the loneliness of Christine de Pizan in narrow-mindedness

While not an institutional leader nor as learned as the great medieval woman authors Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, Hildegard of Bingen, and Heloise of the Paraclete, Christine de Pizan is probably now the most well-known medieval woman author. Christine is celebrated today for her gynocentric The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}, which built upon Giovanni Boccaccio’s About Famous Women {De mulieribus claris}. Christine also wrote a large body of lyrical poetry. Her lyrical poetry poignantly depicts a woman’s loneliness. Scholars in their narrow-mindedness have failed to consider adequately why Christine might have felt lonely.

Medieval women sang of languishing in love for a beloved man. They sang of grieving for a beloved man departing at dawn from their bed. Christine de Pizan wrote a poem in that tradition:

This month of May all is joy,
except for me, who am full of woe,
for I don’t have my long-held boy
and I weep with a voice that’s low.
I had a love that made me glow,
but now he’s staying far from me.
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

In this month when all turns green,
let us go sporting in the park
or hear the nightingale who preens
or listen to the warbling lark.
You know where. So please do hark
to a voice that whispers lovingly,
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

Yes, in this month Love’s little boy
goes forth to prey, and he commands
every lover to find some joy,
every lady with her man.
None should be left to go single-hand,
night or day, it seems to me.
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

This heart of mine for your love grieves.
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

{ Ce moys de may, tout se resjoye,
Ce me semble, fors moy, lassette,
Qui n’ay pas cil qu’avoir souloie,
Dont je souspire a voix bassette:
C’estoit ma belle amour doulcette
Qui ores est si loings de my.
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy.

En ce doulz mois ou tout verdoye,
Si yrons jouer sus l’erbette
Ou orrons chanter, a grant joye,
Rossignolz et mainte allouette,
Tu scez bien ou. A voix simplette,
Encor te pry, disant: ay my!
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy.

Car en ce mois ou Amours proye
Prent souvent, m’est vis que c’est debte
A tout amant qu’il se resjoye
Avec sa dame et s’amiette.
Ne la doit pas laissier seulette,
Ce me semble, jour ne demy.
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy.

Pour t’amour, mon cuer fent par my;
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy. }[1]

This poem offers no insight into the man’s concerns and feelings. Why would a man not return to a woman who loves him?

loving man presenting a complaint to a woman

In medieval Galician-Portuguese “songs about a beloved man {cantigas d’amigo},” women describe their difficulties in love with men. One woman was unwilling to take the lead in asking her boyfriend for sex:

My boyfriend can’t have any favors
from me, friend, you see why not.
He doesn’t tell me, so help me God,
and I don’t tell him, this is what happens.
He, out of fear, doesn’t dare mention it,
and I, friend, can’t be the one to ask.

And it’s already been a long time, in good faith,
that he could have had my favors,
yet he never dared to say it to me,
and I’ll tell you how the matter stands.
He, out of fear, doesn’t dare mention it,
and I, friend, can’t be the one to ask.

And for a long time I’ve understood —
because they told me — but he was afraid
to upset me, and by Our Lord,
I would like to, and we stay like this.
He, out of fear, doesn’t dare mention it,
and I, friend, can’t be the one to ask.

And it would make sense for this relation to climax,
but there’s nobody willing to take the lead.

{ O meu amigo non pod’ aver ben
de mi, amiga, vedes por que non:
el non mho diz, assi Deus mi perdon,
nen lho dig’ eu, e assi nos aven:
el con pavor non mho ousa ’mentar;
eu, amiga, non o posso rogar

E gran sazon á ja, per bõa fe,
que ele meu ben podera aver
e ja mais nunca mho ousou dizer
e o preito direi vos eu com’ é:
el con pavor non mho ousa ’mentar;
eu, amiga, non o posso rogar

E gran temp’ á que lho eu entendi,
ca mho disseron, mais ouv’ i pavor
de mi pesar e, par Nostro Senhor,
prouguera m’ end’ e estamos assi:
el con pavor non mho ousa ’mentar;
eu, amiga, non o posso rogar

E o preito guisad’ en se chegar
era, mais non á quen o começar }[2]

Like many women, this woman narrow-mindedly interprets sex as a “favor” that a woman does for a man. But a man having sex with a woman is similarly a “favor” to her, particularly in circumstances where men have no reproductive rights. If women valued men’s sexuality equally to their own, they would be more willing to take the lead in soliciting sex with men. Women should appreciate more men’s seminal blessing!

Christine de Pizan seems to have led her husband Etienne du Castel in their marital sexual relationship. She wrote a poem in praise of marriage and in praise of him:

A sweet thing is marriage.
I can well prove it by my own experience.
It is true for one who has a good and wise husband
like the one God helped me to find.
Praised be He who wanted to save him for me,
for I can strongly vouch
for his great goodness,
and surely the gentle man loves me well

On our wedding night
I was immediately able to recognize
his great worth, for he never did anything
to offend me or cause me pain.
But before the time had come to arise,
he had kissed me a hundred times, I vow,
without ever demanding any other base conduct.
And surely the gentle man loves me well.

And he said, with such sweet words:
“God guided me to you,
sweet beloved, and I believe
He had me nurtured for your use.”
Thus, he went on dreaming
without otherwise losing control.
And surely the gentle man loves me well.

{ Doulce chose est que mariage,
Je le puis bien par moy prouver,
Voire a qui mary bon et sage
A, comme Dieu m’a fait trouver.
Louez en soit il qui sauver
Le me vueille, car son grant bien
De fait je puis bien esprouver,
Et certes le doulz m’aime bien.

La premiere nuit du mariage
Très lors poz je bien esprouver
Son grant bien, car oncques oultrage
Ne me fist, dont me deust grever,
Mais, ains qu’il fust temps de lever,
Cent fois baisa, si com je tien,
Sanz villennie autre rouver,
Et certes le doulz m’aime bien.

Et disoit, par si doulz langage;
“Dieux m’a fait a vous arriver,
Doulce amie, et pour vostre usage
Je croy qu’il me fist eslever.”
Ainsi ne fina de resver
Toute nuit en si fait maintien
Sanz autrement soy desriver,
Et certes le doulz m’aime bien. }[3]

Many men would be offended by a wedding night limited to kissing. So too would many women. Medieval authorities didn’t regard sex within marriage to be “base conduct {villennie}.” Christine’s husband seems to have been subservient to her. He told her that God had created him “for your use {pour vostre usage}.”

Women who insist on having power and control over beloved men are more likely to lose them. If a woman shows contempt for a beloved man, he might get angry at her. If a woman refuses to acknowledge a man’s justified anger with her and refuses to go to him to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, she’s not likely to see him again. A woman in a medieval Galician-Portuguese song apparently lost her boyfriend through attempting to dominate him emotionally:

My boyfriend got angry with me
and doesn’t want to talk with me any more.
If he thinks that I would go to him —
if I find out that he thinks so —
I’ll make sure that love keeps him
in such sorrow that he comes to me.

And once my boyfriend finds out
that I’ll do this, he won’t wait
for me to go to him, but will come right away
to me, and if he does anything else,
I’ll make sure that love keeps him
in such sorrow that he comes to me.

My boyfriend will never have the power
to get angry in any way with me —
more than I might want him to be —
and if he acts in any other way,
I’ll make sure that love keeps him
in such sorrow that he comes to me.

{ O meu amigo, que xi m’ assanhou
e que non quer ja comigo falar,
se cuidou el que o foss’ eu rogar,
se lh’ eu souber que o assi cuidou,
farei que en tal coita o tenha
por mi amor que rogar me venha

E, pois que o meu amigo souber
que lh’ esto farei, non atenderá
que o eu rogue, mais logo verrá
el rogar a mi e, se end’ al fezer,
farei que en tal coita o tenha
por mi amor que rogar me venha

Nen averá meu amigo poder
de nulha sanha filhar contra mi
mais que eu non quiser que seja assi,
ca, se doutra guisa quiser fazer,
farei que en tal coita o tenha
por mi amor que rogar me venha }[4]

A woman who insists on controlling her boyfriend’s anger and sorrow doesn’t truly love him. If her boyfriend has any respect for his own humanity, he will leave her and never return.

Some women in their narrow-mindedness don’t recognize hypocrisy in concern for gender equality. For example, some women pathologize angry men, yet sacralize their own anger:

I’m going to give you very good advice,
oh my boyfriend, so may I have pleasure.
If you see that I’m going to get angry,
do not hold my anger in disdain,
because otherwise I know well what will happen —
if I get angry, someone will be whining.

If I get angry, don’t do anything else
but put up with my anger in your heart,
because I can do you favors or harm.
It’s only right that you put up with it,
because otherwise I know well what will happen —
if I get angry, someone will be whining.

And since I have such great power over you,
and will have too, as long as I’m alive,
you can never have any happiness
if you cannot put up with my anger,
because otherwise I know well what will happen —
if I get angry, someone will be whining.

{ Quero vos ora mui ben conselhar,
ai meu amig’, assi me venha ben,
se virdes que me vos quer’ assanhar,
mha sanha non tenhades en desden,
ca se non for, mui ben sei que será:
se m’ assanhar, alguen se quexará

Se m’ assanhar, non façades i al,
e sofrede a sanha no coraçon;
pois vos eu posso fazer ben e mal,
de a sofrerdes faredes razon,
ca se non for, mui ben sei que será:
se m’ assanhar, alguen se quexará

E, pois eu ei en vós tan gran poder
e averei en quant’ eu viva for,
ja non podedes per ren ben aver
se non fordes de sanha sofredor,
ca <se non for, mui ben sei que será:
se m’ assanhar, alguen se quexará }[5]

A man shouldn’t hold his girlfriend’s anger in disdain. If he acted wrongly toward her, he should seek forgiveness from her. If she’s angry at others or at the world, he should attempt to comfort and console her. He shouldn’t whine in response to her anger. Moreover, if she uses her anger to exercise power over him and to make him whine submissively to her, he should leave her and never return.

Just as for most men throughout history, no words of Etienne du Castel have survived. He is remembered only as Christine’s husband. Typically he’s characterized by the work he did to earn money to support Christine and their three children. Christine regarded Etienne as a good husband. He died from the plague ten years after he married Christine.[6]

Christine de Pizan apparently felt lonely after her husband died. She never remarried. Deprived of a husband providing her with money, she wrote for money:

Alone am I and alone I want to be,
alone as my sweet love left me,
alone am I, no friend nor master near me,
alone am I, grieving and yet angry,
alone am I, and so in languor suffer,
alone am I, living without a lover.

Alone am I at every door and window,
alone am I concealed in some corner,
alone am I to feed on tears of sorrow,
alone am I, grieving perhaps or calmer,
alone am I, nothing can please me better,
alone am I, enclosed within my chamber,
alone am I, living without a lover.

Alone am I, everywhere, in every way.
alone am I, whether walking or seated,
alone am I, more than any other this day,
alone am I, from whom all folk retreated,
alone am I, brought low now and defeated,
alone am I, bathed in tears forever,
Alone am I, living without a lover.

{ Seulete suy et seulete vueil estre,
Seulete m’a mon doulz ami laissiée,
Seulete suy, sanz compaignon ne maistre,
Seulete suy, dolente et courrouciée,
Seulete suy en languour mesaisiée,
Seulete suy plus que nulle esgarée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée.

Seulete suy a huis ou a fenestre,
Seulete suy en un anglet muciée,
Seulete suy pour moy de plours repaistre,
Seulete suy, dolente ou apaisiée,
Seulete suy, riens n’est qui tant me siée,
Seulete suy en ma chambre enserrée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée.

Seulete suy partout et en tout estre.
Seulete suy, ou je voise ou je siée,
Seulete suy plus qu’autre riens terrestre,
Seulete suy de chascun delaissiée,
Seulete suy durement abaissiée,
Seulete suy souvent toute esplourée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée. }[7]

Christine sought sympathy from rich and influential potential patrons:

Princes, sad now is my every morrow,
alone am I menaced by every sorrow,
alone am I, than any dark dye bluer,
alone am I, living without a lover.

{ Princes, or est ma doulour commenciée:
Seulete suy de tout dueil menaciée,
Seulete suy plus tainte que morée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée. }

Christine’s lyric poetry isn’t meant to be overheard in the way of early Romantic poetry. In contrast to prevalent narrow-mindedness in reading Christine de Pizan’s work, one should ponder the authenticity of her loneliness, why she might have felt lonely, and what action she could have taken to be less alone.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Christine de Pizan, The Hundred Ballades of a Loving Man and a Lady {Les Cent Balades d’Amant et de Dame}, Ballade 79, Middle French text from Cerquiglini-Toulet (1982), English translation (modified slightly) from Wilhelm (1990) p. 181. Christine apparently wrote these poems from 1407 to 1410. They have survived in only one manuscript: the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. In accordance with dominant gynocentric ideology, Pious (2018) translated Les Cent Balades d’Amant et de Dame as 100 Ballades of a Lady and a Lover.

Les Cent Balades d’Amant et de Dame should be distinguished from an earlier ballade collection that Christine wrote, probably from 1399 to 1402. That earlier collection is known simply as The Hundred Ballades {Les Cent Balades}. Kline (2020) provides a complete English translation of the 1399-1402 ballade collection, while Pious (2018) provides a complete English translation of the 1407-1410 collection, along with the Middle French text of Cerquiglini-Toulet (1982). For earlier Middle French text of both collections, Roy (1886-96), vol. 1, pp. xxvi-xxx, 1-100 et 297-300 (first 100 ballades), vol. 3, pp. 209-308 (second 100 ballades). Part 1 of Tarnowski (2018) provides a helpful review of editions, translations, and study resources for Christine’s works.

In writing her Les Cent Balades and the subsequent collection, Christine drew upon the form that five men poets had earlier established. In 1398, Jean le Senseschal, Philippe d’Artois, De Boucicaut le Jeune, and Jean de Crésecque collaborated to compose The Book of a Hundred Ballades {Le Livre des Cent Ballades}. Unlike Christine’s lone-author books, the men’s book was a collaborative effort and open to further contributions. Pious (2018) pp. 24-5. Many men enjoy relationships with others as well as relational efforts that have continuing potential for further fruit. The men’s book has attracted much less attention than Christine’s book.

[2] Johan Airas (João Airas de Santiago) 7, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “My boyfriend can’t have any favors {O meu amigo non pod’ aver ben}” (V 600), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[3] Christine de Pizan, More Ballades {Autres Balades} 26, Middle French text from Roy (1886-96), vol. 1, p. 237, English translation from Willard (1993) p. 51.

[4] Johan Airas (João Airas de Santiago) 10, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “My boyfriend got angry with me {O meu amigo, que xi m’ assanhou}” (B 1014, V 604), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

Within its immense store of wisdom, medieval Latin poetry counseled against enduring anger between lovers:

May thus your anger, you who love, be rare and brief.
Frequent anger is madness, and long-lasting anger a crime.
Through such is dissolved harmony of behavior that joins minds
and grace that binds life-companions with a double cord.

{ Ira igitur tua, quisquis amas, sit rara brevisque:
Ira frequens furor est et diuturna scelus;
Solvitur hac animos socians concordia morum
Et duplici sodos grada fune ligans. }

“To one who each day reproaches and each day implores {Cuidam cotidie obiurganti, cotidie supplicanti},” vv. 17-20 (of 20), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 448, English translation (modified) from id. p. 449. This poem survives in Roma, Vatican MS Reg. lat. 585, folio 4v (written in the twelfth century) and Escorial, MS. O. III. 2, folio 98r-v (written in the fourteenth century).

[5] Johan Vaasquiz de Talaveira (João Vasques de Talaveira) 8, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “I’m going to give you very good advice {Quero vos ora mui ben conselhar}” (B 795, V 379), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Universo Cantigas and at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[6] In 1379 at age fifteen, Christine de Pizan married Etienne du Castel. He was nine years older than she. As a university-educated man with connections to the royal court, he had good material prospects. Christine’s father proposed the marriage. Under medieval marital law, freely given consent of both women and man was necessary for the couple to marry. Christine readily consented to marry Etienne. In 1380, Etienne was appointed a notary and a royal secretary. For biographical information about Christine and Etienne, see Christine’s The Vision of Christine {L’Avision de Christine}, translated in Willard (1993) pp. 8-10, and Willard’s biographical summary, id. pp. x-xi.

[7] Christine de Pizan, The Hundred Ballades {Les Cent Balades}, Ballade 11, vv. 1-21, Middle French text from Roy (1886-96) vol. 1, p. 12, English translation (modified slightly) from Kline (2020). The subsequent quote above is similarly from vv. 22-5 (of 25).

[images] (1) The lover presents his complaint to his lady at the start of Christine de Pizan’s Another Complaint of a Loving Man {Une Autre Complainte Amoureuse}. Excerpt from folio 56v of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. This lavish manuscript of Christine de Pizan’s works was created from 1410 to 1414. Christian presented it Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria, Queen Consort of Charles VI of France. (2) VocaMe performing Christine de Pizan’s ballade “Alone am I and alone I want to be {Seulete suy et seulete vueil estre}” from their 2015 album, Christine De Pizan – Chansons et Ballades. Via YouTube. Here’s a recording of French actress Renée Faure reading this poem.

References:

Cerquiglini-Toulet, Jacqueline, ed. 1982. Christine de Pisan. Cent Ballades d’Amant et de Dame. Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions.

Cohen, Rip. 2003. 500 Cantigas d’Amigo. Porto: Campo das Letras.

Cohen, Rip. 2010. The Cantigas d’Amigo: An English Translation. Online. Quotes are based on the 2016 edition.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Christine de Pisan. The Hundred Ballads (Les Cent Ballades). Poetry in Translation. Online.

Pious, Samantha Spotswood Weil. 2018. The Cent Ballades D’amant Et De Dame Of Christine De Pizan: A Critical Introduction And Literary Translation. Ph.D. Thesis. Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2768.

Roy, Maurice, ed. 1886-96. Œuvres poétiques de Christine de Pisan. Paris: Firmin Didot pour la Société des anciens textes français. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Vol. 3.

Tarnowski, Andrea, ed. 2018. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Christine de Pizan. New York, NY: The Modern Language Association of America. Part 1.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. 1990. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology. New York: Garland Publishing.

Willard, Charity Cannon, ed. 1993. The Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York: Persea Books.

medieval feminine power: divine to demonic in elite discourse

Christine de Pizan presented her lengthy defense of women, The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}, to Queen Isabel of France in 1414. Christine presenting her luxurious book to the Queen capped two centuries of women’s overwhelming dominance of medieval French society. That isn’t the claim of some radical meninist. That’s the wholly credible historical evaluation of Henry Adams. As a scion of the Boston-based Adams family that produced two U.S. Presidents, Henry Adams knew intimately elite power. A Harvard graduate who went on to become a Harvard professor, Adams wrote the enormously influential nine-volume work, The History of the United States of America 1801–1817. Adams’s evaluation of feminine power in medieval France deserves equally serious consideration as Christine de Pizan’s Le Livre de la Cité des Dames.

Christine de Pizan presented her work to the Queen of France

Henry Adams appreciated the difficulties that men face in discussing women. He also recognized the fundamental importance of gender for an enduring, humane, and prosperous society. He observed:

The proper study of mankind is woman and, by common agreement since the time of Adam, it is the most complex and arduous. … If it were worth while to argue a paradox, one might maintain that Nature regards the female as the essential, the male as the superfluity of her world. [1]

Recent scientific study more contingently claims women’s superiority. Little public concern for men’s gender protrusion in mortality and men’s lack of reproductive rights certainly suggest that men are socially regarded as less important than women today.

Henry Adams focused on medieval France and drew upon Louise Garreau’s learned study. Women and men, according to Garreau, behaved similarly in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France:

A trait very peculiar to this epoch is the close resemblance between the manners of men and those of women. There wasn’t at all established then that such sentiments or acts, permitted to one sex, were forbidden to the other. Men had the right to burst into tears, and women the right to speak without prudery. If circumstances demanded, it was natural for a man to beg, clasping his arms to the knees of the one he implores. It was natural also for a woman, in the administration of justice, to condemn another to be tortured to death. Warriors took care of their hair, artfully styled to float on their necks. Their robes, the most elaborate of which have persisted to our day in the dress of religious orders, used combinations and colors that were changed every day. Their luxury, their risky fashions, no less than women’s apparel, furnished matter for the concerned wisdom of preachers. The ladies were, like their husbands, adept at horseback-riding and hunting, and ladies wouldn’t be disturbed by the need to direct defenses in a place at war.

{ Un trait bien particulier à cette époque, c’est la presque similitude entre les allures de l’homme et celles de la femme. Il n’est guère établi, alors, que tel sentiment ou tel acte, permis à un sexe, est interdit à l’autre. Les hommes ont le droit de fondre en larmes, et les femmes celui de parler sans pruderie. Si les circonstances le demandent, il paraît naturel qu’un homme supplie en se tordant les bras, aux genoux de celui qu’il implore. Il parait naturel aussi qu’une femme, dans l’exercice du droit de justice, condamne au dernier supplice. Les guerriers soignent leur chevelure qui flotte artistiquement sur leur cou; leurs robes, dont les modèles les plus graves ont persisté jusqu’à nos jours dans les costumes des ordres religieux, se prêtent à des combinaisons de couleurs et de formes chaque jour renouvelées, en sorte que leur luxe, leurs modes hasardées, ne fournissent pas moins que les toilettes féminines ample matière aux épigrammes des prédicateurs. Les dames sont, comme leurs maris, habiles à l’équitation, à la chasse, et ne s’étonnent pas de diriger au besoin la défense d’une place de guerre. }[2]

As today’s sophisticated students of gender understand, women and men are equal, but women are superior to men. Garreau’s nineteenth-century analysis of women and men in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France had a similar conceptual structure:

If we consider their intellectual level, the women appear distinctly superior. They are more serious and more subtle. With them, it doesn’t seem that we are dealing with the less advanced civilization to which their husbands belong. … As a rule, the women seem to be accustomed to weighing their actions and not yielding to the moment’s impulse. While Christian understanding is usually more developed in them than in their husbands, women on the other hand show more perfidy and more art in crime.

{ Si nous considérons le niveau intellectuel, les femmes paraissent nettement supérieures. Elles ont plus de sérieux, plus de finesse. Avec elles, il ne semble pas qu’on ait affaire à l’âge de civilisation peu avancée auquel appartiennent leurs époux. … Toujours est-il que les femmes paraissent accoutumées à peser leurs actes, à ne point céder à l’impression du moment. Si le sens chrétien est d’ordinaire plus développé en elles qu’en leurs maris, dans le crime, d’autre part, elles montrent plus de perfidie et plus d’art. }

Adams himself had no doubt about the reality of feminine power in medieval France:

The superiority of the woman was not a fancy, but a fact. Man’s business was to fight or hunt or feast or make love. The man was also the travelling partner in commerce, commonly absent from home for months together, while the woman carried on the business. The woman ruled the household and the workshop; cared for the economy; supplied the intelligence, and dictated the taste. Her ascendancy was secured by her alliance with the Church, into which she sent her most intelligent children; and a priest or clerk, for the most part, counted socially as a woman. Both physically and mentally the woman was robust, as the men often complained, and she did not greatly resent being treated as a man. [3]

With his elite familial pedigree, Adams was particularly well-suited to perceive feminine power among the elite of medieval France:

The greatest men of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries were William the Norman; his great grandson Henry II Plantagenet; Saint Louis of France; and, if a fourth be needed, Richard Cœur-de-Lion. Notoriously all these men had as much difficulty as Louis XIV himself with the women of their family. … In Normandy, the people of Caen have kept a tradition, told elsewhere in other forms, that one day, Duke William, — the Conqueror, — exasperated by having his bastardy constantly thrown in his face by the Duchess Matilda, dragged her by the hair, tied to his horse’s tail, as far as the suburb of Vaucelles; and this legend accounts for the splendour of the Abbaye-aux-Dames, because William, the common people believed, afterwards regretted the impropriety, and atoned for it by giving her money to build the abbey. The story betrays the man’s weakness. The Abbaye-aux-Dames stands in the same relation to the Abbaye-aux-Hommes that Matilda took towards William. Inferiority there was none; on the contrary, the woman was socially the superior, and William was probably more afraid of her than she of him, if Mr. Freeman is right in insisting that he married her in spite of her having a husband living, and certainly two children. If William was the strongest man in the eleventh century, his great-grandson, Henry II of England, was the strongest man of the twelfth; but the history of the time resounds with the noise of his battles with Queen Eleanor whom he, at last, held in prison for fourteen years. Prisoner as she was, she broke him down in the end. … That Saint Louis, even when a grown man and king, stood in awe of his mother, Blanche of Castile, was not only notorious but seemed to be thought natural. Joinville recorded it not so much to mark the King’s weakness, as the woman’s strength … According to Joinville, King Louis always hid himself when, in his wife’s chamber, he heard his mother coming. … For a hundred and fifty years, the Virgin and Queens ruled French taste and thought so successfully that the French man has never yet quite decided whether to be more proud or ashamed of it.

The dominant approach to feminine power seems to be a combination of pride and shame. Society typically prides itself on whatever additional power women gain and expresses shame that women in the past didn’t have the new power that now they have gained. The power that women have always had tends to be obscured and denied.

portrait of Judy Chicago as a goddess

The Citi exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic, now at the British Museum, shows the peculiar structure of feminine power. The global bank Citi has supported this major exhibition:

Bringing together sculptures, sacred objects and artworks from the ancient world to today, and from six continents, the exhibition highlights the many faces of feminine power – ferocious, beautiful, creative or hell-bent – and its seismic influence throughout time. [4]

Many persons deny that women have had enormous power and influence throughout time. The two exhibition curators, both women, have lined up five guest commentators, all women, for this exhibition:

Join our five guest commentators – Leyla Hussein, Mary Beard, Elizabeth Day, Rabia Siddique and Deborah Frances-White – in considering how spiritual belief in female power, and its many manifestations, can shape our views on femininity today.

Many men experience feminine power. That’s especially true when men are sent to the back of the line for boarding lifeboats on sinking ships, when men are subject to sex-discriminatory military conscription, and when men endure acute sex discrimination in family courts awarding child custody and counter-part payment obligations (“child support”). Do men’s lived experiences of feminine power not matter?

Feminine power: the divine to the demonic is a family-oriented exhibition. On a Saturday or Sunday trip to this exhibition, families might ponder Judy Chicago’s print The Creation. The curators who chose to include this artwork explained:

Creation narratives told by different cultures and faiths around the world are as varied as they are numerous. This vibrant print, The Creation, by the contemporary artist Judy Chicago reimagines the Christian creation story from a feminist perspective. It challenges, in the artist’s words, the ‘fake news’ of a male god creating the first man by showing a female deity lying in a birthing position. Primordial life flows from her vulva as she grasps the sun in her right hand and her left breast erupts as a volcano. [5]

Make sure that your children memorize “primordial life flows from her vulva” to pass the test at their elementary school. Associated with the exhibition is a two-day set of events billed as “family activities” and titled Feminine power: Ferociously feminine. These family activities are:

  • “Empowerment Badges with Anna Saunders: Create flamboyant paper badges celebrating all the qualities that make you fabulous.”
  • “Glorious Goddesses Storytelling with Xanthe Gresham: Listen to tales and folklore exploring goddesses from around the world.”
  • “Drag Queen Storytelling: Listen to Aida H Dee at the truly fabulous Drag Queen Storytelling.”
  • Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief Book Launch with Nosy Crow: Join historian Janina Ramirez to hear about her new children’s book Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief.”
  • “Feminine power tattoo parlor: Roll up to the empowerment tattoo parlor where you can pick up and apply temporary tattoos inspired by the book Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief published by Nosy Crow in collaboration with the British Museum.” [6]

Lucretius, the great classical Roman dispeller of delusions about other-worldly beings, satirized men’s tendency toward gyno-idolatry. Fathers who bring their families to these families activities probably are living under delusions of gyno-idolatry. Let’s hope that boys there are allowed to have fun farting, giggling, running around, and making faces at people. Please do not cruelly force boys to sit still and listen at these events!

Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière: stained glass window of Chartres Cathedral

The exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic apparently doesn’t include the most powerful figure in medieval Europe: Mary, the mother of Jesus. This young, provincial Jewish girl became to many the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God, the Queen Mother. From 1194 to 1220 as part of a massive church construction program in medieval France, Mary the mother of Jesus was lavishly honored in the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. Henry Adams declared:

The Queen Mother was as majestic as you like; she was absolute; she could be stern; she was not above being angry; but she was still a woman, who loved grace, beauty, ornament, — her toilette, robes, jewels; —who considered the arrangements of her palace with attention, and liked both light and colour; who kept a keen eye on her Court, and exacted prompt and willing obedience from king and archbishops as well as from beggars and drunken priests. She protected her friends and punished her enemies. She required space, beyond what was known in the Courts of kings, because she was liable at all times to have ten thousand people begging her for favours — mostly inconsistent with law — and deaf to refusal. She was extremely sensitive to neglect, to disagreeable impressions, to want of intelligence in her surroundings. She was the greatest artist, as she was the greatest philosopher and musician and theologist, that ever lived on earth, except her Son, Who, at Chartres, is still an Infant under her guardianship. Her taste was infallible, her sentence eternally final. This church was built for her in this spirit of simple-minded, practical, utilitarian faith, — in this singleness of thought, exactly as a little girl sets up a doll-house for her favourite blonde doll. [7]

Nearly every church built at great expense in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was dedicated to Mary. Mainly men, not little girls, did the arduous work of building these churches to “Our Lady.” Henry Adams noted:

Mary concentrated in herself the whole rebellion of man against fate; the whole protest against divine law; the whole contempt for human law as its outcome; the whole unutterable fury of human nature beating itself against the walls of its prison-house, and suddenly seized by a hope that in the Virgin man had found a door of escape. She was above law; she took feminine pleasure in turning hell into an ornament; she delighted in trampling on every social distinction in this world and the next. She knew that the universe was as unintelligible to her, on any theory of morals, as it was to her worshippers, and she felt, like them, no sure conviction that it was any more intelligible to the Creator of it. To her, every suppliant was a universe in itself, to be judged apart, on his own merits, by his love for her, — by no means on his orthodoxy, or his conventional standing in the Church, or according to his correctness in defining the nature of the Trinity.

The medieval church taught that Mary was not a goddess. In medieval Europe, Mary’s status was higher than any goddess and higher than any mortal ruler. Mary probably remains more important to the people of Europe than any of the goddesses on display in British Museum’s exhibition, Feminine power: the divine to the demonic.

Are any of the goddesses on display in the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic doing anything to stop Russia’s horrific, irrational war on Ukraine? Do the family activities in the associated event, Feminine power: Ferociously feminine, provide any insight into how the war on Ukraine is affecting families? Ukrainian men between the ages 18 and 60, with minor exceptions, are legally forbidden to leave Ukraine. In contrast, Ukrainian women between those ages are permitted to leave.[8] That’s brutal, anti-men gender discrimination within brutally desperate circumstances. Women in Ukraine and Russia probably are much less interested in anything in the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic than they are in praying that Mary, the mother of God, will save their particular beloved men from the massive, ferocious violence against men now ongoing in Ukraine.

Concern to maintain publicly cultic goddess-worship, as well as fear of undermining current casting fashion in big-budget action movies, might be partly motivating the gender-obscuring of what’s happening now in Ukraine. Reporting on a transwoman fearing difficulties in fleeing Ukraine, CBS News, like other major corporate news operations, obscured a fundamental gender reality:

If she makes it to the border of a neighboring country offering refuge, she’s not even sure if they’ll let her in, as her passport identification does not match her gender. The LGBTQ community has become more visible and accepted over the years, but for transgender people, it’s more complicated. [9]

Anti-men sex discrimination in the U.S conscription system continues to this very day in much less desperate circumstances. The relevant gender reality is simple enough for most children to understand. Women are much more socially powerful than men are. Societies are much more concerned about women’s welfare than about men’s welfare. Elites construct and perpetuate gender delusions in service to their own obsessions, fears, and interests.

the global bank citi, supporter of exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic

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Read more:

Notes:

[1] Adams (1904) p. 198.

[2] French text of Garreau (1899) pp. 155-6, my English translation. The subsequent quote above is similarly from id. pp. 156-7. Adams quoted in English translations most of these two passages. Adams (1904) p. 199.

[3] Adams (1904) pp. 199-200. The subsequent quote above is from id. pp. 201-2, 205.

[4] From British Museum’s main web page for the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic. The subsequent quote above is from Crerar & Dahlsen (2022). The main web page states:

Enhanced by engagement with contemporary worshippers, faith communities and insights from high-profile collaborators Bonnie Greer, Mary Beard, Elizabeth Day, Rabia Siddique and Deborah Frances-White, the exhibition considers the influence of female spiritual power and what femininity means today.

Other than feminists, what specific “contemporary worshippers” and “faith communities” were engaged isn’t clear. Adams observed:

The scientific mind is atrophied, and suffers under inherited cerebral weakness, when it comes in contact with the eternal woman — Astarte, Isis, Demeter, Aphrodite, and the last and greatest deity of all, the Virgin.

Adams (1904) p. 198. Perhaps this effect explains the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic.

[5] From Crerar & Dahlsen (2022).

[6] The British Museum’s web page for Ferociously feminine states:

Come explore and celebrate goddesses, demons, witches and other spiritual beings at the British Museum this May half-term with these free events. Join us for crafts and storytelling celebrating female power and divinity.

The medieval church didn’t promote the cult of the Virgin Mary so crudely.

[7] Adams (1904) p. 90. The subsequent quote above is from id. p. 276. Mary was also honored at Marian shrines such as Our Lady of Walsingham in England. Adam of Saint Victor’s hymn “Hail, O mother of our Savior {Salve, mater Salvatoris}” exemplifies medieval European devotion to Mary. Adams observed:

The measure of this devotion {to Mary}, which proves to any religious American mind, beyond possible cavil, its serious and practical reality, is the money it cost. According to statistics, in the single century between 1170 and 1270, the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly five hundred churches of the cathedral class, which would have cost, according to an estimate made in 1840, more than five thousand millions to replace. Five thousand million francs is a thousand million dollars, and this covered only the great churches of a single century. The same scale of expenditure had been going on since the year 1000, and almost every parish in France had rebuilt its church in stone; to this day France is strewn with the ruins of this architecture, and yet the still preserved churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, among the churches that belong to the Romanesque and Transition period, are numbered by hundreds until they reach well into the thousands. … Nearly every great church of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries belonged to Mary, until in France one asks for the church of Notre Dame as though it meant cathedral; but, not satisfied with this, she contracted the habit of requiring in all churches a chapel of her own, called in English the “Lady Chapel,” which was apt to be as large as the church but was always meant to be handsomer; and there, behind the high altar, in her own private apartment, Mary sat, receiving her innumerable suppliants, and ready at any moment to step up upon the high altar itself to support the tottering authority of the local saint.

Id. pp. 94-5. None of the online materials associated with the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic makes any mention of Mary, the mother of Jesus. That exhibition thus reflects poorly on global bank Citi’s understanding of the financial dimension of feminine power in European history.

[8] Ukraine’s gender-discriminatory border policy has narrow exceptions that recognize marginally men’s role in caring for children:

Under Ukrainian law there are exceptions to the ban on men leaving the country. Male Ukrainian nationals can cross the border if they are financially supporting three or more children under the age of 18, are single fathers of children under 18, or have children or are guardians of children with disabilities.

Tondo (2022). Men on a marginalized and demonized forum have complained bitterly about this policy. A forty-year old Ukrainian woman might well be more valuable to the Ukrainian war effort than an eighteen-year-old Ukrainian man. One might hope that all members of the Ukrainian gender-activist group Femen have headed to the front lines to fight equally with Ukrainian men for Ukraine.

[9] Cohen (2022). Within the headline to this article, the phrase “a war within a war” verbally associates Russia’s war on Ukraine with another, different “war” on transgender women within Ukraine. That’s the now prevalent discursive strategy of emptying words of any commonly understood correspondence to reality.

[images] (1) Christine de Pizan presenting of book of her collected work (the Book of the Queen) to Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria, Queen Consort of Charles VI of France. Excerpt from folio 3r of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. This lavish manuscript of Christine de Pizan’s works was created from 1410 to 1414. (2) Portrait of the American “feminist artist, art educator, and writer” Judy Chicago. Contributed by Megan Schultz (assistant to Judy Chicago). Via Wikimedia Commons. This portrait of Judy Chicago has similar iconography to the cover of Rosalía’s highly acclaimed album El mal querer {The Bad Loving}. (3) Women in a castle watch knights fighting. Illumination in an instance of Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Duke of True Lovers {Le Livre du Duc des vrais amants}. Excerpt from folio 150r of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. For English translations of this book, Binyon & Maclagan (1908) and Fenster (1991). Christine argued that courtly love glorified men and ruined women. Modern scholars have taken Christine’s claim seriously. (4) Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière {Our Lady of the Beautiful Glass} stained-glass window in the south ambulatory of Chartres Cathedral in France. Image thanks to Vassil and Wikimedia Commons. The central image of the Virgin Mary was made in the twelfth century. Here’s a guide to praying in front of this magnificent religious artwork. (5) Citi exhibition supporter notice on the main British Museum web page for the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic.

References:

Adams, Henry. 1904. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

Laurence Binyon, Laurence, and Eric R. D. Maclagan, trans. 1908. Christine de Pizan. The Book of the Duke of True Lovers. London: Chatto & Windus.

Cohen, Li. 2022. ‘“A war within a war”: Transgender woman says transphobia and discriminatory laws keeping her hostage in Kyiv during Russian invasion.’ CBS News. Posted online Mar. 1, 2022.

Crerar, Belinda Crerar (Lead Curator: Feminine power) and Lucy Dahlsen (Project Curator: Feminine power). 2022. “An introduction to Feminine power.” British Museum Blog. Posted April 11, 2022.

Fenster, Thelma S., trans. 1991. Christine de Pizan. The Book of the Duke of True Lovers. New York: Persea Books.

Garreau, Louise. 1899. L’État Social de la France au Temps des Croisades. Paris: E. Plon, Nourrit.

Tondo, Lorenzo. 2022. “Ukraine urged to take ‘humane’ approach as men try to flee war.” The Guardian. Posted online Mar. 9, 2022.

women-fairies in the madness of Le Jeu de la feuillée

Reading through Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de la feuillée, Douglas was appalled at this medieval play. All the men are mean and foolish. He felt that he must be mean and foolish too, since he’s a man. But he pondered the cantankerous fairy Maglore in the fairy banquet of Le Jeu de la feuillée. She was a person like Matheolus, that outrageous voice of medieval men’s sexed protest. Douglas then realized that, even as a man, he is woman’s equal as a fully human being.

According to Le Jeu de la feuillée, Adam planned to leave his wife Moroie and his hometown of Arras to study in Paris. He intended to leave Moroie in Arras with his father Henri. But because Moroie loved her husband dearly, that plan seemed unlikely to work:

Master, that will never be,
as long as she is able to travel.
Sure as I know that wife of yours,
if she heard that you were there today,
she would be there tomorrow without delay.

{ Maistres, il n’ira mie ensi,
S’ele se puet mètre a le voie.
Car bien sai, s’onques le connui,
ki, s’ele vous i savoit hui,
ki demain iroit sans respit. }[1]

Moroie enjoyed having sex with her husband and apparently wanted to get pregnant. The wicked man Adam thought to make bitter his wife’s love for him:

And you know what I’m going to do?
To wean her from it I’ll put
some mustard on my cock.

{ Et savés vous ke je ferai?
Pour li espanir meterai
De le moustarde seur men vit. }

What a horrible man! And no one in the play said, “Not all men are like that.”

Adam regarded himself as having become enlightened and self-aware with respect to men-abasing courtly love. He recounted:

Oh, I was taken on the boil,
flush in the greenest month of spring
and in the passion of my youth,
when the thing had much better flavor.
No man hunts for what’s good for him,
but only for what enlivens his desire.
The summer was then lovely and languid,
sweet and green and clear and fine,
ringing with singing of birds.
High in the forest, close to a spring
running down on sparkling pebbles
there came to me once a vision
of her who is now my wife.
She seems so sallow and dull.
Once she was all white and rosy,
laughing, loving, and slim.
Now I see her fat and misshapen,
sullen and quarrelsome.

{ Car pris fui ou premier boullon
Tout droit en le verde saison
Et en l’aspreche de jouvent.
Ou li cose a plus grant saveur,
Ne nus ne cache sen meilleur,
Fors chou ki li vient a talent.
Esté faisoit bel et seri,
Douc et vert et cler et joli,
Delitavle en cans d’oiseillons;
En haut bos, près de fontenele
Courant seur maillie gravele,
Adont me vint avisions
De cheli ke j’ai a feme ore,
Ki or me sanle pale et sore;
Adont estoit blanke et vermeille,
Rians, amoureuse et deugie,
Or le voi crasse et mautaillie.
Triste et tenchant. }[2]

What a shallow, disloyal husband! And no one in the play said, “Not all men are like that.”

Adam thought carefully about unplanned parenthood and its consequences for men. Moroie and Adam hadn’t yet had any children. Adam declared:

Good people, I was seized
by love that caught me unaware.
No woman’s features were so fine
as love made hers to me appear.
But desire made me taste her goods
in the great flavor of her little valleys.
I must come to my senses
before my wife becomes pregnant
and the thing causes much expenses.
My hunger for it is lacking.

{ Boines gens, ensi fui jou pris
Par Amours, ki si m’ot souspris;
Car faitures n’ot pas si beles
Comme Amours les me fist sanler;
Mais Desire les me fist gouster
A le grant saveur de Vaucheles.
S’est drois ke je me reconnoisse
Tout avant ke me feme engroisse
Et ke li cose plus me coust,
Car mes fains en est apaiés. }[3]

What a sickly and ungenerous man! He’s a fool, too. If his wife got pregnant by another man, he would then have the expenses of supporting another man’s child. Adam wasn’t like Saint Joseph. And no one in the play said, “Not all men are like that.”

The fairy Morgan le Fay led two other women-fairies, Arsile and Maglore, to a lavish banquet prepared for them in Arras. Maglore complained that her table-setting lacked a knife:

And what does it mean
that I have no knife? Am I the worst?
So help me God, little they valued me,
whoever it was that planned
that I alone wouldn’t have a knife!

{ Et k’est che a dire
Ke nul n’en ai? Sui je li pire?
Si m’aït Dieus, peu me prisa
Ki estavli ne avisa
Ke toute seule a coutel faille. }

Maglore seemed to interpret the table-setting like some literary scholars today interpret medieval literature. Arsile consoled her:

Don’t be angry, lady. Such happens.
I doubt if anyone gave it a thought.

{ Ne vous caut, dame; ensi avient.
Je cuit c’on ne s’en donna warde. }

Arsile undoubtedly was right. That surely didn’t matter to Maglore.

These were privileged women-fairies. Morgan le Fay exclaimed:

Lovely, sweet friends, look
how all here has been made lovely and pure and clean.

{ Bele douche compaigne, eswarde
Ke chi fait bel et cler et net. }

Arsile proposed to reward Adam and the rich merchant Rikier for having prepared this lavish banquet. Morgan le Fay agreed. She charmed Rikier with a pile of money. Then she turned to Adam:

As for the other, I wish for him
that he be the most perfect lover
that was ever found in any country.

{ Et de l’autre, voeil k’il soit teus
Ke che soit li plus amoureus
Ki soit trouvés en nul païs. }

Arsile made Rikier even richer and Adam an even more attractive lover:

In addition, I wish that he be handsome
and a fine maker of songs.

{ Aussi voeil je k’il soit jolis
Et boins faiseres de canchons }

Maglore, however, was still angry that her table-setting lacked a knife. She cursed Rikier to become bald. Her spell on Adam turned his world upside-down:

For the other, Adam, who has been bragging
about going to school in Paris —
I wish that he becomes disgraced
among the group in Arras,
and that he forgets himself in the arms
of his wife, who is soft and tender,
such that he ruins and hates his studies
and puts off his planned departure.

{ De l’autre, ki se va vantant
D’aler a l’escole a Paris,
Voeil k’il soit si atruandis
En le compaignie d’Arras
Et k’il s’ouvlit entre les bras
Se feme, ki est mole e tenre,
Si k’il perge et hache l’apenre
Et meche se voie en respit. }

Students in Paris were wretched like courtly lovers. Maglore, in spite of herself, actually wished good for Adam. Oh happy fault that brought Adam such a great redeemer!

Adam de la Halle’s play ends with men in a tavern. An idiot-son feels that he’s being drenched with piss. Then he farts. His father beats him with a stick. After the idiot-son implies that the father beats his wife, they depart together from the tavern. At the end of the play, a monk remains in the tavern with a chest of relics that he uses to earn money. Are all men idiots, brutes, and frauds, and thus inferior to women?

making Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies

No, men need not feel ashamed about written characterizations of men. As long as men know of the fairy-women Maglore and her charms, they can respect themselves as fully human beings who are women’s equals. Adam de la Halle with his Le Jeu de la feuillée depicted a true city of men and women.[4]

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Read more:

Notes:

[1] Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de la feuillée, vv. 37-41, Old French text from Langlois (1923), English translation (modified) from Axton & Stevens (1971). All subsequent quotes from Le Jeu de la feuillée are similarly sourced. For a somewhat looser English translation with a parallel, slightly more regularized Old French text, Mermier (1997).

Adam de la Halle is thought to have composed Le Jeu de la feuillée about 1275 in Arras. The title comes from the ending line, “Explicit du li jeus de le fueillie,” of the play in MS P: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 25566. The meaning of the title isn’t totally clear, but it probably means “The Play of the Bower.” The play in MS P begins with the title “The Play of Adam {Li jus Adan}. A title used in modern French is Play of Madness {Jeu de la folie}.

Characters in the play have names and statuses that correspond to persons in thirteenth-century Arras. Adam’s wife was named Moroie and his father’s name was Henri. “Adam’s play appears to be an ‘inside joke’ between friends or enemies.” Mermier (1997) p. xix. For a discussion of self-portraiture in the play, Scolnicov (1999). Cf. Laurent (2014). Arras is an important place in the development of European vernacular theater. Koopmans (2017).

Subsequent quotes above are from Le Jeu de la feuillée vv. 42-4 (And you know what…), 57-74 (Oh, I was taken on the boil…), 165-74 (Good people, I was seized…), 631-5 (And what does it mean…), 640-1 (Don’t be angry…), 642-3 (Lovely, sweet friends…), 661-3 (As for the other…), 664-5 (In addition, I wish that…), 684-91 (For the other, Adam, who has been bragging…).

[2] On the relation between courtly love ideology and disenchantment in Le Jeu de la feuillée, Laurent (2014).

[3] Dame Douce, who apparently was pregnant, blamed for her pregnancy the rich merchant Rikier. A married man, he denied it. Such paternity attribution would be lucrative for her and expensive for Rikier. Although she probably didn’t know for certain what man contributed sperm to the pregnancy, Dame Douce angrily sought to punish Rikier:

Just let me get my hands on that man!
And if I do, he’ll soon be buried,
or turned inside out and backside up
with his fingers where his feet should be!
I’ll soon have him where I want him —
stretched on his bed — just as I did
last year with Jakemon Pilepois
and with Gillon Lavier the other night.

{ Uns hom ke je voeil maniier;
Mais, se je puis, il iert en biere,
Ou tournés chou devant derriere
Devers les piés ou vers les dois.
Je l’arai bien tost a point mis
En sen lit, ensi ke je fis
L’autre an Jakemon Pilepois
Et l’autre nuit Gillon Lavier. }

Le Jeu de la feuillée, vv. 860-7.

[4] Cf. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}.

[image] Ladies building Christine de Pizan’s imaginary City of Ladies. Illumination by Maître de la Cité des Dames. From a luxurious instance of Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}. Excerpt from folio 2v of Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Français 607.

References:

Axton, Richard, and John E. Stevens, trans. 1971. Medieval French Plays. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Koopmans, Jelle. 2017. “Arras, where burghers and jongleurs meet, play, and develop forms – afterwards seen as theatre.” Chapter 2 (pp. 30-41) in King, Pamela, ed. The Routledge Research Companion to Early Drama and Performance. Routledge.

Langlois, Ernest, ed. 1923. Adam de la Halle. Le jeu de la feuillée. Paris: Honoré. Alternate presentation.

Laurent, Françoise. 2014. “‘Car mes fains en est apaiés.’ Le Jeu de la Feuillée d’Adam de la Halle ou comment dire la fin du désir et le désenchantement.” Revue des Langues Romanes. 118 (2). Online.

Mermier, Guy, trans. 1997. Adam de la Halle. The Play of Madness: a translation of Jeu de la feuillée. New York, NY: Lang.

Scolnicov, Hanna. 1999. “Exploring the Limits of Self-Portraiture in Le Jeu de la feuillée.” Theatre Research International. 24 (2): 125-130.

Le Jeu de Robin et Marion shows enduring gender norms

In service to the Count of Artois, Adam de la Halle about the year 1283 wrote The Play of Robin and Marion {Le Jeu de Robin et Marion}. This play is the first surviving secular musical drama in a European vernacular. Adam de la Halle composed this play within the medieval European elite, but it shows enduring, pervasive gender norms.

Consider games that Marion, Robin, and their friends play in Le Jeu de Robin et Marion. First they play “Saint Coisne.” In that game, one person pretends to make solemn offerings to Saint Coisne while the others try to make the offerer laugh.[1] Marion eventually called this game a bore. Her friend Peronnelle thought it boring, too. Peronnelle teasingly said:

It’s worth nothing,
and I think it would be much nicer
that we play some other little game.
We here are two serving-girls
and you boys among yourselves are four.

{ Il ne vaut nient
Et sachiés que bien apartient
Que fachons autres festeletes
Nous sommes chi ·ii· baisseletes
Et vous estes entre vous ·iiii· }[2]

She apparently was thinking of some sort of boys-girl game such as girl chooses favorite between two supplicating courtly lover-boys. Gautier, however, offered the sort of suggestion that boys throughout the ages have appreciated:

Why don’t we fart to amuse ourselves?
I can’t think of anything more fun!

{ Faisons ·I· pet pour nous esbatre
Je n’i voi si bon }[3]

In response to that innocent suggestion, Robin, imagining himself to be defending Marion, attacked Gautier:

Outrageous, Gautier!
A fine idea of fun you have.
In front of Marion my sweetheart
you’ve spoken so very basely.
You must have a dirty sense of smell
if you really think that’s funny.
Never let it happen again!

{ fi gautier
Savés si bel esbanoiier
Que devant marote m’amie
Avés dit si grant vilenie
Dehait ait par mi le musel
A cui il plaist ne il est bel
Or ne vous aviegne jamais }

Farting is a natural bodily function that both women and men have. As a gender, men have been much more willing to talk about farting than women have. That has contributed to the social construction of men as uncivilized and dirty. Moreover, despite the now loudly trumpeted feats of Amazon women-warriors, men historically have been socially constructed as responsible for protecting and defending women, even as men themselves suffer violence and have gender-protruding mortality. These gender norms are readily evident in Le Jeu de Robin et Marion.

Discussion of gender that excludes sympathetically considering men’s gender-distinctiveness silences men. For example, in a “king or queen asks questions” game, Baudon asked Robin:

Robin, when an animal is born,
how do you tell that it’s a female?

{ Robin quant une beste naist
A coi sés tu qu’ele est femele }[4]

That’s a malicious question. The answer isn’t just a matter of grammar. With all the sophistication of a court official facing questioning, Robin responded evasively:

Let’s not see.
But if you really want to know,
Your Majesty, look at the tail.
You’ll get no details from me.
Are you trying to make me ashamed?

{ Non ferai voir
Mais se vous le volez savoir
Sire rois au cul li wardés
El de mi vous n’en porterés
Me cuidiés vous chi faire honte }

Men should not be ashamed of their sexual difference. “Dicks out for Harambe” activists resolutely reject castration culture. You should, too. Teach it to adults, teach it to children: men’s penises matter!

Men suffer under the gender norm that they must fight for women. A knight amorously propositioned Marion. She firmly rejected him. Robin, apparently imagining that she had embraced the knight, declared:

Marion, you would have killed me.
But if I had come along just then,
and with me had been Gautier the Hothead
and my cousin Baudon too,
the very devil would have been in our hands.
I wouldn’t have let him leave without a fight.

{ Marote tu m’aroies mort
Mais se g’i fusse a tans venus
Ne jou ne gautiers li testus
Ne baudons mes cousins germains
Diable i eüssent mis les mains
Ja n’en fust partis sans bataille }[5]

That’s the gender norm that prompted the terrible Trojan War. If men understood that everyone, including them, is entitled to love, men wouldn’t feel compelled to fight for women’s love. The knight ultimately understood men’s gender position and appropriately withdrew:

Shepherdess, may God console you.
Certainly I’m making myself an animal
when this animal stops me here.
Goodbye, shepherdess!

{ Bergiere et diex vous consaut
Certes voirement sui je beste
Quant a ceste beste m’areste
A dieu bergiere }

Men who have confidence in their value as men aren’t afraid to say goodbye forever to a woman.

Men striving to impress women not only commit violence against men, but also attempt heroic quests and even confront wolves. When Marion saw that a wolf was stealing one of her sheep, she cried out to Robin:

Robin, run quickly, my sweet lover,
before the wolf has gulped her down!

{ Robin ceur i tost dous amis
Anchois que li leus le menguë }

Why didn’t Marion chase the wolf herself, or form an equal partnership with Robin to chase the wolf? Even worse, Marion showed no concern for Robin’s safety. Underscoring the gender injustice, Robin delightedly seized this opportunity to “prove that he’s a man”:

Gautier, lend me your heavy stick
and you’ll see that I’m a valiant young man.
Hey, wolf, wolf, wolf!
(he returns with the lamb that the wolf carried off)
Am I not more impressive than any man alive?

{ Gautier prestés moi vo machue
Si verrés ja bacheler preu
Hareu le leu le leu le leu
Sui je li plus caitis qui vive }

Men must be bold enough to value their lives even when women urge them to risk their lives. Men’s lives are equally as valuable as women’s lives.

Men must understand that their very being is a gift to women. No further gift is necessary. Nonetheless, when Robin met Marion in the meadow, he said:

I’ll sit right here by your side,
but I haven’t brought anything for you,
so I have indeed committed a grave offense.

{ Je serai chi lés ton costé
Mais je ne t’ai riens aporté
Si ai fait certes grant outrage }

Men providing goods to women has been a socially constructed gender norm right down to the present day. How many women today have asked a man out on a date and bought him dinner? Marion opens Le Jeu de Robin et Marion with her song:

Robin loves me, Robin has me,
Robin asked me, if he can have me.

Robin bought me a little jacket
made of scarlet, fine and fancy,
a blouse and a belt too —
I go for that!

{ Robins m’aime, Robins m’a,
Robins m’a demandee, si m’ara.

Robins m’acata cotele
D’escarlate bonne et bele,
Souskanie et chainturele.
A leur i va. }[6]

It’s me, me, me, me, and the stuff he gives me. Women should encourage, promote, nurture, and appreciate meninist literature criticism so as to understand how to love men more generously.

medieval manuscript, with musical notation and illuminations, for "Robins m'aime, Robins m'a"

Apart from marginalized and disparaged medieval literature of men’s sexed protest, the oppressive gender norms that men endure have scarcely ever received critical scrutiny. In a book he published in 1904, Henry Adams, descendant of two U.S. presidents and a retired professor from Harvard University, offered his analysis of Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de Robin et Marion:

“Li Gieus de Robin et de Marion” had little or no plot. Adam strung together, on a thread of dialogue and by a group of suitable figures, a number of the favourite songs of his time, followed by the favourite games, and ending with a favourite dance, the “tresca.” Underneath it all a tone of satire made itself felt, good-natured enough, but directed wholly against the men. … The dialogue shows Marion trying constantly to control her clowns and make them decent, as Blanche of Castile had been all her life trying to control her princes, and Mary of Chartres her kings. … Marion is in her way as charming as Nicolette, but we are less interested in her charm than in her power. Always the woman appears as the practical guide; the one who keeps her head, even in love … The woman might be the good or the evil spirit, but she was always the stronger force. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a period when men were at their strongest; never before or since have they shown equal energy in such varied directions, or such intelligence in the direction of their energy; yet these marvels of history, — these Plantagenets; these scholastic philosophers; these architects of Rheims and Amiens; these Innocents, and Robin Hoods and Marco Polos; these crusaders, who planted their enormous fortresses all over the Levant; these monks who made the wastes and barrens yield harvests; — all, without apparent exception, bowed down before the woman. [7]

Henry Adams had unequaled personal knowledge about gender power in the U.S. from its founding to the twentieth century. He dared to describe the real history of gender power. But he did so neither with compassion for men nor with interest in progressive change. Adams’s interpretation of Le Jeu de Robin et Marion is grossly colored with contempt for men. In his view, the men of that play are “clowns” that Marion must civilize so that they become “decent.” Those truly concerned about gender equality and social justice should read Le Jeu de Robin et Marion with more appreciation for men.

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Notes:

[1] On the cultural history of the “Saint Coisne” game, Hård af Segerstad (1909). Making material offerings at shrines of saints was a common medieval practice. Saint Edith troubled the bowels of a woman who stole from her altar.

[2] Adam de la Halle (Adam le Bossu), The Play of Robin and Marion {Le Jeu de Robin et Marion / Li gieus de Robin et de Marion} vv. 463-7, Old French text from Bettens (1998), English translation (modified) from Axton & Stevens (1971). Hurlbut (2000) provides an alternate Old French edition. Langlois’s edition less faithfully represents the manuscripts. On editions of the Old French text, Bettens (1998) pp. 1-2. For a musical adaptation with score, Gibbon (1928). For a review of a modern performance, Pavlovic (1986).

Subsequent quotes above from Le Jeu de Robin et Marion are similarly sourced. Those quotes are vv. 468-9 (Why don’t we fart…), 469-75 (Outrageous, Gautier…), 516-7 (Robin, when an animal is born…), 519-23 (Let’s not see…), 128-33 (Marion, you would have killed me…), 377-80 (Shepherdess, may God console you…), 582-3 (Robin, run quickly, my sweet lover…), 584-7 (Gautier, lend me your heavy stick…), 139-41 (I’ll sit right here by your side…), 1-6 (Robin loves me, Robin has me…).

[3] Farting figures in medieval challenges to gyno-idolatry. Pensom recognized that farting was part of a gender divide in Le Jeu de Robin et Marion:

women are contentedly vegetarian while the men constantly long for animal protein. The other major characteristic which marks men off from women is the preoccupation of the former with sex and bodily functions. The role of the women includes the responsibility for suppressing any mention of sex or the lower body.

Pensom (1994) p. 49. Women’s suppressive role doesn’t serve social justice.

[4] The proposal “to play as kings and queens {Jouer as rois et as roïnes}” (v. 479) refers to a game that goes back to the ancient Greek game basilinda {Βασιλινδα}. A similar game was a common amusement in France in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Langlois (1907). A “questions and commands” game existed in late-eighteenth-century England (depiction in 1788). A modern version of the game is “Truth or Dare.”

[5] Le Jeu de Robin et Marion is thought to have been written in 1283, shortly after the Sicilian Verspers rebellion of 1282. The Sicilian Verspers rebellion shows a man’s sense of another man’s offense against a woman generating violence against men and then violence generally:

The city {Palermo} was then under the rule of Charles, King of Sicily, who had embarked upon an aggressive campaign of cultural assimilation among the populace. On March 30, 1282, some drunken French soldiers began molesting young Sicilian women in a crowd. One woman’s husband took revenge, killing a soldier in a knife fight; when the other soldiers attempted to revenge that death, they were slaughtered. Unstoppable, the mob then moved through the city, attacking every French man and woman. In the end, all French inhabitants of Palermo were massacred, leading to the collapse of French control in Naples and Sicily.

Lundeen (2006) p. 73.

[6] The song “Robins m’aime, Robins m’a” pre-dates Le Jeu de Robin et Marion. It’s earliest surviving instance is as a refrain in Perrin d’Angecourt’s pastourelle, “Au tens nouvel.” Saltzstein (2013) p. 124. “Robins m’aime, Robins m’a” is included in the Bamberg Codex (Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Lit.115). Here’s Carol Anne Perry Lagemann’s translation and score. For another score, Gennrich (1951) p. 38. Adam de la Halle had an “illustrious posthumous reputation” as a “master of love {magister amoris}.” Saltzstein (2013) p. 147.

[7] Adams (1904) pp. 242, 245, 246. Scholars have ignored the gender reality that Adams identified. Instead, with cant claims about the feminine body, objectification, colonization, resistance, and subversion, literature teachers program students to support dominate gynocentric ideology:

Although framed by a feminine body that is strongly coded for physicality and sexuality, and ultimately delivered by a masculine speaker, the traditional shepherdess’s voice can nonetheless be seen to resist absolute “colonization” by the masculine poet. Her voice is a hint at her subjectivity, or at least its potential, within her objectified body. It is possible, therefore, to see her speech as subtly subversive of masculine discursive codes, and therefore a place of potential power. … Marion’s resistance at the level of the story and of genre hints at a scheme of resistance against traditional social order and in favor of the new world view emerging in 13th-century Arras.

Smith (2000) pp. 18, 27. Smith taught at the West Point Military Academy. One might hope that some professor at West Point teaches Du Fu’s poem, “Song of the War Carts.”

Le Jeu de Robin et Marion is more plausibly interpreted as “a desperate attempt to keep the world right-side up”:

In giving us happy, well-fed, and sexually playful shepherds, Adam shows us what his aristocratic patrons themselves most wanted to be.

Lundeen (2006) pp. 67, 73. Men should not complacently accept the men-oppressing gender norms evident in Le Jeu de Robin et Marion.

[images] (1) “Robins m’aime, Robins m’a,” with musical notation and illuminations. Excerpt from folio 1 of Le Jeu de Robin et Marion in instance Bibliothèque Méjanes Ms. 166 (Rés Ms 14). (2) Performance of “Robin m’aime” from Pedro Martínez. Via YouTube. Underscoring the continuing influence of this song, here’s Laura Garzón singing this song.

References:

Adams, Henry. 1904. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

Axton, Richard, and John E. Stevens, trans. 1971. Medieval French Plays. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Bettens, Olivier. 1998. Adam de la Halle. Li gieus de Robin et de Marion: Edité d’après le manuscrit de la Vallière (Paris BN fr. 25566). Online at virga.org.

Gennrich, Friedrich. 1951. Troubadours, Trouvères, Minne- und Meistergesang. Köln: A. Volk Verlag.

Gibbon, John Murray, trans. 1928. Adam de la Halle. The Play of Robin and Marion = Le jeu de Robin et Marion, mediaeval folk comedy opera in one act. Boston: C.C. Birchard.

Hård af Segerstad, Kerstin. 1909. ‘“Julebispen” och “Saint Coisne”.‘ Pp. 54-9 in Fataburen: Kulturhistorisk tidskrift. Stockholm: Nordiska museets förlag.

Hurlbut, Jesse D. 2000. Le Jeu de Robin et Marion: Bibliothèque Méjanes Ms. 166 (Rés Ms 14). Online.

Langlois, Ernest. 1907. “Le jeu du Roi qui ne ment et le jeu du Roi et de la Reine.” Romanische Forschungen. 23 (1): 163-173.

Langlois, Ernest, ed. 1924. Adam le Bossu, trouvère artésien du XIIIe siècle: Le Jeu de Robin et Marion; suivi du Jeu du Pèlerin. Paris: H. Champion. Alternate source of Langlois’s edition of Le Jeu de Robin et Marion.

Lundeen, Stephanie Thompson. 2006. “Dressing Down: Aristocratic Identity in Le Jeu de Robin et Marion.” Essays in Medieval Studies. 22 (1): 67-74.

Pavlovic, Diane. 1986. “Par amour, un jeu: Li Jus de Robin & Marion.” Jeu. (41): 101-114.

Pensom, Roger. 1994. “From Lyric to Play: Thematic Structure and Social Structure in Le Jeu de Robin et Marion.” Pp. 37-52 in Pratt, Karen, ed. Shifts and Transpositions in Medieval Narrative: A Festschrift for Dr Elspeth Kennedy. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer.

Saltzstein, Jennifer. 2013. The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry. Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer.

Smith, Geri L. 2000. “Marion’s Merry Resistance: Implications of Theatralization in Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de Robin et Marion.” Women in French Studies. 8: 16-30.

men will love: Jerome desired chorus girls in the desert

Saint Jerome is a revered early church father. His translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin has shaped biblical understanding right up to the present day. When he was about thirty years old, Jerome spent time living as solitary ascetic in the Chalcis desert in present-day northern Syria. Jerome there experienced men’s natural will to love even under oppressive circumstances:

Oh, how often, while I was living in the desert, in that lonely vastness, scorched by the burning sun, in a hermit’s savage dwelling-place, how often did I imagine myself surrounded by the pleasures of Rome! I used to sit alone, filled with bitterness. Horrible sackcloth covered my deformed limbs. … In my fear of Hell I had condemned myself to this prison, where my only companions were scorpions and wild beasts. Nonetheless, I often found myself surrounded by choruses of girls. Though my face was pale with fasting and my limbs were as cold as ice, my mind was burning with desire. The fires of lust kept bubbling up before me even when my flesh alone had been put to death.

{ o quotiens in heremo constitutus et in illa vasta solitudine, quae exusta solis ardoribus horridum monachis praestat habitaculum, putaui me Romanis interesse deliciis! sedebam solus, quia amaritudine repletus eram. horrebam sacco membra deformis … ille igitur ego, qui ob gehennae metum tali me carcere ipse damnaveram, scorpionum tantum socius et ferarum, saepe choris intereram puellarum. pallebant ora ieiuniis io et mens desideriis aestuabat in frigido corpore et ante hominem suum iam carne praemortua sola libidinum incendia bulliebant. }[1]

Medieval Latin poetry abundantly testifies to the commonality of Jerome’s insight into himself as a man. Medieval men ardently loved women. Men’s will to love readily leads them into gyno-idolatry. But a well-developed self-consciousness and higher aspirations can save men from gyno-idolatry.

Jerome imagining Roman chorus girls in the desert

Medieval men made themselves totally dependent on women in love. His beloved woman controlled his existence and determined whether he sorrowed or rejoiced. A medieval poet writing before 1210 thus declared:

An anxious thing indeed is
love, full of misery.
At one time it gives me joy
when I have my heart’s wish,
yet it offers me sighs
when I don’t hold the desired woman.

Nothing is heavier than love,
nothing is lighter than love,
for nothing do I go more happily.
It engraves a stony heart,
transformed from lust —
I am happy when I possess it!

As many as are sands on the seashore,
as leaves on a tree,
as branches in the forest,
so many sorrows do I endure,
infirm in this body,
because I cannot hold her.

Again, as many as are stars
in Heaven, as many men
as I think live under the sky,
so many times I rejoice
when with my hand I can touch her
whom I see forever in my mind.

No wonder is it
that a woman’s love can make
me not lack calumny,
for beneath Heaven’s throne
there is no one who in beauty
can conquer her, to whom I owe myself.

{ Est equidem res anxia
amor, plenus miseria:
nam tunc dat mihi gaudia
cum velle mentis abeo,
item prebet suspiria
cum cupitam non teneo.

Amore nichil gravius,
nichil amore levius,
nichil eo felicius;
gravat corde lapideo,
mutatur ex lascivia —
en felix cum possideo!

Quod sunt arene littore,
quod folia in arbore,
quod rami sunt in nemore,
tot dolores sustineo:
ob oc infirmus corpore,
quod anc tenere nequeo.

Rursus, quot sunt in etere
astra, vel quod sub aere
omines credo vivere,
tot vicibus congaudeo
cum possum manu tangere
quam semper mente video.

Nulli fit ammirabile
quod facit amor femine
me non carere crimine —
nam sub trono etereo
non est que pulcritudine
anc vincat, cui me debeo! }[2]

Just as Dis ardently sought his promised bride Proserpina and Orpheus yearned to be again with his beloved Eurydice, a twelfth-century student was less interested in his classical studies than being with his beloved Lycoris:

When you unveil your golden head’s crowning
hair and bind it into a simple knot,
you are giving back to Orpheus his lamented Eurydice.

But with fingers wandering
about the place of pleasure,
freely running around,
when I bring my hand
under your tender thighs,
I rule the mighty Medes and Persians!

When the flank’s movement feels
the ultimate of love’s work and it becomes sweet,
I sink back amid my lover’s arms,
until I revive for another act of love.

When I see you with your starry
face, I fall to pieces.
But when you laugh
with joy, I’m enticed
and easily captured by means
of love’s allurements.

{ Cum flavi capitis develas verticem
comamque colligis in nodum simplicem
ploratam Orpheo reddis Euridicem.

Sed digitis evagatis
circa locum voluptatis
discursu libero,
sub crure manum
tenero dum perfero,
Medis et Persis impero!

Cum motu lateris sentitur Veneris
illud et ultimum dulcescit operis,
amice mediis relabor brachiis —
dum respiraverim rebus Venereis.

Te quando vultu video
sidereo, depereo;
sed quando rides
lecior, illicior
et levi causa capior
illecebris amoris. }[3]

Such memories of the medieval joy of sex can easily lead men into gyno-idolatry. No later than the twelfth century, a man worshiped as a goddess his beloved Flora. He sang a singsong poem of Flora’s delights:

Virgin Flora,
so distinguished,
so beautiful of face,
her laughter,
her presence,
she blessed me today!

Her appearance
makes a goddess,
her mind’s more than human,
forehead fully
without blemish,
such a lovely virgin girl.

All her attire,
all her features,
are fresh from day to day —
worthy of worship
while not surpassed
even by the noon sun.

{ Virgo Flora,
tam decora,
tam venusta facie,
suo risu,
suo visu
me beavit hodie.

Visus eam
facit deam;
mens excedit hominem.
Frons est tota
sine nota,
sicut decet virginem.

Eius cultus,
eius vultus
recens est cottidie;
digna coli
cum nec soli
cedit in meridie.}[4]

From a medieval Christian perspective, worshiping a woman as a goddess is morally wrong. It’s also factually incorrect. Women are not goddess but fully human beings, just as men are.

More love can save men. Self-conscious, higher love overcomes gyno-idolatry. Saint Jerome explained:

It is difficult for the human soul not to love, and it is necessary that our minds be drawn to some affection. Love of the flesh is overcome by love of the spirit. Desire is quenched by desire. What is taken from one is added to the other. Yes, therefore, always repeat as you lie in bed: “By night have I sought him who my soul adores.”

{ difficile est humanam animam non amare et necesse est, ut in quoscumque mens nostra trahatur affectus. carnis amor spiritus amore superatur; desiderium desiderio restinguitur. quidquid inde minuitur, hinc crescit. quin potius semper ingemina; super lectum meum in noctibus quaesivi, quem dilexit anima mea. }[5]

Many different social constructions disadvantage men. Yet from a Christian perspective, fundamental reality is what it is: God took flesh as a fully masculine human being. Was that part of a divine plan to strengthen men’s resistance to gyno-idolatry? No human can circumscribe the mind of God. Men, don’t try to do that. Instead, when you are in bed alone at night, longing for a beloved woman, find the strength of character to pray and say: “By night I have sought him who my soul adores.” If you can do that, you’re safe, at least temporarily, from gyno-idolatry.

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Notes:

[1] Jerome, Letters 22 (To Eustochium) section 7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wright (1933) pp. 90, 92. For an alternate translation, Freemantle (1892). Jerome, who was born about 345, wrote this letter in 383-4. He lived in the Chalcis desert about 375, when he wrote The Life of Paul the First Hermit. Young women prostitutes in the ancient world commonly sang, played instruments, and danced.

As a young man in Rome, Jerome apparently committed sexual sin. He acknowledged:

You know yourselves how treacherous is the path of youth, a path where I fell.

{ Scitis ipsi lubricum adolescentiae iter, in quo et ego lapsus sum }

Jerome, Letters 7 (To Chromatius, Jovinus, and Eusebius), section 4, Latin text and English translation from Wright (1933). Jerome, who never married, indicated more specifically his sexual failing from a Christian perspective:

I extol virginity to Heaven, not because I myself have it, but because, not having it, I admire it all the more. Surely it is a modest and innocent confession to praise in others that which you yourself lack.

{ virginitatem autem in caelum fero, non quia habeo, sed quia miror, quod non habeo. ingenua et verecunda confessio est, quo ipse careas, id in aliis praedicare. }

Jerome, Letters 48 (To Pammachius), section 20, Latin text from Hilberg (1910), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892). For an alternate translation, Mierow & Lawler (1963). On Jerome’s experiences as a young man in Rome, Kelly (1975) pp. 20-2.

[2] “Behold, all are gladdened {Ecce letantur omnia}!”, stanzas 3-7 (vv. 13-42), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 380-2, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The Latin text is from Paris, BnF MS. lat. 3719, folio 40r-v, written before 1210. This manuscript, as Dronke transcribed it, omits some initial h’s in words: (oc, anc, ominies) represent (hoc, hanc, homines), respectively.

[3] “When spring is almost in flower, golden Lycoris {Ver prope florigerum, flava Licori},” stanzas 5-8 (vv. 20-38), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 375, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. This poem survives in Oxford, Bodley MS. Add. A. 44, folio 70v, which was written in the beginning of the thirteenth century.

[4] “Virgin Flora {Virgo Flora},” stanzas 1-3 (vv. 1-18), Latin text from Donke (1965) vol. 2, p. 362, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. This poem survives in Munich, MS Clm 14834, folio 26v, written in the twelfth century.

[5] Jerome, Letters 22 (To Eustochium) section 17, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wright (1933). For an alternate translation, Freemantle (1892).

[image] Temptations of Saint Jerome (Jerome imagining Roman chorus girls in the desert). Painting by Francisco de Zurbarán in 1639. Preserved in the Royal Monastery of Saint Mary of Guadalupe (Extremadura, Spain). Via Wikimedia Commons. Jerome was about 30 years old when he lived as a hermit in the desert. However, in this painting he’s depicted as an old man in the desert. Sexual temptation tends to be a less pressing problem for old men.

References:

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892. The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

Hilberg, Isidorus, ed. 1910-1918. Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi Epistulae {Letters of Saint Eusebius Hieronymus (Jerome)}. Vindobonae: Tempsky. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) 54 (Epistulae 1-70), 55 (Epistulae 71-120), and 56 (Epistulae 120-154).

Kelly, John N. D. 1975. Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies. London: Duckworth Gerald.

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