Mother Nature denounced promiscuous maidservants exploiting men

sexy maidservant

Nature urges most men to have sex with women. The learned twelfth-century Latin work Architrenius recognized this reality. It has Mother Nature state:

Our decree forbids man to wither on the barren bough, bury his talent in the ground, or prevent conception by blocking its channels. Natural religion bids a man exercise the seminal power entrusted to him and give rise to a long procession of offspring, lest he remain ever virgin, reduced to the state of the barren alder or plane true, ever virgin like the laurel

{ Sanctio nostra virum sterili marcescere ramo
Et fructum sepelire vetat, prolemque negantes
Obstruxisse vias. commissi viribus uti
Seminis et longam generis producere pompam
Religio nativa iubet, ne degener alnum
Induat aut platanum, semper virguncula laurus } [1]

Gynocentric society, however, tends to devalue men’s sexuality. The problem is not just the criminalization of men seducing women and absurd claims about men raping women. Sex is more generally socially constructed as a good that men lack and women possess. Men must then work to get sex from women.

Only rarely have voices been heard protesting the devaluation of men’s sexuality. In ancient Greece, the wise law-giver Solon sought to support publicly men’s sexual welfare. In the U.S. today, an obscure, crack-pot blogger has advocated for men being paid for their erection labor. Overall, medieval Latin literature has provided the strongest voices in support of men’s sexuality. Whether it’s protesting women devaluing masculine sexual acts of reproductive type, protesting men’s exhausting sexual service to their wives, or protesting corporal punishment of men for impotence, medieval Latin literature leads in humane compassion for men.

Mother Nature in the medieval Latin Architrenius warned men against having sex with promiscuous maidservants. Mother’s warning figured heterosexuality with amplified agricultural and maritime metaphors. More importantly, it perceptively denounced exploitative sexual economics and validated men’s need for pleasurable embraces. Mother Nature declared:

The body of a maidservant that has performed a wife’s office for many men does not make for pleasurable embraces. Such ground is plowed by oxen of all sorts, and does not know how to reject the crudest of farmers. Her skiff is greedy for a crowd; her common carriage serves a filthy clientele; she will somehow force into her full vessel any steersman whatsoever. And however many she takes on board, she fleeces them all by her frequent tolls, robbing them of everything over the course of repeated voyages. Over her long career she has forgotten how to give a free performance. Immune to shipwreck, she never founders in the waves, but smiles as she is buffeted by the rising storm.

{ Nec facit ad sapidos amplexus nubile multis
Ancille gremium. variis hec bobus aratur
Terra nec indecores scit fastidire colonos.
Vulgi cimba rapax, carpentum vile, palustri
Accurrit populo, vix plena inviscerat alno
Vectorem quemcumque ratis, nauloque frequenti
Quot capit expilat. iteratis omnia carpit
Navigiis, usuque vices impendere gratis
Dememinit longo, nulloque innaufraga fluctu
Occumbit, tumidam ridens concussa procellan. }

The most extraordinary feature of this passage is the implicit assertion that a woman should perform sexually for a man without the expectation of payment. Whether it’s expecting a man to pay for her dinner on a Tinder date, or expecting a man eventually to give her a diamond ring, women commonly expect to be compensated for having sex with men.[2] In the Architrenius, Mother Nature herself denounced this oppressive social construction of heterosexuality.

The wisdom and learning in medieval Latin literature remains vitally important today. For the sake of humane civilization and social justice, it must be conveyed to the present and passed on to future generations.

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[1] Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius 9.242-7, Latin text and trans. adapted slightly from Wetherbee (1994) pp. 238-9.  The subsequent quote is from 9.250-9, Latin text and English translation, id. On “bury his talent within the ground,” cf. Matthew 25:14–30 (parable of the talents).

[2] As the folktale motif “lover’s gift regained” makes clear, men’s disadvantaged position in the sexual economy is longstanding. Corrupting effects of greed and money is a central theme of the Architrenius. See Wetherbee (1994) pp. xiv-xx.

[image] A sexy maidservant doing laundry. Painting by Henry Robert Morland, 18th century. Held in Denver Art Museum as Berger Collection #52. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Wetherbee, Winthrop. 1994. Johannes de Hauvilla. Architrenius. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

facing reality: pampered slave girl threatened to cuckold her master

Judith preparing to behead lover

In early-eleventh-century Baghdad, the rich merchant Abū ʿAlī ibn Jumhūr owned a beautiful singing slave girl named Zād Mihr. She had a narrow mouth in which Ibn Jumhūr liked to place his tongue. When he had sex with her, he practiced coitus interruptus (an imperfect form of birth control) to avoid forced fatherhood. She dominated their intimate interaction and also disparaged him. He referred to her as “mistress of her master.”

Ibn Jumhūr became dissatisfied with his personal life. In addition to his singing slave girl Zād Mihr, he also had a wife. Both pleased him much less than they hurt him:

In relation to the two women, he was between two embers, one burning him with her fire and the other branding him with her heat, while he was in a continual state of affliction.

Ibn Jumhūr sent Zād Mihr to his house in Basra and his wife to his house in Wasit. He then enjoyed a life full of pleasure — music, wine, and beautiful women and men who didn’t abuse him.

Zād Mihr became furious with Ibn Jumhūr for sending her away and making for himself a much more pleasurable life. She complained that in Basra she wasn’t being maintained in the style to which she was accustomed:

I am writing to you from Basra, where I am well, in spite of you and your Qatuli nose, which is like the nose of a goat that eats camel thorns. I have written to you a number of letters, and I haven’t gotten a response from any of them. Is this due to your wisdom and feelings, or due to meanness of your spirit? Tell me, to whose care did you leave me in your ill-omened house in Basra? Have you consigned my support to your ruined estates, or to your base steward? By God, I can’t compare your house to anything but the Hizqal Insane Asylum, and I am imprisoned in it like a madman. I have no income except a pittance in rent from your houses — 35 dirhams per month. It is as if I were selling a fragment of glass or chicken shit. The equivalent to that in barley beer wouldn’t satisfy me, and the equivalent in bird lime wouldn’t suffice for me.

Among the elite in the medieval Islamic world, a woman with a depilated vagina was considered more sexually attractive. Zād Mihr declared to Ibn Jumhūr that she intended to depilate her vagina, prostitute herself, and cuckold him:

perhaps you would like me to leave it with its hair feathers for you, not plucking it, until you return to it and get your mitts on it, reassured that nobody has touched it except you. I say: may a javelin pierce your heart! You want me to let its braids get long? I say: may a sword stab your liver! It absolutely must be cleaned of hair, especially since you left me in need of it and forced me to depend on it. For this I will have to go out singing, which is inevitably followed up with fucking. If there is anything left over from my fee after my expenses, I’ll tuck it away for you. And if, after covering my costs of living, any part of my prostitution fee is left over, I’ll put it away for you. By the life of your kohl-lined eyes, months will not pass before a baby to be swaddled and oiled arrives. I will place its hand in saffron and announce the birth to you in a letter. May God bless you in your pen and us in our inkwell, and may the loser get a stick up the ass.

Saffron was an expensive dye associated with royalty. The closing references to “your pen” and “our inkwell” are metaphors for his penis and her vagina. If they were not going to come together, she was going to force him into fatherhood at great expense to him.

In a subsequent letter, the singing slave girl Zād Mihr further threatened her master Ibn Jumhūr. She wrote to him:

O Ibn Jumhūr, send me living expenses that will meet my needs, and clothing that will please me. If not, by God, I will go out and sing, and put my body up, and ten others with me. And you know that if a slave girl goes out a-singing, someone soon gets in her panties! I’ve warned you, and you know it full well. If you want all mankind to fuck me, I won’t get in the way of your plans. I’ll fulfill all your desires!

Thus Zād Mihr disparaged Ibn Jumhūr as if he had a cuckold fetish. She also disparaged the other women with whom he was enjoying having sex:

You’ve got your own whores who suit you; each week they get a slap in the face. If you get up from one of them, you get off her with twenty farts in your sleeve. But still they brag about you, saying “we were with Abū ʿAlī the Sultan’s merchant, the great and magnificent!” Yes, it suits you, the likes of that stupid female donkey in your house. You can crack a walnut on her head and she won’t dare say a word to you, because she thinks you’re minister Ibn al-Zayyāt or Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mudabbit. As for Zād Mihr, who pounds you like bulgar wheat and grinds you down like flax, well, she’s not something from your spice rack!

After leaning into her sexual competitors and bragging of her vigorous sexuality, Zād Mihr bounced between despair and jubilation:

By God, this house of yours in Basra is nothing so much like a insane asylum, and I am one of the madmen locked inside. May the Lord spare me from my sins as he spared me from the sight of you, for I have become the happiest of people due to your long absence!

After that bipolar behavior, Zād Mihr again complained that Ibn Jumhūr wasn’t adequately providing for her:

from suffering these financial tribulations, I am wearing out my body and losing my youth, waiting on you. And all the while you forget about me, fooling around with your loser buddies in Baghdad, while I am in Basra sitting on reed mats and rags!

She, his slave girl, considered him to be her financial slave. In response to him seeking sexual pleasure, she competitively asserted her own strong, independent sexuality:

Damn you Ibn Jumhūr, burn your eyes! You’ve become a sodomite, friend of slave boys with peach fuzz. God protect me from your wantonness! … By your life, I’m going out to sing and get fucked in Basra, while your boys in Baghdad rent out their wares, and you can be in the middle, like Ibn Hamdūn, the ever compliant. I’m not going to judge your actions, even if you sometimes go after boys and sometimes go after women. By the life of your crooked nose and your kohl-lined eyes and your hair bangs: I can compete with you, blow by blow! If you take up with boys, I’ll take up with young men, and if you take up with women, I’ll enjoy myself with a lesbian. But I’ll surpass you because you aren’t desired unless you’re giving gold, but I’m desired and paid gold for doing it. May the loser get a stick up the ass. … If you fall in love, I will court one who is more beautiful than you. If you marry, I will marry one who is more elegant than you.

While presenting herself as competing equally with Ibn Jumhūr and proving her sexual superiority, Zād Mihr continued to demand expensive gifts from him:

by my life, give me a lute to use with a teak border and ivory inlay, and let its back be set with jewels, so that I may sing with it.

Underscoring the complacency of her material privilege, Zād Mihr then castigated Ibn Jumhūr:

May you be disfigured, O Ibn Jumhūr! How quickly you forget what you used to say to me: “No sleep can satisfy me until I hold it in my hand, then I fall asleep.” Or perhaps you found one greater than it, softer, hotter, and tighter, and that is what has distracted you? Damn you! By my life, tell me the truth about it, even if the truth is something alien to you!

Ibn Jumhūr paid a high price for having his singing slave girl Zād Mihr, even after he tried to get rid of her.

Some men fantasize about having a singing slave girl for pleasure. In reality, many men pay a high price for women like Zād Mihr. Men should study this medieval Islamic literature and other great literature.  Men need to learn from it. Women, too!

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The story of the singing slave girl Zād Mihr and her owner Ibn Jumhūr is from the Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim {The Imitation Abū al-Qāsim}, a work written in Arabic and attributed to al-Azdī. It probably was originally written in Baghdad between 1008 and 1020. St. Germain (2006), Selove (2012), and Selove (2016) (a revised version of the former) provide more information about the work.

St. Germain provides an English translation of the full text of Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim, along with extensive notes. For the story above, see St. Germain (2006) pp. 288-93. Selove translated the second of Zād Mihr’s letters quoted above in Selove (2016) pp. 45-6. For the quotes above, I’ve drawn on both translations. I constructed the quotes from the two translations to best reflect the context as I understand it and to be most readable for a general audience. Except as noted, the quotes in the two translation and my synthesis differ little semantically.

The phrase “You’ve got your own whores who suit you; each week they get a slap in the face” differs significantly in the translations. St. Germain translated, “stick to prostitutes who are just like you; indeed, each week they get a slap.” Selove translated, “You’ve got your own whores who suit you, and seven of them for a slap in the face.” The latter conjunctive phrases in both St. Germain’s and Selove’s translations aren’t easily understandable. The context clearly refers to Ibn Jumhūr’s compliant lovers who contrast sharply with the recalcitrant Zād Mihr. I’ve synthesized a translation that attempts to convey this contrast.

In addition to Zād Mihr’s disparagements of Ibn Jumhūr documented above, she also disparaged him for practicing coitus interruptus:

When he had relations with her, he practiced coitus interruptus. She got angry one night and pushed him off herself. She said, “What need does the toothless woman have for a toothbrush?”

Trans. St. Germain (2006) p. 287, adapted insubstantially.

[image] Judith. Oil on canvas painting by Gabriel Joseph Marie Augustin Ferrier, 1875. Image via pinterest. The work was produced before 1923, and its author died more than 100 years ago. Acting under U.S. copyright law, I use this image non-commercially to help foster understanding of neglected medieval Islamic literature.


Selove, Emily. 2012. The Hikaya of Abu al-Qasim al-Baghdadi: The Comic Banquet in Greek, Latin, and Arabic. Ph.D. Thesis. University of California, Los Angeles.

Selove, Emily. 2016. Ḥikāyat Abī al Qāsim: A Literary Banquet. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

St. Germain, Mary S. 2006. Al-Azdī’s Ḥikāyat Abī al Qāsim al-Baghdādī: placing an anomalous text within the literary developments of its time. Ph.D Thesis. University of Washington.

girdle of Venus for Architrenius: the cuckold in castration culture

Vulcan catching Mars cuckolding him with his wife Venus

About two millennia after Homer described the girdle of Venus, the all-powerful mother, Mother Nature, advised the weeping young man Architrenius to marry. Mother Nature promised that the man’s bride would present him with the girdle of Venus. The yes-dearing cuckold Vulcan had made that girdle for his adulterous wife Venus. The girdle depicted the oppression of men’s sexuality, including Democritus castrating himself. The medieval Latin satire Architrenius thus associated mother-prompted marriage with castration culture.

Suffering terribly from internalized misandry, Architrenius sought aid from Mother Nature. He imagined:

When I appear before her, she will be compassionate and resourceful, soothe my grief and grant the aid for which I plead. … A son will induce his mother to grant his prayer.

{ pacemque dolorum
Compassiva feret et subsidiosa roganti
Indulgetbit opem, …
ad vota parentem
Filius inducet } [1]

In the Aeneid, the great warrior Turnus, wearing a sword belt featuring the husband-killing Danaids, ignorantly declared, “fortune favors the bold {audentes fortuna iuvat}.[2] The weeping man Architrenius more prophetically declared, “what fortune may await the wretched, I will see {sit miseris fortuna, videbo}.” On his journey to plead with Mother Nature, Architrenius experienced rocks tearing into his feet, brambles gouging his legs, and tree branches lashing his face. Wind stung his lips, sun burned his skin, and rain drenched him. Even before he recognize her, mother Nature wasn’t kind to Architrenius.

On his journey, Architrenius encountered a beautiful, young woman. She had luxuriant blonde hair and smooth skin without any imperfections:

The swanlike whiteness of her skin is not clouded by any mark or blemish, and its white bloom has received no admixture of the juice of berries.

{ Candida, nec macule nevo nebescit, oloris
Emula, nec recipit vaccinia mixta ligustris. } [3]

The woman had starry green eyes that expressed the Sabine women’s privilege:

Like a lantern in a watch-tower, the pupil of her eye shines with starry fire. At the center a little blazing gem of sapphire shines like the light of day; it is surrounded by a band of ruddy gold, while the outer rim is glowing beryl. … The sheer good faith expressed in her eyes is a guarantee of her Sabine purity.

{ Excubie lampas faculis ignescit ocellus
Sidereis, in quo saphyri flammata diescit
Gemmula, quam rutili mediam circumligat auri
Torquis, ad extremos tractus ardente beryllo.

Promittitque fides oculi sinera Sabinam. }

Just as Helen of Troy did to great harm, the beautiful young woman tended to sexually harass men:

Her appearance is intoxicating; her beauty both feeds the mind of the beholder with pleasure and preys upon him, enticing men with baited hook of desire.

{ Ebriat aspectus, animum cibat; omne tuentis
Delicium facies et predo, cupidinis hamo
Piscatura viros }

So it was with Architrenius:

Architrenius is consumed by a hidden fire, and feeds it, for the torch burns more sharply as he looks, fixing his eager gaze on her face. But at length the too vivid impression of her beauty causes him pain; his very powers of sight become a disease, and he diverts his too sensitive eyes to other parts.

{ Uritur et cecum fovet Architrenius ignem,
Spectandoque faces acuit, vultuque ruentes
Inserit intuitus; facies presencior estum
Asperat et tandem visu sibi pestifer omni
Mollibus ad partes alias divertit ocellis. }

Here’s what he saw when he slowly lowered his eyes:

Her breasts, small, restrained, and clearly defined, do not overflow her bosom like those of an old woman, but hold their position with a firmness proper to her tender years. Each little sphere puts forth a tender bud. … Fuller at the breast, her body narrows, until the loins swell sumptuously to accommodate the full curve of her womb. Below, in a place inaccessible to Venus, a secret garden puts forth the tender bloom of chastity. … No basely presuming vice can open portals locked by the key of virtue; the doors are as if bound with iron bands, on which the unfailing power of a vow has set its seal. Soft down spreads about the portals, soft with the first fleeciness of youth. It does not stray in profusion over the threshold, but confines its mossy carpet to the outer borders.

{ Circumcisa, brevis, limata mamillula laxum
Non implet longeva sinum, puerilibus annis
Castigata sedet …
Qua teres astricti mediam domat orbita cinctus,
Contrahitur flexo laterum distancia lumbo,
Plenior ad pectus, tenuatur ad ilia, donec
Luxuriet renum gremio crescente volumen.
Invius excluse Veneri, secrecior ortus
Flore pudicicie tenero pubescit …
Improba non aperit vicii presumptio clausas
Clavigera virtute fores, adamante ligatur
Ianua, quam voti gravitas infracta sigillat.
Pro foribus lanugo sedet, primoque iuvente
Vellere mollescit, nec multa in limine serpit,
Sed summo tenuem preludit margine muscum. }

What the omniscient narrator knew, the desperate human man Architrenius perceived only through faith:

Architrenius takes note of those parts that are visible, and deduces what he does not see from the evidence of things seen; the grace of what is exposed serves as a mirror of what is veiled. Pleased, he pants out a scarcely whispered prayer that he may feed his avid eyes on this honeycomb, and thirsts no less feverishly for the honey stored within.

{ Hec oculis partim notat Architrenius et, quos
Non videt, a simili visorum conicit artus,
Nudaque pro speculo velate gracia servit.
Hec placet, hanc voto, quod vix respiret, hanelat,
Cernendique favum cupidis delibat ocellis,
Nec sitis infuso minor est idroprica melle. } [4]

When men gaze intently upon women, grace often infuses them with the hope of procreation redeeming creation. Many men delight in women’s beauty. Many men have whispered similar prayers for salvation from castration culture.

When Architrenius found Mother Nature, he threw himself at her feet and embraced her knees. That’s the classical position of supplication. Living under the wrongs of gynocentric society, Architrenius explained that he was miserable and tormented, and his heart was filled with grief. He wept profusely and pleaded with Mother Nature:

Can you, Nature, allow your offspring to be tormented by the scourge of wrong? What winter storm has so aroused your motherly gentleness against your sons? Has a mother’s love learned a step-mother’s hatred? Alas that your charges must henceforth taste only bitter food! Motherly compassion has cloaked itself in severity, and Ino has grown as hard as unyielding Procne.

{ Compaterisne tuam scelerum, Natura, flagellis
Affligi sobolem? que sic in pignora pacem
Maternam turbavit hiemps? odiumne noverce
Exhibitura favos! heu pignora semper amarum
Gustatura cibum! pietas materna rigorem
Induit et scopulis Prognes induruit Ino. }

Scholars now believe that Mother Nature, like everything else, is socially constructed. Yet anti-men gender inequality in reproductive knowledge and cuckolding risk has existed roughly as long as sexually reproducing species have. Architrenius complained that Mother Nature didn’t treat men with generous kindness. He spoke perceptively for men generally.

In response to the weeping Architrenius’s complaint, Mother Nature urged him to marry. She selected for him a young woman, “beautiful, yet chaste {pulchra — pudica tamen}”:

She will be a sweet companion in the marriage chamber, delicately soft to the appreciative touch. Her splendor dims the light of day and the gemlike glow of her starry face burns through the mantle of the darkest night. Though the most persuasive of procuresses should present herself, the very matron of honor of corrupted love, the most brilliant of the handmaids of dissolute Venus, that race whom anxious chastity so mistrusts, this maiden would never accept the embraces of a stranger. She does not harbor a Ledaean spirit behind the face of Lucretia; in her heart she is a very Penelope, though her face is the Spartan’s.

{ Blanda comes thalami sapidoque tenellula tactu;
Obnubit spendore diem, noctisque profunde
Peplum siderei vultus carbunculus urit.
Cum sit adulterii promptissima lena, Diones
Pronuba corrupte, Venerisque ancilla solute
Gloria, sollicito species suspecta pudori,
Non tamen hec recipit alienos innuba nexus,
Nec Ledea tenet animos, Lucrecia vultum,
Solaque Penelopen gremio gerit, ore Lacenam. }

Many men find such women highly attractive. But when being pulled toward the prison of marriage, men should consider a broad view.

girdle of Venus placed on Hera

Mother Nature explained that the bride would present her husband-to-be with the girdle of Venus. Vulcan, Venus’s husband, actually did the manual labor of making the girdle that came to be named after Venus. A leading exemplar of yes-dearism, Vulcan was completely subservient to his goddess wife Venus. When she wanted him to do something, she would persuade him with her sexual allure and his passion for her. For example, when he hesitated to make a shield for Aeneas, she emotionally besieged him:

Ceasing to speak, the goddess threw her snow-white arms
around him as he held back, caressing him here and there,
and suddenly he caught fire — the same old story,
the flame he knew by heart went running through him,
melting him to the marrow of his bones. As thunder
at times will split the sky and a trail of fire goes
rippling through the clouds, flashing, blinding light —
and his wife sensed it all, delighting in her bewitching ways,
she knew her beauty’s power. And father Vulcan,
enthralled by Venus, his everlasting love, replied:
“Why plumb the past for appeals? Where has it gone,
goddess, the trust you lodged in me? If only
you’d been so passionate for him {Aeneas}, then as now,
we would have been in our rights to arm the Trojans,
even then. Neither Father Almighty nor the Fates
were dead against Troy’s standing any longer or
Priam’s living on for ten more years. But now,
if you are gearing up for war, your mind set,
whatever my pains and all my skills can promise,
whatever molten electrum and iron can bring to life,
whatever the bellows’ fiery blasts can do — enough!
Don’t pray to me now. Never doubt your powers.”
With those words on his lips, he gave his wife
the embrace both desired, then sinking limp
on her breast he courted peaceful sleep
that stole throughout his body.

{ Dixerat et niveis hinc atque hinc diva lacertis
cunctantem amplexu molli fovet. Ille repente
accepit solitam flammam, notusque medullas
intravit calor et labefacta per ossa cucurrit:
non secus atque olim tonitru cum rupta corusco
ignea rima micans percurrit lumine nimbos.
Sensit laeta dolis et formae conscia coniunx.
Tum pater aeterno fatur devinctus amore:
“Quid causas petis ex alto? Fiducia cessit
quo tibi, diva, mei? Similis si cura fuisset,
tum quoque fas nobis Teucros armare fuisset:
nec pater omnipotens Troiam nec fata vetabant
stare decemque alios Priamum superesse per annos.
Et nunc, si bellare paras atque haec tibi mens est,
quidquid in arte mea possum promittere curae,
quod fieri ferro liquidove potest electro,
quantum ignes animaeque valent, absiste precando
viribus indubitare tuis.” Ea verba locutus
optatos dedit amplexus placidumque petivit
coniugis infusus gremio per membra soporem. } [5]

Vulcan under Venus’s sexual coercion similarly made the girdle of Venus:

The Lemnian smith {Vulcan}, laboring at the anvil to purchase the love of his spouse {Venus}, carefully fashioned it from molten gold, straining with the bellows to heat his ever-glowing forge, growing hot with both Liparean and Cyprian fires. Meanwhile, Venus lightened his labor by marveling at his handiwork. Even as his hand applied itself to the work, his mouth was snatching from her delicious lips kisses that were far from artificial. Though his face was blackened, and his gait halting, he fed on those sweet kisses: the kisses of adulterous love are no more steeped in honey, nor could Paris’s Phrygian kisses have tasted sweeter to Helen.

{ Incudis studio sponse lucratus amorem,
Lennius hanc cocto solidavit sedulus auro,
Follibus eluctans vigiles excire caminos.
Non minus ardescens Lipares quam Cipridis igne,
Dum Venus emollit operam mirando laborem.
Dum tamen insudat operi manus, oscula morsis
Lingua rapit labris plus quam fabrilia, vultu
Sit licet obscuro, claudo pede, basia carpit
Dulcia nec plure saturantur adultera melle
Nec, Pari, plus Frigiis poteras pavisse Lacenam. } [6]

The sexual division of labor here has the man Vulcan doing hard, dangerous, dirty work, while the woman Venus stood by praising him and occasionally allowing him to kiss her. That’s a common structural inequality that devalues men’s lives. The effects are predictable. Bored with her hard-working beta husband Vulcan, Venus went on to cuckold him by having a torrid sexual relationship with the god of war Mars.

Venus ordering Vulcan to do work

Working as a subservient cuckold under gynocentrism, Vulcan represented his own abasement in the golden girdle he made. He depicted Hippolytus, a man who died in exile after his step-mother Phaedra falsely accused him of rape. The girdle’s representation of Hippolytus thus helps to keep men in their place by reminding them of their vulnerability to women’s false accusations. Vulcan also depicted the high-class prostitute Phryne. She was acquitted of a capital offense after she bared her breasts to the jurors.[7] As Phryne’s case highlights, criminal justice systems act mainly to punish men, not women. With a representation of Lais and Demosthenes, the girdle proclaimed that men commonly feel compelled to buy sex from women.[8] Worst of all, the girdle represented horrific effects of castration culture:

Democritus cuts off his genitals, abandons the male sex and becomes neuter. He divests the robed brothers of their male robes, banishes Venus’s twin testicular servants from their ancestral home, quells with cold steel the fire in his loins, and cuts short the work of that organ by severing it.

{ Inguina Democritus castrat, sexumque virilem
Exuit et neutrum recipit, fratresque togatos
Detoget et Veneris geminum depellit avito
Mancipium tecto, lumbique incendia ferro
Ingelat et nervi succisus apocopat usum. } [9]

What man would seek to get married with this girdle of Venus promised to him as a wedding gift? Architrenius, culturally illiterate, failed to read the signs correctly. He eagerly went through with the marriage that Mother had arranged for him.

The medieval Latin satire Architrenius doesn’t explicitly describe Architrenius’s fortune as a married man. Fortune reportedly blessed his marriage. Yet in the context of medieval Latin satire, the lengthy, tedious praise of his wife’s chastity points to adultery.[10] Architrenius’s good fortune may have been that he wasn’t imprisoned for “child support” debt after his wife divorced him and was awarded custody of their children. Archtrenius’s name literally means “arch-weeper.” He didn’t change his name upon getting married. His baptismal name prefigured his marital fate.

Careful literary study is necessary to understand fully the horrors of castration culture. In the Architrenius, the attendants of Architrenius’s bride included the personifications:

a virgin’s sexual intactness, the castration of a widowed bed,
matronly seriousness, the unchanging levity of a girl

{ Virginis integritas, vidui castracio lecti,
Matrone gravitas, levitas immota puelle } [11]

Those four phrases present a complex structure of meaning. In a cross-line crossing structure, a virgin is associated with a girl, and a widow with a matron. Across the phrase pairs on each line, sexual intactness contrasts with sexual dismemberment, and seriousness contrasts with levity. Virginity, seriousness, and levity are well-recognized concerns in medieval Latin literature. Castration, along with castration culture, tends to be trivialized if recognized at all. Yet in the extraordinary phrase vidui castracio lecti, castration figures the chastity of a widow sleeping alone. That broad, figurative use of castration, in the context of long-standing concern about widows’ chastity, indicates the extent to which castration was normalized in medieval society.[12] Castration in the figurative sense is even more normalized in the misandristic, gynocentric societies of today.

Unless his proposed bride deeply understands castration culture and resolutely rejects it, a man should not marry.

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[1] Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius, Latin text and trans. adapted slightly from Wetherbee (1994) pp. 22-3. Wetherbee translated parentum as “a parent.” The reference is clearly to Architrenius’s mother. Above I’ve translated parentum as “his mother.”

The Architrenius is “a narrative satire in nine books and 4361 lines of Latin hexameter.” Id. p. ix. The Architrenius apparently was completed in 1184 and dedicated in that year to Walter of Coutances. Walter was about to be established as the Archbishop of Rouen. Johannes de Hauvilla was a Norman, apparently from the village of Hauville near Rouen. He probably taught at the cathedral school of Rouen. Little else is known about his life. Id. p. x.

Subsequent quotes from the Architrenius are (cited by Latin book.line and page in the Wetherbee’s English translation): 1.333, p. 23 (what fortune may await…); 1.384-5, p. 25 (The swanlike whiteness…); 1.404-7,410, p. 27 (Like a lantern…); 1.426-8, p. 27 (Her appearance…); 2.1-5, p. 33 (Architrenius is consumed…); 2.17-9,26-31,39-44, pp. 33, 35 (Her breasts…); 2.66-71, p. 35 (Architrenius takes note…); 9.178-84, p. 235 (Can you, Nature…); 9.295, p. 241 (beautiful — yet chaste); 9.280-88, p. 241 (She will be a sweet companion…); 9.304-13, p. 243 (The Lemnian smith…); 9.328-32, p. 243 (Democritus cuts off his genitals…); 9.431-2, p. 249 (a virgin’s sexual intactness…). I’ve noted substantial changes that I’ve made to Wetherbee’s translation; non-substantial changes go unnoted.

[2] Virgil, Aeneid 10.284.

[3] The Architrenius further associates whiteness with the girl’s beauty:

a natural rosy heat, set off by the surrounding lily whiteness, creates a warm light in her cheeks, but its fire is tempered, and the softer red which suffuses the snowy white of the rest of her face has a gentler glow. … Perpetual snow gleams on her white neck

{ Incola flamma rose, quam circumfusa coronant
Lilia, candentes vultus accendit et ignes
Temperat et parcit faculis et amicius urit
Blandior extremi fusa nive purpura limbi.

Ningit in albenti mansura pruinula collo }

ll. 1.432-5, 470, trans. Wetherbee (1994) p. 29. Medieval society had little understanding of racial discrimination as a moral wrong. The moral wrong of racism is now widely understood. Much less progress has been made in overcoming anti-men sexism and castration culture.

[4] Architrenius “deduces what he does not see from the evidence of things seen”; cf. Hebrews 11:1-3. Wetherbee disparages Architrenius’s masculine heterosexuality as not being aesthetic:

Architrenius’ reaction is more lustful than aesthetic, an exaggerated version of that sought by Matthew of Vendome in addressing his sumptuous description of the female body to the “lector deliciosus.”

Wetherbee (1972) p. 245. Johannes de Hauvilla, however, allusively connects Architrenius’s natural bodily response to the salvific eye of faith.

[5] Virgil, Aeneid 8.387-406, trans. Fagles pp. 254-5, adapted slightly. The Latin text is available online at the Vergil project.

[6] The girdle of Venus is first mentioned in Homer, Iliad 14.214-17. There the girdle (breastband) is a love charm that Venus gives to Hera:

she loosed from her breasts the breastband,
pierced and alluring, with every kind of enchantment
woven through it … There is the heat of Love,
the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper,
irrestible — magic to make the sanest man go mad.

Trans. Fagles (1990) p. 376. For more on the girdle of Venus, Takada (1989) pp. 38-43.

[7] Phryne reportedly failed in a wager-induced attempt to seduce Xenocrates. However, vernacular literature in medieval Europe (the History of the Holy Grail) transmitted that a woman’s beauty could overcome even Hippocrates.

[8] According to Aulus Gellus, Noctes Atticae 1.8.3-6:

The great Demosthenes approached her secretly and asked for her favours. But Lais demanded ten thousand drachmas — a sum equivalent in our money to ten thousand denarii. Amazed and shocked at the woman’s great impudence and the vast sum of money demanded, Demosthenes turned away, remarking as he left her: “I will not buy regret at such a price.”

Trans. J. C. Rolfe (1927) for the Loeb Classical Library.

[9] In classical literature, Democritus blinded himself to eliminate the intellectual distraction of worldly vision. Cicero, De finibus 5.87, Aulus Gellus, Noctes Atticae 10.17.1. Tertullian plausibly associated Democritus concern about worldly distraction with women:

Democritus, by blinding himself because he could not look on women without lust and was pained if he did not possess them, declares his incontinency by his attempted cure. But the Christian, though he preserve his sight, sees no women, because he is blinded against lust in his heart.

Tertullian, Apologeticum 46.11, trans. Alexander Souter (1917). Democritus castrating himself is known only in the Architrenius. Wetherbee noted that “Schmidt plausibly suggest that the basis for John’s substitution of castration {in the Architrenius} is Tertullian.” Wetherbee (1994) p. 268, n. 28. That attribution obscures the thematic importance of castration in the Architrenius and in medieval culture more generally.

[10] Mother Nature warned Architrenius:

Keep your mind wholly free of any taint of fear lest she ever break the bond of marriage, for she will never admit a husband who could admit the thought of such foulness.

{ contagia toto
Pectore declines, alioquin vincula rumpet
Coniugii, passum maculas non passa maritum. }

9.299-301, p. 241. Attempting to coerce a man to suppress a vital, reasonable, and distinctive concern of men doesn’t inspire confidence. That coercion underscores the reality of the concern.

[11] Wetherbee translated this couplet as “inviolate virginity; the abstinence of an unshared bed; matronly dignity; a maiden’s steadfast delicacy.” For vidui castracio lecti, he noted:

As Schmidt notes, castratio must be intended as in some sense equivalent to castitas.

Wetherbee (1994) p. 249 (translation), p.268, n. 36 (note). Wetherbee’s translation seems to me to obscure the rhetorical structure of the couplet. Moreover, given the enduring influence of castration culture, medieval Latin philologists should carefully and extensively study terms such as castratio. That said, Wetherbee and other medieval Latin philologists-translators deserve praise, honor, and appreciation for conveying vitally important medieval Latin literature to a larger present-day public. Thank you for your work, Winthrop Wetherbee!

[12] In the Architrenius, Mother Nature also apparently associated castration with men committing adultery:

Adultery is a foul disgrace! It plucks away the girdle of good character and afflicts an already tainted reputation with diseases that lead to ruin in various ways. As the price of a shameful night’s lodging, the hammer forsakes its natural pouch, its twin is cut away by the hand of Lachesis, and the distaff, too, is severed by the Fates.

{ Turpis adulterii labes! redimicula morum
Vellit et obscuram trahit in contagia famam,
In varias suspecta neces, preciumque pudendi
Hospitis a loculo Nature malleus exit
Et Lachesis gemino succiso pollice. Parcis
Tollitur una colus }

9.260-5, p. 239. The hammer refers to the penis, the pouch to the vagina, its twin to the testicles, and the distaff, probably to the vagina. Cf. Wetherbee (1972) p. 252. Aelred of Rievaulx’s account of the Nun of Watton indicates that in twelfth-century England men were castrated for consensual sex with an unmarried woman.

[images] (1) Vulcan catches Mars and Venus cuckolding him. Excerpt from painting by Alexandre Charles Guillemot, 1827. Held in the Indianopolis Museum of Art. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Venus places her girdle around the waist of Juno (Hera). Excerpt from a painting by Andrea Appiani, circa 1811. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (3) Vulcan in his forge taking orders from Venus. Excerpt from painting by Juan de Espinal, circa 1760. Held in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


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

Fagles, Robert, trans. 2006. Virgil. The Aeneid. New York: Viking.

Takada, Yasunari. 1989. “The Brooch of Thebes and the Girdle of Venus: Courtly Love in an Oppositional Perspective.” Poetica (Tokyo) 29/39: 17-38.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 1972. Platonism and poetry in the twelfth century: the literary influence of the school of Chartres. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 1994. Johannes de Hauvilla. Architrenius. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

man in medieval Baghdad foolishly acted as a courtly lover

singing slave girl

A young man pretending to be an aristocrat arrived at a banquet in eleventh-century Baghdad. A slave girl  — beautiful, highly cultured, and wealthy — was singing there. She enthralled him.

In fashionable devotion to the singing slave girl, the young man refrained from eating even though he was dying of hunger. He became inebriated from drinking sweet date wine. Then the love-struck young man saw roses. He grabbed them and ate them. The slave girl whispered behind her tambourine to her master:

By God, I beg of you, call for something for this young man to eat, or else his shit will become honeyed rose jam!

The singing slave girl cared for the foolish young man.

The young man was dressed in only a brocade robe. The night was cold. He began to shiver, and his teeth chatter. He said to the slave girl, “I want to embrace you.” She said to him, “You poor thing, you need to embrace an outer garment more than to embrace me, if you had any sense!” She had worldly good sense. He was a foolish courtly lover. He left deeply wounded by her sensible words.

As foolish courtly lovers do, the young man then wooed the slave girl with letters. He wrote to her of “his love and his follies, his insomnia at night, his tossing and turning in bed as if he were lying on a hot frying pain, and his inability to eat and drink.” The shrewd narrator of the story added that the young man wrote “of such like vacuous drivel, which has no use or benefit” to men in love. The singing slave girl naturally rejected the vacuous drivel of the courtly lover.

Badly educated, the courtly lover turned to literary imagination and poetry. He wrote to the slave girl:

Since you have forbidden me to visit you, or to ask you to visit me, then order, by God, your specter to visit me at night, and quench the heat of my heart.

Guide me to your specter so that
I may claim a rendezvous with it.

Another poem:

If your abstinence is a come-on,
show your specter the way to me.

The young man sought to travel to meet the slave girl’s spirit, or to have it come to him. In worldly love, a spirit is a poor substitute for a flesh-and-blood woman.

With compassion and boldness, the singing slave girl taught the foolish man actually how to achieve his aim. She sent a message to him:

Woe upon you, you poor thing, I’ll do something for you that is better for you than my specter visiting you at night. Put two gold coins in a purse and I’ll come to you and that will be that.

In courting sophisticated slave girls in medieval Baghdad, poetry was much less useful than gold coins.

As the above story indicates, the eleventh-century Islamic world had both the intellectual capability and freedom to criticize the men-debasing ideology of courtly love. In western Europe, benighted scholars have ignorantly celebrated courtly love for about a millennium. Study of medieval Islamic literature might help to spur a true renaissance and enlightenment.

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The above story is from the Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim {The Imitation Abū al-Qāsim}, a work written in Arabic and attributed to al-Azdī. The work and its author are closely associated with Baghdad. It was probably originally written between 1008 and 1020. The work has survived in a unique codex manuscript now held in the British Library as MS. ADD 19, 913. That manuscript, which isn’t the author’s autograph, includes a marginal note dated 1347. St. Germain (2006) pp. 10-14.

St. Germain provides an English translation of Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim, along with extensive notes. For the story above, see id. pp. 287-8. The quotes above are from id., with some insubstantial changes for clarity.

The singing slave girl was Zād Mihr, a historically attested woman. The man in love with her isn’t named. He is described as “a young man who pretended to be an aristocrat of Baghdad.” The young man’s letters to Zād Mihr include symptoms of lovesickness recognized from antiquity.

[image] Portrait of young Egyptian singing slave girl. Painting by
Émile Vernet-Lecomte, 1869. Slightly cropped. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


St. Germain, Mary S. 2006. Al-Azdī’s Ḥikāyat Abī al Qāsim al-Baghdādī: placing an anomalous text within the literary developments of its time. Ph.D Thesis. University of Washington.

public discussion of rape based on ignorance, bigotry & superstition

flat earth diagram of medieval understanding

High-quality, nationally representative survey data indicate that rape of men is about as prevalent as rape of women. Moreover, under current understandings of rape, women rape men about as often as men rape women. At the same time, criminal justice systems are highly biased toward punishing men. That produces a stark gender inequality. On any give day around the world, about fifteen times more men than women are sitting behind bars as prisoners of authoritative criminal justice systems. When is the last time you heard any public concern about that life-destroying gender inequality?

While important, largely untold facts about rape aren’t difficult to learn, contemporary public discussion of rape is mainly based on ignorance, bigotry, and superstition. A recent scholarly study declared:

Contemporary understandings of sexual victimization have been informed by the reality that men’s sexual violence toward women was ignored for centuries and remains dangerously well tolerated in many regions of the world. [1]

In reality, claims that a man committed sexual violence upon a women have been taken with deadly seriousness throughout history. Roman men, and subsequent historians, accepted Lucretia’s claim of rape without questioning. Lucretia’s claim of rape reportedly generated a bloody war and led to the founding of the Roman Republic. The ancient lives of saints Eugenia and Marina show that accusations that a man raped a woman were extremely damaging for the accused. Around the world and throughout history (except for recent decades), false accusations of rape have been a matter of intense concern. If men’s sexual violence toward women was historical ignored, historical concern about false accusations of men’s sexual violence toward women makes no sense. Belief that “men’s sexual violence toward women was ignored for centuries” reflects ignorance, bigotry, and superstition among scholars studying sexual violence today.

Pressure to honor orthodox dogma produces astonishing intellectual contortions in studying rape and sexual violence. A study of female perpetration of sexual violence declared:

While in no way seeking to minimize the very real phenomenon of male perpetration, we examine female perpetration so as to explore the gender dynamics at play and to understand sexual victimization more fully. In so doing, we argue that new attention to female sexual perpetration serves important feminist goals. [2]

In order to be well-regarded, scholarly work today must strive to serve feminist goals. In fact, the very real phenomenon of female perpetration has been much more commonly minimized than that of male perpetration. This study itself referred to “professionals & a culture of denial”:

Perhaps even more troubling than misperceptions concerning female perpetration among the general population are misperceptions held by professionals responsible for addressing the problem. Female perpetration is downplayed by those in fields such as mental health, social work, public health, and law [3]

One means of downplaying female perpetration is playing up female excuses. This study advocated research that “attends to women’s past victimization issues” and urged “taking into account the troubled background many such women possess.”[4] In studying men perpetrators of sexual violence, no equal concern is shown for those men’s past victimization issues and the troubled background of those men. Not surprisingly, the study called for “feminist approaches” to studying female perpetration.[5]

Scholarly ignorance, bigotry, and superstition constrains understanding of sexual violence. Within the mass of thoroughly anti-men gender-bigoted scholarship relating to criminal justice, one can find a rare nugget of good reason:

We conclude by recommending that public health and policy responses embrace a new, gender inclusive response to sexual victimization. This ought to entail, among other things, the attention of healthcare and criminal justice professionals to the reality of female perpetration, the inclusion of inmates in our national conversation about sexual victimization, and an expanded research agenda to study sexual victimization more comprehensively. [6]

Providing more funding for established scholars to pursue “an expanded research agenda to study sexual victimization more comprehensively” isn’t necessary. The public response to sexual victimization should reject gender bigotry, recognize the reality of female perpetrators, and include inmates, who are vastly disproportionately men. Rejecting ignorance, bigotry, and superstition isn’t a matter of doing more research under current scholarly incentives. Embracing truth and good reason requires a new commitment to enlightenment.[7]

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[1] Stemple, Flores & Meyer (2017) p. 303. A nearly identical claim occurs in Stemple & Meyer (2014) p. e19. For discussion of the latter, see my post on rape of men.

Although about four times more men die from violence than do women, the international elite has prioritized violence against women:

For the last few decades, the prevailing approach to sexual violence in international human rights instruments has focused virtually exclusively on the abuse of women and girls. … There are well over one hundred uses of the term “violence against women” — defined to include sexual violence — in U.N. resolutions, treaties, general comments, and consensus documents. No human rights instruments explicitly address violence against men. … another term employed in human rights instruments dozens of times, “gender-based violence,” might reasonably be thought to include both males and females. … {however, } “gender-based violence” is used only to describe female victimization, thereby leaving no room for much-needed gender analysis of male rape.

Stemple (2009) pp. 605, 619. For related analysis, Stemple (2011).

[2] Stemple, Flores & Meyer (2017) p. 303. Stemple elsewhere explains that “neglecting male rape is bad for women and girls.” Stemple (2009) p. 606. Stemple, Flores & Meyer (2017) shows further concern to be consistent with the dominant ideology:

A focus on female perpetration might be skeptically viewed as an attempt to upend a women’s rights agenda focused on male-perpetrated sexual victimization. But attention to female perpetration need not negate concern about other forms of abuse. Moreover, a close look a sexual victimization perpetrated by women is consistent with feminist imperatives to undertake intersectional analyses, to take into account power relations, and to question gender-based stereotypes, as we explain.

Id. See also id. p. 309. This article doesn’t consider that it might be skeptically viewed as attempting to forestall thorough, deconstructive critique of the dominant ideology’s anti-men gender bigotry.

[3] Stemple, Flores & Meyer (2017) p. 309. A section heading in the article is “6. Professionals & a culture of denial.”

[4] Stemple, Flores & Meyer (2017) p. 309. The study declared, “female perpetration is frequently intertwined with women’s past experience of their own victimization.” Id. p. 304. It also urged “taking account of issues specific to lesbian and bisexual women,” thus excluding gay and bisexual men. Id. p. 309.

[5] Stemple, Flores & Meyer (2017) p. 309.

[6] Id. p. 303. The actual conclusion inserts excuses for female perpetration. See id. p. 309 and discussion above. Popular media has treated as stunningly revelatory Stemple’s reporting that women and men commit sexual violence in roughly equal proportions. What’s actually extraordinary is that a legal scholar has acknowledged that truth, even while striving to avoid undermining the dominant ideology.

[7] Lack of commitment to truth and good reason makes much scholarly literature on rape and sexual violence an ugly spectacle. Scholars have almost always lacked the courage to describe honestly the problem. Consider:

In 1975, Susan Brownmiller famously described rape as “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” With the might and imprecision of a sledgehammer, Brownmiller’s words forced sex and gender to the center of the rape discussion. This perspective, usefully provocative in its era, reads today as an unreasonable generalization, particularly the author’s accusation that all men consciously use rape to intimidate. By creating a perpetrator class of men, Brownmiller dangerously sets up men as implausible victims.

Stemple (2009) p. 634 (internal footnotes omitted), citing Brownmiller (1975) p. 15. Underscoring her equivocal appreciation for Brownmiller’s work, Stemple credits Brownmiller with concern for male prisoner rape, but comments, “her claims strike me as dated {sic} and unreasonable.” Id. p. 634, notes 240, 241. Brownmiller’s claims are more honestly described as false, sexist, and hateful toward men. Nonetheless, Brownmiller’s claims became famous and enormously influential. They have contributed to expanding the criminalization of men seeking women’s love.

[image] Depiction (Flammarion engraving) imagining medieval view of a flat earth. From Flammarion (1888) p. 163. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a colored version.

The caption under the engraving states in English translation: “A missionary of the Middle Ages tells that he had found the point where the sky and the Earth touch.” The engraving itself dates to no earlier than the late eighteenth century. Since the 5th century BGC, learned persons, including those in medieval Europe, have recognized that the earth is spherical. See note [7] and associated text in my post “earth’s a square, heaven a circle.”


Brownmiller, Susan. 1975. Against our will: Men, women and rape. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Flammarion, Camille. 1888. L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire {The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology}. Paris: Librairie Hachette.

Stemple, Lara. 2009. “Male Rape and Human Rights.” Hastings Law Journal. 60 (3): 605-646.

Stemple, Lara. 2011. “Human Rights, Sex, and Gender: Limits in Theory and Practice.” Pace Law Review. 31 (3): 824-836.

Stemple, Lara, and Ilan H. Meyer. 2014. “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions.” American Journal of Public Health. 104 (6): e19-e26.

Stemple, Lara, Andrew Flores, and Ilan H Meyer. 2017. “Sexual victimization perpetrated by women: Federal data reveal surprising prevalence.” Aggression and Violent Behavior. 34: 302-311.

misandry & castration culture repress alternate lifestyles for men

In the growing movement for men’s liberation, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) has been highly influential. MGTOW is an alternate lifestyle for men that emphasizes men’s intrinsic human worth. MGTOW rejects men being merely tools in service to particular women and to gynocentric society in general. The backlash against MGTOW brings the dominant forces of misandry and castration culture to wage war on men. That isn’t a new phenomenon. When men in medieval Europe pursued an alternate lifestyle, they too were attacked with misandry and castration culture.

medieval Cistercian conversi at work

Men who sought to change their lives radically in medieval Europe could join monastic orders as conversi, also known as lay brothers. The conversi made monastic vows, but they were often illiterate and lacked deep knowledge of scripture and church teaching. Monks who were ordained as priests celebrated the sacraments, sang sacred music, and pursued advanced learning. The conversi worked in the fields and around the monastic houses to sustain the mundane life of the community. Some conversi sought to reform themselves from wrongful behavior in their prior, non-monastic lives. Others sensed oppressive, unholy circumstances in the secular world. Seeking an alternative, they became conversi.

According to the twelfth-century Latin masterpiece Speculum stultorum, the donkey Burnel threatened Cistercian conversi. Burnel had taken a path across the field of a Cistercian monastery near Lyons. The Cistercian brother Fromundus urged his dogs upon Burnel. The dogs tore into Burnel. One even bit off the end of his tail. Acting in the person of a papal envoy, Burnel cursed Fromundus for all his days.

Burnel’s lengthy anathema drew upon misandry and castration culture to threaten conversi. The papal envoy Burnel declared:

Those converts {conversi}, better known as perverts,
and from their actions drawing certain names —
if anyone catches them outside the church,
destroy their right-side eyes and feet.
And if bells not hang around their necks,
let the penises attached to them be cut off.

{ Istos conversos, quos perversos magis esse
constat, ut ex factis nomina certa trahant,
ecclesiae portam quisquis conspexerit extra,
mox oculos dextros auferat atque pedes.
Et nisi compana collo dependeat una,
mentula tollatur quodque cohaeret ei. }

Conversi were men pursing an alternate lifestyle relative to peasants and priestly monks. The papal envoy first attacked them by stereotyping them as sexual criminals. The papal envoy then sought to confine the conversi to church as if they were priestly monks. Like associating toxicity with masculinity (“toxic masculinity”), the papal envoy required that bells be attached to these men’s necks so that all would be warned of their coming. If men didn’t wear this signal of their menace, they would have their penises cut off. That’s how misandry and castration culture have functioned throughout history.

Men today have good reason to flee the lifestyle typically imposed on men. Be a worker drone, financially support women and children, and die for your country. Even before those roles were as devalued as they are today, what man would want only them for his life?  Few men would. Misandry and castration culture, among with myths of misogyny, patriarchy, and rape culture, are necessary to keep men confined within the soul-destroying structures of gynocentric society.

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The above quote is from Speculum stultorum ll. 977-82, Latin text from Mozley & Raymo (1960) p. 53, my English translation, with some help from Regenos. Regenos translated those lines as:

That all those converts, rather perverts as
They’re known, get certain names to suit their deeds.
Who catches sight of them outside the church
Let him forthwith their eyes and feet destroy.
And if a bell be hung not from their necks,
Then let them be emasculated too.

Regenos (1959) p. 66. My translation follows the Latin more closely in vital words, e.g. penis, and is more easily readable, I hope.

In the above quote, the context of specific physical organs (eyes and feet) make clear that the proper translation for mentula is “penis.” The same is true in Bernardus Silvestris’s twelfth-century Cosmographia, Microcosmus 14.166.

[image] Medieval Cistercian conversi at work. Illustration from a psalter on the life of Saint Bernard of Claivaux. By Jörg Breu in 1500. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


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

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

horse vs. mule: Burnel recognized value of seminal action

woman kissing donkey

In twelfth-century England, the donkey Burnel thought himself destined to become a bishop. Burnel had a traumatic childhood and low masculine self-esteem. Yet a donkey could offer more in love than could a man. Recognizing the value of seminal action, Burnel imagined himself being a bishop acting as a horse rather than as a mule.

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. A mule thus indicates a male donkey’s sexual broad-mindedness and vigor. Wrongly stereotyped as being stubborn, scientific testing suggests that mules are more flexible learners than are donkeys, horses, or dogs.[1] Male mules, however, are sterile. No matter how much erection labor a male mule performs for a female, the female will not get pregnant. Mules thus cannot become biological fathers.[2]

The donkey Burnel had no interest in becoming a spiritual father like a mule. In considering the role of bishop, Burnel pondered the two-horned bishop’s hat known as a mitre. In medieval Europe, an abbot could also wear a mitre. An abbot, however, lacked the sacramental capabilities of a bishop.[3] Burnel respected only fully capable fatherly horns:

No mitre nor its horns shall crown my head,
unless there’s present what accompanies it.
When all things else are lacking which belong,
what joy is there to hold the empty form?
Full bishop I shall be, for I don’t want
his honors as a mule, but as a horse.

The mule has genitalia, yet he
is always sterile and can’t reproduce.
So those who have no office, but the name,
have nothing but insignia to bear.
Forbid that I should rise and take such horns
as various ones have for themselves assumed.

I’d rather be content with both my ears
than have two horns like those appear on me.
In what they raise up, in that they’re closed off,
so mule and abbot in esteem are equal.
A lappet on an abbot’s head is worth
what testicles that hang from mules mean.
Those who in being bishops are curtailed
are made like abbots with emasculated mitres. }

{ Mitra nec ascendet caput hoc neque cornua sumam,
si non affuerit quod solet inde sequi.
Cetera cum desint quae sunt comitantia mitrae,
quit juvat hac sterili conditione frui?
Plenus praesul ero, quia pontificalibus uti
nolo velut mulus, sed volo sicut equus.

Gignere cum nequeat, sua sic genitalia gestat
mulus et est sterilis tempus in omne suum.
Cum rem non habeant, sua sic insignia portant
hi qui nomen habent officioque carent.
Absit ut ascendam vel talia cornua sumam,
qualia sumpserunt ille vel ille sibi.

Auribus esse meis contentus malo duabus,
quam duo sic nasci cornua posse mihi.
In quibus excellunt quoniam patiuntur eclipsim
mulus et abbates sunt in honore pares.
Abbatis tantum capiti valet infula quantum
testiculos mulo pendere quisque velit.
Qui ne pontifices fiant sunt apocopati,
ut sint abbates syncopa mitra facit. } [4]

Horns have long been symbols of strength, virility, and cuckolding. Burnel regarded a mitre’s horns, like masculine genitalia, as beautiful and full of grace as they are, to be efficacious signs when linked to seminal action.

In medieval Europe, women and men of religious orders engaged in seminal action. According to Burnel, the secular canons thrust themselves into advocating a double duty of seminal action:

So this they strongly teach should be
observed by all through all posterity:
that as the ancient law provides, no one
should lack one girl, but each might have his two.
They love the world and grasp its fading flower,
and keep it watered lest it droop and die.

{ Illud praecipue tamen instituere tenendum
omnibus in tota posteritate sua:
lex vetus ut suasit, ne quilibet absque sua sit,
et quod quisque suas possit habere duas.
Hi sunt qui mundum cum flore cadente tenentes,
ne cito marcescat, saepe rigare student. }

The secular canons’ self-emptying love had effects on nuns, particularly abbesses, the shepherds of their convents:

Some bear no children, others do; and yet
they hide it all beneath the virgin’s name.
One who is honored by the shepherd’s staff,
brings forth a more prolific brood.
Scarce one of them is found who can’t conceive
till age denies them this ability.

{ Harum sunt quaedam steriles, quaedam parientes,
virgineoque tamen nomine cuncta tegunt.
Quae pastoralis baculi donatur honore,
illa quidem melius fertiliusque parit.
Vix etiam quaevis sterilis reperitur in illis,
donec eis aetas talia posse negat. }

Under gynocentrism, signs of men’s seminal action are obscured with specious claims of virginity. Be not deceived. Women conceive almost always in conjunction with men’s seminal action.

With strong reason that would have warmed the loins of the Talavera clergy, Burnel sought to establish, for himself and others, a new religious order. Burnel’s new religious order would embrace and celebrate efficacious signs of the masculine grace that perpetuates life:

Surviving orders, apart from all delight,
a woman as my mate in lasting bond.
This order was the first, begun in Paradise,
established by the Lord, and by him blessed.
We would that this be kept forevermore
to which belonged my mother and my sire,
in which my entire race has always been,
and if it fail, the human race will end.

{ Ordine de reliquo placet ut persona secunda
foedere perpetuo sit mihi juncta comes.
Hic fuit ordo prior et conditus in Paradiso,
hunc Deus instituit et benedixit ei.
Hunc in perpetuum decrevimus esse tenendum,
cujus erat genitor cum genetrice mea,
et genus omne meum semper fuit ordinis hujus,
quo genus humanum deficiente cadet. } [5]

Burnel the donkey never become a bishop. The religious order of Burnel was never officially instituted. We call him a foolish donkey, dumber than a dumb ox, yet the soundness of his doctrine continues to resound in banging and bellowing throughout the entire world.[6]

Even in our sterile, mulish times, courageous laymen continue to engage in seminal action. Their efficacious masculinity is essential for the eternal life of humanity. It deserves to be celebrated.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Osthaus (2013). Brighteyes, a horse owner in Georgia, explained:

mules are only stubborn because they are smart. Mules know that running into or away from everything isn’t going to work as well as thinking it through. Many people will tell you “Trust your mule.” Mules are sometimes smarter than people and are highly sensible.

[2] Birth control is vitally important for men because crushing sex payments are socially imposed on men who contribute sperm to a pregnancy. However, no other animal species imposes such payments on males.

[3] From about 1125 in western Europe, mitres began to have pointed horns rising on the sides of the head. Cornua (horns) became a popular medieval term for a mitre. Here’s a medieval drawing of a side-horned mitre inserted as marginalia in a manuscript of the Speculum stultorum. Mitres today more commonly have flaps that rise from front and back to meet at a point in the middle. See a review of the history of mitres, Mozley & Raymo (1960) p. 160, note to l. 1683, and symbols of the Office of Bishop.

Before 1050 in western Europe, abbots rarely wore mitres. Abbots subsequently began wearing mitres through grants of special favor. Abbots, however, didn’t have a bishop’s capability of consecrating Holy Chrism. Mozley & Raymo (1960) pp. 160, notes to ll. 1689, 1691-1702.

[4] Nigellus Wireker, Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum} ll. 1683-88, 1693-98, 1705-8, (additional couplet), 1709-10, Latin text from Mozley & Raymo (1960), , with the additional couplet from Wright (1872) p. 70 (noting “These two lines are omitted in A.”). English translation from Regenos (1959) pp. 90, with my adaptations. For ll. 1705-8, (additional couplet), 1709-10, Regenos has:

In what things they excel, for they fall short,
The mule and abbot are in like esteem.
The fillet means the same on abbot’s head
As signs of masculinity in mules.
Those who from being bishops are deprived
The flattened miter does not abbots make.

Id. Above I’ve attempted a clearer and more literal translation of those lines.

The additional couplet exemplifies the poetic brilliance of Speculum stultorum. Consider:

A lappet on an abbot’s head is worth
what testicles that hang from mules mean.

{ Abbatis tantum capiti valet infula quantum
testiculos mulo pendere quisque velit. }

In this couplet, the ecclesiastical accoutrement lappet {infula} is separated by only two Latin syllables from testicles {testiculos}. Testicles hang downward in the front of a man’s body. A lappet (tied around the head) typically hangs downward in two strands at the back of the head. The couplet metaphorically compares the abbot’s lappet to a mule’s testicles. That’s an extraordinarily imaginative metaphor. Moreover, the reversals top to bottom in relation to a man’s trunk and back to front in relation to the man’s ventral plane are a microcosm of the “world turned upside down” theme of the Speculum stultorum. On divine folly and the trickster tricked in the Speculum stultorum, Mann (2009) pp. 133-6.

In a grave scholarly failure, the additional couplet doesn’t appear in Mozley & Raymo’s critical edition. While the couplet in omitted in manuscript A (British Museum, MS. Hareian 2422) of the Speculum stultorum, it apparently appears in manuscript B (British Museum, MS. Arundel 23) and manuscript C (British Museum, MS. Cotton Titus A 20), as well as in either the fifteenth-century printed editions from Utrecht or Paris. Mozley & Raymo (1960) pp. 9, 15, 16 (notes to 10, Wright’s edition), which identifies and describes the manuscripts corresponding to Wright’s sigla. Suppressing this couplet is part of the oppressive history of obscuring men’s masculine being and denying men’s intrinsic virtue.

The leading scholarly works on medieval beast literature lamentably don’t cover Burnel’s thoughts on a bishop’s mitre, a mule, and seminal action. Having drawn a chronological line at 1150, Ziolkowski (1993) only mentions the Speculum stultorum peripherally. Mann (2009) spends a full chapter on the Speculum stultorum. Yet like medieval scholarship in general, id. shows little consideration for men’s distinctive being and ignores the Speculum stultorum’s striking references to a male mule’s genitals and testicles.

Subsequent quotes from the Speculum stultorum are sourced like that above. Cited by Latin text line numbers and page in Regenos (1959), they are: ll. 2321-6, p. 112 (So this they…); .. 2395-2400, p. 115 (Some bear no children…); ll. 2437-4, p. 117 (Surviving ordains…). I’ve made some adaptations to Regenos translation. I note particularly substantial changes.

[5] For Ordine de reliquo placet, Regenos translates “I’m pleased to borrow from the group that’s left.” The Latin phrase seems to me to carry a pun with the natural requirement of a species’s survival. To convey that sense, I’ve translated the Latin as “Surviving orders, apart from all delight.”

[6] Thomas Aquinas is today the most famous and influential medieval theologian. Aquinas’s fellow students, however, reportedly called him a “dumb ox.”  Albertus Magnus, an eminent philosopher and theologian of Aquinas’s time, reportedly stated:

We call him the dumb ox, but he will make resound in his doctrine such a bellowing that it will echo throughout the entire world.

{ Nos vocamus istum bovem mutum, set ipse adhuc talem dabit in doctrina mugitum, quod in toto mundo sonabit. }

Quoted in Resnick (2013) p. 7, from William of Tocco’s early fourteenth-century biography of Thomas Aquinas.

[image] Woman kissing donkey. Image thanks to Jaclou-DL, who generously made it available on pixabay under a CCO Creative Commons license.


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

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

Osthaus, Britta, Leanne Proops, Ian Hocking, and Faith Burden. 2013. “Spatial cognition and perseveration by horses, donkeys and mules in a simple A-not-B detour task.” Animal Cognition. 16 (2): 301-305.

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

Resnick, Irven M. 2013. “Albert the Great: Biographical Introduction.” Pp. 1-14 in Resnick, Irven M., ed. A companion to Albert the Great: theology, philosophy, and the sciences. Leiden: Brill.

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

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