fathers for cuckolding: the problem of gender justice & grandchildren

fathers for gender justice

Fathers 4 Justice emerged early in the twenty-first century as super-courageous social justice advocates. Fathers, however, generally have done little to advocate for men. Because of favoritism toward women, love for grandchildren, and gender inequality in parental knowledge, fathers typically favor cuckolding husbands over justice for men.

A medieval Latin story from the fifteenth-century churchman Poggio Bracciolini perceptively highlights the problem. A nobleman divorced his wife after a few years because she hadn’t become pregnant. In many countries today, either spouse can unilaterally terminate a marriage without needing any reason. However, in medieval Europe, spouses needed a valid reason for divorce. Infertility was a valid reason. Divorce for infertility didn’t necessarily imply blame on either party.

The wife’s father initially blamed her for the divorce. He thought she had behaved improperly:

her father secretly reproached her for not having given herself freely to others for the work of creation.

{ objurgavit eam secreto pater, quod non, et cum aliis, creandis liberis operam dedisset. } [1]

But she kindly explained that he was wrong:

“My father,” she said, “For this issue I carry no fault. I have tried all the man-servants and even all the stable-boys, and couldn’t conceive, and the usage didn’t do me any good.”

{ “Mi pater,” inquit, “nulla hujus rei residet in me culpa: omnes enim famulos, etiam stabularios sum experta, an possem concipere, et nullius usus profuit mihi.” }

Her father then understood that his daughter wasn’t to be blamed:

The father grieved for his daughter’s fortune, for she was far from being culpable for being infertile.

{ Doluit filiae fortunam pater procul existentis a sterilitatis culpa. }

The message is clear: as long as a wife has sex with many different men, she shouldn’t be blamed if her and her husband remain childless.[2] Some husbands don’t object to being cuckolded. Some husbands have even worked with their wives within the home to generate family income. Nonetheless, cuckolding, particularly state-institutionalized cuckolding, should be understood as a grave gender injustice perpetrated against men throughout evolutionary history.

Many mothers advocate for women, even though mothers have both daughters and sons. More fathers should express gender solidarity with men. As a matter of gender justice, fathers should not encourage their daughters to be wives who cuckold their husbands.

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[1] Poggio, Facetiae 221, “Excuse of an infertile daughter to her father {Excusatio sterilitatis filiae ad patrem},” Latin text from Poggoi (1879) vol. 2, pp. 148-9. Here and subsequent quotes include my English translation, drawing upon that of id., but tracking the Latin more closely. All subsequent quotes above are similarly from id.

[2] More than 2000 years ago, the Roman author Lucretius wrote of the importance of trying different sexual partners to find a fertile combination:

And many a barren and often-wedded woman
Will find the man to enable her at last
To carry the sweet treasure of a child.
And men whose wives, though fertile, could never bear
Children, have found concordant women too
To fortify their age with progeny.
So much it matters that the seeds can fuse
In the fit way to cause conception: thick
Most suitable for the runny and vice versa.

{ et multae steriles Hymenaeis ante fuerunt
pluribus et nactae post sunt tamen unde puellos
suscipere et partu possent ditescere dulci.
et quibus ante domi fecundae saepe nequissent
uxoris parere, inventast illis quoque compar
natura, ut possent gnatis munire senectam.
usque adeo magni refert, ut semina possint
seminibus commisceri genitaliter apta
crassaque conveniant liquidis et liquida crassis. }

Lucretius, De rerum natura {On the nature of things} 4.1251-1259, Latin text from The Latin Library, English translation from Esolen (1995) p. 157. Poggio Bracciolini discovered a manuscript of Lucretius’s De rerum natura and helped to re-introduce that work into European literary culture. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are less concerned that sex result in children. They at least nominally disapprove of adultery and cuckolding, even for the instrumental purpose of having children.

[image] Fathers 4 Justice, Day of the Dad demonstration.  London, June 20, 2004 (Father’s Day). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the nature of things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1, vol. 2).

Ecloga Theoduli: subtle social protest to popular medieval schoolbook

Ecloga Theoduli - male and female shepherd in battle of the sexes

Arising within roughly the same eleventh-century Germanic literary context as the gynocentric Latin romance Ruodlieb, Ecloga Theoduli {Eclogue of Theodulus} provides a subtle, sophisticated protest against socially devaluing men relative to women. Medieval and modern scholars with the skills, interest, and courage to discuss such a work have numbered few. Hence Ecloga Theoduli became merely a popular medieval schoolbook teaching pagan myths and Christian history. It was one of the most widely read books in medieval Europe.[1] With public reason disintegrating and ideals of gender equality being a farce in practice, reading Ecloga Theoduli well is now more important than ever.

Ecloga Theoduli starkly contrasts female and male shepherds. A female shepherd introduced in its prologue guides a flock of sheep; a male shepherd, a flock of goats. In the gospel of Matthew, the judgment of God upon the world is figured as separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the time of the world’s creation. The goats will be sent into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his helpers. In modern terms, the prologue of Ecloga Theoduli figures females as wonderful and males as demonic.[2]

The appearance and behavior of the shepherds encourages sympathy for the female and contempt for the male. The female shepherd is a lovely young woman descended from the line of King David. Sitting near a fountain and a river, she plays a harp. The music she makes is so sweet that, entranced in listening, the river stops flowing and her sheep stop eating their fodder. The male shepherd, in contrast, isn’t described as young and beautiful, nor is royal descendant attributed to him. He’s dressed in a motley panther skin. With inflated, rigid cheeks from blowing on his pipe, he forcefully scatters a thousand notes. Moreover, he’s agitated with envy’s bile and apparently fears the river. From a safe point on a mound on the opposite side of the river, the male shepherd calls out crudely to the female: “Why, Alithia, do you sing these stupid songs to mute beasts {Cur, Alithia, canis rebus stultissima mutis}?”[3] The male shepherd thus appears as just another despicable man harassing a wonderful female coworker. Not surprisingly, the male shepherd’s name is Pseustis, a Greek transliteration meaning falsehood. The female shepherd’s name is Alithia. That’s a Greek transliteration for truth.

Beneath men-devaluing caricatures of female and male, Ecloga Theoduli subtly questions gynocentric values. In proposing a contest, the male shepherd describes the female shepherd as seeking to dominate him:

If conquest’s what you seek, the chance to strive is here.
If you should win, my flute will then be yours, but if
You lose, I’ll win your harp: let’s settle on this deal.

{ Si iuvat, ut vincas, mecum certare potestas:
Fistula nostra tuum cedet, si vincis, in usum;
Victa dabis citharam; legem cœamus in æquam. } [4]

Under this deal, one shepherd would have a flute and harp, and another shepherd would have neither. The male shepherd thus sets up abolishing gender (figured as persons possessing different instruments) as the necessary outcome of the contest. Under gynocentrism, truly abolishing gender is overwhelmingly in men’s interest.

In response to the male shepherd’s proposed contest, the female shepherd invokes deeply rooted social suspicion of men:

She replied: “Your words don’t move me, nor do the rewards
Appeal to me, since I am gnawed by just one doubt:
However things turn out, without a careful witness here,
If you should lose, you won’t admit that I have won.”

{ Illa refert: “Nec dicta movent nec præmia mulcent
Me tua nunc adeo, quia vulnere mordeor uno:
Quo res cumque cadit, testis nisi sedulus assit,
Si victus fueris, non me vicisse fateris.” }

Under gynocentrism, everyone is strongly encouraged to believe women and disbelieve men. That’s part of the structural gender oppression that results in about fifteen times more men than women held behind bars in prisons and jails around the world. Does wisdom offer hope for dispelling this acute gender injustice?

In Ecloga Theoduli, “mother wisdom” by chance strolls into the scene. Men and women of good will might hope that she would understand the fundamental gender trouble. Instead, mother wisdom frivolously agrees to judge the contest:

Then Mother Wisdom spoke: “Although my parents said
That when my flock was watered, I should hurry home
And not forget the punishment if I were late,
I’ll gladly bear it, sensing fun in such a fight!
Now, you go first, Falsehood, since you’re a man. She’ll
Then match you in zeal. You’ll speak in fours: Pythagoras
Decreed this number’s role. May Sun increase our time!”

{ Tunc mater Fronesis: “Adaquato me grege quamvis
Accelerare domum iussisset uterque parentum
Nec dubitem pœnas, si quicquam tardo, paratas,
Læta feram talis præsumens gaudia litis.
Perge prior, Pseusti, quia masculus; illa sequaci
Aequabit studio. Sit tetras in ordine vestro.
Pitagoræ numerus. Sol augeat, obsecro, tempus.” } [5]

Pythagoras described ten as the essence of number, because it’s the sum of the first four numbers.[6] Compare that arcana to widely experienced reality: women and men fighting with each is hugely destructive and far from fun. “Women first” has been a social principle since the Sabine women of ancient Rome. Ecloga Theoduli ironically reverses that principle of women’s privilege with disparaging men as false: “You go first, Falsehood, since you’re a man {Perge prior, Pseusti, quia masculus}.”

In their literary contest, the female shepherd Truth doesn’t overwhelmingly defeat the male shepherd Falsehood even though she draws upon the dominant narratives of medieval Christian society and he draws upon marginal non-Christian narratives. Consider the first round in their contest. The male shepherd states:

From Cretan shores came Saturn; he was first of all
And then he spread the age of gold throughout the earth.
He had no sire: no one preceded him in time;
The noble race of gods enjoys descent from him.

{ Primus Cretæis venit Saturnus ab oris
Aurea per cunctas disponens sæcula terras;
Nullus ei genitor nec quisquam tempore maior;
Ipso gaudet avo superum generosa propago. }

The male shepherd thus obliterates the act of castration associated with Saturn (Chronos) in Hesiod’s Theogony and establishes instead a beneficent father god. In response to that fabulous, realistic depiction of masculine goodness, the female shepherd Truth declares:

The first man dwelt and lived in verdant paradise
Until, persuaded by his spouse, the viper’s poison
He drank and mixed the cup of death for all of us.
We children feel today what once our parents did.

{ Incola primus homo fuit in viridi paradiso.
Coniuge vipereum donec suadente venenum
Hausit eo cunctis miscendo pocula mortis:
Sentit adhuc proles, quod commisere parentes. }

Unlike today’s dominant culture, Truth recognizes women’s culpability and women’s death-dealing. By the first round of the shepherds’ contest, the prologue’s stark caricature of women’s superiority has already been undermined.

Ecloga Theoduli forthrightly recognizes men’s vulnerability to women. While skipping over Omphale’s domestic violence against Hercules, the male shepherd Falsehood narrates Hercules’s heroic acts and then tells that Hercules’s mistress Deaneira jealously and stupidly killed him:

The club of Hercules despoiled the dragon’s watch;
He stole Geryon’s pride and killed the Hydra dead;
To him fell Cacus and the janitor of Hell.
His mistress Deianeira burned him in the end.

{ Alcidæ vigilem spoliavit clava draconem;
Gerionis pompam rapit et consumpserat ydram;
Cacus cessit ei, succumbit ianitor Orci:
Incendit demum pælex Deianira superbum. }

The female shepherd Truth describes the similar life and death of Samson:

His limbs enclosed in lion’s skins, great Samson slew
A thousand men; with foxes he burned up the fields.
He took the city’s locks and broke the sinew bonds.
Delilah cut his hair, her final treachery.

{ Samson exuviis indutus niembra leonis
Sternit mille viros, devastat vulpibus agros,
Urbis claustra tulit, nervorum vincula rupit:
Fraude sua tandem præcidit Dalida crinem. }

Falsehood and Truth all but kiss and agree that woman can lead even great heroes to their deaths.

Ecloga Theoduli also recognizes the serious problem of women falsely accusing men of rape. Phaedra, Hippolytus’s step-mother, accused him of raping her after he refused her sexual advances. The male shepherd Falsehood instructively adds that the goddess Diana, outraged about the persecution of Hippolytus, called him back to life:

Hippolytus, accused by cruel Phaedra, died
Torn by his chariot, when waves brought seals ashore.
Diana’s wrath abhorred the loss to chastity
And called him back to life. He’s now named Virbius.

{ Ipolitus sæva perit accusante noverca
Discerptus bigis focas agitantibus undis.
Dampna pudicitiæ non pertulit ira Dianæ:
Ipolitum revocat; modo nomine Virbius extat. }

The female shepherd Truth invokes the life of Joseph. Potiphar’s wife sexually assaulted Joseph and then falsely accused him of rape. Joseph overcame the false accusation of rape and became the Pharoah’s vizier:

Sold as a slave by brothers’ malice, Joseph spurned
His mistress’s desire and threats. Confined
In chains he analyzed the Pharoah’s dreams, and so
The kingdoms of all Egypt were assigned to him.

{ Venditus in servum Ioseph livore suorum
Ardentits dominæ dum spernit vota minasque,
Addictus vinclis discussit somnia regis
Et subduntur ei totius regna Canopi. }

Both male and female shepherds recognized the serious problem of women falsely accusing men of rape. Both offered stories of hope for wronged men. In Ecloga Theoduli, men’s lives matter.

Ecloga Theoduli recognizes that women are no less vicious than men and that the greatness of women is like that of men. The male shepherd sings of the bitter rivalry between Niobe, who had fourteen children, and Latona, the goddess of childbirth, who had only two children:

“Burn incense on your hearths, if you would keep alive
Your children” — so Diana, Latona’s child, bade.
A thousand darts, a thousand strings, hung from her arm
To take revenge on Niobe for boastful words.

{ Thura cremate focis, si quos servare velitis
Fetus incolumes: iubet hoc Latonia proles.
Ex humero Triviæ dependent spicula mille
Cum totidem nervis, Niobæ vindicta loquacis. }

Taking revenge, Latona’s daughter Diana viciously killed all of Niobe’s daughters. The female shepherd in response sings about the beautiful maiden Susannah:

The elders’ passion could not be restrained by their
Old age nor by the virtue of so great a sex.
Although she saw that deadly fates were aimed at her,
Susannah overcame the law that nature gave.

{ Presbiteris flammas nec longi temporis ætas
Nec tanti sexus potuit restringere virtus;
Sed districta licet mortis sibi fata videret,
Quam natura dedit legem, Susanna subegit. }

Even old men are sexually attracted to young, beautiful women. Young women tend to be sexually attracted to powerful, high-status men who are often considerably older than them. Yet women aren’t necessarily passive victims to these natural laws. Susannah, a strong, independent woman, but with a rather different character than Empress Theodora, resolutely rejected the elders’ coercive proposition for sex. At the same time, this account complements the male shepherd’s story of Diana and Niobe with further reason to dismiss gynocentric claims of women’s moral superiority relative to men. The phrase “virtue of so great a sex” equates women to men through the Latin root vir (adult male human being) of “virtue.” The greatness of the female sex is like the greatness of the male sex.

The most telling round of the shepherds’ contest is the most antagonistic one. The male shepherd Falsehood boldly tells uncomfortable truth:

A man’s firm mind is felled by women’s waywardness:
They handle potions, bloodying their limbs by taste.
A woman’s strength is known to Tereus’ bitter house;
Medea knows: she killed her young in hateful death.

{ Mens robusta viri levitate cadit muliebri:
Ypomanes tractant, gustu sua membra cruentant.
Femina quid possit, Terei domus aspera novit,
Scit Medea suis infesta clade peremptis. }

The female shepherd Truth recoils in protest, but then affirms with the example of Judith and Holofernes the truth of what Falsehood sang:

Lest these loud insults taint the air, let them now cease!
Duke Holofernes feared a woman’s might:
That splendid widow snared him in a crazy love.
Assyrians lament his trust in woman’s word.

{ Aëra ne fedent, isthæc convicia, cessent.
Femineas vires expavit dux Olofernes
Insignis viduæ vesano captus amore:
Deflent Assiri, quod crediderit mulieri. } [7]

Women in truth aren’t necessarily wonderful or truthful. Belief otherwise is a social construction of gynocentrism. So too is the pervasive social endeavor to silence voices of men’s sexed protest.

Ecloga Theoduli’s poetic contest of course ends with female victory. With a pretense of defiance, the male shepherd Falsehood sings:

 If she surpasses me today with all her tricks,
I’ll mourn like Calchas after Mopsus won the prize.
But I won’t let myself be crushed by girlish fraud:
A thousand fights I’ll fight, unless the evening comes!

{ Ista suis hodie si prevalet artibus in me,
Dum cessit Mopso, Calcantis more dolebo,
Fraude puellari sed non patiar superari:
Millesies repetam, nisi subtrahat Hesperus horam. }

Invoking pregnancy while depreciating erection labor is the ultimate trump card of gynocentrism. Add to that ploy fraudulently obscuring that Jesus was a male human being and you have the response song of the female shepherd Truth:

0 Thales, falsehood’s feigner, would that you were here!
I’ll trust the four evangelists and their great books,
Which tell how God took on our human body from
A maid: the effort will not burden me at all!

{ Nunc utinam Tales, falsorum fictor, adesses!
Quatuor imprimis evangelicæ rationis
Nitar codicibus, nostrum de virgine corpus
Ut Deus accepit, nec me labor iste gravabit. }

The male shepherd immediately concedes defeat to the female shepherd. Darkness overcomes all. Mother wisdom ironically concludes the poem by urging silence as the only alternative to despair:

Now don’t say any more, lest desperation hurt.

{ Desine quod restat, ne desperatio lædat. }

Over the past millennium, far too many men have obeyed that wisdom while enchained under gynocentrism.

Ecloga Theoduli is sophisticated literature. Its author was a well-read scholar who drew upon a wide range of Christian and non-Christian sources from across the previous millennium. It presumes extensive knowledge of pre-Christian Greco-Roman myth.[8] It includes unusual words, including words that suggest knowledge of Greek. Ecloga Theoduli isn’t merely a schoolbook for teaching dominant culture. Underneath the form of a schoolbook affirming female superiority, Ecloga Theoduli voices men’s sexed protest against gynocentric domination and exploitation.[9]

Ecloga Theoduli addresses a major literary challenge that still looms today. While about four times more men than women suffer death from violence, public discourse and billions of public dollars are focused on violence against women. Men have no reproductive rights and are imprisoned without the benefit of counsel for being too poor to make sex payments that the state imposes on them solely because they had sex of reproductive type. Decades of high-profile, bitter public debate about abortion and choice has irrationally ignored choice for men. Firm belief in a deliberately misrepresented “gender wage gap” is public orthodoxy, while grotesque anti-men discrimination in the criminal justice system attracts little public concern. To make matters worse, leading news sources now peddle outrageously mendacious claims about men raping women. How can this colossal failure in reason and imagination be addressed?

Ecloga Theoduli and Solomon and Marcolf are sharply contrasting examples of medieval literature of men’s sex protest. Both feature extensive, highly structured dialog. Ecloga Theoduli works within elite culture. Solomon and Marcolf, in contrast, confronts elite culture with the barnyard and lower bodily function such as farting and mooning authorities. Ecloga Theoduli was neutered into a popular schoolbook within medieval gynocentric society.[10] Solomon and Marcolf, on the other hand, had relatively little circulation before the fifteenth century. Both works are vital for understanding approaches to challenging gynocentrism, but neither offers an example of success.

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[1] The influential clerical leader Jacques de Vitry recommended the Ecloga Theoduli as the second work in a list that included the Distiches of Cato, the fables of Avianus, works of Prudentius, Prosper, and Sedulius, and the versified Bible. Hamilton (2009) pp. 7-10. In the thirteenth century, Ecloga Theoduli was the only medieval text among the Sex auctores (six authors) recommended for schools. By the fifteenth century, Ecloga Theoduli was part of the Auctores octo morales (eight moral authors) that comprised the canon of school texts. Ecloga Theoduli became highly popular:

The Eclogue of Theodulus enjoyed a remarkable popularity for several centuries and an influence which was, for a work written in the early Middle Ages, unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled. From its origins in the tenth century to the early seventeenth it was one of the most widely read books in Europe, as manuscripts, commentaries, catalogs, citations and educational treatises testify.

Green (1982) p. 49. Ecloga Theoduli has survived in more than 200 manuscripts and was printed at least 24 times before 1500. Five distinctly authored commentaries on it have survived. Continuous commentaries on the text are included in 92 of the surviving manuscripts. Thomson & Perraud (1990) p. 114, based on the compilation of Quinn (1971); Hamilton (1909) pp. 11-2.

[2] The gospel reference is Matthew 25:31-46. Chance suggested that Hrotsvit authored Ecloga Theoduli. Chance (1994) pp. 355-60. Hrotsvit, along with other medieval women writers, showed courageous  and transgressive concern for men. Sophisticated understanding of Ecloga Theoduli is consistent with Hrotsvit’s concern for men, but that doesn’t necessarily imply her authorship.

In considering the question of authorship, Heren essentially belittled medieval women writers’ scope of thinking and sympathetic understanding. He declared:

There were women writers in the early and central Middle Ages — Duodha, Hrotswitha, Hildegard, Heloisa — and some parts of the poem are surely consistent with female authorship: the words “of so great a sex” in reference to Susanna, the rebuke to Pseustis, “let these insults stop lest they pollute the air,” and I would add Alithia’s words in round 34: “a woman is a sweet thing to a man.” But we shall probably never know the author’s sex or identity.

Heren (2007) p. 215. Medieval women writers weren’t narrow-minded female supremacists, as many scholars are today.

[3] Ecloga Theoduli 16, from Latin trans. Heren (2007) p. 218. Thomson & Perraud (1990) and Rigg (2008) provide alternate English translations. The translations of Heren, Thomson & Perraud, and Rigg are based on the Latin texts of Green (1982), Huygens (1954 / 1977), and Osternacher (1902), respectively. Rigg’s translation is in verse; the others are in prose. I note any substantial differences among the translations. The Latin text above is that conveniently available via the Latin Library (which wrongly attributes the text to the fifth century). I have made a few minor corrections of obvious textual corruption.

[4] Ecloga Theoduli 17-19, trans. Rigg (2008). Subsequent quotations are Ecloga Theoduli 20-3 (She said…); 30-6 (Then mother wisdom…); 37-40 (From Cretan shores…); 41-4 (The first man…); 173-6 (The club of Hercules…); 177-80 (His limbs enclosed…); 135-8 (Hippolytus, accused…); 139-42 (Sold as a slave…); 261-4 (“Burn incense…); 265-8 (The elders’ passion…); 269-72 (A man’s firm mind…); 273-6 (Lest these loud insults…); 325-8 (If she surpasses me…); 329-42 (O Thales…); 344 (Now don’t say any more…). I’ve made a few non-substantial changes to these translations.

[5] For l. 30, Herren’s translation doesn’t include the reference to “mother”. It has just “Then Phronesis replied.” Herren (2007) p. 219. A collation of manuscripts of Ecloga Theoduli includes mater. If that word is excluded from Green’s Latin text, that may reflect a medieval editor’s concern that Martianus Capella’s On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury has Alithia as the sister of Phronesis. Thomson & Perraud (1990) p. 157, n. 156, observes that latter point.

[6] Aetius (Pseudo-Plutarch), Opinions of the Philosophers 1.3.8 states:

Ten is the very nature of number. All Greeks and all barbarians alike count up to ten, and having reached ten revert again to the unity. And again, Pythagoras maintains, the power of the number 10 lies in the number 4, the tetrad. This is the reason: If one starts at the unit (1) and adds the successive number up to 4, one will make up the number 10 (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10). And if one exceeds the tetrad, one will exceed 10 too…. So that the number by the unit resides in the number 10, but potentially in the number 4.

via Kate Hobgood.

[7] In his late-eleventh-century commentary on Ecloga Theoduli, Bernard of Utrecht rightly condemns Alithia’s attempt to silence the male shepherd:

This leads to the impropriety of Alithia and proves by her deceptions

{ Hoc ad improprium Alithiae inducit probatque per maleficia }

Latin text quoted by Chance (1994) p. 389.

[8] In setting, characters, and contest, Ecloga Theoduli draws upon Virgil’s ecologues, particularly his Eclogue 3 and 7. Competing shepherds in Virgil are not, however, of differing sexes. The language and content of Ecloga Theoduli also indicates knowledge of Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Its author probably also knew Statius, Lucan, Calpurnius, Claudian, and the Latin Iliad. Green (1982) pp. 97-99, 105.

[9] Herren (2007) recognized that, beneath its surface, Ecloga Theoduli doesn’t clearly represent biblical examples of truth triumphing over pagan myth. That isn’t a daring observation today. Moreover, such cultural ecumenism wouldn’t be shocking to many learned persons in medieval Europe.

The truly subversive theme of Ecloga Theoduli is gender. Its prologue of female supremacism reflects dominant ideology under gynocentrism. But Ecloga Theoduli then dramatizes the complete lack of connection between female supremacism and well-known myth, history, and inter-personal reality:

Adjective that qualify females are almost always unflattering: for example, prefida uxor (115), saeva noverca (124), ardentis dominae (130), Juno ferox (158). Females are portrayed as treacherous, like Jezebel, Dalilah, Judith, Proserpina, and Lot’s wife; lustful, like Phaedra, Scylla, Phyllis, Potiphar’s wife, and the wives and concubines who ruined Solomon; venal and greedy, like Eriphyle, who demanded the fateful necklace of Harmonia, and Danae, whom Theodulus says gold corrupted; jealous and vengeful, like Juno and Deianira; boastful chatterboxes, like Niobe; haughty and disobedient to their husbands, like Queen Vashti; cruel viragos like Procne and Medea; venal, like Danae and Eriphyle, baneful and threatening, like Diana and Helen; or man-killers, like Judith and Medusa. No fewer than sixteen quatrains contain derogatory implications about the nature of women.

Thomson & Perraud (1990) pp. 124-5. Dismissing these examples as merely medieval “anti-feminism” is anachronistic and facile. Ecloga Theoduli presents highly sophisticated, deeply critical dialectical representations of gender.

[10] The transformation of Ecloga Theoduli into a popular schoolbook didn’t happen quickly. It was probably written in the tenth century. The first surviving reference to Ecloga Theoduli as a schoolbook is in Bernard of Utrecht’s dedicatory letter to Bishop Conrad of Utrecht. That letter was written between 1075 and 1099. Ecloga Theoduli isn’t named in lists of recommended school texts until the list of Conrad of Hirsau early in the twelfth century. Thomson & Perraud (1990) pp. 112-3.

[image] Prefatory woodcut in an edition of Ecloga Theoduli printed by Konrad Kachelofen in Leipzig in 1492. Ex Bibliotheca Gymnasii Altonani (Hamburg). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Chance, Jane. 1994. Medieval mythography. Vol. 1. From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433-1177. Gainesville, Florida: Univ. Press of Florida. (Wetherbee’s review)

Green, R. P. H. 1980. Seven versions of Carolingian pastoral. Reading: Department of Classics, University of Reading.

Green, R. P. H. 1982. “The Genesis of a Medieval Textbook: The Models and Sources of the Ecloga Theoduli.” Viator. 13: 49-106.

Hamilton, George L. 1909. “Theodulus: A Mediaeval Textbook.” Modern Philology. 7 (2): 169-185.

Herren, Michael. 2007. “Reflections on the meaning of the Ecloga Theoduli: Where is the authorial voice?” Pp. 199-230 in Otten, Willemien, and Karla Pollmann, eds. Poetry and exegesis in premodern Latin Christianity: the encounter between classical and Christian strategies of interpretation. Boston: Brill.

Huygens, R. B. C., 1954 / 1970. Bernard d’Utrecht. Accessus ad auctores: Commentum in Theodolum. Leiden: Brill.

Osternacher, Johann E., ed. 1902. Theoduli eclogam recensuit et prolegomenis instruxit Joannes Osternacher: liber separatim typis expressus ex “programmate” Collegii Petrini. Ripariae prope Lentiam.

Quinn, Betty N. 1971. “Theodulus.” Pp. 383-408 in Cranz, F. Edward, and Paul Oskar Kristeller. 1971. Catalogus translationum et commentariorum; Medieval and Renaissance Latin translations and commentaries: annotated lists and guides. Vol. 2. Washington. DC: Catholic University of America Press.

Rigg, George, trans. 2008. “Eclogue of Theodulus.” Available at http://medieval.utoronto.ca/ylias/web-content/theoduli.html

Thomson, Ian, and Louis A. Perraud. 1990. Ten Latin schooltexts of the later Middle Ages translated selections. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press.

Lucretius on how women can overcome men’s protective stone walls

old stone wall

Ancient Roman men, with good reason, were reluctant to marry. With boldness and freedom of expression inconceivable today under totalitarian gynocentrism, the ancient Roman poet Juvenal described in detail how women annoy, oppress, and destroy men. Many men for self-protection metaphorically construct stone walls separating themselves from women, including their own wives. Recognizing the proverbial strife that women cause men, the learned Epicurean poet Lucretius described how a woman could peacefully unite with a man.

Lucretius as an Epicurean regarded traditional Greco-Roman religion as foolish superstition, but he seems to have appreciated wisdom and literary sublimity in the Hebrew Bible. Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible would have been readily available to Lucretius. In the Bible’s Proverbs Lucretius could have read:

It is better to live on a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious wife.

It is better to live in a desert than with a contentious and vexing woman.

A continual dripping on a rainy day is like a quarrelsome wife. To restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.

the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping [1]

Proverbial invocation of dripping water goes back at least to the fifth-century BGC epic poet Choerilus of Samos. A surviving fragment of Choerilus’s poetry:

with persistence a drop of water hollows out the stone

{ πέτρην κοιλαίνει ῥανὶς ὕδατος ἐνδελεχείῃ } [2]

The Hebrew Bible took the common image of dripping water and perceptively drew an analogy to a contentious wife. Most men, even if they just have a long-term girlfriend or two, instantly recognize the uncanny aptness of that literary figure. A first-century Greek work on literary style Περί ύψους {On the sublime} referred to Moses as a sublime author. The author of Proverbs belongs in that same category.

Lucretius seems to have responded with a pleasant alternative to these proverbs from the Hebrew Bible. Lucretius wrote:

Nor is it by hand of god and shafts of Venus
that a little woman of uglier shape may yet find love.
For sometimes by her works and ways,
by obliging manners, cleanliness, and proper dress,
a woman may win you to share a life with her.
What matters most is habit, the builder of affection.
for things though lightly but constantly struck,
in the end are overcome and must give way.
Do you see how even drops of water, falling
on stone, in course of time bore through the stone?

{ Nec divinitus inter dum Venerisque sagittis
deteriore fit ut forma muliercula ametur;
nam facit ipsa suis inter dum femina factis
morigerisque modis et munde corpore culto,
ut facile insuescat secum te degere vitam.
quod super est, consuetudo concinnat amorem;
nam leviter quamvis quod crebro tunditur ictu,
vincitur in longo spatio tamen atque labascit.
nonne vides etiam guttas in saxa cadentis
umoris longo in spatio pertundere saxa? } [3]

Men are strongly attracted to young, beautiful women like Helen of Troy (she probably also wasn’t fat). Yet if a woman wants to get close to a man in a long-term relationship, she, like any friend, should strive to be pleasant and obliging and not to have a repulsive smell or repugnant dress. Only badly educated women believe that men other than masochistic boot-lickers are willing to live with women who are contemptuous of men in general.

Drops of water dissolving stone figure Epicurean eternal intimacy. In Epicurean understanding, all material bodies are constructed of atoms. Women with kindness and generosity of body and spirit can be drops of water for thirsty men. Women can thus penetrate the stone walls that men erect to protect themselves from contentious women. As stone dissolved in drops of water, a man and woman can overcome separating walls and become commingling atoms in the eternal universe of atoms.

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[1] Proverbs 21:9 (see also 25:24), 21:19, 27:15-6, 19:13.

[2] Choerilus of Samos, Fragment 10, Greek text from Kinkel (1878) vol 1, p. 271, English translation from Speake (2015) p. 59. The bucolic poet Bion of Smyrna about 100 BGC wrote:

It is said that a continual dripping will even wear a hollow in a stone

{ . . . ἐκ θαμινᾶς ῥαθάμιγγος, ὅπως λόγος, αἰὲς ἰοίσας
χἀ λίθος ἐς ῥωχμὸν κοιλαίνεται. . . . }

Bion of Smyrna, Fragment 15, Greek text and English translation (modernized) from Edmonds (1912) pp. 414-5. Ovid, in Epistulae Ex Ponto 4.10.5, wrote:

a water drop hollows a stone, not by force, but by continually dripping

{ gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo }

Latin text from the Latin Library. A similar expression exists in Chinese:

Constant dripping of water wears away the stone

{ 水滴石穿 }

Via Steven Wrigley, Global Outreach Alliance, blog post, Oct. 30, 2009.

[3] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura {On the Nature of Things} 4.1278-87, Latin text from the online Latin Library. Copley translated this passage as:

Nor is it by hand of god and shafts of Venus
that a girl ill favored of form may yet find love.
For sometimes by her works and ways,
by kindness, patience, neatness, and good taste,
woman may win you to share a life with her.
An anyway, habit’s the builder of affection.
for things though lightly struck, yet constantly,
in the end are overcome and must give way.
You see how even drops of water, falling
on stone, in course of time bore through the stone.

Copley (1977) p. 112. Above I’ve adapted Copley’s translation to follow the Latin more closely and be more easily readable. Esolen’s translation is more poetic but looser:

It’s not an act of god or the arrows of Venus
That makes a homely little woman loved.
She brings it about herself by what she does.
By her yielding temper and her clean appearance;
You’ll easily learn to spend your life with her.
For habit is the recipe for love.
A thing struck over and over, no matter how lightly,
Will give in at long last and totter and fall.
Notice how water dripping upon a stone
Bores a hole through that stone eventually?

Esolen (1995) pp. 157-8

[image] Medieval city wall in Worms, Germany. Photo thanks to Mike Chapman. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Copley, Frank O., trans. 1977. The nature of things. New York: Norton.

Edmonds, J. M., ed. and trans. 1912. The Greek Bucolic Poets. Loeb Classical Library 28. London: William Heinemann.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the nature of things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kinkel, Godofredus, ed. 1878. Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Leipzig: Teubner. (vol. 1, vol. 2)

Speake, Jennifer. 2015. Oxford dictionary of proverbs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

cuckolded and raped: forestalling the fate of Shahzaman & Shahrayar

Shahrqazad tells stories to King Shahrayar

When King Shahzaman unexpectedly returned home to his palace, he discovered his wife in the arms of a kitchen boy. Shahzaman was furious and emotionally devastated. Expressing his personal commitment to gender equality, he not only killed the kitchen boy, but his wife as well. Shahzaman then set out to visit his brother King Shahrayar.

At his brother’s palace, Shahzaman was listless and grief-stricken. He couldn’t get over what his wife had done to him. He imagined that no one else had experienced what he had experienced. Shahzaman grew pale, lost weight, looked ill, and neglected everything.

One morning when his brother was out hunting, Shahzaman sat at a window overlooking a garden in his brother’s palace. He agonized over his misfortune and stared at the heavens. Movement below interrupted his melancholy thoughts:

the private gate of his brother’s palace opened, and there emerged, strutting like a dark-eyed deer, the lady, his brother’s wife, with twenty slave girls, ten white and ten black. While Shahzaman looked at them, without being seen, they continued to walk until they stopped below his window, without looking in his direction, thinking that he had gone to the hunt with his brother. Then they sat down, took off their clothes, and suddenly there were ten white slave girls and ten black slave boys who had been dressed in the same clothes as the girls. Then the ten black slave boys mounted the ten white slave girls, while the lady called, “Mas’ud, Mas’ud!” and a black slave jumped from the tree to the ground, rushed to her, and, raising her legs, went between her thighs and made love to her. Mas’ud had sex with the lady, while the ten slave boys had sex with the ten slave girls. They carried on until noon. When they were done with their activity, they got up and washed themselves. Then the ten slave boys put on the same clothes again, mingled with the girls, and once more there appeared to be twenty slave girls. Mas’ud himself jumped over the garden wall and disappeared, while the slave girls and the lady sauntered to the private gate, went in and, locking the gate behind them, went their way.

King Shahzaman was stunned. His brother King Shahrayar was being cuckolded, not just by his wife, but also by twenty of his slaves. Shahzaman wearily exclaimed:

This is our common lot. Even though my brother is king and master of the whole world, he cannot protect what is his, his wife and his concubines, and suffers misfortunes in his very home. What happened to me is little by comparison. I used to think that I was the only one who has suffered, but from what I have seen, everyone suffers.

Many men are cuckolded. Some are forced to make large monthly financial payments (“child support” payments) to the women who cuckolded them and bore other men’s children. Even in the enormous, powerful, and highly cultured Islamic caliphate of the eighth century, caliphs were subordinate to their slave girls. The reality of the general absurdity of men’s sexual subordination to women buoyed Shahzaman’s spirit. He began to eat and drink with relish and be joyful.

When Shahrayar returned from his hunting expedition, he was astonished at the transformation in Shahzaman’s spirit. Shahrayar insistently inquired about how Shahzaman had recovered from his depression. Eventually, reluctantly, Shahzaman told his brother Shahrayar that he was being cuckolded. Shahrayar refused to believe it. He said that he would believe that he was being cuckolded only if he saw it happening before his own eyes.

Shahzaman arranged for Shahrayar to see the cuckolding spectacle. They rode out on a multi-day hunting expedition, but then secretly sneaked back into the palace. They hid in the room above the garden and waited until morning to see what would happen:

As they watched, the private gate opened, and there emerged as usual the wife of King Shahrayar, walking among the twenty slave girls. They made their way under the trees until they stood below the palace window where the two kings sat. Then they took off their women’s clothes, and suddenly there were ten slave boys, who mounted the ten slave girls and made love to them. As for the lady, she called “Mas’ud, Mas’ud,” and a black slave jumped from the tree to the ground , came to her, and said, “What do you want, you slut? Here is Sa’ad al-Din Mas’ud.” She laughed and fell on her back while the slave mounted her and like the others had sex.

Women tend to find sexually attractive men like Mas’ud — highly self-confident men who aren’t afraid to disparage them. King Shahrayar, like many men today, was stunned at this revelation. He and his brother decided to put aside their kingdoms and roam the world until they found one more misfortunate than them.

Roaming about, the kings Shahrayar and Shahzaman came to a meadow by the seashore. While they were sitting in the meadow, morosely discussing their misfortunes, they heard a tremendous noise coming from the middle of the sea. The sea suddenly parted and up rose a swaying black pillar that got taller and taller until it seemed to touch the clouds. Shaking in terror, Shahzaman and Shahrayar ran. Then the climbed up a tall tree. They hid in its foliage.

The black pillar in the middle of the sea moved toward the shore. When it came closer, Shahzaman and Shahrayar could see that it was a black demon carrying on its head a large glass chest secured with four steel locks. The demon walked out of the sea and into the meadow. It then sat down under the tree in which Shahzaman and Shahrayar were hiding.

The demon put the glass chest on the ground and unlocked it. From the chest he pulled out a full-grown woman. She had a beautiful bosom, large buttocks, a face like a full moon, and a lovely smile. The demon laid her on the ground and said to her:

Mistress of all noble women, you whom I carried away on your wedding night, I would like to sleep a little.

The demon placed his head on the woman’s lap, stretched out his legs to the sea, and began snoring in sleep.

After a little while, the woman noticed Shahzaman and Shahrayar hiding in the tree. She lifted the demon’s head from her lap and put it on the ground. She motioned to the men in the tree to come down to her. They remained frozen in place. Then she called out to them, “You must come down to me.” They begged her and implored her to allow them to remain in the tree, saying “For God’s sake, leave us alone.” But she insisted on having her way:

She replied, “You must come down, and if you don’t, I shall wake the demon and have him kill you.” She kept gesturing and pressing, until they climbed down very slowly and stood before her. Then she lay on her back, raised her legs, and said, “Make love to me and satisfy my need, or else I shall wake the demon, and he will kill you.” They replied, “For God’s sake, mistress, don’t do this to us, for at this moment we feel nothing but dismay and fear of this demon. Please, excuse us.” She replied, “You must,” and insisted, swearing, “By God who created the heavens, if you don’t do it, I shall wake my husband the demon and ask him to kill you and throw you into the sea.” As she persisted, they could no longer resist and they had sex with her, first the older brother, then the younger.

In short, the woman raped both the kings and cuckolded her demon-husband.

The situation was actually even worse than that. The woman demanded that Shahzaman and Shahrayar give her their rings. She pulled out a purse and showed them ninety-eight rings. She explained:

All the owners of these rings slept with me, for whenever one of them made love to me, I took a ring from him. Since you two have slept with me, give me your rings, so that I may add them to the rest, and make a full hundred. A hundred men have known me under the horns of this filthy monstrous cuckold, who has imprisoned me in this chest, locked it with four locks, and kept me in the middle of the raging, roaring sea. He has guarded me and tried to keep me pure and chaste, not realizing that nothing can prevent or alter what is predestined and that when a woman desires something, no one can stop her.

Women have always been far more powerful than men in human societies. That’s why today men lack any reproductive rights, men don’t have equal knowledge of who their biological offspring are, and men vastly outnumber women among persons held in captivity in prisons and jails.

Their stunning realization of women’s power transformed both King Shahzaman and King Shahrayar.  They exclaimed:

O God, O God! There is no power and no strength, save in God the Almighty, the Magnificent. Great is women’s cunning.

They both took off their rings and give them to the woman. She put the rings in her purse, sat down, and put the sleeping demon’s head back onto her lap. Then she sternly ordered Shahzaman and Shahrayar to go away. They did as she ordered. They returned home, knowing that the awesomely powerful demon was even more worse off than them.

Both Shazaman and Shahrayar resolved never to marry again. However, because he continued to find women highly attractive, King Shahrayar engaged in succession of one-night stands. He would have sex with a woman for one night, and then the next morning order her to be killed. The resulting slaughter of women raised women’s violent death rate from a quarter of the violent death rate for men to half the violent death rate for men. The public was outraged about the extent of violence against women. The vizier’s daughter Shahrazad, a world-famous heroine, sprang into action on behalf of gender justice for women.

Men seeking gender equality can learn much from Shahrazad. She had extensive knowledge of literature, poetry, and the wisdom of her forefathers:

Shahrazad had read the books of literature, philosophy, and medicine. She knew poetry by heart, had studied historical reports, and was acquainted with the sayings of men and the maxims of sages and kings. She was intelligent, knowledgeable, wise, and refined.

Using her story-telling acumen, Shahrazad prevented any further violent deaths of women. Compared to women, men read very little fiction. Is it any wonder that men continue to have a violent death rate much higher than that of women?

To achieve gender equality, men must learn to tell stories, as well as cry compellingly. With the possible exception of the ideologically repressive recent decades, world literature throughout history is full of stories highlighting gender injustices against men. Men must draw upon these literary riches. To forestall fates even worse than befell King Shahraman and King Shahrayar, men must learn from Shahrazad.

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The above story is slightly adapted from the Prologue of the Arabian Nights (1001 Nights). The quotations are from the translation of Haddawy (2010) pp. 5-13. I have made a few insubstantial changes to the quotations.

[image] Shahrazad tells stories to King Shahrayar. Oil painting by Ferdinand Keller, 1880. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Haddawy, Husain, trans., based on Muhsin Mahdi, ed. 2010. The Arabian nights. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

does The Sound of Music echo Christian or Epicurean thought?

The Sound of Music, a Broadway production that opened in 1959 and then became a massively successful movie released in 1965, includes Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song “Something Good.” That song readily prompts grave scholarly thoughts in the mind of the learned. The issue is the nature of creation and a fundamental philosophical divide between Christians and Epicureans.

Maria is a young nun sent on leave from her abbey to serve as a governess to Captain von Trapp. She and the Captain fall in love. That’s mundane normative heterosexuality under the authority of the goddess Venus and her dart-shooting son Cupid. It’s completely uninteresting. But consider a verse that Maria sings to the Captain:

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good [1]

That reasoning in part echoes the thought of Parmenides of Elea early in the fifth-century BGC. About the time of Cicero, Lucretius described the first axiom of what had become the Epicurean school of thought:

nothing can come of nothing, not even by will of the gods.
Mortal men are afraid as they look about them and see
the many things that happen on earth and up in the sky,
and they cannot tell why or how and therefore think that gods
must bring them about by fiat. But if our axiom holds
and nothing can come of nothing, then we are obliged to look further,
to learn what what we want to know — how each thing was created
and how, without the gods, all things came to be.

{ nullam rem e nihilo gigni divinitus umquam.
quippe ita formido mortalis continet omnis,
quod multa in terris fieri caeloque tuentur,
quorum operum causas nulla ratione videre
possunt ac fieri divino numine rentur.
quas ob res ubi viderimus nil posse creari
de nihilo, tum quod sequimur iam rectius inde
perspiciemus, et unde queat res quaeque creari
et quo quaeque modo fiant opera sine divom. } [2]

By the time of Tertullian late in the second century GC, Christians strongly opposed the view that nothing comes from nothing. Tertullian declared that Christians believe:

there is but one God, who is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced everything from nothing through his Word, sent forth before all things

{ Unum omnino Deum esse nec alium praeter mundi conditorem qui uniuersa de nihilo produxerit per uerbum suum primo omnium emissum. } [3]

From Tertullian’s Christian perspective, the nun Maria’s view of creation is Epicurean, not Christian.

Yet in the song “Something Good,” Maria also sings of non-material, moral causation. She believes that she must have done something good in her childhood to merit the good of the Captain loving her. From both Epicurean and Christian perspectives, that’s delusional. Neither atoms nor God the Creator provide present-world rewards based on ongoing judgment about past behavior. In conjunction with adhering to the Epicurean account of creation, the nun Maria apparently also believed in the folk morality “what goes around, comes around.”[4]

Maria inconsistently practiced an Epicurean approach to dealing with pain. Throughout her mundane life, she imitated Epicurus on his deathbed:

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad. [5]

However, when the Baroness forced her to recognize that she was in love with the Captain, the deeply distraught Maria fled back to her abbey to live again as a chaste nun. That action violates the poetic logic of orthodox Epicurean advice to lovesick men:

Your love’s not around, for a change? But still her image
is, and her sweet name echoes in your ears.
Then we ought to flee these shadows and scare off
the food of love, and turn our thoughts to another —
shooting the juice into any available body,
not holding it all in for a single lover,
saving up for ourselves sure pain and sorrow.
If you feed the sore it’ll put down roots and fester
and blister over and drive you made with trouble —
better dull down the old wounds with new interests,
stroll after a street-strolling trollop and cure yourself,
shift your thoughts to another while you still can!

{ nam si abest quod ames, praesto simulacra tamen sunt
illius et nomen dulce obversatur ad auris.
sed fugitare decet simulacra et pabula amoris
absterrere sibi atque alio convertere mentem
et iacere umorem coniectum in corpora quaeque
nec retinere semel conversum unius amore
et servare sibi curam certumque dolorem;
ulcus enim vivescit et inveterascit alendo
inque dies gliscit furor atque aerumna gravescit,
si non prima novis conturbes volnera plagis
volgivagaque vagus Venere ante recentia cures
aut alio possis animi traducere motus. } [6]

Women can acquire lovers much more easily than men can. If Maria truly believed in Epicureanism, she would have simply found another rich, middle-aged captain for a discreet sexual affair.

Although a good singer and a child-pleasing governess, Maria was an ignorant nun and an incoherent philosopher. One might well question Captain von Trapp’s judgment in marrying her. At least the Nazis of the mid-twentieth-century didn’t persecute that forty-seven-year-old retired naval captain for marrying his twenty-two-year-old domestic helper.[7]

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[1] Stanza 3 from the song “Something Good” in the musical The Sound of Music (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II).

[2] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura {On the Nature of Things} 1.150-8, Latin text from The Latin Library, English translation from Slavitt (2008) p. 7. Lucretius lived from about 94 to 49 BGC. He was a follower of Epicurus.

The Epicurean view of creation is commonly known as ex nihilo nihil fit {nothing comes from nothing}. The Christian view tends to be expressed as creation ex nihilo {from nothing}. Opportunities for conceptual confusion are obvious. The issue has been discussed in a wide range of intellectual traditions for millennia.

[3] Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum {On the Prescription of Heretics}, from Latin trans. S.L. Greenslade (1956).

[4] Faulty understanding of Galatians 6:7 may have contributed to the popularity of that folk wisdom. Galatians 6:7-8 declares:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

The metaphor “you reap whatever you sow” applies here to trans-worldly judgment, not present-day affairs.

[5] Stanza 4 from the song “My Favorite Things” in the musical The Sound of Music (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). On Epicurus on his deathbed, see Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.22 (quoting Epicurus’s letter to Idomeneus). For related scholarly discussion, including a citation to The Sound of Music, Procopé (1998) p. 185.

[6] De Rerum Natura 4.1061-72, Latin text from the Latin Library, English translation from Esolen (1995) pp. 151-2, with my adaptations. In l. 1063, Esolen translated sed as “but”; the sense seems to me closer to “then.” For l. 1073, Esolen translated “Better write off the old wounds with new business.” That commercial metaphor is jarring. I’ve replaced it above.

Slavitt’s translation is much looser. It includes the advice, “Do mathematics. Or at least shoot your wad elsewhere.” Slavitt (2008) p. 179. I prefer Esolen’s more literal translation.

[7] The Sound of Music is based on the real-life story of the von Trapp family. The forty-seven-year-old widower Captain Georg von Trapp married his twenty-two-year-old domestic helper Maria. She was actually a tutor to one of his children, rather than a governess.

Georg von Trapp was in reality a warm and loving father to his children. He helped them to develop their musical talents long before Maria entered his household. Maria, in contrast, came to the family with a colder personality than that of the father Georg:

It was actually Maria herself (called “Gustl” by the children), with her emotionally stunted upbringing, who needed thawing.

Santopietro (2015) p. 11. The characters of Georg and Maria apparently were adapted to support the dominant gynocentric ideology.

[image] Video of Maria and the Captain singing “Something Good” from the 1965 movie production of The Sound of Music.


Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the nature of things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Procopé, John. 1998. “Epicureans on Anger.” Pp. 171-196 in Sihvola, Juha, and Troels Engberg-Pedersen, eds. The emotions in Hellenistic philosophy. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Santopietro, Tom. 2015. The Sound of music story: how a beguiling young novice, a handsome Austrian captain, and ten singing Von Trapp children inspired the most beloved film of all time. New York: St. Martin’s Press

Slavitt, David R., trans. 2008. Lucretius. De rerum natura: the nature of things. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Orosius on violence: behind every great man is an even greater woman

All have been taught the wisdom, “Behind every great man is an even greater woman.” Yet women, who incite men to violence, receive little credit for the violence that men do. Moreover, women don’t merely stand behind men and push them forward into deadly battle. When necessary, women themselves also directly engage in battle. Orosius and other ancient Roman historians documented that women can be ferocious and brutal fighters ready to kill not just the enemy, but also their own children.

Amazons are celebrated today as strong, independent women-warriors. Orosius, however, described Amazons as Scythian women who became warriors only after the Scythians were driven into exile and many Scythian men were killed:

The wives of this group {the Scythians}, driven hysterical by being exiled and widowed, took up arms and, so that all of them should have the same spirit by being in the same condition, killed the {Scythian} men who had survived. Having inflamed themselves in this way, they avenged with their own blood their slaughtered husbands by exterminating the neighboring tribes. When they had obtained peace by force of arms, they lay with foreigners. They immediately killed their male offspring, but carefully reared the females, burning off the right-side breasts of these young girls in order that they should not be impeded in shooting arrows. For this reason they were called Amazons.

{ Horum uxores exilio ac uiduitate permotae arma sumunt et, ut omnibus par ex simili condicione animus fieret, uiros qui superfuerant interficiunt atque accensae in hostem sanguine suo ultionem caesorum coniugum finitimorum excidio consequuntur. Tunc pace armis quaesita externos concubitus ineunt, editos mares mox enecant, feminas studiose nutriunt inustis infantium dexterioribus mammillis, ne sagittarum iactus impedirentur; unde Amazones dictae. } [1]

This historical account is plausible. Just as single women attempt to sabotage other women’s relationships with men, single Amazons killed all the Amazon husbands so that all Amazon women would be single like them. Moreover, single mothers can easily become hostile to male children, so the single Amazon mothers killing all their male offspring isn’t surprising. One should also recognize that women support relatively strongly mutilating the genitals of male and female chilren. Amazons mothers had more convincing reason for cutting off their daughters’ breasts than many women today have for allowing their sons’ genitals to be mutilated.

Current public adoration for Amazons shows ignorance of other, more worthy women heroes that Orosius and other ancient Roman historians described. For example, the Assyrian woman leader Semiramis not only assumed leadership of her nation after her husband was killed, but also far outdid her husband in military aggression:

This woman {Semiramis} was not content to inherit the boundaries which her husband, the only warlike king at that time, had seized in his fifty years of war. She crushed Ethiopia in war, drenched it in blood, and added it to her domains. She also waged war on India, which no one except she and Alexander the Great had invaded. … Semiramis, ablaze with lust and thirsting for blood, lived amid unending fornication and murder. After she had killed all those with whom she had enjoyed pleasures of the flesh — men she had summoned as a queen, but retained as a courtesan — she vilely put out for death by exposure her illicitly conceived son.

{ Non contenta terminis mulier, quos a uiro suo tunc solo bellatore in quinquaginta annis adquisitos susceperat, Aethiopiam bello pressam, sanguine interlitam, imperio adiecit. Indis quoque bellum intulit, quo praeter illam et Alexandrum Magnum nullus intrauit. … Haec, libidine ardens, sanguinem sitiens, inter incessabilia et stupra et homicidia, cum omnes quos regie arcessitos, meretricie habitos concubitu oblectasset occideret, tandem filio flagitiose concepto, impie exposito } [2]

Her illicit son apparently survived being exposed. Like Oedipus and Jocasta, the son and mother unknowingly had sex. Dwelling upon the injustices that she faced in those circumstances, Semiramis acted to liberate all from punishment for such acts:

When she learned she had committed incest, she covered up her personal disgrace by making her crime a public practice. She decreed that between parents and their children no natural shyness should prevent seeking a marital partner and that everyone should be free to act according to her pleasure.

{ inceste cognito priuatam ignominiam publico scelere obtexit. Praecepit enim, ut inter parentes ac filios nulla delata reuerentia naturae de coniugiis adpetendis ut cuique libitum esset liberum fieret. } [3]

Like Empress Theodora, Semiramis had strong, independent sexuality. Semiramis also had a keen sense for social justice. In today’s circumstances, she deserves to be honored as a greater hero than Oedipus the King.

Women use their children in violent battle in ways that most men lack the courage to do. Consider German women battling against Roman soldiers. When the German women lacked weapons and couldn’t retreat, they used their children to strike against the enemy:

when weapons ran out, they {the German women} bashed their own children against the ground and hurled them into the faces of the opposing soldiers.

{ quae deficientibus telis infantes suos adflictos humi in ora militum adversa miserunt. } [4]

Gallic women fighting against the Romans were more ingenious in killing their children:

They made a sort of fort by drawing their wagons into a circle and drove off the Romans for a long time, fighting themselves from the top of its ramparts. But then the Romans terrified them by a new way of dealing out death — stripping the skin and hair from their heads and leaving them disgraced by this dishonorable sort of wound. After that, the swords that they had taken up against the enemy the women turned on themselves and their children. Some cut each others’ throats, others throttled one another. Yet others tied ropes around their horses’ legs and, after tying those same ropes around their own necks, urged the horses on and so were dragged to their deaths. Others pushed up the yoke-poles of their wagons and hanged themselves from them. They found one woman who had placed a noose around the necks of her two sons and attached it to her feet, so that when she flung herself down to be hanged, she dragged her children to their doom with her.

{ Mulieres grauiorem paene excitauere pugnam, quae plaustris in modum castrorum circumstructis, ipsae autem desuper propugnantes, diu repulere Romanos. sed cum ab his nouo caedis genere terrerentur — abscisis enim cum crine uerticibus inhonesto satis uulnere turpes relinquebantur — ferrum, quod in hostes sumpserant, in se suosque uerterunt. Namque aliae concursu mutuo iugulatae, aliae apprehensis inuicem faucibus strangulatae, aliae funibus per equorum crura consertis ipsisque continuo equis exstimulatis, postquam suas isdem funibus, quibus equorum crura nexuerant, indidere ceruices, protractae atque exanimatae sunt, aliae laqueo de subrectis plaustrorum temonibus pependerunt. Inuenta est etiam quaedam, quae duos filios traiectis per colla eorum laqueis ad suos pedes uinxerit et, cum se ipsam suspendio morituram dimisisset, secum traxerit occidendos. } [5]

Whether it’s wives fighting against their husbands in divorce proceedings or women leaders contemplating using the quintessential feminine weapon (nuclear bombs), women can wreak destruction that few men can even imagine. Women are the ultimate weapon.

Men deserve blame for not recognizing women’s violence. The great Persian leader King Cyrus learned this lesson in blood. Queen Thamyris arranged to kill 200,000 Persian men along with their King Cyrus. That wasn’t enough revenge for her:

The queen ordered Cyrus’ head to be cut off and thrust into a wineskin filled with human blood, adding these words of rebuke for his ruthlessness: “Glut yourself with blood — you always had a thirst for it and could never get enough.”

{ Caput Cyri amputatum in utrem humano sanguine repletum coici regina iubet cum hac exprobratione crudelitatis : “Satia te, inquit, sanguine, quem sitisti cuiusque insatiabilis semper fuisti”. } [6]

King Arthur’s neighbor King Gorlagon served his ex-wife with a similar punishment. Yet, as always, the person beheaded was a man. Men justifiably fear castration culture. A man should also fear that a woman will cut off his head and thrust it into a wineskin filled with blood.

Behind every great man is an even greater woman. Honored generals and warriors currently are almost exclusively men. That reflects sexism like sexist Selective Service registration. Just as women are superior to men in “web thinking” and the skills needed in today’s economy, women are also superior to men in today’s key forms of aggression and violence. As Orosius and other ancient Roman historians subtly suggested, women deserve to be recognized as more violent and vicious fighters than men.

women fighting

women MMA fighters

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[1] Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos {History Against the Pagans} 1.15.2-3, Latin text from that of C. Zangemeister, ed., via Attalus; from Latin trans. Fear (2010) p. 64. Fear’s translation is based on the Budé text established by Arnaud-Linder, but that Latin text appears to be consistent with the Zangemeister text for the quotes above. In this and subsequent quotes, I have made some insubstantial changes to the translations to make them more easily readable. Any substantial changes are described in the associated note.

Orosius was probably a Christian church official from Spain. He interacted with both Augustine and Jerome. Orosius’s Historiae Adversus Paganos is a history from the beginning of the world to 410 GC. It was probably written about 416 GC. According to Orosius, historians writing from a non-Christian perspective failed to recognize God acting in history. Orosius argued strongly that the Gauls’ sack of non-Christian Rome in 390 GC was far more devastating than the Goths’ sack of Rome in 410 GC. Orosius also argued that, with the benefits of the grace of God, human welfare had improved since Rome became Christian.

Orosius only recently has been appreciated for his sophisticated rhetoric. Van Nuffelen observed:

Subtlety and literary skill are qualities rarely ascribed to Orosius, whose intelligence and culture have generally been derided in scholarship for the past half century. This judgment contrasts with the views of his late antique readers who emphasized his eloquence and rhetorical talent.

Van Nuffelen (2012) p. 25. Id. convincingly documents the merits of the late antique view of Orosius. Not surprisingly, Orosius presents a far more sophisticated and rhetorically impressive view of women than most scholars do today.

Orosius’s Historiae Adversus Paganos provided an influential pattern for historical writing. It circulated widely and was extensively studied in medieval Europe:

Some fifty manuscripts {of Historiae Adversus Paganos} survive from the period before 1100, and a further two hundred from the period up to 1500. It was clearly well known and much used in Anglo-Saxon England in the centuries immediately following the conversion to Christianity at the end of the sixth century.

Godden (2016) p. x. Popular, progressive history — history as a narrative of improving human condition over time — is fundamentally based on the model of Orosius’s history.

The Old English Orosius recognized more clearly than Orosius men’s subordination to women. According to the Old English Orosius, the Scythian men returned home when:

their wives sent messengers after them, saying that they must return home or else the wives would choose new husbands.

1.10.2, from Old English trans. Godden (2010) pp. 77, 79. The Old English Orosius also recognized that women can make men’s lives particularly miserable:

What sort of peace do you think men had before Christianity, when their women were doing such terrible things in this world?

1.10.8, trans. id. p. 83 (emphasis on men in source). The Old English Orosius was written by a West Saxon, probably a cleric, perhaps sometime between 862 and 930. Id. p. xi.

On current scholarly panegyrics for the Amazons, see note [1] in my post on the Amazons in the Alexandreis.

[2] Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos 1.4.5,7, trans. Fear (2010) pp. 51-2. The Old English Orosius elaborated on the relationship between Queen Semiramis and her husband King Ninus:

she {Semiramus} went on with the fighting that she had previously seduced him {Ninus} into by various wicked pleasures.

2.2.2, trans. Godden (2016) p. 59. Id. also forthrightly recognized the problem of “womanly malice” in Semiramis. Warner in Rouen early in the eleventh century depicted Semiramis as more wanton than any courtesan. See note [18] and associated text in my post on Warner’s cosmopolitan literary ambition.

[3] Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos 1.4.7-8, my translation. Fear’s translation:

when she learnt that she had indulged in incest with him, she covered her personal disgrace by inflicting this crime on all her people. For she decreed that there should be none of the natural reverence between parents and children when it came to seeking a spouse and that everyone should be free to act as he pleased.

Fear (2010) pp. 51-2. My translation attempts to follow the Latin more closely and allows gender play in the final pronoun, which is implicit in the Latin.

[4] Florus, Epitome of Roman History {Epitomae Historiae Romanae} 2.22, trans. E. S. Forster (1929) for the Loeb Classical Library. Similarly, Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos 6.21.17, trans. Fear (2010) p. 313.

Women killing their children and using the dead bodies as weapons is different from the traditional Roman exemplum of women committing suicide with their children. Orosius records that after the Romans had slaughtered 200,000 Gallic men, the Gallic women demanded from the Romans the privilege to become chaste priestesses. When the Romans refused to extend that female privilege, Gallic women killed their children and themselves:

they battered their children to death on the rocks and took their own lives by the sword or by the noose.

{ itaque cum petita non impetrauissent, paruulis suis ad saxa conlisis cunctae sese ferro ac suspendio peremerunt. }

Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos 5.16.13, trans. Fear (2010) p. 236. Such action was a well-known exemplum, e.g. Valerius Maximus 6.1.ext. 3, Jerome, Epistula 123.7 (cited in Van Nuffelen (2012) p. 127, n. 57).

[5] Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos 5.16.17-19, trans. Fear (2010) p. 237. With this original description, Orosius added much enargeia to a traditional Roman exemplum. Van Nuffelen (2012) p. 128.

[6] Justin, Epitome of the Philippic Histories {Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum} 1.8.13, Latin text from the edition of Arnaud-Lindet (2003) via Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum; English trans. Yardley (1994) p. 21. This vignette goes back at least to Herodotus 1.214, where Thamyris is called in Greek Tomyris. It also occurs in Orosius, Historiae Adversus Paganos 2.7.6, trans. Fear (2010) p. 86; and the Old English Orosius 2.4.10, trans. Godden (2016) p. 121.

[image] (1) Two women fighting in the street (detail). English etching, probably from the nineteenth century. Wellcome Library no. 31649i. Available from Wellcome Collection under Creative Commons CC-BY license. (2) Women mixed-martial-arts fighters Megumi Fujii (left) fighting Cody Welchlin (right). Image thanks to Matthew Walsh and Wikimedia Commons.


Fear, A. T., trans. 2010. Paulus Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Godden, Malcolm, ed. and trans. 2016. Paulus Orosius. The Old English history of the world: an Anglo-Saxon rewriting of Orosius. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 44. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Van Nuffelen, Peter. 2012. Orosius and the rhetoric of history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yardley, John C., trans. 1994. Justin. Epitome of the Philippic history of Pompeius Trogus. Atlanta (Ga.): Scholars Press.

the Great Society has been demolished along with monuments to Johnson

Great Society of Lyndon Johnson

The Great Society that Lyndon Johnson began to build has been demolished. Johnson was a towering leader in the U.S. Senate and then President of the U.S. He was proud of the size of his penis, which he nicknamed “Jumbo”. Johnson would manipulate his genitals during meetings and urinate in front of female and male subordinates in the parking lot of the U.S. Capitol. Holding his penis and turning to a male colleague in the bathroom, Johnson said, “Have you ever seen anything as big as this?” That colleague never complained of Johnson sexually harassing him. Women and men will never again see a Johnson like that Johnson.

Power is the problem. “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” Henry Kissinger knowingly explained. When President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky engaged in non-heteronormative sex in the Oval Office complex, the power imbalance between the two undoubtedly helped to make the cigar more thrilling. The powers that rule have ruled that a power imbalance makes sex illicit. Ordinary persons can do nothing against that powerful ruling. Men are now impotent; women, distraught.

Hollywood and other fantasy producers no longer offer an escape. Long ago, a young actress from Algeria went to study in Paris:

She got to know a French producer as old as her father. Very rich and very influential. Married and with children older than she was. He fell in love with her. Her skin was brown and smooth and she was passionate. He went crazy over her. She drove him insane. He promised he would produce a blockbuster with her as the heroine, and he kept his word. You know what this generation’s like, everything all in a hurry. She wanted to be a famous actress, and he was obsessed with her youth. He would follow her to Tunis whenever she went there to visit her family.

Their relationship ended, not like some prominent men’s careers have ended recently, but in a more humane way:

He died. They were together. He was making love to her. He died on top of her. Someone asked if he’d died before he’d come or after. No one knew the answer.

Natural death is no longer a fitting end. Survivor women who suffered sex with men must be made into heroines. Their lovers must be public flayed. Then they must be killed in ritual sacrifice to the idol of gender power equality and the structural injustice of top and bottom. Men must be wary to remain alive and sane.

The Thinker has been exiled from respected public discourse. Some still longingly remember his presence:

I was confident that the Thinker would appear before me one day at a sudden turning, and he would say, like the first time, “It grabs me by the throat.” He would ask me about my honey, as though he had left me the day before, and I would reply that he should look for the answer for himself; that it was up to him to stretch out his hand and put it between my thighs and taste. “The proof of the sweetness of the honey is the honey itself,” says Ibn Arabi. I used to say it in front of him, and then he became the one who would repeat it, to teach me what I already knew.

Now anyone who says that some women might want certain men to reach out and grab the honey between their thighs is publicly classed as a sexual predator in authoritative news reports. Honey has turned to sorrel.

The Great Society has been demolished. Yet few dare speak or write of what’s happening. American society isn’t headed toward being made great again.

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On Johnson calling his penis “Jumbo,” urinating in the Capitol Hill parking lot, manipulating his genitals, and proudly displaying the size of his penis, Caro (2003) p. 121.

Henry Kissinger stated with respect to his sexual affairs, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Quoted in the The New York Times, 28 October 1973.

The most authoritative source for documentation on Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton’s relationship is the Starr Report. Here’s a review of reporting on the Lewinsky / Clinton story.

The account of the actress’s affair is from Nu’aymī (2009) p. 66. On the woman encouraging a man to reach out and put his hand onto her vagina, id. p. 140. Ibn Arabi was a twelfth-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, philosopher, and poet. Ibn Arabi was educated in Seville. He traveled and lived throughout the Islamic world of the twelfth century.

[image] Photo (slightly cropped) of President Lyndon B. Johnson socializing with Abe Fortas a day after nominating him to the Supreme Court. Photo made on July 29, 1965. Johnson’s body language shows his capabilities for providing the “Johnson treatment.” LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. Photo serial number A966-16. Thanks to the LBJ Library for preserving this photo in the public domain.


Caro, Robert A. 2003. Master of the Senate: the years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Vintage Books.

Nu’aymī, Salwá (Salwa al Neimi), from Arabic trans. Carol Perkins. 2009. The proof of the honey. New York: Europa Editions.