gestural philology of palm-inward v-sign

drowning persons makes palm-inward v-sign

The middle finger (digitus impudicus) has well-documented gestural history going back to antiquity.  Philologists have less thoroughly studied the fig gesture.  Most medieval scholars believe that the twenty-fifth canto of Dante’s Inferno displays the fig:

When he had finished, the thief — to his disgrace —
raised his hands with both fists making figs,
and cried, “Here, God! I throw them in your face!”

{ Al fine de le sue parole il ladro
le mani alzò con amendue le fiche,
gridando: “Togli, Dio, ch’a te le squadro!” }[1]

Even more marginalized than the fig in male-dominated philology has been the palm-inward v-sign. Close, active investigation reveals that pioneering twelfth-century author Marie de France stimulated the palm-inward v-sign.

In current philological scholarship, the palm-inward v-sign is recognized only as early as the sixteenth-century.  In Gargantua and of Pantagruel, Pantagruel’s friend Panurge triumphs in a scholarly argument with the upwardly striving scholar Thaumaste.  The winning erudite knowledge consists of obscene gestures:

Panurge, without a word, raised his hands and made a sign like this: he brought together the nails of his left-hand index finger and thumb, so making a space in the middle like a ring; he then squeezed all the fingers of his right hand into a fist, except for the index finger which he thrust repeatedly in and out of the finger and thumb of his left hand.  Then he stretched forth his index and middle fingers, keeping them as wide apart as possible and pointing them towards Thaumaste.

{ Panurge, sans mot dire, leva les mains et en feist tel signe. De la main gauche il joingnit l’ongle du doigt indice à l’ongle du poulse, faisant au meillieu de la distance comme une boucle, et de la main dextre serroit tous les doigts au poing, excepté le doigt indice, lequel il mettoit et tiroit souvent par entre les deux aultres susdictes de la main gauche. Puis de la dextre estendit le doigt indice et le mylieu, les esloignant le mieulx qu’il povoit et les tirans vers Thaumaste. }[2]

The position of Panurge’s hand as he displayed the v-sign has generated scholarly dispute.  The context of the sign is clearly obscene.  Within that obscene context, the sign is best read as palm inward-upward.

More significantly, the palm-inward v-sign is attested in Spanish literature from the early fifteenth century.  To read that sign, one needs to appreciate Mare de France.  Marie de France’s sensitive, subtle, and insightful French work explored, among many important issues, men’s relationships with their wives.[3]  In one fable, Marie de France described a husband with an exceedingly contrary wife.  One day they took a leisurely walk to a meadow.  There the husband and his wife got into a quarrel:

He’d seen no meadow, all his life,
cut with a scythe so evenly.
His wife responded speedily,
“Rather it was cut with shears.”
“Rather, it was a scythe, my dear.”

{ quë unc[es] mes des oilz ne vit
nul pré fauké si uëlement.
Ele li respunt hastivement :
“Ainz fu a uns forces trenchez.”
Dist li vileins : “Einz est fauchez.” }[4]

Their quarrel became intense. The battered husband, tormented with years of psychological abuse, ultimately acted in self-defense:

Down to the ground his wife he flung,
And then the man cut out her tongue.

{ Li vileins l’ad aval getee,
si li ad la lange copee. }[5]

The man, rendered temporarily insane from the abuse he suffered, asked his wife whether a scythe had trimmed the meadow:

The woman could not talk, and so
She used her fingers now to show
The meadow had been clipped by shears;
No scythe had cut the grasses here!

{ La vielle, quant ne pot parler,
od ses deiz [li] prist a mustrer
que forces l’aveient trenché
e que falcs ne l’ot pas seié. }

In a related fable, Marie de France told the story of another wife, “full of wickedness, bad-tempered and cantankerous {mut felunesse, de male part e tenceresse}.”[6]  That wife also psychologically abused her husband to the point of him acting in self-defense.  He chased after his wife and she, fleeing, accidentally fell into a river.  The husband’s servants ran to the river and jumped in to rescue the wife, but they could not find her.  The husband explained that his wife was so contrary that she would be upstream, against the flow of the river.[7] That’s where the body of the drowned wife was found.

An unimportant fifteenth-century Spanish male author exploited Mare de France’s fables and added reference to the palm-inward v-sign. In this derivative story, the husband and wife were having an elegant supper under a pear tree by a river.[8]  The husband said to his wife:

“Wife, now give me that knife which you have on your belt, since mine won’t cut hot butter.”  His wife responded, “Hey, where have you been?  This isn’t a knife, they’re scissors, scissors.”  Her husband said: “Now why the hell are you trying to turn a knife into scissors?”  His wife said:  “Hey, what’s wrong with you?  They are scissors, scissors.”

{ “Mujer, dame ahora ese cañivete que en la cinta tienes, que este mío no corta más que mazo.” Respondió la mujer: “¡Yuy, amigo! ¿Dónde estáis? ¡Que no es cañivete: que tijeras son, tijeras!” Dijo el marido: “¿Ahora en mal punto del cañivete me haces tijeras?” La mujer dijo: “Amigo, ¿qué es de vos? ¡Que tijeras son, tijeras!” }[9]

The battered husband, acting in self-defense, then pushed his wife into the river:

And she immediately began to sink below the water, and she was determined that she’d not stop sticking to her guns even if she drowned.  Dead but not defeated!  She began to stick her fingers out of the water wiggling them like scissors, letting it be known that she was sticking by scissors, and she was carried downstream, downing.

{ Y luego comenzó a zambullirse so el agua, y vínosele en miente que no dejaría su porfía aunque fuese ahogada: ¡muerta sí mas no vencida! Comenzó a alzar los dos dedos fuera del agua, meneándolos a manera de tijeras, dando a entender que aún eran tijeras, y fuese el río abajo ahogando. }

The guests at the dinner ran downstream to help the wife.  But the husband yelled to them:

Where are you going?  Don’t you understand that she’s so stubborn that she’ll even be stubborn with the river and make it run backward, against the natural course of the river?

{ ¡Amigos, tornad, tornad! ¿Dónde vais? ¿Y cómo no pensáis que como es porfiada aun con el río porfiará y tornará sobre el agua arriba contra voluntad o curso del río? }

The guests were convinced by the husband’s reasoning.  The wife thus drowned.  As a whole, this story amalgamates and adapts Marie de France’s two fables.

Careful reading of the adaptation of Marie de France’s fables reveals the palm-inward v-sign.  The adaptation shifts the semantic battle from scythe versus shears to knife versus scissors.  The semantic battle thus becomes more sexually shaped.  Now imagine a woman sinking under the river’s surface, but holding above the surface two fingers and wiggling them at her husband.  She does that, not in response to her husband’s further questioning, but of her own impulse.  In the circumstances of the story, that gesture is best read as the woman making the palm-inward v-sign to her husband.

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[1] Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto XXV, ll. 1-3, Italian text from Petrocchi edition at the Princeton Dante Project, from Italian trans. Ciardi (1954). The incomparable Princeton Dante Project observes:

Beginning with Pompeo Venturi in the 1730s, most commentators say that the gesture is made by placing the thumb between the index and middle fingers.  Ignazio Baldelli, however, has recently argued that the gesture involves making the image of the female pudenda with thumb and index finger.  For disagreement with Baldelli’s finding, see Colussi and Mazzucchi.  Whatever the precise gesture Vanni made, it was not a polite one. {citations omitted}

Burrow (2002), p. 170, reports a reference to the fig in Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Bk. XI, Ch. 3, l. 98.  That reading seem to me to be problematic because of the wide range of decontextualized gestures that Quintilian reports.

[2] François Rabelais,  Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bk. 2 (Pantagruel), Ch. 19, French text from Rabelais, Oeuvres Complètes (1552), edited by Alphonse Lemerre (1870), via Wikisourcefrom French trans. Screech (2006) p. 105. Here’s the prior Urquhart translation.  This chapter, which consists of a silent debate in signs, is a contentious site of gestural philology.  See, e.g. Guana (1996) pp. 57-64.  A debate in signs was known in European literature early in the thirteenth century.  The motif is widespread in surviving literature from no later than the fifteenth century.  De Looze (1998).  A debate in signs between a Greek and a Roman features in Juan Ruiz’s Libro de buen amor. That work influenced Alonso Martínez de Toledo.  He quotes lines from Libro de buen amor in his Archpriest of Talavera.

[3] See, in particular, Marie de France’s Bisclavret and her fables treating men’s inferiority in guile (see note [1]).

[4] Marie de France, Fables {Esope} 94, The Peasant and His Contrary Wife {Del vilein e de sa femme cuntrariuse}, Old French edition of Brucker (1998) via Sorbonne Université, Labex OBVIL, from Old French trans. Spiegel (1987) pp. 239-41.  The subsequent two quotes are from id.

[5] Cf. the case of John and Lorena Bobbitt.

[6] Marie de France, Fables 95, The Peasant and His Cantankerous Wife {Del vilein e da sa femme tenceresse}, from Old French trans. Spiegel (1987) pp. 241-45. This fable is also known as “The bad wife and her husband {La méchante femme et son mari}.”

[7] Marie de France’s fable of the woman in the river seems to have an antecedent in Egbert of Liège’s early eleventh-century Latin book The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis}. See Pt. 1, 1378-84, “About the wife hostile to her husband {De uxore infensa marito},” trans. Wolterbeek (1991) p. 53. A similar fable also exists in the Romulus collection of Latin fables. For the Latin text with English translation, id. pp. 53-4. The tale was included in Poggio’s Facetiae as 60 “A man who was searching for his wife drowned in the river {De eu qui uxorem in flumine peremptam quaerebat},” Latin text and English trans. Poggio (1879) vol. 1, p. 100. The preceding story also has the theme of a stubborn wife taunting her husband gesturally. In this instance, upon being lowered into a well below the level of the excrement filling it, she reached up and, pinching her thumb and forefinger, gestured that her husband was lousy (literally, had lice). Id. pp. 98-9, “Of an obstinate woman who persisted in calling her husband lousy {De muliere obstinata quae virum pediculosum vocavit}.”

[8] A pear tree is a symbol of love.  A pear tree figures in the love-bet in the fabliau La Gageure.

[9] Alonso Martínez de Toledo, Archpriest of Talavera {Arcipreste de Talavera}, Part II, Ch. 7, Spanish text from the online presentation by Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes of the edition of Gerli (1979), English translation from Naylor & Rank (2013) p. 125.  The subsequent two quotes are from id.  In the second quote, I’ve changed “natural way or course” to “natural course” for more fluid reading.


Brucker, Charles, ed. 1998. Marie de France. Les fables. Paris: Peeters.

Burrow, John Anthony. 2002. Gestures and looks in medieval narrative. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ciardi, John, trans. 1954. Dante Alighieri.  The inferno. New York: A Mentor Book.

De Looze, Laurence. 1998. “To Understand Perfectly Is to Misunderstand Completely: ‘The Debate in Signs’ in France, Iceland, Italy and Spain.” Comparative Literature. 50 (2): 136-154.

Gauna, Max. 1996. The Rabelaisian Mythologies. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Gerli, Michael, ed. 1979. Alfonso Martínez de Toledo. Arcipreste de Talavera o Corbacho. Madrid: Cátedra.

Naylor, Eric W. and Jerry Rank, trans. 2013. The Archpriest of Talavera by Alonso Martínez de Toledo: dealing with the vices of wicked women and the complexions of men. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

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).

Screech, M.A., trans. 2006. François Rabelais. Gargantua and Pantagruel. London: Penguin.

Spiegel, Harriet, trans. 1987. Marie de France. Fables. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Wolterbeek, Marc. 1991. Comic Tales of the Middle Ages: an anthology and commentary. New York: Greenwood Press.

COB-87: Jacques sticks to job description at washtub

Big Rooster, David Smith, steel sculpture

One of the great moments in bureaucratic history occurred in front of a washtub in Jacques’ house in fifteenth-century France.  Jacques, like most men throughout history, was under the rule of his wife. Jacques’ mother-in-law frequently gave him advice.  She said that Jacques should always follow his wife’s orders, and to make sure he didn’t forget any, he should write them down.  Jacques prepared to write.  He asked his wife for orders.  His wife said:

Write clearly, do you hear?  Put down that you’ll always obey me, never disobey me, and do everything I ask. [*]

In a moment of brilliant bureaucratic insight, Jacques responded:

Nothing doing.  Itemize, and I’ll agree to what’s reasonable.

In any circumstances, the bureaucratically smart choice is always to create a lengthy, detailed document.  Thus Jacques wrote up his wife’s requests: get up first in the morning, warm her clothes by the fire, rock and comfort baby when baby wakes up at night, run to store for bread and milk, feed the cat, wash the clothes and hang them to dry, make coffee, serve her breakfast, make the bed, make lunch, clean the kitchen, wash pots and pans, wash baby’s dirty diapers (Jacques wrote that one down only after his wife threatened to beat him if he didn’t), straighten out the house, have sex with wife five or six times a day (a husband’s sexuality was more valued in the medieval period than today).  After Jacques agreed that his responsibility was to do what was in the list and nothing more, he signed the document.  He thus made that document officially his husbandly job description.

Jacques’ wife immediately ordered him to help pull the wash from the washtub and hang it to dry.  Jacques consulted his job description, found that item on it, and began to help his wife.  After throwing some washwater in Jacques’ face, Jacques’ wife accidentally fell into the washtub.  In that deep, medieval tub, she was at risk of drowning.  She screamed to Jacques to give her a hand to help get her out.  Jacques consulted his job description, did not find “save wife from drowning in washtub” in the document, and thus refused to help his wife.  She cried, begged, and pleaded.  Jacques stuck to his bureaucratic principles:

I’m scrutinizing this paper, but I have to inform you that it’s not in the list.

Save yourself any way you can.  As far as I’m concerned you’re staying where you are.

In a somewhat bureaucratically unrealistic turn of events, Jacques eventually offered his wife a deal: make me master of the house, and I’ll pull you out of the washtub.  His wife agreed.  Jacques saved his wife, and happily declared:

Well then, it looks as if I’ll be in charge from now on, since my wife says so.

Most husband know how the story would continue from there.  The bureaucratic lesson is clear: get a job description, and stick to it.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Backbone.js JavaScript library is creating bureaucratic concern.  Backbone is lightweight and has few dependencies.  Even worse, it’s associated with innovative web services.  Bureaucrats looking to strengthen their spines to help maintain their sitting positions should seek more traditional block-and-post technologies.

Bloomberg Businessweek breaks the story that Jeff Bezos failed to sit through a meeting.  Here’s Bezos’ confession of weakness:

I once found myself in a meeting with a room full of international tax experts talking about a dispute between Japanese taxing authorities and American taxing authorities. I was invited to the meeting because it was a large amount of money and in the worst-case scenario, we would have had to pay both. … But 30 minutes into the meeting I said, “Look, guys, I know this is an important issue, but it’s not one I can contribute to, so I will bow out.”

Amazon will never achieve bureaucratic greatness with a CEO who can’t pointlessly sit through a meeting.

Roy Greenslade reports that Lloyd’s List, which is not the world’s oldest newspaper, is giving up on print.  Currently 2% of readers of Lloyd’s List read the publication only in print.  Those readers are undoubtedly bureaucratic leaders.  Those who look backwards carry bureaucracies forward.  Lloyd’s List is destroying its bureaucratic future.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[*] from the Old French farce, Le Cuvier (The Washtub), trans. Oscar Mandel (1970), Five comedies of medieval France (New York: Dutton) p. 144.  All subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 144-9. Here’s some information about Le Cuvier.

[image] My photograph of Big Rooster, David Smith, steel sculpture, 1945, in the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC.

cultural cognition in social self-construction of intellectual elite

cultural cognition at the Hirshhorn Museum

The intellectual quality of most scholarly journal articles is astonishingly bad.  That makes sense.  Journal articles typically represent many hours of intellectual labor.  Most journals prevent most people around the world from accessing the scholarly work in them.  Persons who contribute to journals obviously aren’t primarily interested in sharing knowledge.  They’re interested in doing whatever is necessary to get published.  That’s a problem of social approval within an established social-status hierarchy.  Moreover, journal articles typically have a highly conventionally form strongly influenced by old print technology.  Persons who write in that form lack appreciation for innovation.  Persons whose intellectual labor is oriented toward journal publications naturally produce dull work, in all the various meanings of dull.

Many dull scholarly authors are highly capable intellectually.  The primary problem is bad academic cultic culture.  Consider law reviews.  Gender and sexuality are fashionable topics for law review articles.  Nonetheless, very few law review articles address the imprisonment of men for inability to pay large monthly financial obligations (“child support”) legally imposed on men for having done nothing other than have sex of reproductive type.  While equal protection arguments are common in law reviews, very few law review articles address the systemic discrimination against men in family court decisions on child custody and financial obligations.  The legal problems of undue influence, misrepresentation, and mis-service in the legal establishment of paternity are ignored in law review articles.  The cultic culture of the legal academy and its highly rigid status hierarchy strongly circumscribe legal deliberation.

Work on cultural cognition insightfully elaborates the cultic effect.  Consider the journal article, “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception.”[1]  The lead author of this article is a highly respected scholar now studying problems in democratic communication of scientific research.  While this article is freely available online, it was obviously written to prevail through peer review and get published in a journal.  Here are the sentences of the concluding two paragraphs of the article, interspersed with extra-cultic comments.

Fear does discriminate.

That seems to be meant as a punchy, dramatic statement.  It reprises the first sentence of the article: “Fear discriminates.”  Yup, people tend to be more fearful of snakes than of cute babies.

But it does so in a more even-handed way than had been previously realized.

Void for vagueness.

Women and minorities are more fearful of various risks, but the reason they are is that men, particularly individualistic and hierarchical white ones, tend to be more fearful of the threat to their identities that would occur were the law to accept that activities essential to these individuals’ identities are dangerous and worthy of regulation.

Tendentious abstractions deployed in race-gender posing.  This work seems to be in the spirit of addressing men’s much higher prevalence of violent injury by pathologizing masculinity.

White hierarchical and individualistic men are not the only ones, moreover, impelled toward extreme stances toward risk by identity-protective cognition. The phenomenon is ubiquitous.

Persons, by a wide variety of strategies, seek to defend extra-personal values.  Everyone understands that in their ordinary social behavior.  Social scientists, on the other hand, sometimes lack self-consciousness of their own capabilities for rationalization.

These findings solve many long-standing theoretical puzzles about the nature and significance of variance in risk perception.

Self-congratulations.  Selfies are always self-appreciated.

However, they also expose a host of new practical and moral challenges for reconciling the rational regulation of risk with democratic decision making.

Complex selfie.  Paraphrase: how to get the rabble to respect and ratify my reasoning as authoritative.  The main empirical claim of the article seems to be that “high cultural status anxiety” prompts less fear of risk.  That seems to be related to “nothing left to lose” folk wisdom.  In any case, law professors tend to have high cultural status anxiety.[2]  That anxiety is likely to increase as more persons rationally scrutinize the costs of attending law school versus the benefits.  Contrary to the article’s claimed ubiquitous behavioral relationship, law professors tend to be highly risk-averse in their intellectual and discursive practices.

The academic science of cultural cognition is rife with scientism.

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[1] Kahan et al. (2007).  This work is part of the large and rich Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School.

[2] Madison (2006).

[image] My photograph of Phase-Sponge, Nobuo Sekine, 1968/2012, sponge and steel plate, at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC.


Kahan, Dan M., Donald Braman, John Gastil, Paul Slovic, and C. K. Mertz. 2007. “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White-Male Effect in Risk Perception.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. 4 (3): 465-505.

Madison, Michael J. 2006. “The Idea of the Law Review: Scholarship, Prestige, and Open Access.” Lewis & Clark Law Review. 10(4): 901-924.

Trubert, 13th-century French fabliau, parodies Oriental physician

Trubert in modern art

While crossing boundaries / being transgressive has become intellectually fashionable, the thirteenth-century French fabliau Trubert obliterated boundaries to an extent that has seldom been equaled.  Trubert is many times longer than other fabliaux, and its plot, far more complex.  It presents a broad, unmotivated range of linguistic tone, texture, and diction.[1]  Fabliaux are less moralistic than Aesopian fables, but fabliaux still uphold basic value of justice and preference for the lowly.  Trubert, in contast, presents a sociopathic trickster carrying out random acts of violence.

Trubert curiously creates a parody of an Oriental physician.  Fake physicians appear in fabliaux.[2]  Trubert’s fake physician is the main character Trubert, improbably disguised racially:

With a yellow herb, Trubert colored his face and throat, and all over his hands; he changed his figure to such a point that no one could say openly that it was him when he had finished. [3]

Skin coloring isn’t an effective disguise.  The claim that “no one could say openly that it was him” seems almost like a moral-racial constraint.  By the late nineteenth-century, anthropologist were describing a “yellow” Asiatic race.  Persons in thirteenth-century France apparently associated persons from central Asia (“Orientals”) with yellow skin.  Immediately after describing the racial disguise, the narrator interjects:

Why have I created for you this long description?  He marvelously disguised himself, and then immediately headed toward the castle where the duke was living.

Trubert’s racial disguise contributes nothing directly to the narrative.  Why did the narrator create it?

Other extraneous Trubert text indicate that its parody of an Oriental physician was well thought-out.  Trubert disguised as the Oriental physician collects, with a beautiful white cloth, festering dog feces.  He places the dog feces in a container and then in a long, thin sack.[4]  Such equipment he has seen other physicians carrying.  That’s entirely plausible for the sack.  It’s also plausible for animal feces.  Ancient Greek medicine, which was highly esteemed in southwest Eurasia, used animal feces as medicine.

The Trubert fabliau invokes both folk medicine and professional medicine.  Trubert walks through town barking that he has an ointment to cure all illnesses.  He proclaims that no one, no matter how close to death, can fail to be healed within two months with two or three applications of his ointment.  Trubert thus acts like an itinerant folk physician.  However, when a steward, suspicious of medical fraud, warily approaches Trubert, Trubert declares that he seeks neither gold nor money for healing persons.

The steward takes Trubert into the realm of professional physicians.  The steward’s lord is a duke suffering from a serious beating.  The duke complains that all the other doctors have examined his urine and palpitated his wounds, but have not said anything truthful.  Examining urine was a central professional practice among physicians schooled in ancient Greek medicine.  Trubert declares that his medicine is far better than the medicine of any other doctor.  Trubert thus places himself in competition with learned medical practice.

Trubert gains geographically distinguished medical status.  The duke, duped by Trubert’s medical claims, declares of Trubert:

Here’s a good man.  From here to Rome, there isn’t a better physician.  He will heal me right away, I am persuaded; in contrast, those other physicians there know nothing

Trubert explains to the Lady of the house:

Lady, I have an ointment.  There is none as good from here to the Orient

Trubert being disguised as an Oriental physician supports extravagant claims to medical expertise.  In ancient Rome the leading physicians were commonly culturally Greek persons from the east.[5]  That geography of medical expertise apparently was still understood in thirteenth-century France.

Trubert enacts transgressive figures like those celebrated in today’s leading literature and art.  Trubert has the Duke completely disrobe.  Trubert binds the nude duke into a basket like a piece of meat on a butcher’s block.  Then he anoints the duke’s whole body with the dog-feces ointment.  The duke declares:

God, Glorious King Almighty, that ointment smells powerful!  It smells like dog shit!

Trubert re-assures the duke, and then proceeds to give him a severe beating with a stick.  He tells the duke that the purpose of the beating is to get the ointment to penetrate his body.  After prolonged, vicious physical abuse of the duke, Trubert reveals his name.  He is Trubert, the person who caused the wounds for which the duke originally sought a doctor.  Trubert leaves the naked, bound, dog-shit-covered, beaten duke in the room, locks the door, and leaves.

Before leaving the house, Trubert meets the duke’s wife.  Trubert has duped her into ignoring the duke’s cries of pain and instructed her not to allow anyone to enter the room.  Trubert re-assures her about her husbands howls of pain.  She, convinced, declares, “Against powerful sickness, one needs powerful medicine!”  The fabliau Trubert may have been intended to be just such medicine.[6]

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[1] Lacy (2008) p. 83.  On Trubert and transgression in a conventional, cultic academic style, see Burrows (2006).  Trubert within its text describes itself as a fabliau and declares its author is Douin, who came to be known as Douin de Lavesne.  Trubert is thought to have been written about 1270.  No other works are attributed to Douin de Lavesne, and nothing more is known about him.

[2] For example, the lady leech in La Saineresse, the super-hero count in La Dame Escoilliee, and the kidnapped peasant in the Le Vilain Mire.  In the fabliau Do maignien qui foti la dame, a maid sees her lady naked, bending over the bath.  The maid worriedly tells her that her innards are falling out.  Hearing of the problem, a knowledgeable peasant pretends to be a doctor and treats her by pushing her “innards” (vagina) in with his penis.

[3] From Old French into modern French trans. Wolf-Bonvin (1990) p. 198, my translation from modern French into English.  All subsequent quotes are similarly from id. pp. 198-204.  The doctor trick in the Old French text of Trubert is at ll. 1062ff.

[4] Shortly thereafter, Trubert purchased twenty containers and apparently put them, empty, into his sack.  The twenty empty containers have no relevance to the plot of the story.  They seem to emphasize Trubert’s pretense of medical expertise.

[5] Nutton (2013), p. 168.

[6] The United Nations’ recent report, Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It?, perhaps can function similarly.

[image] My photographic composition of Michelangelo Pistioletto, 1967, Venus of the Rags, on display at the Hirshhorn Gallery, Washington, DC.


Burrows, Daron. 2006. “Trubert: Transgression, Revolution, Abjection.” Reinardus: Yearbook of the International Reynard Society. 19: 37-52.

Lacy, Norris J. 2008. “Trickery, Trubertage, and the Limits of Laughter.” Pp. 82-92 in Burr, Kristin L., John F. Moran, and Norris J. Lacy. 2008. The old French fabliaux: essays on comedy and context. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Nutton, Vivian. 2013. Ancient medicine. 2′nd ed. London: Routledge.

Wolf-Bonvin, Romaine, trans. 1990. Guillaume and Douin de Lavesne. La Chevalerie des sots: le Roman de Fergus, Trubert, fabliau XIIIe siècle. Paris: Stock.