cuckolds don’t question; they just listen, believe and are duped

idiot nation

Enlightened medieval thinkers didn’t teach men to just listen and believe. They instructed men to question and investigate. That’s how objective knowledge is generated. Men who questioned and investigated created almost all the machinery of modern civilization. Men who just listened and believed, in contrast, often produced nothing and became cuckolds.

Consider the case of a husband in a small, remote town in Italy early in the fifteenth century. He caught his wife in the act of having sex with another man. Probably drawing upon experiential knowledge passed down across generations of women, she responded strongly and decisively to being exposed as an adulteress:

she instantly pretended to be half-dead and threw herself onto the ground, as if she were dead.

{ illa statim se semimortuam simulavit, prosternens se ad terram, similis defunctae. }

Most persons don’t die by instantly throwing themselves on the ground and pretending to be half-dead. The husband should have carefully and fully investigated his wife’s apparent death. Instead, the husband merely looked and believed:

The husband came to her, and believing that she was dead, began to weep and rub his wife’s arms.

{ Accedens vir propius, ac mortuam credens, coepit illacrymans brachia uxoris fricare. }

Most husbands deeply and truly love their wives. But if a husband sees his wife fall dead after he sees her having sex with another man, questions should arise in his mind. With her husband weeping and rubbing her arms, the wife with stone-cold composure played out her ruse:

She then partially opened her eyes, as if she were gradually regaining consciousness. When her husband asked what had happened, she said she had been struck by too much fear.

{ Tum illa, subapertis oculis, tanquam ad se paululum reversa, cum petisset vir quidnam accidisset, se nimio timore percussam dixit }

Too much fear, indeed. She had no reason to fear her husband:

When the fool began to console her and to beg her to command whatever she wanted, she said, “I want you to swear that you saw nothing.” As soon as he had so sworn, his wife’s health was restored.”

{ cum eam consolari stultus coepisset, ac si quid vellet petere jussisset: ‘Volo,’ inquit illa, ‘jures te nihil vidisse.’ Statim cum id jurasset, mulieri valetudo restituta est. }

That husband was as foolish as the husband who listened and believed his wife when she told him that she was dead. He was, not surprisingly, also cuckolded.

Men should question their wives and all other authorities ruling over them. It’s not just small-town men living in the mountains who stupidly listen and believe. Florence was one of the most cultural sophisticated cities in medieval Europe. Yet consider the case of medieval Florentine husband:

A Florentine citizen returned to his home after a year of traveling abroad. He discovered his wife in child-labor. He found this difficult to bear, for he suspected his wife of wrong-doing. Pondering the situation, for advice he sought out a neighbor, a noble and perspicacious woman, and asked her if a child could be born to him after twelve months.

{ Florentinus civis, peregre profectus, cum post annum, qua die domum rediit, uxorem parturientem deprehendisset, aegre hoc ferebat, suspicans uxoris peccatum. Consilii tamen causa, cum penderet animo, quaesivit a vicina Matrona nobili et peracuta, an filius sibi duodecim mensium nasci posset. }

The husband at least asked a question. But he didn’t do it right. He didn’t think first about gynocentrism and dominant interests:

She, seeing the man’s foolishness, consoled the husband. “Surely,” she said, “for if your wife, on the day she conceived, by chance saw a donkey, she will have been pregnant for a period of a year, in the manner of donkeys.” Accepting the words of the lady, and giving thanks to God for liberating himself from no small amount of suspicion and his wife from a great scandal, he called the son who was born his own.

{ At illa, stultitia hominis conspecta, virum consolata: – ‘Certe,’ inquit; ‘nam, si tua uxor, qua die concepit, asinum forte vidisset, more asinae annum integrum partum gestabit.’ Acquiescens vir Matronae verbis, et Deo gratias agens, quod se suspicione haud parva, uxorem magno scandalo liberasset, natum puerum suum dixit. }

In asking questions, men should seek empirical, verifiable facts, not just authoritative pronouncements. Men should seek out and question persons with relevant experience in the field.

Craftiness and guile are futile within the behavioral framework of listening and believing. Consider, for example, a case in medieval Venice:

An itinerant drug-seller came to Venice. His business banner was painted with a penis divided by a number of lines. A certain Venetian approached and asked what those divisions signified. For amusement the drug-seller said that his own penis was of a nature such that if he became acquainted with a woman in to the first part, she would give birth to a merchant; if in to the second part, a soldier; to the third part, a Duke; and to the fourth part, a Pope. His fee for using his penis was proportionate to the quality of person requested.

{ pharmacopolam circumforaneum Venetias venisse, cujus in vexillo pictus erat Priapus pluribus ligaturis distinctus. Accessit quidam Venetus, quid illa distinctio significaret, quaerens. Ille per jocum ait, membrum suum illius esse naturae, ut quum mulierem prima tantum parte cognosceret, mercatores faceret; secunda milites; tertia Duces; quarta Pontifices: et pretium pro qualibet personarum petebat. }

The Venetian man listened and believed. Then in consultation with his wife he concocted a deviously crafty plan:

Having communicated about the matter with his wife, the Venetian summoned the man to his house and settled on the price for making for himself a soldier-son. When the time had come to have sex with his wife, the husband pretended to leave, but secretly withdrew behind the bed. And when he saw them hard at work begetting a soldier, the simpleton rushed forward and vigorously pressed on the rider’s ass so as to enjoy the benefit of the penis being in to the fourth part. “By God’s Holy Gospels, this one will be a Pope!,” he exclaimed, thinking that he had taken advantage of his business counterpart.

{ communicata re cum uxore, domum vocavit hominem, facto pretio, ut sibi filium militem faceret. Cum ad coitum cum uxore ventum esset, maritus simulans se abire, clanculum post lectum secessit. Et cum illi gignendo militi intenti essent, prosiliit fatuus, et culum sessoris vehementer premens, ut quartae quoque partis beneficio uteretur: ‘Per Sancta Dei Evangelia, hic erit Papa!’ inquit, putans se socium defraudasse. }

If you merely listen and believe, even a devious ploy that seems to succeed will actually fail. No amount of dishonesty can substitute for listening, questioning, and seeking the truth.

Medieval Latin literature taught men basic lessons of enlightened behavior. Today, men aren’t receiving such lessons. Instead, a public propaganda apparatus far more extensive than that which existed in the Soviet Union instructs men to listen and believe. To become enlightened in our Dark Age, men must once again study medieval Latin literature.

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All three exempla above are from the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini. The first exemplum is Facetiae 84, “Of the woman who feigned to her husband that she was half-dead {De muliere quae se viro semimortuam ostendit},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) v. 1, pp. 134-5, my English translation with help from id. The second exemplum is Facetiae 122, “One woman’s humorous response to a husband’s enquiry about whether his wife could spend twelve months bearing a child {Jucunda Responsio Unius Mulieris, Facta Ad Quemdam Quaerentem An Uxor Sua Per XII Menses Posset Parere},” Latin text from Poggio id., v. 2, pp. 1-2, similarly my English translation. The third exemplum is Facetiae 161, “Of the crazy Venetiam whom a itinerant drug-seller derided {De Veneto Insano Quem Pharmacopola Circumforaneus Derisit},” Latin text from Poggio id., v. 2, pp. 62-3, similarly my English translation. Poggio attributed the third exemplum to Giannino, chef to Baronto of Pistorium. Giannino had practiced the culinary art in Venice. Pistorium is located in present-day Tuscany, Italy, and is now called Pistoia.

These exempla were passed down across generations of medieval men. By preserving them in writing, Poggio, along with earlier scholars such as Lucretius, helped to preserve the possibility of enlightenment down to the present day. Poggio deserves to be celebrated as a great medieval humanist. He is a medieval scholar of prime importance today.

[image] Idiot nation graphic. Cropped version of a photo that miuenski miuenski shared on flickr under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa/2.0 license.


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).

merits of career-woman Minerva relative to Juno and Venus

Minerva (Pallas Athena)

Minerva, also known as Pallas Athena, was a strong, independent woman. She had an outstanding career in military service. She was also credentialed in weaving, education, poetry, and social virtue. In her mind, the young Trojan prince Paris should regard her, a single woman and a virgin, as more beautiful than Juno and Venus.

Minerva was an activist who disdained idle banter. After hearing Juno’s long, boastful speech, Minerva remained confident that she herself would be the victor in the beauty contest. She proclaimed:

Not armed for a battle of words
did I think we goddesses would come. On this point
I blush for the talkative sex. I am less than a woman in this,
for I have studied a different type of war. Vile is victory in which
the vanquished praise themselves more than the victor. That is an
honor unknown in our victories, so what does the queen intend
with her eloquent sayings?

{ non armatas in prelia lingue
credideram venisse deas; hac parte loquacem
erubeo sexum, minus hic quam femina possum
Martem alium didici. victoria feda ubi victus
plus laudis victore feret, nostrisque triumphis
hic haut notus honos, sed quo regina decoro
effatu tendit? }

Being married to Jove, as Juno was, wasn’t a status that Minerva envied. Minerva described her own merits:

If beauty, if lineage, if lastly morals
are claims, then modesty rules my concerns, my blood is from Jove,
and my appearance is accessible to a judge’s eye. Is this not beauty,
family, and cultural refinement? If goddesses boast of
their joyful marriages, nuptial dowries, and children,
virginity alone pleases me. I haven’t endured anything shameful,
I won’t wreck marriages or expose a husband.
Honored Paris, men meditate upon my battles, girls my weaving,
and laurel-crowned poets my songs.
Thus both sexes delight in me, thus I’m well received by all.

{ si gena, si generis auctor, si denique mores
querendi, in curis regnat pudor, a Iove sanguis,
censori facies oculo patet. heccine forma,
hoc genus, hic mentis cultus? si coniuga dive
gaudia, nuptarum dotes et pignora iactant,
virginitas me sola iuvat nil passa pudendum,
non lesura thoros, non deprensura maritos.
macte Paris, mea bella viri, mea pensa puelle
et mea laurigeri meditantur carmina vates.
sic populis utrisque fruor, sic grata per omnes. }

Minerva was sophisticated enough to understanding that boasting is ugly and that femininity can be toxic:

But why do I speak of this, why am I laboring to add more to this?
It is, I admit, degrading to one’s character and modesty to be eager
to show off oneself. For one who hawks her arts
defames the fame that she bears. But since the present contest
is being fought in terms of manliness and vices, listen to Minerva
who reaps more merit from silence than from speaking!

{ sed quid ego hec, quid ad hec subnectere plura laborem?
moribus indignum, fateor, studiisque pudicis
ostentare suum; proprie nam venditor artis
detitulat titulos, quos ingerit. at quia presens
viribus et viciis armatur causa, Minervam
accipe plus tacite meritam quam voce secutam! }

Under gynocentrism, men have long been silenced about the enormous contributions they have made relative to women in building and defending civilization. Wise Minerva understood the virtues of manliness, which she herself exemplified.

Prevailing in battle against furies, giants, and monsters, Minerva defended the virtues, upheld social justice, and protected the ruling goddess. Prudence, piety, patience, simplicity, chastity, charity, constancy, peace, concord, and social justice lacked a champion before Minerva was born. Then came the turning point:

“At last as it gave birth to Minerva,
the lofty brow of Jove began to tremble and all the sky
roared as it rotated on a greater pole. No dawn ever gave
the gods more joy. Coming from this father, born in this way,
Pallas, the guardian of virtue, the leader of virtue,
cleared a path for the gods and banished Furies and monsters.
This is she for whom Juno marks failings, whom you, Trojan, see here:
Minerva, powerful in war, the one whose right hand defeated
the threat of Phlegra. I saw — shall I say? But we all
know: the fire of Encheladus consumed the Cyclops,
the hundred-handed one scorned the hundred arrows and quiver
of Niobe; Mars gasped for breath as the stronger Typhoeus
demanded the skies. Where then was warlike Juno?
She could have at least added to the number and remained nearer
in arms to save her own realm! Persephone had already grasped and
encompassed Dis’s penis in the heavenly marriage bed
when at last Saturn’s daughter, jumping out of the bed in fear,
shouted: “Pallas, Pallas, oh fate, you are delayed?
We are being pushed out!” I came. She saw the worth of Medusa,
the Gorgon goddess, she saw that my golden armor, which she had denounced,
was more than just show. When she was fearfully trembling, I gave her back the heavens, her kingdom, and her home. She now may be ungrateful and hostile to me,
but from us it is that she rules, from us that she enjoys with Jove
carefree sleeping. When I went to the help of feeble Olympus,
then I was the divine one, then I was called a virago.
You, gods above, I call on you to testify to the laborious, daring deeds
of this head, this breast of ours,” and looking up at the heavens,
she bared her head and breast.

{ “tandem genitura Minervam
contremuit frons celsa Iovis totusque rotatu
intonuit maiore polus, nec letior umquam
lux superis. hoc patre fluens, hoc edita partu
divum pandit iter, Diras et monstra relegat
virtutum custos, virtutum previa Pallas.
hec illa est, quam Iuno notat, quam, Dardane, cernis,
marte Minerva potens, hec, cuius dextra minacem
exhausit Flegram. vidi — dicamne? sed omnes
novimus: Encheladi consumsit flamma Ciclopes,
centimanus pharetras centum Niobesque sagittas
sprevit, hanelanti iam maior Marte Typhoeus
celum poscebat. ubi tunc Mavortia Iuno?
iuvisset numero saltem propiorque stetisset
pro sceptris armata suis! iam pene supernos
Persephone thalamos Ditem complexa tenebat,
cum tandem exiliens trepidis Saturnia stratis
exclamat: ‘Pallas, Pallas, proh fata, moraris?
pellimur!’ accessi. sensit valuisse Medusam
Gorgoneamque deam, sensit, quod fulminat aurum
plus splendore potens, cum celum, sceptra, Penates
reddidimus trepide. sit nunc ingrata, sit hostis,
nostrum est, quod regnat, nostrum, quod cum Iove sompno
securo fruitur. at curam imbellis Olimpi
cum subii, tunc diva fui, tunc dicta virago.
vos, superi, testor, quantis sudaverit ausis
hoc caput, hoc pectus nostrum,” ac ostendit utrumque
celum suspiciens. }

Minerva described herself as a great warrior on behalf of social justice and other virtues. To impress his fellow men, a Roman man would bare his chest to show war wounds that he had received there. Women didn’t need to show war wounds on their chests. Their bare breasts alone were enough to impress men. The profound power of women’s breasts are the means by which women warriors prevail in social battles.

Confident in her womanly merit, Minerva questioned the masculinity of Juno’s son Vulcan. First disparaging Juno for betraying female solidarity, Minerva exclaimed:

The goddess should recognize and remember at whom
she hurls her reproofs, and spare her own. She gave birth to the mighty
Vulcan, and I’m glad she did. That with soft foot
he goes to war, no, I don’t envy that, nor that he artfully weaves chains.

{ … advertat, cuius convicia tractat,
diva memor parcatque suis! parit illa potentem
Vulcanum pariatque velim; non, quod pede molli
militat, invideo, nectitve quod arte catenas. }

Vulcan’s lame foot would be a disadvantage in war. The adjective “soft {mollis}” is associated with femininity. So too is weaving. Vulcan weaved chains to capture Mars committing adultery with Vulcan’s wife Venus. Vulcan apparently wasn’t a winner in the marital bed. One might judge that Minerva was more manly than Vulcan. In any case, she didn’t envy that man.

After attacking Juno, Minerva turned to disparaging the highly feminine Venus.  Minerva explained that Venus is a whore who would be much more successful if she were as beautiful as Minerva:

But I don’t seek feminine fame, beauty’s triumph,
with the intention of vilely selling myself
in common sport. My brow, my honored mouth —
Venus the huntress of men would bloom with them!

{ … sed molle decus formeque triumphum
non hac mente peto, viles ut solvar in usus
vulgaresque iocos. hac fronte, hoc oris honore
venatrix hominum vernet Venus! }

Despite the disadvantage of her relatively plain looks, Venus wages war against virtue and for carnal love:

Against everyone the Cyprian
wages war, delights those she defeats, and is proud that the world
yields to her power. Alas, rare is the golden
ax, rare is love of virtue! Surely moral heights are crushed
by that sweet poison, pious sandbank, suppliant insanity,
soft evil, lively illness. Thus the world is claimed by
Venus, venal destruction; thus against everyone she goes out with
her arrow-shooting Cupid in her arms. To provide a model,
she has children by both Vulcan and Mars. … Certainly, strenuously,
all-powerful Venus attempted to sway me. She failed
because I was wary. If only the world would deal with her as I did!

{ … Cipris in omnes
bella ciet victrixque placet mundumque superbit
imperiis cessisse suis. heu, rara securis
aurea, rarus amor morum! quippe ardua frangit
virus dulce, pie Sirtes, amentia supplex,
molle malum, morbus hilaris. sic vendicat orbem
exicium venale Venus, sic exit in omnes
teligerum complexa suum exemplumque datura
Vulcano Martique parit.   … me strenua certe
omnipotensque Venus temptabat flectere. cessit,
sensi etenim; mecumque utinam deprenderet orbis! }

Woman have great power to incite men to violence against other men. When Trojan and Greek men were slaughtering each other over Helen, who rightly described herself as a shameless whore, Pallas Athena at least participated in the fighting. Venus was absent from the battlefields of the Trojan War. She was concerned only with wrestling in bed.

Minerva was a woman with impressive credentials and skills. She had many career accomplishments. In ending her speech, Minerva wooed Paris with her resumé:

Greatest son of Priam, if our glory is whatever
Mars dares, what Clio teaches, what Arachne weaves,
if your siblings need the many gift of Minerva,
if your arts lack a tutor and in your citadel
the Palladium exults, if a virgin merits the title of beautiful,
do not despise Troy’s fate. Judge, assent to my claim!

{ Maxime Priamidum, nostra est si gloria quicquid
Mars audet, quod Clio docet, quod tractat Aragne,
si tibi mixta manus et partitura Minervam,
si tutoris egent artes et in arce triumphat
Palladium, forme titulum si virgo meretur,
annue et Iliacum, iudex, ne despice fatum! }

Highly skilled women with successful careers can provide for men and children and reduce men’s gender burden of work. Women warriors can substitute for men dying in battle. Paris and the rest of the Trojan men would have benefited from having Minerva on their side in the Trojan War. But men often don’t act wisely in relation to women. Men often don’t recognize the beauty in an older, single, virgin career woman.

Minerva assaulting Arachne

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The quotes above are from Joseph of Exeter’s twelfth-century epic poem, Ylias Daretis Phrygii {Iliad of Dares Phrygius}, also known as De Bello Trojano {About the Trojan War}.

Joseph of Exeter was a cleric and a highly learned classicist. He included in his epic Latin poetry many references to classical literature and classical myths. In the quotes above, the “threat of Phlegra” refers to the battle between the Titans and the Olympians (the Titanomachy). Athena helped Zeus / Jupiter and his fellow Olympians. The “hundred-handed one” refers to Briareus, an archaic giant whom Joseph interprets as fighting on the side of the Titans. The “golden axe” refers to an ancient Aesop fable in support of the virtue of honesty. For a classical account, Horace, Satires 1.7.27. The Palladium was a statue of Pallas Athena. The Palladium was thought to be able to protect Troy.

For the quotes in English above, I’ve drawn upon the prose translation of Bate (1986) and the verse translation of Rigg (2005) to make a nearly line-by-line translation closer to the Latin than either of those translations.

My Latin text is from Bate (1986). Bate’s Latin text draws upon all the surviving manuscripts except one (which is secretly held) and is close to that of Gompf (1970). Bate (1986) p. 10. The Latin text of Artopoeus (1825), which is freely available online, is quite close to that of Bates.

The quotes above are (cited by book and line number in the Latin text): 2.324-30 (Not armed…); 2.336-45 (If beauty…); 2.346-52 (But why do I speak…); 2.365-92 (“At last at it gave birth…); 2.394-97 (The goddess should recognize…); 2.410-13 (But I don’t seek…); 2.414-22, 431-3 (Against everyone the Cyprian…); 2.449-54 (Greatest son of Priam…).

[images] (1) The Lansdowne Bust of Athena of Velletri. Roman copy of a sculpture attributed to the Greek sculptor Kresilias, c. 430-420 BGC. Preserved in William Randolph Hearst Collection, item 49.23.1, in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (2) Minerva and Arachne (detail). Oil painting by René-Antoine Houasse in 1706. Preserved as item MV 7271; INV 5383; B 711 in the Palace of Versailles. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Artopoeus, Samuel, ed. 1825. Dictys Cretensis et Dares Phrygius De bello trojano. Vol. 2. London: A.J. Valpy.

Bate, Alan K., ed. and trans. 1986. Joseph of Exeter. Trojan war I-III. Oxford: Aris & Phillips.

Gompf, Ludwig, ed. 1970. Joseph of Exeter. Werke und Briefe. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Rigg, A. G., trans. 2005. Joseph of Exeter: Iliad (Josephus Iscanus: Daretis Phrygii Ilias). Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

jackboots of gyncentrism in The Thrush and the Nightingale

jackboots of Stalin

Nightingale, you say what you will,
you say that women shall have me killed —
to Hell one that would!

{ Nighttingale, thou seist thine wille,
Thou seist that wimmen shulen me spille—
Datheit wo hit wolde! }

In the thirteenth-century poem The Thrush and the Nightingale, two birds debate women in relation to men. Their debate isn’t about whether men should allocate more of their resources toward reducing violence against women or toward increasing the number of women business leaders. The nightingale praises women for helping men and bringing them joy. The thrush disparages women for betraying men and hurting them. Both those positions can hardly be expressed in current public discussion. That’s not surprising. The Thrush and the Nightingale includes a figure of the jackboots of gyncentrism. With far more men imprisoned today than during the Middle Ages, freedom of express is now much more limited.

The nightingale depicts all women as wonderful and strong, but not in an independent way. He declares:

It’s shameful to malign the fair!
They’re courteous and debonair;
be still, I counsel you.
There’ll never be a sin too strong —
brought about by right or wrong —
for woman to undo.

They gladden those sunk deep in woe,
whether highborn men or low;
they’re sly and most discreet.
What good a world without them, then?
For they were made to comfort men;
there’s nothing else so sweet.

{ Lo, it is shome to blame leuedy,
For hy beth hende of corteisy;
Ich rede that thou lete.
Ne wes neuere bruche so strong
Ibroke with righte ne with wrong
That [wimon] ne mighte bete.

Hy gladieth hem that beth [wrowe],
Bothe the heye and the lowe,
Mid gome hy cunne hem grete;
This world nere nout yif wimon nere,
Imaked hoe wes to mones fere;
Nis nothing also swete. }

Such descriptions today are regarded as acceptable stereotyping, in contrast to the unacceptable stereotyping of depicting all women as terrible. The thrush engages in unacceptable stereotyping:

For any man who trusts them they
will turn upon and soon betray.
As mild as they appear,
they’re fickle, false on every hand.
They stir up grief in every land;
Better if none were here!

Of woman’s praises I’ll hear nought.
They’re treacherous and false of thought,
and that’s one thing I know.
However fair and bright their hue,
their minds are crafty and untrue.
For years I’ve found it so.

{ For hy biswiketh euchan man
That mest bileueth hem ouppon;
They hy ben milde of chere,
Hoe beth fikele and fals to fonde,
Hoe wercheth wo in euchan londe —
Hit were betere that hy nere!

I ne may wimen herien nohut,
For hy beth swikele and false of thohut,
Also Ich am ounderstonde.
Hy beth feire and bright on hewe,
Here thout is fals and ountrewe,
Ful yare Ich haue hem fonde. }

Not all women are like that. In medieval society, tagging that phrase onto every utterance about women wasn’t necessary to avoid being lynched by the college educated. In making a general claim about women, the thrush brings forth the examples of King Alexander, who was enthralled to his mistress; Adam, who obeyed Eve in the garden of Eden; the sad situation of Sir Gawain; and of course Samson and Delilah. On the other side, the nightingale triumphs by invoking Mary, the mother of Jesus.

More important than the polarized claims in The Thrush and the Nightingale is a stanza threatening the thrush with imprisonment. Even with relatively liberal freedom of expression in medieval society, the nightingale threatens the thrush with institutionalized violence against men:

Come to them with your spite for women
and soon they’ll lock you up in prison,
and there you’ll sadly wait,
and all the lies you ever told yet,
down in the dungeon you’ll soon forget,
and shame shall be your fate.

{ Come thu heuere in here londe,
Hy shulen don the in prisoun stronge,
And ther thou shalt abide;
The lesinges that thou hauest maked
Ther thou shalt hem forsake,
And shome the shal bitide. }

That’s the jackboots of gynocentrism.  They determine truth and lies by political power and the threat of punishment. They make gender equality into a farce. They breed despair and demographic collapse. The jackboots of gynocentism have grown into an enormous threat to humane civilization today.

The Thrush and the Nightingale ends with capitulation, withdrawal, and apathy. The thrush surrenders to the power of the nightingale’s claims:

I now swear by His holy name
that nevermore will I cast shame
on either maid or wife,
and from this forest I’ll soar high
and care not henceforth where I fly,
and wander all my life.

{ Hi swerie bi his holi name,
Ne shal I neuere suggen shame
Bi maidnes ne bi wiue.
Hout of this londe willi te,
Ne rechi neuere weder I fle,
Awai Ich wille driue! }

Facing jackboots of gynocentrism, too many men have similarly given up. Men should not throw away their lives in wrongful shame. With fidelity to truth and right, men should fight in their own way, on their own ground, and with deep respect for the value of their own lives.

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The Thrush and the Nightingale was authored in England sometime about or before the last quarter of the thirteenth century. For overviews of the poem, Walker (1974) pp. 92-7, Lambdin (1991), Parker (2002) pp. 78-84, and the Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature. The author of The Thrush and the Nightingale wrote within a learned, multilingual context and produced a poem that shares literary heritage with the matter of Alexander. Bridges (2016) pp. 104-5.

The Thrush and the Nightingale has survived in two manuscripts: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86, ff. 136vb-138rb (copied in the last quarter of the thirteenth century) and Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland Advocates MS 19.2.1 ff.279va-vb (the Auchinleck manuscript, copied about 1330; glossed text here). In the Digby manuscript, the poem is headed in Old French “Here begins the contention between the thrush and the nightingale {Ci comence le cuntent parentre la Mauuis et la Russinole}.” The Digby and Auchinleck versions differ somewhat in spelling and have some minor differences in words. More importantly, the Auchinleck version is lost after l. 74 because of lost pages in that manuscript. The Middle English text above is from the Digby manuscript, as transcribed and edited by Millett (2003).

The modern English translation above comes mainly from Gardner (1971) pp. 177-82. Gardner’s modernized version includes alliteration and rhyme important in the original language. It doesn’t follow the original English language closely, but preserves well the meaning. I have silently made minor adaptations for readability, as well as a few important changes to follow more closely the meaning of the original English.

For ll. 132-5, Gardner has:

Nightingale, say all you please;
You say that women will end my ease.
I curse them all aloud!

That translation greatly dulls the threat and the defiant response. Above I’ve provided an alternate, close translation. My translation is consistent with that of Millett (2003), yet is closer to the Middle English and preserves more of the alliteration and rhyme.

For l. 30, the Digby manuscript has mon {one} where the Auchinleck manuscript has wimmen {women}. The former word doesn’t make good sense in context. Millett wisely emends the Digby text to wimon {woman}. The poem apparently here alludes to the woman Mary, the mother of Jesus, the “new Eve”, who undid the earlier sin of Eve and Adam. Gardner has “women.” I’ve changed that to “woman.”

For l. 127, “Come thu heuere in here londe,” Gardner has “Come to men with your spite for women.” The reference to coming to “men” isn’t in the original. The close translation of Millett (2003) for this line is “If you ever come into their territory.” In context, “their” is best understood as women. In Gardner’s version of l. 127, I’ve replaced “men” with “them.” That preserves the meter and the internal rhyme, and more accurately suggests coming to women, not men.

The quotes above from The Thrush and the Nightingale are (cited by line numbers in the Digby text): 133-5 (Nightingale, you say…); 25-36 (It’s shameful…); 19-24, 37-42 (For any man who trusts…); 127-32 (Come to them with your spite…); 187-92 (I now swear…).

In accordance with dominant gynocentric ideology, scholars have disparaged the thrush for antifeminism and misogyny. Walker (1974) pp. 92, 95, Franklin (1978) p. 310, Parker (2002) p. 78. This medieval debate poem becomes in such readings a dull, tendentious contention between what Parker labels a “confirmed misogynist” and a “stout defender of the value of women’s love.” Parker (2002) pp. 78-9. Medieval readers were not so obtusely indoctrinated. They created interesting, sophisticated debates, not ridiculous ones. One scholar who missed the point observed, “critics have simply misunderstood the point of the argument.” Lambdin (1991) p. 5. Scholars have almost wholly missed the point of medieval literature of men’s sexed protest.

Scholars have largely ignored the poem’s powerful representation of jackboots of gynocentrism. The only scholar to mention it characterized it abstractly as “an interesting threat, elliptical and obscurely menacing.” Parker (2002) p. 83. With respect to the conclusion of the poem, another scholar declared, “the Thrush goes into exile as fit punishment for his slanders.” Walker (1974) p. 94. Medieval literature has critical value for beyond such ignorant, benighted, and bigoted readings.

[image] Bronze sculpture of Stalin’s jackboots in Memento Park (Szoborpark), near Budapest, Hungary. Derived from photo made in August, 2007, by Ines Zgonc. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bridges, Venetia. 2016. “Absent Presence: Auchinleck and Kyng Alisaunder.” Ch. 6 (pp. 88-17) in Fein, Susanna, ed. 2016. The Auchinleck manuscript: new perspectives. York: York Medieval Press.

Franklin, Michael J. 1978. “The Fieldfare and the Nightingale (A Note on The Thrush and the Nighingale).” Medium Ævum. 47 (2): 308-311.

Gardner, John. 1971. The Alliterative Morte Arthure: The Owl and the Nightingale:  and Five Other Middle English Poems in a Modernized Version with Comments on the Poems and Notes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Lambdin, R. T. 1991. “The Thrush and the Nightingale.” The Explicator. 50 (1): 2-5.

Millett, Bella. 2003. “The Thrush and the Nightingale: Text and Translation.” Wessex Parallel WebTexts (freely available online).

Parker, Cynthia Margaret. 2002. Contentious Birds: The Owl and the Nightingale and Other Poems in a Singular Middle English Verse Tradition. Ph.D. Thesis in English, The University of Auckland (New Zealand).

Walker, D. B. 1974. Hic herde a strif bitweies two: A study of the principal Middle English Debate Poems with special reference to the Bird Debates and the Devotional Debates, their analogues and sources. Ph.D. Thesis in English. University of Canterbury (New Zealand).

Tiresias’s prophetic knowledge started with Juno and Jove’s dispute

After much drinking, Jove, the nominal head god in charge of the cosmos, put aside his onerous concerns and dared to poke his boss wife Juno with gentle teasing. He told her that women receive more pleasure from sex than men do. Juno sternly disagreed. They asked Tiresias to pass sentence on their dispute, for he had personal experience as a double transsexual. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tiresias’s expert judgment affirmed the subsequently suppressed truth that the sexual division of labor and reward favors women.

Tireasias transformed into a woman

Tiresias was extraordinarily qualified to judge women’s advantage in sex. Serving as an man enforcing gynocentric ideology, Tiresias had struck with his staff two huge snakes that were mating in a green forest. Those who police sexual behavior are predominately females. Those who are punished for sex are overwhelming males. As a result of attacking and interrupting the mating, Tiresias was transformed into a woman. That transformation symbolically aligned Tiresias with castration culture.

Seven years later, Tiresias saw the same snakes again. Ovid with starkness of description figured the snakes as now lying listlessly and apathetically in exile from nature.[1] Under gynocentric false consciousness, the female Tiresias calculated that violence against the harmless snakes would enhance her status. She struck the snakes, and Tiresias thus again became a man. These public actions had no bearing on Tiresias’s sexual behavior. As a man, Tiresias had sex with women. As a women, Tiresias has sex with men. Tiresias thus had direct, personal experience to judge that a woman receives more pleasure from sex than does a man.

Tiresias suffered significantly for publicly recognizing women’s sexually privileged position. Juno was the daughter of Saturn, who in turn was the father of castration culture. Not surprisingly, she was deeply hostile to male sexuality. Excessively, unjustly aggrieved that Tiresias had affirmed the generosity of male sexuality, Juno “condemned Tiresias’s eyes to eternal night {aeterna damnavit lumina nocte}.”[2] Jove as merely nominally head god in charge of the cosmos couldn’t reverse Juno’s egregiously unjust punishment of Tiresias. Jove compensated Tiresias by giving him knowledge of the future.[3] As Tiresias knew well and surely could foretell, those who tell the truth about gender subsequently suffer harsh punishment.

Tiresias’s judgment of Juno and Jove’s dispute in Ovid’s Metamorphoses has been ideologically misunderstood. A leading commentary on the Metamorphoses declares that Jove spoke “chauvinistically” in stating that women receive more pleasure from sex. This learned commentary further explains:

Juno denied this crude allegation and no doubt showed that she did not think it funny. … Tiresias became the judge; and he sided with Jupiter {Jove}. That was not very foresighted, and many people, male and female, would question the accuracy of his judgment. … Jupiter, pretending to dominate {sic} his “cares,” is hypocritical, and, presuming to tease Juno about sexual pleasure, is a rat. [4]

Denying women’s sexual advantage serves the dominant gynocentric interest in having men pay women for sex, including through grotesquely unjust “child support” orders. Study of classics can reveal eternal truths about gender and inform desperately needed action for social justice. Yet influential commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, like much classical scholarship, has detracted from, rather than advanced, those noble quests.

Men seeking to appease and please women have constructed a mythic world far less insightful than Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Consider a medieval Latin tale:

A man once asked a woman what is the cause and why it is that, although pleasure in sexual intercourse is shared equally between woman and man, nevertheless men much more readily solicit and pursue women than women do men?

{ Interrogata semel a viro mulier, quaenam causa esset, cur, cum in coitu voluptatis ita particeps esset foemina sicut et vir, tamen homines citius peterent sequerenturque mulieres quam illae viros? } [5]

As Jove knew and Tiresias affirmed, pleasure in sexually intercourse isn’t shared equally. Women get more. Men deserve equal compensation for their sexual labor. Instead, men are forced to shoulder a double burden in also having to solicit amorous relationships.

Gynocentric society trivializes men’s double burden while catering to women’s concerns. Implicitly acknowledging female sexual privilege yet rationalizing existing sexual relations, the woman brushed aside the man’s critical inquiry:

“This practice is highly rational,” she said, “because men should be required to reach out to us. We are always ready and prepared for sex, but you aren’t. Therefore if we were to solicit men when they weren’t ready, we would be frustrated.”

{ “Summa cum ratione hoc institutum est,” inquit, “ut potius nos requiramur a viris. Constat enim paratas ac promptas nos ad concubitum semper esse, vos autem non: frustra igitur viri peterentur a nobis, cum essent imparati.” }

Biology is thus asserted to be destiny. In gynocentric society, social arrangements reflect women’s concerns. The sexual market systematically disadvantages men. Women should think about what they can do in their everyday lives for men who aren’t their boyfriends or husbands. Women should be fighting for sexual opportunities for other men as if their own future and their children’s future depended on it. It probably does.

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[1] Tiresias appears to double for Ovid in some characteristics. Balsley (2010), para. 24. Ovid’s exile occurred after he wrote Metamorphoses; nonetheless, Ovid’s treatment of the snakes has a sense of exile that anticipates Ovid’s exile.

Other scholars have engaged in far more fanciful interpretations of Ovid’s account of Juno, Jove, and Tiresias. Liveley strained to deny Tiresias’s transsexual gender identification as a woman:

Tiresias’s male natal origin — the anatomically configured sex with which he was born (genetiua … imago, 3.331) — renders him less than female when he is transformed into a woman … His preliminary attack upon the mating snakes seems unnecessarily aggressive, and is expressly represented in the narrative as a form of violation, an act with both sexual and religious connotations (baculi violauerat ictu, 3.325). As a result of this act (in which, according to other variations of the myth, significantly he attacks and kills only the female snake), Tiresias is made a woman. Tiresias makes a particularly unconvincing transsexual, however. S/he continues to “walk like a man,” to walk alone in the green wood, staff still in hand, still ready to do violence to any copulating snakes. Thus, as both man and woman, Tiresias is represented as a figure prone to unprovoked violence. … The “thrice phallic” connotations of the repeated snake-bashing episode may be seen to attribute to Tiresias a kind of hypermasculinity, an extreme form of masculinity that transcends even his physical transformation into a woman.

Lively (2003) pp. 158-60, with internal reference numbers omitted from this and subsequent quotes from id. There’s no evidence in Ovid’s Metamorphoses that Tiresias, as a trans-woman, walks “alone in the green wood, staff still in hand, still ready to do violence to any copulating snakes.” Moreover, ancient literature documented women’s horrific acts of violence. Women’s violent acts arguably were horrifically greater than those of men. Today, however, dominant gynocentric ideology propagates grotesque, hurtful, misandristic myths about interpersonal violence.

[2] Ovid explicitly indicated the injustice of Juno’s violence against Tiresias:

… the daughter of Saturn {Juno} was more heavily
aggrieved than is just, it is said

{ … gravius Saturnia iusto
nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique }

Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.333-4, Latin text from Anderson (1998), my English translation. Calling Juno “the daughter of Saturn {Saturnia}” associates her violence against Tiresias with castration culture.

Underscoring dominant ideology, Liveley puts forward excuses for Juno’s violent blinding of Tiresias:

In the debate between the gods, then, Jupiter appeals to a “man-made-woman” {a trans-woman} to support his claim about men, women, and sex, while Juno apparently is invited to speak her knowledge of pleasure, not only as a woman, but as a representative of all other women, of Woman. Her voice, however, is effectively silenced (illa negat, 3.322); the form of her denial is unrepresented. Quite simply, we do not know what she is saying. A claim about her is made for her by (a) man; her response is suppressed and disbelieved. An appeal to a male arbiter is made, the evidence offered by a “man-made-woman” considered conclusive. Juno’s words, her knowledge about her own experience, are dismissed. Considered from this perspective — even if Jupiter is joking — we may see why Juno is aggrieved. … Tiresias can see and know the future, but he can do nothing to influence it, and his words of prophecy are uselessly ambiguous. He may see the future, but when he speaks about what he knows, when he attempts to represent his knowledge, we do not know what he is saying. Juno’s punishment seems apt indeed. {sic}

Liveley (2003) pp. 154, 156. The prevalent excusing of women’s criminal acts helps to explain the vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men.

Women being silenced was a tendentious banality even back in 2003. Nonetheless, Liveley deployed that banality again to explain the significance of Venus in Ovid’s account of Tiresias’s judgment:

The juxtaposition of the first reference to Tiresias by name with the identification of the sexual act with Venus herself reminds us that her arbitration, her “testimony,” might have been called upon but is not. The voice of another female figure is silenced, and a male figure is invited to speak in her place.

Liveley (2003) p. 154. Classical scholarship truly needs more diversity of voices, especially distinctively male voices.

According to Eustathius, Sostratus’s now-lost elegy on Tiresias stated that Tiresias was born female. O’Hara (1996) pp. 176-77. Sostratus may have been the first-century BGC grammarian Sostratus of Nysa. Id. pp. 204-12. In any case, the assertion that Sostratus was born female circulated in the ancient world. Belief that Tiresias could not have been fully a woman as a trans-woman appears to be merely a modern prejudice.

[3] The story of Tiresias’s judgment of Juno and Jove’s dispute is from Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.318-38. Liveley (2003) pp. 148-9 provides the Latin text and a relatively close English translation. A. S. Kline has made available online a good English translation. Here’s an online Latin text. On Tiresias in Greco-Roman literature more generally, Michalopoulos (2012). T. S. Eliot quoted the whole passage in his notes to The Wasteland.

Ovid’s use of Latin legal terminology in this story seem to ridicule Augustus’s morals legislation. Balsley (2010). That legal language also “contributes an atmosphere of incongruous pomposity to the divine comedy.” Coleman (1990) p. 577. Augustus’s morals legislation was less absurd that current U.S. sex-penalty laws.

[4] Anderson (1998) pp. 368-9. Jove’s claim wasn’t crude. Tiresias in his judgment apparently made a specific finding. The twelfth-century Byzantine scholar and bishop Eustathius, probably drawing upon a work of Ptolemy Chennus from about 100 GC, stated of Tiresias’s decision:

His decision (in the original verse) was that “if there were ten shares of pleasure, the portion of delight the woman would feel would be nine.”

For Greek trans. O’Hara (1996) p. 175, which also supplies the Greek text.

Anderson declared that Jove “who lives on carefree Olympus, has no genuine anxieties.” Anderson (1998) p. 369. That unwarranted assertion devalues the work of gods and men. Like other gods and men, Jove feared his wife Juno and strove to serve women.

[5] Poggio, Facetiae 47, “A Woman’s Courtly Response {Responsio mulieris faceta},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, p. 82, my English translation with help from that of id. Here’s the Latin text in machine-readable form. The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced. Poggio, an eminent medieval church official, concluded the story by characterizing the woman’s response within dominant gynocentric culture: “a wise and courtly response {Scita facetaque responsio}.” Rape-culture culture had tended to suppress the truth about the sexual division of labor and reward.

[image] Tiresias transformed into a woman. Oil on canvas painting by Pietro della Vecchia, made between 1626 and 1678. Held in Nantes Museum of Arts. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, William S. 1998. Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Books 1-5, Edited, with Introduction and Commentary. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Balsley, Kathryn. 2010. “Between Two Lives: Tiresias and the Law in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.” Dictynna: revue de poétique latine. 7: online.

Coleman, Kathleen M. 1990. “Tiresias the Judge: Ovid, Metamorphoses 3: 322-38.” The Classical Quarterly. New Series 40(2): 571-577.

Liveley, Genevieve. 2003. “Tiresias / Teresa: a “Man-Made-Woman” in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 3.318-38.” Helios: Journal of the Classical Association of the Southwest (Lubbock, Texas). 30(2): 147-162.

Michalopoulos, Charilaos N. 2012. “Tiresias between texts and sex.” Eugesta: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity. 2:221-239.

O’Hara, James J. 1996. “Sostratus Suppl. Hell. 733: A Lost, Possibly Catullan-Era Elegy on the Six Sex Changes of Tiresias.” Transactions of the American Philological Association. 126: 173-219.

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).

Hildebert of Lavardin described Mary of Egypt’s appreciation of men

Saint Mary of Egypt

Saint Mary of Egypt has been honored around the Mediterranean and beyond from the seventh century to the present. The early Latin life of Mary of Egypt indicates that she raped a boatload of men. A medieval Spanish poetic version of her life recounts that she incited considerable violence against men. But the great French theologian and poet Hildebart of Lavardin, writing about the year 1100, described Mary of Egypt as giving gifts to men who had sex with her. Saint Mary of Egypt thus deserves to be recognized as a leading woman in the pursuit of fundamental gender equality for men.

According to the medieval Spanish life of Mary of Egypt, she was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. That account, drawing upon an earlier account, declares:

From her time on
no one else so beautiful was born;
neither queen nor countess,
no other like her has been seen.
She had round ears,
white as ewe’s milk.
Black eyes and eyebrows,
a brow white to the hairline.
Her face was tinted with color
like a rose in flower;
her mouth beautiful and well-proportioned.
Her gaze was very beautiful.
Her neck and her breast
were like the flower of the thornbush.
Her breasts showed healthy development;
they were like apples.
Her arms, her body, all of her
was white as crystal.
Her figure was well-proportioned;
she was neither fat nor very thin,
she was not tall or short,
but just the right height.

{ de aquell tiempo que ffue ella,
dispues no nascio tan bella;
nin Reyna njn condessa
nos viestes tal como esta:
Redondas auje las orejas,
blanquas como leche d’ouejas;
ojos negros y sobreçejas,
alua fruente fasta las çernejas;
la faz tenje colorada,
como la rosa quando es granada;
boqua chiqua y por mesura,
muy formosa la catadura;
su cuello y su petrina,
tal como la flor dell espina;
de sus tetiellas bien es sana,
tales son como maçana;
braços y cuerpo y todo lo al
blanco es como cristal.
En buena forma fue tajada;
nin era gorda njn muy delgada.
Nin era luenga njn corta,
mas de mesura bona. } [1]

Mary of Egypt also dressed to kill. She wore much jewelry, expensive gowns, an ermine mantel, and shoes of cordovan leather decorated with gold and silver. Her shoes had silk laces. In short, Mary of Egypt was outwardly as beautiful and glamorous as Helen of Troy.

Outward beauty, while quite pleasing, isn’t everything that men value in women. Helen of Troy caused an enormous number of men to die. According to her medieval Spanish life, so too did Mary of Egypt in Alexandria:

The young men of the city
she so delighted with her beauty
that each day they came to see her
from whom they could not keep away.
So many companions came there
that the games turned to hard feelings.
At the gates, in the doorways,
there were great sword fights;
the blood which flowed from them
ran down the middle of the street.

{ Los mancebos de la çibdat
tanto les plaze de la beltat,
que cada dia la uan ha veyer,
que non se pueden della toller.
Tantas hiuan de copanyas,
que los juegos tornan a sanyas:
ante las puertas, en las entradas,
dauanse grandes espadadas;
la sangre que dellos sallia
por medio de la cal corrja. }

We must teach women not to incite men to violence. More fundamentally, we must teach women to have compassion and mercy towards men. Mary of Egypt in Alexandria lacked compassion towards men:

When she saw the sad situation
no compassion gripped her.
Whoever was the most crafty,
he was her friend.
She welcomed inside the one who conquered;
she grieved little for the one who died.
If two friends died,
she had fifty who lived.
For the soul of one who died
she would give no more than a laugh.
Those who were hurt because of her
never received a visit from her.
She preferred having sex with the healthy
to visiting the sick.

{ La catiua, quando lo vedie,
nulla piedat no le prendie;
el que era mas faldrjdo,
aquell era su amjgo;
el que vençie dentro lo cogie,
el que murje, pocol dolie:
sil murjen dos amjgos,
ella auje cinquenta biuos;
e por alma del ques murje
ella has de vn Riso non darje.
Los que por ella eran plagados
non eran della visitados:
mas ama con los sanos jugar
que los enfermos visitar. }

In Alexandria, Mary of Egypt had sex with many men. Yet her sex work lowered social welfare:

Mary was in Alexandria.
There she corrupted herself night and day.

The moment she entered there
the whole town was stirred up.
So much blood was spilled
that the whole town was diminished,
and the towns around there
were all in great terror.

{ En Alexandrja era Marja,
asi sse mantenje noche y dia.

En tal hora hi fue entrada,
que toda la villa fue mesclada,
e tanta sangre fue derramada,
que toda la villa fue menguada,
e las villas de enderredor
todas eran en grant error. }

Oppressive sex regulations now imposed on men in college probably have the benefit of reducing violence against men. But one can surely see a still more excellent way.

In today’s scholarship, Saint Mary of Egypt is depicted as today’s womanly ideal. She’s instantly recognizable as the aspirational Everywoman:

Mary of Egypt is neither of the nobility, nor wife, nor mother, nor virgin, nor educated, nor enclosed in a monastery, not exactly a prostitute. … Mary of Egypt is a strong-willed, passionate, non-conforming and autonomous woman. She breaks with her parents when she is twelve, rejecting her family of birth and the prospects of marriage to a rich husband. She never sees her family again. Rather than live off her lovers, she supports herself by spinning during the time she lives in debauchery in Alexandria. She trades her favors {allowing men to have sex with her} for the trip to Jerusalem, but even so, she pays her own way. [2]

Women should pay their own way. Moreover, on dates women should also buy men dinner if for no other reason than as reparations for the historical, structural gender inequality in paying for dinners on dates. Yet scholars haven’t understood the moral lesson that Saint Mary of Egypt distinctively provides to women and men today. Consider this moral lessons:

The medieval women and men must have learned from her story not only the wideness of God’s mercy, but the variety of paths, some quite circuitous, by which they could come to God, if only they loved as passionately and willed as strongly as Mary of Egypt did.

That’s ridiculous. Medieval women and men fully recognized passionate and strong-willed women. Women and men today might pray that God’s mercy is wide enough to encompass prominent news reports accusing nearly a quarter of men of having raped women. To understand the most important moral lesson in the story of Mary of Egypt, one must turn to the medieval Latin life of Hildebert of Lavardin.

Writing about the year 1100, Hildebert of Lavadin depicted Mary of Egypt as a progressive activist working to advance gender equality for men. Hildebert perceptively sympathized with women’s lives. He poetically presented first-personally Mary’s arrival in Alexandria:

When I reached that location, I had the status of a common whore.
Nor was that enough, since, when a man was lacking for me,
I roamed about the districts and, solicited by no one, I solicited,
notorious in attire, roving in eye, lewd in expression

{ Nacta locum sceleri, statuo communis haberi.
Nec satis id fuerat, quia, quando uir mihi deerat,
Tecta pererraui nullique rogata rogaui,
Infamis cultu, uaga lumine, lubrica uultu } [3]

Mary rejected men’s double burden in the sexual division of labor and reward. In addition to taking the initiative to solicit men, she also wore sexy attire, walked seductively, and lewdly expressed herself. She thus worked actively to provide men with a more equal share of sexual pleasure. She also learned to sing sexually suggestive songs like the highly alluring singing slave girls of the classical Islamic world. To advance gender equality in sex, she reached out to sexually marginalized men: “worn out dancers {salitores exhaustos}” and “older men {seniores}.” Most importantly, Mary of Egypt worked to acquire material goods and then gave gifts to men for having sex with her:

I enticed young men and bought their presence with any sort of gift,
and among my partners in sin I distributed individual gifts
which needle and spindle might yield for our use in this life.

{ Sum blandita nouis: hos emi munere quouis,
Et sociis scelerum diuisi singula rerum,
Quas acus et fusus uite donarat in usus. }

Under dominant gynocentric ideology, men are commonly forced to pay women for sex. Only men with outstanding guile manage to overturn the practice of men paying women for sex. Truly saintly women make such guile unnecessary. Saint Mary of Egypt, with exemplary charity, love, and concern for social justice, paid men for having sex with her. That’s a moral lesson that all women and men should study today.

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[1] The Life of the Lady Saint Maria of Egypt {La vida de madona Santa Maria Egipciaqua} in Biblioteca del Escorial III-K-4, folios 65r-82r (Manuscript K), ll.209-230. The Old Spanish (Castilian) text is from Schiavone (1979); the English translation is by Feiss in Pepin & Feiss (2005) pp. 123-4.

In l. 206, the poem  refers to her beauty  “as it is described in writing {como dize la escriptura}.” The phrase tracks a phrase in the earlier Old French version. See, e.g. MS. B, l. 150, in Schiavone (1979) p. 118.

The manuscript of the poem (Manuscript K) dates from the fourteenth century. The poet who wrote the text isn’t known, but apparently authored it in the first half of the thirteenth century. It translates, with some additions, an earlier Old French text of the life of Mary of Egypt. Id. p. 42.

Schiavone’s edition of the Old Spanish text inserted modern capitalization and punctuation. It expanded abbreviations with letters in italics. For ease of reading, I’ve rendered those letters in normal type. In addition, I’ve replaced the Tironian note 7 with “y”.

The three subsequent quotes above are from this medieval Spanish verse life of Mary of Egypt. Their citations are (by verse numbers): 171-80 (The young men of the city…); 181-94 (When she saw the sad situation…); 195-6, 199-204 (Mary was in Alexandria…). I’ve made a few, minor adaptations to Feiss’s translation to make it clearer or to track the Old Spanish more closely.

[2] Pepin & Feiss (2005) p. 40. The subsequent quote is from id., p. 41.

[3] Hildebert of Lavardin, The Life of Blessed Mary of Egypt {Vita Beate Marie Egiptiace} 360-4 (Canto 6). Latin text from Larsen (2004), English translation adapted from Pepin & Feiss (2005) p. 89. Id. translated the first line of the quote as “When I reached the place, I was considered to be a public place for sin.”

Hildebert of Lavardin was highly learned in classical Latin literature and a leading poet of his time. Testifying to its influence, ninety manuscripts of Hildebert’s Vita Beate Marie Egiptiace have survived. Id. p. 23, n. 48.

The references to “worn out dancers {salitores exhaustos}” and “older men {seniores}” is from Vita Beate Marie Egiptiace, l. 374. The subsequent quote is from id., ll. 376-8, sourced as described for the first quote.

[image] Saint Mary of Egypt. Oil on panel painting by Quentin Matsys. Made c. 1520-30. Preserved as cat. 366 in Philadelphia Museum of Art. Also on Wikimedia Commons.


Larsen, Norbert Klaus, ed. 2004. Hildebert of Lavardin. Hildeberti Cenomanensis episcopi Vita beate Marie Egiptiace. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio mediaevalis 209. Turnhout: Brepols.

Pepin, Ronald E. and Hugh Feiss, trans. 2005. Saint Mary of Egypt: three medieval lives in verse. Kalamazoo, Mich: Cistercian Publications.

Schiavone de Cruz-Sáenz, Michèle. 1979. The life of Saint Mary of Egypt: an edition and study of the medieval French and Spanish verse redactions. Barcelona: Puvill.

Juno disparaged Minerva and Venus: some difficulties of sisterhood

Juno, Minerva, and Venus all belonged to the sisterhood of women. They also were closely related. Minerva was Juno’s step-daughter and niece. The father of Juno’s husband had castrated his father, whose genitals fell into the sea and formed Venus. What could be more empowering for womanly solidarity? Yet when it came to having Paris judge their beauty, these three sisters were at each other’s throats.

Juno, wife of Jove

In addressing Paris and his judgment, Juno emphasized her queenly position. She described herself as the “bride of great Jove {magni nupta Iovis}.” Jove was titular ruler of the stars, while his brothers Neptune and Pluto nominally were in charge of the seas and the underworld, respectively. Juno proudly proclaimed her status as wife of Jove. Yet, within gynocentric society, she also rightly understood herself to be the actual ruler of all:

I myself, am Jove’s
only love, the one who guides the laws of the triple realms,
who am obeyed by Neptune’s wave, and shades of Hell
and stars of Jove — yet I won’t anger, if judged by you,
a mortal man, since I’ll not return to Jove less loved,
if a human, in doubt of Juno’s beauty, delays.
If long delay, surely you’re lost in admiration;
my fame, always with me, couldn’t be thought false.
Behold my unveiled face, a sight few gods have seen!
‘Tis thus I come to Jove’s embrace.

{ ipsa Tonantis
unica, que trini dispenso federa regni
cui parent unde Neptuni, Tartara Ditis,
astra Iovis, non si laudor censore caduco
indignor, non grata minus reditura Tonanti,
si nostro dubius hesit mortalis in ore.
Quod longum est mirantis erit; neu forte putetur
mendax quem debet famulatrix fama favorem,
quod rarum superis, nudos en aspice vultus.
talis in amplexus venio Iovis. }

In actual myth, Jove had affairs with many women while married to Juno. Evidently she wasn’t alluring enough to be the only woman that her husband sought to embrace.

Juno’s rival Minerva (also known as Pallas Athena) wasn’t married and didn’t want a man. An intellectual and a warrior, Pallas was a forerunner of the strong, independent women that now dominate academia. Juno harshly disparaged Pallas’s looks:

Now who would dare
compare horrific Pallas, a Gorgon full of war,
to cheeks like mine? All sense of shame isn’t so exiled
that this common terror, low scourge, and death’s porter,
would hope to please by fear. Wicked one — I meant
to say “divine,” some advice: no sword is needed here.
Away with your snakes, throw off your military face.
Show a do-able face — no frowning, and remove
your metal helmet to let your shut-in viper breathe.
Reveal the horror and shame your helm and shield
conceal: have courage to deserve your true acclaim!
… Learned Minerva brings
such revolting delights, yet seeks to be pleasing?

{ ergo quis ausus
Pallada Gorgoneam bellatricemque Medusam
hiis conferre genis? non sic pudor exulat omnis
ut populi terror, vulgi fuga, baiula leti,
quo terret, placuisse velit. vis, dira, doceri?
diva tamen dictura fui. non hic opus ense,
angues tolle tuos, armatos exue vultus,
da facilem visu faciem, frontem exere, cedat
cassis et inclusum sine respirare cerastam.
detege quod galea horrendum, quod parma pudendum
occulit atque aude preconia vera mereri!
… sic docta minaces
delicias affert et vult placuisse Minerva. }

Juno then speculated that Minerva was the daughter of a whore. Juno also acknowledged the common view that the manly Minerva had no mother. Underscoring the all-encompassing importance of classical philology, Juno considered the meaning of Minerva:

Does she, so bold, take pride
in thinking just of men, and did she hence
deserve the name of virago? For sure, her wrath tires gods,
and consumes men. “But she is ‘martial,'” as they say;
so thus she mars up men. “She’s Pallas” — yes, she’s pale,
or from slitting Pallant’s throat. Her name she earns
by double right, by hue and by her harmful hand.

{ hincne animosa superbit
solius meminisse viri dicique virago
emeruit? certe superos invisa fatigat,
mortales consumit. “at est Mavortia” dicunt —
ergo mares vorat. “at Pallas” — sit, sed quia pallet
vel quia Pallanti iugulum scidit. hinc color, inde
dextra nocens nomen alterno iure meretur. }

Juno was being mean to Pallas. But reality shouldn’t be denied: men generally aren’t attracted to mannish, violent, frowning women, even if such a woman is learned and the daughter of a whore. Paris’s judgment of the most beautiful among the three goddesses surely wasn’t going to select Minerva.

Venus was a much more threatening rival. Juno fiercely and haughtily attacked her:

You evil-doer, you, I say, a sex prodigal,
More womanly than law allows, lewder than is fair for us,
you, Venus, dare to come and contend for beauty’s prize?
Know you not with whom you measure yourself?

{ Tuque, sed o facinus! tune, inquam, prodiga sexus,
femina plus quam iura sinant et mollior equo,
tune ergo, Venus, ausa venis in premia forme?
an nescis cui iura petis communia? }

Juno had the same high parentage as Jove, the heir to the heavens. She was in fact his sister before she became his wife and the ruler under their shared rule. Venus’s origins were lower. Juno declared:

Let the Sicilian go and challenge our fair face.
I go as chosen bride of Jove. That’s wrong? Should she,
goddess of Paphos, be instead? Why not? Her birth was
auspicious — she grew from foaming sea and cut-off balls!

{ ergo eat et vultus nostros Ericina lacessat.
nuptum ivi selecta Iovi: sed fallitur. isset
diva Paphi pocius? quid ni? ortus nacta serenos
concrevit spumante freto cesisque pudendis. }

While married to the Lemnian Vulcan, Venus had affairs with Mars and other men. While Jove had affairs with many women, his wife Juno recognized men’s distinctive concern for spousal fidelity. Juno thought that Venus would have made a disastrous wife for Jove:

Instead of making Jove a father, she’d bear for warlike
Mars and all the world. From her, the heaven’s heir
would doubt and foul the golden age with lowly ore,
and Vulcan, who by Pheobus’s aid or vengeful net,
could not secure a carefree night or solid trust,
would gently seek revenge for another god’s shame
and would not pant in eagerness for his own wife.
And her Trojan — no, no more. All know the most notorious
of the goddess’s adulteries. “But she’s gentle, kind, and golden.”
She gently plots deceits, kindly kindles evil,
and grasps for golden gifts: that’s how she behaves.

{ hec patrem factura Iovem, tibi bellice Mavors,
et populo pareret! hac anceps etheris heres
aurea degeneri violaret regna metallo,
quique nec indicio Phebi nec vindice textu
securam potuit noctemque fidemque mereri,
Lennius ultum iret alieni probra pudoris,
ienius et proprios non suspiraret amores.
ut Frigium sileam — quis vulgatissima nescit
furta dee? “Sed blanda, sed alma, sed aurea” — nectit
blanda dolos, alit alma malum, petit aurea donum. }

Vulcan probably would have been better off if Venus had married Jove rather than him. But who cares about men’s welfare? Certainly not most men, who mostly care about what women look like, not what material goods women can provide for them. In judging women, most men foolishly judge fleeting beauty above all.

So it was with the young Trojan man Paris. Juno forthrightly declared to him:

You, Trojan, learn to earn the thanks
of Juno, I carry the sceptre and bestow gold!
The world admires such wealth; the comets grant vast realms
like these: now choose which sceptre or land you want.

{ tu, Frix, potior tu disce mereri
Iunonem que sceptra ferat, que commodet aurum!
tot mundus miratur opes, tot regna comete
dispensant: que sceptra velis, quas, elige, terras. }

While Juno was powerful and wealthy, Venus was highly feminine and sexually eager. After seeing Venus naked and receiving her enticing offer, foolish Paris chose Venus as the most beautiful goddess.

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The quotes above are from Joseph of Exeter, Ylias Daretis Phrygii {Iliad of Dares Phrygius}, also known as De Bello Trojano {About the Trojan War}. Joseph of Exeter apparently wrote a version of Ylias Daretis Phrygii early in the 1180s and then finished his final revision in 1190. The Latin text is in hexameter (epic) verse. The text has survived in six manuscripts. The earliest was probably written in Salzburg, Austria, around 1250 to 1260. Bate (1986) pp. 5-6, 10-12. Little is known about Joseph of Exeter’s life. He clearly was a highly learned man, steeped in classical literature.

For the quotes in English above, I’ve adapted the verse translation of Rigg (2005), with help from the prose translation of Bate (1986). I’ve made considerable changes to Rigg’s translation, mainly to follow the Latin more closely.

My Latin text is from Bate (1986). Bate’s Latin text draws upon all the surviving manuscripts except one (which is secretly held) and is close to that of Gompf (1970). Bate (1986) p. 10. The Latin text of Artopoeus (1825), which is freely available online, is quite close to that of Bates.

The quotes above are (cited by book and line number in the Latin text): 2.238 (bride of great Jupiter), 2.231-50 (I myself…), 2.250-60, 264-5 (Now who would dare…), 2.268-74 (Does she, so bold…), 2.275-8 (You evil doer…), 2.291-4 (Let the Sicilian go…), 2.295-304 (Instead of making Jove a father…), 2.309-12 (You, Trojan, learn…).

[image] Juno. Oil painting by Rembrandt, c. 1662-1165, via Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Artopoeus, Samuel, ed. 1825. Dictys Cretensis et Dares Phrygius De bello trojano. Vol. 2. London: A.J. Valpy.

Bate, Alan K., ed. and trans. 1986. Joseph of Exeter. Trojan war I-III. Oxford: Aris & Phillips.

Gompf, Ludwig, ed. 1970. Joseph of Exeter. Werke und Briefe. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Rigg, A. G., trans. 2005. Joseph of Exeter: Iliad (Josephus Iscanus: Daretis Phrygii Ilias). Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

Penelope faithful, but Ulysses afraid to return home poor

Ulysses, also known as Odysseus, had spent ten years in the brutal violence against men of the Trojan War. Many men died fighting for one woman, Helen, who described herself as a “shameless whore.” Ulysses then spent another ten years struggling to return home against hostile seas and sex-starved goddesses.

a rare bird, a black swan

At home, Ulysses’s wife Penelope refused to forsake her husband even as others were claiming he was dead. She yearned for the warmth of being in bed with him:

Your Penelope sends you these words, too-slow Ulysses;
it is of no use to write back to me: come yourself!
Troy has certainly fallen, hated by the daughters of the Greeks;
but Priam and all of Troy were hardly worth so much to me.
Oh would that, when his fleet made for Lacedaemon,
the adulterous lover had been obliterated by raging waters!
I would not have lain, cold, in my lonely bed,
nor deserted, would I now complain of days’ slow passing

{ Haec tua Penelope lento tibi mittit, Ulixe
nil mihi rescribas attinet: ipse veni!
Troia iacet certe, Danais invisa puellis;
vix Priamus tanti totaque Troia fuit.
o utinam tum, cum Lacedaemona classe petebat,
obrutus insanis esset adulter aquis!
non ego deserto iacuissem frigida lecto,
nec quererer tardos ire relicta dies } [1]

Like Dhuoda, Penelope sought to touch her beloved through her written word:

Whoever turns his wandering ship to these shores
is asked many questions about you before he departs,
and he is given a letter written by these fingers
to give to you if he ever sees you anywhere.

{ Quisquis ad haec vertit peregrinam litora puppim,
ille mihi de te multa rogatus abit,
quamque tibi reddat, si te modo viderit usquam,
traditur huic digitis charta notata meis. }

Penelope wasn’t naive or an ideologically benighted woman. She understood many men’s hard position:

It’s the hardest thing of all to defeat your nature;
when you see a girl, to stay pure in mind is torture.
As young men we can’t obey such a harsh injunction,
or ignore the silky-soft female form’s attraction.

{ Res est arduissima vincere naturam,
in aspectu virginis mentem esse puram;
iuvenes non possumus legem sequi duram
leviumque corporum non habere curam. } [2]

With respect to Ulysses, Penelope lamented:

Whatever dangers the ocean has, whatever the land,
these I suspect to be the cause of your long delay.
While I foolishly fear these things, such is your appetite
that you may be captive to a foreign love,
and perhaps you tell what a country wife you have,
that only her wool is not coarse.

My father Icarius drives me to leave my widowed bed,
and rebukes me continuously for my long delay.
Let him rebuke me; I am yours, it is right that I be called yours.
Penelope will always be Ulysses’ wife.

{ quaecumque aequor habet, quaecumque pericula tellus,
tam longae causas suspicor esse morae.
haec ego dum stulte metuo, quae vestra libido est,
esse peregrino captus amore potes.
forsitan et narres, quam sit tibi rustica coniunx,
quae tantum lanas non sinat esse rudes.

Me pater Icarius viduo discedere lecto
cogit et immensas increpat usque moras.
increpet usque licet—tua sum, tua dicar oportet;
Penelope coniunx semper Ulixis ero. }

Men have the enormous gender disadvantage of being subject to cuckolding. Cuckolds, for good evolutionary reasons, have been widely regarded with contempt throughout human history, with the possible exception of the past few decades of intensified gynocentrism. With a perceptive sense of social justice, Penelope was profoundly loyal to Ulysses. He had no reason to regret marrying her. He had good reason to struggle to return home.

While Ulysses was still far from Penelope, he learned of her fidelity. The prophet Tiresias told Ulysses what he would find when he finally returned home:

Penelope, your wife, you’ll find is poor and aged by grief.
She lives in poverty because she’s chosen chastity.
If she’d become a whore, she’d have no lack of food in store,
and your son would have horses — who now, since Penelope
despises her suitors, lives on chaff. But better not to eat enough
than to become a dirty prostitute and have food in plenty.
She lost what used to keep the household — herds of cattle and sheep —
to keep her body’s honor protected from the hundred suitors;
with every sheep or ox those lechers grabbed out of her flocks,
her glory gained more ground. If she were willing to be kind,
her enemies would turn to friends, and they’d be kind in turn.
She’d rather be oppressed by want, and lose what she possessed,
than stoop to prostitution; but now she may, courageous woman,
die from cold and thirst and loyal love for you, her husband.
Hurry, put your hand to sail and ensure that justice will prevail.

{ Penelopem cernes inopem vetulamque dolore.
Vivit mendica, quia maluit esse pudica.
Si fieret mecha, non esset inops apotheca,
natus haberet equos. Modo vivit acu, quia mechos
mater contempsit; et malo, quod esuriens sit,
quam foret immunde meretrici victus habunde.
Perdidit armentum pecudesque, domus alimentum,
a mechis centum corpus lucrata redemptum;
perdidit omne pecus, quod sustulit advena mechus,
obtinuitque decus. Set, qui hostis erat, foret equus
et blandus fieret, fieri si blanda valeret.
Paupertate premi, sua malebat quia demi,
quam sua cum scortis sors esset, femina fortis
nunc algore, siti morietur, amore mariti.
Iustitie zelo fuge, redde manum cito velo } [3]

For three years Penelope entertained 108 suitors in her home. They consumed much wine, cattle, sheep, and other food from the stocks she and Ulysses had acquired. They also pressured her to marry one of them. As has been commonly true, men seeking to marry makes no sense. A perceptive scholar observed “the oddly irrational nature of the suitors’ behavior, who simultaneously wish to consume Odysseus’ goods and yet put an end to this activity as quickly as they can.”[4] Homer may have adapted an earlier gynocentric myth of a woman having a harem of 108 men whom she struggled to support in the manner in which they were accustomed. Penelope seems to have flirted with such desire, yet like a man paying eighteen years of “child support” for a one-night stand, she resolutely refused to pursue further heterosexual relations.

Classical scholars today commonly regard Penelope as unrealistic. In reviewing diverse recent representations of Penelope from a common, misandristic perspective, an acclaimed classical scholar declared:

no modern reader can find her emotionally plausible. She is not angry at being abandoned or deprived of more children, sexually frustrated, suspicious of her husband’s fidelity, dissatisfied at being in charge of the household, or resentful of having to relinquish space when Odysseus returns. She does not even complain when, on their first night together, he says that he will leave her again. [5]

Not all women are like that, especially if they haven’t received a modern classical education. The eminent medieval abbess Heloise loved Abelard with a quality of love as high as that of Penelope’s love for Ulysses. The great ninth-century Byzantine poet and hymnographer Kassia didn’t engage in self-absorbed, shrewish complaining. The brilliant twelfth-century author Marie de France showed profound appreciation for time men spend away from their wives. Classical scholars today might regard Penelope as “a rare bird on this earth, exactly like a black swan {rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno}.”[6] But that doesn’t mean that Penelope is unrealistic. More women today could feasibly strive to imitate Penelope.

Her husband Ulysses was overjoyed with Penelope’s fidelity. Within gynocentric culture, women’s strong, independent sexuality is celebrated. Women are encouraged and expected to cuckold their husbands. Ulysses’s son Telemachus himself expressed uncertainty about his father:

Mother has always told me that I’m his son, it’s true,
But I am not so certain. Who, on his own,
has ever really known who gave him life?
Would to god I’d been the son of a happy man
whom old age overtook in the midst of his possessions!
Now, think of the most unlucky mortal ever born —
since you ask me, yes, they say I am his son.

{ μήτηρ μέν τέ μέ φησι τοῦ ἔμμεναι, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
οὐκ οἶδ᾽: οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω.
ὡς δὴ ἐγώ γ᾽ ὄφελον μάκαρός νύ τευ ἔμμεναι υἱὸς
ἀνέρος, ὃν κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖς ἔπι γῆρας ἔτετμε.
νῦν δ᾽ ὃς ἀποτμότατος γένετο θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων,
220τοῦ μ᾽ ἔκ φασι γενέσθαι, ἐπεὶ σύ με τοῦτ᾽ ἐρεείνεις. } [7]

But to Ulysses’s great joy, Penelope wasn’t like other women:

He wept, and yet rejoiced, but dared not openly express
the secret joy he harbored now that he felt so reassured.

A woman who turns down a bribe deserves a precious crown
(so prone to bribery is their sex): then he said inwardly:
“Now cast away your fears, and now stop weeping: dry your tears;
you have a faithful wife, and one who is alive and safe.
Quick, see to the ship’s canvas and make a sacrifice to Pallas!
Your fate is wonderful, not harsh or dreadful after all;
a woman without greed, although she’s poor, is a rare bird.
A woman who rejects the tempting blandishments of sex
and can’t be beaten down by harassment or lured by gain
or sweet-talked into sin is worth more than King Cyrus’s crown.

I wonder at her powers: ignoring all her suitors prayers,
although her sex is frail, alone she managed to prevail.
Resisting all compulsion, by force or by intimidation,
resolutely opposed the wickedness those men proposed,
no flattery or force could move her noble course.
She fought with all her might — more than a man’s — for what is right.

{ Plorat, set gaudet neque vult monstrare nec audit
vir bene precinctus, que gaudia mens habet intus.

res precio prona, preciosa digna corona,
cum precium reicit. Tunc secum talia dicit:
“Iam depone metus, iam desine fundere fletus
et lacrimas sicca, socia vivente pudica!
Vela cito repara, fac fumet Palladis ara!
Sors tua preclara iam nec gravis est nec amara,
dum sit auis rara mulier pauper nec avara.
Spernere iam Venerem nec posse capi mulierem
aut irretiri pretio dampnisve feriri
vel prece molliri prius est dyademate Cyri.

Miror, quod tantum potuit tot ut una precantum
vitarit nexus, monitis levis obvia sexus.
nec commota minis neque vi nec fracta ruinis.
Nec dum vicinis vicium negat, illa rapinis
nec blandimentis ruit alte femina mentis,
iusticie miles, vires transgressa viriles.” }

Women today might complain decades later that they were repeatedly forced to have sex with a man whom they repeatedly visited in his hotel room. In her own way, Penelope was stronger and more independent than them. Like a husband who learns, against outrageous legal obstacles, that his wife’s children are also his own biological children, Ulysses knowing Penelope’s chastity felt joy and comfort that he prudently didn’t express under repressive gynocentrism.

Misunderstanding of his own virtue as a man made Ulysses hesitant about returning home. Ulysses didn’t understand that his masculine being was sufficient for her. He was afraid to return home materially impoverished:

It’s necessary and urgent, since she’s in this predicament,
that I should put to sea. But first, good prophet, answer me:
when, as you recommend, I go back home to join my friends,
what will there be to enjoy if I’m as penniless as they?
Shall I go full of grief to Ithaca, no cow or calf
to my name, and only water to drink? Wearing these rags I’d rather
go off to visit Thrace, Persia, or Britain — any place —
than go home in this state, with neither grain nor fruit nor meat,
nor wine to drink, nor any wool or linen for my family.
As filthy and unshaven as I am, I’m likely to be driven,
my standards notwithstanding, to one who should be honoring
me, and grovel to him, a tenant-farmer who’s become
greater than me; now poor, I’ll ask for scraps at his front door —
I who so fiercely tore the camp’s gates open in the war;
I’ll stand there on the step begging for bread, and dogs will leap
at me, whose armed assault caused Troy’s rebellion to halt
when I attacked its walls. So often that rich city called
it death-doomed men to move against me, when Hector was alive.
Shall I set out once more and sail to that familiar shore
while looking like a bear or like a bristle-covered boar?

how can the things I’ve lost be mine again? Should I go first
to my father, if I myself can’t give my family any help?

{ Taliter oppresse foret huic opus atque necesse
nos intrare rates. Sed dic prius, optime vates:
credo, quod, ut dicis, redeo reddendus amicis;
set quis erit ludus, cum nudos videro nudus?
Ibo dolens Ithacam, nec habens vitulam neque vacam
et bibiturus aquam? Set mallem visere Tracam
hos gestans pannos aut Persas sive Britannos,
quam miser ire domum, cui nec seges est neque pomum
nec caro nec vinum nec lana meis neque linum.
Nec mea me virtus redimit, quin turpis et hirtus
quemlibet implorem, michi qui deberet honorem.
et me maiorem villanum vilis adorem.
cum pro morsello miserabilis hostia pello,
qui ferus in bello castrorum claustra revello,
assiliuntque canes, dum quero per hostia panes.
cuius ad assultum tollebat Troia tumultum.
dum quaterem muros. Totiens in me perituros
excivit cives urbs Hectore sospite dives!
Incipiam rursus ad cognita littora cursus,
esse volens ursus vel qui setis tegitur sus?

perdita restaurem. Quid enim? Citius properarem
patris adire larem, nisi meque meosque iuvarem. }

Penelope thought that Ulysses appreciated her fine wool, while Ulysses misunderstood his wife’s wool as a good that he needed to provide. Like a woman-server, he thought he had to rush home to relieve his wife’s material poverty. He was infected with pride and corresponding shame. His pride depended on his possessions, his appearance, his social status, and his prowess in killing other men. The Homeric hero Ulysses learned nothing from Diogenes’s subsequent, prominent example of embracing poverty.

Christians regarded Ulysses’s pride as a great sin. The fourth-century scholar and church leader Gregory of Nyssa taught Christians:

The Lord became poor, so be not afraid of poverty. The one who for us became poor reigns over all creation. If therefore you share poverty with the impoverished, you will surely also share his kingdom when he reigns.

{ Ἐπτώχευσεν ὁ Κύριος, μὴ φοβηθῇς μηδὲ σὺ τὴν πτωχείαν. Ἀλλὰ βασιλεύει πάσης τῆς κτίσεως ὁ δι’ ἡμᾶς πτωχεύσας. Οὐκοῦν ἐὰν πτωχεύσαντι συμπτω χεύσῃς, καὶ βασιλεύοντι συμβασιλεύσεις. } [8]

In twelfth-century Europe, sermons commonly exhorted Christians “to follow naked the naked Christ {nudus nudum Christum sequi}.” That saying was central to the credo of the Franciscan order of monks.[9] The Homeric hero Ulysses was oblivious to popular Christian teaching in twelfth-century Europe.

Men today should aspire to be greater than Ulysses, and women should support them in that aspiration. Under the dominant, oppressive gender ideology prevalent throughout history, a man’s worth is measured in this ability to provide material goods to women and children. “Child support” under law today literally means court-mandated, monthly payments that men vastly disproportionately are forced to make to women. This grotesque misrepresentation of child support re-enforces entrenched gender ideology that’s oppressive and demeaning to men.[10] Enlightened men should understand their own intrinsic masculine being as a virtuous treasure — one that they possess and that they can share. Enlightened women should work long and hard hours to provide money and material resources to men and children.[11]

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[1] Ovid, Heroides, “Penelope to Ulysses {Penelope Ulixi},” ll. 1-8, Latin text from the online Latin Library, English translation by James M. Hunter. Hunter translated lento as “truant.” That seems to me to inject moral disparagement that jars with the context of Penelope’s longing. I’ve used instead “too-slow.” As is conventional under the gynocentric excusing of women, Penelope blamed the Trojan War on the adulterous lover Paris rather than on the whorish Helen.

The subsequent two quotes from Heroides, “Penelope to Ulysses,” are similarly sourced. They are ll. 59-62 (Whoever turns his wandering ship…) and ll. 73-8, 81-4 (Whatever dangers…).

[2] Archpoet, “Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi {Deep inside me I’m ablaze with an angry passion}” (Poem 10), Stanza 7, Latin text and English translation from Adcock (1994) pp. 114-5. The poem has survived as Poem 191 in the Carmina Burana. Here’s the full Latin text and A.Z. Foreman’s English translation, and here similarly with the English translation of A. S. Kline. The Archpoet was a Goliardic poet writing in Europe in the twelfth century. This poem is thought to have been writing in Germany in the 1160s.

The Archpoet’s reference to “pure in mind” echoes Matthew 5:8. The last two lines of stanza 6 of his poem are:

Female beauty wounds my breast; but if I can’t win her
I commit adultery in my heart upon her.

{ meum pectus sauciat puellarum decor,
et quas tactu nequeo, saltem corde mechor. }

Trans. Adcock (1994) p. 115. Cf. Matthew 5:28. Compared to the Archpoet’s cavalier attitude toward these biblical injunctions, many men today live in fear and trembling of having engaged in the “male gaze.” A vast academic literature exists on that mortal offense.

[3] Hugh Primas, “Post rabiem rixe redeunt bilustris Ulixe {After ten years of ragging struggle, Ulysseus returns}” (Poem 10), ll. 31-45, Latin text and English translation (with a few minor adaptations) from Adcock (1994), with the Latin corrected with the text of McDonough (2010). Adcock’s Latin text is based on that of Meyer (1906), which draws from both Berlin theol. lat. Oct. 94 (B) and Oxford Bodleian MS Rawlinson G 109 (R). McDonough’s Latin text is exclusively from the Rawlinson manuscript R. Compared to B, R lacks verses 1-8, 63-5, and 96-101 (the end of the poem). Here’s a reasonable good Latin text of the poem online.

The subsequent two quotes above from this poem are similarly sourced. Those quotes are from ll. 51-2, 56-65, 69-74 (He wept…) and 77-96, 100-1 (Shall I go…).

[4] Konstan (2015) p. 10.

[5] Hall (2008) p. 120. The text literally states, “satisfied at being in charge of the household.” In context, that seems clearly to be a typographical mistake. On that assumption, I’ve corrected it above to read “dissatisfied….”

Hall’s discussion of the episode with Circe in the Odyssey provides good insight into modern classical scholarship. Perhaps echoing Anne Porter’s A Defense of Circe (1954), Hall characterized Circe’s drugging of Odysseus’s men and their directly subsequent transformation into pigs:

Nor did she {Circe} turn any man into a pig: her drugs simply cause men to reveal their true natures.

Id. p. 21. Comparing Chapter 8 (“Rites of Man”) and Chapter 9 (“Women’s Work”) in Hall’s book shows the extent to which men’s gendered concerns have been silenced in the reception of classical literature. Along with that silencing of men’s gendered voices, misandristic voices have been given prominence in the most prestigious organs of broad intellectual life.

Hall’s book was selected by Choice as the “2009 Outstanding Academic Title.” In a review of Hall’s book in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, editor Steve Coates declared:

Is there anything in the Western literary canon with more abundant, potent or frolicsome offspring than Homer’s “Odyssey”? Clearly not, to judge by “The Return of Ulysses,” Edith Hall’s enlightening and entertaining cultural history. … Hall, a research professor of classics and drama at Royal Holloway, University of London, fills her pages with sharp and often surprising observations about the “Odyssey” and its spiritual children. … Reading her good-­humored and accessible book is like conversing across the ages.

This seems to me more like intellectual life in Moscow under Brezhnev and reading Izvestiya.

[6] Juvenal, Satires 6.165.

[7] Homer, Odyssey 1.215-20, Greek text from A.T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library (1919), via Perseus; English translation from Fagles (1996) p. 84. Hall dismisses this poignant passage as “a standard complaint of men in the days before genetic testing.” Hall (2008) p. 108. Undue influence, misrepresentation and wrong administrative service are acute injustices in paternity establishment today. Even with genetic paternity testing, courts have often preferred to uphold a long history of legal fiction about paternity. Following the political tradition of the four seas law of paternity, the U.K. and France have outlawed men seeking genetic paternity testing without the consent of the mother. Mothers who cuckold men are unlikely to volunteer such consent.

[8] Gregory of Nyssa, Homily 1, On the Beatitudes, Greek text from Patrologia Graeca 0330-0395, via Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and Cooperatorum Veritatis Societas; English translation from Hall (2000) p. 31.

[9] The expression nudus nudum Christum sequi appears in Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (Jerome), Letter 125. On that expression more generally, Constable (1979). Hugh Primas’s poem, l. 80, alludes ironically to that saying with Ulysses’s phrase “what will there be to enjoy if I’m as penniless as they? {set quis erit ludus, cum nudos videro nudus?}.” McDonough (2010) p. 257, note to l. 69.

[10] Gynocentrism greatly impedes men’s development of an independent, masculinity-affirming identity. Hall rightly observed:

Masculinity and the male initiation rites that signify its maturation are in every culture defined by being Not Feminine.

Hall (2009) p. 108. Under gynocentrism, “feminine” is the dominant, default cultural value. Masculinity and male initiation rites must be given room of their own to develop a strong, independent, affirmative masculine identity.

McDonough read Hugh’s poem to provide a positive portrayal of Ulysses:

The medieval poem …. portrays a kind of heroism that acts to correct the negative evaluation of Ulysses as the deceitful character offered by Horace, Virgil, and Austustine (De civitate dei 5.12).

McDonough (2010) p. xxiii. That interpretation seems to me to reflect the culturally entrenched gender ideal of men as providers to women and children. Taking a critical perspective on that gender structure is difficulty for many, particularly older men.

[11] Reforming gross anti-men bias in family courts and providing men with reproductive rights / choice would also be useful actions for developing a society that effectively upholds men’s human dignity and that encourages men to value their intrinsic being rather than merely what material and status goods they can provide to women.

[image] a black swan, a rare bird. Created by Port Jackson Painter between 1788 and 1792. Painting held in the First Fleet Artwork Collection at The Natural History Museum, London. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Adcock, Fleur, trans. 1994. Hugh Primas and the Archpoet. Cambridge Medieval Classics 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Constable, Giles. 1979. “Nudus nudum Christum sequi and parallel formulas in the twelfth century.” Pp. 83-91 in Williams, George Huntston, F. Forrester Church, and Timothy George, eds. Continuity and discontinuity in church history: essays presented to George Huntston Williams on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Leiden: Brill.

Fagles, Robert, trans. 1996. Homer. The Odyssey. New York: Viking Penguin.

Hall, Edith. 2008. The return of Ulysses: a cultural history of Homer’s Odyssey. London: I.B. Tauris.

Hall, Stuart George, trans. 2000. “Gregory of Nyssa, On the Beatitudes.” Part I (pp. 3-92) in Hubertus R. Drobner and Alberto Viciano, eds. Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Beatitudes; an English version with Commentary supporting studies. Proceedings of the Eighth International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa (Paderborn, 14-18 September 1998). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Konstan, David. 2015. “In defense of the Suitors: A Reading of Homer’s Odyssey.” Paper presented at I Colóquio Internacional sobre Poesia Grega Arcaica do NEAM/UFMG: Homero e Hesíodo, Belo Horizonte, Faculdade de Letras da UFMG. October 28, Minais Gerais, Brazil.

McDonough, Christopher J., ed. and trans. 2010. The Arundel lyrics; The poems of Hugh Primas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Meyer, Wilhelm. 1906. Studies: medieval Latin. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

not Penelope: sailor’s wife claims God provided him with a son

Odysseus and Penelope

According to an early fifteenth-century Roman account, a very poor sailor in search of earnings on the seas was away from his young wife for five years. He returned home to find his dilapidated house had been repaired, beautified, and enlarged. He asked his wife how these improvements had come about. She declared:

By the grace of God, who gives help to all.

{ omnibus fert opem, Dei gratiam affuisse. }

He then went into their bedroom. There he saw an elegant bed and other new furniture that he couldn’t have afforded to buy. He asked his wife how she had gotten this new furniture. She again declared that it was by the grace of God.

Then a little boy of over three years old appeared and clung affectionately to the sailor’s wife. He asked his wife whose child the boy was. She said that he was her child. The sailor-husband, much simpler than Odysseus, didn’t understand:

Amazed, he asked his wife how she could have had a child while he was absent. His wife affirmed that the boy placed there was also obtained by the grace of God.

{ Stupenti, quaerentique viro, unde se absente puer provenisset, Dei quoque in eo acquirendo sibi astitisse gratiam mulier affirmavit. }

Could a husband question his wife’s integrity, or question the grace of God? For many husbands, those two questions are indistinguishable. But this medieval husband distinguished between God and his wife:

Then the husband became indignant at the divine grace that abounded to such an extent as to procreate children for him. “Already,” he said, “I am much obliged to God, who has cared so much for my interests.” He thought it seemed that God had been too busy in providing him with children during his absence.

{ Tunc vir indignatus divinam gratiam etiam in procreandis filiis sibi adeo exuberasse: ‘Multas jam,’ inquit, ‘gratias Deo habeo agoque, qui tot cogitationes suscepit de rebus meis.’ Visum est homini, Deum nimium curiosum fuisse, qui etiam de comparandis, se absente, liberis cogitarit. }

Children were so highly valued in pre-modern times that some impotent husbands would arrange for themselves to be cuckolded so that they could have children. This man had no need to do that. He wanted to provide children through his own action. He felt that he didn’t require so much help from God.

Not all men are like Odysseus. Not all women are like Penelope. May God help simple men who marry a woman not like Penelope.

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The above story and quotes are from Poggio, Facetiae 1, “First tale which is about a poor sailor of Gaeta {Fabula prima cujusdam cajetani pauperis naucleri},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, pp. 7-10, my English translation with help from that of id. Here’s the Latin text in machine-readable form. Gaeta is an ancient, sea-faring town on the Italian coast southwest of Rome.

[image] Odysseus and Penelope. Painting by Francesco Primaticcio from about 1563. Via Yorck Project and Wikimedia Commons.


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).