15 joys of marriage, till the end of his miserable days

Consent to hear me as I plead,
That I may, of your joys serene,
Compose a poem that will be
Worthy of serving thee.

I’ll sing of all your happiness,
Entreating ever, nonetheless —
a sinner base —
That my great sins, which I confess,
You will not ponder on, but stress
Only my praise. [1]

Praise for women cannot make up for men’s pervasively professed sins.  Women’s needs aren’t being met.  Happy wife, happy life.  Men, like a woodpecker dazed after a hard day’s work, can barely perceive where to fly.  Men need to ask for directions.  The medieval French social-scientific treatise Les Quinze joyes de mariage (The 15 Joys of Marriage) provides directions.[2]  That work is even more important today than it was for medieval men.

fifteen joys of marriage

Les Quinze joyes de mariage begins with a topical review of the leading scholarly literature of its day.  Scholars, who were overwhelmingly men, reasoned about liberty and happiness without explicit reference to central circumstances of most men’s lives:

Many have toiled and strained, invoking both logic and authorities to show that a man can find greater earthly happiness by living untrammeled and free than by enslaving himself of his own will.  They agree that only a doltish man living joyously and sensually in the freedom of youth would, of his own volition and initiative, and quite unnecessarily, seek out the entrance of a confining, sorrowful, and tearful prison, and force his way inside; for once he’s there, the prison’s iron doors are slammed shut behind him and secured with heavy crossbars, and he’s so closely kept that by no means, whether by bribes or prayers, can he escape.  Now this fellow seems all the more dim-witted to have imprisoned himself since he’d heard beforehand, from within the jailhouse walls, the crying and moaning of its inmates. [3]

This author then reviews the heroic French male warriors who refused to submit to the Roman Empire and summarizes Aristotelian wisdom (“every man must seek the golden mean”).  The point of this erudition emerges only with a mundane, practical illustration figuring an unwise man as a beast:

we would consider quite ill-advised a man who sought purposefully to fall into a pit wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, like those dug in forests to capture wild animals, and from which escape is impossible.  Now once he’s down inside this pit, he casts about for a way to get out, but by then it’s too late.  So, too, with those about to marry [4]

The imaginary scholar Valerius is a character in an important work in the literature of men’s sexed protests.[5] Les Quinze joyes de mariage cites him as having provided useful Socratic instruction:

a certain scholar, Valerius, once spoke to a married friend, inquiring whether he thought he’d made a wise decision.  “Friend,” he asked, “wasn’t there any way out, even a high window from which you could’ve jumped headfirst into a deep river?”[6]

Like scholarly work seeking to pass peer review, Les Quinze joyes de mariage carefully hedges, qualifies, and argues both sides.  It declares that marriage provides “the greatest torments, afflictions, griefs, and misfortunes on earth.”  But Les Quinze joyes de mariage is no more anti-marriage than most feminist work is anti-men:

I don’t condemn them {men} for marrying; rather, I approve and consider that they’re doing the right thing.  After all, we’re only born into this world to do penance, suffer affliction, and mortify the flesh so as to win Paradise, and it seems to me that a fellow could find no harsher penance than submission to the pains and torments described below.  Yet there’s another side to this: since they reckon these torments as joys and delights, and become as calloused to them as an ass to its burden, they seem perfectly content; thus one wonders whether in their case this form of penance has any real merit.

The prologue to Les Quinze joyes de mariage ends with muddled, ineffectual argument and a sign of the direction forward:

Now I’ve consumed time, ink, and paper for the sake of others yet unmarried, and surely won’t dissuade them from entering the net, nor is that my intention.  Yet perhaps a few will come to regret their decision when it’s too late, thus they’ll have these joys forever, till the end of their miserable days.

Appreciation of this superb, subtle humor benefits from careful study of Solomon and Marcolf.  The fifteen central chapters of Les Quinze joyes de mariage all end with the phrase “till the end of his miserable days.”[7] That medieval finding that should be remembered to the end of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Meanwhile, men will continue to pursue their interests.  The author of Les Quinze joyes de mariage concludes with an appeal to women:

Now I’ve written this {Les Quinze joyes de mariage} at the request of certain ladies; if they’re unsatisfied and want me to apply myself to write in their behalf, in their favor, to the detriment of men, and from a feminine point of view, then I’m their man!  Indeed, I’d have a lot better stuff than this considering the great wrongs, woes, and injustices that men heap on women everywhere and in general, both groundlessly and by superior force — after all, women are naturally weak and defenseless, inclining always to serve and obey.  If this weren’t so, men wouldn’t know how to live, nor could they even survive. [8]

In other words, men are naturally even weaker and more defenseless than women, because without women, men wouldn’t know how to live and couldn’t survive.[9]  Don’t try to reason through this.  Men, praise women and confess your sins, till the end of your miserable days.

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[1] Libro de buen amor, s. 33-4, from Old Spanish trans. Daly (1978) p. 33-4.  From a lyric of the (seven) joys of St. Mary.  Other related medieval works are The Fifteen Joys of Notre Dame and The Fifteen Signs of Judgment.  Pitts (1985) p. viii.

[2] Pitts (1985) provide a close, modern English translation of Les Quinze joyes de mariage.  It’s thought to have been written about 1400. Here’s a nineteenth-century printing of Les Quinze joyes de mariage and the first two joys of marriage in an alternate, modern English translation.  The first known English translation was printed by Wynkyn de Worde {sic} in 1509.  It was an adaptation in verse and entitled The fyftene Joyes of maryage.  For analysis, Coldiron (2009) Ch. 4. Another English translation by Thomas Dekker, entitled The Batchelars Banquet, was printed twice in 1603 and again in 1604.  It was reprinted a total of ten times before 1700, making it “one of the non-dramatic bestsellers of the Elizabethan period.” Gildenhuys (1993) p. 13.  Another translation, entitled The xv. Comforts of Rash and Inconsiderate Marriage (running title, The fifteen Comforts of Matrimony) was printed in 1682.  Wilson (1929) provides a scholarly edition of The Batchelars Banquet, and Gildenhuys (1993), an edition with modernized spelling.  The Batchelars Banquet adapts Les Quinze joyes de mariage considerably; it is not a close translation.

[3] Les Quinze joyes de mariage, prologue, from Old French trans. Pitts (1985) p. 1. Subsequent quotes are from pp. 2, 3, 4-5 (Prologue)  and 132-3 (Conclusion).

[4] The figure of a pit “wide at the bottom and narrow at the top” suggests in context a woman’s hips and waist.

[5] Dissuasio Valerii ad Ruffinum philosophum ne uxorem ducat, attributed to Walter Map (c. 1180).  This popular work was ostensibly a letter from Valerius to Rufinus, who “Uxorari tendebat, non amari” (he was headed to be wived, not to be loved).  It apparently formed a chapter in a book that, in fourteenth-century England, “this jolly clerk Jankyn … always laughed uproariously” when reading.  See Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, The Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale.

[6] Valerius has been made to paraphrase Juvenal, Satire 6, ll.28-31:

What! Postumus, are you, you who once had your wits, taking to yourself a wife? Tell me what Tisiphone, what snakes are driving you mad? Can you submit to a she-tyrant when there is so much rope to be had, so many dizzy heights of windows standing open, and when the Aemilian bridge offers itself to hand?

That paraphrase isn’t in the source text.

[7] In the Old French, tousjours et finera miserablement ses jours. The old French word miserablement means “penniless and woeful.” Coldiron (2009) p. 115.

[8] The Batchelars Banquet lacks the prologue and conclusion of Les Quinze joyes de mariage.

[9] The conclusion of Les Quinze joyes de mariage returns to the style and reasoning of its prologue.  Missing the subtle humor of such reasoning, Nykrog (1984), pp. 427-8, declares of the prologue:

the author is obviously a well-meaning bore, scholarly and pedantic, definitely not very intelligent, heavy-handed as a writer.  … By the time we reach his final philosophizing about whether the sufferings endured in marriage will ease the husband’s access to Paradise, considering that the sufferers seem to like it, we have become convinced that this man cannot be very bright.

This analysis seems to apply much more appropriately to much recent scholarship, although a male scholar would not dare say so about a female scholar’s work.  See Smith (1995).  In its introduction, Gildenhuys (1993) focuses on women.  Wilson (1929) pp. xiv-xv declares:

We are forced in fairness to remember the ruling of Robert Burton, that if women are bad men are worse, and to reflect that there may be more material for a maid’s banquet than for a bachelor’s; and the reflection, if it does not detract from our amusement, lessens the stature of the author as we realize that his work is not level with life.

That’s comical nonsense much like the carefully crafted, ridiculous prologue of Les Quinze joyes de mariage.  If you believe that Les Quinze joyes de mariage is misogynistic, you must believe that modern scholarship is even more misandristic.  Persons who disparage wildly creative literary work as being “not level with life” deserve bureaucratic jobs.

[image] Woodcut illustration preceding the first joy of marriage in The fyftene Joyes of maryage, printed in 1509.


Coldiron, Anne E. B. 2009. English printing, verse translation, and the battle of the sexes, 1476-1557. Farnham, England: Ashgate.

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.

Gildenhuys, Faith. 1993. The Bachelor’s banquet. Ottawa, Canada: Dovehouse Editions.

Nykrog, Per.  1984. “Playing Games with fiction: Les xv joyes de Mariage – Il Corbaccio — El Arcipreste de Talavera.” Pp. 423-451 in Arrathoon, Leigh A, ed.  The craft of fiction: essays in medieval poetics. Rochester: Solaris Press.

Pitts, Brent A., trans. 1985. The fifteen joys of marriage = Les XV joies de mariage. New York: P. Lang.

Smith, Susan L. 1995. The power of women: a topos in medieval art and literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Wilson, F. P. 1929. The batchelars banquet: an Elizabethan translation of Les quinze joyes de mariage. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

reducing recidivism depends on inmate communications

In many U.S. prisons and jails, inmates communicate with family and friends in the free world via written correspondence, in-person visits, and telephone calls.  Written correspondence and in-person visits are expensive to monitor systematically.  They can be means of introducing physical contraband into prisons and jails.  Making electronic messaging and video conferencing available to inmates on reasonable terms can increase inmates’ communication with family and friends, increase public safety, and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.  Modernizing inmate communications benefits everyone.

The potential net public benefit of modernizing inmate communications appears to be large.  For example, prisons in Oregon currently hold about 15,000 persons.  The direct cost of incarcerating a person in Oregon prisons is $85 per day.  Prisoners’ median length of stay in Oregon prisons, excluding prisoners with a life or death sentence, is 3.4 years.  The total direct cost to the state of the median incarceration spell is $105,000.  About 27% of prisoners finish their sentences of imprisonment, fail to re-integrate into law-abiding society, and are sent back to prison.  That’s a costly failure for the prisoner, for the new crime victim, and for the public.  The Oregon Department of Corrections estimates that reducing recidivism by merely 1% avoids $4.3 million in annual victim and taxpayer costs.[1]

Increasing prisoner communication with friends and family can reduce recidivism.  Imagine trying to re-integrate yourself into law-abiding society after spending a few years in prison.  You have lost your job, your place to live, and probably many of your possessions and much of your money.  Relationships with family and friends are crucial for prisoner reintegration into law-abiding society.  Maintaining relationships with law-abiding persons outside prison depends on maintaining communication with them.

In Oregon prisons, inmates can electronically receive photos, exchange text messages, and engage in video visitation with screened family and friends.  The Oregon Department of Corrections offers these services to inmates in conjunction with inmate service provider Telmate.[2]  At the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) workshop on reforming inmate calling services’ rates, Telmate Chief Executive Officer Richard Torgersrud stated:

Phones are just one component of what’s going on.  The industry is changing.  The young generation doesn’t even make phone calls.  They don’t know how to call anybody.  They don’t talk on the phone.  They text, they put status updates, they exchange photos.  Families today expect to be able to video visit and see each other at home. … In the last couple of months alone, we have provided over a quarter million video visits remotely, half a million photos shared and messages. [3]

Data filed publicly in the FCC’s docket on inmate calling rates suggests that Oregon prisoners receive 5.2 photos, send or receive 18 electronic messages, and engaged in 1 video call per month.[4]  That electronic message rate is roughly consistent with federal prisoners’ monthly electronic messaging rate. Photos, which prisoners can receive but not send, are quite popular.  Few prisons or jails offer that communication service for prisoners.  Video visitation is developing rapidly, but many inmates and their loved ones currently lack that communication option.

Broad perspectives are crucial for the development of inmate communications.  Federal communications law directs the FCC to ensure that communications services have reasonable charges (prices).[5]  Unreasonably high inmate communication prices discourage the use of communication services and hence limit potential reductions in recidivism through better communication.  But the challenge is not just a matter of prices.  Communication service prices do not vary across Oregon prisons, but communication service usage per inmate varies considerably.[6]  Detailed, technical operational procedures significantly effect inmates’ use of communication services.  Prison and jail officials need to recognize the broad public interest in promoting modern, systematically monitored and supervised inmate communications offered at reasonable prices.

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Data: Oregon DOC inmate communication services workbook (Excel version)

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[1] Data from presentation, Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC), Implementing Enhanced Operating Technologies (Dec. 11, 2013), filed by Telmate on 1/13/2014 in FCC WCB Docket 12-375.  Recidivism rates of roughly a third within three years are common across the U.S.

[2] Here’s information on the Oregon Department of Corrections inmate communications services.

[3] FCC Workshop on Reforming Inmate Calling Services Rates, July 10, 2013, from transcript, pp. 258-9.

[4] See Oregon inmate communications services workbook, summary sheet.

[5] U.S. Communications Act of 1934, as amended, Title I, Sec. 1 (47 U.S.C. 151).

[6] On a per inmate basis, photos received vary from 3.7 to 6.1, electronic messages from 8.5 to 25.4, and video calls from 0.0 to 2.3.  Total communications vary from 13.0 to 32.3.  The variations don’t obviously correlate with security level or inmate sex.  See Oregon inmate communications services workbook, summary sheet.

Garuda Purana provides Indian wisdom on sex differences

Sukasaptati, a Sanskrit text from India before the thirteenth century, quotes a verse on sex differences from the Garuda Purana:

In metals, steeds and elephants,
in woods and stones and garments,
in waters, men and women,
the differences are many. [1]

In almost all cultures throughout human history and around the earth, sex differences are fundamental to understanding of persons.  A recurring sex difference in the tales of Sukasaptati, just as in European tales, is that men are dupes and women are guileful.

sex differences in gargoyles

In one Sukasaptati tale, a merchant went on a business trip.  His wife wore her hair in a single braid, as was the custom of women when their husbands were away.  The wife took a lover.  The lover one night cut off the wife’s braid (perhaps he wanted to wanted to gain recognition as having taken her husband’s place).  The husband returned.  Seeing him, the wife told the husband to wait at their home’s gate:

As he waited, she went inside, prayed to the household goddess and placed her braid of hair before the deity.  Coming out, she led her husband in together with the cake offering and said: “Lord, worship our household goddess.”

While making his devotions, the husband saw the braid of hair.  “What is this?” he asked.  “I had made a vow,” she said, “that when my husband comes back, I will cut off my braid before our lady.  This is what I have done.”  And that simpleton bowed to the goddess and lauded his wife. [2]

Husbands bowing to goddesses and lauding their wives isn’t necessarily foolish.  You have to know the rest of the story.

In another tale, a wife contrived an adulterous tryst with a sham physician like in the Old French fabliau La SaineresseThe wife told her new love interest that she would pretend to have been stung by a scorpion.  She instructed him to come to the door and pretend to be a physician.[3]  They carried out this scheme.  The husband implored the pretending physician to free his wife from the scorpion’s poison.  The pretending physician enacted a play on the popular belief in homopathic healing.  He smeared the wife’s lip with a bitter medicine.  He then appealed to apparently popular belief in men’s wickedness:

O merchant, the strongest of all venoms is the venom of man.  And poison is the remedy of poison.  Bearing this in mind, you should suck her lip. [4]

The husband started to suck his wife’s lip, but the bitter taste repelled him.  He told the sham physician, “You should suck the lip yourself.” The husband then went out to get rid of the bad taste in his mouth.  With the husband absent, the sham physician and the wife passionately embraced.  The wife soon declared herself cured.  The merchant was delighted with his wife’s recovery:

Full of gratitude, he fell at the physician’s feet, saying “I am in your debt for ever.”  Thereafter, the other man would come to their house in guise of a doctor, and always lie with {the wife} when the merchant {her husband} was out.

The husband never learned that the scorpion sting was faked, the physician was a sham, and he was a cuckold.  With the increasing importance of genetic knowledge in medicine, keeping cuckolds ignorant will require new tricks.  The social machinery for keeping cuckolds deceived is already whirling.

In yet another tale, a merchant had only one son.  He paid a procuress a huge sum to “make my son versed in the mysteries and deceptions of women.”  The procuress taught the son:

the affected language of harlotry; the false promises, the devious ways, the genteel begging; the simulation of emotions with make-believe tears and laughter; and fictitious grief and joy which mean nothing.  Also, the affection and the artless simplicity of these charmers; their equanimity in happiness and sorrow, virtue and sin; and the techniques of duplicity they reveal before their lovers. [5]

The merchant then sent his son on a trading mission.  On that mission, the son met a courtesan:

{he} stayed with her for a year while she practiced her arts on him.  But he would tell her: “Show me something special.  This, even my younger sister has told me about.”

The courtesan told her mother of her difficulty in getting the son’s money.  The mother devised a novel strategy:

when he starts wanting to return home and asks for your permission, you should tell him: “I too will go with you.  If you do not take me I will kill myself.”  You should then jump into the well.  This is bound to make such an impression on him that he will give you everything.

The mother spread a net inside the well to save her daughter.  The trick convinced the merchant’s son to give all his possessions to the courtesan.  She then left him.  The son returned home destitute and full of shame.

The merchant complained to the procuress that she had failed to teach his son all the wiles of women.  The procuress resolved to help the son directly.  Together they went back to the land of the courtesan.  The procuress pretended to be the son’s mother.  In front of the courtesan, the procuress accused the son of stealing all her money.  The procuress claimed to be a singer in the court of the king.  She threatened to bring the matter before the king.  That threat greatly frightened the courtesan and her mother.  They gave the procuress all the money they had stolen from the son, and all of their money, too.  The procuress and the merchant’s son then returned home happily.

Men cannot be taught all the wile of women.  As ancient Indian wisdom counsels, men need women to be with them and help them directly.

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[1] Sukasaptati, Ch. 59, from Sanskrit trans. Haksar (2009) p. 181.  Id. n 1, p. 218, noting also found in Garuda Purana, 110.  Garuda Purana is a Hindu religious text from ancient India.  Garuda Purana conveys instructions from Vishnu to his carrier, Garuda, the King of Birds.

[2] Id. Ch. 14, p. 60.

[3] Sukasaptati contains many examples of strong, independent women who provide direction to men.  In Ch. 59, Rukmini ordered her lover:

Come tonight to my house and dig a trench the size of your body under the tamarind tree in the courtyard.  Then you must lie down in the trench with your organ of manhood pointing upwards.

The man did as Rukmini instructed.  Rukmini then “went under the shade of the tamarind and squatted upon the man.”  She called out to her husband to come with his bow and arrow and shoot a moonbeam for her.  Rukmini’s husband obeyed.  He attempted to shoot a moonbeam while Rukmini “enjoyed herself in the reversed position with her lover.”  Afterwards, Rukmini said to her husband:

You fool, today I have made love as I pleased before your eyes.  You may be a warrior, but you are no good for me, and I am leaving you.

Rukmini then rode away on a horse that her lover had brought her.  He then apparently dug himself out of his love-trench.  Above quotes from id. p. 179.

[4] Id. Ch. 61,  p. 186.  The subsequent quote is from id.

[5] Id. Ch. 23, p. 86.  All the subsequent quotes are from id., pp. 86-7.

[image] Gargoyles on the facade of the Botanic Garden Conservatory, Washington DC.


Haksar, A. N. D. 2009. Shuka Saptati: seventy tales of the parrot. New Delhi: Rupa Co.