the now-inconceivable joy of sex in medieval times

medieval lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

medieval couple in bed

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

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

[2] Carmina Rivipullensia, “Sol ramium fervens medium dum scandit Olimpi {At noon the hot sun, climbing Mt. Olympus, blazed down through the leaves},” ll. 17-22, Latin text from Stock  (1971) p. 56, my English translation benefiting from those of id. p. 57 and Lazar (1989) p. 254.

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

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

{ Sed quis nescit cetera?
Predicatus vincitur. }

Walter of Châtillon, “Declinante frigore {The winter cold was waning},” ll. 48-9, Latin text and English trans. from Lazar (1989) p. 253. An eminent medieval Latin scholar aptly declared:

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

Stock (1971) p. 13.

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Yoffe (2019).

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sexual tension between Walter & Hildegund in tenth-century Europe

medieval love as chess game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

gender inequality in courtly love: why Marcabru spoke ill of women

Marcabru the troubadour

The brilliant twelfth-century troubadour Marcabru distinguished between true love and false love. He disparaged women for loving brutish men. He assailed men who allowed themselves to be cuckolded. Marcabru’s medieval Occitan vida states that he “spoke ill of women and of love {dis ma de las femnas e d’amor}.”[1] Why in writing about men-abasing courtly love would Marcabru have spoken ill of women and love?

In Marcabru’s time, a working man from Provence loved a highly privileged Genoese woman. Genoa was then an independent city-state and one of the wealthiest ports on the Mediterranean. Using his native language, the struggling Provençal man pleaded with the elite Genoese woman for her love:

Beautiful one, I have begged you so much,
if it please you, to love me,
I whom am your vassal,
for you are noble and well-educated
and you uphold all good worth.
For these reasons your friendship pleases me.
Since you are courteous in all you do,
my heart is fixed on you,
rather than on any other Genoese lady.
Your mercy will show if you love me,
and then I will be better repaid
than if Genoa were mine,
with all the wealth hoarded there
by the Genoese.

{ Bella, tant vos ai preiada plaz, q’amar me voillaz
Q’eu sui vostr’endomenjaz,
Car es pros et enseignada
E toz bos prez autreiaz,
Per qe.m plai vostr’amistaz;
Car es en toz faiz cortesa
S’es mos cors en vos fermaz
Plus q’en nulla Genoesa,
Per q’er merces si m’amaz;
E pois serai meilz pagaz
Qe s’era mia.ill ciutaz
ab l’aver q’es aiostaz
Dels Genoes. } [2]

The highly privileged Genoese woman responded in her Genoese language:

Minstrel, you are not courteous
in requesting this of me
since I will do nothing.
Go hang yourself
— I will not be your friend!
Indeed, I’ll slit your throat,
you cursed Provençal.
I’ll heap insults on you:
dirty, stupid, hairless!
I’ll never love you
because I have a husband more handsome
than you, and I know it well.
Go away, brother, for I have
better things to do with my time.

{ Iuiar, voi no sei corteso
Qe me chaideiai de zo,
Qe niente no farò.
Ance fossi voi apeso
— vostr’amia non serò.
Certo, ia ve scanerò,
Provenzal malaurao!
Tal enoio ve dirò:
Sozo, mozo, escalvao!
Ni ia voi non amerò,
Q’eu chu bello marì o
Qe voi no sei, ben lo so.
Andai via, frar’, eu temp’ò
Meillaura! }

The woman went on to disparage the man as having less sense than a cat. She also made further ethnic slurs against Provençals. When the man offered to serve her well sexually, she suggested that he go mount a pack-horse.

privileged lady

Courtly love was a form of structural gender oppression of men. Without concern for men’s disadvantaged position, some women treated men badly:

Lady, because of you I am in great torment.
— Sir, you act foolishly, and I am not grateful to you for that.
Lady, for God’s sake, be considerate.
— Sir, your pleas are wasted on me.
Good lady, I love you with a pure heart.
— Sir, and I desire you less than I desire anyone.
Lady, for that reason, I have a sorrowful heart.
— Sir, and I am happy and joyful.

Lady, I am dying for lack of encouragement from you.
— Sir, you are taking a long time to do it.
Lady, my life is worse than death.
— Sir, I’m pleased, provided I don’t cause your death.
Lady, I get nothing but discouragement from you.
— Sir, do you think you can force me to love you?
Lady, you can save me with a look.
— Sir, you have no hope or encouragement.

Lady, I then go elsewhere to beg for pity.
— Sir, then leave — who is keeping you?
Lady, I cannot because your love holds me back.
— It does that, Sir, without my help.
Lady, you always reply to me too harshly.
— Sir, that’s because I hate you more than anyone.
So, Lady, you will never be kind to me?
— Sir, it will be as you say, I believe.

{ Domna, per vos estauc en greu turmen.
— Senher, que fols faitz, qu’ieu grat en sen.
Domna, per dieu, ajatz en chauzimen.
— Senher, vostres precs hi anatz perden.
Bona domna, am ieu finamen.
— Senher, et vuelh peitz qu’a l’autra gen.
Domna, per so n’ai ieu lo cor dolen.
— Senher, et ieu alegre e iauzen.

Domna, ia muer per vos sens nulh cofort.
— Senher, ben trop n’auretz faich lonc acort.
Domna, ia es ma vida peigz de mort.
— Senher, so.m platz, sol que no’aya tort.
Domna, de vos non ai mas desconort.
— Senher, e doncs cujatz qu’ am per fort?
Domna, ab un semblan m’agratz estort.
— Senher, respieit no.n ajatz ni conort.

Domna, vauc doncs alhors clamar merce.
— Senher, anatz de sai — qui vos rete?
Domna, no puesc, que vostr’amors me te.
— Senes cosselh, senher, o fa de me.
Domna, trop mal mi respondetz ancse.
— Senher, quar peigz vos vuelh qu’az autra re.
E doncs, dona, no.m faretz ia nulh be?
— Senher, aissi er cum disez, so cre. } [3]

Cruel, uncaring women didn’t just treat unwanted men-lovers badly. They also treated their husbands badly:

I’m pretty, yet I have heavy despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

With that I’ll tell you why I so seek love:
I’m pretty, yet I have grave despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

Because I’m petite, young, and ready,
I’m pretty, yet I have grave despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

And a husband who makes me joyful is what I deserve,
with whom I could always laugh and play.
I’m pretty, yet I have grave despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

May God save me if I have ever loved him.
I’m pretty, yet I have grave despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

To sleep with him is bitter for me.
I’m pretty, yet I have grave despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

And when I see him I feel so ashamed
that I pray death will come to take him soon.
I’m pretty, yet I have grave despair
by my husband, for him I neither want nor desire.

{ Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire.

Q’en dirai per qe son aisi drusa,
Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire.

Qar pauca son, ioveneta e tosa,
Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire.

E degr’aver marit dunt fos ioiosa,
Ab cui toz temps pogues iogar e rire.
Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire.

Ia Deus mi.n.sal se ia sui amorosa;
Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire.

De lui amar, mia sui cubitosa,
Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire.

Anz quant lo vie, ne son tant vergoignosa
q’er prec la mort qe.l venga tost aucire.
Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne.l voil ne.l desire. } [4]

After the introductory refrain, this song has end rhymes across the first lines of the stanzas, with every third stanza having four verses rather than three. That formal sophistication matters little relative to the utter self-absorption of the woman’s words. The song is all about her. Because she is pretty, she feels entitled to whatever she desires. That’s a common aspect of female privilege under gynocentrism.

Some medieval literature spoke ill of men. Why would it be remarkable if Marcabru spoke ill of women? Today writers who would write anything even mildly critical of women had best append to every instance of the word “women” a pious tag: PBUT & NAWALT, meaning “praise be upon them and not all women are like that.” The danger of not writing piously about women is made clear in a thirteenth-century trobairitz song:

I cannot keep silent, I must say what I think
about that for which I have great hurt in my heart.
It gives me pain and grief to tell
about those ancient troubadours,
now dead, for I say they gravely sinned.
They led the world into confusion
when they spoke ill of women openly.
All who hear their speech believe it,
and grant that such things seem true.
Thus they have led the world into error.

{ No puesc mudar no digua mon vejaire
D’aisso don ay al cor molt gran error
Et er me molt mal e greu a retraire
Quar aquist antic trobador
Que.n son passat, dic que son fort peccaire
Qu’ilh an mes lo segl’en error
Que an dig mal de domnas a prezen
E trastug silh q’o auzon en
Et autreyon tug que ben es semblansa
Et aissi an mes lo segl’en erransa. } [5]

The danger is in speaking “openly” about women. If all who hear openly spoken words about women believe and judge them to be true, maybe those words actually are true. Maybe women in fact are equally human beings with men, not goddesses. Perhaps women even fart.

All these men were good troubadours,
and they pretended to be loyal lovers.
But I know that no lover can be true
who speaks ill of love;
rather, I say he’s deceitful in love
and behaves like a traitor.
The more strongly he strives for love,
the more candidly he speaks ill of it,
for even if a man owned all of France,
but had no lady, he would have no happiness.

{ E tug aquist que eron bon trobaire
Tug se fenhon per lial amador,
Mas ieu sai be que non es fis amaire
Nuls hom que digua mal d’amor;
Enans vos die qu’es ves amor bauzaire
E fai l’uzatge al traitor;
Aicel que se so on plus fort s’aten
Plus en ditz mal aissi tot a prezen
Quar neguns hom, s’avia tota Fransa,
No pot ses don’aver gran benestansa. }

A man without a woman is like a fish without a bicycle. Why hasn’t that sentiment become famous? Those who can’t distinguish between men-abasing courtly love and mutually generous, self-sacrificing love are incapable of distinguishing between false and true.

Never will a man of noble nature
allow another man to speak so foolishly,
as do those who are deceitful, fickle
lovers, and who all act the same.
Lord Marcabru spoke like a preacher,
who in a church or a place of prayer,
speaks great ill of those who don’t believe —
just so he spoke ill of women.
I tell you that there’s no great honor
in speaking ill of those who birth infants.

{ E ja nulhs hom que sia de bon aire
No sufrira qu’om en digua folhor,
Mas silh que son ves amor tric e vaire
Ho tuzonon e s’en tenon ab lor;
Qu’en Marcabrus a ley de predicaire
Quant es en gleiza ho orador
Que di gran mal de la gen mescrezen,
Et el ditz mal de donas eyssamen/
E dic vos be que non l’es gran honransa
Selh que ditz mal d’aisso don nays enfansa. }

Women instruct men to police other men for threats against gynocentrism. Men, if they want to be “noble” in women’s eyes, must punish men who are deceitful, fickle lovers. In addition, anyone who calls a woman a deceitful, fickle lover is a misogynist. Women are a privileged class because they give birth to infants. In contrast, men’s erection labor merits only laughter.

The great troubadour Marcabru spoke truth to power. Like Matheolus, Valerius, Hugh Primas and other courageous medieval men, Marcabru with compassion toward men sought to warn them:

Marcabru, son of Marcabruna,
was engendered under such a moon
that he knows how love dies.
He’s never loved a woman
nor been loved by any.

If you follow women’s wisdom
it’s right that you’ll meet your doom,
as Scripture teaches us.
Misfortune will come to you,
if you are not careful!

{ Marcabrus, fills Marcabruna,
Fo engenratz en tal luna
Qu’el sap d’Amor cum degruna,
Quez anc non amet neguna,
Ni d’autra non fo amatz.

Qui per sen de femna reigna
Dreitz es que mals li·n aveigna
Si cum la letra·ns enseigna;
Malaventura·us en veigna
Si tuich no vos en gardatz! } [6]

Love dies when love is identified only with courtly love. Marcabru apparently didn’t love any women that way, nor did any so love him. Listen and learn from him! Today, terribly, yes all men are portrayed as evil, as being animated with toxic masculinity. Don’t listen to that. Euripides was slandered, too. So what if Marcabru spoke ill of women and courtly love? If you want nice, work for justice.

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[1] Here’s Marcabru’s vida in Occitan and English from BnF MS. 12473.  Marcabru was from Gascony and probably sung fron 1130 to 1149. Guilhem X of Aquitaine, son of the troubadour Guilhem IX, patronized Marcabru, as did King Alfonso VII of Castile and León. About forty songs of Marcabru have survived. Paden & Paden (2007) p. 38. “Marcabru’s poetry is arguably the most powerful and distinctive of any of the troubadours.” Kehew (2005) p. 43. For the best Occitan text and English translations of all Marcabru’s surviving songs, Gaunt, Harvey & Paterson (2000). Nelson (1970) includes translations and is freely available.

Like sexual harassment authorities today, Marcabru condemned relationships between a superior and a subordinate worker:

A lady knows nothing of courtly love
if she loves a household servant;
her desire makes a bitch of her,
like a pure hound with a mongrel cur.

{ Dompna non sap d’amor fina
C’ama girbaut de maiso,
Sa voluntatz la mastina
Cum fai lebrieir’ ab gosso! }

Marcabru, “L’iverns vai e·l temps s’aizina {Winter departs and the weather follows}” st. 6.1-4, Occitan text and English translation (modified) from trobar. As has often been the case, Marcabru blamed husbands for their wives cuckolding them:

Married men with goatish minds,
you prepare your pillow so
that the cunt turns into thief.
Such a one says, “My son laughed at me,”
when he didn’t engender him.
You indeed keep a foolish appearance.

{ Moillerat, ab sen cabri
Atal paratz lo coissi
Don lo cons esdeven laire!
Que tals ditz: “Mos fills me ri”
Que anc ren no·i ac a faire:
Gardatz sen ben bedoi. }

Marcabru, “Dirai vos en mon lati {I shall tell you, in my language}” st. 6, Occitan text and translation (modified) from trobar.

[2] Raimbaut de Vaqueiras and an anonymous trobairitz, “Bella, tant vos ai preiada {Beautiful one, I have begged you so much},” st. 1, Occitan text from Nappholz (1994) p. 54, English translated (modified) from id. p. 55. The subsequent quote (st. 2) is similarly sourced from that song. Here’s a freely available, online text and translation, where the first line is “Domna, tant vos ai preiada {Lady, so much I have endeared you}.”

Raimbaut de Vaqueiras apparently wrote from about 1180 to 1205 in the courts of Provence and northern Italy. He was a master of multi-lingual songs. His “Eras quan vei verdeyar {Now when I see the meadows turning green}” consists of “a series of stanzas, first in Occitan and then in Genoese, Old French, Gascon, and Galician-Portuguese.” Pagen & Paden (2007) p. 136, from the introduction to an English translation of that song. Raimbaut de Vaqueiras’s most famous song is “The first of May {Kalenda maya},” a stamping dance song {estampida}. The melody of that song has survived. Here’s a online recording. For text and English translation of all of Raimbaut de Vaqueiras’s songs, Linskill (1964).

[3] Aimeric de Peguilhan and an anonymous trobairitz, “Domna, per vos estauc en greu turmen {Lady, because of you I am in great torment},” st. 1-3, Occitan text from Nappholz (1994) p. 80, English translated (modified) from id. p. 81. The Occitan text is also available in Chaytor (1902) pp. 71-2.

Aimeric de Peguilhan was born in Toulouse and sung his songs from about 1190 to 1220 on the Iberian peninsula and Italy. Fifty of his songs have survived, five with music. Gaunt & Kay (1999) p. 279. For texts and English translations of all of the songs of Aimeric de Peguilhan, Shepard & Chambers (1950).

[4] Anonymous trobairitz, “Coindeta sui, si cum n’ai greu cossire {I’m pretty, yet I have heavy despair},” st. 1-3, Occitan text from Nappholz (1994) p. 74, my English translation benefiting from those of id. p. 75 and Butterfly Crossing. Butterfly Crossing doesn’t represent in her text of the poem that the first stanza is a refrain. Exemplifying the “women are wonderful” effect,  she wrote:

the content, at least for me, is justified and simultaneously hollow. Of course I understand the plight of the young girl, forced to marry a much older man, against her will. She wishes his demise (and here I believe it has less to do with his actual age as it does with her choice in the matter). Yet, her very real plight is lessened through her superficial excuse. Even aside from my own translation, the typical understanding of “coindeta” relies on a meaning of beauty and youth, with previous adjectives being “lovely,” “fair,” and “graceful.” While she may be all of those things, I think this refrain (“coindeta sui” is repeated three to four times in each of the five stanzas), detracts from her more serious condition of being married off against her will, regardless of either of their physical traits. His age or virility almost seems a pretext to her want for another, which, for whatever reasons, she cannot have (and I am willing to bet there are socio-economic reasons for her being denied a marriage of her choice). In short, regardless of his age or appearance, he was thrust upon her against her will, and thus she sings her unhappy lament at the situation.

Nothing in this ballad (balada) indicates that the speaking voice was “forced to marry a much older man, against her will.” The song indicates only that the wife despises her husband and wishes that he were dead. The husband has no voice in the poem. However, medieval Latin poetry includes laments of old men with respect to young women sexually harassing them.

Another ballad also develops the theme of cuckolding. It has the refrain:

When my jealous husband is away,
handsome friend,
come to me.

{ Qant la gilos er fora,
Bel ami,
vene-vos a mi. }

Occitan text and English translation from Nappholz (1994) pp. 112-3; also available from Klinck (2004) pp. 74-5.

Nappholz emphasizes the importance of trobairitz. They were:

contemporaries of troubadours, … but they were no mere imitators. Instead, they took the rhetoric of fin’amors and shaped it to suit their own needs. With wit sublety, and poetic skill, they created a subject position for themselves out of a rhetoric which, by its very nature objectified them.

Nappholz (1994) p. 1. Occitan song no more “objectified” trobairitz than it did so to men trobairitz. Women under gynocentrism have more freedom of speech than men do. That’s why studying marginalized men authors is so important.

[5] Raimon Jordon, “No puesc mudar no digua mon vejaire {I cannot keep silent, I must say what I think},” st. 1, Occitan text from Bruckner, Shepard & White (1995) p. 98, my English translation, benefitting from those of id., Nappholz (1994) p. 103, Paden & Paden (2007) p. 112. The subsequent two quotes and the subsequent two stanzas are similarly sourced.

The single manuscript in which “No puesc mudar no digua mon vejaire” survives ascribes it to the man trobairitz Raimon Jordon. Some scholars believe, however, that a trobairitz herself wrote it. They see support for that belief in the song’s last stanza:

Let no one marvel
if I speak this way and even then wish to prove
that every man should argue for his brother
and every lady for her sister,
because Adam was our first father
and all have the Lord God as creator;
and if, through this, I wish to make an argument
for ladies, I regret nothing at all,
because one lady should honor another,
and that’s why I have said how it seems to me.

{ Ia no sia negus meravellaire
s’ieu aisso dic ni vuelh mostrar alhor
que quascus hom deu razonar son fraire
e queia domna sa seror,
quar Adams fo lo nostre premier paire
et avem Damnidieu ad auctor,
e s’ieu per so vuelh far razonamen
a las domnas, no m’o reptes nien,
quar dona deu az autra far onransa
e per aisso ai.n ieu dig ma semblansa. }

Occitan text and English trans. sourced as above. Men have seldom argued for their brothers on matters of gender. That reality supports an ironic interpretation of the whole song.

[6] Marcabru, “Dire vos vuelh ses duptansa {I wish to speak firmly},” st. 11-12 (final two stanza), Occitan text from Rosenberg, Switten & Le Vot (1998) pp. 48-9, my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Paden & Paden (2007) pp. 38-9, and trobar. Carol Anne Perry Lagemann at St Cecilia Press offers a loosely translated, more easily singable version. Here’s a recording of this song based on its surviving melody. In some manuscripts, the order of the last two stanzas is reversed.

[images] (1) Marcabru. Illumination in chansonnier provençal (Chansonnier K). Made in the second half of the 13th century. Folio 102r in manuscript preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) MS. Français 12473. (2) Highly privileged lady. Illumination in chansonnier provençal (Chansonnier La Vallière). Made in the fourteenth century. Folio 103v in manuscript preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) MS. Français 22543.


Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White, eds. and trans. 1995. Songs of the Women Troubadours. New York: Garland.

Chaytor, Henry. J., ed. 1902. The Troubadours of Dante: being selections from the works of the Provençal poets quoted by Dante ; with introd., notes, concise grammar and glossary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gaunt, Simon and Sarah Kay. 1999. “Major Troubadours.” Appendix 1 (Pp. 279-291) (listing 56) in Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. The Troubadours: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gaunt, Simon, Ruth Harvey, and Linda M. Paterson, ed. and trans. 2000. Marcabru: a critical edition. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

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

Klinck, Anne L. 2004. Anthology of Ancient Medival Woman’s Song. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Linskill, Joseph, ed. and trans. 1964. The Poems of the Troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras. The Hague: Mouton.

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

Nelson, Deborah H. 1970. Marcabru, Prophet of Fin’Amors. Ph. D. Thesis. Ohio State University.

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

Rosenberg, Samuel N., Margaret Louise Switten, and Gérard Le Vot. 1998. Songs of the Troubadours and Trouvères: an anthology of poems and melodies. New York: Garland Pub.

Shepard, William P., and Frank M. Chambers, ed. and trans. 1950. The Poems of Aimeric de Peguilhan. Evanston: Nothwestern University Press.

Marcabru on medieval conscription of men and women’s response

men dying in crusades battle

Men have long been socially regarded as disposable persons. Despite a recent court decision condemning sexist U.S. Selective Service registration, that injustice continues with little public notice. In late-medieval Europe, men’s life expectancy was about nine years less than that of women. In the ancient Mediterranean world, celebrated sayings of Spartan mothers urged men to die in battle. Cross-species and cross-cultural evidence indicates that disproportionate violence against men is constructed through social effects of sex. In poetry he wrote in the twelfth century in southern France, the man trobairitz Marcabru dared to suggest that part of the problem is women’s lack of concern for men’s lives.

In a song sardonically beginning “Peace in the name of the Lord! {Pax in nomine Domini!},” Marcabru called men to “a cleansing place {un lavador}.” The “cleansing place” was the men-killing fields of brutal Christian-Muslim battles in the medieval crusades. The Christian Book of Revelation describes many persons wearing white robes while standing before God’s throne:

One of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

{ καὶ ἀπεκρίθη εἷς ἐκ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λέγων μοι οὗτοι οἱ περιβεβλημένοι τὰς στολὰς τὰς λευκὰς τίνες εἰσὶν καὶ πόθεν ἦλθον. καὶ εἴρηκα αὐτῷ κύριέ μου σὺ οἶδας καὶ εἶπέν μοι οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐρχόμενοι ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης καὶ ἔπλυναν τὰς στολὰς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐλεύκαναν αὐτὰς ἐν τῷ αἵματι τοῦ ἀρνίου. } [1]

Jesus, the Lamb of God in Christian understanding, suffered bloody crucifixion. On the pattern of standing under Jesus when a soldier pierced his side and blood and water poured down, this song figures medieval Christian men getting covered in blood in battles with Muslims as a redemptive position — “the cleansing place.” Those men who didn’t want to wash their robes in the blood of brutal violence were shamed:

Degenerate are the Frenchmen all
if they reject the holy cause
to which they’re called.

{ Desnaturat son li Frances,
Si de l’afar Dieu dizon no,
Q’ie·us ai comes. } [2]

As Marcabru recognized, men are socially pressured to risk their lives in lethal battle.

In another twelfth-century song, Marcabru again represented the conscription of men into battle. The poem’s amorous narrator met a noble girl with a lovely figure in a locus amoenus — an idyllic place of natural beauty, serenity, and fruitfulness. She ignored him:

There by the welling spring she cried,
and from her breast escaped a sigh:
“Jesus, king of earth and sky,
you have magnified my pains —
I sorrow for the shame you suffer,
but grieve that the best men at offer
leave to serve your higher aim.”

“In your company goes my loved one,
handsome, strong, of valor proven,
gone. And in his place I’m given
desire and weeping unrestrained.
Ah, a curse upon King Louis,
he who calls men into service!
Meanwhile my grieving heart lies slain.”

{ Dels huelhs ploret josta la fon
E del cor sospiret preon.
“Jhesus,” dis elha, “reys del mon,
Per vos mi creys ma grans dolors,
Quar vostra anta mi cofon,
Quar li mellor de tot est mon
Vos van servir, mas a vos platz.”

“Ab vos s’en vai lo meus amicx,
Lo belhs e·l gens e·l pros e·l ricx;
Sai m’en reman lo grans destricx,
Lo deziriers soven e·l plors.
Ay mala fos reys Lozoicx
Que fai los mans e los prezicx,
Per que·l dols m’es el cor intratz!” } [3]

This noble woman laments that the worldly power King Louis orders the best men to serve Jesus by fighting to bring the Holy Land under Christian control. That’s the “cleansing place.” That’s the worldly hell of war. While this noble woman curses King Louis, her concern isn’t men’s suffering, but her own:

In these two stanzas the woman is talking about herself: She is more hurt and more wounded by her lover’s absence from her than she is concerned for his safety on the Crusade. It never occurs to her that his pain and suffering, emotional and physical, might be equal to hers or greater. Her grief excludes everything outside herself, including her lover, because grief is a stronger emotion in her than love. [4]

Men being maimed and killed in war is of relatively little public concern. What matters is that women suffer in war, because they are deprived of men who love and serve them. So felt this noble woman of Marcabru’s poem, and so proclaim leading authorities today.[5]

The amorous narrator sought to make this noble woman happy, as men commonly do for women. In their basic sexual functioning, all men are equal. In that animal sense, one man’s wood rises and shoots as good as another’s:

When I heard her grieving,
I walked toward her by the clear water.
“Pretty one,” I said, “too much weeping
will stain your face and lovely color.
Try not to fall into despair,
for he who makes the woods leaf out
can give you plenty of joy.”

{ Quant ieu l’auzi desconortar,
Ves lieys vengui josta·l riu clar.
“Belha,” fi·m ieu, “per trop plorar
Afolha cara e colors;
E no vos cal dezesperar,
Que selh qui fai lo bosc fulhar,
Vos pot donar de joy assatz.” } [6]

Men are plentiful, but each man is unique and special, and each man is a fully human being. Women who regard men as interchangeable sex toys dehumanize them. The narrator internalized that dehumanization of men. The woman, in contrast, valued her specific man:

“Sir,” said she, “I well believe
that God will have mercy on me
as he has had on sinners before,
in heaven, many and evermore.
But here on earth he sends afar
the man who loved me and does not care
now that he has gone away!”

{ “Senher,” dis elha, “ben o crey
Que Dieus aya de mi mercey
En l’autre segle per jassey,
Quon assatz d’autres peccadors:
Mas say mi tolh aquelha rey
Don joys mi crec! mas pauc mi tey
Que trop s’es de mi alonhatz.” }

Men become absent from ordinary life when authorities send them into the worldly hell of war. Men also become absent from ordinary life when they are ejected from their children’s lives through divorce and anti-men family-court bias. The woman feels that God doesn’t care about men’s absence in ordinary life. She has projected onto God gynocentric society’s lack of concern for losing men.

Unlike the United Nations’ propaganda campaign HeForShe, “she for him” is both grammatical correct and true social justice. Women, appreciate men! Appreciate men for their tonic masculinity. Appreciate men not just for what they do for you, but also because men are fully human beings. Men simply in their being are fully worthy of human dignity and respect.

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[1] Revelation 7:13-14, Greek text is the Morphological GNT via Blue Letter Bible. On blood and water flowing from Jesus’s lanced side, John 19:34.

[2] Marcabru, “Peace in the name of the Lord! {Pax in nomine Domini!},” 8.1-3, Occitan text and English trans. (by Kehew) from Kehew (2005) pp. 58-9. Paden & Paden (2007) pp. 43-5 provides an alternate translation, with notes. Here’s an online text and English translation of the whole song. Here’s a version sung to a non-original melody.

The historical context of disparaging the French men was their sluggish response to the Muslim victory at Antioch in 1136. Raymond, the defeated prince of Antioch, was the younger son of the man trobairitz Guilhem IX of Aquitaine. Paden & Paden (2007) p. 45, n. 8 & 9.

[3] Marcabru, “A la fontana del vergier” stanzas 3 & 4, Occitan text and English trans. (by Kehew, modified slightly) from Kehew (2005) pp. 44-5. Here’s an online text and English translation of the whole song. Paden & Paden (2005), pp. 46-7, provides an alternate translation. The woman apparently curses King Louis VII of France, who summoned men to crusade in 1146. King Louis VII’s wife was the extraordinarily privileged Eleanor of Aquitaine. Id. p. 46. With her vast wealth, Eleanor of Aquitaine financially supported trobairitz, including impecunious men trobairitz.

[4] Olson (1976) p. 195. Older scholarship ignored the missing men who had been disposed into brutal battle. Thus the poem displays “monumentality and tranquility, which is perfectly accomplished and classical {monumentalität und Ruhe, die durchaus vollendet und klassisch ist}.” Vossler (1913) p. 55, cited in Olson (1976) p. 194. More recent scholarship deploys poor-dearism and men-hating in a way that defies belief for any thinking person:

the woman is always subservient to the male order, always a construct. Like a puppet, she is manipulated, in gesture and in voice. The work divides rather neatly into three parts, each offering evidence of the ways in which the invented woman may satisfy male needs.

Cholakian (1987) p. 8. Citing Kathryn Gravdal as authority, Cholakian apparently believes that the entire medieval corpus of pastoral poetry shows “the implicit as well as the explicit intention of rape.” Id. p. 11, n. 20.

Women are deeply involved in the social disposal of men in battle. Jackson declared:

to my knowledge there exists no medieval poem in any language in which a female persona is portrayed as speaking out in support of crusading.

Jackson (2003) p. 2, and again on p. 79. Medieval Arabic poetry has a recognized genre of poems in which women incite men to violence like crusading. Sefer Shaashuim, a Hebrew work from about 1200, tells of how a woman deliberately incited a war. Albertanus of Brescia’s thirteenth-century Liber consolationis et consilii artfully has Melibee provide unusual, irenic advice to her husband.

[5] In 1998 at a conference on domestic violence, Hillary Clinton declared:

Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.

The United Nations subsequently endorsed similar false news on multiple occasions, adding in rape for additional sensationalism. For example, in 2003, authorities informed the United Nations Security Council that “women suffer disproportionately during and after war.” Here’s the press release proclaiming that propaganda. On International Women’s Day in 2017, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reminded everyone that “women are disproportionately the victims of war.” Apparently to elite regret, some persons have retained their ability to perceive reality. Those persons are thus understandably and rightfully angry.

[6] Marcabru, “A la fontana del vergier” stanza 5, Occitan text from Kehew (2005) p. 46, English trans. from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 46. I’ve used the later source for the English translation because it keeps closer to the Occitan original. The subsequent quote is from id., stanza 6 (the concluding stanza).

[image] Men being killed in a brutal battle of the crusades. Upper register of folio 23v in the Crusader Bible / Morgan Picture Bible of Louis IX. Generally thought to have been made in Paris about 1245. Preserved as MS M.638 in the Morgan Library & Museum (New York). Here’s detailed analysis of the Crusader Bible / Morgan Picture Bible.


Cholakian, Rouben C. 1987. “Marcabru’s ‘A la fontana del vergier’: A Hybrid Form.” Tenso. 3 (1): 1-14.

Jackson, William E. 2003. Ardent Complaints and Equivocal Piety: the portrayal of the crusader in medieval German poetry. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

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

Olson, Susan. 1976. “Immutable love: Two good women in Marcabru.” Neophilologus: An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature. 60 (2): 190-199.

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

Vossler, Karl. 1913. Der Trobador Marcabru und die Anfänge des gekünstelten Stiles. Sitzungsberichte der Philosophisch-Philologischen Und Historischen Classe der K.B. Akademie der Wissenschaft Zu München 11. München: Königlich Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Waltharius to Aymeri: how to end epic violence against men

Roland blows horn during massacre of men

The tenth-century Latin epic Waltharius sings of brutal violence against men — of arms and legs separated from men’s bodies, cruel blows to men’s heads, and eyes and teeth lost. Tell me, how can horrific violence against men continue to our day with so little public concern? Does Fate destine men to be the gender brutalized without compassion under gynocentrism?

Hildegrund and her betrothed, the courageous warrior Walter of Aquitaine, were returning home. They carried much treasure. Gunther, King of the Franks, heard news of them passing through his territory. Gathering with him twelve strong, self-sacrificing men, King Gunther set out to seize Hildegrund and her treasure. Walter’s friend from childhood, Prince Hagen of the Franks, reluctantly accompanied his king. Hagen strove to dissuade King Gunther from attacking Walter.[1]

Seeing Gunther and his band of men approaching, Walter and Hildegrund retreated to a cave that only one person at a time could access through a narrow ravine. King Gunther sent a messenger to them. Walter, attempting to negotiate safe passage through Gunther’s territory, offered generous payment. But Gunther wanted Hildegrund, the horse that she led, and the whole treasure chest. To save men’s lives, Hildegrund could have chosen to become Gunther’s queen, and she could have ordered Walter to give her horse and treasure chest to Gunther. Hildegrund, a strong, independent woman, said and did nothing. Thus ensued brutal violence against men and the loss of many men’s lives, which should be accounted as valuable as treasure.

While Hildegrund sat by watching, one by one Gunther’s men dutifully engaged in lethal combat with Walter. The first, Camalo, threw a spear at Walter. Walter dodged and countered with a spear throw that pierced Camalo’s arm and leg and pinned both to his horse. Then Walter ran up to him and thrust his sword into him to the hilt. One man was now dead.

On came Scaramund, Camalo’s nephew. “Now I shall either die or avenge my dear friend {Nunc aut commoriar vel carum ulciscar amicum}!” Scaramund quickly threw two spears at Walter and, charging at him, attempted a sword blow to Walter’s head. He hit weakly. Walter thrust his spear under Scaramund’s chin, lifted him up, and cut off his head with a sword-blow. Two men were now dead.

King Gunther raged, “Let’s attack him and given him no chance to rest {Aggrediamur eum nec respirare sinamus}.” Gunther’s liege Evarhard immediately went to do battle with Walter. From a distance Evarhard rained down on Walter arrows like a spring torrent. Wielding his shield like an umbrella, Walter deflected the arrows and then hurled his spear. It pierced the breast of Evarhard’s horse. The horse violently rose up and then collapsed on top of Evarhard. Walter then ran up and decapitated him. The total of dead men, which should be counted, rose to three.

King Gunther then ordered the Saxon Ekerich to attack Walter. Walter’s stout shield shattered the iron-tipped, cornel-wood spear that Ekerich threw with a throwing strap. Walter’s spear in contrast split Ekerich’s shield and ripped into his lungs: “unlucky Ekerich rolled over and coughed up a stream of blood {volvitur infelix Ekivrid rivumque cruoris / evomit}.” Four men were now dead.

With sword alone Hadawart attacked Walter. Climbing over the pile of dead men’s bodies to get to Walter, Hadawart swung his sword at Walter. Walter parried with his spear and knocked Hadawart’s sword into the bushes. Walter then knocked Hadawart down, stepped on his neck, and stabbed him to death. Men’s lives should matter for more than a count.

When watching a mass-market action movie, who counts how many men are killed? Why do politicians, among whom a majority are men, spend billions of dollars to address violence against women and say nothing about violence against men? Why do academics trivialize and laugh at violence against men?[2]

Eleven eminent men, one after another, went to their death in attacking Walter. Then King Gunther and Walter’s childhood friend Prince Hagen attacked him. Their fight ended only after Gunther lost a leg, Hagen lost an eye and three teeth, and Walter his right palm. Depriving men of their members is an aspect of historically entrenched castration culture. As shown in top-ranked recent U.S. television commercials, violence against men’s genitals is trivialized to sell mass-market consumer goods. So it is with violence against men more generally. At the end of the epic Waltharius, the maimed Walter and Hagen joke with each other about their bodily wounds.

An alternative exists for ending epic violence against men. The early thirteenth-century Old French epic Aymeri of Narbonne narrates a path not taken. In that epic’s first geste, the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne is returning from Spain. He is distraught about the death of Roland and others of his Peers in battle at Roncevaux. From a hilltop, Charlemagne saw the great port city of Narbonne. Three Muslim kings, along with twenty thousand well-armed men, held that strongly fortified city. Charlemagne, with his war-wary men yearning to return home, nonetheless resolved to take Narbonne.

Charlemagne’s Peers just said no to their emperor’s plan for further violence against men. Duke Naimon said to Charlemagne:

In faith, our men are so worn out with war
that three of them have not one woman’s force.
No count or king, no prince or knight of yours
desires to fight or attack this fort.

{ Et tuit nostre home sont si las par moi foi,
Que une fame ne valent pas li troi.
N’avez baron prince conte ne roi
Qui ait talant d’asaut ne de tornoi. } [3]

Charlemagne declared that he would give the city, once captured, to Naimon. Naimon responded that he would refuse to accept it.

Charlemagne then offered Narbonne to Count Dreues. That noble man spoke the reality of many men’s lives in relation to what they are urged to do:

“My lord,” he said, “I have not asked you for it.
The living fiend can take it and destroy it!
Within a month, in all faith I assure you,
I want to be in my own land and fortress,
where I may bathe and heal the wounds I’ve borne here.
I am worn out; I can do little more, sire.
I need to rest; in truth I am exhausted.

I do not want Narbonne.”

{ “Sire,” fet il, “mie ne vos en quier.”
“Li vis deables la puise trebuchier!
Foi que doi vos, ainçois .j. mois entier,
Vodrai ge estre en mon pais arrier;
La me ferai cousteir et bangnier,
Car toz sui las, ne me puis preu aidier,
S’avroie molt de repos grant mestier.

Car ge n’en ai que faire.” }

A new house? A new car? An expensive vacation? Many men don’t ask for these things, and they don’t want these things. They implore their lord for rest from all that they do.

Charlemagne then turned to Richard of Normandy, praised his bravery, and offered him Narbonne. Richard groaned and grieved. Then he told his emperor:

Within this land so long I’ve been
that all my flesh is bruised with injuries.

If I were back in Normandy, my seat,
there’s naught in Spain that I would want to keep,
nor would I care to rule Narbonne as liege.
Choose someone else, for I want it the least!
May hell-fire burn the city!

{ Tant ai esté en la terre haie
Que tote en ai la char tainte et blemie

Se g’estoie ore arriers en Normendie,
Ja en Espangne n’avroie menentie,
Ne de Nerbone n’avroie seignorie.
Donez la autre, car ge ne la quier mie.
De mau feu soit ele arse! }

The emperor stood there with downcast eyes. Too bad, one might say. Far better to endure disappointing looks and scorn than to waste one’s life.

One by one the Emperor Charlemagne asked twelve of his Peers to take Narbonne. They all refused. They all said in various ways that they were tired and had enough. Many men at various points in their lives feel the same way. Men must learn to say no and refuse to do what authorities want them to do. With this particular, rare courage, men can end epic violence against men.

In the tenth-century Latin epic Waltharius, eleven noble men willingly went to die in brutal battle one after another. In the thirteenth-century Old French epic Aymeri of Narbonne, twelve noble men refused Charlemagne’s offer to acquire Narbonne by fighting for it. That’s progress.

Because Count Aymeri didn’t say no to Emperor Charlemagne, epic violence against men didn’t end. Aymeri led the taking of Narbonne. He also led the defeat of a Saracen siege to retake Narbonne. Both involved mass slaughter of men. When the badly wounded Aymeri came to his bride Hermenjart, he kissed her three times and said:

This mighty realm is yours as much as mine!

{ Or seroiz dame de ceste grant contrée! }

Then he gave Narbonne to Hermenjart as a wedding gift. Unlike the twelve Peers of Charlemagne, she didn’t refuse to accept Narbonne. She didn’t have to consider fighting and dying in battle for Narbonne.

Epic violence against men continued for the sons of Hermenjart and Aymeri. Under gynocentrism, men must fight for their fortune, which is as much theirs as it their wives’:

With his foes in hand, Aymeri planned
to send his sons, each one, upon a quest
to other lands, to kings and marquises,
to fight for their own fortunes.

{ Or se pansa li frans cuens posteis
Q’an autres terres, a rois et a marchis,
Envoiera les damoisiax gentis;
S’iront ennor conquerre. }

Grotesque myths of gender inequality continue in our day with epic violence against men. With compassion for men, all women and men today should courageously say, “No. It must end.”

The beginning of the end is noticing. The back cover of the 2005 English translation of Aymeri of Narbonne breathlessly declares:

Aymeri of Narbonne tells the story of Aymeri, son of one of Charlemagne’s paladins, who alone accepts the great emperor’s challenge to reconquer the Languedoc city of Narbonne from the occupying Saracens. … But the real focus of the tale soon turns to the lovely — and courageous — Hermenjart. No passive object of desire or chivalric quest, the princess of Pavia becomes a character every bit as dynamic as her male suitor and his companions.

Hermenjart, “the real focus of the tale,” courageously takes Narbonne without having to do anything. The translator of the epic explains:

Hermenjart is possessed of an exotic beauty, an equal courage and moral strength to that of her French hero, and a greater charisma and enterprise to muster men, in small or large supply, to her and his support. [4]

Men have long been eager to lay down their lives in service to women. It was a women’s world. It still is a woman’s world. Whether the future is female, in accordance with female supremacist dogma, remains to be seen.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The details in this and the subsequent six paragraphs are from Waltharius, ed. and trans. Ring (2016). A slightly inferior Latin text (part 1, part 2) is freely available online. The quotes above are ll. 691 (Now I shall either die…), 722 (Let’s attack him…), 778-9 (unlucky Ekerich…).

Kratz interprets Waltharius as mocking the epic tradition from a Christian perspective. He focuses particularly on Walter’s pride and greed. Kratz (1980) Ch. 2. Christianity regards men as no less children of God than women are. Yet like many persons, Christians often fail to see socially institutionalized massacres of men as contrary to men’s God-given human dignity.

[2] One academic declared:

By the time Walther takes on his sixth opponent — “sextus erat Patavrid” — this reader, at least, is rolling in the aisles.

Townsend (1996) p. 70. Why Townsend perceives men being brutally killed as hilariously funny isn’t clear. Townsend strains tendentiously and unconvincingly to support the dominant gynocentric pattern in academic interpretations of literary texts. The underlying sickness may be related to castration culture, as Townsend suggests:

the last state of Walther, Gunther, and Hagen suggests that the price of phallic potency is amputation — that those who live by the phallus are figuratively castrated by the phallus, and that within the signifying economy of patriarchy’s dominant fiction, as Kaja Silverman has contended, all {emphasis in original) subjectivity is castrated; or put different, that the price of the phallus is the rest of the body or at least significant portions of it.

Id. p. 83.

Waltharius is directly related to modern low-budget horror films and big-budget action movies through massive wounding and slaughter of men. On Waltharius and big-budget action films, Ziolkowski (2001) pp. 41-2. With respect to low-budget horror films, Townsend declares:

The investment of the young men who regularly watch these films {low-budget horror films} and who are thoroughly versed in their rigid conventions seems to lie, in significant measure, in seeing themselves as embodied in the Final Girl.

Townsend (1996) p. 71. Men who don’t want to be killed under gynocentric contempt for men’s lives naturally identify with women.

In the more liberal and less intellectually oppressive Middle Ages, persons perceived identity less ideologically. For example, Guibert of Nogent, a learned and highly perceptive twelfth-century abbot, greatly admired his mother. Guibert distanced himself from other women and men in his family. He described them as “either animals ignorant of God or savage warriors accused of bloodshed {aut animales et Dei ignari, aut efferos arma et caedium rei},” perhaps meaning by gender, respectively. Guibert of Nogent, Monodiae {Songs of Self} 1.2, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), my English translation benefiting from that of McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011) p. 8.

[3] Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube, Aymeri of Narbonne ll. 219-22, Old French text from Daimson (1887) v. 2, English translation (modified slightly) from Newth (2005). Subsequent quotes are similarly from ll. 339-45, 356 (“My lord,” he said, …), 367-8, 372-6 (Within this land…), 4409 (This mighty realm is yours…), 4705-8 (With his foes in hand…).

Scholars have placed Aymeri of Narbonne in a genre called chanson de geste. Written forms of this genre were popular in France from about 1100 to 1300 GC. The most widely known chanson de geste is the Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland), probably written at the end of the eleventh century.

Aymeri of Narbonne has survived in five manuscript copies, the earliest of which dates to the middle of the thirteenth century. It probably was composed early in the thirteenth century. In the surviving manuscripts, it’s grouped with Girart de Vienne and Les Narbonnais, two other chansons de geste. Newth (2005) p. xiv.

[4] Newth (2005) p. xxii.

[image] Roland blows his horn at the massacre of men in a ravine at Roncevaux. Imagined scene from the Song of Roland. Oil on canvas painting made by Gustave Doré in the nineteenth century. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bourgin, George, ed. 1907. Guibert of Nogent. Histoire de sa vie: 1053-1124. Paris: Picard.

Demaison, Louis, ed. 1887. Aymeri de Narbonne: chanson de geste; texte, glossaire, et tables. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Publications de la Société des Anciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot et cie.

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

McAlhany, Joseph, and Jay Rubenstein, trans. 2011. Guibert of Nogent. Monodies and the Relics of Saints: the autobiography and a manifesto of a French monk from the time of the crusades. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Newth, Michael A, trans. 2005. Aymeri of Narbonne: a French epic romance. New York: Italica Press.

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

Townsend, David. 1996. “Ironic Intertextuality and the Reader’s Resistance to Heroic Maculinity in the Waltharius.” Pp. 67-86 in Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, and Bonnie Wheeler, eds. Becoming Male in the Middle Ages. New York: Garland Pub.

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

trobairitz poetry shows gender bias in social construction of crimes

mean red cat

Modern public discussion of rape has overwhelmingly ignored rape of men and propagated ignorance and anti-men gender bigotry. The underlying problem is as grotesque as the mass imprisonment of men under carceral anti-meninism and as subtle as medieval trobairitz poetry setting men up to be criminals. Since persons today are thoroughly trained to ignore the obvious, let’s begin reconstructing criminal justice and romance between women and men through analysis of trobairitz poetry.

The thirteenth-century trobairitz Domna H. presented a sexual scenario to the man trobairitz Rofin. She asked:

Rofin, you’re an expert in these matters,
so tell me right away, which one did better:
suppose a lady who is noble and well born
and has two lovers
wants them both to swear an oath
before she is willing to sleep with them:
they must promise to do no more
than hug and kiss. And one makes haste
to make that oath and breaks his word.
But the other simply doesn’t dare.

{ Rofin, digatz m’ades de quors,
cals fetz meills, car etz conoissens:
c’una domna coinda e valens
que ieu sai ha dos amadors,
e vol q’uesqecs iur e pliva
enans que·ls voilla ab si colgar,
que plus mas tener e baisar
no·ill faran, e l’uns s’abriva
e·l fag, qe sagramen no·ill te,
l’autres no·l ausa far per re. } [1]

A woman who makes her lover promise to sleep with her, but do no more than hug and kiss her, is heartless and cruel at best. Most men are romantically simple and quite excitable. Christian men pray to God to lead them not into temptation.[2] Women who care for men should respect that manly prayer. Women who care for men shouldn’t taunt prudent men that they lack daring. Prudent men know what they have and how they can be exploited.

Most men have contempt for a man who would force a woman to have sex. Males raping females is quite rare across all primate species, and all but one of those species have no formal police forces and no institutions of penal incarceration. Like most men would, Rofin denounced the man-lover who in the hypothetical scenario raped his beloved lady. To hold that position, he had to resist the lady seeking to seduce men into becoming felons:

Lady, folly overcame the one
who was disobedient
toward his lady, for is it not evident
that a lover, when love drives him on,
should never defy his lady’s words
and willfully compel her.
So I say the one who broke his faith
should lose the high joy of his lady
without reprieve,
and the other man find mercy.

A true lover will not feel such fear,
Rofin, that he won’t take his pleasure,
for his desire and overwhelming urge
drive him so hard that he can’t stop
or control himself
despite the clamor of his famous lady.
For if love is earnest, lounging about
and gazing heats him up
so much that he cannot hear or see
or know if he does bad or good.

Lady, I think it is a great mistake
in a lover who loves from the heart,
if any pleasure brings him joy
that does not honor his lady.
For he should not even avoid
pain if it lets him honor her,
nor should anything please him
unless it pleases her.
A lover who does not behave this way
should lose his lady and his life!

{ Domna, d’aitan sobret follors
cel que fon deshobediens
ves sidons, que non es parvens
q’amans, puois lo destreing amors,
deia ab voluntat forciva
los ditz de sa domna passar.
Per q’eu dic qe senes cobrar
deu perdre la ioia autiva
de sidons cel qui frais sa fe
e l’autres deu trobar merce.

A fin amic non tol paors,
Rofin, de penre iauzimens,
qe·l desirs e·l sobretalens
lo destreing tant qe per clamors
de sidons nominativa
noi·s pot soffrir ni capdellar;
c’ab iazer et ab remirar
l’amors corals reccaliva tant
fort que non au ni non ve
ni conois qan fai mal o be.

Domna, ben mi par grans errors
d’amic, puois ama coralmens,
que nuills gaugz li sia plazens
q’a sa domna non sia honors,
car no·ill deu esser esqiva
pena per sa domna onrar,
ni·l deu res per dreg agradar
s’a leis non es agradiva,
e drutz q’enaissi no·s capte
deu perdre sa domna e se. }

Throughout history the death penalty has been grossly gender-biased against men. That alone is moral reason enough to reject completely the death penalty. The man broke his promise that he would sleep with his beloved lady, but only hug and kiss her. For that, like any other convicted felon, he should’t be killed under gender-biased penal law. Erase the gender-biased death penalty from penal law!

Men shouldn’t put themselves in a position where they might commit a horrible crime. A woman who knowingly goads a man into putting himself into such a position is no better than an accomplice to rape. She is deliberately inciting men to do evil. She does that in part through the vicious female practice of sexual disparaging and shaming men:

Rofin, the cowardly invader
is shameful, soft, and shrinking.
Know that he was a shameful swine
when he lost himself mid-course.
But the ardent one, in whom merit lives,
knew how to advance his cause
when he seized what he held most dear
while his beloved was near.
A lady who distrusts a lover like him
trusts wrongly one who shrinks from her.

{ Rofin, dels crois envazidors
aunitz e flacs e recrezens,
sapchatz qe fon l’aunitz dolens
qe se perdet en mieg dels cors,
mas l’arditz on pretz s’aviva
saup gen sa valor enansar
qant pres tot so qe·ill fon plus car
mentre·il fon l’amors aiziva
e domna q’aital drut mescre
mal creira cel qui s’en recre. }

Because Rofin spoke out strongly against forcing a woman to have sex, Domna H. turned on him and disparaged his masculinity:

Now I know how it really goes,
Rofin, since I hear you blame
the true man and defend the loser.
You yourself would do feeble work
at it.

{ Oimais conosc ben cossi va,
Rofin, puois que·us aug encolpar
lo fin e·l caitiu razonar:
q’eissamens obra caitiva
faria }

In Chrétien de Troyes’s Lancelot, a wicked woman arranged a fake rape scene to test Lancelot’s courage and spur his passion. Men are eager to help women in distress. Men should be more aware of how women like Domna H. manipulate them and set them up to be charged with felony crimes.[3]

Trivializing women’s sexual assaults against men contributes to the gender protrusion among prisoners. Consider the case of an eager lover of women in early twelfth-century southern France, the man trobairitz Guilhem IX of Aquitaine, also known as Guillem de Peiteus. One day while walking in the sunshine and coyly looking for women to love, he encountered the wives of Sir Guarin and Sir Bernard. Those women greeted him courteously, but they warily observed that many fools wander about the world.

Learned lovers know the effective seduction tactic “agree and amplify.” Guilhem responded to the wives in a language that might have been Arabic, a prestigious, classical language of great lovers.[4] But whatever he said was gibberish to them. That intrigued the women:

So Agnes said to Ermaline,
“Let’s take him home, quick; don’t waste time.
He’s just the thing we hoped to find:
mute as a stone.
No matter what we’ve got in mind,
it won’t get known.”

Under her cloak, one let me hide;
we slipped up to her room’s fireside.
By now, I thought one could abide
to play this role —
right willingly I warmed myself
at their live coals.

They served fat capons for our fare —
I didn’t stop at just one pair;
we had no cook or cook’s boy there,
but just us three.
The bread was white, the pepper hot,
the wine flowed freely.

{ So diz n’Agnes a n’Ermessen:
“Trobat avem que anam queren.
Sor, per amor Deu, l’alberguem,
qe ben es mutz,
e ja per lui nostre conselh
non er saubutz.”

La una·m pres sotz son mantel,
menet m’en cambra, al fornel.
Sapchatz qu’a mi fo bon e bel,
e·l focs fo bos,
et eu calfei me volentiers
als gros carbos.

A manjar mi deron capos,
e sapchatz agui mais de dos,
e no·i ac cog ni cogastros,
mas sol nos tres,
e·l pans fo blancs e·l vins fo bos
e·l pebr’ espes. } [5]

A capon is a rooster castrated to make for better eating. It’s an element of castration culture. It’s an ominous sign for any man. But Guilhem didn’t understand.

Taught to be suspicious of men, the women resolved to test him. They wanted to be sure that he wouldn’t be able to reveal the evil that they would do:

“Wait, sister, this guy’s full of fakes,
his babble — an act for our sake?
See if our big red cat’s awake
and fetch him, quick.
Right here’s one silence we should break
if it’s a trick.”

So Agnes brought that wicked beast,
mustachioed, huge, and full of yeast;
to see him sitting at our feast —
seemed less than good;
I very nearly lost my nerve
and hardihood.

We’d had our fill of drink and food,
so I undressed, as they thought good.
They brought that vile cat where I stood —
my back was turned —
and then they raked him down my side
from stem to stern.

And all at once, they yanked his tail
to make him dig in, tooth and nail.
I got a hundred scars, wholesale,
right then and there.
They could have flayed me, though, before
I’d budge one hair.

{ “Sor, aquest hom es enginhos,
e laissa lo parler per nos:
nos aportem nostre gat ros
de mantement,
qe·l fara parlar az estros,
si de re·nz ment.”

N’Agnes anet per l’enujos,
e fo granz et ac loncz guinhos:
e eu, can lo vi entre nos,
aig n’espavent,
qu’a pauc non perdei la valor
e l’ardiment.

Quant aguem begut a manjat,
eu mi despoillei a lor grat.
Detras m’aporteron lo gat
mal e felon;
la una·l tira del costat
tro al tallon.

Per la coa de mantenen
tira·l gat et el escoissen:
plajas mi feron mais de cen
aqella ves;
mas eu no·m mogra ges enguers,
qui m’ausizes. }

The red cat is male, signifying men’s mistreatment of men and men’s complicity in women’s mistreatment of men. But men naturalize their own oppression. They simply accept whatever abuse they suffer. Guilhem said not a word in response to the brutal physical abuse that he endured.

Men’s willingness to suffer allows women to exploit them. So it was for Guilhem:

So Agnes said to Ermaline,
“He’s mute for sure, sister; that’s fine.
Let’s take a nice warm bath, unwind,
then take things slow.”
I stayed inside their oven there
eight days or so.

I fucked them, fairly to relate,
a full one hundred eighty eight.
My breech-strap near broke at that rate,
also my reins.
I can’t recount all my distress
or half my pains.

No; I can’t tell all my distress
or half my pains.

{ “Sor, diz n’Agnes a n’Ermessen,
mutz es, qe ben es conoissen;
Sor, del banh nos apareillem
e del sojorn.”
Ueit jorns ez encar mais estei
en aquel forn.

Tant las fotei com auzirets:
cen e quatre vint et ueit vetz,
q’a pauc no·i rompei mos coretz
e mos arnes;
e no·us pues dir lo malaveg,
tan gran m’en pres.

Ges no·us sai dir lo malaveg,
tan gran m’en pres. }

All his erection labor left Guilhem broken and in pain. Men should be adequately compensated for their erection labor. Instead, Guilhem was first scourged and bloodied with a red cat’s claws and fangs. An alternate version of the song concludes with Guilhem sending a message to Agnes and Ermaline to kill that red cat for love of him. They owe him much more than that.[6] In a society whose penal institutions weren’t deeply biased toward punishing men, both wives would be arraigned for aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Domna H. and Rofin, “Rofin, digatz m’ades de quors,” st. 1, Occitan text from Bruckner, Shepard & White (1995) p. 78, English translation (modified slightly) from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 180. All subsequent quotes from this song are similarly sourced. This poem is classed as a partimen, a type of tenso (debate poem). A partimen sets forth in its first stanza a topic for the two parties to debate. Domna H. and Rofin were probably an Italian lady and a joglar (itinerant entertainer), respectively. Id.

Bernart Marti thought that a woman having two lovers in addition to her husband was unfaithful and disgraceful:

A lady toward her lover is perfidious
when she gives her love to three:
beyond lawful
is three,
but apart from her husband
I’ll allow her one pleading lover,
and if she seeks out more,
she’s a disgrace
and a proven whore.

{ Dona es vas drut trefana
De s’amor, pos tres n’apana:
Estra lei
N’i son trei,
Mas ab son marit l’autrei
Un amic cortes prezant.
E si plus n’i vai sercant
Es desleialada
E puta provada. }

Bernart Marti, “Bel m’es lai latz la fontana” st. 2, Occitan text and English translation (modified slightly) from Léglu (1999) p. 53. Here’s the full Occitan text of this song. Medieval European literature warned men against having more than one wife.

[2] Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4, i.e. a petition in the prayer commonly know as “Our Father {Pater noster}.”

[3] In recent decades, carceral anti-meninism has flourished in elite literary scholarship. For example, Puckett expands and celebrates Domna H.’s anti-meninism:

Domna H attacks the entire spectrum of male heterosexual sexuality, presenting all male desire and sexuality as out of control; those who are not “shameful, soft and cowardly” turn out to be rapists, unable to control their excessive sexual desires, while those who do not force their beloved are motivated more by concerns for their own potential sexual lack, by their inability to control their own bodies, than by abstract questions of mutuality or morality.

Puckett (2012) p. 13.

[4] On Guilhem’s possible contact with Arabic speakers, Beech (1992). Fourteenth-century lyric song in the Spanish masterpiece Libro de buen amor clearly shows the influence of Arabic.

[5] Guilhem IX of Aquitaine, “Farai un vers, pos mi somelh,” st. 6, Occitan text and English trans. (by Snodgrass, modified slightly) from Kehew (2005) pp. 30-1. For simplicity I refer to the poetic narrator as Guilhem. However, the song-author Guilhem IX of Aquitaine surely was poetically sophisticated enough to create a narrator’s voice different from his own real-life self. Subsequent quotes are similarly from id. Paten & Paten (2007) pp. 26-7 provides another translation. Freely available online are alternate translations by James H. Donalson, Leonard Cottrell, and trobar.

Guilhem IX of Aquitaine, who lived from 1071 to 1126, is the first man trobairitz whose name is known. He is also apparently identified in manuscripts as “Count of Poitou {Coms de Peitieus}.” He was one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful men in Europe of that time. The medieval chronicler Geoffroy de Vigeois characterize him as “a vigorous lover of women {vehemens amator foeminarum}.” His Old Occitan vida calls him “one of the greatest deceivers of women {dels majors trichadors de dompnas}.” Kehew (2005) p 20.

[6] In writing a late-thirteenth-century songbook (chansonnier), the scribe apparently recognized the significance of Guilhem’s red-cat song to the trobairitz songs of Na Castelloza. In that chansonnier, a song sequence begins and ends with five of Guilhem’s songs that frame six trobairitz songs. Four of those six trobairitz songs are those of Na Castelloza. She sung against men being distinctively positioned as a gender subject to sexual feudalism. In depicting personally sexual abuse of a man, Guilhem’s red-cat song provocatively frames Castelloza’s critique of gynocentric oppression. See Chansonnier provençal, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.819, folios 228-236 (written in Venice or Padua, c. 1285-1300). Cf. Nichols (1999) pp. 79-81.

[image] Mean red cat. Image from Grumpy Alice via Wikimedia Commons.


Beech, George T. 1992. “Troubadour Contacts with Muslim Spain and Knowledge of Arabic : New Evidence Concerning William IX of Aquitaine.” Romania. 113 (449): 14-42.

Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White, eds. and trans. 1995. Songs of the Women Troubadours. New York: Garland.

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

Léglu, Catherine. 1999. “Moral and satirical poetry.” Ch. 3 (pp. 47-65) in Gaunt, Simon, and Sarah Kay, eds. The Troubadours: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nichols, Stephen G. 1999. “The early troubadours: Guilhem IX to Bernart de Ventadorn.” Ch. 4 (pp. 66-82) in Gaunt, Simon, and Sarah Kay, eds. The Troubadours: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Puckett, Jennifer. 2012. “When a Woman Says ‘Yes,’ She Really Means ‘No’: The Subversive Rape Rhetoric of Domna H.” Tenso. 27 (1-2): 1-24.

trobairitz Castelloza against sexual feudalism & gender inequality

Good lady, you may burn or hang him
or do anything you happen to desire,
for there’s nothing that he can refuse you,
as such you have him without any limits.

{ Bona domna, ardre.l podetz o pendre,
o far tot so vengua a talen,
que res non es qu’el vos puesca defendre,
aysi l’avetz ses tot retenemen. } [1]

trobairitz Na Castelloza

Men have long been sexually disadvantaged. While men’s structural disadvantages are scarcely acknowledged within gynocentric society, a small number of medieval women writers courageously advocated for men. In Occitania early in the thirteenth century, the extraordinary trobairitz Lady Castelloza spoke out boldly against gender inequality in love and men having the status of serfs in sexual feudalism.

And if she tells you a high mountain is a plain,
agree with her,
and be content with both the good and ill she sends;
that way you’ll be loved.

{ e s’ ditz d’aut puoig que sia landa,
vos l’an crezatz,
e plassa vos lo bes e.l mals q’il manda,
c’aissi seretz amatz. } [2]

Just as is the case for many women today, many medieval women didn’t adequately support and defend men. When Giraut de Bornelh asked his lovely friend Alamanda about his love difficulties, she advised him to be totally subservient to his lady. Alamanda was a maiden to that lady. Lord Giraut apparently had lost his lady’s love by seeking sex with a woman who was not her equal, probably none other than her maiden Alamanda. But what had that lady done to him? She had lied to him at least five times before! When women speak, men should not just listen and believe. Unwillingness to question a woman led a Harvard Law professor to personal disaster. Men should not act as doormats for women or as women’s kitchen servants.

The trobairitz Maria de Ventadorn insisted to Gui d’Ussel that a woman should retain her superior position even in a love relationship with a man. Gui felt that men and women in love should be equals. But Maria wanted men to fulfill all the pleas and commands of their lady-lovers. That’s the pernicious doctrine of yes-dearism. Just say no to female supremacists!

Lady {Maria de Ventadorn}, among us they say
that when a lady wants to love,
she should honor her love on equal terms
because they are equally in love.

Gui d’Ussel, at the beginning lovers
say no such thing;
instead, each one, when he wants to court,
says, with hands joined and on his knees:
“Lady, permit me to serve you honestly
as your servant man” and that’s the way she takes him.
I rightly consider him a traitor if, having given
himself as a servant, he makes himself an equal.

{ Dompna, sai dizon de mest nos
Que, pois que dompna vol amar,
Engalmen deu son drut onrar,
Pois engalmen son amoros!

Gui d’Uissel, ges d’aitals razos
Non son li drut al comenssar,
Anz ditz chascus, qan vol prejar,
Mans jointas e de genolos:
Dompna, voillatz qe-us serva franchamen
Cum lo vostr’om! et ella enaissi-l pren!
Eu vo-l jutge per dreich a trahitor
Si-s rend pariers e-s det per servidor. } [3]

immixtio manuum: feudal homage

Because of their great love for women, men are reluctant to demand that women treat them with equal human respect and dignity. Men tend toward gyno-idolatry. The man on his knees before a woman, with his hands clasped, is making a gesture of faithful subordination. She then puts her hands around his hands to complete this feudal gesture known as the immixtio mannum {intermingling of hands}. A man today who goes down on his knee to ask a woman for her hand in marriage is preparing to be a vassal to his woman-lord midons. That’s folly. That’s fine preparation for a sexless marriage. From studying Ovid the great teacher of love to modern empirical work on sexual selection, men should know that self-abasement is a losing love strategy.

Oh Love, what shall I do?
Shall we two live in strife?
The griefs that must ensue
would surely end my life.
Unless my Lady might
receive me in that place
she lies in, to embrace
and press against me tight
her body, smooth and white.

Good Lady, thank you for
your love so true and fine;
I swear I love you more
than all past loves of mine.
I bow and join my hands
yielding myself to you;
the one thing you might do
is give me one sweet glance
if sometime you’ve the chance.

{ Amors, e que.m farai?
Si garrai ja ab te?
Ara cuit qu’e.n morrai
Del dezirer que.m ve,
Si.lh bela lai on jai
No m’aizis pres de se,
Qu’eu la manei e bai
Et estrenha vas me
So cors blanc, gras e le.

Bona domna, merce
Del vostre fin aman!
Qu’ pliu per bona fe
C’anc re non amei tan.
Mas jonchas, ab col cle,
Vos m’autrei e.m coman;
E si locs s’esdeve,
Vos me fatz bel semblan,
Que molt n’ai gran talan! } [4]

The medieval trobairitz Castelloza sympathized with men’s subordination in love. She loved a man who didn’t love her. A woman today in such a situation might open a dating app and enjoy a huge number of solicitations from men. Then, if necessary to boost her self-esteem, she might go for sexual flings with a few, or at least exploit traditional anti-men gender dating roles to get some free dinners. With a keen sense for social justice, Castelloza refused to live according to such female privilege:

I certainly know that it pleases me,
even though people say it’s not right
for a lady to plead her own cause with a knight,
and make long speeches all the time to him.
But whoever says this doesn’t know
that I want to implore before dying,
since in imploring I find sweet healing,
so I plead to him who gives me grave trouble.

{ Eu sai ben qu’a mi esta gen,
Si ben dison tuig que mout descove
Que dompna prec ja cavalier de se,
Ni que l tenga totz temps tam lonc pressic,
Mas cil c’o diz non sap gez ben chausir.
Qu’ieu vueil preiar ennanz que.m lais morir,
Qu’el preiar ai maing douz revenimen,
Can prec sellui don ai greu pessamen. } [5]

Castelloza recognized that, in pleading with a man for love, she was transgressing the norms of men-oppressing courtly love. When women treat men merely as dogs, women don’t experience the full gift of men’s tonic masculinity. The master dehumanizes herself in dehumanizing her man-slaves. Castelloza, in contrast, understood that a man’s love can ennoble a woman. She understood that a man can offer much to even the most privileged woman.

I’m setting a bad pattern
for other loving women,
since it’s usually men who send
messages of well-chosen words.
Yet I consider myself cured,
friend, when I implore you.
for keeping faith is how I woo.
A noble women would grow richer
if you graced her with the gift
of your embrace or your kiss.

{ Mout aurei mes mal usatge
A las autras amairitz,
C’hom sol trametre mesatge,
E motz triaz e chauzitz.
Es ieu tenc me per gerida,
Amics, a la mia fe,
Can vos prec — c’aissi.m conve;
Que plus pros n’es enriquida
S’a de vos calqu’aondansa
De baisar o de coindansa. } [6]

Men’s lack of imagination and unwillingness to protest helps to keep them in their gender prison of gynocentrism. Men rightly appreciate, admire, and love courageous, transgressive women like the trobairitz Castelloza. But men must take responsibility for winning their own liberation. A man showing loving concern about his close friend getting married isn’t enough. Men should be more daring and, like Matheolus, raise stirring voices of men’s sexed protest. Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOWs) struggled against misandry and castration culture even in the Middle Ages, and they continue to do so today. MGTOW is merely prudent personal action. To dismantle gynocentric oppression, men must recover, create, and disseminate protest poetry as potent as the medieval troubadours’ feudal songs of men’s love serfdom.

Peire, if spanning two or three years
the world were run as would please me,
I’ll tell you how with women it would be:
they would never be courted with tears,
rather, they would suffer such love-fears
that they would honor us,
and court us, rather than we, them.

{ Peire, si fos dos ans o tres
Lo segles faihz al meu plazer,
De domnas vos dic eu lo ver:
Non foran mais preyadas ges,
Ans sostengran tan greu pena
Qu’elas nos feiran tan d’onor
C’ans nos prejaran que nos lor. } [7]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Domna and Donzela, “Bona domna, tan vos ay fin coratge” ll. 17-20, Occitan text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Bruckner, Shepard & White (1995) pp. 92-3. Here’s some meta-data about this trobairitz song. It’s a debate poem (tenso). The currently best critical edition of trobairitz / troubadour tensos is Harvey, Paterson & Radaelli (2010), but it’s expensive and not widely available. For analysis of the genre of tenso, McQueen (2015).

[2] Alamanda and Giraut de Bornelh, “S’ qier conseill, bella amia Alamanda” ll. 13-16, Occitan text and English translation from Bruckner, Shepard & White (1995) pp. 42-3.

[3] Maria de Ventadorn and Gui d’Ussel, “Gui d’Ussel be.m pesa” ll. 25-8, 33-40, Occitan text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Bruckner, Shepard & White (1995) pp. 38-41. This poem is also available in translation in Paden & Paden (2007). The immixtio manuum isn’t attested prior to 1100. West (2013) p. 211.

[4] Bernart de Ventadorn, “Pois preyatz me, senhor” ll. stanzas 4 & 6, Occitan text and English translation by W.D. Snodgrass from Kehew (2005) pp. 84-5. The Poemist offers online the full text and English translation.

Men’s abasement in sexual feudalism is pervasive in trobairitz song. Men engage in gyno-idolatry and imagine that they will die without a woman’s love:

I bow down to you, whom I love and adore,
and I am your liegeman and your household servant.
I yield myself up to you, who are the noblest
and the best being that was ever born of a mother.
And since I cannot help but love you,
for mercy’s sake, I beg you, don’t let me die.

{ Sopley vas vos, cuy yeu am et azor,
E suy vostres liges e domesgiers.
A vos m’autrey, qar etz la genser res
E la mielhers qu’anc de maire nasques.
E, quar no.m puesc de vos amar suffrir,
Per prec que no.m layssetz morir. }

Peire Bremont Ricas Novas, “Us covinens gentils cors plazentiers,” 3.3-8, Occitan text and English translation (modified) from Kay (1999) p. 217. Peire Bremont Ricas Novas was active in Province from about 1230 to 1241.

[5] Na {Lady} Castelloza, “Amics, s’ trobes avinen” ll. 17-24 (stanza 3), Occitan text from Paden (1981), English trans. (modified) from Paden & Paden (2007). Bruckner, Shepard & White (1995) provides a slightly different Occitan text and English translation of all of Castelloza’s songs. Butterfly Crossings provides an online Occitan text and English translation of the full song, with commentary. Her commentary puts forward orthodox myth in service of gynocentrism:

by virtue of being a woman she is below him socially, thus rendering her statement simultaneously true and drawing attention to the place of women in society as opposed to the artificial pedestal they sit upon in traditional Troubadour poems. Regardless of her title, class, or wealth, in love, much like in life, the woman is beneath the man and must beg his favor like Castelloza here does.

Yup, so Anne of France was beneath day-laboring men gathering stones in fields.

Much influential recent scholarship on trobairitz has been based on dominant gender delusions. A relevant critique:

Gravdal’s argument here is based on her assumption that, for the men, powerlessness is a pose, a rhetorical strategy; the male speaker adopts an abased position only to use it as a springboard to higher status and sociopolitical clout. That Castelloza’s speaker does this as well is frequently overlooked, because it is assumed that for the women, powerlessness is a reality. This assumption is not supported by the evidence for noblewomen’s sociopolitical situation in Occitania during the time of the trobairitz.

Langdon (2001) p. 40.

[6] Castelloza, “Mout avetz faich lonc estatge” ll. 21-30 (stanza 3), Occitan text from Paden (1981), English trans. (modified) from Paden & Paden (2007). Butterfly Crossings again offers the full song, along with commentary. The commentary shows orthodox academic failure of self-consciousness:

Almost smirkingly Castelloza acknowledges that her behavior sets a terrible example for all other female lovers while synchronously encouraging them to do the same. She is not apologizing as much as drawing attention to the solidarity between women who will now partake in this perhaps liberating behavior and act upon their desires as opposed to remaining within the confined roles of passive love interests.

Women unite in liberating behavior: ask men out and buy men dinner!

In Castelloza’s songs, the man she loves has neither voice nor activity. Siskin & Storme (1989) pp. 119-20. Self-centeredness is a common characteristic of women’s writing, particularly in the last few decades of literary scholarship.

[7] Peire d’Alvrnha (possibly) and Bernart de Ventadorn, “Amics Bernartz de Ventadorn,” stanza 4, Occitan text from Trobar, my English translation benefiting from that of Rosenberg, Switten & Le Vot (1998). James H. Donalson provides an online Occitan text and English translation for the full song.

Bernart de Ventadorn was one of the greatest troubadour love poets. His desire for women to experience men’s subordinate position in love is coupled with appreciation for gender equality and reciprocity in love:

The love of two good lovers lies
in pleasing and in yearning’s thrill
from which no good thing will arise
unless they match each other’s will.
The man was born an imbecile
who scolds her for her preference
or bids her do what she resents.

{ En agradar et en voler
es l’amors de dos fiṉs amants;
nulha res no·i pòt proṉ tener
se·l volontatz non es egals.
E cell es beṉ fols naturals
qui de çò que vòl la reprend
e·ilh lauza çò qu no·ilh es gent }

“Chantars no pot gaire valer,” Occitan text and English trans. (modified insubstantially) from A.Z. Foreman. For an alternate English translation, Paden & Paden (2007) pp. 74-5. While Bernart here unequally criticizes men, in an earlier stanza her criticized women whoring in loving men.

[images] (1) Na Castelloza. Illuminated initial in manuscript Chansonnier provençal (Chansonnier K). Created in the second half of the thirteenth century. Folio 110v in Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) MS. 12473. (2) Immixtio manuum: Feudal tenant show faithful subordination to a procurator of King James II of Majorca in Tautaval. Illumination made in 1293. Preserved as Archives Départementales de Pyrénées-Orientales 1B31.


Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White, eds. and trans. 1995. Songs of the Women Troubadours. New York: Garland.

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

Kay, Sarah. 1999. “Desire and Subjectivity.” Ch. 13 (pp. 212-227) in Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay, eds. The Troubadours: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Langdon, Alison. 2001. “‘Pois dompna s’ave/d’amar’: Na Castellosa’s Cansos and Medieval Feminist Scholarship.” Medieval Feminist Forum 32: 32-42.

McQueen, Kelli. 2015. That’s Debatable!: Genre Issues in Troubadour Tensos and Partimens. Thesis for Degree of Master of Music. Theses and Dissertations. Paper 819. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Paden, William D. 1981. “The Poems of the Trobairitz Na Castelloza.” Romance Philology. 35 (1): 158-182.

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

Rosenberg, Samuel N., Margaret Louise Switten, and Gérard Le Vot. 1998. Songs of the Troubadours and Trouvères: an anthology of poems and melodies. New York: Garland Pub.

Siskin, H. Jay and Julie A. Storme. 1989. “Suffering Love: The Reversed Order in the Poetry of Na Castelloza.” Ch. 6 (pp. 113-127) in Paden, William D., ed. The Voice of the Trobairitz: perspectives on the women troubadours. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

West, Charles. 2013. Reframing the Feudal Revolution: political and social transformation between Marne and Moselle, c. 800 – c. 1100. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Ospirin, Hiltgunt & Walter of Aquitaine: medieval wives & husbands

Attila the Hun re-creation

When Attila the Hun’s wife Ospirin heard that his adopted son Prince Hagen had fled back to his native kingdom, she told Attila what to do. He should arrange for his other adopted son, Prince Walter of Aquitaine, to have his choice of a bride from among the Hun young women. He should also enrich this new couple with lands and goods. These actions, according to Ospirin, would prevent Walter from fleeing back to his native home as Prince Hagen had done. Attila dutifully sought to follow his wife’s advice.

While Attila the Hun was a fierce ruler who ruled much of fifth-century Europe and terrorized the Roman Empire, his wife had considerable control over him. Wives commonly have compelling sexual power over their husbands. Wives also typically have de facto control over their husbands’ financial assets and living conditions. For example, Ospirin adopted the foreign princess Hiltgunt as her daughter. Hiltgunt herself came to control Attila’s assets:

The maiden {Hiltgunt}, although captive, by the grace of the highest God, relaxed the queen’s doubting face and increased her love, for the girl abundantly displayed her outstanding character and the industry of her works. At last she was made the steward to watch over all the king’s treasure. She was but little short of herself ruling the kingdom, for whatever she wanted to do, she actually did.

{ Virgo etiam captiva deo praestante supremo
Reginae vultum placavit et auxit amorem,
Moribus eximiis operumque industria habundans.
Postremum custos thesauris provida cunctis
Efficitur, modicumque deest, quin regnet et ipsa;
Nam quicquid voluit de rebus, fecit et actis. } [1]

Ospirin evidently had been in charge of the king’s treasure and had effectively ruled over the kingdom. She then deputized the Princess Hiltgunt to have those same powers. Don’t be fooled by ideology and formalities: women in fact rule.

A man’s wife, not his king, primarily rules over him. When Attila the Hun offered Walter the proposal that Ospirin had advised, Walter explained:

If I receive a wife in accordance with my lord’s commands, I shall be bound in utmost care and love to a young woman and be generally retarded from my service to the king. I shall be driven to build homes and attend to the cultivation of my fields, and this will delay me from being in my lord’s presence and from rendering the usual devotion to the Hunnish kingdom.

{ Si nuptam accipiam domini praecepta secundum,
Vinciar inprimis curis et amore puellae
Atque a servitio regis plerumque retardor,
Aedificare domos cultumque intendere ruris
Cogor, et hoc oculis senioris adesse moratur
Et solitam regno Hunorum impendere curam. }

Husbands served their wives long before men-degrading chivalry was celebrating in twelfth-century trobairitz poetry. No man can serve two masters effectively. Walter thus urged King Attila not to compel him to marry:

Nothing is so sweet to me as to be faithfully obedient to my lord. Therefore, I beg you that you allow me now to conduct my life without a conjugal bond. If in the late or middle part of the night you give me your command, I shall go, free of other concerns and prepared for whatever mission you order. In wars, no anxieties will persuade me to yield — neither sons nor wife will draw me back and urge me to flee.  I beg you, best father, by your life and by the yet unconquered race of the Huns that you stop compelling me to take up the marriage torch.

{ Nil tam dulce mihi, quam semper inesse fideli
Obsequio domini; quare, precor, absque iugali
Me vinclo permitte meam iam ducere vitam.
Si sero aut medio noctis mihi tempore mandas,
Ad quaecumque iubes, securus et ibo paratus.
In bellis nullae persuadent cedere curae,
Nec nati aut coniunx retrahentque fugamque movebunt.
Testor per propriam temet, pater optime, vitam
Atque per invictam nunc gentem Pannoniarum,
Ut non ulterius me cogas sumere taedas. }

Heloise urged Abelard not to marry her, but to keep her as his mistress. Valerius urged his friend to Rufinus to stay with him rather than marry. But men eager to marry, as Abelard and Rufinus were, are impervious to reason. Attila the Hun, a shrewd warrior, was more reasonable about marriage. Although Walter would have little chance of prevailing in fights with his wife, he was the most important warrior to Attila in fighting against foreign enemies. Daring to exercise judgment independent of his wife, Attila reasonably stopped pushing Walter to marry.

Walter was then able to act. Unknown to Attila the Hun, Hiltgunt and Walter had been betrothed in childhood. They planned to flee together. In the traditional bridal-quest narrative, the bride willingly and enthusiastically flees with the groom, who has to engage in battle to retain his bride. In other words, the man has to fight for love. The woman benefits from the man’s struggle.[2] It’s a woman’s world. In this instance, Hiltgunt filled two coffers with gold and secretly took other treasures under her control. Hiltgunt and Walter then arranged a lavish banquet for the royal household. They fled with their loot when the king and his people were incapacitated after the banquet’s copious food and drink.

As in most stories transmitted through gynocentric history, the wife turns out to be right. Attila the Hun thus had to endure his wife’s I-told-you-so:

O detestable food that we ate yesterday! O wine that has destroyed all the Huns! I, in my foreknowledge, warned our lord some time ago of the day that has come. Now we can do nothing about it. Behold! Today the pillar of your empire has clearly fallen. Behold! Your strength and famous courage have gone far from here. Walter, light of the Hunnish land, has departed from here, and my dear child Hiltgunt too. He took her with him.

{ O detestandas, quas heri sumpsimus, escas!
O vinum, quod Pannonias destruxerat omnes!
Quod domino regi iam dudum praescia dixi,
Approbat iste dies, quem nos superare nequimus.
En hodie imperii vestri cecidisse columna
Noscitur, en robur procul ivit et inclita virtus:
Waltharius, lux Pannoniae, discesserat inde,
Hiltgundem quoque mi caram deduxit alumnam. }

Attila the Hun was wild with rage. Losing Walter and Hiltgunt hurt him badly, and his wife’s disparagement of his judgment only made him feel worse. Attila tore the royal cloak off his shoulders, made faces changing rapidly with his inner torment, and refused food and drink throughout the day. That night he could not sleep. He acted like a traumatized boy-child within a cold, belittling gynocentric world.

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[1] Waltharius, ll. 110-15, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Ring (2016). Subsequent quotes are similarly from id., which is currently the best critical edition. I made minor, typically insubstantial changes in the translation to improve readability for the general reader. In making those changes, I benefited from also studying the translation of Kratz (1984). For the quotes above, the Latin text does not differ at all from this online Latin text of Waltharius. Hiltgund is commonly rendered in English as Hildegund. I preserve the literal Latin form.

Walther himself noted of Hiltgund: “Public authority has truly made you guardian over the realm’s affairs {Publica custodem rebus te nempe potestas / fecerat}.” Waltharius ll. 261-2.

The date Waltharius was written and its author aren’t certain. Some have attributed this epic poem to Ekkehard I, a monk of St. Gall, writing about 930 GC. Others place the poem in the ninth-century Carolingian empire. It most likely was written some time between 840 and 965 in a Germanic area. The story of Waltharius apparently has roots in a Germanic saga. For associated literature, Learned (1892). Like many medieval writers, the author of Waltharius was well-versed in classical literature and alludes to Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Statius, and Lucan, and the Christian poets Juvencus, Prudentius, Sedulius, and Venantius Fortunatus, among others. See Ring (2016), intro.

Two of Attila the Hun’s wives (women consorts) are known by name: Kreka (also called Hereka or Helche) and Ildico. Waltharus refers to Attila’s wife by the name Ospirin. That name, a Germanic form meaning “divine bear,” isn’t otherwise attested. Helike in ancient Greek means “great bear,” ursa maior in Latin. Ospirin may be a translation of the name of Attila’s wife Kreka / Hereka into a Germanic-Latin form. Ring (216) p. 169, n. 44.

The subsequent quotes above are from Waltharius ll. 150-5 (If I receive a wife…), 158-67 (Nothing is so sweet…), 372-79 (O detestable food…), with citations by line numbers in the edition of Ring (2016).

[2] Waltharius apparently was built upon a bridal-quest narrative. Bornholdt (2005) Ch. 3. Mothers typically controlled their sons’ marriages in medieval Germany, as well as in Byzantium.

[image] Life-like representation of Attila the Hun in a museum in Hungary in 2005. Image thanks to A. Berger, via Wikimedia Commons.


Bornholdt, Claudia. 2005. Engaging Moments: the origins of medieval bridal-quest narrative. Berlin: De Gruyter.

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

Learned, Marion Dexter. 1892. The Saga of Walther of Aquitaine. Baltimore: Mod. Lang. Assoc. of America.

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