men seeking direction: exempla from the Archpriest of Hita

Men today are confused.  Men are confused about the responses to their persons as men.  The Archpriest of Hita, the narrator of the fourteenth-century Spanish work Libro de buen amor, understood men’s confusion.  After an old woman scolded him for his poor sexual performance, the Archpriest’s spirit drove him out into the mountain wilderness.  There he lost the mule.  He became cold and hungry.[1]  Was a longer, more satisfying life for men not possible?


The Archpriest of Hita met in the mountains Cat-CowShe was a strong, independent woman, a modern, natural woman.  She was not like Cloe, whom the Archpriest dreamily caressed in turning the parchment pages of his beloved book, the Romance of Daphnis and Chloe (which scholars currently prefer to call the Romance of Chloe and Daphnis).  Cat-Cow acted as an agent of government serving her own private interests.  She refused to let any man pass on the path until he paid her a toll.  She was an ugly, corpulent, pock-marked woman.  She was also determined, strong, and violent:

She hooked her crook in my collar,
shook her slingshot at my brow,
and whirling it so to make breezes
said, “As our father true and dear pleases,
you’ll pay me my tribute here, NOW! [2]

Cat-Cow yelled, threatened, and complained.  Finally the Archpriest, fearful and cold, promised her some clothes and fashion accessories.  Cat-Cow then bellowed, “Let’s go,” and displayed leadership and initiative:

She grabbed my hand and flung me
right up on her shoulders with skill;
like a light shepherd’s pouch she hung me,
and strode down the slope with a will.

Cat-Cow took the Archpriest home.  She provided him with fine food.  She expected him to put out in return.  The Archpriest, quite naturally, was not interested in having sex with her.  That didn’t matter:

That low-minded cowgirl beckoned.
“Let’s wrestle a short round of business,
so hoist yourself right this second,
take off all those clothes, undress!”
and she seized my wrist, undaunted;
I had to do just what she wanted.
I got off pretty cheap, I guess. [3]

Rape of men and boys has scarcely been taken seriously.  In the U.S. today, men are legally forced to pay child support to women who raped them.  That wasn’t the case in fourteenth-century Spain.  The Archpriest got off pretty cheap, I guess.

Moving further through the wilderness, the Archpriest of Hita got lost.  He needed direction.  So he asked directions of a local working woman sitting amid pines:

My greetings to you, lovely damsel of the hills.
I’ll have to stay with you, unless you show me to the road. [4]

To that courtly, flirting entreaty, the woman, named Cat-Matron, responded:

I think you’re pretty stupid to invite yourself like this.
And don’t come closer till you measure what a job you’ll get.
Otherwise, I’ll take your measure with the length of my sheepcrook;
and if I catch you with it, it’s not soon that you’ll forget.

The Archpriest, in denial about women’s capabilities for violence, was puzzled by Cat-Matron’s response.  He explained:

I tried to move up closer to this cursèd ugly girl;
she struck out with her crook and gave my ear an awful clip.

She floored me with a blow upon the shoulders, I fell stunned
and learned thereby that whacking on the ear is bad at best.
“God damn,” I muttered to myself, “a country stork like her,
who in such manner welcomes poor young storklings to her nest!”

Cat-Matron explained that violence against men was just her way of earning a living.  That violence didn’t mean anything.  She then propositioned the Archpriest:

“Come on inside my hut, my man Ferroza need not know;
I’ll set you on your road, you’ll get hot lunch, no need to worry.
Then I’ll direct you, little crow, so do not argue more.”
Well, when I saw that she was pleased, I got up in a hurry.

She caught me by the hand and we went walking on together.
It was mid-afternoon and still I’d had no food to eat.
And when we reached the cabin, there was not a soul inside.
She said to me we’d play a game that was meet for a cheat. [5]

The Archpriest, quite naturally, was not interested in having sex with Cat-Matron:

“Oh lord!” I said, “dear girl, I’d rather have a bite of food.
I’m frozen, fasting long, I can’t indulge in gallantry.
If I don’t eat a little first, I can’t wrestle at love.”
She didn’t care for what I said and started threatening me.

Cat-Matron was sexually aroused.  The Archpriest prayed, “God protect me from all harm!”  Convicting Cat-Matron of rape only on the evidence in the text would be wrong.  Libro de Buen Amor says only, “she got mad and I got scared and wasn’t very hard.”[6]  Whatever happened between Cat-Matron and the Archpriest, she wasn’t satisfied:

Because I didn’t do all she wished,
she cried, “You wreck, cold fish, old quack!
What a stupid choice I made, to leave
my cowboy mate for you! Relax,
warm up, or else I’ll show you how
the little beasts roll in balls like wax
without any rain, frost, or dew.” [7]

Eventually Cat-Matron dragged the Archpriest out of her cabin.  She ordered the Archpriest, who arrived lost, to leave by either trail.

Moving on through the wilderness, the Archpriest of Hita himself felt a yearning for sex.  Being raped apparently didn’t cause him to hate all women.  He met a young brunette wearing an attractive red flannel skirt and a woolen belt with studs.  She was cutting down a pine.  In psychoanalytic terms, that means that she wanted to take wood inside.[8]  Her name was Weepy-Drone.  The Archpriest told her that he wanted to be one with a woman.  He bragged of his prowess:

I know how to bulldog cattle,
and break in wild young bulls as well;
and I can churn and make whipped cream,
at making wine bags I excel;
and I can sew good peasant sandals,
play on the flute a bagatelle
and ride a small brown colt like hell.

I can twirl high and low in the dances,
jump and stamp to any song;
no tall or short man have I found
who beats me — I don’t think I’m wrong.
When I crouch in position to fight,
once I grab the man, ere long
I knock him down, if I fight strong. [9]

Many women desire men who can provide rough, wide-ranging sexual action and who can beat up other men.  Weepy-Drone was one such woman.  Upon hearing the Archpriest’s manly boasts, Weepy-Drone declared that she would marry him if he gave her a long list of clothes and accessories.  Concluding that list, Weepy-Drone with pleasure imagined:

All the folks I know will say:
Weepy-Drone marries well today! [10]

The Archpriest said yes, of course, and promptly left, never to return.

Moving on through the wilderness, the Archpriest of Hita felt cold and still wanted sex.  He then met another strong, independent woman, Alda:

The ugliest apparition I have seen in all the world,
a robust keeper of mares, with features like a cocklebur.

She had a head out of proportion, over-sized, grotesque,
topped with a nap of short black hair, just like a shiny crow;
her eyes were sunken, bleary, red, and she could hardly see.
Much bigger than a bear’s track were her footprints in the snow. [11]

The Archpriest fearlessly approached and spoke to Alda:

At your service, fair maid.

Alda responded:

Don’t stop here,
good runner, keep clear,
get along, don’t delay.

Men learn though life not to be discouraged by being rejected.  The Archpriest pleaded:

I’m cold;
that’s why I’m so bold
as to ask, sweet beauty
from pity or duty
give me shelter today.

The Archpriest surely was desperate.  Hospitality is a central value of the Muslim culture highly influential in medieval Spain.  Alda told the Archpriest that whoever stays in her cabin must have sex with her and pay for it.  The Archpriest proposed staying and paying, but not having sex.  Alda agreed.  Sex or no sex, she wanted money or material presents.  She declared:

No trader will win
without money brought in;
I give credit to none
who gives nothing but fun,
and I don’t let him stay.

Sweet talk and love thrills
never paid lodgers’ bills.
For hard cash men may do
what they take a mind to.

The Archpriest had nothing to provide.  He had hoped to pay with promises.  Alda refused promises.  She turned the Archpriest back out into the cold.

The Archpriest of Hita moved on through the wilderness.  His encounters with the women left him feeling drained of life.  He made his way to the shrine of Santa Maria del Vado.  There he offered himself and songs of praise to that “noble Lady, full of grace and piety”:

My hope in you I place
Virgin, give me your aid
and, please, with no delay
pray for me to God,
your son, my Lord. [12]

Among men, hope springs eternal.

These exempla of the Archpriest of Hita teach about ugly, violent, rapacious women.  Men, if you’re lost in the wilderness, don’t ask such women for directions.  They don’t love you the way you deserve to be loved. Laugh at them and keep walking.  Women, don’t be those women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Libro de buen amor, s. 946 (old woman taunting Archpriest sexually), s. 950 (Archpriest heads to the mountains to “try all things and make a test”; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21).  The Archpriest encounters in the wilderness mountain women (in Old Spanish, serranas).  The Libro de buen amor’s section on the Archpriest of Hita and the serranas was one of its most often and most explicitly cited passages in medieval literature.  Dagenais (1994) p. 200.

The serranas poems in Libro de buen amor are similar to a nearly contemporaneous pastorela from Guilhem Molinier’s Laws of Love {Leys d’amors}. That pastorela is the Occitan song, “While walking along a shore {Mentre per una ribiera},” also known as “Woman swineherd {Porquiera}.” It begins:

While walking along a shore,
alone, on a stroll,
I saw a mirthful swineherd,
who was watching a herd of pigs;
I went towards her right away,
following the ridge of a fallow.
With her ugly, repulsive body,
swarthy, black like tar
and as fat as a barrel,
each of her breasts
was so large that she looked like an English woman.
Upon seeing her so disgusting,
I was taken aback.

{ Mentre per una ribiera
sols anava, deportan,
vi de luenh gaya porquiera,
un tropel de porcz gardan;
sopdamen per una rega
aniey vas liey d’un garatg.
Et hac son cor fer e lag,
escur e negre cum pegua;
grossa fo coma tonela,
et hac cascuna mamela
tan gran que semblet Engleza.
Yeu, que la vi malsabeza
cazec mi tota la brassa. }

Occitan text and English translation (modified slightly) from trobar. Molinier completed his first edition of Leys d’amors in 1328. Juan Ruiz completed his first edition of Libro de buen amor in 1330.

[2] Libro, s. 963c-g from Old Spanish trans. Daly (1978) p. 245, with minor changes to the last two verses for contextual tone.  The Old Spanish text for the last two verses, from the Zahareas text in id., is:

Diz: “Para el padre verdadero
tu me pagaras oy la ronda.”

All subsequent quotes are from Daly’s translation of the mountain-woman section, s. 950-1042, unless otherwise noted. In the Old Spanish text, Cat-Cow is the serrana named La Chata, which is linguistically connected to pug-nosed and cat.  For the four encounters with the serranas, I interpret the cuaderna vía telling and the corresponding lyric song together consistently.  On differences between those pieces, see Ekman (2012).

[3] Libro, s. 971.  Daly has “Let’s wrestle a short round — yes?” for the second verse and ends the last line with an exclamation point, “I guess!”  The Old Spanish is “diz: ‘Luchemos un rato.”  No punctuation exists in the manuscripts.  The question of consent (“yes?”) and the ending exclamation point are Daly’s interpolations.  Those interpolations lessen the sense of Cat-Cow raping the Archpriest.  Other scholars have done similar work in analysis. Ekman (2012) p. 419:

The Archpriest agrees to sleep with Chata and even comes away from the experience thinking he made a good deal

Scarborough (2008) p. 570:

Now warm and with his belly full, the Archpriest finds himself inclined to cooperate and, even though she does physically overpower him, he takes pride in the fact that he held up his part of the bargain

Tate (1969) p. 221:

the specific point of the lyric is that despite inconvenience and forced submission, the protagonist gains at least as much as he loses in self respect

Rape, much more so than gender, is socially constructed.  Fundamental social-sexual forces encourage trivializing or ignoring rape and violence against men.  Consider, for example, the analysis of Scarborough (2008), p. 575:

Juan Ruiz narrates, in the first person, these adventures in which he finds himself abused physically or verbally, and, in at least two of the encounters forced into sex against his will, by wild and hideous women who reside in isolated mountain passes.  … The situations are clearly comedic and require that readers dismiss any reasonable questioning of the feasibility of women raping men {sic}, but at the same time they may also reveal some of medieval men’s real fears about women.

According to this well-fertilized line of scholarship, a medieval man’s “real fears about women” are not his fear of a woman falsely accusing him of rape, or fear of a woman contriving to get other men to beat him up.  Nope, men have “a deep-seated apprehension about, or inferiority complex about, the female capacity for extended sexual activity.”  Id. p. 577, quoting a work too abysmal to mention.  See note [5] in post concerning men’s inferiority in guile.

[4] Libro, s. 975cd.  Daly has “I’ll have to rest with you ….”  The Old Spanish is “morarme he convusco.”  I prefer “stay with you” because it doesn’t connote lack of interpersonal stress.

[5] Libro, s. 980-981.  Daly has “we’d play a game that would one person cheat.”  That seems to me obscure.  The Old Spanish is “jugasemos el juego por mal de uno.”  I prefer “we’d play a game that was meet for a cheat” because that is more easily understood and contains an amusing sexual pun.

[6] Libro, s. 984d.  Daly has “and wasn’t very stern.”  The Old Spanish is “e fui covarde.”  Hard seems to me to better capture the range of meanings, which clearly encompass sexual performance.

[7] Libro, s. 992c-i.  For the penultimate verse, Daly has “The hedgehog rolls in a ball like wax.”  That line alludes to violence against men, plausibly violence against men’s genitals.  Scarborough (2008) pp. 571-2.  My translation seems to me to more effectively allude to violence against men’s genitals.  The serrana in this encounter is named Gadea of Riofrio in the Old Spanish.  I render that name as Cat-Matron.  A scholar has connected the names Chata and Gadea to gata and St. Agatha.  This scholar took that opportunity to report with apparent relish women’s behavior on St. Agatha’s Feast Day (Feb. 5):

Today in Spain, on the festival of “Las Aguedas,” women still parade in the streets and take the initiative in attacking men. {You go girl!}  They may merely snatch their hats or sticks, or they may “feel them up” and even strip them and pour honey on their nude organ.  {two contemporary photographs show} in the first, a woman with a large stick threatens a man, while, in the second, a victorious woman sits on top of a cowering man, who is hunched in a semi-fetal position, with his buttocks presented as if for anal rape.

Vasvari (2005) p. 383.

[8] Some scholars have fantasized about castration.  For example, Scarborough (2008), p. 101, declares:

He {the Archpriest of Hita} comes across this serrana {Weepy-Drone} as she is cutting down a tree — a thinly veiled allusion to the fact that he is about to play the castrated male to a more aggressive female partner

Pushing forward a pile of scholarly references, Vasvari (2005), p. 376, comically asserts:

In psychoanalytical terms, this male obsession with gynocracy, or woman’s rule, actually represents man’s anxiety fantasies {sic} of castration by females (Fenichel 1954; Hermann 1949; Lederer 1968; Roheim 1945).

Person who believe such nonsense will believe anything.

[9] Libro, s. 1000-10001.  This passage contains numerous allusions to sexual activity.  Consider, for example, male sexual function in relation to “I can churn and make whipped cream.” The serrana is named in the Old Spanish Menga Lloriente.  Scarborough (2008), p. 572, states that Menga Lloriente “roughly translates as dull-witted and weepy.”  I thus use the name Weepy-Drone.

[10] Libro, s. 1004f-g.  Daly names Menga Lloriente here as “Suzanne.”  The Archpriest of Talavera similarly describes women’s interests in clothes and accessories.  Alonso Martínez de Toledo, Archpriest of Talavera, Part I, Ch. 1-2, trans. Naylor & Rank (2013) pp. 104-6.

[11] Libro, s. 1008cd, 1012.  The Archpriest of Hita’s physical description of Alda (also written as Aldara in the Old Spanish manuscripts) stretches for eleven stanzas.  It seems to have influenced Boccaccio’s under-appreciated comic-satiric masterpiece, Il Corbaccio.  See the dead guide’s physical description of his widow.  Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1975) pp. 54-6.

[12] Libro, s. 1047e-h.  For metrical reasons, Daly has as the last line, “Pray for me to Jesus, your son, our King who reigns.”  The Old Spanish is “ruega por mi a Dios / tu Fijo mi Señor.” My translation of the last two verses is more literal.

[image] gorilla, thanks to Wikipedia and Raul654.


Casssell, Anthony K., trans. and ed. 1975.  Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Dagenais, John. 1994. The ethics of reading in manuscript culture: glossing the Libro de buen amor.  Princeton, N.J.

Daly, Saralyn R., trans. and Anthony N. Zahareas, ed. 1978. Juan Ruiz. The book of true love {Libro de buen amor}. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Ekman, Erik. 2012. “Framing the serrana Lyrics in the Libro de buen amor.” eHumanista 20: 416-29.

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.

Scarborough, Connie L. 2008. “The Rape of Men and other ‘Lessons’ about Sex in the Libro de buen amor.” Pp. 565-577 in Classen, Albrecht, ed. Sexuality in the Middle Ages and early modern times new approaches to a fundamental cultural-historical and literary-anthropological theme. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Tate, R. B. 1969. “Adventures in the Sierra.”  Pp. 219-229 in G.B. Gybbon-Monypenny, ed. Libro de buen amor Studies. London: Tamesis.

Vasvari, Louise O. 2005. “Women Raping Men: The Sexual-Textual Violence of the Anti-Pastourelle.” Pp 375-419 in Manuel da Costa Costa Fontes and Joseph Thomas Snow, eds. “Entra Mayo y Sale Abril”: Medieval Spanish Literary and Folklore Studies in Memory of Harriet Goldberg. Newars, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 2005.

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