medieval men’s ardent, unlimited love for women

Authoritative rhetoric experts now preach wordy social constructions of the human body, sex, sexuality, romantic love, and all of reality. Such social constructions are socially constructed in line with these professors’ career interests. To get a fresh sense of reality, one best turns to medieval culture. Medieval men really, passionately loved women beyond any imaginable limit.

Love for a woman could be real to a medieval man. Love could be as real as the scent of flowers and pressing his body to hers:

Immortal flowers — violets, fresh crocuses,
lilies of spring and tender roses joined —
all their beauty and all their scent cannot thrill me
as you thrill me, Flora, in the kisses you give.
Of course the flowers help the outward senses,
but you kindle both my senses and my heart.
To me, Flora, your scent is not the light scent of mere flowers.
You have the fragrance of sweet love’s blossoms.
Happy the man who embraces you and in a sigh drains
such perfume from your half-parted lips!
When his chest presses close to your young chest, when
he culls the honey hidden in your golden cells,
harsh cares can devour his heart no longer,
and sickness and pain can bring no anxiety.
Though winter with its cold halts coursing rivers,
here the delights of spring flow all around.
What more could he desire? Nothing now will be found more worthy.
Fortune can add nothing to the good he has.

{ Ambrosie flores, violeque crocique recentes,
Vernaque cum teneris lilia mixta rosis,
Non tantum forma nec odere placere videntur,
Quantum, Flora, michi suavia dando places.
Nempe iuvant flores hos sensus exteriores,
Tu vero sensus cordaque nostra foves.
Nec tu, Flora, levem spiras michi floris odorem,
Ipsius at flores dulcis amoris oles.
Felix qui talem, qui te complexus odorem
Sugit ab ore gemens semipatente tuo.
Quid? cum virgineo cum pectore pectora iungit,
Et libat flavis condita mellia favis,
Non illum dure mordentes pectora cure,
Non labor aut morbus sollicitare queunt.
Quamvis bruma gelu labentia flumina sistat,
Affluit hic vernis undique deliciis.
Ultra quid cupiat? nil iam reperire valebit,
Hiis fortuna bonis addere nulla potest. }[1]

This poem is sensual and concrete. In not being able to imagine any good beyond pressing his body to hers, it hints at gyno-idolatry. Medieval men easily slid into gyno-idolatry:

All else I renounce. You I love with all my heart,
you living fount of the world’s delight.
I worship you, desire you, seek you, breathlessly follow you,
sigh for you to death, and miss you.
Come help one who is broken and say: “Arise,
I shall now heal your illness and lighten your grief,
such that you would recover unhurt and live in joy!”
I judge you sweeter than honey’s true nectar.
There is no drink so sweetly strengthening.
Let it not spoil for him whom it sustains forever!
O you, all of Christ’s creation — sun, stars, moon,
hills and mountains, valleys, sea, rivers, fountains,
tempest, showers, clouds, winds and storms,
heat, hoarfrost, cold, ice, snow, lightning, rocks,
meadow, grove, foliage, forest, grasses, flowers
exclaim “Hail!” and with me greet her tenderly.
I beg not for love’s limit, but that love endure eternally.
Do not show others what I have sent to you alone!

{ Omnia postpono, te pectore diligo toto,
Tu mundanarum fons vivus deliciarum.
Te colo, te cupio, peto te, lassatus anhelo,
Ad te suspiro moribundus, teque requiro.
Concite succurre ruituro, dicque: “resurge,
Nunc ego sanabo morbum, mestumque levabo,
Tantum convaleas sospes, letus quoque vivas!”
Verum precellis nectar me iudice mellis,
Est potus nullus tanta dulcedine fultus —
Qui non vilescat illi quem semper inescat!
Omnis factura Christi — sol, sydera, luna,
Colles et montes, valles, mare, flumina, fontes,
Tempestas, pluvie, nubes, ventique, procelle,
Cauma, pruina, gelu, glacies, nix, fulgura, rupes,
Prata, nemus, frondes, arbustum, gramina, flores —
Exclamando: vale! mecum predulce sonate.
Non precor extremum, sed quod perduret in evum.
Missa tibi soli multis ostendere noli! }[2]

The closing, personal demand underscores the authenticity of this man’s fall into gyno-idolatry. Medieval women denounced men’s suffering under sexual feudalism. They sought to lead men away from gyno-idolatry. Medieval men’s sexed protest voiced injustices that men face in relation to women. Yet medieval men still engaged in gyno-idolatry, just as modern scholars write incessantly about medieval misogyny. It’s madness!

Venus goddess rising from the sea

What could a woman do to help a man suffering from insane love for her? While medieval women offered balms and compresses, the long-term cure isn’t obvious. One medieval woman at least sought to promote gender equality:

Joy of my life, give yourself to me, for I give myself to you!
Let me be a goddess, you a god — let me be yours, you mine.

{ Vite dulcedo, mihi te da, nam tibi me do!
Sim dea tuque deus: sim tua tuque meus. }[3]

Unfortunately, more idolatry isn’t a good cure for idolatry. A woman offering to make a gyno-idolatrous lover into her god merits respect for her compassion and commitment to equality. But a mutual death-pact isn’t a true expression of love.

Gyno-idolatry is real and pernicious. The many recent initiatives to destroy love relations between women and men aren’t sufficient. While men’s love for women is now much less than in medieval Europe, gyno-idolatry persists. Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings. Until everyone is a meninist, men lacking proper self-esteem will continue to fall into gyno-idolatry.

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[1] Full anonymous poem, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 248, English translation (modified) from id. This poem probably was composed in the eleventh century:

The song is found in two MSS, one of the twelfth, the other of the thirteenth century. But its surroundings, in which are many eleventh-century pieces; its verbiage, which is still largely that of poems written by known eleventh-century authors; the very poverty and leanness of its whole manner and guise; its hesitant and unimaginative art — these seem to speak, in almost every line, of poetry written before the light and graceful schemes of rhyming which the twelfth and thirteenth centuries knew.

Allen (1912) p. 2. The authenticity of the poem’s feeling perhaps obscured for Allen the subtlety that Dronke perceived:

The subtlety lies in the ways in which the images of spring and love are linked. The delights of spring and those of the beloved are alike and yet unlike; it is only through her, and through being in love with her, that the lover is able to see nature’s beauty as beautiful. By being herself more beautiful, the beloved makes other beauty meaningful for him; in this Flora, as her name implies, embodies the Korê who in spring gives nature its beauty and joy.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 249. Here’s more on medieval poems of Flora and flowers.

“Ambrosie flores, violeque crocique recentes” survives in two manuscripts: Phillips 1694, folio 176r, written at the end of the twelfth century, probably at the monastery of St. Arnulph at Metz in present-day Germany; and Reims 1275, written in the thirteenth century. Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 549. On the manuscript context, Wattenbach (1892).

[2] Full anonymous poem, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, pp. 249-50, English translation (modified) from id. This poem survives in MS. Zurich, C 58/275, folio 12v, written in the twelfth century, probable at Schaffhausen. Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 582. For the manuscript context, Warner (1904) p. 48 (poem 120), Mews (1999) pp. 104-7.

Dronke observed:

These lines show a remarkable use of ‘divine’ language. The beloved is given words which echo the miracles of Christ; the drink which she can give, which ‘sustains for ever’, suggests almost the calix salutis {Eucharistic chalice of good-health / salvation}; and the call to all creation is that of the three children in the furnace (Dan. III 57-88) — but not to proclaim ‘Benedicite Domino’ {Blessed be the Lord} — it is to greet a woman who is loved.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 250. Mews calls “Omnia postpono, te pectore diligo toto” and four other associated verse epistles “of interest for their immediacy rather than any literary merit.” Mews (1999) p. 107. This poem’s gyno-idolatrous immediacy points to the importance of meninist literary criticism for understanding literature and life.

[3] Full anonymous Latin poem, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 490. This lyric, composed in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, survives in MS. Munchen, Clm 6911, fol. 128r. Id.

[image] Goddess Venus rising from the sea. Painted by Gustave Moreau in 1866. Preserved as accession # B92.0333 at the Israel Museum (Jerusalem, Israel). Via Israel Museum and Wikimedia Commons. Credit: The Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art in the Israel Museum. The body position of Venus parallels a long art history of depicting the crucified Christ’s body being removed from the cross.


Allen, Philip Schuyler. 1912. “Notes on Mediaeval Lyrics: Paul von Winterfeld’s Conjectural Emendations to the Text of Hilarii versus et Ludi.” Modern Philology. 9 (3): 427-430.

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

Mews, Constant J. 1999. The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard: perceptions of dialogue in twelfth-century France. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wattenbach, Wilhelm. 1891. “Beschreibung einer Handschrift mittelalterlicher Gedichte.” Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für altere Deutsche Geschichtskunde. 17 (12): 351-384.

Werner, Jakob. 1904. Über zwei Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek in Zürich [Handschrift C. 58/275 und C. 101/467], Beiträge zur Kunde der lat. Literatur des Mittelalters. Aarau: Druck von H.R. Sauerländer.

parrot promotes incarnate love in medieval lyric

The ancient Sanskrit masterpiece Seventy Tales of the Parrot {Shuka Saptati} features a parrot shrewd enough to deter a passionate wife from pursuing adultery in her husband’s absence. The parrot, who voices experience in human society and tells earthy stories, challenges simplistic love abstractions.[1] Incarnating love in ordinary life requires extraordinary poetic grace.

The thirteenth-century Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti influentially depicted abstract, gyno-idolatrous love. For example. one of Guido’s pastourelles begins with male gaze upon a woman in tune with nature:

Once within a little grove a shepherdess I spied —
more than any star of sky beauteous did she prove.

Ringlets she had, blonde and curly locks,
eyes filled with love, a face of rosy hue,
and with her staff she led her gentle flocks,
barefoot, with her feet bathed in the dew.
She sang, indeed, as if she were enamored,
and had the glamour of every pleasing art.

I greeted her and asked her then at once
if she had any company that day.
She answered sweetly, “Only now
alone throughout this grove I make me way.”
She added, “Listen, but when the gentle bird is heard,
a lover man should have my heart.”

{ In un boschetto trova’ pasturella
più che la stella – bella, al mi’ parere.

Cavelli avea biondetti e ricciutelli,
e gli occhi pien’ d’amor, cera rosata;
con sua verghetta pasturav’ agnelli;
discalza, di rugiada era bagnata;
cantava come fosse ’namorata:
er’ adornata – di tutto piacere.

D’amor la saluta’ imantenente
e domandai s’avesse compagnia;
ed ella mi rispose dolzemente
che sola sola per lo bosco gia,
e disse: “Sacci, quando l’augel pia,
allor disïa – ’l me’ cor drudo avere.” }[2]

Unlearned and lowly, this woman certainly lacks contempt for male worker bees typed as merely drones. She undoubtedly understands that sweetly singing nightingales are actually male. She wouldn’t have sought to be an epic hero by attacking a snail.

In the context of the sordid history of disparaging men’s penises, the gentle bird is an extraordinary figure of nature’s seminal blessing. The man-narrator understands the shepherdess and hears nature’s call:

And when she told me of her state of mind,
suddenly I heard birdsong in the wood.
I said to myself, “This surely would be the time
to have from this shepherdess what joy I could.”
Favor I requested — just to kiss her face —
and then embrace if she should feel like me.

She took my hand, seized with love’s old power,
and said she’d give me her heart, too.
She led me then into a fresh green bower,
and there I saw flowers of every hue.
And I was filled so full of sweetened joy,
the god of love there too I seemed to see.

{ Po’ che mi disse di sua condizione
e per lo bosco augelli audìo cantare,
fra me stesso diss’ i’: “Or è stagione
di questa pasturella gio’ pigliare.”
Merzé le chiesi sol che di basciare
ed abracciar, – se le fosse ’n volere.

Per man mi prese, d’amorosa voglia,
e disse che donato m’avea ’l core;
menòmmi sott’ una freschetta foglia,
là dov’i’ vidi fior’ d’ogni colore;
e tanto vi sentìo gioia e dolzore,
che ’l die d’amore – mi parea vedere. }

The god of love is a classical personification of sexual desire. The concluding epiphany swerves from the naturalness of sexual intercourse. Incarnate love evanesces into classical abstraction. Their dignity as human beings vanishes.

Guido Cavalcanti wrote many bloodless poems of gyno-idolatry. Not surprisingly, his poetry lacks the sense of the real presence of a beloved woman:

When I am in her presence, something happens
that I cannot tell to the intellect.
I seem to see outgoing from her lips
a lady so beautiful that the mind
cannot comprehend her, so that at once
another is born of her, of new beauty,
from whom it seems a star moves out
and says, “Your salvation has appeared.”

{ Cosa m’aven, quand’ i’ le son presente,
ch’i’ no la posso a lo ‘ntelletto dire:
veder mi par de la sua labbia uscire
una sì bella donna, che la mente
comprender no la può, che ‘mmantenente
ne nasce un’altra di bellezza nova,
da la qual par ch’una stella si mova
e dica: “La salute tua è apparita.” }[3]

In Christian understanding, Mary, the most beautiful of all women, gave birth to the fully masculine Jesus. Then a star appeared and guided wise men to Jesus. The narrator replaces his beloved woman with Mary. Mary then implies that his beloved woman, whom he no longer sees, is his salvation. That’s gyno-idolatry. Moreover, it’s gyno-idolatry that effaces the flesh-and-blood woman right there in his presence.

parrot (head photo)

Dinis, who reigned as king of Portugal from 1279 to 1325, wrote a pastourelle that reverses the abstracting of Guido Cavalcanti’s poetry. A shepherdess carries a parrot, but she speaks to her absent boyfriend:

A shapely shepherd girl
was thinking about her boyfriend
and she was, I’m telling you
from what I saw, very sad.
And she said, “From now on
no woman in love
should ever trust her boyfriend
since mine has wronged me.”

She was carrying in her hand
a very lovely parrot,
singing very lushly,
for the spring was coming in.
And she said, “Handsome boyfriend,
what should I do about love,
since you wronged me so senselessly?”
And she fell among some flowers.

{ Ũa pastor ben talhada
cuidava en seu amigo
e estava, ben vos digo,
per quant’ eu vi, mui coitada,
e diss’: “Oi mais non é nada
de fiar per namorado
nunca molher namorada,
pois que mh o meu á errado”

Ela tragia na mão
un papagai mui fremoso,
cantando mui saboroso,
ca entrava o verão,
e diss’: “Amigo loução,
que faria por amores,
pois m’ errastes tan en vão?”
e caeu antr’ ũas flores }[4]

The specifically first-hand report of her emotional state contrasts with her totalizing anti-meninism in categorizing all men as untrustworthy. The lovely parrot singing lushly harmonizes with the flowers of spring. But she senselessly speaks to her absent boyfriend and collapses in grief into the flowers. The parrot insistently inhabits their existential world:

A good part of the day
she lay there, and didn’t speak,
and sometimes she’d awake,
sometimes she’d swoon,
and she said, “Oh holy Mary,
what will become of me now?”
And the parrot said:
“Far as I know, lady, you’ll be fine!”

“If you want to heal me,”
said the shepherd girl, “Tell the truth,
parrot, for goodness’s sake,
for this life of mine is death.”
And he said, “Lady, full
of goodness, don’t complain,
because the one that’s served you —
raise your eyes and you’ll see him now!”

{ Ũa gran peça do dia
jouv’ ali, que non falava,
e a vezes acordava,
e a vezes esmorecia,
e diss’: “Ai Santa Maria,
que será de min agora?”
e o papagai dizia:
“Ben, per quant’ eu sei, senhora”

“Se me queres dar guarida”
diss’ a pastor, “Di verdade,
papagai, por caridade,
ca morte m’ é esta vida”;
diss’ ele: “Senhor comprida
de ben, e non vos queixedes,
ca o que vos á servida,
erged’ olho e vee-lo edes” }

Telling a love-despairing woman lying in flowers that you think she’ll be fine is emotionally incongruous. It’s also a realistic evaluation in her physical circumstances. The parrot speaks puckishly. Editors of this song have declared that in the end the parrot “not only calms her down, but also finally announces, as if by magic, the arrival of her boyfriend {não só a acalma, como anuncia finalmente, e como por magia, a chegada do amigo}.”[5] That seems to me a poor reading. The one that has loyally served her is her parrot. If she raises her eyes, she will see him right there. The parrot reverses the birdsong epiphany of Guido Cavalcante’s pastourelle.

Incarnate love means seeing one’s beloved face to face in the full reality of the beloved’s being. Loving a parrot is better than turning life into death through despair.

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[1] For an English translation, Haksar (2009). For freely available selections from Shuka Saptati in English translation, Wortham (1911).

[2] Guido Cavalcanti, poem 46, “Once within a little grove a shepherdess I spied {In un boschetto trova’ pasturella},” vv. 1-14, Old Italian text from Letteratura italiana, English translation (modified) from Wilhelm (1990) p. 143. The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced. Frank Watson’s translation is freely available. For Pound’s translation, Pound (1912) pp. 114-7. For an English translation of all of Guido’s surviving poems, Mortimer (2010). Here are some of Pound’s and Rossetti’s translations of Guido’s sonnets.

[3] Guido Cavalcanti, poem 26 (25), “I see in the eyes of my lady {Veggio negli occhi de la donna mia},” vv. 5-12 (stanza 2), Old Italian text from Guido Cavalcanti – Opera Omnia, English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 152. Here’s A. S. Kline’s translation.

[4] D. Dinis 54 (pastorela 2), song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “A shapely shepherd girl {Ũa pastor ben talhada}” (B 534, V 137), 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.

The thirteenth-century Provençal fabliau “Tale of the Parrot {Novas del papagai}” that Arnaut de Carcassé composed features a parrot acting as a go-between for a king’s son and a married lady in arranging an adulterous affair. For an English translation, Arthur (1989). The parrot of “Novas del papagai” has a similar character to the parrot of Shuka Saptati, but fosters adultery rather than prevents it. No direct evidence exists that Dinis knew Shuka Saptati or Guido’s “In un boschetto trova’ pasturella.”

[5] From the general notes for this song in the edition at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[image] Parrot (Black-capped Lory) on the Canary Islands in 2019. Source image thanks to H. Zell and Wikimedia Commons.


Arthur, Ross Gilbert, trans. 1989. Two Provençal Fabliaux: Castia gilos and Novas del papagai. Toronto: Alektryaina Press. Here are Arthur’s English translations of “The Chastising of the Jealous Man {Castía Gilos}” and “The Tale of the Parrot {Novas del papagai}.”

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.

Haksar, A. N. D. 2009. Shuka Saptati: Seventy Tales of the Parrot. New Delhi: Rupa Co.

Mortimer, Anthony, trans. 2010. Guido Cavalcanti: Complete Poems. Richmond: OneWorld Classics. Jon Usher’s excellent review in Translation and Literature 20.2 (2011): 238-243.

Pound, Ezra. 1912. Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti: with translations of them and an introduction. Boston: Small, Maynard and Co.

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

Wortham, Biscoe Hale, trans. 1911. The Enchanted Parrot: being a selection from the “Suka Saptati,” or, The Seventy Tales of a Parrot, translated from the Sanskrit text. London: Luzac & Co.

demon won’t bring home bacon for marriage worse than Hell

The raucous and outrageous medieval literature of men’s sexed protest witnesses to women’s dominance of medieval society. In relatively liberal and tolerant medieval Europe, exasperated men were permitted to express their exasperation. Moreover, medieval preachers broadly communicated men’s feelings in their homilies. Medieval women could thus understand men’s concerns and act more lovingly towards their husbands. Voice and exit are alternate forms of protest.[1] More attention to men’s voices would mean fewer men exiting from marriage.

Drawing upon wisdom probably originating in the ancient civilizations of India, the French Christian church official Jacques de Vitry early in the thirteenth century recounted a demon’s difficulties in marriage. The demon disguised as a man served a rich merchant. In gratitude for this servant’s crafty, evil service, the merchant gave him his daughter in marriage with a lavish dowry. Marrying rich women, or women enslaved to lucrative careers, has obvious advantages for men. Nonetheless, after a year of marriage, the husband declared to his father-in-law that he wanted to return to his own country. The father-in-law was mystified:

The father of the wife said: “Have I not given to you much, so that you lack nothing? Why do you wish to leave?” The husband said to him, “In every way I wish to return to my fatherland.” To which the father-in-law said, “Where is your fatherland?”

{ pater uxoris ait: “Nonne multa tibi dedi, ita quod nichil desit tibi? Quare uis recedere?” Dixit ille: “Modis omnibus uolo repatriare.” Cui socer ait: “Vbi est patria tua?” }[2]

Then the rich merchant learned who this servant actually was and why he adamantly sought to leave. The servant said:

I will tell you, and I will not conceal the truth. My fatherland is Hell. There I have never endured as much discord and irritation as I have suffered this year from my quarrelsome wife. I prefer to be in Hell than to remain any longer here with her.

{ Dicam tibi et ueritatem non celabo: patria mea est infernus, ubi nunquam tantam discoriam uel molestiam sustinui quantam hoc anno passus sum a litigiosa uxore mea. Malo esse in inferno quam amplius cum ipsa commorari. }

A quarrelsome, irritating wife can drive a husband to Hell. But not all women are like that. Some heroic, loving wives have saved their husbands from castration, even from castration by the devil.

devil Belfagor prefers Hell to marriage

One exasperated medieval husband commended his wife to the devil. She was “bad, quarrelsome, and adulterous {pessima, litigiosa et adultera}.” He thus decided to take a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. As he was leaving, she said:

My lord, behold, you are leaving. To whom do you commend me?

{ Domine, ecce receditis; cui me commendabitis? }[3]

Her husband angrily responded, “I commend you to the devil {dyabolo te commendo}.” Then he left. While the husband was away, the wife enticed man after man to come to her home for sex. But the devil threatened all those men and deterred them from having sex with her. When the husband returned from pilgrimage, the devil said:

Receive your wife, whom you commended to me. I have watched over her with great effort. More willingly would I serve ten wild horses than such a bad woman.

{ Recipe uxorem tuam quam michi commendasti, et eam cum magno labore custodiui. Libencius decem equos siluestres seruarem quam talem et tam pessimam mulierem. }

A husband shouldn’t tell his wife to go to Hell if the Devil wouldn’t let her into Hell. That wouldn’t be reasonable. It’s not nice, nor Christian, either.

holy man blessing young, newly married couple

Wives and husbands must work together to bring home the bacon of a happy marriage. In a thirteenth-century sermon, Jacques de Vitry recounted:

Once I passed through a certain village in France where they suspended a ham haunch or bacon on a plate. They did so with the following condition: whoever wished to swear legally that having lived through one whole year after contracting marriage with a wife, that he wasn’t sorry for anything, he would have the bacon. And while it hung there for ten years, not a single young man acquired the bacon. All were regretting within a year of their marital contract.

{ Aliquando transiui per quandam uillam in Francia, ubi suspenderant pernam seu bachonem in platea hac condicione, ut qui uellet iuramento firmare, quod uno integro anno post contractum matrimonium permansisset cum uxore, ita quod de matrimonio non penituisset, bachonem haberet. Et cum per decem annos ibi pependisset, non est unus solus inuentus qui bachonem lucraretur, omnibus infra annum de matrimonio contracto penitentibus suis. }[4]

These husbands might have been regretting getting married. They might have been regretting wrongs that they had done to their wives during their first year of marriage. In any case, men should not be exclusively gender-burdened with an obligation to bring home the bacon in a behavioral or a financial sense. Women and men must both contribute to bringing home the bacon in a spirit of tolerance and generosity.

Men today have good reasons for avoiding marriage or long-term cohabitation with women. Men lack any reproductive rights and are subject to outrageously unjust paternity determinations. Family courts administer alimony, child custody, and “child support” with grotesque anti-men gender discrimination. A false allegation of domestic violence can put a man into the Hell of a penal system that vastly disproportionately punishes persons with penises. These are social justice issues resolutely ignored by most persons concerned about social justice. Moreover, anyone who dares to mention these injustices risks being demonized and censored.

Given the gender injustices men face, marriage prevalence is declining significantly, particularly among those who can least afford a real-world divorce. In the U.S., the share of unmarried men rose from 30% to 37% from 1990 to 2021.[5] Among the lowest 20% of persons ranked by income, the share of currently married persons in the 33 to 44 age group fell from 60% to 38% from 1979 to 2018.[6] The U.S. is becoming a country in which a large share of men, not just demons, would prefer Hell to marriage.

Medieval literature includes men’s voices that are now marginalized and repressed in service to ideological orthodoxy. Such censorship impedes understanding of human reality. Medieval literature can help women and men imagine what’s necessary to bring home the bacon again in marriage.

You shall swear by custom of confession,
That you ne’er made nuptial transgression;
Nor, since you were married man and wife,
By household brawls, or contentious strife,
Or otherwise at bed or board,
Offended each other in deed or in word,
Or since the parish clerk said, Amen,
Wished yourselves unmarried again,
Or in twelvemonth and a day,
Repented in thought any way,
But continue true in thought and desire,
As when you joined hands in holy quire.
If to these conditions without all fear,
Of your own accord you will freely swear,
A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave:
For this is our custom at Dunmow well known,
Tho’ the pleasure be ours, the bacon’s your own. [7]

married couple taking home the bacon flitch from Dunmow

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Hirschman (1970) offers an influential analysis of exit and voice. Here’s an overview of exit and voice.

[2] Jacques de Vitry, Sermons for particular weekdays and ordinary days {Sermones Feriales et Communes}, Sermon 17, Section 7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Muessig (1999) pp. 154-5, 23. The subsequent quote above is similarly from id. Muessig’s Latin texts are from MS. Liège, Université de Liège, Bibliothèque Générale, Centre d’Information et de Conservation des Bibliothèques, 347, folios 92ra-98va, written in the fifteenth century. This and similar stories shouldn’t be interpreted to imply that husbands are demons. Jacques de Vitry wasn’t an anti-meninist.

A story of a demon afraid of a nasty wife occurs in the ancient Indian story-collection Seventy Tales of the Parrot {Shuka Saptati}. See stories 46 and 47 in Wortham (1911) pp. 92-4. Jacques de Vitry’s story of the devil fleeing from marriage to a woman is the first surviving instance of that story in Europe. Jacques almost surely took the story from another source. The story subsequently appeared in Mathieu of Boulogne’s influential work of men’s sexed protest, The Book of the Lamentations of Little, Little Matheus {Liber lamentationum Matheoluli}, written about 1290. See Book 2, vv. 3853-4034.

A version of this story subsequently appeared as Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Fable of Belfagor the Archdaemon {La Favola di Belfagor Arcidiavolo}, which Machiavelli wrote between 1518 and 1527. For an English translation, DiMatteo (2015). The story also occurs in Giovanni (Zoan) Francesco Straparola, The Pleasant Nights {Le Piacevoli Notti} (1550), Night 2, Story 4, and Barnabe Rich’s Riche His Farwell to the Militarie Profession (1581). Machiavelli’s Belfagor was translated into English and published in London in 1647 under the title The Devil a Married Man: or The Devil Hath Met with His Match. On the literary history of the story of the devil fleeing from marriage to Hell, Beecher (2012) vol. 1, pp. 339-51.

In Straparola’s version, the wife impoverishes her devil-husband with her demand for luxury clothes and accouterments. Beecher noted:

controlling women may take comfort in the Devil’s incapacity to quell their voices, even though they must take care that their imperious feeding does not kill off their hosts.

Beecher (2012) vol. 1, p. 351.

[3] Jacques de Vitry, Sermons for particular weekdays and ordinary days {Sermones Feriales et Communes}, Sermon 17, Section 7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Muessig (1999) pp. 156, 24. All the quotes above related to this story are similarly sourced from id. Cf. Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; in the Vulgate, “Pater in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”

[4] Jacques de Vitry, Sermons for particular weekdays and ordinary days {Sermones Feriales et Communes}, Sermon 17, Section 8, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Muessig (1999) pp. 155, 23-4.

Following now-prevalent practice in medieval literary scholarship, Muessig (1999) ponders the extent to which Jacques de Vitry is guilty of “anti-feminism” and “misogyny.” Jacques de Vitry, a Christian cleric, was an ardent supporter of the Beguine Marie d’Oignies. Id. p. 39. That Jacques de Vitry wrote some words that might offend present-day readers makes him even more worthwhile to study seriously, particularly from a newer and more progressive meninist perspective.

The figure “bringing home the bacon” is associated with the Dunmow Flitch Trials, thought to date to 1104 at the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow. In that year, the local Lord Reginald Fitzwalter:

gifted some of his land to the Priory on the condition that a flitch of bacon would be given to any couple that could come to the Priory and prove their continued devotion to each other a year and a day after their marriage.

Essex Record Office (2022). This story is probably apocryphal. However, writing about 1395, Chaucer had the Wife of Bath say:

I set my husbands so to work, by my faith,
that many a night they sang “Woe is me!”
The bacon was not fetched for them, I believe,
that some men have in Essex at Dunmow.
I governed them so well, according to my law,
that each of them was very blissful and eager
to bring me gay things from the fair.
They were very glad when I spoke to them pleasantly,
for, God knows it, I cruelly scolded them.

{ I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey,
That many a nyght they songen `Weilawey!’
The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe,
That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.
I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,
That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
To brynge me gaye thynges fro the fayre.
They were ful glad whan I spak to hem faire,
For, God it woot, I chidde hem spitously. }

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Wife of Bath Prologue, vv. 215-33, Middle English text and English modernization (modified insubstantially) from Larry Benson’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website. The Wife of Bath committed horrible domestic violence against her husband, the jolly clerk Jankin. They certainly didn’t have a happy, peaceful marriage. Jacques de Vitry’s sermon from early in the thirteenth century apparently is the first credibly documented instance referring to the flitch-of-bacon marital test. For a popular history of that custom, Andrews (1877).

[5] Calculated from U.S. Census Bureau, Table MS-1. Marital Status of the Population 15 Years Old and Over, by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin: 1950 to Present.

[6] Statistics from Reevens & Pulliam (2020).

[7] Oath that the spousal claimants to Dunmow Flitch allegedly recited while sitting on sharp rocks. From Percy& Perch (1826 / 1868) p. 146.

[images] (1) The devil Belfagor, who found Hell preferable to marriage to an earthly woman. Engraving from Collin de Plancy (1863) p. 89, via DiMatteo (2015). (2) Blessing a young, newly married couple. Prefatory drawing by John Gilbert in Ainsworth (1856). (3) Married couple taking home the bacon flitch from Dunmow. Drawing by John Gilbert between pages 288 and 289 in Ainsworth (1856).


Ainsworth, William Harrison. 1856. The Flitch of Bacon, or the Custom of Dunmow: a custom of English home. London: Routledge.

Andrews, William. 1877. History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon Custom. London: W. Tegg.

Beecher, Donald. 2012. Giovanni Francesco Straparola. The Pleasant Nights. 2 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Collin de Plancy, Jacques Albin Simon. 1863. Dictionnaire Infernal. Répertoire universel des êtres, des personnages, des livres, des faits et des choses qui tiennent aux esprits. Paris: H. Plon.

DiMatteo, Christopher, trans. 2015. Niccolò Machiavelli. The Fable of Belfagor the Archdevil. Online.

Essex Record Office. 2022. “Curiosity Cabinet: The Dunmow Flitch.” Online, posted March 25, 2022.

Hirschman, Albert O. 1970. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Muessig, Carolyn. 1999. The Faces of Women in the Sermons of Jacques de Vitry. Toronto, Canada: Peregrina Publishing.

Percy, Sholto, and Reuben Percy. 1826 / 1868. The Percy Anecdotes. Collected and edited by Reuben and Sholto Percy. Verbatim reprint of the original ed., with a pref. by John Timbs. London: F. Warne.

Reeves, Richard V. and Christopher Pulliam. 2020. “Middle class marriage is declining, and likely deepening inequality.” Report. Brookings Institution. Online, dated March 11, 202o.

Wortham, Biscoe Hale, trans. 1911. The Enchanted Parrot: being a selection from the “Suka Saptati,” or, The Seventy Tales of a Parrot, translated from the Sanskrit text. London: Luzac & Co.

gender equality and paradise in Le jeu d’Adam

Elaborating upon the biblical account of Eve and Adam, the mid-twelfth-century dramatic masterpiece The Play of Adam {Le jeu d’Adam} represents love, obedience, and gender equality in a highly sophisticated way. An introductory rubric directs the play to begin with Adam and Eve in relation to God:

Let them both stand before the God-Figure — Adam somewhat nearer and with a peaceful countenance, but Eve not sufficiently submissive.

{ stent ambo coram Figura — Adam tamen propius, vultu composito, Eva vero parum demissiori }[1]

Eve’s self-assertiveness in relation to God doesn’t make Adam annoyed or resentful. He has a peaceful countenance. But as Le jeu d’Adam shows, Eve and Adam’s relationship with God has implications for their relationship with each other.

In Genesis, God places the sexually undifferentiated Adam-Eve in Eden before separating Eve’s body from Adam’s. In Le jeu d’Adam, Adam and Eve exist as separate bodily entities from the beginning. God places both of them in the paradisaical garden. That’s a significant change. It allows Eve and Adam’s relationship with God to develop along with their relationship with each other.

Le jeu d’Adam begins with God calling to Adam. God in this play conflates the two biblical accounts of him creating humans in addressing Adam:

I have formed you in my likeness.
In my image I have made you of earth.
You must never make war against me.

{ Je te ai fourmée a mun semblant
A ma imagene t’ai feit de tere
Ne moi devez ja mais mover guere. }[2]

God’s words emphasize mutually. Adam is like God and must never fight with God. Adam responds:

I will not, but I will trust you.
My creator I will obey.

{ Nen frai ge, mais te crerrai,
Mun creatur obeïrai }

Adam’s vow to obey his creator comes in the context of trust and mutuality. The hierarchical obligation of obedience here is meant to be consistent with similarity and mutuality. Moreover, God created both male and female in his image. Eve, created from Adam’s rib, in made of earth through the intermediate step of making Adam. God’s words are equally fit for Eve.

God then instructs Adam about Eve and marriage. Similarity and mutuality again conflate with hierarchical obligation of obedience. God says to Adam:

I have given you a worthy companion:
your wife, Eve by name.
She is your wife and partner.
You ought to be entirely faithful to her.
Love her, and let her love you,
if you two both would be mine.
She is to be at your command
and you two both subject to my wish.
From your side I have formed her.
Born from you, she is no stranger to you.
I fashioned her from your body,
from within you she came, not from outside.
Govern her reasonably.
Let no dispute come between you,
but have great love and much help.
Such is the law of marriage.

{ Je t’ai duné bon cumpainun:
Ce est ta femme, Eva a noun.
Ce est ta femme e tun pareil:
Tu le devez estre ben fiël.
Tu aime lui, e ele ame tei,
Si serez ben ambedui de moi.
Ele soit a tun comandement
E vus ambe deus a mun talent.
De ta coste l’ai fourmee;
N’est pas estrange, de tei est nee.
Jo la plasmai de ton cors;
De tei eissit, non pas de fors.
Tu la governe par raison.
N’ait entre vus ja tençon,
Mais grant amor, grant conservage:
Tel soit la lei de mariage. }

Eve was to be formally at Adam’s command, and he was to govern her reasonably.[3] Moreover, he must understand that she is like him. He is to love her and let her love him. That’s far from despotism or “patriarchy.” Women have long controlled households in practice. God declaring husbands to have formal authority over their wives strengthens men’s disadvantaged household position and is best interpreted as affirmative action to foster gender equality.

After first addressing Adam to boost his self-esteem, God turns to Eve. He isn’t reluctant to talk to a woman. He says to her:

To you I will speak, Eve.
Be mindful of this, do not take it in vain.
If you would do my will,
in your heart cherish goodness,
love and honor me, your creator,
and recognize me as Lord.
To serving me devote your care,
all your strength, and all your mind.
Love Adam, and hold him dear.
He is your husband, and you his wife.
Toward him in all things stay favorably disposed.
Do not depart from his instructions.
Serve and love him in good spirit,
because that is justice in marriage.
If you do well as his assistant,
I will place you with him in glory.

{ A tei parlerai, Evain.
Ço garde tu, nel tenez en vain:
Si vos faire ma volenté
En ton cors garderas bonté,
Moi aim e honor ton creator,
E moi reconuis a Seignor.
A moi servir met ton porpens,
Tote ta force e tot tun sens.
Adam aime, e lui tien chier.
Il est marid, e tu sa mullier.
A lui soies tot tens encline,
Nen issir de sa discipline.
Lui serf e aim par bon coraje,
Car ço est droiz de mariage.
Se tu le fais bon adjutoire,
Jo te mettrai od lui en gloire. }

Unlike in speaking to Adam, God has to remind Eve to take him seriously. God emphasizes that Eve should be her husband’s assistant and follow her husband’s lead. Moreover, she isn’t to be sullen or resentful about doing that. She is to be favorably disposed toward her husband in all things, and both serve and love him in good spirit. In contrast to modern mythology, Eve isn’t her husband’s chattel or slave.

Adam lacks the self-assertion to respond to God’s instruction about marriage. Eve, in contrast, confidently responds that she will follow God’s instructions:

I will do, sire, as you wish.
I would not like to stray from that.
You I will recognize as Lord,
Adam as my partner and as stronger than I.
I will always be faithful to him.
From me he will have good counsel.
Your wish, your service
I will do, sire, in every way.

{ Jol frai, sire, a ton plaisir;
Ja n’en voldrai de rien issir.
Toi conustrai a seignor,
Lui a paraille e a forzor.
Jo lui serrai tot tens feël;
De moi avra bon conseil.
Le ton pleisir, le ton servise
Frai, sire, en tote guise. }

Eve recognizes that Adam is physically stronger than her, but she suggests that she’s wiser than him. She will advise him on what to do. He is her partner.

In Le jeu d’Adam, the biblical garden of Eden becomes a paradise that Eve and Adam’s relationship centrally characterizes. Emphasizing the importance of this garden, Le jeu d’Adam begins with a rubric describing “paradise {paradisus}”:

Let paradise be constructed in a prominently high place. Let curtains and silk hangings be placed around it at such a height that those persons who will be in paradise can be seen from the shoulders up. Let sweet-smelling flowers and foliage be planted there. Within paradise let there be various trees, with fruit hanging from the trees such that it is seen to be a most delightful place.

{ Constituatur paradisus loco eminentiori; circumponantur cortinae et panni serici ea altitudine ut personae, quae in paradiso feurint, possint videri sursum ad humeros; serantur odoriferi flores et frondes; sint in eo diversae arbores et fructus in eis dependentes, ut amoenissimus locus videatur. }

Paradise is a reference point throughout the play. God sends both Adam and Eve into paradise. Then God explicitly describes the nature of that place:

I will tell you the nature of this garden.
You will not find here anything delightful to be lacking.
Any good in the world that a creature might covet
can be found here in its own proper measure.
Here woman will experience no anger from man,
nor man from woman have shame or fear.
Man here is no sinner for having sex,
nor does woman here experience pain in bearing children.
You will live forever, so you will have here a good lifetime.
You will never experience change in your age.
Death you will never fear here, nor can it harm you.
I do not wish for you to leave. Here you must make your dwelling.

{ De cest jardin tei dirrai la nature:
De nul delit n’i trovrez falture.
N’et bien al mond, que covoit criature,
Chescons n’i poisset trover a sa mesure.
Femme do home n’i avra irur,
Ne home de femme verguine ne freür.
Por engendrer n’i est hom peccheor,
Ne a l’emfanter femme n’i sent dolor.
Tot tens vivras, tant i ad bon estage;
N’i porras ja changer li toen eage.
Mort n’i crendras, ne te ferra damage.
Ne voil qu’en isses; ici feras manage. }

Literally central to this description isn’t flowers and fruit, but a joyful, life-creating relationship between Eve and Adam. Losing such a relationship implies being expelled from paradise.

On the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, Michelangelo's depiction of the Fall and expulsion of Eve and Adam from the garden of Eden

In Le jeu d’Adam, Satan tempts both Adam and Eve with equality. Satan’s long, sophisticated attempt to seduce Adam culminates in Satan urging Adam to eat the forbidden fruit:

Eat it, and you’ll do well.
You then will have nothing to fear from your God.
Instead, in all you will be his equal.
For that reason he has forbidden it.
Will you trust me? Taste of the fruit!

{ Manjue le, si fras bien.
Ne crendras pois tun Deu de rien;
Aienz serras puis del tut son per.
Por ço le quidat veer.
Creras me tu? Guste del fruit. }

Adam refuses to try to become God’s equal. Satan withdraws in frustration at Adam’s “stupidity {soz}.” Satan, however, soon returns to tempt Adam again:

Listen, Adam, pay attention to me.
I will counsel you in faith
how you can be without a master
and the equal of your creator.
I will tell you all to the top.
If you eat of the apple,
you will reign in majesty.
You can share power with God.

{ Escut, Adam, entent a moi:
Jo te conseillerai en fei
Que porras estre senz seignor,
E seras per del creatur.
Jo te dirrai tute la summe:
Si tu manjues la pome
Tu regneras en majesté.
Od Deu poez partir poësté. }

Adam doesn’t grasp for equality with God.[4] He understands Satan to be seeking to “remove me from joy, put me in sadness {tolir de joie, mettre en dolor}.” He tells Satan to go to Hell. Satan withdraws in sadness, “with a submissive countenance {vultu demisso}.” Adam has triumphed over Satan.

Then Satan approaches Eve. Satan begins tempting Eve by disparaging her man Adam. Satan says, “He’s too much of a fool {trop est fols}.” Eve concedes, “He’s a little hard {Un poi est durs}.” Perhaps she meant that compared to her, he has rocks for brains. Never concede anything to Satan. Then Satan declares, “He is harder than fire {Il est plus dors que n’est emfers}!” Satan means that Adam is harsh toward Eve. His words, however, could also be understood to imply ironically that Adam doesn’t succumb to Hell. Eve counters for Adam, “He is very noble {It est mult francs}.” Adam wasn’t noble in the sense of a being a self-abasing courtly lover. In paradise, he was probably noble in the sense that he vigorously fulfilled the original ideal of masculine chivalry.

Satan again re-interprets and contradicts Eve’s word. He disparages Adam at length and tempts Eve with a courtly lover’s flattery:

To the contrary, Adam is servile.
He lacks the will to take care of himself.
He should at least take care of you.
You are a delicate and tender thing,
and you are fresher than a rose.
You are whiter than crystal,
whiter than snow that falls on ice in the valley.
A badly matched couple the Creator has made.
You are too tender, and he, too hard.
But nonetheless you are wiser.
Your mind has discovered great wisdom.

{ Ainz, est mult serf.
Cure nen voelt prendre de soi.
Car la prenge sevals de toi.
Tu es fieblette e tendre chose,
E es plus fresche que n’est ros;
Tu es plus blanche que cristal,
Que neif que chiet sor glace en val.
Mal cuple em fist li Criator:
Tu est trop tendre, e il, trop dur.
Mais neporquant tu es plus sage;
En grant sens as mis tun corrage. }

Disparaging men to their beloved women is Satan’s work. Having thus weakened Eve, Satan urges her to take the fruit and lead Adam into disaster for them both:

Take it first and give it to Adam.
You will at once possess the crown of Heaven.
You will be the Creator’s equal.
He will not be able to hide secrets from you.
As soon as you have eaten of the fruit,
at once your hearts will be changed.
Without fail you will be in relation to God
of equal goodness, of equal power.
Taste of the fruit!

{ Primes le pren, e a Adam le done.
Del ciel averez sempres corone.
Al Creator serrez pareil;
Ne vus purra celer conseil.
Puis que del fruit avrez mangié,
Sempres vus iert le cuer changié
O Deus serrez, sanz faillance,
De egal bonté, de egal puissance.
Guste del fruit. }

The introductory rubric describing Eve as “not sufficiently submissive {parum demissior}” before God foreshadowed Satan’s tactic in tempting her. Even more than in tempting Adam, Satan emphasizes to Eve the promise of being equal to God.

Adam’s lack of confidence and self-assertiveness in relation to Eve leads to their exile from paradise. Eve takes the forbidden fruit and urges Adam to eat it. Adam, however, confesses his sense of vulnerability: “I’m fearful of it {J’en duit}.” Eve then doesn’t sympathetically comfort Adam and accommodate his justified fear. She instead taunts him, “Stop being afraid {Lai le}!” Adam and Eve would have been better off if Adam had said firmly, “I don’t want fruit. Wife, make me a sandwich, please.” Students, that’s a fundamental insight of meninist literary criticism.

After Eve taunts him with being afraid, Adam attempts to assert himself. He says to Eve: “I won’t eat it {Nen frai pas}.” Men should have the right to decide what they eat and don’t eat. Disrespecting her husband, Eve twists his words and taunts him, “You delay out of cowardice {Del demorer fai tu que las}.” She knows that she can dominate her husband by shaming him. It’s merely a matter of how long before she gets him to do what he said he won’t do. The delay is brief. Promptly reversing his decision about what he would eat, Adam declares: “I’ll take it {E jo le prendrai}.” Underscoring her dominance, Eve then puts herself first:

Eat. Take the fruit!
By it you will know both good and evil.
I’ll eat some first.

{ Manjue. Ten!
Par ço saveras e mal e bien.
Jo en manjerai premirement. }

Women leaders equally fail men. Eve declares that the apple tastes great and has wonderful effects. She’s delusional, or perhaps seeking company in her grave error. Respecting Eve’s judgment, Adam says to her, “I’ll trust you in this. You are my equal. {Jo t’en crerra. Tu es ma per.}” Eve again exhorts Adam, “Eat! Don’t be fearful {Manjue. Nen poez doter.}.” Adam then eats of the fruit. That’s a paradigmatic gender catastrophe from the perspective of meninist literary criticism.[5]

Adam immediately recognizes the disastrous consequences of his failure of self-assertiveness with respect to his wife. He understands that they are sinful wretches that have gravely offended God. He believes that they are destined to die and go to Hell, along with all subsequent humans. Adam expresses only vague awareness that humans’ situation could change. Eve significantly has the finally word in what’s merely conventionally and misleadingly called Le jeu d’Adam:

The wicked serpent, the viper of evil appearance,
caused me to eat the apple of antagonism.
I gave it to you, so I thought that to be good.
Why wasn’t I favorably disposed to the Creator?
Why, sire, didn’t I hold to your instructions?
You did wrong, but I was the root of it.
For our evil, the cure will be long.
My wrong, my enormous misdoing,
will cost dearly for our progeny.
The fruit was sweet, but the pain is harsh.
Evil it was to eat. Ours is the guilt.
But nonetheless in God is my hope.
For this wrong our flesh will be fully reconciled.
God will offer me his grace and his favor.
He will rescue us from Hell by his power.

{ Li fel serpent, la guivre de mal aire,
Me fist mangier la pome de contraire.
Jo t’en donai; si quidai por bien faire,
E mis toi en pecchié, dont ne te pois retraire.
Por quei ne fui al Criator encline?
Por quei ne tien jo, sire, ta discipline?
Tu mesfesis, més jo sui la racine.
De nostre mal, long en est la mescine.
Le mien mesfait, ma grant mesaventure,
Compera chier la nostre engendreore.
Li fruiz fu dulz, la paine est dure.
Mal fu mangiez; nostre iert la fraiture.
Mais neporquant en Deu est ma sperance.
D’icest mesfait char tot iert acordance:
Deus me rendra sa grace e sa mustrance:
Gieter nus voldra d’emfer par pussance. }

Using words that echo God’s instructions to her, Eve laments that she didn’t respect Adam’s marital leadership. She recognizes the disaster of gender antagonism. She also has hope in God that female and male flesh will be reconciled. She believes that God will offer to her grace and favor, and rescue them from Hell. Meninist literary critics might see here another indication of women’s privilege. Yet as long as Eve faithfully adheres to God’s instructions on how she is to honor and respect Adam, this women’s privilege in receiving God’s grace and favor isn’t like to oppress men as a gender.[6]

Adam and Eve ashamed at their nakedness. Painting in Christian catacombs.

Particularly over the past half-century, misinterpretations of story of Eve and Adam have bolstered gender inequality. Women dominated medieval society. Today persons at commanding heights of the propaganda apparatus proclaim that the future is female. Many women and men today already feel that they are living in a gender Hell. Progress toward a humane, gender-equal future depends on fully functioning human minds and hearts. As marginalized and excluded meninist literary criticism emphasizes, we must learn from Eve and Adam.

They exchange souls, entangled bodies made into one
body. By their spirits their hearts are made penetrable.
Slow, easy transfusion of spirits brings back their bodies,
and each dying to oneself lives in the other partner.

{ Alternant animas, laqueataque corpus in unum
Corpora spiritibus pervia corda parant.
Corpora spirituum transfusio languida reddit,
Dumque sibi moritur vivit uterque pari. }[7]

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] The Play of Adam {Le jeu d’Adam}, from introductory Latin rubric, Latin text from Bevington (1975) p. 80, English translation (modified) from id. All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly serially from Le jeu d’Adam. For a freely available Old French text, Studer (1918). Axton & Stevens (1971) includes an English translation.

This play survives in only one manuscript: Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, 927, f. 20r-40r, written in the second half of the twelfth century. For a close technical analysis of the play in its manuscript context, Chaguinian (2017). Le jeu d’Adam is also known as The scriptural play (mystery play) of Adam {Le mystère d’Adam} and The Service for Representing Adam {Ordo Repraesentationis Adae}.

[2] Cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:7.

[3] In medieval thought, a marriage needed to be governed in the same sense that any realm or organization needed to be governed. In modern terms, any realm or organizations needs a formal account of status relations and formal decision-making procedures. This formal structure may have little relation to decision-making in practice.

[4] Cf. Philippians 2:15. Psalms 8:4-5 proclaims that humans already have an exalted position:

What is a man that you are mindful of him,
and a son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
and crowned him with glory and honor.

{ מה־אנוש כי־תזכרנו ובן־אדם כי תפקדנו׃
ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים וכבוד והדר תעטרהו׃ }

[5] Auerbach interprets the serpent’s intervention between vv. 292 and 293 as completely changing Eve’s character and her relation to Adam:

Eve, in fact, is clumsy, very clumsy, even though her clumsiness is not hard to understand. For without the Devil’s special help she is but a weak — though curious and hence sinful — creature, far inferior to her husband and easily guided by him. That is how God created her from Adam’s rib. … Eve is fearful, submissive, self-conscious. She feels she cannot cope with his clear and reasonable and manly will. The serpent alone changes all this. It upsets the order of things established by God, it makes the woman the man’s master, and so leads both to ruin.

Auerbach (1957) p. 149. This interpretation goes far beyond the text. Moreover, it has the prevalent gender pattern of blaming another for a woman’s action and so excusing her. The introductory rubric characterizing Eve as “not sufficiently submissive {parum demissior}” directly contradicts Auerbach’s tendentious interpretation. Moreover, God designating Adam as the leader within Eve and Adam’s marriage doesn’t imply that Eve is inferior to Adam as a human being. The New Testament proclaims woman’s equality with man and also designates the husband as the leader within marriage. Galations 3:28, Ephesians 5:22-4, Colossians 1:18.

[6] After scrutinizing Le jeu d’Adam, which would be better titled Le jeu d’Eve, Grimbert (1992) judged its author not to be a male chauvinist pig. Its author has even received the ultimate modern laurel — being labeled a feminist:

Attention has often been called to the skill with which the anonymous author of the twelfth-century Jeu d’Adam presents the temptation of Eve by Satan. A closer study of certain aspects of this play and of its relationship with the Biblical counterpart suggests that Satan was not entirely untruthful when he praised Eve to the detriment of Adam, at least insofar as her conduct after the Fall is concerned. Indeed, the philogynous touch in the Jeu d’Adam is not confined to the serpent’s ill-intentioned flattery. On the contrary, a current of sympathy for the dignity and strength of Eve runs so strongly throughout the play that even the epithet “feminist” is not necessarily out of order in a religious context. Not only is Eve Adam’s equal; she is superior to him in some respects. Commentators of this play typically see Adam, not Eve, as spokesman for mankind. But reconsideration of the evidence shows that, while Adam makes a poor showing as head of the human race after the Fall, Eve dominates the scene by exemplifying perfectly the proper attitude of a repentant sinner and a believer in the mercy of God.

Kostoroski-Kadish (1975) pp. 209-10. Such analysis justifies God’s affirmative action on behalf of men within marriage. The author of Le jeu d’Adam is best regarded as a meninist.

[7] “Behold, beauty and the pleasing delight of love return {Ecce redit species et amoris grata voluptas},” vv. 18-21 (of 21), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 449, English translation (modified) from id. p. 450. This poem, apparently composed by an Anglo-Norman poet, 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).

[images] (1) The Fall and expulsion of Eve and Adam from the garden of Eden. Michelangelo’s depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome. Painted between 1508 and 1512. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Adam and Eve ashamed at their nakedness. Painting in the Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Rome. Painted between 306 and 337 GC. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Auerbach, Erich. 1957. Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. Originally published in German in 1945.

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

Bevington, David M. 1975. Medieval Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Chaguinian, Christophe, ed. 2017. The Jeu d’Adam: MS Tours 927 and the Provenance of the Play. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.

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

Grimbert, Joan Tasker. 1994. “Eve as Adam’s pareil: Equivalence and Subordination in the Jeu d’Adam.” Pp. 29-37 in Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, eds. Literary Aspects of Courtly Culture. Selected Papers from the Seventh Triennial Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA, 27 July–1 August, 1992. Cambridge: Brewer.

Kostoroski-Kadish, Emilie. 1975. ‘“Feminism” in the Jeu d’Adam.’ Kentucky Romance Quarterly. 22 (2): 209-221.

Studer, Paul, ed. 1918. Le mystère d’Adam: an Anglo-Norman drama of the twelfth century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

men to their health’s peril work only for beautiful women

According to classical myth, the goddess Discordia wasn’t invited to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. Outraged by that insult, Discordia comes uninvited:

She makes something to grieve rich and poor,
Slightly wounded, she deeply wounds many hearts.
She goes to the place that Juno, Pallas, and Venus
have chosen. Then a new, evil cunning is released.

Among them she throws a little apple on which she wrote:
“This is for the most beautiful. May it soon be what she desires.”
What and how many are affected by this evil she prepares —
the deed’s lamentable consequences declare.

Now the serenity of peace is utterly removed.
Strife enters, to then unknown among the celestials,
strife not for the prize of the apple, but for what the apple makes known.
From quarreling are born threats. The abode trembles all over.

{ Facit unde doleant dives et egenus,
Multos lesa paululum ledit corde tenus;
Locum quem elegerant Iuno, Pallas, Venus
Petit. Tunc effunditur novum doli genus.

Inter eas pomulum iacit quo notarat
“Istud habe pulchrior, iam sit quod optarat”
Nam quid et quampluribus per hoc mali parat
Rei miserabilis exitus declarat.

Iam pacis tranquillitas prorsus est amota,
Lis succedit, usque tunc superis ignota.
Non pro pomi pretio sed pro pomi nota;
Rixa minas parturit, domus fremit tota. }[1]

The wedding of Thetis and Peleus halts. The goddesses Juno, Pallas, and Venus compete aggressively for the apple.

Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The beautiful, young shepherd-prince Paris judges the competition. Juno declares her worth:

The scepter’s high renown, awe-inspiring office,
and wealth are ruled by me. If by your judgment
I win the prize, I will give you the greatest kingdom.

{ Sceptrorum sublimis honor fascesque tremendi
Divitieque mei iuris. Te iudice palmam
Si tulerim, regno per me donabere summo. }

Being a great man is a great honor. Men value honor, but not just honor. Pallas then declares her worth:

Sky and land, sea and the human world —
all these I govern by firm law. Without me no order exists.
If you follow me, impassable error will not divert you.

{ Que celum, que terra regit, que pontus et orbis,
Legibus astringo certis. Nil me sine rectum.
Te si me sequeris non abstrahet invius error. }

Men value the wisdom to discriminate between true and false and to follow the correct path. But men value more than honor and wisdom. Venus then declares her worth:

Sounds of lutes, games, cheers, lustful pleasure —
all these are mine. If you prefer me to the others, I myself
will give you as reward a young woman more lovely than any other.

{ Plectra sonora, ioci, plausus, lasciva voluptas —
Hec mea. Si reliquis me prefers, ipsa puellam
Pro mercede dabo qua non formosior ulla. }

Some sources report that Venus shed her clothes to better show her appeal. That isn’t necessary. Most men know what they want. Paris’s judgment in favor of Venus isn’t surprising:

Your beauty pleases me, and your gifts please me.
More than any other you fill my mind. Behold, in this contest
you have the prize. Victor, here is the notable golden apple.

{ Grata michi tua forma, Venus, tua munera grata.
Plus aliis michi mente sedes. Certaminis, ecce,
Pignus habe, victrix, auri spectabile malum. }

The medieval author of this account of the judgment of Paris concluded with a proverbial lesson: “sensual delight attracts many; honor and wisdom, few {luxus habet multos, honor et sapientia paucos}.”

Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens

Men throughout the ages have not only sought sensual delight, but also strenuously engaged in it. About the year 1200, a poet advised his friend Candidus:

Why are you infirm? Why pale? Why wasting away?
You rightly seek my advice, Candidus.
If the lovely Corinna didn’t please you so justifiably,
you would have no reason, Candidus, to be made ill.
You are always having sex — sickness and thinness follows from sex.
One habitually having sex is from that perpetually pale.

{ Cur infirmaris? cur palles? cur maceraris?
Queris consilium, Candide, iure meum.
Ni tibi plus iusto formosa Corina placeret,
Nulla foret morbi, Candide, causa tui.
Sepe cohis — cohitum morbus maciesque sequntur
Ex quibus assiduus pallor inesse solet. }[2]

Even societies that show contempt for men’s lives should at least be concerned about the environmental impact:

Lips weakened from assiduous love labor grow dry.
All those drained kisses leave no honey for bees.

{ Arent assiduo tenuata labella labore
Totque exhausta apibus oscula mella negant. }[3]

Bees, including male worker bees, are essential for pollinating plants. If bees starve from lack of honey, many humans too will starve in the resulting ecological disaster. The fundamental point should be obvious: men shouldn’t attempt to be sexual superheroes like Roland’s peer Oliver. Why should a man work himself to death or to ill health? Men deserve better healthcare. Moreover, men’s erection labor within the home should be fairly valued, and men should receive unemployment benefits when they’re laid off. At least until men receive adequate social support for their sensual work, men should value more highly honor and wisdom.

The great Christian biblical scholar Saint Jerome urged a young priest to seek wisdom. Jerome recounted “secrets of the divine scrolls {divinorum voluminum sacramenta}”:

Once a fighting man, David at age seventy was chilled in his old age. He wasn’t able to become warm. They thus looked for a young woman for him throughout all the ends of Israel. They brought in Abishag the Shunamite to sleep with the king and warm his aged body. Wouldn’t this seem to you, if you follow the letter that kills, that this figment is from a pantomime show or an Atellan farce? The old man’s cold body is wrapped in blankets, but nothing other than a young woman’s embrace can warm him. Bathsheba was still alive and so was his first wife Abigail, together with all his other wives and concubines of whom Scripture records. All of them are rejected as cold. Only in the embrace of one young woman does the aged man grow warm.

{ David annos natus septuaginta, bellicosus quondam vir, senectute frigente non poterat calefieri. Quaeritur itaque puella de universis finibus Israhel Abisag Somanitis, quae cum rege dormiret et senile corpus calefaceret. Nonne tibi videtur, si occidentem sequaris litteram, vel figmentum esse de mimo vel Atellanarum ludicra? Frigidus senex obvolvitur vestimentis et nisi conplexu adulescentulae non tepescit. Vivebat adhuc Betsabee, supererat Abigea et reliquae uxores eius et concubinae, quas scriptura commemorat: omnes quasi frigidae repudiantur, in unius tantum grandaevus calescit amplexibus. }[4]

Jerome recognized the enduring marital vitality of biblical men:

Abraham was far older than David, but while Sarah was still living he did not seek another wife. Isaac had twice David’s years, and yet never felt cold with his wife Rebecca even when she was an old woman. I say nothing of the men before the flood. They after nine hundred years must have found their members not merely aged but almost rotten with time. They nonetheless never sought a young woman’s embraces. Certainly Moses, the leader of the people of Israel, lived to be a hundred and twenty without changing his wife Sephora.

{ Abraham multo David senior fuit et tamen vivente Sarra aliam non quaesivit uxorem; Isaac duplices David annos habuit et cum Rebecca iam vetula numquam refrixit; taceo de prioribus ante diluvium viris, qui post annos nongentos non dico senilibus, sed paene iam cariosis artubus nequaquam puellares quaesiere conplexus; certe Moyses, dux Israhelitici populi, centum viginti annos habebat et Sephoram non mutavit. }

Unlike much media today, the Bible assumes intelligent, noble-minded, and well-disposed readers. A paragon of a biblical reader, Jerome pondered in his heart Abishag the Shunamite:

Who then is this Shunamite, this wife and virgin, so hot as to warm a cold man, so holy as not to excite to lust him whom she has warmed?

{ Quae est igitur ista Somanitis uxor et virgo tam fervens, ut frigidum calefaceret, tam sancta, ut calentem ad libidinem non provocaret? }

Drawing upon the biblical King Solomon, who knew first-hand difficulties with alluring women, Jerome recognized that Abishag the Shunamite is a figure of wisdom:

Nearly all bodily excellencies change with age. Wisdom alone increase with age. All else decays. … Plato died in his eighty-first year with a pen in his hand. Isocrates filled ninety-nine years with the labor of teaching and writing. I say nothing of the other philosophers Pythagoras, Democritus, Xenocrates, Zeno, and Cleanthes. In long life they continually flourished in studies of wisdom. I come to the poets Homer, Hesiod, Simonides, and Stesichorus. In their old age. when death drew near, they sang a swan’s song sweeter even than their usual. Sophocles in extremely old age neglected his affairs and was accused by his sons of mental incapacity. But then he read to the court his recently composed play, Oedipus. In spite of his bodily weakness, it gave so clear proof of his wisdom that he turned the strict judgment of a tribunal into the enthusiastic applause of a theatre. Nor need we wonder after considering Cato, the most eloquent of the Romans. After he had been censor and was an old man, he wasn’t ashamed to learn Greek literature nor despaired of studying.

{ Omnes paene virtutes corporis mutantur in senibus et increscente sola sapientia decrescunt ceterae … Plato octogesimo et uno anno scribens est mortuus; Isocrates nonaginta et novem annos in docendi scribendique labore conplevit; taceo ceteros philosophos, Pythagoram, Democritum, Xenocratem, Zenonem, Cleanthem, qui iam aetate longaeva in sapientiae studiis floruerunt: ad poetas venio, Homerum, Hesiodum, Simonidem, Stesichorum, qui grandes natu cygneum nescio quid et solito dulcius vicina morte cecinerunt. Sophocles, cum propter nimiam senectutem et rei familiaris neglegentiam a filiis accusaretur amentiae, Oedipi fabulam, quam nuper scripserat, recitavit iudicibus et tantum sapientiae in aetate iam fracta specimen dedit, ut severitatem tribunalium in theatri favorem verteret. Nec mirum, cum etiam Cato, Romani generis disertissimus, censorius iam et senex, Graecas litteras nec erubuerit nec desperaverit discere. }

Jerome dared to express his love for wisdom as the lovely young woman Abishag the Shunamite:

Let wisdom alone embrace me. Let my Abishag who never grows old rest on my chest.

{ Amplexetur me modo sapientia et Abisag nostra, quae numquam senescit, in meo requiescat sinu. }

Men should learn from Saint Jerome. For gyno-idolatrous men, the beginning of wisdom is to seek wisdom.[5] Those who pursue sensual delight to the exclusion of wisdom are on a path to exhaustion and sickness.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] “Poem about the judgment of Paris {Rhymus de iuditio Paridis}, incipit “Thetis was destined to give birth to a son {Constans erat Thetidem parituram natum},” vv. 17-28, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 534-8. This poem survives in MS. Gent, Archive de la Cathédrale 12, folio 1r-v, written in Flanders in the second half of the fifteenth century.

With the help of Venus, Paris eloped with Menelaus’s wife Helen of Troy and married her. That caused the Trojan War’s horrific violence against men.

Subsequent quotes above concerning the judgment of Paris are similarly from this poem. Those quotes are vv. 52-4 (The scepter’s high renown…), 55-7 (Sky and land…), 58-60 (Sounds of lutes…), 61-3 (Your beauty pleases me…), 67 (sensual delight…).

[2] Full text of poem, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 466. This poem survives in MS. Oxford, Rawlinson G. 109, written about 1200, probably in France. Id. p. 570.

[3] Full text of epigram, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 487. This poem survives in BnF lat. 11867, folio 218v, written in the second half of the thirteenth century, possibly at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s a fragment from “Young man, you at length study what is love, what beauty is worth {Disce puer tandem quid amor, quid forma valeret}” in MS. Vatican Reg. lat. 585, folio 5v, written in the twelfth century. Id. pp. 573-4, 578.

[4] Jerome, Letters 52, To the clergyman Nepotian {Ad Nepotianum Presbyterum} 2, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wright (1933). For a freely available English translation, Freemantle (1892). The subsequent quotes above from Jerome’s letter to Nepotian are similarly sourced from sections 2-3. On David and Abishag, 1 Kings 1:1-4. On the letter that kills, 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Jerome wrote this letter in 394 GC to Nepotian:

Nepotian was the nephew of Heliodorus, a life-long friend of Jerome (cf. Letter XIV), who had become Bishop of Altinum. Both Nepotian and Heliodorus had been soldiers before joining the Church.

Wright (1933) p. 189, note.

[5] Proverbs 4:7. Cf. Psalms 111:10.

[images] (1) The Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Painted ca. 1528. Preserved as accession # 28.221 in The Met (New York City, USA). Credit line: Rogers Fund, 1928. (2) The Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens. Painted probably between 1597 and 1599. Preserved as accession # NG6379 in the National Gallery (London, UK). Via Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Wright, F. A., ed. and trans. 1933. Select Letters of St. Jerome. Loeb Classical Library, no. 262. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.