Alan of Lille, Chaucer & Shakespeare knew all that glistens isn’t gold

gold wedding dress

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms infold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscrolled.
Fare you well, your suit is cold.

You that choose not by the view,
Chance as fair and choose as true.
Since this fortune falls to you,
Be content and seek no new.
If you be well pleased with this
And hold your fortune for your bliss,
Turn to where your lady is,
And claim her with a loving kiss. [1]

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio rejected the silver and gold caskets. He choose the dull lead one. That was the casket that carried the inscription, “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” Within that casket was the winning sign, a portrait of Bassanio’s beloved Portia.

Gazing upon Portia’s portrait, Bassanio lavishly praised its realistic beauty. Its eyes seemed to be alive and so beautiful that just one of them could have stolen the eyes of the painter. Her mouth seemed to exhale sweet breath that parted her lips, and her hair was a golden web that could entrap men’s hearts. This was just a portrait of Portia. Perhaps looking toward Portia, then turning back to her portrait, and then turning to fill his eyes again with her, Bassanio exclaimed:

Yet look, how far
The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow
In underprizing it, so far this shadow
Doth limp behind the substance.

Shakespeare connected the now-proverbial wisdom “all that glistens isn’t gold” to a woman’s appearance and to a mirror-like representation of her. Geoffrey Chaucer, a feminized courtier writing mainly for women, associated “all that glistens isn’t gold” with men deceiving women. Shakespeare and Chaucer thus sensitively perceived this proverb in relation to another, now neglected proverb in Alan of Lille’s influential Book of Proverbs {Liber Parabolarum}.

The foremost intellectual and poet of the twelfth century, Alan of Lille recognized a world beyond mere appearances and fearlessly challenged entrenched falsehoods. In Liber Parabolarum, Alan declared:

Do not consider gold everything that shines like gold
nor think that each and every lovely fruit is good.
Virtue is not in many things in which it seems to be.
Our eyes deceive us with their actions.
Such have more of aloe than of honey in their heart
whom you think to be like saints in their simplicity.

{ Non teneas aurum totum quod splendet ut aurum
nec pluchrum pomum quodlibet esse bonum;
non est in multis virtus quibus esse videtur,
decipiunt factis lumina nostra suis;
plus aloes quam mellis habent in pectore tales
quos sanctis similes simplicitate putes. } [2]

Following Lucretius in challenging gynocentric delusions, Alan also wrote:

The matter that we observe in a mirror is not in it;
Trust stands out, and it is not in woman.

{ Non est in speculo res quam speculamur in illo:
eminet, et non est in muliere fides. } [3]

In our benighted age, reigning authorities instruct the masses to “listen and believe” women, as if trust is inherent in woman. Even without indoctrination, both women and men are more inclined to trust women than men. Yet women are no more naturally trustworthy than men are. That’s what the eminent medieval scholar Alan of Lille sought to teach the ignorant. The general proverbial wisdom “all that glistens isn’t gold” applies to women as well as men.

Truth inconsistent with women-are-wonderful dogma tends to be suppressed in gynocentric society. Here’s a late-fourteenth-century French translation of Alan of Lille’s proverb on women and appearances:

In a mirror, the shiny thing
That seems to be there isn’t;
Eyesight and a fox seem reliable,
But they are false like the devil.

{ En miroir n’en cose polie
Ce qui y samble n’y est mie;
Loux et renart samblent fiable,
Mais ilz sont faulx come le dyable. } [4]

Alan’s reference to women has been completely obliterated in this translation. In 2005, an eminent medieval scholar commented about this translation:

The translator evidently wanted to remove the clearly misogynistic tone of the original [5]

Misogyny in this scholar’s evaluation apparently means any expression that some woman might claim offends her. Misogyny is also commonly used as a myth to support the myth of patriarchy. Rather than pondering an ever-more elaborate web of myths and convoluted explanations for why gender reality contradicts dogma, one might consider how a sensible, rational mind from more enlightened medieval times would interpret Alan’s proverb. Here’s a commentary on that proverb from a fourteenth-century scholar:

The ensuing proverb {Alan of Lille’s proverb on women and appearances} teaches us to flee and avoid, as much as possible for us, the company of a dissolute or suspicious woman. It says that some beautiful promise or certification that such a woman gives to a man, if there is not any trust apart from her appearance, is thus similar to a man seeing the appearance of her form in a mirror.

{ La parabole qui ensuit nous enseigne fuyr et eviter, en tant que possible nous est, la compaignie de femme dissolue ou suspecte, disant que quelque belle promesse ou certification que telle femme donne a l’homme, si n’y a il point de foy en elle fors d’apparence, ainsi que par similitude l’omme peut veoir apparentement sa forme en ung miroir. } [6]

That’s good wisdom. It applies equally well to a dissolute or suspicious man. Most persons readily understand its application to men. Applying it to women is controversial under gynocentrism and thus far more socially important.

Geoffrey Chaucer appreciated that “all that glitters isn’t good” applies to heterosexual perceptions, but he differed from Alan of Lille and Shakespeare in gender-value judgment. In discussing men’s alchemy and the despair of men’s lives, Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman declared:

But every thing that shines like gold
is not gold, as I have heard said;
and every apple that is fair to the eye
is not good, whatever men may chatter or cry.

{ But al thyng which that shineth as the gold
Nis nat gold, as that I have herd told;
Ne every appul that is fair at eye
Ne is nat good, what so men clappe or crye. } [7]

The appealing apple alludes to the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Adam, the primordial subordinate husband, obeyed his wife Eve and ate the fruit, understood in medieval Europe to be an apple. Adam should have extensively questioned Eve before obeying her. Men today still haven’t learned that lesson. Men continue to blindly obey women, to the detriment of all human society.

Chaucer was more interested in his own personal advancement than in the welfare of all human society. Under gynocentrism, pandering to women is always profitable. Chaucer thus recast “all the glistens isn’t gold” in terms of men deceiving women. Narrating one of his dreams, Chaucer described the affair of Dido and Aeneas. Dido fell deeply in love with Aeneas:

She made of him, in short, in one word,
her life, her love, her lust, her lord;
and showed him all the reverence,
and gave him all the wealth,
that any woman might do,
believing that it was all so,
as he swore to her, and by this judging
that he was good, for he seemed such.

{ Made of him, shortly, at oo word,
Hir lyf, hir love, hir luste, hir lord;
And dide him al the reverence,
And leyde on him al the dispence,
That any woman mighte do,
Weninge hit had al be so,
As he hir swoor; and her-by demed
That he was good, for he swich semed. } [8]

The results were tragic, and it was all his fault:

Alas! What harm does appearance,
When it is false in reality!
For he was a traitor to her;
and she therefore killed herself, alas!

{ Allas! what harm doth apparence,
Whan hit is fals in existence!
For he to hir a traitour was;
Wherfor she slow hir-self, allas! }

Chaucer all but claimed that Aeneas killed Dido. That’s about as just as prominent newspaper reports that about a quarter of men rape their wives. Moreover, Chaucer immediately generalized the tragic case of Aeneas and Dido:

See, how a woman is mistaken
to love him who isn’t known.
For, by Christ, see! Thus it goes:
“It is not all gold, that glistens.”

{ Lo, how a woman doth amis,
To love him that unknowen is!
For, by Crist, lo! thus hit fareth;
“Hit is not al gold, that glareth.” }

Chaucer declared that men in their pure nature (“pure kinde”) are untrustworthy:

For all that I pledge my head to be broken,
there may be by right-headedness
covered many a cursed vice.
Therefore be in no way so foolish
to take a love only for looks,
for speech, or for friendly manners;
For this shall every woman find:
that some man, of his pure kind,
will show outward the fairest,
until he has gotten what he desires;
and then he will find excuses,
and swear that she is unkind,
or false, or sly, or two-faced.

{ For, al-so brouke I wel myn heed,
Ther may be under goodliheed
Kevered many a shrewed vyce;
Therfor be no wight so nyce,
To take a love only for chere,
For speche, or for frendly manere;
For this shal every woman finde
That som man, of his pure kinde,
Wol shewen outward the faireste,
Til he have caught that what him leste;
And thanne wol he causes finde,
And swere how that she is unkinde,
Or fals, or prevy, or double was. }

Not all men are like that. Righteous men from Jerome in the fourth century to Paul Elam today have told women the truth. Yet condemning them and all men is an easy path for personal advancement.

The truth isn’t as superficially pleasing as pretty gynocentric lies. All that glistens isn’t gold. Both women and men must be wary of being deceived, for no flesh-and-blood human is intrinsically trustworthy. The learned, courageous medieval scholar Alan of Lille was wise. Don’t merely listen and believe women, for trust is not inherent in woman.

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[1] Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice 2.7.65-73,  3.2.131-8 (from Pelican ed.). The two subsequent quotes are from id. 2.7.16 (casket inscription “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”) and 3.2.126-9 (Portia’s portrait: shadow versus substance). Here’s more on Shakespeare’s invocation of shadows and sense of presence.

[2] Alan of Lille, Liber parabolarum 3.1, Latin text from Limone (1993) p. 64 (critical edition), English translation adapted from Pepin (1999) p. 160. Alan’s Liber parabolarum is also called Alani Parabolae, Doctrinale minus, and Parvum doctrinale. Limone’s Latin text is based on fifteen manuscripts dated from the middle of the thirteenth century to end of the fifteenth. Limone (1993) p. 27. While Limone’s text is currently the most authoritative, Latin texts are also available in Patrologia Latina 210,  and in appendices of both Hunt (2005) and Hunt (2007).

Alan’s Liber parabolarum consists of 321 elegiac distichs arranged in six chapters of incremental proverb length. In its first chapter, the proverbs are couplets, thematically grouped in pairs. In subsequent chapters, the proverbs are quatrains, sextets, octets, etc. Liber parabolarum has considerable literary sophistication, but isn’t included in Wetherbee (2013).

Alan of Lille’s epitaph recognized his intellectual eminence. It proclaimed:

Brief life has left buried in a small tomb Alan,
who knew the two, who knew the seven, who knew all that is knowable.

{ Alanum breuis hora breui tumulo sepeliuit
Qui duo, qui septem, quit totum scibile sciuit. }

Latin text from Wetherbee (2013) p. vii, English translation adapted from id. The two apparently are the Old and New Testament, and the seven, the seven liberal arts. Id. For more on Alan’s intellectual eminence, id. pp. viii-ix.

Liber parabolarum was included in the Auctores octo that was central to late-medieval school teaching. It was thus widely studied in medieval Europe.

[3] Liber parabolarum 1.8, Latin from Limone (1993) p. 46, English translation adapted from Pepin (1999) p. 152. Its paired proverb is 1.7. That proverb concerns the deceptiveness of a new path and a new ally. Proverb 1.4 warns against entrusting to old men an opinion that you wish to remain private. Medieval thinkers undoubtedly understood that proverb to apply to old women as well.

[4] Les proverbez d’Alain (attributed to Thomas Maillet) 1.8, Middle French text from Hunt (2007) p. 55, my English translation. The text has survived in a single manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 12478, f. 249r-268r).

[5] Hunt (2007) p. 93, note to Middle French text line 83, my translation from the French. That note in its entire original text:

Le traducteur a évidemment voulu supprimer le ton nettement misogyne de l’original: ‘Non est in speculo res quae speculatur in illo; / Eminet, et non est in muliere fides’ (I,8).

Hunt also described Alan of Lille’s proverb as displaying “conventional anti-feminism.” Hunt (1985) p. 367. That’s a conventional, disparaging scholarly term for transgressive literature of men’s sexed protest.

[6] Commentary on Liber parabolarum 1.8 in Les paraboles Maistre Alain en françoys, first published by Antoine Vérard in 1492. Middle French text from Hunt (2005) p. 126, my English translation. Cf. 1 Samual 16:7.

Other French translations respected the important insight of Liber parabolarum 1.8. A partial translation of Liber parabolarum from the late-thirteenth century provided both the original Latin and a French translation:

The matter that we observe in a mirror is not in it;
Trust stands out, and it is not in woman.

{Commentary} The same is not in the mirror that is perceived in the glass; trustworthiness is lost in a woman, but it seems that it is there.

{ Non est in speculo res quam speculamur in illo,
Iminet et non est in muliere fides.

Ceo n’est mie en les mirur ceo ke l’en garde lens; leauté pert en femme, mes i ni at nule. }

From Ms. London, Lambeth Palace Library 371, ff. 130v – 134r, quoting Latin and Old French text from Hunt (1981) p. 48, my English translation.

The French translation that Antoine Vérard printed in 1492 also didn’t obliterate the reference to woman:

There isn’t the real form
in a mirror that a man perceives there;
in a false woman also, likewise,
there isn’t the fidelity about which the man is very deceived.

{ Cela n’est pas forme realement
En ung miroir que l’omme y apparçoit;
En fole femme aussi, pareillement,
N’est point la foy dont maint homme deçoit. }

Middle French text from Hunt (2005) p. 54, my English translation.

[7] Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale ll. 962-5, Old English text and close translation from Larry Benson’s Harvard Chaucer Page.

[8] Chaucer, House of Fame ll. 1.257-64, Old English text from Skeat (1899), transcribed by Douglas B. Killings; my close modern English translation. Subsequent quotes are similarly from id. ll. 1.265-85.

[image] Gold wedding dress. Made in 1951 by Norman Hartnell. Source image thanks to Elisa.rolle and Wikimedia Commons.


Hunt, Tony. 1981. “Une traduction partielle des Parabolae d’Alain de Lille.” Le Moyen Age 87 (1): 45-56.

Hunt, Tony. 1985. “Les paraboles Maistre Alain.” Forum for Modern Language Studies. 21 (4): 362-375.

Hunt, Tony, ed. 2005. Alan of Lille. Les paraboles maistre Alain en françoys. MHRA Critical Texts 2. London: Modern Humanities Research Association.

Hunt, Tony, ed. 2007. Alan of Lille. Les proverbez d’Alain. Paris: Honoré Champion.

Limone, Oronzo, ed. 1993. Alan of Lille. Liber parabolarum: una raccolta di aforismi. Galatina: Congedo.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, ed. and trans. 2013. Alan of Lille. Literary works. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 22. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. (online review)

whore ridiculed Venetian cuckolds for their large penises

Freedom of Speech (excerpt), Norman Rockwell, 1943

Today, pervasive codes of conduct explicitly prohibit “offensive communication.” Medieval Europe, in contrast, allowed much greater freedom of expression, especially in Latin. Medieval authors such as the eminent medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini explored lascivious topics fundamental to human well-being and to perpetuating humanity. This freedom of expression helped to sustain a more humane, tolerant, and culturally vibrant society.

A learned man told Poggio a story about a whore who ridiculed Venetian cuckolds by claiming that they had enormous penises. This whore was welcoming and inclusive in providing her important service to men:

The whore was, he said, a commonly known Venetian to whom men of diverse nations came.

{ Scortum erat, ait, Venetiis vulgare, ad quod cum diversarum gentium viri accederent } [1]

The whore’s embrace of diversity gained for her valued knowledge:

Someone asked her one day the nationality of the men who had the largest penises that she had seen. The woman without hesitation responded that it was the Venetians. “Those,” she said, “have such a long Priapus, that although they are often away traveling in the remotest provinces beyond the seas, they still copulate with their wives and have children.”

{ quaesivit ab eo aliquando quispiam, quae sibi hominum natio majori membro virili esse videretur. Mulier e vestigio Venetos respondit. Cum causa postularetur: — “Quoniam,” inquit, “tam longo sunt Priapo, ut cum saepius in remotissimis et ultra mare sitis provinciis versentur, tamen cum uxoribus coeant et procreent filios.” }

Neither this whore nor anyone else actually believed that the Venetian husbands were having sex with their wives while being far distant from them. The Venetian husbands were being cuckolded. The witty whore was ridiculing them. While penis size is vitally important, cuckolds throughout history have commonly been subjects of ridicule.

Compared to men, women experience less pressure to perform sexually and typically are less concerned about the size of their genitals. However, women who understand themselves as being like men can mis-interpret the quality of their genitals. Consider the case of a woman and man committing adultery in early fifteenth-century Sienna:

Immediately after having sex with her, the adulterer insultingly said that he had never found any other woman with such a wide vagina. She, supposing him to be praising her, said: “From graciousness you are saying this, not from my merit. I wish it were what you say, as big as that! I would, because of it, regard myself as being more noble and more greatly valued.

{ Hic cum post coitum in ejus contumeliam dixisset, se nunquam in alia latiorem vulvam reperisse, illa existimans id sibi laudi esse: — “Ex gratia tua hoc,” inquit, “dicis, non meo merito: utinam mihi ea, quam profers, adesset copia! nam multo propterea me nobiliorem, et majori existimandam reputarem.” } [2]

That’s what a man might think upon being told that he had a relatively large penis. Medieval literature figuratively associated a wide vagina with a woman having had sex with many different men. Medieval men preferred, all else equal, women with narrow vaginas. Yet, as sexually subordinate persons, men often have to accept other than what they prefer. The woman in this story misunderstood herself as being measured sexually like men.

Men who believe that merely having a large penis protects them from being cuckolded are fools. Women who believe that their sexual value is measured like men’s are also fools. Modern triggering and making offense is a repressive, inhumane alternative to medieval freedom of expression in discussing sex.

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[1] Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae 244, “The witty saying of a prostitute about Venetians {Facetum Dictum Meretricis Adjocans Venetis},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 2, pp. 184-5. The quotes above provide my English translations, drawing upon that of id., but tracking the Latin more closely.  The subsequent quote is similarly from id. The Latin text of Poggio’s Facetiae is available online in machine-readable format.

[2] Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae 180 “About a woman who believed that she was being praised when being told that she had a wide vagina {De Muliere Se Credente Ad Laudem Trahi, Confitendo Latiorem Vulvam Habere},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 2, pp. 95-6, my translation as above.

[image] Excerpt from “Freedom of Speech,” an oil on canvas painting by Norman Rockwell, 1943.  It was incorporated into a U.S. government poster that added around the painting, “Save Freedom of Speech / Buy War Bonds.” Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


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

what foster-father Chiron failed to teach his son Achilles

Achilles, bathed in tears, stood before him {Chiron} as before a father;
so he would have wept for Peleus {his biological father} if he were dying.
Often he caressed the feeble hands with his own loving hands;
The character that the teacher had molded rewarded him.
Achilles often kissed him and often said to him as he lay there:
“Live, I pray, don’t leave me, dear father!”

{ stabat, ut ante patrem, lacrimis perfusus Achilles
sic flendus Peleus, si moreretur, erat
saepe manus aegras manibus fingebat amicis
morum, quos fecit, praemia doctor
oscula saepe dedit, dixit quoque saepe iacenti
“Vive, precor, nec me, care, relinque, pater!” } [1]

Chiron teaching Achilles to play lyre

Achilles’ biological parents Thetis and Peleus had a tense relationship. The top gods had arranged for their marriage. Thetis was a sea-goddess. Peleus was a mortal king. She resented her husband’s lowly status as merely a mortal. When he embraced her, he felt as if she transformed herself into a lioness or a serpent. They somehow managed to have seven children. Thetis burned some of their children to death and killed others with boiling water.[2]

While Peleus deserves blame for agreeing to marry Thetis, he at least saved the life of one of his children, his son Achilles. Thetis was obsessively and bizarrely torturing the baby Achilles just as she had done to their other children:

she would always singe his mortal flesh in the flames of a fire in the middle of the night, and then, during the day, would anoint his tender body with ambrosia. This was to make him immortal and to keep hateful old age from his body. But Peleus leapt from his bed and saw his dear son convulsing in the flames and let out a horrible yell at the sight. It was a foolish thing to do. When she heard it, she grabbed the baby and threw him screaming to the ground. Then she, light as a dream and like a breeze, swiftly went out of the palace. She leaped into the sea in anger. She never came back again.

{ ἡ μὲν γὰρ βροτέας αἰεὶ περὶ σάρκας ἔδαιεν
νύκτα διὰ μέσσην φλογμῷ πυρός· ἤματα δ᾿ αὖτε
ἀμβροσίῃ χρίεσκε τέρεν δέμας, ὄφρα πέλοιτο
ἀθάνατος καί οἱ στυγερὸν χροῒ γῆρας ἀλάλκοι.
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ᾿ ἐξ εὐνῆς ἀναπάλμενος εἰσενόησεν
παῖδα φίλον σπαίροντα διὰ φλογός· ἧκε δ᾿ ἀυτὴν
σμερδαλέην ἐσιδών, μέγα νήπιος· ἡ δ᾿ ἀίουσα
τὸν μὲν ἄρ᾿ ἁρπάγδην χαμάδις βάλε κεκληγῶτα,
αὐτὴ δὲ πνοιῇ ἰκέλη δέμας, ἠύτ᾿ ὄνειρος,
βῆ ῥ᾿ ἴμεν ἐκ μεγάροιο θοῶς, καὶ ἐσήλατο πόντον
χωσαμένη· μετὰ δ᾿ οὔ τι παλίσσυτος ἵκετ᾿ ὀπίσσω. } [3]

Good riddance to that horrible mother, one might hope. Yet these events aren’t part of the mythic patriarchy about which scholars have spewed clouds of ink. These events are nearly inexpressible reality. The great goddess that maintains gynocentrism ensures that mothers like Thetis and Josephine Crabtree get custody of children, rather than children being placed in custody of their deserving fathers.

By the time Statius wrote his Achilleid late in the first century, Achilles’s father Peleus was almost totally absent, and his mother Thetis was controlling his life. Perhaps busy with her affairs at sea, she choose not to raise her son herself. Achilles described himself as:

the son whom my mother, the sea-goddess,
almost bore to Jupiter and sent to be reared in the woods and snows
of Thessaly.

{ genitum quem caerula mater
paene Iovi silvis nivibusque inmisit alendum
Thessalicis. } [4]

Achilles explained that his mother sent him away “in my tender years, while I was still crawling {in teneris et adhuc reptantibus annis}.” Achilles had no contact with his biological father and mother throughout the rest of his childhood.

Thetis gave the infant Achilles to be reared by the half-man, half-horse Chiron. This centaur lived in a cave on Mount Pelion’s ridge in the woods and snows of Thessaly. A poor dwelling, Chiron’s cave was an old geological formation that had been extended by hand. Achilles as an infant living in these harsh conditions didn’t eat brand-name baby food and didn’t drink expensive, certified-organic infant formula:

I took no ordinary food nor from nourishing
breast sated my hunger, but tore at tough lion
innards and sucked marrow from half-alive she-wolves.

{ non ullos ex more cibos hausisse nec almis
uberibus satiasse famem, sed spissa leonum
viscera semianimisque lupae traxisse medullas. } [5]

Thetis felt guilty about what she had done to her son. At one point she exclaimed:

Why did I designate Pelion and the cave of its stern taskmaster as the cradle for my little boy?

{ quid enim cunabula parvo Pelion et torvi commisimus antra magistri? } [6]

Harsh living conditions hurt a boy much less than the absence of a father. A half-man who cares about a boy is better than no man. The centaur Chiron helped the young boys Aristaeus, Actaeon, Asclepius, and Jason became eminent mythic figures. Despite his failures, Chiron was a good foster-father for Achilles.

Chiron taking Achilles hunting

Chiron mentoring Achilles

Chiron teaching Achilles to read

Like a good father, Chiron engaged Achilles in vigorous physical activity, taught him a wide range of knowledge, and provided him with emotional support. He also challenged him to overcome trying circumstances. Achilles recounted:

It wasn’t long before
he taught me to go with him through the trackless lands,
drawing me on with his longer stride, and to laugh
when I saw wild animals, and not be afraid of rocks
shattered by cataracts, or the vast forest silences.

When I was just twelve,
a raw youth, he had me sprinting faster than deer
and Lapith horses, and outrunning thrown spears.
Chiron himself, when he was still fast, would chase me
at full gallop all over the plains, and then,
when I was exhausted from all my running around
he would joyfully praise me and lift me up to his back.

{ mox ire per invia secum
lustra gradu maiore trahens visisque docebat
arridere feris nec fracta ruentibus undis
saxa nec ad vastae trepidare silentia silvae.

vix mihi bissenos annorum torserat orbes
vita rudis, volucris cum iam praevertere cervos
et Lapithas cogebat equos praemissaque cursu
tela sequi; saepe ipse gradu me praepete Chiron,
dum velox aetas, campis admissus agebat
omnibus, exhaustumque vago per gramina passu
laudabat gaudens atque in sua terga levabat. } [7]

Chiron directed Achilles to arduous tasks:

Chiron would never let me chase
unwarlike deer through Ossa’s wilds, or bring down
timid lynxes with my spear. No, I had to rouse
grim bears from their dens, boars like thunderbolts,
or maybe a ferocious tiger, or some lioness
with her cubs in a hidden mountainside cavern.
And he would sit in his vast cave awaiting my exploits,
waiting to see if I came back spattered with black blood.
And he wouldn’t kiss me before inspecting my weapons.

He would teach me to jump wide ditches, to scale
mountain peaks as if striding on level ground,
to take flying boulders on my shield in mock battle,
to enter burning huts, and to stop chariots on foot.
I remember when the Spercheius was flowing
fast as can be, fed by constant rain and melting snow,
churning uprooted trees and rocks along. Chiron
tells me to get in where the current is strongest
and stand against it, repelling swollen waves
that he himself would have had trouble holding off
even with his strong footwork. I stood in it,
but the raging river with its wall of dark spume
kept pushing me back. Chiron came down on me hard,
threatening, scolding, appealing to my sense of shame.
I did not get out until ordered, so driven was I
by exalted glory.

{ numquam ille inbelles Ossaea per avia dammas
sectari aut timidas passus me cuspide lyncas
sternere, sed tristes turbare cubilibus ursos
fulmineosque sues, et sicubi maxima tigris
aut seducta iugis fetae spelunca leaenae.
ipse sedens vasto facta exspectabat in antro,
si sparsus nigro remearem sanguine; nec me
ante nisi inspectis admisit ad oscula telis.

nunc docet ingentes saltu me iungere fossas,
nunc caput aerii scandentem prendere montis,
quo fugitur per plana gradu, simulacraque pugnae:
excipere immissos curvato umbone molares
ardentesque intrare casas peditemque volantis
sistere quadriiugos. memini, rapidissimus ibat
imbribus assiduis pastus nivibusque solutis
Sperchios vivasque trabes et saxa ferebat,
cum me ille immissum, qua saevior impetus undae,
stare iubet contra tumidosque repellere fluctus,
quos vix ipse gradu totiens obstante tulisset.
stabam equidem, sed me referebat concitus amnis
et latae caligo fugae; ferus ille minari
desuper incumbens verbisque urgere pudorem.
nec nisi iussus abi: sic me sublimis agebat
gloria, nec duri tanto sub teste labores. }

Chiron also taught Achilles to wrestle, box, and hurl the discus. Added to such lessons in physical prowess were many other fields of instruction. Chiron taught Achilles music and ancient literature, herbal medicine, and principles of sacred justice. Most importantly, Chiron stayed close to his son. They slept together on a boulder. Even when Achilles’s biological mother visited their man-cave, the young Achilles preferred to sleep with his foster-father:

Night draws them on to slumber. The huge Centaur
collapses onto stone, and Achilles snuggles
into his shaggy shoulders and arms, preferring,
though his faithful mother is there, that familiar chest.

{ nox trahit in somnos; saxo collabitur ingens
Centaurus blandusque umeris se innectit Achilles,
quamquam ibi fida parens, assuetaque pectora mavult. }

Many fathers today are reduced to legally specified, but not legally required, “visitation time” with their children. How many boys today would be delighted to have a half-man, foster-father like Chiron?[8]

Thetis came to the man-cave and took Achilles away from Chiron. She implied that Chiron wasn’t taking good care of Achilles, told a bizarre, fictive story about the necessity of her performing magic rites for the boy, and demanded, “Just give him to me {trade magis}.” Foolishly trusting her story, Chiron obeyed the mother’s order. The next morning, she carried off the sleeping Achilles. Chiron, brushing tears from his eyes, followed them to the shore. He begged her to bring back Achilles soon. He watched as she summoned and bridled a team of dolphins. They pulled her and the still-sleeping Achilles over the sea’s horizon. Chiron then could no longer see him.

Thetis believed that Achilles, without her help, would die in the brutal, men-on-men violence of the Trojan War. She thought it would be safest to disguise him as a girl and hide him in the household of King Lycomedes among the King’s many daughters and no sons. Thetis accordingly brought the sleeping Achilles to King Lycomedes’s island of Scyros.[9] Achilles woke up on the seashore of Scyros with no idea of where he was and why he was no longer in Chiron’s cave on Pelion’s ridge. Although a defiant boy whose heart never trembled, he was frightened. Thetis caressed him, disparaged his biological father, and urged him to wear women’s clothing.

Chiron’s teaching hadn’t prepared his foster-son Achilles for such bewildering circumstances. Thetis recounted to Achilles how Hercules had served Omphale, how Jupiter had transformed himself into Diana to seduce Callisto, that the great drinker Bacchus wore robes, and that Caeneus, the hero of the centaurs’ long-time enemy the Lapiths, was born a female. Achilles had learned from Chiron the stories of the great Greek heroes. Thetis’s mythical references appalled him. With further words, Thetis promised to return him soon to Chiron, reminded him of all the hardships she had endured because of him, told him that she sought what was best for him, and urged him to put on women’s clothing. Of course all men would be better off as women, given the oppressive force of gynocentrism. Yet Achilles was reluctant to renounce his sex:

“Why are you looking away?
What are you thinking? Are you ashamed to be soft
in this dress? I swear, dear child, by the sea I was born in,
Chiron will never know.”
So she worked on his rough heart, coaxing in vain.

{ “cur ora reducis
quidve parant oculi? pudet hoc mitescere cultu?
per te, care puer, cognata per aequora iuro,
nesciet hoc Chiron.” sic horrida pectora tractat
nequiquam mulcens }

Achilles didn’t harshly rebuke his mother for attempting to totally transform his life without even consulting him. Yet he at least passively resisted her when awake. Fathers must not fail to teach their sons about how to prevent their mothers, and women generally, from dominating them.[10]

Even more importantly, fathers must teach their sons about satisfying their sexual desire. While Achilles was passively resisting his mother’s domination, the daughters of Lycomedes come out to the seashore and began dancing a springtime festival in honor of the goddess Athena:

All were surpassingly beautiful, all dressed alike,
all just at the peak of tender modesty, their virginity
and swelling years ripe for the marriage bed.

{ omnibus eximium formae decus, omnibus idem
cultus et expleto teneri iam fine pudoris
virginitas matura toris annique tumentes. }

Achilles gazed upon them.[11] Ovid would have wanted them all. But Achilles was more discriminating:

just as Venus overwhelms the emerald sea-nymphs
when she joins them, just as Diana towers over
the Naiads, so too does Deidamia,
queen of that fair choir, eclipse her lovely sisters.
Her roseate face inflames her scarlet robe,
her gems have more luster, her gold more allure,
and she would compare in beauty with Athena herself
if the deity would lay aside the snakes in her bosom,
take off her helmet, and assume a tranquil expression.

{ sed quantum virides pelagi Venus addita Nymphas
obruit, aut umeris quantum Diana relinquit
Naidas, effulget tantum regina decori
Deidamia chori pulchrisque sororibus obstat.
illius et roseo flammatur purpura vultu
et gemmis lux maior inest et blandius aurum:
atque ipsi par forma deaest, si pectoris angues
ponat et exempta pacetur casside vultus. }

A mean heart and a truculent manner can obliterate any woman’s beauty.[12] Deidamia projected kindness and receptivity. Achilles was inflamed with desire for her:

When the defiant boy, whose heart had never trembled,
saw this girl at the head of her troop of companions,
he stiffened, and every bone in his body
absorbed liquid fire. Nor did this passion stay hidden;
no, the torch pulsing in his marrow goes to his face,
tingeing his bright cheeks and glazing them with sweat.
As when the Massagetae darken their milk with blood
or when ivory is stained with crimson dye,
so too this sudden flame shows itself, reddening
his checks’ pallor. He would have run forward wildly
and disrupted his hosts’ rituals, oblivious
of the crowd and his age, had he not been held back
by a sense of shame and reverence for his hovering mother.

{ hanc ubi ducentem longe socia agmina vidit,
trux puer et nullo temeratus pectora motu
deriguit totisque novum bibit ossibus ignem.
nec latet haustus amor, sed fax vibrata medullis
in vultus atque ora redit lucemque genarum
tinguit et inpulsam tenui sudore pererrat.
lactea Massagetae veluti cum pocula fuscant
sanguine puniceo vel ebur corrumpitur ostro,
sic variis manifesta notis palletque rubetque
flamma repens. eat atque ultro ferus hospita sacra
disiciat turbae securus et inmemor aevi,
ni pudor et iunctae teneat reverentia matris. }

In the presence of stunning feminine beauty, even the bravest of unlearned men can be petrified with thoughts of his mother’s admonitions and a sense of shame. Achilles’s mother exploited his lack of learning about how to approach beautiful women. She pleaded to him to make her a grandmother by any means necessary:

Is it so difficult to play holding hands, my son,
or to imitate these dance-steps? Is there anything like this
beneath chilly Ossa or on Pelion’s ridges?
Oh, if only another heart beat now with mine
and I held to my bosom another Achilles!

{ Hasne inter simulare choros et bracchia ludo
nectere, nate, grave est? gelida quid tale sub Ossa
Peliacisque iugis? o si mihi iungere curas
atque alium portare sinu contingat Achillem! }

Some means of having sex with woman are morally wrong. Yet his mother’s pleading focused Achilles on scoring that goal:

He begins to soften and blushes for joy,
casting bold sideways glances and relaxing the hand
that rejects the garments. His mother sees him waffling,
sees he wants to be forced, and drapes the dress on him.
Then she massages his neck, drops his heavy shoulders,
smooths out his strong arms, arranges his unkempt hair,
and transfers her necklace to that beloved neck.
Next, confining his steps with an embroidered hem,
she teaches him how to walk and move and speak
with modesty. Just as an artist whose thumb molds
heated wax to a new shape and brings it to life,
so did the goddess transform her son.

{ mulcetur laetumque rubet visusque protervos
obliquat vestesque manu leviore repellit.
aspicit ambiguum genetrix cogique volentem
iniecitque sinus; tum colla rigentia mollit
submittitque graves umeros et fortia laxat
bracchia et inpexos certo domat ordine crines
ac sua dilecta cervice monilia transfert;
et picturato cohibens vestigia limbo
incessum motumque docet fandique pudorem.
qualiter artifici victurae pollice cerae
accipiunt formas ignemque manumque sequuntur,
talis erat divae natum mutantis imago. }

Achilles did not affirmatively consent to his mother’s physical manipulations of him. She should not have forced him, even if she thought he wanted it.[13] Tragically, rape of men remains trivialized through to the present day.

Archilles’s mother made all the arrangements for the deception. Repeatedly touching and trimming him, she cautioned him to mimic diligently the behavior of girls. Pledging sincerity upon holy altars, she presented Achilles to King Lycomedes and declared:

I present to you, lord, my Achilles’s sister
(and doesn’t she look just like her fierce brother?)
for your safekeeping. Spirited as she is, she has sought
to carry a bow and shun wedlock like an Amazon.
But I have enough worries with my male offspring.
Let her carry baskets in processions. Keep her in line,
the indocile girl, until she is old enough to marry
and lose her virginity. Don’t let her exercise naked
in the gymnasium or wander in the woods.

{ “Hanc tibi” ait “nostri germanam, rector, Achillis
(nonne vides ut torva genas aequandaque fratri?)
tradimus. arma umeris arcumque animosa petebat
ferre et Amazonio conubia pellere ritu.
sed mihi curarum satis est pro stirpe virili;
haec calathos et sacra ferat, tu frange regendo
indocilem sexuque tene, dum nubilis aetas
solvendusque pudor; neve exercere protervas
gymnadas aut lustris nemorum concede vagari.” }

No more could Achilles enjoy masculine life as he did with Chiron on Pelion’s ridge. King Lycomedes venerated Thetis for the honor of being given custody of her daughter. Lycomedes’s daughters stared at this new girl, who was a head taller than any of them and had an extraordinarily firm chest.

While Achilles showed considerable natural ability, he ultimately lacked sufficient self-confidence. In seeking to seduce Deidamia, he employed the now well-established seduction techniques of acting like a jerk, using pull-push emotional dynamics, and seeking physical contact:

The rogue chases her, crowds her, makes eyes at her
over and over, sticks too close to her side,
and she makes no effort to avoid him.
Now he pelts her with flowers, or with baskets spilled
on purpose, or taps her with a thyrsus. Now he shows her
the sweet strings of the lyre he knows so well,
the subtle measures of Chiron’s songs, guiding her hand
and making her fingers pluck the chords; and now
he takes hold of her mouth as she sings, entwines her
with embraces, and praises her with a thousand kisses.
She is all too glad to learn which peak is Pelion,
who Aeacides is; wonders as she hears the boy’s name
and exploits, and sings of Achilles there before her.

{ blandeque novas nil tale timenti
admovet insidias: illam sequiturque premitque
improbus, illam oculis iterumque iterumque resumit.
nunc nimius lateri non evitantis inhaeret,
nunc levibus sertis, lapsis nunc sponte canistris,
nunc thyrso parcente ferit, modo dulcia notae
fila lyrae tenuesque modos et carmina monstrat
Chironis ducitque manum digitosque sonanti
infringit citharae, nunc occupat ora canentis
et ligat amplexus et mille per oscula laudat.
illa libens discit, quo vertice Pelion, et quis
Aeacides, puerique auditum nomen et actus
adsidue stupet et praesentem cantat Achillem. } [14]

On the appointed day in a high grove deep in Scyros’s forest, the girls, including Achilles, engaged in strictly men-exclusive orgiastic rites. They danced and offered to Bacchus dismembered bodies of cattle and tree trunks torn from the ground. While reveling in female gender privilege, Achilles was unsatisfied as a man. Achilles said to himself:

How long will you endure
your fearful mother’s schemes and waste the prime
of your life in unmanly captivity?

And what’s more, you hide your passion for your beloved girl —
your chosen one, your coeval flame — imprisoned
by day and by night. How long will you suppress
the wound that burns in your heart, or fail to prove,
even in love (O the shame!), that you are a man?

{ Quonam timidae commenta parentis
usque feres? primumque imbelli carcere perdes
florem animi?

quin etiam dilectae virginis ignem
aequaevamque facem captus noctesque diesque
dissimulas. quonam usque premes urentia pectus
vulnera? teque marem (pudet heu!) nec amore probabis? }

Rooted in the ancient concept of virtue is the men-disparaging belief that a man must prove his worth as a man. Without appreciating his inherent goodness, without confidence in his own seductive allure, and following his mother’s example, Achilles used force to have sex with a girl whom he thought wanted it.

he gets his way by force, putting all his heart
into authentic embraces. The whole choir of stars
watched from above, and the slender Moon blushed.

{ vi potitur votis et toto pectore veros
admovet amplexus; vidit chorus omnis ab alto
astrorum et tenerae rubuerunt cornua Lunae. }

Use of physical force represents moral and intellectual weakness. Women are naturally superior to men in guile, and reportedly as well in the skills necessary to succeed in the twenty-first century economy. Fathers should teach their sons guile and other vital seductive techniques. More importantly, fathers should teach their sons their intrinsic worth as male human beings. Like many good fathers, Achilles’s foster-father Chiron failed to teach him well that fundamental lesson. Readers of the Iliad know the rest.[15]

Mothers disguising their sons as girls won’t save them from the epic devaluation of men’s lives. In the Trojan War, a huge number of men, including Achilles, died brutal deaths fighting over one, adulterous woman. The toll of men’s deaths increased significantly as a result of Achilles’s bitter conflict with Agamemnon over sexual access to the beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Briseis. Wise leaders would make public provision for men’s sexual welfare. Yet most leaders are not wise, but ignorantly gynocentric. In such oppressive circumstances, the most important lesson for fathers to teach their sons is simple. A man does not need to prove that he is a man, not in battle, not with women. If Achilles and other men understood their intrinsic virtue, they wouldn’t seek glory in battle, nor rage about being deprived of a woman.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Ovid, Fasti 5.407-12, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Frazer & Goold (2014).

[2] On Thetis changing form in Peleus’s embrace, see, e.g. Pausanias, Geography 5.18.5, Appollodorus, Library 3.13.5 (including note 261). For early Greek accounts of Thetis abusing children she had with Peleus, Ashton (2009) para. 48-9, Burgess (2009) pp. 10-11. The tradition of Thetis dipping Achilles in the Styx while holding his heal came later. Burgess observed:

The later Roman story of Achilles’ heel does correspond thematically to the earlier Greek traditions, however. Once again, an infant is dipped into a destructive element. The Styx was considered extremely cold, poisonous, or fiery, qualities comparable to the fire and boiling water of the early traditions.

Id. p. 11.

[3] Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.868-79, Greek text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Race (2009). Another account describes Thetis as testing her children, even after younger ones had fatally failed her test:

Thetis cast her children by Peleus into a cauldron of water, wanting to know whether they were mortal […] and when many had in fact died, Peleus grew angry and prevented Achilles from being flung into the cauldron.

{ ἡ Θέτις εἰς λέβητα ὕδατος ἔβαλλεν τοὺν ἐκ Πηλέως γεννωμένους, γνῶναι βουλομένη εἰ θνητοί εἰσιν [ … ] καὶ δὴ πολλῶν διαφθαρέντων ἀγανακτῆσαι τὸν Πηλέα καὶ κωλῦσαι τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα ἐμβληθῆναι εἰς λέβητα. }

Scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.868-79, cited with this Greek text and English translation in Aston (2009) para. 48.

Thetis and Chiron were associated in ancient myth and cult. Both were associated with Thessaly and related thematically, including through Achilles’s life. Chiron was a culture hero. Thetis, honored more broadly than Chiron, had a more ambiguous character. They weren’t paired simply as the evil Thetis and the good Chiron:

there is a symbolic dimension to this contrast which goes beyond the immediate contrast between the elusive, unreliable, destructive Thetis and the steadfast, healing Cheiron. Another, more profound point of divergence relates to failed and successful transitions. Thetis cannot leave her children as they are: she is compelled to attempt to usher them across the divide between mortality and divinity, an attempt which never succeeds, proving the immutability of the separation between gods and mortals.

Aston (2009) para. 55. The Achilleid presents a less abstract and more socially engaged contrast between Thetis and Chiron.

[4] Statius, Achilleid 1.650–2, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Shackleton Bailey (2003). The subsequent quote is similarly from Achilleid 2.96. In all subsequent quotes from the Achilleid, the Latin is from id., and the English translation is from Lombardo (2009), except where otherwise noted. In some instances I’ve adapted slightly the English translations to follow the Latin words and lines more closely. A Latin text of the Achilleid is available online at the Latin Library.

In the Middle Ages, western Europe — the region that had been the western part of the Roman Empire — lacked knowledge of Homer’s epics and all the rest of ancient Greek literature. The Achilleid thus largely influenced perception of Achilles:

for many centuries the most complete and compelling portrait of the great Achilles available to Western Europe was as the hero of a transvestite sex-farce.

Heslin (2003) p. xii. The Achilleid was widely read. It was one of the six texts {Sex auctores} that dominated the thirteenth-century European school curriculum. The Eclogue of Theodulus, which like the Achilleid provides subtle but trenchant gender critique, was another of the Sex auctores. Ziolkowski (2007) p. 114. The Achilleid can be read simplistically:

It is easy to see the qualities that must have recommended it to medieval teachers: it is a brief and lighthearted text by a major author, which introduces students to an important idiom and meter along with some major characters from mythology; it also describes the exemplary education of the young Achilles, his affection for his teacher, Chiron, and his obedience to his mother.

Heslin (2003) p. xiii. Unlike most modern scholars, medieval readers were sophisticated enough to enjoy transgressive works like Lamentationes Matheoluli. Whether medieval readers appreciated the Achilleid’s concern for the epic devaluation of men’s lives isn’t clear. A monumental review of medieval manuscripts of Statius considered why the Achilleid had been so popular:

The question is very difficult to answer, since the manuscripts afford us very little evidence.

Anderson (2009) v. 3, p. 124.

In earlier Greek myth, Peleus commonly had custody of Achilles after he and Thetis separated. That custodial arrangement changed with Roman imperial gynocentrism:

The centrality that Statius gives to Thetis in Achilles’ infancy is generally reflected in subsequent Roman art. In contradistinction to classical Greek representations of the handover of Achilles, where Peleus is the dominant figure, in the few surviving monuments of Roman art he never appears. The cause of Thetis supplanting Peleus as the dominant parent is surely the Achilleid itself, which intensified the focus on Thetis already begun by Homer to such a degree that Peleus all but vanishes.

Heslin (2003) p. 172.

[5] Achilleid 2.98-100. Heslin (2003), pp. 173-5, discusses the extraordinary act of eating half-alive animals. Chiron was apologetic toward Thetis about his poor dwelling in a cave:

{Chiron} leads her to his poor dwelling, reminding her that it is only a cave.

{ in armos pauperibus tectis inducit et admonet antri. }

Achilleid 1.126. Chiron’s cave was “part excavated by hand, part by geologic age {pars exhausta manu, partem sua ruperat aetas}.” Achilleid 1.108.

[6] Achilleid 1.38-9. The subject could be translated as “I” or “we”. On that ambiguity, Heslin (2003) pp. 171-2. Both Shackleton Bailey and Lombardo translate the subject as “I”.

[7] Achilleid 2.102-5, 110-16. Subsequent quotes are (cited by book.line in the Latin text of the Achilleid): 2.121-8, 138-53 (Chiron would never let me…), 1.195-7 (Night draws…), 1.141 (Just give him to me), 1.271-5 (Why are you looking away…), 1.290-2 (All were surpassingly beautiful…), 1.292-300 (Just as Venus overwhelms…), 1.301-12 (When the defiant boy…), 1.319-22 (Is it so difficult…), 1.323-34 (He begins to soften…), 1.350-8 (I present to you…), 1.567-79 (The rogue chases her…), 1.624-6, 636-9 (How much longer…), 1.642-4 (he gets his way…).

[8] Traveling to Chiron’s cave to take Achilles, Thetis speculated, “he already measures himself with his father’s {Chiron’s} sword {patria iam se metitur in hasta}.” Achilleid 1.41. Achilles himself referred to Chiron as “that father {ille pater} of mine.” Achilleid 2.102. Concluding her extraordinarily good article on teachers and surrogate fathers in Statius’s writings, Fantham perceptively observed about the ending of Silvae 5:

It was, he claims, Statius who gave the newborn the life-giving blow that activated his lungs. Indeed the last fractured lines recall his attempts to comfort the baby, and help him learn to walk and talk; here we come closest to the reality of fatherhood. For Statius the fondest relationship he knew, and could evoke, was that of surrogate or foster father, the role that he had seen his own father perform – the role of a Chiron.

Fantham (1999) pp. 69-70. The legal meaning of fatherhood in current U.S. family law centers on having provided semen and paying a court-ordered monthly dollar amount.

Within ancient myth, Chiron is associated with absence. Within ancient cult, he apparently had “no single site of strong personal residency.” Aston (2006) pp. 355, 361. Aston observed:

He is not a monster, but he resembles one. I think this tells us a great deal
about the perceived reason for his departure and absence: despite being a god, he is not enough of a god, at least in appearance, to be preserved.
Id. p. 362. Chiron provides a poignant figure of fathers in high-income societies today.

[9] Thetis deserves credit for not taking Achilles to Lemnos. She regarded Lemnos as “not providing justice to men {non aequa viris}.” Achilleid 1.206. That’s an understatement. The Lemnian women killed all the men on Lemnos.

[10] Thetis implored Neptune to blow up a storm to destroy the Trojan fleet. Using a tactic that vanquishes most men, she approached him “with bared breast {pectore nudo}.” Achilleid 1.77. Neptune drew upon the force of mythic historical necessity to stand up to Thetis.

[11] Feeney argued for the importance of the male gaze in the Achilleid:

Statius is principally concerned, however, with the male gaze, and especially with the scrutiny of Ulysses. Identifying with Ulysses, and gazing through his eyes as he attempts to spot the difference between Achilles and the ‘other’ girls, is a revealing, disquieting, and rather revolting experience.

Feeney (2004) p. 95. Gazing through Ulysses’s eyes is less revolting than the fate of “Peeping Tom”. Moreover, Statius seems to me more concerned with the epic devaluation of men’s lives than with the male gaze.

[12] With keen feminine sensibility, the girls sought to beautify Athena: “to tie foliage to her severe tresses and scatter flowers upon her spear {severas fronde ligare comas et spargere floribus hastam}.” Achilleid 1.288-9. Men tend to regard as less attractive women who look severe and carry spears.

[13] Ulysses taunted Achilles about Thetis raping him:

Did your crafty mother violate you with women’s clothing?

{ callida femineo genetrix violavit amictu }

Achilleid 2.35. Ovid, writing before Statius, seems to have provided the conceptual language for Statius’s account of Thetis raping Achilles:

the phrase cogique uolentem (“willing to be forced”) … is most striking. It reminds us, of course, of the Ovidian teacher’s comment on Achilles’ rape of Deidamia (sed uoluit uinci uiribus illa tamen, “but she wanted to be overcome by strength,” Ars Am. 1.700).

Davis (2015) p. 172. Thetis raping Achilles powerfully transformed him. Nonetheless, McAuley laments women’s limited power:

{the Achilleid draws} its affective power from the idea of mothers in epic as the recipients of a powerful knowledge, yet whose power to act on that knowledge is painfully circumscribed. … A mother’s knowledge may be epic knowledge, but it does not always bring epic power.

McAuley (2015) pp. 353, 355. Even if they were able to overcome scholarly misandry and truly sought social justice, women alone would lack sufficient power to eliminate the epic devaluation of men’s lives. Men’s participation is essential for freeing them from their oppressive social position.

[14] Lombardo’s translation renders non evitantis in 1.570 as merely the adjective “unflinching” in “{Achilles} sticks too close to her unflinching side.” Given the sordid history of criminalizing men seducing women, the trend toward totalitarian regulation of sexual interaction, and the vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men, non evitantis should be translated clearly. I’ve done so above, using essentially the translation of Shackleton Bailey. Such text helps to contextualize men’s behavior under men’s disproportionate gender burden of soliciting amorous relationships. On Achilles’s tactics in attempting to seduce Deidamia, Sanna (2007).

[15] Ulysses craftily urged Achilles to seize weapons:

Why do you hesitate? … You are the foster-son of the half-beast Chiron, you are the grandson of sky and sea.

{ Quid haeres?
…tu semiferi Chironis alumnus,
tu caeli pelagique nepos }

Achilleid 1.867-9. Achilles seized the weapons and went off to fight and die in the Trojan War. Heslin commented:

The problem of Achilles’ ontology – his position as not quite a son of Zeus on the one hand and not quite a son of Chiron on the other – is not merely his own; it is an encapsulation of the human {sic} condition considered as a state of being lying uneasily between the divine and the bestial.
Achilles finally becomes a man under the tutelage of Ulysses…. This is yet another clear illustration of the near-total absence of Peleus from the epic. In default of a real father to guide him, Achilles looks to Zeus, who almost was his father, and to Chiron, who has been his foster-father. The problem is that neither of these examples can teach Achilles how to behave as a man. Thetis steps into the resulting vacuum and creates an Achilles in her own image, an image that endures until the arrival of Ulysses finally brings a role model who can guide Achilles to his destiny.

Heslin (2003) p. 191. Men’s destiny isn’t necessarily to suffer violent death. Both Zeus and Chiron could teach that men do not need to seek glory or women to prove that they are men. Both Zeus and Chiron could teach that men’s lives have irreplaceable value and that men’s lives shouldn’t be wasted in foolish wars or in degrading servitude to women. Zeus and Chiron didn’t teach Achilles these lessons, nor did Ulysses.

Scholars are recognizing the importance in the Achilleid of the meaning of being a man. Looking beyond Achilles to the (eastern) Greeks compared to the (western) Romans, Moul argues:

the Achilleid implicitly explores what it is for the Asians of Troy to become convincing manly Romans by imagining, in contrast, the process by which the Greeks of the Iliad behave like girls.

Moul (2012) p. 300. However, lacking true understanding of men’s social position, Heslin (2003), Moul (2012), Davis (2015), McNelis (2015), and much other work on the Achilleid misses its central, tragic-comic point: the epic devaluation of men’s lives.

[images] Image 1: The centaur Chiron teaching Achilles how to play the lyre. Roman fresco from Herculaneum, first-century GC. Held in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Via Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a thematically similar carving on a third-century sarcophagus. Image 2: Chiron teaching Hercules to hunt. Detail from the Achilles plate, a fourth-century Roman work from Pausylypos in Thessaloniki. It shows eleven scenes from the life of Achilles. Six of those scenes include Chiron: (a) Thetis gives Achilles to Chiron, (b) Chiron feeds the toddler Achilles with animal entrails, (c) Achilles rides on Chiron back to learn to hunt, (d) Chiron provides instruction in reading for Achilles, (e) Chiron instructs Achilles to play the lyre, and (f) Chiron relinquishes custody of Achilles to Thetis. Via sketch on Wikimedia Commons, showing scene more clearly than photo of the Achilles plate on Wikimedia Commons. Image 3: Chiron mentoring Achilles in hunting. The Education of Achilles. Oil on convas painting by Bénigne Gagneraux, 1785. Via Wikimedia Commons. Image 4: Chiron provides instruction in reading for Achilles. From Achilles plate, as for Image 2.


Anderson, Harald. 2009. The manuscripts of Statius. Arlington, VA: Creative Space Pub. (online review)

Aston, Emma. 2006. “The Absence of Chiron.” The Classical Quarterly. 56 (2): 349-362.

Aston, Emma. 2009. “Thetis and Cheiron in Thessaly.” Kernos 22, online.

Burgess, Jonathan S. 2009. The death and afterlife of Achilles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. (online review)

Davis, Peter J. 2015. “Statius’ Achilleid: The Paradoxical Epic.” Ch. 9 (pp. 157-172) in Dominik, William J., Kyle Gervais, and Carole E. Newlands, eds. Brill’s Companion to Statius. Leiden: Brill.

Fantham, Elaine. 1999. “Chironis exemplum: on teachers and surrogate fathers in Achilleid and Silvae.” Hermathena. 167: 59-70.

Feeney, Denis. 2004. “Tenui … Latens Discrimine: Spotting the Differences in Statius’ Achilleid.” Materiali E Discussioni Per L’analisi Dei Testi Classici. 52: 85-105.

Frazer, James George and George Patrick Goold, ed. and trans. 2014. Ovid. Fasti. Loeb Classical Library, 253. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Heslin, Peter J. 2009. The transvestite Achilles: gender and genre in Statius’ Achilleid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lombardo, Stanley, trans. 2015. Statius. Achilleid. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing. (online review)

McAuley, Mairéad. 2015. Reproducing Rome: Motherhood in Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, and Statius. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (online review)

McNelis, Charles. 2015. “Similes and Gender in the Achilleid.” Ch. 11 (pp. 189-204) in Dominik, William J., Kyle Gervais, and Carole E. Newlands, eds. Brill’s Companion to Statius. Leiden: Brill.

Moul, Victoria. 2012. “Quo rapis? Tone and allusion at Aulis in Statius’ Achilleid.” Classical Quarterly. 62 (1): 286-300.

Race, William H., ed. and trans. 2009. Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica. Loeb Classical Library 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. (Seaton’s 1912 edition online)

Sanna, Lorenzo. 2007. “Achilles, the wise lover and his seductive strategies (Statius, Achilleid 1.560-92).” Classical Quarterly. 57 (1): 207-215.

Shackleton Bailey, D. R., ed. and trans. 2003. Statius. Thebaid, Books VIII-XII; Achilleid. Loeb Classical Library 498. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. “Mastering Authors and Authorizing Masters in the Long Twelfth Century.” Ch. 6 (pp. 93-188) in Verbaal, Wim, Yanick Maes, and Jan Papy, eds. Latinitas perennis. Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill.

Matthew of Vendôme’s Tobias shows medieval ideal of marriage

marriage bed of Sarah and Tobias

In the Book of Tobit, written about 200 BGC, the parents led the newlyweds Sarah and Tobias to the marital bedroom. They saw Sarah and Tobias get in bed together, as married couples should. But behind the closed doors of the marital bedchamber unusual events occurred:

When the parents had gone out and shut the door of the room, Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, “Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety.” So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying:  “Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors, and blessed is your name in all generations forever. Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you forever. You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’ I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together.” And they both said, “Amen, Amen.”

{ καὶ ἐξῆλθον καὶ ἀπέκλεισαν τὴν θύραν τοῦ ταμιείου καὶ ἠγέρθη Τωβιας ἀπὸ τῆς κλίνης καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ ἀδελφή ἀνάστηθι προσευξώμεθα καὶ δεηθῶμεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν ὅπως ποιήσῃ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς ἔλεος καὶ σωτηρίαν καὶ ἀνέστη καὶ ἤρξαντο προσεύχεσθαι καὶ δεηθῆναι ὅπως γένηται αὐτοῖς σωτηρία καὶ ἤρξατο λέγειν εὐλογητὸς εἶ ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν καὶ εὐλογητὸν τὸ ὄνομά σου εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰῶνας τῆς γενεᾶς εὐλογησάτωσάν σε οἱ οὐρανοὶ καὶ πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις σου εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰῶνας σὺ ἐποίησας τὸν Αδαμ καὶ ἐποίησας αὐτῷ βοηθὸν στήριγμα Ευαν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξ ἀμφοτέρων ἐγενήθη τὸ σπέρμα τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ σὺ εἶπας ὅτι οὐ καλὸν εἶναι τὸν ἄνθρωπον μόνον ποιήσωμεν αὐτῷ βοηθὸν ὅμοιον αὐτῷ καὶ νῦν οὐχὶ διὰ πορνείαν ἐγὼ λαμβάνω τὴν ἀδελφήν μου ταύτην ἀλλ’ ἐπ’ ἀληθείας ἐπίταξον ἐλεῆσαί με καὶ αὐτὴν καὶ συγκαταγηρᾶσαι κοινῶς καὶ εἶπαν μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν αμην αμην } [1]

How many married couples spent their first night together like that?

Sarah, it must be said, wasn’t like most brides today. She was young and very beautiful, respected her father, and lived with her still-married parents. She had no children from previous marriages. While most brides today have been married no more than a few times previously, Sarah had already been married seven times. On each wedding night, her husband had died in the marriage bed. Reportedly a “demon” killed them. A maid said that Sarah killed them. In any case, Sarah remained a virgin.

Tobias had his own personal trauma. One night, his father Tobit slept in the courtyard with his face uncovered because of the heat. Sparrows that landed on the wall pooped. Their fresh droppings fell into Tobit’s eyes and covered them with a white film. Physicians repeatedly treated Tobit with eye ointments for the bird droppings that were obscuring his vision. He then became completely blind.[2] As most children did before recent decades of intensive public indoctrination, Tobias loved his father. He deeply felt his father’s pain as his father struggled with the hardship of being blind.

In twelfth-century France, Matthew of Vendôme clarified how Tobias differed from Sarah’s previous husbands. Given that Sarah was very beautiful, her previous husbands had understandably lusted to have sex with her:

The demon destroys those for whom fleshly delight,
not offspring, urges the taking of her virginity.
Whoever delights, like a horse or a mule, in abusing
marriage, perishes, overcome by love of the flesh.

{ Hos daemon perimit quos delectatio carnis,
Non sobolis, stimulat virginitate frui.
Quisquis sicut equus aut mulus guadet abuti
Coniugio, carnis victus amore perit. } [3]

Tobias, in contrast, loved Sarah in accordance with medieval ideals of gender equality:

Like beauty blesses the pair alike in mind; a like grace of
customs, accordant wishes, and love of the same faith bless them.
A marriage is happy, a bond is equal, when they are united together
whose religion is the same, race is the same, faith is one.
The two are equals; the likeness of mind refuses to make unequal
those whom equality of looks and age make equal.
A chaste girl weds a pious husband, a faithful wife weds a law-abiding man,
a man worthy of the wife, a girl worthy of the husband.

{ Mente pares, par forma beat, par gratia morum,
Consona vota, paris religionis amor,
Felix coniugium, par copula dum sociantur,
Quorum par pietas, par genus, una fides.
Ambo pares, paritas quos comparat oris et aevi,
Mentis comparitas dispariare negat.
Nubit casta pio, iusto devota, puella,
Coniuge vir dignus, digna puella viro. }

Sarah was not only young and outwardly beautiful, but she was also beautiful in personal character:

Beyond her feminine sex, the young maiden flourishes
in good morals, a rare crop in a delicate bosom.
She strives to be pure and decent; her beauty to purity,
just as her purity to beauty, is eager to unite itself.
Sweet in conversation, succinct in speech, modest in
appearance, lacking in guile, obliging in gifts,
temperate of soul, free of rambling discourse, unknowing of
pride, pleasing in her practical simplicity,
her brow bears arms excluding favor
forbidden, her beauty refuses to favor Venus.
Her beauty swears an oath of peace with purity; and the enemy
being usually present, it is eager to perpetuate trust.
The woman couples being law-abiding, capable, pious, beautiful, and modest.
She thus binds opposites that are eager to flow away.

{ Ultra femineum sexum virguncula vernat
Moribus, in fragili pectore rara seges.
Esse pudica decens satagit se forma pudori,
Seque pudor formae conciliare studet.
Alloquio suavis, verbo succincta, modesta
Vultu, fraude carens, officiosa datis,
Sobria mente, vago discursu libera, fastus
Nescia, consulta simplicitate placens.
Arma supercilium gerit exclusiva favoris
Illiciti, Veneri forma favere negat.
Forma pudicitiae pacem coniurat, et hostis
Quae solet esse, fidem perpetuare studet.
Femina iusta, potens, pia, pulchra, modesta, maritat.
Sic adversa ligat, quae fluitare student. }

Tobias had much more to love in Sarah than just her beautiful body. She was a woman who wouldn’t talk incessantly while showing no interest in him. She would give him gifts, not just expect him to give her gifts. Moreover, she seemed unlikely to cuckold him. Not surprisingly, Tobias prayed that Sarah and he would grow old together.

Tobias married Sarah, not because of lust, but because she was a good woman with whom to beget children and to glorify God. According to Matthew of Vendôme, Tobias on his wedding night prayed:

May everything bless You, Almighty God. May fire,
water, air, and earth show their praises.
It pleased You to fashion our first parent from the mud
of the earth; he was alone, without offspring.
Your ordering determined that Eve be joined to him as a
companion; from this our race proceeds.
So unite us, so strengthen the covenant of our
marriage, so may You wish us to bear fruit.
Let not the wantonness of Venus stir us, but
children, but the love of offspring.
May harmony of lawful sentiments unite us and befriend us,
not bound by the robber of modesty, eros.
Give us offspring, I beg, who will strive through successive
ages of the world to extol Your glory.

{ Te, Deus omnipotens, benedicant singula, laudes
Exhibeant ignis, humor, inane, solum.
De limo terrae placuit formare parentem
Primum; solus erat posteritatis inops.
Huic Evam sociam tua dispensatio iungi
Disposuit, nostrum pullulat unde genus.
Sic nos consocia, sic firma foedera nostri
Coniugii, sic nos fructificare velis.
Non nos sollicitat Veneris lascivia, verum
Progenies, verum posteritatis amor.
Nos sociat, nos legitimae consensus amicat
Mentis, non teneri praedo pudoris amor.
Da sobolem, rogo, quae studeat per saecula saecli
Successiva tuum magnificare decus. } [4]

According to Matthew of Vendôme, Sarah added the prayer to God:

God, have pity, I pray, have pity on the two of us,
so that we might be allowed to grow old together.

{ Miserere, precor, miserere duorum
Ut nobis liceat consenuisse, Deus. } [5]

Drawing upon medieval Latin literature’s great appreciation for the power of women, Matthew of Vendôme allowed Sarah to conclude with the most important prayer for the couple. Sarah and Tobias had many children.[6] They didn’t impoverish themselves and traumatize their children by having lawyers fight for them a long, bitter divorce. They didn’t even get divorced. They grew old together.

Marriages today aren’t like that of Sarah and Tobias. Many marriages weren’t like theirs even in the twelfth century. Matthew of Vendôme griped:

How much the beauty of the previously described marriage stands apart
from marriages of today! What bed is without stain?

What woman weds, what man now takes a wife for love of
children? Who refuses to be Venus’s armor-bearer?

{ Quantum coniugii praefati forma modernis
Distat coniugiis, quis sine labe torus?

Quae nubit, vel quis nunc uxoratur amore
Prolis? quis Veneris armiger esse negat? }

Being Venus’s armor-bearer means fighting with the aim of gratifying lust. That’s not what marital wrestling typically is like. Marrying under the false belief that marriage provides ample, lustful sex is like buying a plane ticket to get the free packet of peanuts aboard the flight. Many men and women throughout history haven’t understood, to their great sorrow.

The Book of Tobit has delighted and instructed readers for more than two millennia. It includes sensational stories of husband-killing and bird-poop blindness. Yet the most impressive part of the Book of Tobit is more subtle. Readers have been deeply moved by Tobias and Sarah being destined for each other, Tobias declaring that he married Sarah “not because of lust, but with sincerity,” and his praying that he and Sarah would grow old together.[7] In twelfth-century France, Matthew of Vendôme described how special Tobias and Sarah were. Nonetheless, many couples romantically in love today still imagine themselves to be in part like Tobias and Sarah.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Book of Tobit 8:5-8, English translation from the New American Bible, revised edition; Greek text mainly from fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus (Greek II). On the manuscript tradition of the Book of Tobit, Di Lella (2007). The Greek text is available online via Kata Biblon. Fragments of the Book of Tobit in Aramaic and Hebrew were found in Cave IV near Qumran. A Jewish sect, perhaps the Essenes, stored manuscripts in that cave and others near Qumran.

The charming double “amen” that concludes Tobit 8:8 is best understood as a mimetic representation of Tobias and Sarah praying together. Translating those double speaking voices into linear narrative text may have been a matter of some uncertainty. The Greek I text has only a single “amen.” See Di Lella (2007) p. 469, column 2. The Tobit of the Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin translation of the fourth century, doesn’t have any “amen” concluding the wedding-night prayers. Jerome made his Vulgate translation of Tobit from an Aramaic (Chaldee) text. A double “amen” subsequently become common, but not as a creative literary device.

The Book of Tobit isn’t included in the Jewish biblical canon. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, for which the Septuagint formed the basis for the Old Testament canon, include the Book of Tobit in the Bible. Most Protestant churches exclude it.

[2] Disparagement of physicians has been prominent for more than two millennia. Jesus was figured as a good physician. Anti-medical satire continued to be prominent in the Middle Ages.

[3] Matthew of Vendôme, Tobias (Poetic paraphrase of the Book of Tobit {Paraphrasis metrica in librum Tobiae}) ll. 1137-40, Latin text from Müldener (1855) p. 63 (see also Patrologia Latina 205.957C); English translation adapted from Pepin (1999) p. 116.

The Vulgate, but not the Greek sources of Tobit, includes the metaphor of the lustful husband having sex like a horse or mule. Just as in Tobias, the angel Raphael advises three days of sexual abstinence beginning from the wedding night. Vulgate Tobit 6:16-22.

Patrologia Latina 205 is available online via the Internet Archive, while the base text from that source is available in a machine-readable version via Corpus Córporum: repositorium operum Latinorum apud universitatem Turicensem. The currently best Latin text of Tobias is Munari (1982). That text isn’t available even in many high-quality libraries. I thus wasn’t able to consult it. Here’s an online digital reproduction of a fourteenth-century manuscript of Tobias (Lewis E 154 Tobias, from the Free Library of Philadelphia collection, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania).

Subsequent quotes from Tobias are (cited by line in the Latin text of Müldener (1855) and page in the English translation of Pepin (1999)): ll. 1225-32, p. 119 (Like beauty blesses…); ll. 1243-56, pp. 119-20 (Beyond her feminine sex…); ll. 1291-304, p. 121 (May all things bless You…); ll. 1305-6, p. 121 (God, have pity…); ll. 1257-8, 1265-6, p. 129 (How much the beauty…). I’ve adapted Pepin’s translation to follow Müldener’s Latin text and to adhere more closely to the Latin. The differences among the Latin texts of Tobias are relatively small in the quotes above. I’ve adjusted some of the punctuation, which isn’t original.

[4] According to Matthew of Vendôme, Tobias’s father similarly married for love of offspring and had a marriage of gender equality:

Lest he might have more women, like a stud, Tobias
chooses Anna to be the sharer of his bed.
Not by the inducement of Venus does he take a wife, but
for the love of offspring; he loves to be fruitful to God.
The young man’s license is curbed: a prudent bride
is given to a just groom, an equal to an equal.
Virtue is glad to marry virtue, honor rejoices
to be the companion of equal honor.
The joining of good people is more harmonious and agreeable;
a flower is more pleasing with a flower, color with color.

{ Ne plures habeat velut emissarius, Annam
Tobias sociam destinat esse tori,
Non incentivo Veneris, sed prolis amore
Uxoratur, amat fructificare Deo.
Est adolescentis frenata licentia, sponso
Sponsa datur, iusto sobria parque pari.
Nubere virtuti virtus laetatur, honestas
Gaudet honestatis, comparat esse comes,
Consonat et redolet melius iunctura bonorum,
Gratior est flos cum flore, colore color. }

Tobias ll. 119-28, p. 86.

[5] Matthew of Vendôme followed the Vulgate’s structure for the prayers of Tobias and Sarah, including having no ending “amen.”

[6] Exactly how many children Tobias and Sarah had is a textual difficulty. In Greek II (see Di Lella (2007)), Tobit refers twice to the “children” of Sarah and Tobias (Tobit 14:3, 14:8-9). Greek I (see Di Lella (2007)) refers to the “six sons” of Tobias (Tobit 14:3) and “his sons” (Tobit 14:12). The Vulgate describes Tobit as seeing “the children of his grandchildren” (Tobit 14:1), Sarah and Tobias as having “seven sons” (Tobit 14:5) and departing for Media with “children, and children’s children” (Tobit 14:14), and Tobias seeing “his children’s children to the fifth generation” (Tobit 14:15).

[7] Both ancient Greek texts of Tobit declare that Tobias and Sarah were destined for each other. The angel Raphael tells Tobias:

she was set apart for you from before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you.

{ σοὶ γάρ ἐστιν μεμερισμένη πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ σὺ αὐτὴν σώσεις καὶ μετὰ σοῦ πορεύσεται }

Tobit 6:18, Greek text from Codex Sinaiticus, English translation from the New American Bible, Revised. Tobias, following the Vulgate, doesn’t include this declaration, but has the angel Raphael assure Sarah’s father:

Believe me, your daughter is reserved for this youth; she alone
owes the treasure of her virginity to him alone.

{ Crede, reservatur puero tua filia: sola
Debet ei soli virginitatis opes. }

Tobias ll. 1195-6, English trans. Pepin (1999) p. 118. Cf. Vulgate Tobit 7:12.

[image] The Marriage bed of Tobias and Sarah. Oil on canvas painting by Jan Steen, c. 1660. Held in Museum Bredius (The Hague), acc. 112a-1946, Cat. nr.155. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Di Lella, Alexander A. 2007. “Tobit.” Parallel English translation of the two primary Greek editions. Ch. 19 (pp. 45-477) in Pietersma, Albert, and Benjamin G. Wright, eds. 2007. A new English translation of the Septuagint: and the other Greek translations traditionally included under that title. New York: Oxford University Press. See also correction and emendations (2009) and corrections and emendations (2014).

Müldener, Friedrich August Wilhelm, ed. 1855. Matthaei Vindocinensis Tobias. Gottingae: Sumptibus Dieterichianis.

Munari, Franco, ed. 1982. Mathei Vindocinensis opera. Vol. 2: Piramus et Tisbe. Milo. Epistule. Tobias. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

types of lust, marriage in Paradise & annulments in medieval thought

Liber floretus on lust

Within the eight works (Auctores octo) that made up the canon of late-medieval education, one was a twelfth-century poem of Christian doctrine. Called Floretus, this work has been almost wholly ignored in recent centuries. Yet Floretus provides an insightful catalog of lust, a succinct definition of the purpose of marriage, and liberal grounds for arguing divorce and annulment cases.

Floretus strongly condemns men’s lust, the cement of gynocentrism. Echoing medieval MGTOW’s contempt for the world, Floretus implores:

Flee lust; may you be chaste, without sin.
Nothing defiled by lust is pleasing to the Lord.
Whoever consents in the act or, since it delights him,
whoever consents in doing the deed, sins by means of lust.
A carnal act is always destructive outside of
marriage in which there is worthy consent.

{ Luxuriam fugias, castus sine crimine fias!
Nil Domino gratum fit luxuria maculatum.
Luxuria peccat quis, qui consentit in actum
Vel, cum delectat, concentit agendoque factum.
Actus carnalis est semper pernicialis
Demptis coniugibus, quibus est concessus honestus. } [1]

Modern doctrine of affirmative consent emphasizes the ever-present danger of rape even within marriage. While medieval doctrine regulated sex more tolerantly, it recognized six species of lust:

There are said to be six species of lust, namely these:
Between those not properly wed, it is called fornication.
Defilement is caused when an unwilling maiden is violated.
The violator of another’s spouse is called an adulterer.
With one’s relatives or a nun, it is incest.
When one is seized and forcefully overwhelmed, it is rape.
The abominable sodomite sins against nature.

{ Luxurie species dicuntur scilicet hee sex:
Inter non nuptos proprie fornix fore fertur,
Stuprum causatur, cum virgo nolens violatur,
Coniugis alterius violator fertur adulter,
Cum sibi cognatus incenstus vel moniali,
Raptus cum rapitur ac opprimitur violenter.
Contra naturam peccat zodomita nephandus. }

Most of these types of lust are no longer regarded as illicit, at least if they don’t involve a man gazing on a woman. Having sex outside of marriage, as well as becoming a single mother, are actions now commonly regarded as highly desirable. A man who has sex with another’s spouse is now called a man not liable for child support. While incest oddly remains condemned, having sex with a nun (a religious sister) is no longer considered wrong. In fact, some now regard having consensual, lesbian sex with a nun to be salvific. Same-sex sex and same-sex marriage have been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as rights set out in the U.S. Constitution.

Rape and defilement are more complex matters. Rape of women and falsely accusing men of rape have been serious crimes throughout all of human history. However, authoritative media today regularly trivialize the issue of falsely accusing men of rape. Medieval understanding of rape didn’t include women raping men. Women raping men only recently was included within the FBI’s definition of rape. The reality that men and women are raped in roughly equal numbers isn’t widely recognized. Moreover, a woman having sex with an under-age boy almost always isn’t called rape in news reports. It does, however, put the boy at risk of having to pay child support to his rapist. Some now regard a woman having consensual sex with a man as defiling the woman. In practice, a man behaving sexually in a way that displeased a woman and thus defiled her can be subject to harsh extra-judicial punishment when the woman decades later decides to publicly denounce him for his offense. Leading authorities didn’t prominently report such denunciations in the Middle Ages.

Floretus recognizes marriage as a sacrament and describes marriage as having an exalted position and essential functions. It declares:

God first established marriage in Paradise,
joining the man and woman whom He had created for
lawfully bringing about and fostering offspring,
and to avoid, on account of its sin, lust of the flesh.
The goods of marriage are offspring, faith, and the sacrament.
The faithful who marry ought to guard these three
so that they might beget offspring and always keep their faith,
so that they might always live together and help each other at the same time.

{ Coniugium primo fecit Deus in paradiso
Associans hominem, quos fecerat, et mulierem
Ad prolem dandum legaliter atque fovendum;
Fit quoque pro culpa luxus carnis fugienda.
Coniugii bona sun prolesque fides, sacramentum:
Hec tria nubentes debent servare volentes,
Ut prolem generent semperque fidem sibi servent,
Ut conversentur semper simul atque iuventur. } [2]

One medieval writer described marriage as a prison. Another eloquently cautioned his friend against marriage. Floretus idealistically describes marriage as an institution of Paradise. However, Floretus puts forward broad grounds for annulling Hellish marriages:

Marriage is made by consent, but the consent
itself ought to be shown by signs or by words.
When the marriage is contracted, then let it be seen
before it is performed whether an impediment is known.
For they sin wickedly who unit in matrimony against the law.
Error, status, a vow, affinity, crime,
disparate social status, law, orders, a bond, reputation,
if you are related by marriage, if by chance you cannot copulate:
these forbid marriages to be performed, they retract those performed.

{ Fit quoque coniugium concensu, sed decet ipsum
Concensum signis ostendere sive loquelis.
Quando tractatur, bene coniugium videatur,
Antea quam factum, si sic patet inpedimentum;
Nam male peccarent, si contra ius sociarent.
Arror, condicio, votum, cogracio, crimen,
Cultus disparitas, ius, ordo, ligamen, honestas,
Si sis affinis, si forte coire nequibis:
Hec socianda vetant connubia, facta retractent. } [3]

The divorce industry is big business. Yet ignorance of medieval Latin literature has caused many factors with deep historical roots to be overlooked in litigating divorce cases and in seeking annulments. Better knowledge of Floretus could help divorce litigators to consume more quickly all of their clients’ financial resources in arguing divorce cases. Better knowledge of Floretus could help divorced persons more easily find grounds for claiming an annulment.

Most persons are almost wholly ignorant of laws governing divorce, alimony, child custody, and child support. Yet those laws are hugely important in ordinary persons’ lives. As part of the core curriculum of late-medieval education, Floretus helped to teach young men about family law. Young women and men desperately need such education today.

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[1] Floretus ll. 165-70, Latin text from Orbán (1979), English translation adapted from Pepin (1999) p. 221. Floretus means literally “Flower Garden.” This poem is commonly ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux, but no good evidence supports that attribution. Pepin (1999) p. 213. On its dating to the twelfth century, id. p. 2. Floretus is also called Liber floretus.

Medieval and modern evaluations of Floretus differ greatly. A medieval Latin scholar writing about 1890 declared:

The Middle Ages has left us some good poems, and many bad ones. One of the worst is certainly this one {Floretus}. It is therefore better for the author that his name is not known.

Hauréau (1890) p. 44, cited with English translation above in Pepin (1999) p. 213. Medieval thinkers had a much different view. At least thirteen manuscripts of Floretus have survived. See Floretus at Arlima. It was printed as a separate work at least three times in Cologne between 1491 and 1499. Id. p. 215. Numerous texts of Floretus also survive in editions of works from Auctores octo morales, e.g. Liber Minores (see Gutiérrez (2009)).

Subsequent quotes from Floretus are (cited by line number in Orbán’s text and page number in Pepin’s translation):  ll. 171-7, p. 221 (There are said to be six species…); ll. 512-19, p. 231 (God first established marriage…); ll. 520-8, p. 231 (Marriage is made by consent…).

[2] Floretus, ll. 178-88, adds after the catalog of lust further reasons to flee lust. The last couplet picks up the marriage motif of Paradise (Eden / Heaven) and adds the implicitly contrasting motif of the Underworld (Hell):

It {lust} darkens our vision and eventually takes away Paradise:
it subjects us to demons and drags us at last to the Underworld.

{ Obtenebrat visum, tandem tollit paradisum,
Demonibus subdit et in Orcum denique trudit. }

Floretus ll. 179-80, p. 221. Some manuscripts substitute “Hell {inferno}” for “Underworld {Orcum}.” Orbán (1979) p. 9, note c.

[3] These twelve impediments are cited nearly identically in Vincent of Beauvais, Mirror of History {Speculum Historiale} 4.298. Cited by Orbán (1979) p. 24, note p. “Error {Arror}” carries the sense of wrongly identified person. Id. note 16. In some manuscripts of Floretus, the seventh impediment “law {ius}” is replaced by “violence {vis}.” Id. note q.

[image] Catalog of lust in Floretus. From a Floretus manuscript held in München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. The online text doesn’t specifically identify the manuscript.


Gutiérrez Galindo, Marco Antonio. 2009. Antonio de Nebrija. Libri minores. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca.

Hauréau, Barthélemy. 1890. Des poémes latins attribués a Saint Bernard. Paris: Klincksieck.

Orbán, Árpád Peter, ed. 1979. Liber floretus: herausgegeben nach der Hs. Utrecht, U.B. 283. Kastellaun/Hunsrück: Henn.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

medieval understanding of gender more sophisticated than modern dogma

Tobit receives little goat from his wife Anna

Women are wonderful. Males are evil. The male and female genders are equal. Gender equality advances whenever women come to dominate a group, such as college graduates, doctors, and elementary school teachers. Compared to this modern dogma, medieval thinkers had a more sophisticated understanding of gender.

Medieval women weren’t taught to fear rapists everywhere. In the Middle Ages, a man’s penis wasn’t regarded as a weapon of violence. Ancient literature recognized that a penetrating penis provides pleasure to the encompassing body.

Nonetheless, disparaging and oppressing men’s sexuality has a long and sordid history. The relatively enlightened Middle Ages wasn’t immune to that hateful social direction. Matthew of Vendôme’s twelfth-century expansion of the Book of Tobit depicted Sarah as fearful on her wedding night:

The maiden is afraid and is drenched in tender tears: the
first little lump of earth fears the use of the unknown plowshare.

{ Virgo timet, teneris lacrimis exuberat: usum
Vomeris ignoti primula gleba timet. } [1]

A plowshare is an inanimate object with a metal blade on the end. That’s a frightening and dehumanizing metaphor for a man’s penis. Another metaphor similarly degrades men:

An inviolate lump of earth fears the ditch-digger; the honor of
virginity becomes afraid at the approach of the male.

{ Illibata timet fossorem gleba, timescit
Ad maris accessum virginitatis honor. }

Ditch-digging is a low-status, poorly paid job. Men throughout history haven’t been adequately compensated for their erection labor. Women shouldn’t fear males. Women should have compassion for men and should work to raise men’s social status. A good start would be for more women to declare publicly profound appreciation for a beloved man.

While medieval literature in some places shows deplorable contempt for men, it also expresses a sophisticated, multi-faceted perspective on gender. Consider Matthew of Vendôme’s rendering of the scene in which Tobit sent his son Tobias, with a guide, on a journey to collect money.  Both parents lament Tobias’s departure, but his mother Anna’s emotions dominate:

The father and mother make lamentation, and the son bids both
goodby; they depart and begin their journey.
Anna, the mother, rushes to tears; redoubles her lamentations
and complaints. She refuses to conceal that she is a mother.
The one who pleased her by his presence distresses her by his absence;
with him present there was gladness, but grief at his going.
The mother’s love shows her to be a mother; the sad wife finds fault
with her spouse, as her dutiful affection bids.

{ Dant pater et mater lamenta, salutat utrumque
Filius; hinc abeunt, aggrediuntur iter.
Hanna parens ruit in lacrimas; lamenta, querelas
Ingeminat, matrem dissimulare nequit.
Qui praesens placuit, absens exasperat, instat
Quo praesente fuit plausus, eunte dolor.
Matrem matris amor redolet, cum coniuge tristis
Litigat, ut pietas officiosa iubet. }

Anna is a loving mother. At the same time, as a wife she readily finds fault with her spouse. She complains at length:

Alas, would that the money had never been sought! For this reason
you are a father bereft of his son, and I lament, bereft of my child.
Why has my only salvation gone away, my care, the defense of my
old age, the glory of his father, the honor of his mother?
Why did he depart from us? The glory of our son used to ward
off poverty; as he leaves, our salvation leaves.
When he was here, our son heaped up riches; when we observed
the love of our son, every distress was pleasing.

{ Heu, numquam fuerat quaesita pecunia! cuius
Causa prole pater orbus es, orba queror.
Cur abiit mea sola salus, mea cura, senectae
Praesidium, matris gaudia, matris honor.
Quod nobis aberat, redimebat gratia prolis
Pauperiem fugit hoc effugiente salus.
Praesens divitias cumulabat filius, omnis
Anxietas, viso prolis honore sapit. }

Money matters, and it isn’t easily acquired. Sending Tobias to collect a debt owed to his blind father is reasonable. Many husbands would be rightly annoyed at their wife criticizing them for something like that. Within this specific story, Anna isn’t depicted as wonderful even though she is a woman.

Another scene similarly depicts both Anna and Tobit across a wide range of emotions. When Tobit / Tobias was blinded by bird poop, he could no longer provide alms for poor neighbors, as he had frequently done.[2] He also could no longer gaze upon his wife in fulfilling his marital sexual obligation. She responded with compassion:

She strives to preserve intact the rights of the marriage-bed,
although that crop is rare when the farmer is failing.
With her companionable soul, she has compassion on her spouse;
she supports, obeys, soothes, honors and loves her husband.

{ Integra iura tori servare studet, licet ista
Rara sit agricola deficiente seges.
Sponso compatitur, sociali mente maritum
Sustinet, obsequitur, mulcet, honorat, amat. }

She also took up the husband’s traditional burden of earning money for his family. Yet her husband responded as if she had engaged in theft:

She soldiers for the food which her weaving furnishes; she gives
these few things to her husband with much sedulity.
She brings to Tobias the means of life acquired by her hands;
her intention compensates for what her deeds cannot do.
When she returns at day’s end, the little goat that the industrious
woman brings is heard by her perceptive husband.
What he cannot observe, his ear declares; the one
sense is thriving after the loss of the other.
“Return the stolen!” Tobias cries. “See that
there is no plunder. Our own goods please, but stealing harms us.”

{ Militat ad victum, quem dat textura propinat
Paucula multiplici sedulitate viro,
Tobiae manibus quaesita viatica vitae
Defert, mens redimit, quod minus actus habet,
Dum Phaebo redit emerito, quem sedula defert
Haedulus auditur percipiente viro.
Quod nequit intuitus denunciat auris, et alter
Sensus, ab alterius perditione viget.
Reddite, Tobias clamat furtiva! videte
Ne sit praeda, iuvant propria, furta premunt. }

Wives can and should work lawfully to support their husbands. That’s what this wife did. Yet her husband wrongly assumed that she had stolen the little goat that she brought him. She understandably responded angrily:

Anna is grieved, her nature returns; she shows herself
in the speech of her sex and scolds in a harsh tone:
“Your vain hope has perished; it is clear from the loss
of your sight what good your fruitless alms do.”

{ Hanna dolet, natura redit, se voce fatetur
Sexus, et obiurgat asperiore sono:
Irrita deperiit tua spes, elemosyna vana
Quid valeat, visus perditione patet. }

Medieval thinkers understood women’s nature as making women prone to scolding harshly as dominant persons in medieval society. Women today are simply regarded as communicatively superior to men.

No benighted blank-slaters, medieval thinkers understood that nature (the flesh) and nurture (the spirit) are closely intertwined. In a metaphor bringing within a single man both male and female genders and describing characteristic behavior of husbands and wives under gynocentric oppression, Tobias declared:

A man has a double impulse: flesh and spirit. The one
strives to lower the worth of the other.
Spirit is the husband, flesh is the wife. The household enemy,
the wife, oppresses the husband with her ready guile.
The harmful flesh wages war against the soul. The wife harms
the husband; the husband seeks the wife’s friendly help.
She harms, he teaches; she tears down, he builds up;
He rewards, she torments; she oppresses, he groans.

{ Est duplex hominis motus: caro, spiritus, alter
Alterius pretium depretiare studet.
Spiritus est sponsus, caro sponsa, domesticus hostis,
Sponsum sponsa premit proximiore dolo.
Militat adversus animam caro noxia, sponso
Sponsa nocet, sponsae sponsus amicat opem.
Haec nocet, iste docet; haec destruit, hic struit; iste
Praemiat, haec cruciat; haec premit, iste gemit. }

Men must do more than just groan within the household. The power imbalance of gynocentrism, which goes all the way back to Adam obeying Eve, sets men and women in conflict with themselves and with each other. Bringing flesh and spirit, nature and nurture, woman and man in harmony with each other requires men to reject obedience to women and to demand equal rights in raising children.

The ideal of gender equality has degenerated into an intellectual farce. Matthew of Vendôme’s twelfth-century Tobias expresses modern romantic ideals of a man and woman being destined for each other and growing old together. Yet Tobias also provides a critical perspective on gender. Study of Tobias and other medieval Latin literature can enlighten understanding of gender relations and advance social justice.

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[1] Matthew of Vendôme, Tobias (Poetic paraphrase of the Book of Tobit {Paraphrasis metrica in librum Tobiae}) ll. 1137-40, Latin text from Müldener (1855); English translation adapted from Pepin (1999) p. 118. This quote and subsequent others above have no parallels in the Book of Tobit.

Subsequent quotes from Tobias are (cited by line in the Latin text of Müldener (1855) and page in the English translation of Pepin (1999)): ll. 1269-70, p. 120 (An inviolate lump of earth…); ll. 1067-74, p. 114 (The father and mother…) ll. 1075-82, p. 114 (Alas, would that the money…); ll. 331-4, p. 92 (She strives to preserve…); ll. 335-44, pp. 92-3 (She soldiers for the food…); ll. 595-602, p. 100 (A man has a double impulse…).

The Latin text in Patrologia Latina 205 has many, relatively minor, differences from Müldener’s text for the above quotes. I unfortunately wasn’t able to consult Munari (1982), which is the currently best available Latin text.

[2] In Matthew of Vendôme’s Tobias, Tobit and his son Tobias of the Book of Tobit are both named Tobias.

[image] Tobit receiving little goat from Anna and accusing her of stealing it. Painting by Rembrandt, 1626. Catalogue number: Bredius 486. Via the Web Gallery of Art.


Müldener, Friedrich August Wilhelm, ed. 1855. Matthaei Vindocinensis Tobias. Gottingae: Sumptibus Dieterichianis.

Munari, Franco, ed. 1982. Mathei Vindocinensis opera. Vol. 2: Piramus et Tisbe. Milo. Epistule. Tobias. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

no fable: Thais showed men’s propensity to believe women

Thais exploiting Damasius

The courtesan Thais regularly had sex with Alexander the Great’s leading general Ptolemy. Moreover, when it came to decisive action, Thais led Alexander the Great like slave girls ruled all-powerful caliphs in the ancient Islamic world. Thais became renowned for inducing Alexander to burn the Persian capital city of Persepolis in 330 BGC.

About two millennia ago, the Latin writer Phaedrus described how women like Thais dominate men despite men’s understanding of their deceptions. Phaedrus put forward this astonishing effect in the form of a fable:

A prostitute and a young man

With enticements a dishonest prostitute baited a young man,
and he gave himself to her frequently with much injury to himself.
Just as many easy women have presented themselves,
so this insidious being said: “Although all men with gifts
contend for my consent, I do you before everyone else.”
Recalling how often she had deceived him,
he said, “Gladly so, shining light. I hear your voice,
not that I believe it, but it makes me happy.”

{ Meretrix et iuvenis

Cum blandiretur iuveni meretrix perfida,
Et ille laesus multis saepe iniuriis
Tamen praeberet sese facilem mulieri,
Sic insidiatrix: Omnes muneribus licet
Contendant, ego te plurimi facio tamen.
Iuvenis recordans quotiens deceptus foret:
Libenter, inquit, mea lux, hanc vocem audio,
Non quod fidelis, sed quod iucunda est mihi. } [1]

That’s the pathetic spirit that prompts husbands to accept being cuckolded. In the twelfth century, Gualterus Anglicus expanded upon Phaedrus’s fable:

On the young man and Thais

By her cunning Thais ensnares young men; she feigns
Love, and from feigned love comes profit.
From many suitors she receives many things; from all she chooses
One youth, and to him she promises the riches of true love.
“I am yours, and may you be mine. I want you alone more than all,
But I do not want to have your gift.”
He perceives her tricks and returns words such as he has received:
“I am yours, and may you be mine; equal love becomes us.
I would not wish to live unless you wish to live with me.
You are my only salvation, you are my only repose.”

{ De iuvene et Thaide

Arte sua Thais iuvenes irretit: amorem
Fingit et ex ficto fructus amore venit.
A multis fert multa procis; ex omnibus unum
Eligit, huic veri spondet amoris opes.
“Sum tua sisque meus cupio; plus omnibus unum
Te volo, sed nolo munus habere tuum.”
Percipit ille dolos et reddit qualia sumpsit:
“Sis mea simque tuus. Nos decet equus amor;
Vivere non vellem nisi mecum vivere velles:
Tu mihi sola salus, tu mihi sola quies;
Sed falli timeo, quia me tua lingua fefellit.
Preteriti ratio scire futura facit. } [2]

The phrases “the riches of true love {veri amoris opes}” and “equal love {equus amor}” point to the twelfth-century backlash against men-subordinating courtly love. With medieval Latin freedom of speech, Gualterus Anglicus even dared to criticize women; specifically, women who deceive men and who use men as a means for freely acquiring material goods. Turning against the young man’s passive acceptance of being exploited in Phaedrus’s fable, Gualterus Anglicus offered men wisdom for pragmatic action:

A bee avoids the yew-tree which it has often tested by tasting.
If any woman deceived yesterday, she wants to deceive today.
If anyone loves Thais, let him believe that his goods are loved, not himself:
Thais lacks love, but loves the lover’s gift.

{ Vitat avis taxum quam, gustu teste, probavit.
Fallere vult hodie, si qua fefellit heri.
Thaida si quis amat, sua, non se, credat amari:
Thais amore caret, munus amantis amat. } [3]

In his pioneering printing of fables translated into English, William of Caxton in 1484 put the matter more generally:

For the love of a promiscuous woman is not to be trusted,
for you should know and think for yourself
that the promiscuous and foolish woman loves you not,
but she loves your money.

{ For the loue of a comyn woman is not to be trusted
For thow oughtest to knowe and thynk within thy self
that the comyn and folyssh woman loue the not
but she loueth thy syluer. } [4]

Men eagerly and foolish believe that women are like goddesses. But women, like men, can be inveterate liars and deceivers. Men should listen and believe women no more than they listen and believe men.

Instantaneous feelings of happiness are no substitute for truth and reason. Given that men have no reproductive rights and men are readily lynched as rapists, men should consider carefully before they engage in pleasurable sex with women. Rather than trading goods for sex with women, men should insist on the value of their intrinsic virtue.

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[1] From Phaedrus’s Latin verse rendition of Aesop’s fables. This fable is from Perotti’s addition to the collection of Phaedrus, Appendix 29. The Latin text is available from Aesopica and Perseus. The English translation is mine, drawing up that of Laura Gibbs and that of Ben Edwin Perry, Loeb Classical Library 436 (1965). The subsequent quote is similarly from this fable. In Perotti’s manuscript, the fable includes a promythium:

Many things that bring us happiness are at the same time troublesome

{ Multa esse nobis iocunda quae tamen sunt incommoda }

Like the fable itself, this promythium provides a keen psychological observation without any ethical imperative.

Baeza-Angulo (2013) provides detailed philological analysis of this fable, along with a superficial analysis of its relation to Roman amatory elegy. The gender conservatism and complacency of his analysis is appalling. Consider:

We find in the words of the young man not only the tolerance that is born with  humanitas {civilization}, but also a serene acceptance of the compromises that help a man to live. He knows perfectly well that the modus uiuendi {way of life} of his beloved prevents her from being faithful and, therefore, she is content to tell him that he is the preferred one, although the others can give her expensive gifts. Satisfying his manly pride, this gives him exactly that moment of sweet happiness that will allow him to bear new betrayals.

{ Encontramos en las palabras del joven no solo la tolerancia que nace con la humanitas, sino también una serena aceptación de los compromisos que ayudan a vivir. Él sabe perfectamente que el modus uiuendi de su amada le impide serle fiel y, por ello, se contenta con que le diga que es el preferido, aunque los otros puedan hacerle ricos regalos. Esto le da justamente, satisfaciendo su orgullo varonil, aquel momento de dulce felicidad que le permitirá soportar las nuevas traiciones. }

Baeza-Angulo (2013) p. 15. Like almost all literary scholarship, Baeza-Angulo’s analysis lacks any critical perspective on men’s social position under gynocentrism. One result is men being brutally exploited. More generally, such intellectual failures contribute to totalitarian criminalization of men. That’s now well-underway in Spain.

[2] From Gualterus Anglicus’s collection of Aesop’s fables {Aesopi Fabellae}. The Latin text is online thanks to Laura Gibbs; the English translation is from Pepin (1999) p. 204. The subsequent quote is similarly from id. Another version of this fable is known as Of Thais and Damasius {De Thaida et Damasio}. Gualterus Anglicus’s fable collection was the most widely transmitted fable collection in medieval Europe. It has survived in about two hundred manuscripts and about thirty-four print editions from before 1501. Wright (1997) p. 3. Many manuscripts of Gualterus Anglicus’s fables contain extensive glosses, commentaries, and allegorical epimyths. Id. p. 4.

[3] Yew trees have been long known to present serious risks of poisoning. Most Latin texts include the first two lines above as quoted words of the young man. Those quotation marks are editorial (twelfth-century texts didn’t include quotations marks). While promythia for Gualterus Anglicus’s fables typically are couplets, the promythium for De iuvene et Thaide seems to me to be best interpreted as a quatrain.

The moral for the medieval Romulus Anglicus is similarly pointed:

Moral: we are thus warned not to believe readily the words of women when, although they have many lovers, they say they are content with one.

{ Moralitas. Sec monemur non facile verbis credere mulierum, quia, cum multos habeant amatores, uno se dicunt contentas. }

Latin text via Laura Gibbs, my English translation. On the complex manuscript tradition of the medieval Romulus collection of Aesop’s fables, Vámos (2013).

[4] William Caxton, Aesop’s Fables 3.10 (“Of the yonge man and of the comyn woman”), via Laura Gibbs. Here’s the full text of Caxton’s work.

[image] Of the prostitute and the young man {De meretrice et iuvene}. Image on p. 104 of Esopi appologi sive mythologi: cum quibusdam carminum et fabularum additionibus Sebastiani Brant (Basel: Jacob von Pfortzheim, 1501).


Baeza-Angulo, Eulogio. 2013. “Una fábula elegíaca: Comentario a Fedro, App 29.” MAIA-Rivista Di Letterature Classiche. 65 (1): 3-16.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Vámos, Hanna. 2013. “The Medieval Tradition of the Fables of Romulus.” Graeco-Latina Brunensia 18 (1): 185-197.

Wright, Aaron E. 1997. The fables of “Walter of England”. Toronto: Pontifical Inst. of Mediaeval Press.

contemptus mundi: MGTOW rebellion against gynocentric world

contemptus mundi, MGTOW paradise

Medieval Europe, like most human societies, was profoundly gynocentric. Yet medieval Europe was relatively tolerant of dissent compared to codes of conduct now pervasive in the U.S. and similar societies. Medieval forefathers of today’s MGTOWs wrote explicit statements of contemptus mundi (contempt for the gynocentric world) in which they sharply criticized women and urged men to withdraw from the gynocentric world.

Christianity in medieval Europe was interpreted gynocentrically. Consider a brief account of Christian salvation history:

A woman was the cause of human ruin,
Of humanity’s redemption, woman was the cause.
A woman was the cause of humanity’s fall from Paradise,
Of humanity’s return to life, woman was the cause.
A woman, the first mother, made angry Him,
Who made merciful a woman, the virgin mother.
Eve was the means that separated humanity from its protector,
The virgin was the means by which God would become a man.

{ Foemina causa fuit humanae perditionis,
Qua reparatur homo foemina causa fuit.
Foemina causa fuit cur homo ruit a paradiso,
Qua redit ad uitam foemina causa fuit.
Foemina prima parens iterum reddit illum
Quem facit esse pium foemina uirgo parens.
Eua fuit medium quod homo foret absque patrono,
Virgo fuit medium quod Deus esset homo. } [1]

In gynocentric society, whatever matters is all about women. In medieval gynocentric society, woman were understood to cause all evil and all good. In modern gynocentric society, women cause all good; all evil, which men cause, hurts only women; and all of a husband’s success should be credited to his wife.

Beneath superficial titles, women in actual practice are the leaders in gynocentric society. Men follow women and obey them. So it was with Eve and Adam in medieval Christian understanding:

But Eve was destruction to him whom she ought to have helped,
And having sunk first, she sank her spouse in the depths.
And, since deceptive words of a deceptive wife tend to deceive,
she willingly deceived hers in this way.
A wicked enemy makes the woman wicked, and the man by the woman.
Each believes the wicked one and each is made wicked.
The enemy deceives him through her while destroying them.
He takes both from God; he gives both to himself.
The enemy tempts, the woman delights, the man obeys,
And because of this triple wound of death, humanity sins. [2]

{ Sed fuit exitium cui debuit auxiliari
Et submersa prius mersit ad ima parem.
Et, quia fallacis fallacia fallere sponsum
Verba solent, sponte fallit et ipsa suum.
Hoste malo mala fit mulier uir per mulierem.
Credit uterque malo factus uterque malus.
Hostis eum fallit per eam, set eos perimendo.
Tollit utrunque Deo donat utrunque sibi.
Hostis foemina uir temptat laetatur obedit
Et trino mortis uulnere peccat homo. }

Both the woman and the man sin. But the man sins through obeying the woman. With men subservient to women in gynocentric society, sin is thus prevalent.

Perceiving grave gender injustices and righteously angry, medieval MGTOWs advised men to protect their lives by fleeing from women. Medieval MGTOWs refused to idolize women, and they frankly acknowledged women’s power over even the strongest men:

Listen to my teaching if you want to avoid ruin.
Woman is a fragile thing, a slippery thing, a childish thing;
fickle, wilful, with nothing in her but quarrel.
She snatches your heart and takes it away and softens chests of iron.
The first woman cast the first man down to the bottom.
Woman vanquished Samson, David, and Solomon.
You are not greater than Samson, David, and Solomon.
Woman deceived our trusting, first parent.
If you seek the Lord, flee from conversation with women.
Their conversation is nothing but bitter venom.

{ Audi doctrinam, si uis uitare ruinam.
Foemina res fragilis, res lubrica, res puerilis,
Mobilis, indocilis, nil in ea nisi lis.
Cor rapit et tollit et ferrea pectora mollit.
Prima uirum primum mulier deiecit ad imum.
Foemina Sansonem fregit, Dauid et Salomonem.
Non est Sansone maior Dauid et Salomone.
Foemina credentem decepit prothoparentem.
Si Dominum quaeris, fuge colloquium mulieris;
Colloquium quarum nihil est nisi uirus amarum. } [3]

Medieval MGTOWs recognized men’s psychological weaknesses, affirmed men’s value as beloved children of God, and urged men to act decently rather than insanely pursuing Venus (sex):

Shun flighty Venus, flee the enticing woman,
a despised thing, a changing thing, a hurtful thing.
In every way she is a thing full of knots,
a poisonous thing, a worthless thing, a wicked thing.
No one imbued with love can maintain moderation,
and he thinks what harms him can be delightful.
Since you are an image of God, an illustrious thing worthy of victory,
an heir of heaven, a companion and jewel of the saints,
despise her glittering apparel and deceitful face.
The shining beauty outside is inwardly full of sorrow,
shit, and muck, very much like a beast of the herd.
Despise the stench of Venus, follow Decency.
The first makes the mind insane, breaks the body, and empties it.
The other causes the mind to flourish along with the body.

{ Sperne uagam Venerem, fuge blandiloquam mulierem,
Rem despectiuam, rem fluxam remque nociuam.
Omnibus illa modis res est plenissima nodis,
Resque uentosa, res uilis, res uitiosa.
Nemo modum seruare potest imbutus amore
Et quaecumque iuuat posse iuuare putat.
Cum sis imago Dei, res inclita digna trophei,
Haeres coelorum, comes et gemma deorum,
Fulgentem cultum, fallacem despice uultum.
Forma decora foris intus est plena doloris,
Stercoris atque luti pecorisque simillima bruti.
Despice foetorem Veneris, sectare pudorem.
Haec mens insanit, haec corpus frangit, inanit.
Altera florentem reddit cum corpore mentem. }

Biological evolution has made males and females for each other. Most men don’t regard women as a fish regards a bicycle. Yet under oppressive gynocentrism, men may rationally choose to go their own way in relation to women. Men can develop their minds and bodies and be decent persons without women.

The literature of contemptus mundi makes clear that men don’t govern the world. According to today’s orthodoxy, men throughout history have subjugated women under patriarchy and treated women as men’s property. Why then did some men express contemptus mundi and seek to flee from women? One might speculate that they realized that women hate men. That’s no more plausible than believing that men hate women. The vigorous voices of men’s sexed protest throughout history are best understood as men ineffectively crying out under gynocentric oppression.

The literature of contemptus mundi rejects worldly values, vigorously declares that worldly pleasures and worldly honors soon pass away, and urges men to seek eternal goodness. Its message is blunt and forceful:

What is flesh? Vile earth. What is the glory of the flesh? Smoke.
Every honor is fleeting, excess of possessions perishes instantly.

{ Quid caro? Vilis humus. Quid carnis gloria? Fumus.
Omnis honor fluxus, rerum perit illico luxus. }

Yet it also shows personal sympathy for men and considerable psychological insight:

Wretched me, what shall I do? I carry a wound under my chest,
a wound of stinking, inveterate sin,
as if I were carrying death under the same chest.
As often as I have cleansed it and applied plasters,
so often has the healing burst from corruption.
I have put on a thousand bandages of no value.
The skin is always burst, there is never hope of deliverance.
Every hour this soul of mine is full of sorrow.

{ Me miserum, quid agam? Porto sub pectore plagam,
Plagam peccati ferientis et inueterati,
Tanquam si portem sub eodem pectore mortem.
Quem quoties laui, toties amplustra ligaui,
A corruptela toties est rupta medela.
Mille ligaturas ammoui nil ualituras.
Semper rupta cutis, semper spes nulla salutis.
Sic totis horis mea mens est plena doloris. }

In medieval Europe, Cupid, serving the goddess Venus, was known to shoot men in the chest with arrows to cause them to suffer love madness. From a modern, scientific perspective, desire for women is deeply rooted in men’s human nature. Having to flee women and the gynocentric world is a bitter pill for men to swallow. Yet compared to the more enlightened Middle Ages, within today’s reign of ignorance, anti-men bigotry, and superstition, more men with better reason have contempt for the world.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Chartula contemptus mundi ll. ll. 735-42, Latin text from Gutiérrez (2009) p. 266, English translation my adaptation of Pepin (1999) pp. 73-4. In adapting Pepin’s translation, I’ve removed the de-gendering of male human beings through generic references to homo / man. Following the above quote, the next two lines provide a further gynocentric contrast:

A woman, the first mother, was hateful, malicious, and proud;
A woman, the virgin mother, was chaste, kind, and gentle.

{ Foemina prima parens exosa maligna superba;
Foemina uirgo parens casta benigna pia. }

Building upon the pairing of Eve and Mary, scholars have made broad claims about a virgin / whore binary in characterizing women. Those claims are far over-blown. However, within gynocentric society, characterizing women is much more prevalent and important than characterizing men.

Chartula contemptus mundi was composed in the second half of the twelfth century. Pepin (1999) p. 55. It characteristically begins “This page of ours sends greetings to you, Beloved {Chartula nostra tibi mandat Dilecte salutes}.” Only the first 374 lines of Chartula contemptus mundi are included in some manuscripts. That shortened version is sometimes entitled “Poem of Exhortation {Carmen Paraeneticum}.” It is sometimes addressed specifically to “Rainald” rather than “Beloved”. Id.

Chartula contemptus mundi is associated with contemptus mundi literature that was widely disseminated in medieval Europe. Bernard of Cluny in the twelfth century wrote a much longer poem, De contemptu mundi. Before becoming Pope Innocent III in 1198, Cardinal Lotario dei Segni wrote a similarly themed poem entitled On the misery of the human condition {De miseria humanae conditionis}. Chartula contemptus mundi came to be included in the Eight moral authors {Auctores octo morales} that formed the core of late-medieval school instruction in Latin.

A comprehensive critical edition of Chartula contemptus mundi isn’t available. Pepin (1999) translated Chartula contemptus mundi according to the text printed by Matthias Bonhomme at Lyon in 1538, as represented by the copy in the Beinecke Library, Yale University. Gutiérrez (2009) provides the Latin text in the Libri minores of Antonio de Nebrija, probably from 1511. Schroeder (1910), freely available online, also provides a Latin text. Printed editions of Auctores octo morales from the late fiftheenth and early sixteenth centuries include the Latin text of Chartula contemptus mundi. Here’s an online example from 1538. In adapting Pepin’s translation, I’ve followed Gutiérrez’s Latin text.

Subsequent quotes from Chartula contemptus mundi are similarly adapted from Pepin’s English translation and provide Gutiérrez’s Latin text. They are (by Latin line number in Gutiérrez’s text): ll. 717-26 (But Eve was destruction…), 477-86 (Listen to my teaching…), 797-810 (Shun flighty Venus…), 400-1 (What is flesh?…), 615-22 (Wretched me…).

[2] Pepin translated peccat homo as “the man sins.” Pepin (1999) p. 73. That seems to me a significant mis-translation in the context of trino mortis uulnere and the prior verse.

[3] Pepin’s translation omits l. 379.

[image] A smiling monk in a lush garden writes an edition of Contemptus mundi. Title page of Contemptus mundi. Hecho por Juan Gerson Chanciller de Paris. Toledo: Juan de Villaquiran, 1523. Image via the Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University. This book is actually an edition of Imitatio Christi by Thomas à Kempis. The smiling monk, the lush garden that includes flowers, trees, birds, rabbits, and a monkey, and the surrounding floral border suggests that medieval intellectuals didn’t interpret Contemptus mundi in the dour, narrow-minded way in which modern scholars typically read it.


Gutiérrez Galindo, Marco Antonio. 2009. Antonio de Nebrija. Libri minores. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Schroeder, Edward. 1910. “Ein niederrheinischer De Contemptus mundi und seine Quelle.” Pp. 335-374 in Nachrichten von der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Philologisch-historische Klasse aus dem Jahre 1910. Berlin: Weidmannsche.