the aforesaid Walter, had earlier pretended dishonestly to have given birth. But the infant to whom she had given birth had died in childbirth. She thus replaced him with the shoemaker’s son, who had been born about the same time, and sent the dead child, to whom she had given birth, secretly to the shoemaker’s wife, giving her money so that she would say she had given birth to the dead child and would hide what happened from her husband.

{ Crediderat enim verum fuisse sibi filium pater, quem fraudulenter olim mater quasi uxor Walteri praefati peperisse dissimulabat. At infans, quem pepererat, statim in ipso partu obierat. Supposuit ergo filium sutoris, qui circa idem tempus genitus fuerat, et emortuum quem pepererat uxori sutoris clanculo submisit, dans ei pecuniam ut fateretur se peperisse illum emortuum et viro suo quod factum erat celaret. } [1]

The death of a child at childbirth would be for most parents a time of intense grief. Walter’s wife at such a time covertly engaged in a commercial transaction of baby-buying. She induced a shoemaker’s wife to be similarly mercenary in giving up her child for money. Both their husbands surely would have been horrified if they had known that they were married to such heartless women. Yet the forces of gynocentrism tend to suppress accounts of women’s bad behavior via name-calling and attempted shaming of those who describe and condemn such behavior. Women effectively are socially constructed as wonderful beings.[2] Men must turn to marginalized literature to encounter appreciation for women’s full humanity.

The cuckolding of Walter became the basis for a political alliance. Provost Bertulf was a leading member of the wealthy and powerful Erembald family of Flanders. Walter and Provost Bertulf allied themselves through marriage with Walter’s mis-attributed son and Bertulf’s niece. Galbert recounted:

When this stolen and adopted son had grown up and everyone believed him to be truly Walter’s son, the provost came along and married his niece, the daughter of his brother’s son, to the stolen son so that thanks to this marriage they would stand together more firmly in all circumstances, would be more daring, stronger, more powerful.

{ Cum crevisset ille furatus et adoptivus filius et omnes crediderant vere filium fuisse illius Walter, venit praepositus et dedit neptem suam, filiam filii fratris sui, illi furtivo filio uxorem ut firmiter ad omnem fortunam simul per illud conjugium consisterent, audaciores, fortiores ac potentiores forent. }

Galbert’s reference to the son as “stolen” apparently refers to the shoemaker having his son stolen from him from through his wife’s baby-selling. Galbert obviously and rightly condemned the behavior of the shoemaker’s wife. When Galbert referred to the political alliance constructed on deception as making the parties “more daring, stronger, more powerful,” he was negatively foreshadowing their subsequent evil acts.

Bertulf, with Walter’s support, participated in the betrayal and murder of the Flemish ruler Count Charles the Good. As his name suggests, Charles the Good was generally a well-regarded ruler of Flanders. Charles prompted his murder by seeking to reduce the power of the Erembalds. The Erembalds along with others arranged for knights to attack Charles while he knelt at prayer in church. They hacked him to death with broadswords. Walter initially aided the conspiracy’s leaders to escape. Yet Walter also helped to besiege a castle into which some conspirators fled. Bertulf ultimately was executed for this role in Charles’s murder.[3] No one dared punish Walter. Yet according to Galbert, God subsequently punished Walter by having him fall from his horse and die a slow death.

Walter’s wife further punished him with a postmortem humiliation and betrayal. Galbert explained:

After Walter’s death, his wife confessed publicly that the boy, to whom Walter had given to some burgher as surety for three hundred pounds, was not his true son but was adopted.

{ Igitur post mortem ipsius Walteri profitebatur publice uxor ejus, puerum illum non esse verum filium suum sed adoptivum, quem idem Walterus apud burgensem quendam posuerat in vadimonium pro trecentis libris. }

By revealing that her husband was a cuckold, Walter’s wife disgraced her husband’s reputation for her own selfish interests. Distancing herself from the treasonous Erembalds by revealing that the marriage alliance was deceptive would make her less politically vulnerable. Moreover, if the boy was not actually her son, she could refuse to repay the burgher’s three hundred pounds without incurring the social opprobrium of betraying her own flesh-and-blood son. A woman heartless enough to buy a baby as a husband-deceiving substitute for a son born dead probably would also be heartless enough to sell out her foster son.[4]

Cuckolding of men has evolved from evil actions of women to state-institutionalized processes for cuckolding men in paternity establishment. Modern DNA paternity testing offers the possibility of eliminating gender inequality in parental knowledge. Yet DNA paternity testing hasn’t become routine procedure. That failure reflects deep gynocentric hostility to men’s paternity interests. Promoting anti-men gender bigotry is being deceptively passed off as advancing gender equality.

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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} 89, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 139, ll. 11-16, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 144 (with two small, non-substantial changes for readability). The subsequent two quotes from De multro are sourced similarly, with the translation spanning id. pp. 144-5. Earlier editions of the Latin text are freely available online.

Galbert of Bruges wrote De multro during 1127 and 1128 in response to the murder of Charles the Good on March 2, 1127. De multro is organized as a chronicle, with most entries dated with a month, day, and year. Entry 89, however, is an undated entry coming between entry 88 (dated September 17, 1127) and entry 90 (dated October 8, 1127).

Walter of Vladso’s wife cuckolded him in an unusual way. But the purchase or rental of an infant to replace a dead one is attested in at least two other eleventh- and twelfth-century documentary sources. Rider (2001) p. 291, n. 57. The more typical approach to cuckolding a man is for a woman to have sex covertly with another man and then attribute the pregnancy to her primary partner. The woman herself may not know who is the actual biological father, but she certainly knows that the father might not be her primary partner.

[2] Walter’s cuckolding wife is thus honored as a woman “with plenty of enterprise, self-interest, and sheer nerve … this astonishing woman.” She undoubtedly deserves to be memorialized in the history of “ambitious, tough-minded, daring women.” Partner (2009) pp. 120-1.

Galbert of Bruges and most of today’s academics have rather different approaches to recording history. Partner observed:

There is no pure recording, for us (secular, feminist, postmodern as we mostly are) anymore than for a twelfth-century notary (religious, patriarchal, premodern as he {Galbert} mostly was).

Id. p. 111. Despite the constraints of humans’ specific bodily capabilities (humans can’t smell all that dogs smell) and dominant ideology (academics who don’t successfully curry favor in the academic status market don’t gain prestige), reasonably objective judgments have always been feasible. For example, here’s a question that’s objectively tendentious and benighted:

Is it fair to speak of misogyny, or is Galbert no more misogynistic than other medieval writers?

Häcker (2009) p. 144. Unthinking ignorance of injustices against men is pervasive in current intellectual life, quite clearly, but academics functioning as apparatchiki for the dominant ideology cling to their bureaucratic ideals while public reason collapses and civilized life is gravely threatened. Cf. Partner (2009) p. 114.

[3] Bertulf subsequently became the violently condemned subject of the fabliau Du provost a l’aumuche. Cooper & Edsall (2009). Fabliaux such as De Berengier au lonc cul and La Saineresse served as vehicles for men’s sexed protest. Galbert’s account of Walter being cuckolded shows awareness of men’s vulnerability and highlights an important concern in literature of men’s sexed protest.

[4] Echoing common denial of men’s victimization, Häcker doesn’t find cuckolding of Vladslo to be credible:

The story, as it is told by Galbert, does not seem credible. Why should this woman admit to having deceived her late husband without any apparent reason for such a postmortem confession?

Häcker (2009) p. 135. Partner explains credible motivation for the cuckolding:

The original child-swap was organized by the noblewoman and the cobbler’s wife .. the one so that she could secure the male heir so necessary for every landed family, and the other, one supposes, so that she could smuggle her child into high rank and wealth.

Partner (2009) p. 120. With respect to the postmortem revelation of Walter’s wife that she cuckolded him:

Plausible speculation comes easily: (1) Walter of Vladslo died surrounded by dangerous suspicions in a volatile political climate; (2) he had left his wife connected to the criminal and disgraced family of Bertulf through her “son,” and (3) this “son” was his father’s heir, but might well go down in the general disgrace of his wife’s kin. None of this was advantageous for the widow. So it looks like she decided to cut her losses, publicly disavow her blood tie to the “son” married into the Bertulf clan, and disinherit him at the same time.

Id. p. 121. Devaluing the burgher’s surety would be additional motivation.

[image] Giovanni de’ Medici as a Child. Painting (tempera on panel) that Bronzino made in 1545. Held in Uffizi Gallery (Italy). 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).

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).

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

men more socially disparaged in cross-dressing than women are

Saint Pelagia of Antioch

Social constraints on men are tighter than those on women. For example, men are punished more severely than women for the same crimes, and men’s sexuality is much more harshly regulated. Societies exploit men as tools for producing goods and fighting wars. Social policing keeps most men within those narrow roles. Comparing social valuations of cross-dressing men and women in a rhetorical exercise of the sixth-century Roman sophist Choricius of Gaza and hagiography of Saint Pelagia shows tighter social constraints on men.

In Choricius’s rhetorical exercise, a general wore women’s clothing to defeat his city’s enemies. A prior general had recently suffered a terrible defeat for the city. The city was then besieged and in grave danger. Seeing no alternative, the second general dressed in women’s clothing and made a nocturnal ambush on the enemy. The second general thus saved the city and became a war hero. The city had a law that a war-hero be memorialized in a painting depicting him carrying out his heroic acts. That would mean memorializing the general in a representation of him wearing women’s clothes.

The general argued strongly against memorializing him in women’s clothing. He declared that a man wearing women’s clothing is “unseemly” and “completely inappropriate for me.” The general put on women’s clothing because that was necessary to protect his city’s women:

I saw that, since our strength had grown weaker and the enemies’ increased, the situation demanded some special contrivance from me; I was pondering how to rebuild the city after it was conquered and was considering the other wretched things that conquest usually causes, especially the most bitter thing of all, the customary excess of the enemy while they hold power in the city, when they outrage bedrooms, assault maidens, and do not spare the bloom of youth. I did not hesitate, you see, to appear as a woman to the enemy so that I might rescue the women from their excess, nor to dress unnaturally so that the youth might not suffer anything unnatural. [1]

Without suffering social disparagement, men typically can’t wear women’s clothing, or even clothing that mimics the freedom of women’s clothing. To wear women’s clothing, men need a special justification. Under gynocentrism, claiming to be protecting women serves as special justification for doing anything.

Women have much more privilege with respect to cross-dressing. Consider, for example, a tenth-century account of the life of Saint Pelagia. Pelagia was a leading actress-dancer in Antioch. She converted to Christianity and became an ascetic monk who lived in a small cell in Jerusalem. Pelagia as a monk became a man renowned for piety and working miracles. When Pelagia died, monks gathered from afar for her funeral:

When they approached the body and extended their hands to anoint it with perfumed oil, they saw a strange sight: a woman, who had been concealing her gender, and who like a man had performed deeds of men, and indeed obtained for her labors even greater benefit than men. [2]

Women commonly get greater benefits than men for the same labor. Women also have more social freedom than men. Pelagia was greatly honored as a cross-dressing woman:

Everyone began to strive equally, each trying to outdo the other, competing to attend the funeral, and vying just to come near the body and to even touch some part of it. In this way, with many candles, and even greater honor, the honorable body of Pelagia was buried, escorted and carried by holy and pious men.

Pelagia came to be widely regarded as a saint. As a woman, Pelagia had the freedom to dress as a woman or as a man without suffering social disparagement and shaming.[3]

The type of clothing that one wears is much less important than experiencing the human capabilities of being alive and having sex. Nonetheless, anti-men gender inequality in cross-dressing is telling. Men historically have been constrained to a relatively narrow gender role. More and more enlightened persons are condemning oppressive social constraints on men’s lives and advocating for men’s liberation.

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[1] Choricius of Gaza, Declamation 11 (“<The War-Hero>”) sec. 33-4, from Greek trans. Terry L. Papillon in Penella (2009) p. 227. The general described his wearing women’s clothing as “completely inappropriate for me” and “unseemly” in sec. 104-5, trans. id. p. 239. Robert Penella has pointed out that Choricius, in his Defense of Mimes, defended mimes cross-dressing on the stage. Choricius thus challenged Christian criticism of secular theater.

[2] Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Life and Conduct of Saint Pelagia of Antioch” para. 25, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) pp. 81, 83 (Greek on facing pages). The subsequent quote is from para. 26, trans. id. p. 83. The life of Saint Pelagia is set in the fifth century in the area of Antioch, Jerusalem, the Jordan, and Jericho. It apparently first appeared in Greek, and then spread to Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and then European vernaculars. Id. p. 289, introductory note.

The life of Pelagia affirms the goodness of men’s heterosexual propensity to gaze upon physically beautiful women. That’s a marginalized counterpoint to the gynocentric practice of condemning and criminalizing men gazing upon physically beautiful women.

[3] Women’s freedom in cross-dressing can also seen in the ancient life of Saint Eugenia. Eugenia revealed her cross-dressing to refute a false accusation of rape. She endured no disparagement or shaming for her cross-dressing. To the contrary, she was affectionately embraced and publicly honored. After serving as the abbot of a men’s monastery, she went on to lead young women in Christian devotion. For Symeon Metaphrastes’s life of Saint Eugenia, Papaioannou (2017) pp. 184-261.

[image] Pelagia before and after her conversion. Detail of illumination from the tenth-century Menologion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Ms. Vat. gr. 1613, image 98. Thanks to the Vatican Museum and Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Penella, Robert J., ed. 2009. Rhetorical exercises from late antiquity: a translation of Choricius of Gaza’s Preliminary talks and declamations. Cambridge: Cambridge Cambridge University Press.

ultimate cuckold recorded in medieval Flanders near Ghent

ram with big horns

As medieval literature makes clear, medieval men sought to avoid being cuckolded. Medieval literature advised men to believe what they saw, rather than what their wives told them. Men were advised that, if their wives told them they were dead, not to believe it. Before he left on a business trip, one medieval husband even painted a guardian lamb on his wife’s abdomen. Underscoring men’s concern about being cuckolded, a twelfth-century Latin text written in Flanders near Ghent recorded the ultimate cuckold: Ysengrimus, an elderly wolf.

cuckolded wolf

One day, Renard the fox entered Ysengrimus’s home while he was out hunting for food for his family. Ysengrimus’s wolf-wife, weary from having recently given birth to cubs, was in bed. Renard pretended to have friendly relations with Ysengrimus. Renard even referred to him as his uncle. Renard chatted warmly with Ysengrimus’s children about their father:

Then, raising his leg and pouring forth a stream from both orifices,
he said, “Here’s a milk-soaked rusk — doesn’t it taste good?
Lap it up, dear little cousins, lap it up! To you
I present this tidbit, which I was retaining for my own children.
Far be it for me to be reluctant to give you a present;
you are the beloved children of my uncle.

{ Tunc sua crura levans et utroque foramine largus
intulit: “Hoc mixtum est, nonne suave sapit?
Sugite, dilecti patrueles, sugite! Vobis
traditur haec natis mulsa retenta meis.
Non me subsidium vobis impendere taedet;
vos estis partui pignora cara mei. } [1]

The children groaned at Reynard’s freshly pushed, urine-soaked excrement. Their mother leaped up from bed upon hearing their groans. She chased Reynard outside. Unable to catch the fox, the wolf-mother called out to him:

“Why,” she therefore inquired, “friend, are you preparing to run away on the sly?
You don’t follow etiquette, you who were my guest!
You’ve gone off, boorishly robbing me of thanks for your entertainment;
your hostess invites you back, speak, stay a little!
Before you go, you should thank me and receive a farewell,
and take from me the kisses which are signs of affection.”

{“Cur,” ergo inquit, “amice, paras sic currere furtim?
Non sequeris morem, tu meus hospes eras!
Turpiter hospitii grates furatus abisti;
hospita te revocat, fare, resiste parum!
Ante michi gratans et commendatus abito,
nunciaque affectus basia sume michi!” }

Reynard explained that he had gone outside only to piss, and that he would return. The wolf-mother hid behind the entrance of her home. She sought to ambush Reynard when he entered. The sly fox put a foot on the entrance threshold and then jumped back when the wolf appeared. He pelted her with dirt and stones. Then he ran away.

With the wolf-mother in hot pursuit, Reynard ran into his den. It had a lovely pastoral setting, with a nearby river murmuring gently and a valley filled with flowers. Reynard darted into its living-room entrance hole. The recently pregnant wolf chasing after him tried to follow. She got firmly stuck in the narrow entryway. Reynard went out another door and came up behind her:

And then, showing little concern for his uncle’s marriage,
the base adulterer mounted the immobilized lady.
“Someone else,” he said, “would do this, if I didn’t; better therefore
I should do this, than some passerby on the sly.
If the love of a stranger is less than that of a relation,
I’m closest to you, in terms of kinship and friendship.
Let my affection appear in my services; no one would venture,
while I’m virile, to cuckold my uncle.” [2]

{ atque parum curans patruelis foedera lecti,
assilit in fixam pravus adulter heram.
“Alter,” ait, “faceret, si non ego; rectius ergo
hoc ego, quam furtim quis peregrinus, agam.
Si consanguinei minor est externus amore,
sum generis serie proximus atque fide.
Clareat obsequio pietas mea; nolo quis ausit
sospite me patruum zelotipare meum.” }

Today in high-profile international surveys, a wife showing love for her husband is recorded as him raping her. Under such a standard, Reynard the fox unquestionably raped the wife of Ysengrimus the wolf. That’s quite unusual behavior among non-human animals. Yet the wolf-wife also behaved unusually in speaking an articulate and witty response to Reynard:

Warming to the game, she said: “Reynard, you
push forward a polished performance worthy of your public fame.
If you had as much hardness as craftiness,
you’d be declared an upright house-slave for the ladies.
I’d hardly have to be urged to enter your home,
if only your doorway were a little wider!”
Scripture recounts that she enjoyed the sport,
and so the adulterer cuckolded his uncle.

{ Illa iocum cupiens “Reinarde, facetius,” inquit,
“Publica quae de te fama fatetur, agis.
Si tibi, qualis inest industria, robur inesset,
verna penes dominas assererere probus.
Vix egomet cogenda tuos intrare penates,
ianua si paulum latior esset, eram!”
Gavisam scriptura refert his lusibus illam
et moechum patruum zelotipasse suum. }

A fox isn’t equipped like a donkey. The wolf-wife in praising Reynard’s craftiness disparaged his sexual strength. Disparaging men’s sexuality isn’t nearly as bad as criminalizing it. Modern literary critics shouldn’t contradict history and condemn the wolf-wife for enjoying the sport.

A man could hardly be cuckolded worse than by having his children fed urine-soaked feces and his wife raped. Ysengrimus surely understood the full enormity of the situation:

he stood where his wife
was stuck fast, wedged tight up to the middle of her body.
He got the wretched woman out, and they recounted to each other
Reynard’s crimes and swore that a cruel death should expiate them.

{ … staret, ubi uxor
haerebat, medio corpore vincta tenus.
Extraxit miseram, referunt iurantque vicissim
crimina Reinardi morte pianda gravi.}

For what he had done, Reynard deserved a cruel death. Yet Ysengrimus didn’t actually seek to kill Reynard.

Rather than seeking to kill Reynard purposefully, Ysengrimus continued to treat him as if he were a friend. With mock graciousness, Ysengrimus recalled Reynard’s shameful deeds and offered him intimate lodgings as a friend:

“Why should I recount the abuses you did to me, to my children,
and to my wife? They were public enough, weren’t they?
Now lodgings are prepared for you in our stomach;
cut in,” (opening his lips) “push in, friend!
Although you’re a depraved colleague to me, I won’t be one to you.
Degenerate, and deforming; degenerate! I won’t follow your lead.
I open up lodgings for you, although you deserve to be turned away.
Cut in gladly, I am happy to open wide for you!”

{ “Quid mea, quid referam, quae natis probra meaeque
feceris uxori? Nonne fuere palam?
Hospitium nostro tibi nunc in ventre paratur,
incide!” (pandebat labra) “Sodalis, ini!
Sis collega licet pravus michi, nolo tibi esse.
Deteris, ut debes; detere! Nolo sequi.
Pando tibi hospitium, quamquam mereare repelli;
incide iocunde, laetus adhisco tibi!”

With his mouth wide open, Ysengrimus pulled softly with his teeth upon the fur of Reynard’s back. Reynard, however, refused Ysengrimus’s invitation to immigrate. He preferred to remain where he was.

Ysengrimus’s open-mouthed invitations led to disaster. Anticipating an opportunity to eat sheep, Ysengrimus offered to mediate a pasture-land dispute between four brother-rams. Each claimed the other was venturing onto his land. Ysengrimus hoped to eat all four. He pretended that he would serve them as a surveyor. He said, however, that he needed to eat them first. Ysengrimus opened wide his mouth and invited them to enter. Even animals as dumb as sheep recognized Ysengrimus’s folly.

Ysengrimus subsequently suffered brutal violence symbolically associated with being a cuckold. The brother rams decided to have the wolf Ysengrimus serve as a boundary marker:

Let the wolf be the midway boundary of the four-sided field,
so that each section covers an equal space;
when he’s interposed, dividing up the four sections equally,
let us each rush from opposing corners into him,
but such that, to this boundary (heavy will be the penalty under the
judge) no one ventures to approach before the others;

He wants to slice up us for himself, not the field for us.
The long delay is irritating the surveyor, we must be brief,
so this is how we’ll make the attack:
I’ll take the head; you, Bernard, the tail; Belinus, into the left side
cut; you, Colvarianus, the right side.
Let’s give him good appetizers from our hard horns

{ Finis tetragoni medius lupus ipse sit agri,
aequale ut spatium portio quaeque trahat;
iamque interposito partes aequante quaternas
motus ab opposito cardine quisque ruet,
sic tamen, ut stadium (gravis est emenda sub isto
iudice) prasumat nullus adire prior.

nos sibi, non nobis dividere arva cupit.
Mensorem mora longa gravat, breviemus oportet,
sic igitur nobis assiliendus erit:
frontem ego; tu caudam, Bernarde; Beline, sinistrum
incute; tu dextrum, Colvariane, latus.
Cornibus ex rigidis prima et bona fercula demus }

Horns have long been affixed to a man to indicate that he’s a cuckold. The eldest brother-ram Joseph urged Bernard, who was to ram his horns against Ysengrimus’s ass, to be particularly vigorous:

Utilize your power, Bernard, you have the strength of a bear;
Rush in, and if he doesn’t know how to divide fields, teach him.

{ Utere vi, Bernarde, tua, tu fortis ut ursus;
irrue, si nescit dividere arva, doce. }

The four rams struck the wolf with heavy blows from all four sides:

Bernard’s battering ram rushed forward with such violence
on course {to Ysengrimus’s ass}, that if Joseph had continued to help
on the reverse course {to Ysengrimus’s head}, Bernard when he met in mid-stomach his brother’s
horns, would have either broken them with his own horns,
or certainly would have been carried up to the greedy jaws,
violently dragged through the long, empty stomach cavity {as Joseph, with his horns locked with Bernard’s, backed away after ramming Ysengrimus}.
Although faster than all was Joseph, the innocent one,
afraid of being corrected, wary of hollowing out others’ honors;
fearing the greedy mouth, he pierced from the side the right
temple, and no small part of the brain spilled out;
and had not the temples drawn back before the mighty onslaught,
the blow would have penetrated both temples at once.
But boldness was mingled with caution. Joseph shattered the ear
and temple, and five teeth sprang out.
And the brothers on opposing sides of the middle missed the heart
as they drove their horns through the hollow of the chest.
If there were an echo on plains, from every corner
the field would have resounded with their clashing horns.
They withdrew their horns to venture on a second attack;
Bernard then immediately aimed at the hindquarters. [3]

{ Machina Bernardi tanto ruit acta tumultu
obvia, si Ioseph continuasset opem
obvius, aut fratri media Bernardus in alvo
cornua fregisset cornibus acta suis,
aut certe cupidas ad fauces usque volasset,
per longum ventris raptus inane cavi.
At citior cunctis Ioseph licet afforet, insons
emendare timens, praecelerasse cavet,
os avidum metuens, obliquus dextra peregit
timpora, nec cerebri portio parva fluit;
et nisi cessissent prae vasto timpora pulsu,
plaga penetrasset timpus utrumque simul.
Sed temere cautum est, Ioseph perfregerat aurem
timporaque, et quinae dissiluere molae.
At fratres medii praeter discrimina cordis
obvia per vacuum cornua pectus agunt.
Si foret in planis echo, iam cardine ob omni
cornibus oblisis assonuisset ager.
Cornua subducunt impulsus ausa secundos;
Bernardusque obiter posteriora petit }

The rams subsequently started arguing over the position of the battered-wolf boundary marker and the boundaries of their pasture lands. They repeatedly rammed Ysengrimus this way and that. Reynard stepped onto the field and considered skinning his uncle alive. Instead, he urged the rams to batter Ysengrimus many times more. They finally left Ysengrimus brutally beaten and half-dead.

In the epic of Ysengrimus and Reynard, learning, piety, and civility are a parodic veneer over deceit and treachery. The Ysengrimus frequently refers to peace. Yet it begins with Ysengrimus looking for food for his hungry children after Reynard has abused them and raped his wife.[4] Ysengrimus himself had been beaten fiercely after he followed a malicious, faked example that Reynard presented to him. Ysengrimus figured the situation in ethnic terms:

Who am I, you know, I am that guest of yours,
to whom the Slavic drink was administered before your hearth.
Oh, Reynard, on that night you were like a Brabanter!
Here, unless Satan swallows you up, you’ll be an Englishman!

{ Quisne ego sim, nosti, siquidem tuus hospes ego ille,
cui Sclava ante tuum potio sumpta larem est.
Ha, Reinarde, illa quam Brabas nocte fuisti!
Hic, nisi te Satanas glutiat, Anglus eris! }

The Slavic drink is a savage beating. Brabanters were fierce, Germanic men living northeast of Flanders and frequently serving as mercenaries. English men had a reputation for being meek, weak, and cowardly.[5]

Internal evidence has convinced scholars that the Ysengrimus was written between 1148 and 1149 near Ghent in the county of Flanders. Scholarly interpretation of the Ysengrimus’s contemporary references has focused on rapacious abbots and greedy monks. Historians of medieval Flanders have largely ignored the Ysengrimus.[6] Yet the satire of the Ysengrimus plausibly relates to deceit and betrayal in political conflict in early twelfth-century Flanders.

From 1119 to 1128, Flanders was under the rule of four different counts with four different regional roots. Baldwin VII, who inherited rule of Flanders from his father, died in 1119. Just before he died, Baldwin, who was childless, gave Flanders to Charles the Good of the House of Denmark. In 1128, the Erembalds, a family alleged to have servile origins through an act of cuckolding, arranged for the vicious murder of Charles the Good. Charles was also childless. After Charles was killed, the French King Louis VI installed William Clito of Normandy as ruler of Flanders. Ghent, however, went against William. William died in 1128 fighting to consolidate his power. Thierry of Alsace then became Count of Flanders. With the civil war of 1128 and four different ruling families in less than a decade, the Flemings surely experienced intense questioning of identity and allegiance.[7]

The troubles in early twelfth-century Flanders relate narrowly to cuckolding. Both Baldwin VII and Charles the Good were childless, though married. In ancient Rome, men who were incapable of producing children sometimes secured cuckolders to produce heirs for them. While that was a disreputable practice, it might be reasonably regarded as preferable to a destructive war of succession. Yet the Erembalds, who were deeply implicated in the murder of Charles the Good, were disparaged as a family rooted in betrayal and cuckolding.[8]

Cuckolding also had broader political contexts in early twelfth-century Flanders. The succession of non-hereditary rulers in Flanders from 1119 to 1128 may have caused members of the Flemish elite to feel cuckolded. In an even broader political perspective, Flemish mercenaries had fought with the Normans in the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Many Flemings then settled in England. Writing in the 1190s, Gervase of Canterbury, who may have read the Ysengrimus, complained:

Flemings were called to England by {Stephen, King of England from 1135-1154}… they like hungry wolves proceeded energetically to reduce the fecundity of England to nothing.

{ Vocati sunt igitur a rege Flandrensis in Agliam …. famelicorum more luporum Anglicanae terrae foecunditatem ad nihilum redigere studuerunt.} [9]

Other evidence indicates that the Flemings integrated well into English society.[10] While some in the English elite may have regarded the Flemings as wolves, others in the Norman elite may have regarded them as crafty foxes who betrayed their Norman allies to bed down with the English. The rich possibilities for sense of betrayal help to explain the many invocations of betrayal in Gilbert of Bruges journal of the murder of Charles the Good.

In the Ysengrimus, the wolf Ysengrimus represents the ultimate cuckold. Reynard fed Ysengrimus’s children urine-drenched feces. Reynard raped Ysengrimus’s wife. After those outrages, Ysengrimus suffered much worse abuse himself. No cuckold has ever been beaten with horns as severely as Ysengrimus was. A large sow subsequently led pigs to kill and eat Ysengrimus.

In medieval politics, marriage signified public political alliance. Cuckolding was associated with hidden betrayal. Interpreted politically, the Ysengrimus suggests that intense hostility existed underneath a surface of political agreement and civility in early twelfth-century Flanders.

The Ysengrimus isn’t just medieval Latin literature with twelfth-century political-historical relevance. In many countries today, forced financial fatherhood is imposed on men without respect to the facts of paternity. Under a widely acclaimed ideal of gender equality, vastly disproportionate violence against men is ignored, and profound anti-men biases in criminal justice are trivialized despite vastly disproportionate incarceration of men. Social scientific surveys superficially claiming to measure sexism are deeply rooted in anti-men sexism, and the highly regarded World Values Survey is similarly deceptive. Not surprisingly, many men today feel politically cuckolded.

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[1] Ysengrimus 5.739-44, Latin and English trans. on facing pages in Mann (2009) pp. 344-5. To encourage general readers to examine the Latin, above I adapted Mann’s translation to lineate it and to make it into a good crib for non-specialists examining the source Latin text. My translated excerpts above are also meant to be readable, accurate English translations. Those carefully studying the text should consult Mann’s translation to see the changes that I made. Subsequent quotes from Ysengrimus, I have made similarly. Cited by book.line and page for the Latin in id., they are: 5.751-6, p. 344 (Why, so she inquired…); 5.818.1-8, p. 350 (And then, showing little concern…); 5.818.11-8, p. 350 (She, warming to the game…); 5.1119-22, p. 374 (he stood where his wife…); 1.51-8, pp. 2, 4 (Why should I recount the abuse…); 2.483-8, 492-7, p. 112 (Let the wolf be the midway boundary…); 2.499-500, p. 112 (Utilize your power, Bernard…); 2.543-62, p. 116 (Bernard’s battering ram rushed forward…); 1.48-50, p. 4 (Who am I…).

[2] Mann translated the last line and a half as: “I don’t want anyone else to have the cheek to cuckold my uncle while I’m alive.” That makes little sense in the context of Ysengrimus’s action and the preceding lines, particular 5.818.3-4. Ysengrimus’s humorous point seems to be that no one can feasibly cuckold his uncle while he himself is actually engaged in doing it.

Medieval Latin literature includes works that would be effectively suppressed in the less liberal, less tolerant, and more narrow-minded circumstances of today’s westernized countries. Yet medieval texts were subjected to some expressive constraints. In particular, some or all of the lines in the above quote are missing in four of the five primary Ysengrimus manuscripts. These lines probably were “erased from the original text by a scribe or reader because of their sexual content.” Mann (1987) p. 461, note to 5.1818.1-18.

[3] The field resounding with clashing horns is an humorous allusion to the battles of ancient epics. Here, four rams are pummeling a wolf without any resistance.

With his horns, Bernard penetrated Ysengrimus’s anus. Forcible penetration of a man’s anus is rape under a reasonable definition of rape. The Latin text refers to this crime ironically in using the Latin word raptus in describing the possibility of Joseph violent dragging Bernard through Ysengrimus’s stomach. Scholars today commonly interpret raptus to mean rape. While that’s a reasonable understanding of raptus in this context, scholars today also use absurdly broad definitions of rape.

In her six-page summary of the Ysengrimus, Mann referred to Reynard raping Ysengrimus’s wife, but not to Bernard much more brutally raping Ysengrimus. See Mann (1987) p. xiii; Mann (2013) p. xxiv. Mann also didn’t mention Reynard sexually assaulting Ysengrimus (furiously biting his genitals) in the Ysengrimus 4.641-50. Rape of men and sexual assaults on men have been shamefully trivialized throughout history. Under a reasonable, non-sexist definition of rape, the best social-scientific surveys indicate that about as many women rape men as men rape women.

[4] On frequent references to peace in the Ysengrimus, Mann (1987) pp. 26-9, 183-4; Mann (2013) pp. xiii-xv. Mann interprets the Ysengrimus as an apocalyptic poem repeatedly representing the world turned upside down. Yet superficial civility concealing sharp hostility isn’t the Christian apocalyptic vision.

Following classical epic form, the Ysengrimus includes a narrative flashback. The narrative begins after the abuse of Ysengrimus’s wife and children (5.705 – 5.818.18). The narrative flashback ends with Ysengrimus rescuing his wife (5.1121-4).

[5] Brebner (2015) states:

Some Brabanters, like the Flemings, joined William the Conqueror’s invasion of Britain, but others remained in continental Europe. Of the latter group, 1,500 Brabanters under William of Cambray joined the Emperor Barbarossa’s third venture into Italy. They did not travel with Barbarossa himself but instead became a “self-catering” force travelling through Burgundy. The Abbot of Cluny described the Brabanters as a terrible plague who move through all places “with iron and blood and nothing is able to protect against them.”

Commenter Alexander Stevenson (May 20, 2015) helpful added:

{Brabanter} is probably best understood as a generic term for mercenaries of Germanic origin. A letter of the mid-1160s from the abbot of Cluny to the king of France refers to “German {mercenaries}, who are called ‘Brabantiones’…” (Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. 16, p.181).

MS D of the Ysengrimus glosses Brabas as “superbus” and Anglicus as “coactus, patiens, humilis.” Mann (1987) p. 209, n. to 1.48-50. Ysengrimus 3.659 refers to an Englishman as having a tail. That was a well-established insinuation of cowardice. Id. p. 334, n. to 3.659.

[6] On the date and place of the Ysengrimus, Mann (2013) pp xv-xvii. It is “relatively easy to locate the poem in time and place.” Id. p. xvii. For interpretations of the poem, e.g. Mann (1987) pp. 10-20, Ziolkowski (1993) pp. 213-34, Mann (2013) pp. ix-xv. Rider & Murray (2012), a wide-ranging collection of articles concerning Galbert of Bruges’s De multro, doesn’t include a single reference to the Ysengrimus. Oksanen (2012), a political history, also doesn’t include a single reference to the Ysengrimus. Ziolkowski observed:

{complexities of the Ysengrimus} arise not so much from its style as from its dark references to topical events and places, to aspects of monastic rites, and to the liturgy. The actions of the anthropomorphized animals seem often to have a satiric “other meaning,” but the precise meaning of the satire is elusive. It is easy to agree with a glossator who wrote in one of the manuscripts that “certain things seemed to me so unheard of and uncommon that for want of knowledge and insight I could not come to understand their meaning.”

Ziolkowski (1993) pp. 211-1 (internal references omitted). This glossator, like other scholars, seems to have allowed his perplexity about particular trees to prevent him from seeing the forest. Ziolkowski’s insightful interpretation focused on monastic rites and the liturgy.

[7] From at least the reign of Baldwin I (862 to 879), political succession in Flanders “proceeded with biblical regularity from father to son until the death of Count Baldwin VIII in 1119.” Rider (2013) p. xvii. On the Flemish civil war in 1128, Oksanen (2012) pp. 26-9.

[8] Galbert of Bruges, De multo (The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders) ch. 71, trans. Rider (2012). De multo, ch. 89, discusses the cuckolding of Walter of Vladslo.

[9] From Gervase of Canterbury, Gesta Regum, quoted in Oksanen (2012) p. 219.

[10] Oksanen (2012) pp. 219-31.

[images] (1) Bighorn ram in Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, in 2012. Thanks to the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Wolf. Excerpt of image available under CC0 Public Domain license thanks to Huskyherz and pixabay.


Brebner, John. 2015. “Brabant and the Brabanters.” Scotland and the Flemish People (blog). Entry for April 24. St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.

Mann. Jill, ed. and trans. 1987. Ysengrimus: text with translation, commentary, and introduction. Leiden: Brill.

Mann, Jill, ed. and trans. 2013. Ysengrimus. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 26. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Oksanen, Eljas. 2012. Flanders and the Anglo-Norman World, 1066-1216. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rider, Jeff, and Alan V. Murray, eds. 2012. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, trans. 2013. Galbert de Bruges. The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1993. Talking animals: medieval Latin beast poetry, 750-1150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Saint Eugenia with female advantage refuted false accusation of rape

Saint Eugenia falsely accused of rape

After Eugenia had spent only three years as a monk, her monk-brethren elected her abbot of their monastery near Alexandria in the second-century Roman Empire. The monks regarded Eugenia as first in virtue among them. They also admired her modesty and love for everyone. When she entered the monastery, she brought with her two eunuchs who had served her in her former life of female privilege. The eunuchs became monks and strove to imitate Eugenia from their advantageous position relative to the other men in the monastery.

Seeking healing from a terrible illness, a rich woman named Melanthia came to the abbot Eugenia. Eugenia was renowned for healing. With her own hands, Eugenia anointed Melanthia with holy oil. Melanthia was thus cured.

Melanthia subsequently became sick again. This time she was sick with lovesickness for Eugenia:

upon seeing a man, youthful in appearance and beautiful in his face, desire (albeit not a degenerate sort) entered her, and little by little, her soul was seduced. Soon, she was burning intensely, thinking that Eugenia could not remain chaste forever [1]

Melanthia summoned Eugenia to heal her of her sickness. Melanthia wasn’t coy about seeking a cure:

she urged eagerly for an illicit union; “And if you do not want this,” she said, “then I shall take you openly as my husband by law; and you will be the lord of great wealth, gold, silver, fine clothing, fields, herds, and slaves, and together with these things, you will also have me as your slave rather than a woman who is free and of equal worth. And you alone will take pleasure in these things in every way, for I am without husband, children or relatives.” [2]

Most men have to work for a living. Some men who are married live in addition as little more than personal servants and handymen for their wives. Many husbands face the horrors of sexless marriage. Given these realities, many men would find Melanthia’s offer to be highly appealing.

Eugenia, however, decisively rejected Melanthia’s proposition. At her many words Eugenia continually sighed and felt strong disgust:

Finally, becoming dizzy with Melanthia’s excessive prattling, she plugged her ears with wax, as the saying goes, unable to tolerate even the sound of another word. “Stop,” she yelled, “woman, stop, and keep these things far from me; you are spewing at me the very venom of the ancient serpent. … For me the only wedlock is yearning for Christ; my only wealth is heavenly goods; my only possession is knowledge of the truth.”

Unlike men, women have little life experience of romantic rejection. Much more than men, women feel entitled to the love of any man. Melanthia had expected Eugenia to accept her love proposition.

When Eugenia rejected her, Melanthia’s love turned to hate. She sought to use criminal justice, which has long had strong anti-men bias, to punish Eugenia:

bursting with terrible fury against Eugenia, she left for Alexandria. Then, she also devised a terrible and false accusation against her and went to the eparch Philip, since she knew nothing about Eugenia, neither that Philip was Eugenia’s father, nor that she had changed her appearance from that of a woman to that of a man. [3]

Before the eparch Philip, Melanthia lodged against Eugenia the gravely serious charge of attempted rape:

he {Eugenia} approached me. Thinking that I was one of those indecent women, that brazen man first used deceitful words and then assaulted me with his hands. If I had not called out loudly, causing my handmaid to come running, I too would now be defiled as if I were a slave woman.

Just hearing this charge enraged Philip against Eugenia. Like a college president condemning a whole fraternity after a sexual charge against only one member, Philip ordered that Eugenia and all her fellow monks be brought before him in chains. Like tyrannical college sex police today, this tribunal didn’t make a fair and thorough fact-finding. The judges largely condemned Eugenia and her brethren by default.

The punishment of Eugenia was procedurally similarly to the punishment of college men accused of kissing girls without affirmative consent and other such sex crimes. In short, it was an exercise of mob justice:

whole multitudes gathered from the surrounding cities and the eparch came too. Eugenia was led into their midst, dragged along with the heaviest of chains; shouts erupted from every corner of the amphitheater; all with one accord declared that Eugenia must die. Wild beasts were readied; instruments of torture were prepared, wheels, fire, other types of punishment, and above all, the harsh torturers, most savage and quick in the exacting of vengeance.

When Eugenia came before the eparch Philip, he harshly condemned her to death. Eugenia, wanting to make clear the extent of the conspiracy of lies against her, called Melanthia’s maidservant to speak about what happened. The maidservant declared:

This depraved man many times assaulted me as well. Then his habitual lasciviousness convinced him to impose his mad lust even on my mistress herself, forcing himself on her against her will, until she cried out as loud as she could and I came to her help, and with my fellow slave women, whom I had called to my aid, we were barely able to restrain him from his shameless attack; and if you want to summon them, you will see how they concur with my statement.

Then, in a way that no man could, Eugenia decisively refuted the women’s false accusations of rape:

{Eugenia said,} “It is time to speak the truth boldly, so that her lies may no longer exult over the truth and so that the Christian faith may not be misrepresented by the Greeks.” Then what does she do? She was forced by the great shamelessness of her accuser to do something beyond the bounds of modesty; grabbing her tunic she ripped it apart from top to bottom; and, exposing certain parts of her truly holy body, she showed everyone that both by nature and in truth she was a woman.

In ripping her tunic from top to bottom, Eugenia re-enacted the tearing of the curtain of the temple at Jesus’s crucifixion.[4] She also re-enacted Phyrne exposing her breasts to a Roman jury to gain acquittal on a serious charge. Eugenia refuted the false accusation of rape by showing that her accusers falsely thought that she was a man. Yet none of her accusers directly claimed knowledge of Eugenia’s alleged penis. The decisive refutation of the false accusation rested at least in part on the myth that women don’t rape women. That’s a myth like the myth that women don’t rape men.

False accusations of rape have been recognized as a serious problem throughout all of recorded history, except for recent decades. A false accusation of rape can do terrible harm to a man. Yet the currently dominant ideology has grotesquely trivialized the problem of false accusations. Men falsely accused of rape today have little worldly hope. They can only pray that the early Christian Saint Eugenia, along with Saint Marina, the patron saint for men falsely accused of rape, will intercede for them.

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Read more:


[1] Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Life, Conduct, and Passion of the Holy Martyr of Christ Saint Eugenia and Her Parents” para. 40, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) p. 219. The Greek text is on facing pages in id. Subsequent quotes above are (cite by paragraph and page of English translation in id.): 42, pp. 219, 221 (upon seeing a man…); 43, p. 221 (Finally, becoming dizzy…); 44, p. 221 (bursting with terrible fury…); 44, p. 223 (he {Eugenia} approached me…); 47, pp. 223, 225 (whole multitudes gathered…); 50, p. 229 (The depraved man…); 51, p. 229 (Eugenia said…).

Metaphrastes probably wrote his Menologion in late tenth-century Constantinople. Metaphrastes “often chose sexually loaded legends for his collection.” Kazhdan (2006) p. 242. For his account of Eugenia, Metaphrastes drew upon a much earlier Greek and Latin tradition. Eugenia now is regarded as a saint. She is honored on December 24 in the Orthodox Christian calendar.

[2] The narrator suggests that Melanthia intended, if necessary, to rape Eugenia:

the shameless Melanthia dared to attribute her own loathsome behavior to the pure Eugenia, and pretended that she had suffered the very fate she herself had intended to inflict.

Para. 45, p. 223. In the U.S. today, women raping men is as common as men raping women.

[3] Eugenia had secretly left home. She entered the monastery without informing her parents of her whereabouts and intentions.

[4] Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45.

[image] Icon of Saint Eugenia, made about 1900. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Kazhdan, Alexeander, with Christine Angelidi. 2006. A history of Byzantine literature. Vol 2,  (850-1000). Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Institute for Byzantine Research.

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.