Obilot in love with Gawan triumphed over her sister Obie

Gawan, an honored knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, approached the castle at Bearosche. The haughty young princess Obie disparagingly told her mother that Gawan looked like a merchant. Obie’s younger sister Obilot, only about seven years old, was wise beyond her years in love and respect for men. She reprimanded her older sister:

Sister, you should be ashamed of yourself!
He never earned a merchant’s name.
He has so lovely looks —
I want to have him as my knight!
May desire reward his love-service here, and
I’ll grant him that with affection.

{ swester, des mahtu dich schamen:
er gewan nie koufmannes namen.
er ist sô minneclîch getân,
ich wil in zeime ritter hân.
sîn dienst mac hie lônes gern:
des wil ich in durch liebe wern. }[1]

By not treating with affection King Meljanz of Liz, Obie had prompted extensive violence against men. A squire explained:

One day it came to the point
that the young king asked Obie
for her love in return for his service.
She cursed his sense,
asking him what he was thinking,
why he was so dispensing with sense.
She said to him, “If you were so old
that under your shield you
had spent many hours worthily
with helmet buckled to your head
facing arduous perils
in days numbering five years,
if you had won fame in such a way
and returned at my command,
were I then at last to say “yes,”
that would be too early
for me to grant you your desire.

{ eins tages gedêhez an die stat
daz si der junge künec bat
nâch sîme dienste mînne.
si verfluochte im sîne sinne,
unde vrâgte in wes er wânde,
war umb er sich sinnes ânde.
Si sprach hin zim “wært ir sô alt,
daz under schilde wære bezalt
in werdeclîchen stunden,
mit helm ûf houbt gebunden
gein herteclîchen vâren,
iwer tage in fünf jâren,
daz ir den prîs dâ het genomn,
und wært ir danne wider komn
ze mîm gebote gewesen dâ,
spræche ich denne alrêste jâ,
des iwer wille gerte,
alze fruo ich iuch gewerte.” }

Women should not encourage men to engage in violence against men. Men should not have to engage in dangerous quests to prove that they are worthy of women’s love. Men are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Women should value highly loving men. The young girl Obilot rightly condemned her older sister’s behavior:

Boorishness has commanded still more of her.
Upon King Meljanz of Liz
she inflicted her arrogant behavior
when he asked her for love.
A curse upon such cold feelings!

{ unfuoge ir dennoch mêr gebôt:
geim künege Meljanz von Lîz
si kêrte ir hôchverte vlîz,
dô er si bat ir minne.
gunêrt sîn sölhe sinne! }

Obie actually loved Meljanz, but she was acting haughty and playing hard to love. Her folly prompted Meljanz in anger to declare war on her father. As always, women’s heartlessness leads to men’s deaths. Men’s lives should matter.

Women who lack compassion toward men are prone to domestic violence. In our benighted and gender-bigoted age, women are socially constructed as angels incapable of physical violence, unless of course they righteously seek to be media-lionized as professional football players or military commandos. When Obilot suggested that Gawan was a better knight than Meljanz, Obie violently attacked her:

And then the elder one began,
and hot with anger now was she:
“You, brat, you’ve the effrontery
and may it prove your downfall too,
to dare to scorn a young man so,
whom I have sought to praise,” cried she.
“Take this then for now, and see
you hold your tongue another time.”
And she slapped her cheek, meantime,
so all her fingers left a mark.

{ Et cele maintenant li vient
et dist con anflamee et chaude:
“Vos, garce, vos fustes si baude
que par vostre male avanture
osastes nule criature
blasmer que j’eüsse loee!
Si an tenez ceste joee
et vos an gardez autre foiz.”
Lors la fiert si que toz les doiz
li a enz el vis seelez }[2]

Women should not commit domestic violence against their sisters or against men. Persons sincerely concerned about gender equality should be particularly concerned about violence against men.

Even as a seven-year-old medieval girl, Obilot understood fundamentals of gender equality. Rejecting men’s traditional gender burden of soliciting amorous relationships, Obilot on her own initiative, like the great medieval woman hero Malgherita Spolatina, asked Gawan for his love:

As God knows full well,
you, lord, are the first man
with whom I have intimately conversed.
If my courtesy can be preserved,
and my sense of modesty as well,
I will profit in happiness,
for my governess told me
that speech is the mind’s clothing.
Sir, I plead with both you and me.
Acute pain teaches me to do so,
pain that I will name, if you so please.
If you think worse of me for that,
know that I have kept within proper limits,
for when I plead with you, I plead with myself.
You in truth are I,
although the names diverge.
You must posses my person’s name.
Be now both maiden and man.
I request that of both you and me.
If you let me, lord, depart from you
shamefully without reward,
your fame must answer to
to your courtesy
since I am a virgin seeking your favor.
If your pleasure, lord, is so inclined,
I will give you my love
with heartfelt affection.

{ got sich des wol versinnen kan:
hêrre, ir sît der êrste man
der ie mîn redegeselle wart:
ist mîn zuht dar an bewart,
und och mîn schamlîcher sin,
daz gît an freuden mir gewin:
wan mir mîn meisterin verjach,
diu rede wære des sinnes dach.
hêr, ich bit iwer unde mîn:
daz lêrt mich endehafter pîn.
den nenne ich iu, geruochet irs:
habt ir mich ihtes deste wirs,
ich var doch ûf der mâze pfat,
wande ich dâ ziu mîn selber bat.
ir sît mit der wârheit ich,
swie die namen teilen sich.
mîns lîbes namen sult ir hân:
nu sît maget unde man.
ich hân iwer und mîn gegert.
lât ir mich, hêrre, ungewert
nu schamlîche von iu gên,
dar umbe muoz ze rehte stên
iwer prîs vor iwer selbes zuht,
sît mîn magtuomlîchiu fluht
iwer genâde suochet.
ob ir des, hêrre, ruochet,
ich wil iu geben minne
mit herzenlîchem sinne. }[3]

Medieval Christianity taught the biblical unity of male and female persons in love. The seven-year-old Obilot requested that the famed knight Gawan unite with her person. That’s what love meant to Obilot, wise beyond her years. This bold girl didn’t simply present herself naked to the man she loved. She clothed her acute love pain for him with a sophisticated understanding of love.

Gawan had previously pledged to serve only another woman, the vicious, abusive Orgeluse. Obilot’s bold initiative and sophisticated understanding of love warmed Gawan’s heart. Nonetheless, he thought about one of his bodily interests as a man:

Yet supposing that my service and affection
would turn to your love,
before you could give love in return,
you must live for another five years.
That’s the count for your love season’s arrival.

{ doch lât mich dienst unde sinne
kêren gegen iwerre minne:
ê daz ir minne megt gegebn,
ir müezet fünf jar ê lebn:
deist iwerr minne zît ein zal. }

No pedophile, Gawan wasn’t going to have sex with a seven-year-old girl. Nor was he going to endure five years of sexless marriage, to say nothing of six. The five-year waiting period that Gawan proposed parallels the five years of violence that Obie said wouldn’t be enough for her beloved Meljanz. Obilot rewound Obie’s lack of loving generosity.

Men in fact are not dogs. While he wouldn’t seek bodily unity with Obilot for at least five years, Gawan embraced her understanding of unity in love:

He vowed to the little maiden
that he would fight for her.
He went on to say to her:
“Let my sword be in your hands.
If any knight desires to joust against me,
you must ride in that charge.
You must fight in my place.
People may see me in battle there,
but it must fall to you to fight for me.

{ dô lobter dem freuwelîn,
er wolde durch si wâpen tragen.
er begunde ir fürbaz mêre sagen
“in iwerre hende sî mîn swert.
ob iemen tjoste gein mir gert,
den poynder müezt ir rîten,
ir sult dâ für mich strîten.
man mac mich dâ in strîte sehn:
der muoz mînhalp von iu geschehn.” }

As a proto-meninist, Obilot wouldn’t support men-only military conscription. She would stand with her man and fight at her man’s side. She would strive to keep her man safe:

She said, “I fear little in doing that.
I am your protection and your shield,
and your heart and your solace,
now that you have redeemed me from doubt.
Guarding you against mishap,
I am your guide and your companion,
a roof against misfortune’s storm.
I am your easeful resting-place.
My love shall protect you,
give you good fortune in peril,
so that your courage will not fail,
even if only the castle-master remains alive.
I am castle-master and castle-mistress
and will be by your side in battle.
If you hold to this hope,
fortune and courage will not desert you.”

{ Si sprach “vil wênc mich des bevilt.
ich pin iur scherm und iwer schilt
und iwer herze und iwer trôst,
sît ir mich zwîvels hât erlôst.
ich pin für ungevelle
iwer geleite und iwer geselle,
für ungelückes schûr ein dach
bin ich iu senfteclîch gemach.
mîn minne sol iu fride bern,
gelückes vor der angest wern,
daz iwer ellen niht verbirt
irn wert iuch vaste unz an den wirt.
ich pin wirt und wirtîn
und wil in strîte bî iu sîn.
swenne ir des gedingen hât,
sælde und ellen iuch niht lât.” }

Gawan held her little hand between his big hands. That was a feudal gesture of his subservience to her. She generously refrained from rebuking him for that affront to gender equality. Intent on acquiring a suitable love-token to give to him to take into battle, she told him that she had to leave because she had important work to do. Gawan understood the importance of her work. He wasn’t offended by her abruptly leaving him.

Obilot went away with her playmate Clauditte. Clauditte was a generous young girl who supported Obilot’s love for Gawan. She sought to help her little friend:

She said, “Now tell me, my lady,
what do you have in mind to give him?
Since we have nothing but dolls,
if any one of mine is more beautiful,
give that one to him. I don’t mind.
There wouldn’t be any quarreling over that.”

{ diu sprach “nu saget mir, frouwe mîn,
wes habt ir im ze gebne wân?
sît daz wir niht wan tocken hân,
sîn die mîne iht schœner baz,
die gebt im âne mînen haz:
dâ wirt vil wênec nâch gestriten.” }

Obilot was a more sophisticated girl. She asked her father Prince Lyppaut for help. Obilot wanted to show her love for Gawan tangibly, and she didn’t know how:

If I have nothing to give him,
what use am I alive,
since he has offered me love-service?
Indeed I must blush for shame
if I have nothing to give him.
Never was a man so dear to a maiden!

{ hân ich im niht ze gebenne,
waz toug ich dan ze lebenne,
sît er mir dienst hât geboten?
sô muoz ich schämeliche roten,
ob ich im niht ze gebne hân.
nie magede wart sô liep ein man. }

Fathers typically do whatever they can to please their daughters. Her father went to Obilot’s mother, his wife, and asked for help. Mothers ruled medieval households.

Not at all existing merely as her husband’s chattel-property, Lyppaut’s duchess-wife apparently was independently wealthy and unafraid to express her own views. Lyppaut emphasized his love for Obilot in appealing to his wife:

Lyppaut went before the duchess,
along with Obilot his daughter.
He said, “Lady, give us both your aid.
My heart cried out for joy
when God gave me this girl-child
and removed my sorrow.”

{ Lyppaut gienc für die herzogîn,
unt Obylôt diu tohter sîn.
dô sprach er “frouwe, stiurt uns zwei.
mîn herze nâch freuden schrei,
dô mich got dirre magt beriet
und mich von ungemüete schiet.” }

Less expressive and more practical, Lyppaut’s wife responded:

What would you have of my property?

{ waz welt ir mînes guotes hân? }

Sumptuary laws have never been sustained historically because men like to give women fancy clothes. Lyppaut responded:

Lady, if you are willing to help us,
Obilot would like better clothes.
She’s thinks she’s worthy of them,
since such a worthy man desires her love
and offers her much love-service
and desires from her a love-token.

{ frouwe, sît irs uns bereit,
Obylôt wil bezzer kleit.
si dunket si’s mit wirde wert,
sît sô werder man ir minne gert
und er ir biutet dienstes vil
und ouch ir kleinœte wil. }

Well-connected to household gossip, the mother knew that her daughter Obilot was in love with Gawan. She praised Gawan’s male gaze: “His glance is truly like May’s gleam {sîn blic ist reht ein meien glast}!” She ordered for Obilot an outfit made from samite from the banks of the Tiber, furs from India, and silk woven with gold from the Caucasus. Obilot had Clauditte take to Gawan a sleeve from that dress. Gawan bowed again and again to Clauditte to express his delight. He pinned Obilot’s sleeve to his shield.

The next morning, Gawan fought strongly against the enemy besieging Obilot’s mother’s castle at Bearosche. Many men were killed:

All the worthy men who lost their lives
paid ignobly for Obie’s anger,
because her foolish arrogance
brought hardship to many.

{ swelch wert man dâ den lîp verlôs,
Obîen zorn unsanfte er kôs,
wande ir tumbiu lôsheit
vil liute brâht in arbeit. }

Joisting againt King Meljanz, Gawan speared him in the arm. In subsequently sword-fighting, Gawan forced Meljanz to surrender. That was only one of Gawan’s noted victories.

Back at the castle that evening, Gawan asked to see Obilot. She was delighted to come to him:

He pressed the well-favored child
like a doll to his breast,
as loving inclination prompted him.

{ er dructez kint wol gevar
als ein tockn an sîne brust:
des twang in friwentlîch gelust. }

Gawan ordered King Meljanz to surrender to the seven-year-old girl Obilot:

“You must acknowledge that none
but her hand took you captive here,”
said the worthy Gawan.
“My fame she alone must possess.”

{ “ir sult si dâ für hân erkant,
iuch envienc hie niemen wan ir hant:”
sus sprach der werde Gâwân
“mînen prîs sol si al eine hân.” }

Husbands today commonly give all the credit for their achievements to their wives. That’s been a practice under gynocentrism going all the way back to classical Rome. Gawan explained to King Meljanz:

Your hand has surrendered to me.
Be free of that oath, grant it here instead.
The guarantor of all of my joys
sits here in my arms.
It’s her prisoner you must be!

{ iwer hant mir sicherheite jach:
der sît nu ledec, und gebt si her.
aller mîner freuden wer
sitzet an dem arme mîn:
ir gevangen sult ir sîn. }

Although a proto-meninist, Obilot didn’t insist that she and Gawan maintain separate credit accounts. She sought to promote love:

She commanded that Meljanz
his oath of surrender
that he had made to her hand
be transferred to her sister Obie.
“You must have her as your lover
so as to win knightly fame.
She must have you as her lord and lover
always and willingly.
I’ll except no excuse from either of you!”

{ Meljanze si dâ nâch gebôt
daz er sicherheit verjæhe,
diu in ir hant geschæhe,
ir swester Obîen.
“zeiner âmîen
sult ir si hân durch ritters prîs:
zeim hêrren und zeim âmîs
sol si iuch immer gerne hân.
ine wils iuch dwederhalp erlân.” }

Obilot thus reconciled Obie and Meljanz. Obie wept and kissed Meljanz’s arm where he had been wounded. They subsequently married.

Despite Obilot’s commendable actions as a strong, independent little girl, she wasn’t able eliminate the systemic structure of ongoing violence against men. In the fighting around her mother’s castle at Bearosche, Gawan or Meljanz could have been killed. Many other men were killed. Moreover, Gawan didn’t renounce fighting as a knight and take up gardening as he waited for Obilot to reach sexual maturity. Gawan instead departed to do more violence against men out of his foolish love for the vicious, abusive Orgeluse. What could Obilot do?

At this Obilot wept profusely,
saying, “Now take me away with you!”
But the young, sweet maiden’s wish
Gawan refused.
Her mother scarcely could tear her away from him.
Gawan said his farewells to all.

{ Obilôt des weinde vil:
si sprach “nu füert mich mit iu hin.”
dô wart der jungen süezen magt
diu bete von Gâwâne versagt:
ir muoters kûm von im gebrach.
urloup er dô zin allen sprach. }

One little girl cannot easily transform the world. Obilot at least saved her mother’s castle from siege and reconciled Obie and Meljanz. Yet to end violence against men and to promote respect and love for men, much work remains to be done.

Remember Obilot. Take Obilot away with you!

Gawan rides away with Orgeluse in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival 352.21-6 (Bk. 7), Middle High German text from Lachmann (1833 / 1891), English translation (modified) from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).

Subsequent quotes from Parzival are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Those above are, cited by section.verse: 345.27-346.14 (One day it came to the point…), 353.18-22 (Boorishness has commanded…), 369.3-30 (As God knows full well…), 370.13-7 (Yet supposing that my service and affection…), 370.22-30 (He vowed to the little maiden…), 371.1-16 (She said, “I fear little in doing that….), 372.16-21 (She said, “Now tell me, my lady…), 373.21-6 (If I have nothing to give him…), 374.6-12 (Lyppaut went before the duchess…), 374.14 (What would you have of my property?), 374.15-20 (Lady, if you are willing to help us…), 374.24 (His glance is truly like May’s gleam!), 386.15-8 (All the worthy men who lost their lives…), 395.22-4 (He pressed the well-favored child…), 394.17-20 (You must acknowledge that none…), 395.26-30 (Your hand has surrendered to me…), 396.10-8 (She commanded that Meljanz…), 397.15-20 (At this Obilot wept profusely…).

[2] Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval (Percival) or the story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal} vv. 5010-19, Old French text (MS Paris, BnF, fr. 794) of Kunstmann (2009), English translation (modified) from Kline (2019). For a comparison of the Obilot / Obie stories in Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, Morgan (1913) pp. 189-192.

[3] On the wise young girl in medieval German literature, Hughes (2003). On the education of noble girls in Chrétien de Troyes, Polets (2008) Ch. 3.

[image] Gawan rides away with Orgeluse. Illustration made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 449v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1, part 2).


Edwards, Cyril W., trans. 2004. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival and Titurel. Oxford World’s Classics (2006 edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, Jolyon Timothy. 2003. “Wîse Maget.” Quidditas. 24 (5): 55-83.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2019. Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval (Or The Story of the Grail). Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kunstmann, Pierre. 2009. Chrétien de Troyes. Conte du Graal (Perceval). Ottawa, Canada: Université d’Ottawa, Laboratoire de Français Ancien. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 2020-03-01. Alternate presentation.

Lachmann, Karl, ed. 1833. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lieder, Parzival, Titurel, Willehalm. Berlin: G. Reimer. 5th edition (1891); alternate presentation.

Morgan, Bayard Quincy. 1913. “Some Women in Parzival.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 12 (2): 175-198.

Polets, Iryna. 2008. Constructing the Ideal of Noble Youth: Chrétien de Troyes and His Influences on Thirteenth Century Educational Literature. MA Thesis in Medeival Studies. Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.

Weston, Jessie L., trans. 1894. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Knightly Epic. 2 vol. London: D. Nutt. Vol. 1. Vol. 2.

Zeydel, Edwin H., with Bayard Quincy Morgan, trans. 1951. The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translated into English Verse with Introduction, Notes, Connecting Summaries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Alternate online presentation.

medieval men’s sexed protest against female sexual privilege

Throughout history, men have provided women with material goods in having sexual relations with them. Throughout history, most persons paying for sex have been men. Most prostitutes have been women. Modern sex taxes on men, socially constructed as “child support,” are bizarrely irrational and harshly punish men lacking reproductive choice. As obvious as it is scarcely speakable today, women’s sexuality has long been more highly valued than men’s sexuality. In medieval Europe, some men bitterly protested this female sexual privilege.

The Guide for fools {Chastie musart}, a thirteenth-century Old French poem of men’s sexed protest, recognized wealth inequality in protesting female sexual privilege. Apparently writing with the mentality of a tradesman, its author protested women’s greed, deceit, and indiscriminate valuing. Regarding women trading sex for material goods, the Chastie musart declared:

One should excuse the wantonness of a poor woman
who has only one dress that’s fit for her to wear.
She doesn’t use trickery to beguile the menfolk.
How can a poor woman refuse a chance for gain?

I’m not amazed if a poor woman comes
to behave wantonly in such circumstances.
If there weren’t necessity, maybe she’d never
come to that point. Well would that suit her.

A woman who has five or six pairs of dresses
lined with fur whether white or gray,
or her fine houses or her rich property,
should be well jeered if she fucks for a price.

There are many of these women who fuck for a fee,
for the gifts they receive, though they haven’t need of them.
But there’s no merchant or knight in the world
who can’t learn better by reading this book.

{ L’en doit bien povre feme de folie escuser
Qui n’a que une cote que li convient user:
El ne sert pas de guile de la gent amuser:
Comment puet povre feme son gaaig refuser?

Ge n’ai mie merveille s’a povre feme avient
Qu’ele face folie, au siecle se devient:
Ses estovoirs li faillent, ne jamais se devient
A cel point n’avenra : bien faire li convient.

Feme qui a de robes ou .v. peres ou .vj.
Forrees d’escurex ou de vair ou de gris,
Ou ses beles maisons ou son riche porpris,
L’en la doit bien huer quant ele fout por pris.

Mult en i a de celes qui foutent por looier,
Por les dons qu’en reçoivent, et si n’en ont mestier:
Mais el siecle n’a nul borjois ne chevalier
Por qu’il lise cel livre, ne s’en puist chastoier. }[1]

The Chastie musart repeatedly associates female sexual privilege with economic privilege:

The more alluring and more elegant the woman is,
the more foolish and more mad he is who frequents her.
She doesn’t care who bangs her, whether in the ass or in the fine front hole,
as long as he gives her money or dresses or a fine blanket.

You’ll never find faith or constancy in a woman,
even if she be appealing, elegant, or lovely.
As long as she can gain something, she’ll never regret it,
because for each lustful man, she’d like to have thirty.

The one who is most haughty or who is most overbearing,
who resembles the castle-mistress of Péronne or of Roye,
doesn’t care whom she conquers or takes in or pleases
in exchange for one necklace of silver or for a belt.

No worthy man will ever by loved or held dear by a woman
if he isn’t dressed in a little green or squirrel-fur.
A woman won’t be strongly attracted to him if he’s poor and naked,
but if he gives richly, he’ll will be well-received.

{ De tant con la feme est plus mignote et plus cointe,
De tant est plus musarz et plus fox qui l’acointe:
Ne li chaut qui la fiere, ou de cul ou de pointe,
Ou qu’il li doint deniers ou robe ou coute pointe.

Ja mar avrez en feme fiance ne atente,
Qui tant soit bobenceuse ne mignote ne gente,
Puis qu’el puist gaaignier que jamais se repente:
Que por .i. lecheour en vorroit avoir .XXX.

Cele qui plus s’orgueille et qui plus se desroie,
Qui sanble chastelaine de Péronne ou de Roie,
Ne li chaut qui el mate ou enprant ou enroie
Por .i. taissu d’argent ou por une corroie.

Ja preudom n’ert de feme amez ne chier tenuz
S’il n’est vestuz de vert ou d’escuriex menuz:
Feme ne fait force s’il est povres et nuz:
Mais qu’il doint largement, il sera bien venuz.}[2]

This work of men’s sexed protest careens from concerns and circumstances of women at the top of medieval society to the language of uncouth tradesmen. It challenges fundamental social inequalities.

man offering woman money for sex

Men paying women for sex isn’t as oppressive as poor men being deprived of women’s love because of their poverty. The Chastie musart fundamentally concerns dehumanization resulting from men having to pay for women’s love:

A woman puts herself up for sale — let the buyer beware.
A woman knows much about trickery, fraud, and cheating.
Better for him to buy, without deception, a straw mat,
for a woman resembles three things: she-wolf, vixen, and female cat.

She-wolf, vixen and female cat are three predators:
the female cat hunts, the vixen lurks, the she-wolf ravages and predates.
He who would, should believe me in this: a woman will never love
any man who doesn’t have to give either clothes or cash.

{ Feme se met en vente, gart soi bien qui l’achate,
Feme set mult d’enging, de barate et de frape:
Mielz li venroit, sanz faille, acheter une nate;
Feme sanble .iii. choses: louve, goupille et chate.

Louve, goupille et chate sont .iii. bestes de proie:
Chate cherche, goupil gaite, louve ravit et proie.
Ja feme n’amera, qui que velt si m’en croie,
Nul home s’el n’en a ou robes ou monnoie. }[3]

Men historically have been dehumanized as dogs, pigs, and wolves. Dehumanizing women as she-wolves, vixen, and female cats is similar. The comparison to buying a straw mat emphasizes the extent to which monetizing love for men makes society primitive.

Today, medieval literature of men’s sexed protest is marginalized and disparaged. The Chastie musart explicitly addressed its own transgressiveness:

One thinks the poor man foolish and the rich man wise,
but the poor man has one very big advantage:
he can speak his mind, if his heart wishes to do that.
To the most brightest of all he will never pay the price.

The rich man won’t speak freely. Instead he observes and listens.
What he has, which he’s afraid of losing, makes him follow the line.
And what does the poor man do? He strikes and thrusts,
because for a man who has nothing to lose, he has nothing to fear or dread.

{ L’en tient le povre a fol et le riche a saige,
Mais d’itant a li povres .i. mult grant aventaige:
Qu’il puet dire son boen, si li vient a coraige:
De trestot le plus cointe ja n’en plaiera gaige.

Ce ne fait pas li riches, ainz oreille et escoute;
Son avoir, qu’il crient perdre le fait aler en route.
Et li povres que fait? Cestui fiert, celui boute,
Quar hom qui n’a que perdre ne crient riens ne ne dote. }

These verses might as well be speaking to modern medieval scholars trivializing men’s sexed protest with superficial name-calling (“misogyny”). The extent to which a society is able to accommodate criticism and dissent, even of matters concerning women and divine liturgy, is a measure of its self-confidence and adaptability. With respect to men’s sexed protest, modern societies lag far behind medieval Europe.[4]

man sticking out tongue

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Guide for fools {Chastie musart / Chastiemusart} from BnF Fr. 19152, st. 51-4, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Psaki (2016). Subsequent quotes from the Chastie musart are similarly sourced. For a freely accessible edition of the Chastie musart from BnF Fr. 19152, Jubinal (1839) vol. 2, pp. 478-89 (alternate presentation). Meyer (1886) provides text from a different manuscript.

The Chastie musart probably was written sometime between late in the twelfth century and late in the thirteenth century. More precise specifications are a muddle: “no one now seems to date it earlier than the mid- to late-thirteenth century.” Psaki (2019) p. 106, which footnotes Eusibi (1998) p. 41, which gives the earliest possible date as late in the twelfth century, and the latest possible date as 1233. The Chastie musart consists of Alexandrine quatrains. The length of the poem varies considerably across manuscript instances.

[2] Chastie musart, st. 35-9. According to the Chastie musart, a competitive, commercial market for sex gives women high sexual value and allows them to acquire luxuries:

Whether she wears scarlet, vermilion, or purple,
rich Stanford cloth or fine dark brown and laces herself neatly,
if she wants money, she doesn’t care who gets it for her.
She grateful to anyone who gets money for her.

A woman shows a lovely face — sweet, merciful, and tender —
to the rich man when she thinks he has something she can take.
The poor man drinks last because he has nothing to offer.
A woman is very wicked when she sells herself costly.

{ S’ele vest escarlate vermeille ou paonace,
Estanfort ou brunete, et cointement se lace,
S’ele velt gaaignier, poi li est qui li face:
Ençois l’en set bon gré qui gaaig li porchace.

Feme fait bele chiere, douce, piteuse et tenre
Au riche home ou el cuide ou il ait riens a prandre;
Le povre boute arriere por ce qu’il n’a que tenre:
Feme set trop de mal qui se fait chieres a venre. }

Chastie musart. st. 56-7. Acute concern for inequalities pervades this poem.

[3] Chastie musart, st. 68-9. The subsequent quote above is Chastie musart, st. 3-4.

[4] A leading scholar of the Chastie musart ignored systemic issues of gender and economic inequality and suggested that its author was an angry misogynist not sophisticated enough to subvert dominant discourse:

I conclude from the narrative voicing of the Chastiemusart that this text is indeed a straight-faced entry in the misogyny stakes — or one with its tongue only incidentally, tentatively, and potentially in its check. It does nonetheless give the close reader a hint or two that the misogynous diatribe might both derive from personal dyspepsia, and ultimately backfire on the attempted and apparent gravitas of its speaker.

Paki (2019) pp. 115-6. Given the prevalence of such historical microaggressions, medieval literary scholarship urgently needs to be more inclusive and welcoming of diverse voices.

[image] (1) Man offering a woman money for sex. From folio 142v of British Library Add MS 49622 (Gorleston Psalter made in England (Suffolk) between 1310-1324). (2) Man sticking out tongue. From folio 123r of British Library Add MS 49622


Eusebi, Mario. 1998. “Le quartine proverbiali del Chastie-musart.” Pp. 35-67 in Mélanges in memoriam Takeshi Shimmura. Tokyo: Comité de publication des Mélanges in memoriam Takeshi Shimmura.

Jubinal, Achille. 1839. Oeuvres complètes de Rutebeuf, trouvère du XIII siècle. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Paris: Pannier.

Meyer, Paul. 1886. “Le Chastie-Musart d’après le ms. Harléien 4333.” Romania. 15 (60): 603-610.

Psaki, F. Regina. 2016. “The Guide for Fools: The Chastiemusart in BnF Fr. 19152.” Pp. 231-263 in Philip E. Bennett, Leslie Zarker Morgan, and F. Regina Psaki, eds. 2016. The Epic Imagination in Medieval Literature: Essays in Honor of Alice M. Colby-Hall. Romance Monographs S-5. University of Mississippi.

Psaki, F. Regina. 2019. “Medieval misogyny and the French of Italy: the Chastiemusart and the Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum.” Pp. 101-140 in Nicola Morato et Dirk Schoenaers, eds. Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France: Studies in the Moving Word. Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe, 28. Turnhout: Brepols.

imagine more men students happily attending college

A medieval student of Venus, delighting in ardent love with his girlfriend Flora, worried about rivals. He worried that the ultimate alpha man Jupiter, head god in charge of the cosmos, would become Flora’s lover:

Oh, if Jupiter
might see her,
I fear with equal passion
he would warm
and return to his deceits:
either rain as Danaë’s gold
and soothe her with his sweet shower,
or transform into Europa’s bull,
or gleam white again
as Leda’s swan.

{ O, si forte Iupiter
hanc videat,
timeo, ne pariter
et ad fraudes redeat,
si vel Danes pluens aurum
imbre dulci mulceat,
vel Europes intret taurum,
vel Ledaeo candeat
rursus in olore. }[1]

Men compete extensively with other men for women’s love. Losing in love hurts, even when one loses to gods. Imagine a woman saying to a man who loves her, “Leave me to the gods {Mi lassa dis}!”[2]

Even worse than losing in love to another man is losing in love for lack of love. That’s the more common situation. Men who endure amorous rejection after amorous rejection don’t perceive that they are losing to other men. They perceive that they are unloved. That’s cold and harsh.[3]

A man student studying in medieval France intended in despair to leave his studies and go back to his home country. He explained:

I’m sad because for too long
I’ve endured exile.
To hell with this studying!
Yes, I’m getting out of here
if she doesn’t grant me the joy
for which I yearn so much.

Oh, what am I to do?
For what did I know France?
Am I to lose the love
of this noble woman?
Am I to flee, heartbroken,
from this country?

Day, night — everything
is against me.
Young women chatting
brings tears to my eyes.
I often hear them sigh. More
reminding makes me tremble.

{ Doleo quod nimium
patior exilium.
Pereat hoc studium!
Si m’en iré,
si non reddit gaudium,
cui tant abé.

Proh dolor, quid faciam?
Ut quid novi Franciam?
Perdo amicitiam
de la gentil?
Miser corde fugiam
de cest pays?

Dies, nox et omnia
mihi sunt contraria.
Virginum colloquia
me fay planszer.
Oy suvenz suspirer plu
me fay temer. }

Among students enrolled in U.S. colleges today, women outnumber men by 42%.[4] Colleges must do more to encourage men students to remain in school, if only out of concern for women students’ share of available men. One cannot expect college administrators, if they were concerned for men’s welfare, to be as wise as the ancient lawmaker Solon. But college leaders could at least provide classes in medieval Latin literature so that men students could learn that men were once allowed to express what they feel:

My companions, enjoy yourself!
You who know, recite poems,
but spare me in my grieving.
I feel great anguish.
But you — have regard
for your own honor.

Beloved, for love of you
I’m saddened, sigh, and weep.
Throughout my body I feel great
anguish from love.
I leave now, companions,
let me go.

{ O sodales, ludite!
Vos qui scitis, dicite;
michi mesto parcite.
Grand ey dolur!
Attamen consulite
per vostre honur!

Amia, pro vostre amur
doleo, suspir, et plur.
Per tut semplant ey dolur
grande d’amer.
Fugio nunc, socii,
lassé m’aler. }

More assistant deans, outreach programs, and college task forces might not be enough to keep men students in school. This medieval student clearly specified what he needed:

Your beautiful face
with your heart of ice
makes me weep a thousand tears.
To make amends
you would instantly restore me to life
with a kiss.

{ Tua pulchra facies
pectus habet glacies
me fey planser milies.
A remender
statim vivus fierem
per un baser. }

Colleges must foster and encourage women’s love for men. Much work remains to be done.

Systemically making love misery is a social injustice. Another man student planned to leave study in his home country and go into exile because of that social injustice:

Sweet land of my father’s birth,
home filled with joy, pleasant bedroom —
I’ll be leaving you either tomorrow or today,
doomed to perish in love’s madness as an exile.

Farewell, my homeland, farewell, my comrades,
you whose friendship I’ve affectionately cultivated,
Weep for me, deprived of sweet hours of study with you.
I am lost to you because of fire.

Love’s fire newly wounds my
heart, which earlier didn’t know such.
It confesses now that the proverb is true:
“Where love is, there is deep unhappiness.”

{ Dulce solum natalis patriae,
domus ioci, thalamus gratiae,
vos relinquam aut cras aut hodie,
periturus amoris rabie exul.

Vale, tellus, valete, socii,
quos benigno favore colui,
et me dulcis consortem studii
deplangite, qui vobis perii igne.

Igne novo Veneris saucia
mens, quae prius non novit talia,
nunc fatetur vera proverbia:
“Ubi amor, ibi miseria gravis.” }[5]

Love has turned a joyful home and sweet studies into deep unhappiness. That terrible outcome, which prompts the man student to drop out of school, accords with the established wisdom of a proverb. That proverb indicates a systemic problem.

“Where love is, there is deep unhappiness {Ubi amor, ibi miseria gravis}” isn’t eternal, proverbial truth. That proverb parodically revised a liturgical antiphon established by the end of the eleventh century: “Where charity and love is, God is there {Ubi caritas et amor, ibi Deus est}.” That antiphon slightly revised the antiphon in Paulinus of Aquileia’s eighth-century hymn for Holy Thursday: “Where charity is true, God is there {Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est}.” Paulinus’s hymn begins with this stanza about love:

Christ’s love has brought us together as one.
Let us rejoice and be delighted in him.
Let us revere and love the living God,
and with a sincere heart love each other.

{ Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor;
Exsultemus et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus et amemus Deum vivum
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero. }[6]

Colleges today teach rape-culture culture. They should instead teach all to love each other with a sincere heart. What does love mean? What does sincerity entail? Those are complicated questions. They demand much study and discussion. Yet why complacently accept the status quo of deep unhappiness?

Imagine all the men students, and women students too, living in hope of love. Imagine all the student couples faithfully seeking to live to a ripe old age together, perhaps enjoying then their children’s children. Even if the world can’t live as one, two persons might hope to be together forever, sharing all the world and living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m just reading medieval literature.[7]

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Carmina Burana 83, Peter of Blois, “Savagely the wind’s breath bites {Saevit aurae spiritus / Sevit aure spiritus},” stanza 7 (of 7), Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018).

[2] Carmina Burana 118, “I’m sad because for too long {Doleo quod nimium},” 3.3 (phrase from macaronic Latin-Old French poem), Old French text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). The subsequent three quotes are similarly from the Latin / French text of this song. Those quotes are stanzas 1,2, 4 ( I’m sad because for too long…), 5, 6 (My companions, enjoy yourself…), and 7 (of 7) (Your beautiful face …).

The text of “Doleo quod nimium” evidently has been corrupted. Editorial attempts at corrections have produced text varying across editions. Here’s an English translation of “Doleo quod nimium” from a different editing of the text with different stanza ordering. Here’s the Boston Camerata (directed by Joel Cohen) performing this song on its album Carmina Burana (1996).

[3] Institutionalized scholars serving gynocentrism show contempt for men’s lives in considering men’s sexual deprivations. One such scholar, flogging his related scholarly article and forthcoming book, began a promotional magazine article thus:

Of the 50 plus shades of online anger, one fascinates me more than the rest: the anger of the Incel. Beneath the euphemistic portmanteau of “involuntary” and “celibate” lurks a sinister mass of self-loathing men. They know they are unattractive, and in online forums they blame women.

Brooks (2022). This scholar’s apparently misplaced allusion to 50 Shades of Grey perhaps reflects his frustration with his gender self-abasement. His essentializing claim about the others’ knowledge, “they know they are unattractive,” ignores modern social sciences’ obsession with social construction. Social-construction theory should encompass the social construction of unattractiveness. The article’s conclusion shows a gynocentric apparatchik with no consciousness of his own ridiculousness:

Incels, and people concerned about them, would do well to recognise the value of gender equality and the deep societal burden that misogyny and violence impose, and then to find better outlets for their frustration.

Instead of tediously supporting dominant gynocentric ideology, striver academics, and people supporting them, would do well to recognize the value of gender equality and the deep societal burden that misandry and violence against men impose, and then learn to use their minds to do critical intellectual work. The related scholarly work, Brooks, Russo-Batterham & Blake (2022), reports the astonishing result that in sexual markets in which men are more disadvantaged, more men are sexually deprived.

[4] U.S National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2020, findings from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) spring 2021 data collection (publication # NCES 2021100REV). Figures calculated from Table 1. Number and percentage distribution of students enrolled at Title IV institutions, by control of institution, student level, level of institution, enrollment status, and other selected characteristics: United States, fall 2020. The number of women and men enrolled were 11,351,113 and 8,004,698, respectively.

[5] Carmina Burana 119, “Sweet land of my father’s birth {Dulce solum natalis patriae / Dulce solum natalis patrie},” Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018).

This song is found in four manuscripts in addition to the Carmina Burana. The two-syllable words that end each stanza are found only in the Carmina Burana and Chartres manuscripts. Those words are written at the margin. Carol Anne Perry Lageman’s English translations of “Dulce solum natalis patrie” emphasize that textual feature. See also the Texas Early Music Project’s 2014 performance, The Original Carmina Burana: Unplugged & Organic, program notes, which mistakenly describe the student as studying in Paris away from home.

[6] Paulinus of Aquileia is thought to have written this hymn for a synod in 796. Here’s a online review of its history, and the full Latin text. The Latin text in Raby (1959), pp. 102-3 (poem 76), has the updated antiphon. On the evolution of Paulinus’s antiphon / hymn, Ropa (2011), Barezzsani (2011) and Moeller (1999).

[7] I’m also remembering John Lennon’s song “Imagine” from his 1971 album, Imagine.

[image] Carmina Burana 119, “Dulce solum natalis patrie,” performed by the Clemencic Consort on its 1974. album, Carmina Burana: Version Originale & Integrale. Volume 1, Carmina Amoris Infelicis {Songs of Unhappy Love}. Via YouTube. Here’s a recording by Ensemble für frühe Musik Augsburg from its 2020 album, Songs & Dances of the Middle Ages.


Barezzani, Maria Teresa Rosa. 2011. ‘“Ubi caritas”: postille e note sulla liturgia bresciana.Brixia Sacra: Memorie Storiche della Diocesi di Brescia. 16 (1-2): 39-60.

Brooks, Robert C. 2022. “Involuntarily Celibate: Explanations and Practical Solutions to a Dangerous Phenomenon.” Quillette. Online 20 January 2022.

Brooks, Robert C., Daniel Russo-Batterham, and Khandis R. Blake. 2022. “Incel Activity on Social Media Linked to Local Mating Ecology.” Psychological Science. January 2022, online, selling for $35 {sic}.

Moeller, Eugène. 1999. “Paulin II d’Aquilée (756-802) et l’hymne ‘Ubi caritas’ du mandatum du Jeudi-saint.” Questions Liturgiques / Studies in Liturgy. 80 (3-4): 295-301.

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

Ropa, Giampaolo. 2011. ‘L’inno “Ubi caritas” di Paolino d’Aquileia. Esegesi e storia di un messaggio.’ Brixia Sacra: Memorie Storiche della Diocesi di Brescia. 16 (1-2): 7-37.

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

learn from Clinschor & Anfortas: ask the Holy Grail question

In ancient times, Ibert, the King of Sicily, had a lovely wife named Iblis. She had a sexual affair with Duke Clinschor of Capua. King Ibert caught the couple:

By a single cut Clinschor
was made into a capon.

{ zeim kapûn mit eime snite
wart Clinschor gemachet. }[1]

Upon hearing this story from King Arthur’s mother Arnive, Gawan responded immediately:

At these words Lord Gawan
burst out laughing.

{ des wart aldâ gelachet
von Gâwâne sêre. }

Gawan responded heartlessly. Laughing at castration, especially given entrenched anti-men gender-bias in punishment for adultery, shows no compassion for men.[2] Gawan masochistically courted the vicious Orgeluse, Duchess of Logroys. By courting her Gawan showed that he had no compassion for himself. Gawan, not surprisingly, was unable to find and honor the Holy Grail.

Parzival sees the genital wound of Grail King Anfortas

At first Parzival similarly lacked compassion for the suffering of Anfortas, the King of the Holy Grail. Violence against men often targets men’s testicles and penises. Anfortas’s brother the hermit Trevrizent explained to Parzival:

By a poisonous spear
Anfortas was wounded in a joust
so that he never regained his health.
That was your noble uncle —
pierced through his testicles.

{ mit einem gelupten sper
wart er ze tjostieren wunt,
sô daz er nimmer mêr gesunt
wart, der süeze œheim dîn,
durch die heidruose sîn. }[3]

A doctor removed the iron spearhead and a splinter of cane from Anfortas’s genital wound. Nonetheless, Anfortas remained in great pain. His wound festered like that of a college student falsely accused of raping a woman. Many herbs and ointments applied to the wound failed to ease Anfortas’s distress.[4]

A Holy Grain inscription told that if a certain man asked a question, Anfortas would be cured. All that was needed to heal the Grail King’s genital wound was for Parzival to ask, “Uncle, what afflicts you {œheim, waz wirret dier}?”[5] Despite seeing Anfortas’s great suffering, Parzival initially failed to ask such a question. Lack of compassion for men perpetuates men’s suffering under castration culture. Simply asking a question about a man’s suffering can have great effects.

Realizing the Holy Grail of a bountiful, healthful human society requires appreciating men’s penises and having compassion for men. Parzival, who became the next King of the Holy Grail, entered the world with a broad understanding of men’s gender:

Once the Queen was herself again
and took the babe, she saw plain
the dear penis between his legs and
admired him, as did every lady,
on seeing his members formed like a man.
In time he’d wield with his hand,
as a blacksmith, many a blade,
for his heart too was bravely made.
From many a helm sparks soon flew.
The Queen would kiss him tenderly,
saying, “bon fîz, cher fîz, bêâ fîz,”
“dear, fine, lovely boy,” and then
would take one red nipple again
and into his little mouth place it.
She had borne him. It was most fit
that she herself should nurse him now.
Her sex’s failings she’d disavow
and rear her child at the breast,
and this she did. As for the rest,
it was as though her prayer was met
and in her arms lay her Gahmuret.

{ dô diu küngîn sich versan
und ir kindel wider zir gewan,
si und ander frouwen
begunde betalle schouwen
zwischen beinn sîn visellîn.
er muose vil getriutet sîn,
do er hete manlîchiu lit.
er wart mit swerten sît ein smit,
vil fiwers er von helmen sluoc:
sîn herze manlîch ellen truoc.
die küngîn des geluste
daz sin vil dicke kuste.
si sprach hinz im in allen flîz
«bon fîz, scher fîz, bêâ fîz.»
Diu küngîn nam dô sunder twâl
diu rôten välwelohten mâl:
ich meine ir tüttels gränsel:
daz schoup sim in sîn vlänsel.
selbe was sîn amme
diu in truoc in ir wamme:
an ir brüste si in zôch,
die wîbes missewende vlôch.
si dûht, si hete Gahmureten
wider an ir arm erbeten. }[6]

Queen Herzeloyde longingly remembered intimate embraces with her dead husband Gahmuret, Parzival’s father. She held in her arms a child resulting from that intimate relationship. He was literally dear to her, for she had nearly died in birthing him, “who had such large limbs {der sölher lide was}.”

The description of the baby Parzival subtly emphasizes his penis. While it couldn’t be elsewhere, his penis is explicitly specified as being between his “legs {bein}.” After just one more verse, Parzival is described as having manly “limbs {lit}.” In medieval Latin, membra means limbs, including a penis. The baby Parzival is explicitly described as having large “limbs {lide}.” The word for his penis is visellîn, a diminutive of visel. That diminutive has been translated as “little penis.”[7] But Parzival has large, manly limbs. The diminutive visellîn is better translated in context as an endearing diminutive, with a bawdy allusion to penis size. This description of the baby Parzival almost surely was intended to have an erotic subtext.[8] Women delight in a man’s penis, both for the pleasure it provides and its essential role in creating children.

Long before this description of the baby Parzival, the penis commonly figured as a sword. Brutalizing representations of the penis as a weapon are deeply entrenched in literary history. Such representations have an objective correlate. In all of world literary history, the vast majority of persons killed have been persons with penises. In the medieval romance of Parzival, all the persons killed are persons with penises. Parzival, the future King of the Holy Grail, was destined to strike many blows on men’s helmeted heads. Brutalizing men’s sexuality is a symbolic counterpart to castrating men. Caring persons must ask the question: “How can we end violence against men?”

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be shamed into silence. Ask this new Holy Grail question with compassion for men.

young Parzival leaves him mother Herzeloyde

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival 657.8-9 (Bk. 13), Middle High German text from Lachmann (1833 / 1891), English translation (modified) from Edwards (2004). Subsequent quotes from Parzival are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Lachmann organized Parzival into 827 sections of 30 verses, as well as into sixteen books. I specify passages as section.verse (book). The subsequent quote above is Parzival 657.10-11 (Bk. 13)

King Arthur’s mother Arnive emphasized the castration of Clinschor by describing it three times. Here are the subsequent two descriptions:

By the King’s hand Clinschor
was trimmed between his legs.
To the host it seemed that was right.
He cut him about his person
such that he was without use
in giving any woman pleasure.

{ er wart mit küneges henden
zwischenn beinn gemachet sleht.
des dûhte den wirt, ez wær sîn reht.
der besneit in an dem lîbe,
daz er decheinem wîbe
mac ze schimpfe niht gefrumn. }

Parzival 657.20-5 (Bk. 13).

For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894). Laura Freeburn provided a comparative Parzival translation review for Mustard & Passage (1961), Hatto (1980), and Edwards (2004), and then Kline (2020) and Weston (1894). Freely available are also a comprehensive Middle High German dictionary and a Middle High German to English dictionary.

Wolfram von Eschenbach probably wrote Parzival in the first decade of the thirteenth century. He drew extensively on Chrétien de Troyes’s late twelfth-century Old French verse romance Perceval or the Story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal}. Parzival became a widely known and influential work. At least eighty manuscripts of it have survived. Frescoes illustrating scenes from Parzival were made between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Distaff-House {Haus zur Kunkel} in Constance {Konstanz} on the western end of Lake Constance in southern Germany.

[2] Wynn referred to the castration of Clinschor as a “phallic joke” and declared:

He {Wolfram} breaks into the gloom with the one type of joke that virtually never fails to raise a laugh, with a phallic joke. Young and old, male and female, the primitive and the sophisticated will laugh at it.

Wynn (1980) p. 64. Superbowl commercials have featured violence directed at men’s genitals. Violence against men’s genitals shouldn’t be socially constructed as a joke.

[3] Parzival 479.8-12 (Bk. 9). Anfortas, the Grail King, is a character type known more generally as the Fisher King.

[4] When his father Frimutel died, Anfortas at a young age became the Grail King. When he entered puberty, he foolishly began serving in love an unnamed lady by engaging in violence against men: “Love was his battle cry {Amor was sîn krîe}.” Parzival 478.30.

Anfortas suffered his genital wound before he married or had children. The unsuccessful treatments of his genital wound drew upon extensive knowledge of medieval medicine. Groos (1995), Ch. 6.

[5] Parzival 795.29 (Bk. 16).

[6] Parzival 112.21 – 113.14 (Bk. 2), with English translation (modified) from Kline (2020). The subsequent short quote above (“who had such large limbs”) is 112.7 (Bk. 2). This baby scene has no precedent in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval. It’s apparently Wolfram’s creation.

[7] The Middle High German word visel means “fiber, thin thread” in addition to “penis.” English translations of the diminutive visellîn, as Wolfram used it, are “thing,” “little penis”, “little penis,” “pizzle,” “little piddler,” and “tiny pizzle” in respectively Kline (2020) p. 105, p. Malczyk (2013) p. 138, Schultz (2006) p. 4, Edwards (2006) p. 48, Hatto (1980) p. 66, and Mustard & Passage (1961) p. 63.

Zeydel & Morgan avoided specifying the penis via periphrasis:

She and other women there
Surveyed his body everywhere
To see he really was a boy.
They fondled him with double joy
Because a little man was he.

Zeydel & Morgan (1951) p. 55.

Weston avoided specifying the penis with a general reference to “limbs”:

When the queen found sight and hearing she was fain on her child to look,
And her maidens they bore him to her and the babe in her arms she took;
And she saw his limbs soft rounded, and she knew she had born a son,
And her maidens with her were joyful that the earth had a man-child won.

Weston (1894) p. 62.

[8] On Wolfram’s bawdy scenes, Marchand (1977). Schultz truncated the context of Herzeloyde and other ladies fondly gazing upon Parzival’s penis. He tendentiously declared that Parzival’s penis lacks erotic significance in that scene:

a careful reading of Wolfram’s text shows that the penis elicits no reaction from those present at Parzival’s birth, that the caresses are unrelated to the penis, and that the “manly limbs” are part of a carefully staged argument that links the infant’s size at birth to his heroic prowess as an adult.
Parzival’s penis is not an erotic object but a rhetorical flourish. … Just a few lines after he mentions the penis, he tells us that Parzival’s mother nursed her child herself.

Schultz (2006) p. 5. Schultz, like many other scholars today, seems oblivious to the biological reality of how children are made. When Parzival’s mother Herzeloyde holds Parzival in her arms, she imagines that she has called back her husband Gahmuret into her arms. The wordplay with limbs and the explicit representations of naked female breasts underscore the erotic context.

While not criticizing Schultz’s misinterpretation, Malczyk footnoted a contrasting, much better interpretation of the scene:

This birth and breastfeeding scene, Wolfram’s own invention, proves that Herzeloyde considers Parzival to be much more than a son. Parzival is not responsible for the fact that his departure devastates her to the point of death, a reaction that suggests an abandoned lover much more than a mother.

Malczyk (2013) p. 140, n. 11.

Perhaps Schultz had imbibed too much of the nonsensical gender ideology that has plagued intellectual life in recent decades. He declared:

One hundred years after Freud we know {emphasis in original} what the penis means. But it is precisely this sort of knowingness that will get us into trouble. It causes us to eroticize the scene of Parzival’s birth because we know {emphasize in original} penises mean sex. It causes otherwise scrupulous scholars to mistranslate lines because they know {emphasize in original} that penises provoke caresses.

Schultz (2006) p. 8. In academia today, penises typically provoke hostile, pompous rhetoric such as “rule of the phallus” or “phallic hegemony.” Not to know the “rule of the phallus” or “patriarchy” is to be unclubbably ignorant. In reality, those innocent of Freud’s thinking are capable of knowing what a penis means. It’s scarcely possible, however, to utter what most persons know: penises provide pleasure and also have had an essential role in creating new human beings.

Schultz’s book testifies to Montaigne’s observation that human reason is “a vacant and rambling instrument {un instrument libre et vague}.” Only in an imaginary world could thinkers reason in the way that Schultz did:

the idea that men and women are two mutually exclusive categories is not a fact of nature. It is a cultural artifact. There is no reason, logical or evidentiary, why our sexually dimorphic bodies need to be taken as the standard against which we judge the Middle Ages. And there are good reasons to believe that the Middle Ages considered male and female bodies essentially the same.

Schultz (2006) p. 45. One might argue that these words are merely rhetorical flourishes to prompt academic amen choruses. But as rhetoric, Schultz is crudely word-working with a nature / culture ideological binary. In reality, if the Middle Ages considered male and female bodies essentially the same, why did almost all the bodies killed in battle have penises? Why was fundamental gender inequality in paternal knowledge commonly communicated in medieval stories of cuckolding? Why did elite medieval men have expected lifespans nearly ten years shorter than medieval women?

[images] (1) Parzival looking upon Anfortas’s genital wound. Illustration (detail, color modified) by Willy Pogány from Rolleston & Pogány (1912), p. 10. Alternate image. (2) Parzival leaving his mother Herzeloyde in the forest of Soltane. Image made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 87r in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1, part 2).


Edwards, Cyril W., trans. 2004. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival and Titurel. Oxford World’s Classics (2006 edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Groos, Arthur. 1995. Romancing the Grail: genre, science, and quest in Wolfram’s Parzival. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Hatto, A. T., trans. 1980. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Lachmann, Karl, ed. 1833. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lieder, Parzival, Titurel, Willehalm. Berlin: G. Reimer. 5th edition (1891); alternate presentation.

Malczyk, Kathryn Ann. 2013. “A Lock upon All Conduct:” Modesty in German Courtly Literature (c. 1175-1220). Ph.D. Thesis, Germanic Languages and Literature, University of Pennsylvania. Paper 667 on the University of Pennsylvania ScholarlyCommon.

Marchand, James W. 1977. “Wolfram’s bawdy.” Monatshefte Für Deutschen Unterricht, Deutsche Sprache Und Literatur. 69 (2): 131-149.

Mustard, Helen M. and Charles E. Passage, trans. 1961. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Romance of the Middle Ages. New York: Vintage Books.

Rolleston, T.W., and Willy Pogány. 1912. Parsifal: or the legend of the holy grail retold from ancient sources: with acknowledgement to the “Parsifal” of Richard Wagner. London: Harrap.

Schultz, James A. 2006. Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Reviews by William C. Crossgrove, by Alison More, and by Jan-Dirk Müller.

Weston, Jessie L., trans. 1894. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Knightly Epic. 2 vol. London: D. Nutt. Vol. 1. Vol. 2.

Wynn, Marianne. 1980. “Book 1 Of Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Willehalm And Its Conclusion.” Medium Ævum. 49 (1): 57-65.

Zeydel, Edwin H., with Bayard Quincy Morgan, trans. 1951. The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translated into English Verse with Introduction, Notes, Connecting Summaries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Alternate online presentation.

snakes in the lush spring of love

Do you fear a snake in the garden? You shouldn’t. Imagine a season of new life, an oasis in a parched land, a lush spring. A cleric-poet in medieval Europe wrote:

Desired spring returns
with joy,
decorated with crimson
Birds are singing
so sweetly!
The woods turn green again,
the fields are delightful,

{ Ver redit optatum
cum gaudio,
flore decoratum
Aves edunt cantus
quam dulciter!
Revirescit nemus,
campus est amoenus
totaliter. }[1]

In this lush spring, flowers and love go together:

Young men, so as to take
and with their fragrance
refresh themselves,
should quickly accept young women
and go into the fields
adorned with flowers

{ Iuvenes, ut flores
et se per odores
virgines assumant alacriter
et eant in prata
floribus ornata
communiter. }

For these men, women are like flowers. Who doesn’t know the rest about birds and bees, before male worker bees were disparaged as mere drones?

phoenix rising

Some medieval men regarded themselves as superior to animals such as dogs or pigs. The season didn’t determine their love. They loved in season and out of season:

Savagely the wind’s breath bites,
and the trees’
foliage waves deeply
from weight of frosts.
Songs in groves cease.
Love now sleeps among the herds,
fervent only in spring.
Always loving, I refuse to follow
new turns of season
as is animals’ custom.

How sweet are
the rewards
and happy
the joys
of the time
with my flower Flora!

{ Saevit aurae spiritus,
et arborum
comae fluunt penitus
vi frigorum.
Silent cantus nemorum.
Nunc torpescit vere solo
fervens, amor pecorum.
Semper amans sequi nolo
novas vices temporum
bestiali more.

Quam dulcia
et gaudia
sunt haec horae
nostrae Flore! }[2]

What man lacks spring’s flowers when he has his own beloved woman Flora?

With their deep study of Genesis and classical disparagement of men’s penises, medieval clerics recognized the vital importance of redeeming snakes. One thus wrote of snakes in spring:

The time is already spring,
the land is green with fresh growth,
and the sun is newly radiant.
Trees spread branches,
lilies shine white,
everything flowers.

Now snakes abound
as the rivers overflow.
The gods’ mountain opens waterfalls,
and life-giving rain
irrigates the earth to its depths.
Balsam and cinnamon
emit their fragrances.
Violet, rose, and sage
vigorously sprout.
Animals are mating.

{ Iam vernali tempore
terra viret germine,
sol novo cum iubare.
Frondent nemora,
candent lilia,
florent omnia.

Nunc dracones fluminum
scatent emanantium;
imber saluberrimus
irrigat terram funditus;
cataractas reserat Olimpus.
redolent aromata,
cum cinnamomo balsama.
virent viola,
rosa et ambrosia.
coeunt animalia. }[3]

Humans can choose not to act like other animals. But when you think of humans mating, think of lilies and snakes in the life-creating joy of spring.

phoenix representing the salvation of Jesus Christ

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Carmina Burana 137, “Desired spring returns {Ver redit optatum},” stanza 1, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). The subsequent quote above is similarly stanza 2 (of 2) from “Ver redit optatum.” Here’s a recording of this song by Svend S. Schultz / Aarhus Koncertkor.

[2] Carmina Burana 83, Peter of Blois, “Savagely the wind’s breath bites {Saevit aurae spiritus / Sevit aure spiritus},” stanza 1 and refrain, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018).

[3] Carmina Burana 132, “The time is already spring {Iam vernali tempore},” stanzas 1a and 5b (ending with 5b), Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). This poem represents the sounds of sixty animals, most of which are birds. Then it declares that their melodies are surpassed by the phoenix. The poem significantly doesn’t represent the song of the phoenix:

These are the sounds of the flying animals
and of the four-legged ones too,
but their melodies are surpassed
by the phoenix, a unique bird,
whose resting place lies
within the confines of paradise.

{ Hae sunt voces volucrum
necnon quadrupedum,
quorum modulamina
vincit phoenix unica,
in cuius confinio
est paradisi mansio. }

“Iam vernali tempore,” stanza 4, sourced as previously.

In Christian thought, the phoenix was associated with Jesus Christ and eternal life. Possibly the earliest Christian poem about the phoenix is that of Lactantius (Lucius Caecilius Firmianus, lived about 250-325 GC), About the bird the phoenix {De ave phoenice}. For Latin text, English translation, and extensive commentary, Harris (1978). Here are Latin reading notes and an alternate translation of vv. 31-50. The ninth-century Old English poem The Phoenix translates and expands Lactantius’s poem. For a modern English translation, Cook & Tinker (1902) Ch. 6. Here are some notes on the poem and a verse interpretation of vv. 1-49.

While the phoenix is an exotic bird, Jesus in his humanity is like an ordinary man. In classical usage, the Latin word for snake, draco, used in “Iam vernali tempore” typically refers to a large, exotic snake / serpent. But this poem’s snakes, associated through chiasmus with animals’ mating, are ordinary snakes. The poem thus evokes the sense of male penises as being both ordinary and extraordinary.

[images] (1) Phoenix rising. Illumination on folio 56r of the twelfth-century Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library, Univ Lib. MS 24). Via Wikimedia Commons and Aberdeen University. (2) Phoenix and roses, perhaps representing Christ risen from the dead. Mosaic made in the second half of the third century GC near Antioch-on-the-Orontes in present-day Turkey. Preserved as accession # Ma 3462 (MND 1953) in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Image thanks to Clio20 and Wikimedia Commons.


Cook, Albert S., and Chauncey Brewster Tinker. 1902. Select translations from Old English poetry, edited with prefatory notes and indexes. Boston, MA: Athenaeum Press, Ginn & Company.

Harris, Keith N. 1978. The De ave Phoenice of Lactantius: a commentary and introduction. M. A. Thesis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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