how Mary Magdalene became a repentant prostitute

Mary Magdalene kissing Jesus' feet

According to the Christian New Testament, seven demons were cast out of Mary Magdalene. She stood by Jesus at his crucifixion. She was at his tomb when he was buried. She was the first person Jesus addressed after his resurrection.[1] Nowhere in the Bible is Mary Magdalene explicitly described as a prostitute.

In eastern Christian tradition, Mary Magdalene is regarded as having lived a life of great virtue. She is regarded as having been a close companion of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In western Christian tradition, various Mary’s within the Gospels were identified with Mary Magdalene.[2] Mary Magdalene came to be regarded as a repentant prostitute only in western Christian tradition.

The association of Mary Magdalene with sexual sin has various biblical sources. Mary Magdalene was identified with the city woman who was a sinner. That woman, who had many sins, bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped his feet with her hair, and anointed his feet with oil. The seven demons cast out of Mary Magdalene were identified with seven deadly sins. One of those sins was lust. Jesus told the chief priests and elders of his people that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them.[3] Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. Mary Magdalene was thus identified as a repentant prostitute.

Ancient lives of saints include stories of women who worked explicitly as prostitutes and became holy women. Saint Thais, thought to have lived in fourth-century Roman Egypt, earned great wealth as a high-class prostitute. She gave up all her wealth and became a woman religious and a saint. Saint Pelagia was a leading actress, dancer, and prostitute in ancient Antioch. She repented and became a famous holy woman. Saint Mary, the niece of the monk Abraham, sinned against the Christian faith and in despair went to work in a brothel. Abraham heroically rescued her. She became a devout nun. Saint Mary of Egypt desired sex with men so much that she didn’t want to deter any of them by charging them for sex with her. She subsequently became a leading desert mother. Identifying Mary Magdalene as a prostitute associated her with these other women saints.

Identifying Mary Magdalene as a prostitute tends to separate her from men. Relative to women, men historically have lacked equal opportunity to become prostitutes. In the Christian Bible, Jesus told the chief priests and elders of his people that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them. Mary Magdalene could have been identified as a tax collector or some other type of bureaucrat.[4] Imagining Mary Magdalene as a bureaucrat would help men to identify with her and to recognize that they too could be privileged in entering the Kingdom of God.

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[1] Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9 (casting out seven demons); Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25 (at crucifixion); Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47 (at burial); John 20:14-18, Luke 24:10, Mark 16:9 (first to see Jesus post-resurrection).

[2] Ward (1987) Ch. 2. In a homily in 591, Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) identified Mary Magdalene with the Mary who kissed and anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke’s gospel and with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Homily 33, from Latin trans. Hurst (1990). Those associations was probably common at least two centuries earlier. Ward (1987) p. 13. Names tended to be less standardized and less widely distinguishing among ordinary persons in the ancient world. Hence distinguishing among different persons based on different uses of the name Mary isn’t straight-forward.

[3] Luke 7:36-50 (sinful woman washing and anointing Jesus’ feet); Matthew 21:31 (tax collectors and sinners entering heaven ahead of hypocrites). In the Passion Play from the Carmina Burana (dated 1220 to 1230), Mary Magdalene encompassed all three Mary’s of the Gospels. Moreover, she sings in Latin and German, purchases expensive cosmetics from a merchant, and praises worldly delight:

The world’s delight is sweet and lovely,
its way of life is soft and adorned.
For the world’s allurements I burn willingly —
I’ll not shun their voluptuousness.

{ Mundi delectatio dulcis est et grata,
eius conversatio suavis et ornata.
Mundi sunt deliciae, quibus aestuare
volo nec lasciviam eius devitare. }

CB 16* (additional), vv. 61-5, Latin text from Trail (2018) v. 2, p. 531, English trans. from Dronke (1994) p. 203, with a minor change. Mary also urges on men courtly love:

Men of excellence, love
women apt for loving.
Love exalts your inner joy
and lets others see you in high honor.

{ Minnet, tugentliche man,
minneclîche vrouwen!
Minne tuot iu hôchgemuot
unde lât iuch in hôhen êren schouwen. }

CB 16* (additional), vv. 441-4, Middle High German text from Trail (2018) v. 2, p. 529, English trans. (modified insubstantially) from Dronke (1994) p. 205. Being awaken twice by an angel prompts Mary to reject her past way of life and sins. Understanding Mary Magdalene to be a repentant sinner is a reasonable interpretation of scripture. But that interpretation isn’t necessary. Other interpretations are also reasonable.

[image] Mary Magdalene kissing the feet of Jesus. Early 14th century, Chapel of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in Basilica of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Tolentino, Italy. Thanks to Mattana and Wikicommons.


Dronke, Peter. 1994. Nine medieval Latin plays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hurst, David, trans. 1990. Gregory the Great. Forty gospel homilies. Kalamazoo, Mich: Cistercian Publications.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Ward, Benedicta. 1987. Harlots of the desert: a study of repentance in early monastic sources. Kalamazoo, Mich: Cistercian Publications.

Basilius & Gallicanus: Hrotsvit on men's entitlement to love

Men throughout history have been willing to trade their souls and their lives for women’s love. Men have not understood that they are essentially entitled to love by their very being.[1] Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a noble, learned woman religious of tenth century Old Saxony, rejected requiring men to sacrifice their souls or their lives for women’s love.

In her story Basilius, Hrotsvit presented the desperate action of a servant in love with his master’s daughter. The servant wanted to marry his master’s daughter, rather than merely be sexual entertainment for her and him. Men commonly marry women of much lower social status than them. Women, in contrast, typically are much more concerned to marry up. The servant “knew himself unworthy for such an exalted union.” But he didn’t accept that dominant, gender-disparate personal valuation. He sought to subvert gynocentric marital privilege with a magician’s spell to “bind the daughter’s tender heart / to the servant’s affection and in equal passion.”[2] The magician offered to cast such a spell in exchange for the servant pledging his soul to the devil. The servant, lacking sense of men’s entitlement to love, agreed to trade his soul for love.

Hrotsvit redeemed the servant from his desperate trade for love. Recognizing the priority of his daughter’s desire, the father reluctantly agreed to assent to and fund his daughter’s marriage to his servant. Although the daughter’s love arose from a magician’s spell, she nonetheless loved her husband with Christian love. In particular, she acted to rescue him from his deal with the devil. She guilefully extracted from her husband a confession of his evil deed. She then went to Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea, to plead for her husband’s salvation. The Bishop imposed a regime of penance on her husband. That freed him from the devil and returned him to Christ. Underscoring men’s entitlement to love, Bishop Basil didn’t deprive the servant of his high-born wife. Hrotsvit emphasized the priority of men’s loving relationship with God.[3]

Basil of Caesarea, hero of Hrotsvit's Basilius

In her play Gallicanus, Hrotsvit subverted the romantic plot of a man undertaking great risks to his life in exchange for a woman’s love. Gallicanus was a non-Christian general serving the Christian Roman emperor Constantine. Gallicanus had consecrated himself to military service on behalf of Constantine and the Roman Empire:

I am ready to obey your orders if it costs me my life.[4]

In return for leading a dangerous military offensive against the Scythians, Gallicanus sought the prize of marrying Constantine’s daughter Constantia. Gallicanus declared that in “hard and strenuous fighting,” the thought of the prize of marrying Constantia would give him new strength. Constantine recognized that Gallicanus’ services were necessary for the defense of the empire. Yet Emperor Constantine feared challenging his daughter’s choice of how she wanted to live her life. She had consecrated herself to God. In response to the desperate need of her father and the Empire, Constantia declared:

I would rather die. … I will keep my vow inviolate. Nothing can ever force me to break it. [5]

Women in fact rule above most men’s understanding. Constantia proposed to her father a guileful strategy to bring Gallicanus to Christ and save the Roman Empire. He assented to her plan.

Constantia’s strategy saved Gallicanus’ life. Constantia prayed and acted to bring Gallicanus to Christ. Amid a deadly battle, with his troops being mowed down and wanting to surrender, Constantia’s efforts yielded fruit. Gallicanus vowed to become a Christian. Christ and angelic soldiers immediately entered the battle on behalf of Gallicanus. The tide of battle instantly turned. The enemy king surrendered. When he returned victorious to Rome, Gallicanus declared:

I have surrendered myself completely to the will of God. I am ready to renounce even your daughter, whom I love more than anything in the world. I wish to abstain from marriage that I may devote myself wholly to the service of the Virgin’s Son.[6]

Despite her vigorous efforts, Heloise failed to save Abelard. Constantia succeeded in saving Gallicanus. Hrotsvit, who surely had great respect for Jerome, had Gallicanus leave Rome to become a disciple of the holy man Hilarion.[7] Gallicanus planned to live the rest of his life in love: “praising God and helping the poor.”

In a way scarcely conceivable today, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim in Basilius and Gallicanus affirmed that men are entitled to love. Human societies’ failures to recognize men’s entitlement to love has made human societies less humane than bonobo societies. Medieval European ideals of chivalry devalued men’s lives. Rebuilding civilization requires regaining love for men.

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[1] A horrifying example of this lack of understanding is a celebrated medieval tale of a knight who suffered needlessly grievous bodily injuries to please a woman. Leading thinkers about love today advocate the use of an ascii penis in men’s text conversations with women. That can be understood as affirming an important aspect of men’s value.

[2] Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, Basilius, from Latin trans. Wilson (1998) p. 22 (including previous quote). Hrotsvit’s story of Basilius is adapted from Basil of Caesarea’s vita and miracula by ps.-Amphilochios (BHG 246yff), “De iuvene qui Christum Negaverat,” which goes back to a fifth-century Greek life. A related work is the Latin poem, “De Proterii filia,” in the Cambridge Songs, 30a, ed. and trans. Ziolkowski (1994). It seems not to have been based on Hrotsvit’s Basilius. Id. p. 269. Another related story is the beneficial tale W796. Wiegand (1936) provides the Latin text of Hrotsvit’s Basilius and an alternate English translation.

[3] In the Latin life of Basil of Caesarea (vita and miracula by ps.-Amphilochios), Basil explicitly returns the servant to his high-status wife. Hrotsvit’s Basilius didn’t include that narrative detail:

For Hrotsvit, the human drama and the sacred drama lie side by side in the story, the former leading and giving way to the latter.

Wailes (2006) p. 95. “De Proterii filia,” Cambridge Songs 30a, made the same choice.

[4] Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, Gallicanus, from Latin trans. St. John (1923) p. 4. The subsequent quote is from id. Hrotsvit drew upon the life of Saint Gallicanus

[5] Id. p.7

[6] Constantine proposed that Gallicanus live in the palace with him and his daughter. Gallicanus responded:

What temptation is to be feared more that the lust of the eyes? … is it right that I should see her too often? As you know, I love her more than my own kin, more than my life, more than my soul!”

Gallicanus statement in part reflects his immaturity as a new Christian. However, the twelfth-century monk-leader Bernard of Clairvaux recognized men’s sexual vitality:

To be always in a woman’s company without having carnal knowledge of her – is this not a greater miracle than raising the dead? You cannot perform the lesser feat; do you expect me to believe that you can do the greater?

Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermones in Cantica canticoraum, Sermon 65, par. 4. Because women’s sexuality is now much weaker than it was in olden times, women and men working together today creates fewer sexual challenges.

[7] Jerome wrote the life of Hilarion. Hilarion was later recognized as a saint.

[image] St. Basil of Caesarea. St. Sophia Cathedral of Kiev, 11th century icon. Thanks to Wikicommons.


St. John, Christopher, trans. 1923. The plays of Roswitha. New York: B. Blom.

Wailes, Stephen L. 2006. Spirituality and politics in the works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press.

Wiegand, Sister M. Gonsalva. 1936. The non-dramatic works of Hrosvitha; text, translation, and commentary. Ph.D. Thesis. St. Louis University.

Wilson, Katharina M., trans. 1998. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: a florilegium of her works. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer.

Wortley, John. 2001. “Some Light on Magic and Magicians in Late Antiquity.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 42 (3): 289.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. and trans. 1994. The Cambridge songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia). New York: Garland Pub.

Life of Mary of Egypt intricately packed with Christian symbols

wadi in the desert

The Life of Mary of Egypt is a sensational story written within vigorously contested claims about who was the most important early Christian hermit. The Life of Mary of Egypt is also a literary work with intricate symbolism.

Crossing the river Jordan is an important motif in the Life of Mary of Egypt. In Jewish history, the Jewish people, after wondering for 40 years in the desert, crossed the river Jordan into the promised land. In the Life of Mary of Egypt, the monk Zosimas lived in Palestine. That can be meaningfully interpreted as the promised land. When Zosimas was 53 years old, he was led by an unnamed one to a monastery in Palestine along the bank of the Jordan. In accordance with the calendar of Lent in Eastern Christianity, the monks of that monastery crossed the Jordon for Pure Monday and returned 40 days later for Palm Sunday. The monks thus re-enacted the Jews’ purification in the desert before returning to the promised land to celebrate Holy Week. Zosimas joined the monks in that symbol-laden ritual.

In that Lenten sojourn, Zosimas encountered Mary of Egypt on the 6th hour of his 20th day in the desert. The 6th hour is noon (mid-day). The 20th day is the mid-point of the 40-day Lenten time in the desert. Zosimas’ meeting with Mary of Egypt was thus numerically the turning point of his Lenten purification.

Zosimas and Mary of Egypt encountered each other across a dry riverbed (a wadi). Mary of Egypt initially fled from Zosimas. He chased her. Zosimas came within calling distance, but could chase no more. Mary of Egypt was then across the wadi from him. With Zosimas wailing laments, Mary of Egypt from the other bank of the wadi turned and addressed him. Zosimas then appeared at her feet without explicitly crossing the wadi. Zosimas’ encounter with Mary of Egypt was a mystical, extra-historical experience.

Mary of Egypt recounted her life to Zosimas with symbolic numbers. When Mary was 12 years old, she left her parents and went to live a licentious life in Alexandria. The number 12 represents both the number of tribes of Israel and the number of original apostles of Jesus. Mary leaving her parents at age 12 resonates with personal, salvation-historical, and Christian betrayal. Mary lived a licentious life in Alexandrian for more than 17 years. Then, with the help of an icon of Mary, the Mother of God, she repented. That would have been when she was about 30. The number 30 incorporates 3, as in the triune God, and is traditionally understood to be the age at which Jesus started his public ministry. Mary saw the holy cross at the 3rd hour of the day. She then took 3 loaves of bread with her as she began her spiritual life in the desert. For 17 years in the desert she struggled with sensual desires. Those 17 years corresponding to undoing the 17 years (and more) she spent in sexual promiscuity. Mary tells Zosimas that she spent a total of 47 years in the desert. That’s 17 years plus 30 years. Through that time, she had been transformed into a most holy woman.[1]

Zosimas’ second encounter with Mary of Egypt communicated clearly her holiness. Mary had instructed Zosimas to wait with Eucharist for her on the bank of the Jordan in the promised land. Zosimas did so. Mary came to him by walking across the water of the Jordan.[2]

Zosimas’ third encounter with Mary of Egypt associated her with the passion and death of Jesus. After journeying again 20 days in the desert, Zosimas found Mary at the wadi:

{he} saw the blessed woman lying dead on on its eastern slope, her hands folded in the proper manner and her body lying in such a way that she was facing toward the east. [3]

The Gospel of Matthew promised:

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [4]

Mary, like Christian churches, was oriented to the east to see the second coming of Christ. Writing in the sand next to Mary’s head explained:

I died  … on the very night of the Passion of our Savior, after I received the holy Last Supper. [5]

Mary had died with Christ after miraculously traversing in one hour what for Zosimas had been a 20-day journey. Just as a lion had helped Saint Antony bury Saint Paul the First Hermit, a lion helped Zosimas to bury Mary of Egypt. The lion venerated Mary to the extent of “licking the soles of her feet.” That takes Jesus’ humble act of washing his disciples feet to a further level of self-abasement. In a symbol of the prophesied blessed time, the lion afterward withdrew “like a sheep” into the desert.[6]

Zosimas was explicitly described as 53 years old when he set out on the journey that would lead him to Mary of Egypt.  Given the symbolic density of the Life of Mary of Egypt, that age is probably significant. A key prophetic passage from a Christian perspective occurs in Isaiah 53. That chapter tells of the suffering servant:

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? [7]

Zosimas came to understand that the Lord was revealed to Mary of Egypt, the former harlot. Few would have believed that. The Life of Mary of Egypt offers better understanding to everyone.

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[1] All the details described in this post are from the Life of Mary of Egypt, written in Greek probably in the seventh century. Kouli (1996) provides an English translation. Here’s an alternate online English translation. Some have tried to construct from the figures given a chronology of the life of Mary of Egypt. That seems to me to be an mis-reading of the numbers’ meanings. Cf. Id. p. 85, n. 54, and p. 86, n. 55.

[2] Cf. Matthew 14:25.

[3] Trans. Kouli (1996) p. 91.

[4] Matthew 24:27.

[5] Trans. Kouli (1996) p. 91.

[6] John 13:1-15 (Jesus washing the feet of his disciples). In the Life of Saint Paul the First Hermit, two lions help Antony bury Paul. Those lions came to Antony and licked his hands and feet. On the peaceful kingdom, Isaiah 11:6.

[7] Isaiah 53:1.

[image] Wadi in Nahal Paran, Negev, Israel. Thanks to Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster) and Wikicommons.


Kouli, Maria. 1996. “Life of Mary of Egypt, the Former Harlot.” Pp. 65-94 in Talbot, Alice-Mary Maffry, ed. 1996. Holy women of Byzantium: ten saints’ lives in English translation. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Hrotsvit with Gongolf empathized with Solomon and Marcolf

Solomon: “Cast out the mocker, and with him quarrel will depart, and lawsuits and slanders will cease.”

Marcolf: “Cast out flatulence from the stomach, and with it shit will depart, and gas pains and farts will cease.”

{ S: “Eice derisorem, et exibit cum eo iurgium cessabuntque cause et
M: “Eice inflacionem de ventre, et exibit cum ea merda cessabuntque
torciones et iusse.” }[1]

punishment of cleric and Gongolf's with in Toul cycle

The Life of Saint Gongolf {Vita Sancti Gangulfi}, composed in Latin in Burgundy about 900 GC, is rather unusual. Gongolf was a married lay nobleman who kept busy hunting wild animals and fighting for his king. Gongolf bizarrely bought a spring for a large amount of money. He was killed by the clerk who cuckolded him. That clerk subsequently suffered disembowelment while using a castle latrine. For her refusal to repent and her impiety, Gongolf’s wife on every Friday had her words transformed into farts.[2] These aren’t the typical components of a saint’s life. Among the many lives of saints that could have served as sources for her writing, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim chose Gongolf. Underscoring her concern for men, Hrotsvit used the story of Gongolf to challenge mockery of cuckolded men.

Hrotsvit highlighted the wrong of cuckolding Gongolf. The Latin life suggests that Gongolf superficially appeared to be a simpleton. That character is associated with cuckoldry. Hrotsvit eliminated that characterization. Rather than having the cleric who cuckolded Gongolf disembowel himself on the latrine, Hrotsvit had him die from rupture of his penis.[3] That death more closely corresponds to his wrong in cuckolding Gongolf. The Latin life seems to subtly mock popular interest in miracle stories.[4] Hrotsvit gave the unusual miracles in the life of Gongolf moral focus on cuckoldry.

Hrotsvit heightened the contrast between the nature of Gongolf’s wife and her behavior. Gongolf’s wife was a “worthy young woman {condigna puella},” a distinguished spouse “of the royal race and of singular beauty {regalem genere et nitidam facie}.”[5] Nonetheless, she sexually betrayed Gongolf and plotted his murder. A pilgrim returning from seeing miracles at Gongolf’s tomb urged Gongolf’s wife to repent her evil deeds. Hrotsvit then, more intensely than in the Latin life, presented the wife’s animalistic crudeness:

So, having listened to the man’s sincere advice,
the deceitful woman rolled her murderous eyes
and tossed her wayward head at him impatiently,
and bawled these words from her pestiferous maw:
“Why do you waste your breath, zealously pretending
that such miracles are performed through Gongolf’s merits?
These so-called wonders are nothing but lies.
And if he can pour forth miracles from his tomb
then I can work great wonders with my ass.”

{ Scilicet auditis verbis non falsa loquentis,
Intorquens oculos subdola sanguineos,
Exagitat caput indomitum inpatienter in ilium
Et latrat rostro talia pestifero:
“Cur loqueris frustra, simulans miracula tanta
Sedulo Gongolfi pro meritis fieri?
Haec, quae dicuntur, certe non vera probantur,
Non desint signa illius ut tumulo,
Haut alias, quam mira mei miracula dorsi
Proferat extrema denique particula.” }[6]

Unlike the Latin life, Hrotsvit imposed as punishment for the wife a complete pairing of speaking and farting. Using epic language, Hrotsvit narrated:

Thus spoke she, and a wondrous sign followed her words,
one congruent with that corporeal part:
thence she brought forth a sound of sordid music
such as my little tongue is ashamed to tell.
And after this, whenever she formed a word,
as often did she sound that graceless note.

{ Dixerat, et verbum sequitur mirabile signum,
Illi particulae conveniens propriae:
Ergo dedit sonitum turpi modulamine factum,
Profari nostram quale pudet ligulam,
Et, post haec verbum quoties formaverat ullum,
Reddidit incultum hunc toties sonitum }[7]

Gongolf’s wife mocked the ability of Gongolf’s relics to produce miracles. Her mockery caused her words to be paired with farting.

Hrotsvit’s story of Gongolf relates life in the flesh to life in the spirit. In Solomon and Marcolf, the fleshly Marcolf challenged the spiritual Solomon’s malice toward men. In her retelling of the life of Gongolf, Hrotsvit associated mockery of miracles with cuckoldry. She shifted mockery from the cuckolded man to the unfaithful wife:

So she who disdained to observe the laws of chastity
became a common laughing stock;
and bore throughout the rest of her life
this fitting mark of her disgrace.

{ Ut, quae legalem respuit retinere pudorem,
Sit risus causa omnibus inmodica,
Finetenusque suae portet per tempora vitae
Indicium proprii scilicet obprobrii. }[8]

Mockery of cuckolded men, like mockery of men physically beaten by their wives, reflects social malice toward men. Hrotsvit sought to exorcise such malice from life in the flesh. She also understood that such malice has no place in life in the spirit.

In many countries around the world today, the cuckoldry of men is institutionally entrenched in government procedures for assigning paternity. Official paternity establishment procedures have been designed to keep men ignorant about biological paternity. Legal paternity is systematically established with undue influence, mis-representation, and mis-service. Courts pretend to mandate paternal relations, while actually just imposing sex-based financial obligations. Elite discussion of paternity testing is rife with contempt for men’s lives. From a historical perspective, mockery of cuckolded men has given way to public institutionalization of cuckolding men.

Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, like Marie de France and Heloise of the Paraclete, offered their courageous, learned voices to help establish justice for ordinary men. But the formal rulers throughout history — almost all men — haven’t followed these women’s lead. That failure has inexorably led to mockery and flatulence. Treasuring and venerating the works of these medieval women writers, we can still hope for miracles.

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[1] Solomon and Marcolf, ll. 46ab, Latin text and English translation from Ziolkowski (2008). The medieval fabliau Le Pet au Vilain (The Peasant’s Fart) and the mock epic Audigier, from late twelfth-century France, both describe a person’s soul issuing out of his anus. The thematic importance of farting in Solomon and Marcolf seems more closely related to Hrotsvit’s Gongolf than to those other works.

[2] The Latin text is commonly known as  the First Life of Gangulf {Vita Gangulfi prima} or Life of the Martyr Gangulf from Varennes {Vita Gangulfi martyris Varennensis}. It’s available online in MGH / Krusch (1902).  In French works, Gongolf is commonly spelled Gengoult. The name also occurs variously as Gengulphus, Gongolfus, Gangulf, and other forms. I’ve standardized the spelling above to Gongolf. He seems to have been a historical person who died about 760. His cult as a saint was established before his life was written.

[3] Wailes (2006) p. 247, n. 5 notes some confusion on this point and convincingly clarifies the meaning.

[4] Patzold (2013). Patzold insightfully observes in Vita Gangulfi prima “tension between the coarse content and fine hagiographical cloth.”  He declares that Gongolfus’s virtutes (good deeds) and merita (merits) “comprised scarcely more than a death on the latrine and a spouse who farted every Friday.” Id. p. 209. That humorous statement of course ignores Gongolf’s miraculous transportation of the spring and the wonder-working effects of Gongolf’s relics.

[5] Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, Gongolf, ll. 343, 349-50, from Latin trans. Wiegand (1936) p. 107.

[6] Gongolf, ll. 563-72, trans., with minor changes, from Trenchard, Gengulphus website. The Latin text for Gongolf is available in Wiegand (1936) pp. 88-120.

[7] Gongolf, ll. 574-8, trans. Dronke (1984) p. 61. Gongolf himself punished the clerk by having him expelled from the country. Gongolf directly punished his wife for adultery only by denying her further access to his bed. That punishment points to his paternity interest. Wailes (2006), p. 60, follows the typical social pattern of justifying harsher punishment for the man. Hrotsvit may have had a more critical perspective and a truer understanding of gender equality.

[8] Gongolf, ll.  579-82. Wailes (2006), which focuses on spirituality and politics in Hrotsvit’s works, describes the story as “the glorious life of Gongolf.” Id. p. 60. Hrotsvit seems to me to have appreciated broader interests.

[images] Black-and-white image of stained glass windows in the Gengoult cycle at the collegiate church at Saint-Gengoult, Toul. Dated c. 1270. The images are based on the Latin life of Gengoult / Gongolf. The image on the left shows the punishment of the cleric:

The clerk is portrayed seated at the garderobe, with his robe hitched up and his drawers around his ankles, whilst his bowels are expelled. His imminent descent into the ‘cesspit of hell’ (Vita I) is alluded to by the presence of a crouching devil who assists the extraction with a rake.

The image on the left shows the punishment of Gongolf’s wife:

The indistinct figure on the left is the servant delivering her news. The wife, at the moment of her punishment, is holding up her scalded red arm in front of her whilst, with the other arm, she gesticulates toward her backside. A bystander turns his body away from her, whilst turning his head towards her – indicating both disgust and curiosity.

Descriptions by Paul Trenchard, Gengulphus website. For similar descriptions and images, see Lillich (1991) Ch. 3, and Illustrations III.


Dronke, Peter. 1984. Women writers of the Middle Ages: a critical study of texts from Perpetua († 203) to Marguerite Porete († 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krusch, Bruno, ed. 1902. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum, IV: Passiones Vitaeque Sanctorum Aevi Merovingici. Vol. 7. Hanover: Hahn.

Lillich, Meredith P. 1991. Rainbow like an emerald: stained glass in Lorraine in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. University Park: Published for College Art Association by the Pennsylvania State University Press.

Patzold, Steffen. 2013. “Laughing at a saint? Miracle and irony in the Vita Gangulfi prima.Early Medieval Europe. 21 (2): 197-220.

Wailes, Stephen L. 2006. Spirituality and politics in the works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press.

Wiegand, Sister M. Gonsalva. 1936. The non-dramatic works of Hrosvitha; text, translation, and commentary. Ph.D. Thesis. St. Louis University.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2008. Solomon and Marcolf. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University.