inhumane scope of taxation, or expanding the tax base

The most popular taxes are taxes on others.  Tax the rich (those much richer than you).  Tax corporations (who aren’t real persons like you are).  Tax traders, money-lenders, and importers-exporters (what they do is much less important than what you do).  And who here would object to taxing foreigners?

Given ominously growing public-sector debts around the world and public resistance to paying taxes, tax authorities should consider shifting the tax base toward non-humans.  A renegade political economist teaching on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean about two thousand years ago described this tax policy innovation:

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the two-drachma tax?”  He said, “Yes.”  And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon {Peter}?  From whom do the kings of the earth take customs fees or capitation taxes?  From their sons or from others?”  And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.  However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a stater; take that and give it to them for me and for you.” [1]

Peter declared that Jesus pays the tax.  Peter also implicitly described Jesus as an other, because taxes were collected “from others.”  Jesus, however, implicitly described himself and Peter as sons of a king, hence free from the obligation of having to pay taxes.  That freedom isn’t limited to Jesus and Peter.  Christian scripture makes clear that every human being can be a child of God, the greatest king.[2]  The only beings left for “others” in Jesus’s personal categorization are non-human animals like fish.  A tax scheme based on taxing others, according to the promise of Jesus, taxes only non-humans.  Fortunately, fish, if caught, can pay taxes.

ichthus: fish symbol of Christians

For more than 1500 years, some taxpayers have remembered Jesus with the symbol of a fish.  The fish represents “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”[3] The fish indicates an alternate source for paying taxes.

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[1] Matthew 17:24-27.  I’ve adapted the New Revised Standard translation to describe monetary and tax terms more literally.  This pericope occurs in only the Gospel of Matthew.  Matthew 9:9 and 10:3 describe the apostle Matthew as being a tax collector, or in the specific terms of the above translation, a collector of customs fees.  Exodus 30:11-16 describes a half-shekel capitation tax to be given as an offering to God.  This pericope is commonly called “Jesus and the Temple Tax,” but some aspects of the text suggest a Roman tax.  No scholarly consensus exists as to whether the tax was a Jewish or Roman tax.

A wide-spread folktale motif is a ring, thrown into the sea, turned in the belly of a fish. See, e.g. Herodotus, Histories 3.39-43 and Verstraete (1998). In the biblical story, the folktale motif perhaps suggests that the money found in the fish refunds taxes previously paid.

[2] John 1:12, 11:52; Romans 8:16-16; Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:1-2.

[3] The symbol is known as the ichthys.  The letters of the Greek word for fish correspond to the first letters of each word in the Greek expression for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”


Verstraete, Beert. 1998. “The Ring inside the Fish: A Comparison of the Use of a Similar Folklore Motif in Herodotus and a Dutch-Frisian Folktale.” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies 19(1): 14-18.

domestic violence in fabliaux and farce: medieval and modern

Russian popular print showing wife beating husband

Wives and husbands verbally and physically abusing each other has been a sad feature of human life throughout recorded history.  In medieval Europe, communities through a shaming ritual called charivari publicly punished men for beating their wives.  They also through charivari publicly punished men for being beaten by their wives.  Since medieval times, domestic violence against men has come to be largely ignored.  Men who are victims of domestic violence are now punished by denial rather than by charivari.  Now a U.S. Marine gets beat up by his wife and then arrested for domestic violence.  He poignantly pleads, “What do you do when a girl hits you?

Le Vilain Mire, a thirteenth-century Old French fabliau, represents imaginatively charivari for domestic violence.  A rich peasant won with his wealth the hand of an impoverished knight’s daughter.  Fearing that he would be cuckolded while he was out working in the fields, the peasant resolved to beat his wife in the morning so that she would weep all day and not be attractive to men.  When he returned home in the evening, the peasant planned to make up with her and enjoy marital life.  After getting beaten twice, the wife ingeniously prompted the king’s messengers to beat her husband repeatedly.  The king’s messengers found the husband, beat him for the first time, and then “they mounted him on a horse, his face to the tail, and led him to the king.”[1]  That’s the characteristic charivari position of a man being publicly shamed for beating his wife, or getting beaten by his wife.  Crediting the wife’s ingenuity in securing two strong proxies, the husband was positioned for a double dose of punishment in this fabliau.

Domestic violence appears in farce in the recently published book The Farce of the Fart and Other Ribaldries.  This book provides English translations of twelve medieval French plays.  In the preface, the author declares:

there are aspects of this repertoire that are distinctly unfunny and worthy of our serious exploration.  The recurring theme of domestic violence is one of them, in which many a playwright goes so far as to make the preposterous suggestion that women were the ones who regularly brutalized their husbands. [2]

That’s not funny.  It’s also farcical.  Women and men living together brutalize each other, usually not regularly, but more times than is right, which is never. Many social-scientific studies indicate that women are as physically aggressive, or more physically aggressive than men in their relationships with male intimate partners. Many academics now fervently believe that no essential gender differences exist, except that men are more evil and that men deserve to be incarcerated in vastly gender-disproportionate numbers. They don’t believe that domestic violence among intimates is commonly mutual.

Medieval fabliaux and farces come closer to truth about domestic violence than does much modern scholarship.

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[1] Le Vilain Mire, trans. from Old French in Hellman & O’Gorman (1965) p. 75.  The quoted text in Old French is ll. 195-6: “Si le montent à reculons / La teste devers les talons.”  Here’s a version of the complete Old French text of Le Vilain Mire. Another version of the Old French text has “Einz monterent tuit enroment / Le vilain sor une jument.” (But they mounted right away in a row / the peasant seated on a mare.)  See Zipperling (1912) p. 117.

[2] Enders (2011) p. xiv.

[image] popular print, Russia, 1880s, British Museum, 1996,0323.2.3.


Enders, Jody. 2011. “The Farce of the Fart” and other Ribaldries: twelve medieval French plays in modern English. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hellman, Robert, and Richard O’Gorman, ed. and trans. 1965. Fabliaux; ribald tales from the old French. New York: Crowell.

Zipperling, Carl. 1912. Das altfranzösische Fablel du vilain mire kritischer Text mit Einleitung, Anmerkungen und Glossar ; dazu Anhang mit photographischer Reproduktion eines Teiles der zugrunde gelegten Handschriften. Halle: Niemeyer.

husbands: disparage only bad women, or be shackled

Ordinary, uneducated men in medieval Europe suffered from ignorance of advanced knowledge on how to refer to women.  Consider the case of a brutish husband in Greece, as recorded in a text from sometime before the twelfth century:

A certain man possessed a house and a prudent wife, and was always disparaging all woman.  “Don’t disparage all women,” his wife said, “but only the bad.”  “All,” retorted he.  “Don’t speak like that,” the wife replied, “since you happen not to be united with one of them.”  “Had I fallen in with one of them,” he then said, “I should have cut off her nose.”  After his own fashion, he also criticized some quarrelsome female neighbors. [1]

This man was a farmer.  He implicitly acknowledged that his wife was a good woman.  Moreover, despite the husband’s apparently peevish nature, he showed some respect for his wife.  Before he headed out for a long day’s work ploughing a field, he said to her:

I am going into the field, and at your your leisure, cook something and bring it there, that I may dine.

He didn’t demand that his wife get him a sandwich right now.  He told her to cook something “at her leisure,” so that he would have something to eat while he was working.

Apparently remaining upset about her husband’s generic references to women, the wife decided to punish her husband and reform his manner of referring to women.  Without her husband’s knowledge, the wife went out, bought some fish, and scattered them in the field that he was to plough.  Arriving to plough the field, the husband saw the fish, collected them, and brought them home to his wife.  Returning later for dinner, the husband told his wife to cook the fish for dinner.  She denied any knowledge of having fish.  The husband declared:

“You fool,” said he, “didn’t I bring some fish just now, which I found in the field?”  The woman, scratching her face with her nails, cried out: “O listen to me, neighbors!”  And the neighbors having assembled, the wife said to them: “Listen, O my masters!  My husband asks me to cook fish that he has brought from the field.”  The men asked the husband: “What do you say  — that you found fish in a ploughed field?”  He replied, “O my masters and brethren!  The fish I found there, but how they happened to be there, I don’t know.”  His wife then cried out:  “This man has a devil!”  The neighbors then put iron shackles on the husband’s hands and feet, and the whole night through the wretched man continued to say: “Didn’t I find the fish, and bringing them to this bitch, tell her to cook them?  Why have they then bound me with shackles?”

The husband was recalcitrant.  After three days of her husband’s foodless suffering in shackles, the wife tested his reformation.  She said to him:

“Are you hungry?  May I give you something to eat? How about some fish, these in the frying pan?”  “That’s right, woman.  Aren’t those the same that I brought you from the field?”  The wife then exclaimed: “O Christian masters! The evil spirit still possesses this man, as he continues to talk about fish.”  But on his declaring: “I no longer maintain what I said before,” she gave him a piece and he ate the fish, without saying a word about it.  She even asked him:  “Don’t you remember the fish?”  He replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She then released him from the shackles.  She said to him:  “O husband, all that you have said is true, but before you disparaged not only bad women, but also good women.  And I said to you: ‘Be silent!’ but you replied, ‘If I had a wicked wife, I would kill her.’  Don’t vainly boast of being superior to women.” [2]

The story ends with this admonishment.  Men’s inferior in guile is clear from medieval literature.  The husband surely learned his lesson and submitted to his wife’s rule in referring to women.

husband farmer working at plowing with horses

The literature of men’s sexed protests tends to be condemned for its practice of referring to persons other than men.  This literature, which has been marginalized and has little academic credibility, criticizes women for their treatment of men and for their privileges relative to men.  However, not all women are bad women.  Not all women are the same.  In fact, every woman is unique and special.  Building on these insights, an academic superstar has established that the term “women” oppresses women.[3]

Scholars who have worked for years on such problems have developed insightful solutions.  Leading labor historians now use the term “working classes” rather than the term “working class.”  Scholars studying sexuality have progressed to using the term “sexualities.”  Scholars contemptuous of men now write about “masculinities” rather than “masculinity.”  But what about women?  Ordinary grammatical sense doesn’t allow the pluralistically plural form “womens.”

Scholars are currently studying solutions to the important problem of referring to women.  One possible solution is to replace the word “women” with the term “women(s).”  A more sophisticated proposal, which draws on the resources of Islamic culture, is to replace the word “women” with the term “women (b/ NAWALT).”  The mandatory appended tag “(b/ NAWALT)” represents “but Not All Women Are Like That.”  This latter proposal seems the most promising.  Consider, for example, a possible advance in the literature of men’s sexed protests:

While women (b/ NAWALT) frequently express concern about injustices against women (b/ NAWALT), women (b/ NAWALT) have said little about injustices against men.  That women (b/ NAWALT) falsely accuse men of rape is dangerous for men to say in the presence of women (b/ NAWALT) or men.  Women (b/ NAWALT) are skilled at getting men in trouble with other men.  More than three times more men than women (b/ NAWALT) are killed. Women (b/ NAWALT) need to take more responsibility and show more concern about violence against men.

When the important problem of how to refer to women is resolved, public deliberation can turn to less important issues such as women being deprived of the choice to serve in front-line combat positions.

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[1] A Greek version of the Book of Sindibad, attributed to Michael Andreopulos, Syntipas, dated late 11th century,  trans. Clouston (1884) pp. 95-6.  All subsequent indented quotes, except the last, are from id.  I have modernized the English and made some stylistic adjustments to the translation.  Redondo (2011) argues that Syntipas is an original Greek text perhaps from the second century.  Cutting off a woman’s nose figures in Marie de France’s lai Bisclavret.

[2] Matheolus, a leading figure in the medieval literature of men’s sexed protests, presented a more general code of conduct for husbands seeking to avoid punishment:

What can be, from the time she wants it, must be;
that is, a husband should do it, if he doesn’t want to be stoned to death.
She wants that whatever she praises, he praises; whatever she loves,
he must love; whatever she disparages, he must disparage.

{ Id licet officiat, ex quo vult ipsa, necesse
Est quod vir faciat, lapidatus ni velit esse.
Vult quod laudetur quitquid laudat, quod ametur
Quitquid amat, quitquid reprobat vult quod reprobetur. }

Liber lamentationum Matheoluli, Bk. 1, ll. 337-340, Van Hamel (1892), v. 1, p. 23, my translation from the Latin original above.  Matheolus’s book is from about 1295.  Jean le Fèvre’s Old French translation of Matheolus adds that the husband must keep his mouth shut.  Id.

[3] Butler (1990).

[image] Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; image thanks to Ralf Roletschek and Wikipedia.


Butler, Judith. 2005. “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire.” Pp. 1-34 in Judith Butler, Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Clouston, William Alexander. 1884. The book of Sindibad, or the Story of the king, his son, the damsel and the seven vazirs: from the Persian and Arabic. Privately printed.

Redondo, Jordi. 2011.  “Is Really Syntipas a Translation?  The Case of The Faithful Dog.” Graeco-Latina Brunensia 16:1, pp. 49-59.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

Marie de France’s Bisclavret on men’s secret, inner beast

Marie de France, a twelfth-century author, is a leading figure in conventional academic romances of the past century.  In 1911, a scholar wrote:

An age so feminist in its sympathies as ours should be attracted the more easily to Marie de France, because she was both an artist and a woman. To deliver oneself through any medium is always difficult. For a woman of the Middle Ages to express herself publicly by any means whatever was almost impossible.[1]

Subsequent scholarship has largely elaborated upon that view.  It has ignored Marie de France’s seminal contributions to the literature of men’s sexed protests and failed to recognize her profound insights into man’s human condition.

friendly man beast

In Marie de France’s romance Bisclavret, a noble knight was married to a noble lady.  He loved her, and she loved him.  Only one thing disturbed the wife: for three entire days a week her husband went away.  She knew not where or why.  She wanted to know.

The wife pleaded and cajoled and nagged her husband to tell his secret.  She declared:

My lord, I’m in terror every day,
Those days when you’ve gone away,
My heart is so full of fear,
I’m so afraid I’ll lose you, dear–
If I don’t get some help, some healing,
I will die soon of what I’m feeling!

{ sire, jeo sui en tel effrei
les jurs quant vus partez de mei;
el lever en ai mut grant dolur
e de vus perdre tel poür,
si jeo n’en ai hastif cunfort,
bien tost en puis aver la mort. }[2]

The husband responded with an equally dire warning:

“My lady,” he said, “Please, God above!
I’ll suffer great harm if I tell you:
I’ll drive you off, right out of love,
And lose my own self if I do.”

{ “Dame,” fet il, “pur Deu, merci!
mal m’en vendra si jol vus di,
kar de m’amur vus partirai
e mei memes en perdirai.” }

The husband had tried to be silence. His wife, however, interpreted his silence to be proof of his wrong:

Where do you go? Now you must say
What life you live, where do you stay?
You are in love — that’s it, I know —
And you do wrong if this is so!”

{ kar me dites u vus alez,
u vus estes, u conversez!
mun escient que vus amez,
e si si est, vus meserrez. }

In reality, women rule.  With some additional nagging and cajoling, the husband told the wife his secret.[3]

The husband explained to his wife that he becomes bisclavret. Men turning into beasts figures in human imagination around the world.  Bisclavret is commonly misunderstood as a man-beast, or worse, a werewolf.[4]  Bisclavret is the name of this romance.  The husband explained that as bisclavret he roams undressed about the thick woods of the great forest.  He lives on what prey he encounters.  Your imagination can understand (pigs! beasts!) if you have suspicions about men.

Clothes return the husband from bisclavret to man.  The husband hides his clothes when he becomes bisclavret.  If he were to lose his clothes, he would remain bisclavret forever.  The wife asked where he hides his clothes.  The husband refused to divulge that secret crucial only to his self. The wife insisted that he tell:

“My lord,” the lady replied, “It’s true
More than all the world I love you.
You should hide nothing from me, nor
Ever doubt I’m loyal in any affair.
That would not seem like true friendship.
How have I ever sinned? What slip
Makes me seem untrustworthy to you?
Do what’s right! Now tell me, do!”
She nagged him thus, and thus harassed
Him till he just had to tell, at last.

{ “Sire,” la dame li respunt,
“jeo vus eim plus que tut le mund:
nel me devez nïent celer,
ne de nule rien duter;
ne semblereit pas amisté.
Quei ai jeo forfait? Pur queil peché
me dutez vus de nule rien?
Dites mei, si ferez bien!”
Tant l’anguissa, tant le suzprist,
ne pout el faire, si li dist. }

The literature of men’s sexed protests describes how men’s inferiority in guile and personal weakness allows wives to expropriate their husbands’ secrets.  Marie de France seems to have recognized the merit of that literature.[5]  Telling was nearly this man’s undoing.

Repulsed by her new imagination of her husband, the wife arranged to acquire another husband.  She summoned a knight who loved her, and she declared her willingness to love him.  After they swore an oath of engagement, she told him of her husband’s periodic times being bisclavret, and where her husband hides his clothes.  The lover stole the husband’s clothes.  That meant that her husband could not return.  Her lover then married her.

The literary genius of Marie de France redresses the bisclavret as a man.  The King, out hunting, came upon the bisclavret.  The hunting hounds attacked the bisclavret, who then threw himself in supplication at the King.  The King recognized the bisclavret’s humanity.  The King called the bisclavret a beast, using the feminine gender.[6]  He insisted that she be treated well.  The King and the beast became close companions.

One day, for a feast, the beast’s wife and her new husband appeared at court.  The beast violently attacked the new husband, and later, the wife.  She had never violently attacked anyone else.  A wise man advised the King to question forcefully the wife about why the beast hated her.  The wife confessed.  The clothes were returned to the beast.  In a final, poignant twist, the beast, naturally modest about her nature, declined to put on the clothes in the presence of others.  Left alone in a room with the clothes, the beast redressed.  The bisclavret regained the form of a man.[7]

Marie de France had magnanimous appreciation for men’s human nature.  An adaptation of Bisclavret written in French about 1320 concludes:

Thus you see how stupidly he behaves
Who reveals to his wife
Secrets that should be hidden,
If he does not wish them revealed to everyone.

{ Dont voiz tu que folemant ouvre
Qui a sa fame se descouvre
Dou secré qui fait a celer,
S’a touz ne le viaut reveller. }[8]

Bisclavret presents injustice arising from men’s personal subordination.  Yet Marie de France’s Bisclavret understands men in an even more extraordinary and profound way. Marie de France’s Bisclavret acknowledges men’s depths of human being.  It insists on imaginative space — “don’t doubt a single word” — for a beast within the still-human man.

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[1] Mason (1911), introduction.

[2] Marie de France, Bisclavret, vv. 43-8, Old French text from Waters (2018), English trans. from Shoaf (1996).  In the Book of Sindibad/Seven Sages corpus, the King’s wife frequently threatens to commit suicide in attempts to persuade the King to execute his son on a false accusation of rape.

Bisclavret is technically classified as a lai.  While the exact definition is subject to vigorous scholarly debate, a lai is roughly a short, verse romance in octosyllabic couplets.  Here are brief descriptions of lais attributed to Marie de France.

Waters’s text of Bisclavret is based on MS H: London, British Library, Harley, 978, f. 131va-133vb. Mad Beppo provides an excellent parallel Old French text and English translation of Bisclavret. Mason (1911) provides an alternative online English translation, as does Spence (1917), Ch. XI.

Subsequent quotes from Bisclavret are similarly sourced. They are vv. 53-6 (“My lady,” he said…), 49-52 (Where do you go?…), and 79-89 (“My lord,” the lady replied…).

[3] Matheolus, a leading figure in the literature of men’s sexed protests, declared:

The wonderful nature of women is to seek to know everything
Immediately, each moment, all points
Examining place, times, deep causes
Who, what, where, which, by which, why, when, how, whence
If a man keeps silent, the woman says that he is an adulterer
Even if he is as worthy as John the Baptist.

{ Nature mire mulieres sunt, quia cuncta
Nituntur scire subito, momentaque, puncta,
Indagando, loca, tempus causasque profunde,
Cui, quid, ubi, quo, qua, cur, quando, qualiter, unde.
Si vir enim taceat, dicet mulier quod adulter
Est, quamvis ille meritis Batista sit alter. }

Liber lamentationum Matheoluli (dated c. 1295), Bk. 2, vv. 1041-46, Latin text from Van Hamel (1892), v. 1, p. 75, my English translation.

The twelfth-century Facetus, which became part of the late-medieval school core curriculum of Auctores octo morales, included relevant instruction:

Whatever you do, do not make known your secrets to your wife,
for from this can arise for you life’s hazards.

{ Quicquid agis, ne pande tuae secreta maritae,
unde tibi possunt nasci discrimina vitae. }

Facetus 65, Latin text from Schroeder (1911) p. 19, English translation adapted from Pepin (1999) p. 46.

[4] Shoaf (1996) p. 1, n. 1, insightfully notes this distinction and the play between the name of the romance and the name of the beast.

[5] Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose (dated c. 1275) has a lengthy section protesting wives extracting secrets from husbands.  Id. ll. 16347-16576, trans. Dahlberg (1995) pp. 277-9.  Jehan Le Fevre’s Old French translation/adaptation (dated c. 1371) of Liber lamentationum Matheoluli includes a similar passage. Bk. 2, ll. 1107-1242, Van Hamel (1892), v. 1, pp. 75-7.  Marie de France similarly developed material on men’s inferiority in guile (see note [1] in linked post).

[6] Shoaf (1996) p. 5, n. 3, insightfully points out this feature of the Old French text.

[7] The knight/bisclavret’s ex-wife, physically marked by the blowing of her presumption that she knows man, is exiled along with her new husband.  Scholars have focused on the beast tearing the wife’s nose (knows) off.  Shoaf (1996) p. 9, n. 7, provides important insight into Marie de France’s perspective.

Medieval literature attests to women inciting men to commit violence against men and violence against women. In a medieval Occitan tenso, a wife tells her husband:

Sir, I wish you had cut off the nose of the one
who told you that I had dishonored you,
so that I might be pure and free of sin,
as I am, yet he is washed clean
even though he carries a bow and barbarian’s knife.
I brood and I ponder, and then I think
I might know what she is most knowledgeable in,
she his whore with the complexion of a Saracen.

{ Seingner, son nas volri’agues taillat
qui vos a dig que·us aia enantat;
c’aissi fos solt’e monda de peccat
con sui de cel, de cui es adalbat,
si tot port’arc e coutel barbarin.
Pens e repens e quant n’ai ben pensat,
puosca saber don si’espermentat,
mas, sa putan color de Sarrazin. }

Guilhem Rainol d’At and anonymous domna, “Auzir cugei lo chant e·l crit e·l glat {I though I heard the song, the cry, and the twittering},” st. 2, Occitan text and English translation (modified slightly) from Nappholz (1994) pp. 50-1. Here’s an online Occitan text of the full song. The troubadour Guilhem Rainol d’At was from the Vouacluse region of southeastern France and flourished early in the thirteenth century.

[8] Biclarel, vv. 457-60, Old French text and English trans. from Hopkins (2005) p. 105. Bisclarel is an extract from the first redaction (A-text) of The Romance of Renart the Hypocrite {Le Roman de Renart le Contrefait}. Id. pp. 9-10.

The anonymous lai Melion, probably composed about 1200, tells a similar story to that of Bisclavret and Biclarel. In Melion, the man Melion transformed himself into a werewolf to get stag meat that his wife said she desired. As he was hunting the stag, she deserted him. She took his squire and a ring that was his means to return to human form. Melion was justifiably angry about how his wife had betrayed him:

He left his wife in Ireland.
He commended her to the devil.
She would never again be loved by him
because she had mistreated him so badly,
as you have heard in the tale.
He never wished to take her back
He would like to have let her burn or be dismembered.
Melion said: “It will never fail to happen
that he who believes his wife completely
will be ruined in the end.
He should not believe all she says.”

{ Sa feme en Yrlande laissa:
A deables l’a commandee;
Jamais n’iert jor de li amee,
Por ce qu’ele l’ot si bailli,
Con vos avés el conte oï.
Ne le volt il onques reprendre,
Ains le laissast ardoir u pendre.
Melïon dist: ‘Ja ne faldra
Que de tot sa feme kerra,
Qu’en la fin ne soit malbaillis;
Ne doit pas croire tos ses dis’. }

Melion, vv. 580-90, Old French text and English translation from Hopkins (2005). Men shouldn’t merely listen and believe others, not even their wives. They should attempt to evaluate what others say in relation to the truth.

Melion survived to the nineteenth century in two manuscripts. Hopkins’s edition is based on MS C: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arsenal, 3516, f. 343ra-344rd. That manuscript is dated 1268. Tobin suggests a date of composition between 1900 and 1204. Id. p. 9. Hopkins’s text of Melion is included in Burgess & Brook (2007).

In considering Bisclavret, Melion, and Biclarel, the introductory discussion in Hopkins (2005) shows no appreciation for men and the literature of men’s sexed protests.  From Marie de France’s Bisclavret to the adaptation Biclarel, “The narration of the werwolf tale has moved from woman writer to woman hater.”  Id. p. 49. That misandristic perspective obscures Bisclavret‘s central concern for men.

Spiegel (1994) provides a particularly grotesque example of channeling misandry through Marie de France.  Creamer (2002), in contrast, provides a comical reverse-NAWALT argument: because Marie de France depicts an evil woman and good men, Marie de France hates women.  Creamer concludes with monstrous prose worthy of Bulwer-Lytton:

Even more troubling for us today is conceiving of this lay being offered to the ears of Marie’s original late-12th-century audience, men and women and perhaps boys and girls who sought from it divertissement and instruction. {Think of the children!} Bisclavret … might well have served, however unintentionally and subtly, as a public exemplum that endorsed and reinforced male control over females in the real world. This chilling possibility, rooted not in folklore but in sociology, is certainly the most monstrous aspect of the lay.

Id. p. 272.  Monstrous aspects of today’s reality are truly more frightening.

[image] My photograph of Under the Bridges of Paris, Max Ernst, 1961, cast 1962-63, bronze sculpture, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC.


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Dahlberg, Charles, trans. 1995. The romance of the Rose. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Hopkins, Amanda, ed. and trans. 2005. Melion and Biclarel: two Old French werwolf lays. Liverpool Online Series, 10. Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Department of French.

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Spiegel, Harriet. 1994. “The Male Animal in the Fables of Marie de France.” Medieval Masculinites: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages.  Pp. 111-26 in Clare A. Lees, ed. Medieval Cultures, no. 7. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

Waters, Claire M. 2018. The Lais of Marie de France: Text and Translation. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.