rape & poisoning on a college campus: an ass’s tale of justice

I wasn’t always an ass. My hide was thick, it had to be, with the vicious politics at my small, liberal arts college in a lush valley in the middle of far utopia. With a grave, dignified appearance like that of Aesop, and with all his wisdom, I was a classic of classics, you know the type, a classics professor. We get all our books via a fly-over air-drop from Amazon. The packages of books float down under colorful parachutes filling the cloudy empyrean like manna — hosanna in the highest! — from Jupiter.

Fortune struck me with a wife, a chemist, a polyamorist. She became the college president. Most of her time she spent soliciting philandropy from women and men wide and long all across the country. I kept my nose in books and out of the mind-bending groping of administrative group work. That was the cause of my downfall and metamorphosis.

My wife, acting in the high clogs of today’s college leaders, performed with a chorus of deans. One, a young woman, supple, slim, and soft, had sparkling black hair, parted in the middle and joined in the back, like fertile black earth beckoning for vernal seed. She bore the form for satisfying ADA-compliance for my Virgil seminar. She ignored me standing by the door of the now empty seminar room; the lengthening shadows from burning Helios’s decline creeped across the ground. You, emissary of the gods, why so forlorn of face? Share the burden of your woe with me! Why are you such an ass, she said, with a hint of flirtatiousness. You’re the classics teacher. Teach me. Here’s the sensational and salacious story I told her.

I had a sister dear, my playmate from birth, inseparable from me in mirth of childhood innocence. The nursery rhymes we were taught urged us to study science. Emma Penelope was smarter than me, or at least, less distracted in high school. She became a professor of computer science at a large state university.

Her partner Proserpina, a professor of molecular biology, had a girl. Neither she nor Emma could further conceive. So they adopted a boy, a cute little boy, who liked to play with his toy.

So long as Cupid was an infant, nursed only by his first nutriments, Emma could stand up against his still-feeble force, easily suppressing in silence the subtly suffused blush of her cheek. But when his mad fires had fully engaged her heart and Love blazed up in an orgy of excess, then she succumbed to the sadistic god; she masks the wound in her heart by the illness of her body, feigning fainting and feebleness. She was lovesick as sure as science.

That can happen to anybody, you who would judge the sister as sick, you know nothing of life as it was and is and ever shall be. The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. The haters who never, ever feel bater’s remorse are like plums dried up by the sun, good for nothing but helping the constipated.

To return to the story, Emma, exhausted, forlorn, on the brink of death, as if somebody had tweeted something mean to her, pondered the right words to speak to the boy who loved her like a mother. He lovingly tended her in her exhaustion and weakness. She cries torrents of tears, lifts up her dress to cover her face, and speaks to her son thus:

The entire cause, the fons et origo, of my present anguish; also my cure; also my sole hope of salvation: you yourself are all these things to me. … Have pity on a woman who is dying because of you! And don’t let your reverence for your other mother stand in your way — no, not at all. It is because I see her features in your face that I love you — it’s only right. You have the security that comes from your mother’s long hours at the lab; you have the leisure that can accommodate the deed that must be done. You see, what no one knows about — it’s practically as if it never happened at all!

The boy was shocked by the suddenness of this sinfulness, and although he recoiled in horror from the horror proposed, he knew that delay and diffuse promises are the glue that hold the academic family together. So he makes a long-winded, convoluted declaration of contingency, uncertainty, complexity, and the social construction of reality. He spoke of the hope that his other mother would travel to an academic conference to provide secure time for the free rein of their passion. He planned a galloping getaway from having, unintentionally but culpably in the criminal court of public opinion, seduced his foster-mother.

Emma, a full professor of computer science at a large state university, was no fool. She knew that the boy’s excuses and postponements, calls for further discussion and further consideration of various issues, meant that he had no intention of doing the deed of passion. She summoned to her office a post-doc student, a loathsome lackey, a serf in mind and a slave to her in his professional future. She, mother and spurned foster lover, instructed the post-doc to prepare posthaste a poison for the death and destruction of her foster-son.

The poison was compounded with kombucha and placed in Emma’s office refrigerator to keep it fresh. While Emma was out at a departmental meeting, Proserpina and their daughter Daphne dropped by the office. Proserpina perused co-authors listed on the papers on Emma’s desk. Daphne, bored, pouted. She pleaded for a fizzy drink. Proserpina opened the refrigerator, espied the killer kombucha, and unknowingly gave the death-dealing brew to Daphne to drink. Three sips as if pouring a sacrifice to the gods, and she dropped dead. Campus police sounded the campus emergency alert when they heard Proserpina’s piercing, keening cry and saw her beating her breast and tearing out her already short hair.

My sister dear, my playmate from birth, inseparable from me in mirth, had become an unparalleled paragon of monstrous motherly maliciousness. The gruesome, twisted sister plotted even worse. She sent the slavish post-doc to fabricate a report that her son, Hippolytus himself, poisoned Daphne in revolting revenge for her refusing to allow him to rape her on the mattress in her office. She further claimed that Hippolytus was terrorizing and harassing her on campus so as to destroy her promising career in science. The campus police, cold and heartless, told her to pick up her mattress and walk away. She has been carrying that mattress around campus to this day.

Proserpina, Daphne’s loving mother and Emma’s fiercely loyal partner, spoke out courageously against the inadequate university response to attempted rape and poisoning. Pulling out all the stops, she played for a death sentence for her son Hippolytus. She led vigils, marches, occupations, and dramatic theater of long, lyric speeches pouring forth full hearts in profuse strains of unpremeditated art. In her sorrow and lament she set on fire not only the local senate but the people as well; such was her appeal to their pity, such was her righteous anger, that they all cry out that this public menace should be publicly punished, stoned to death under a hail of stones, or at least lynched. Away with the tedium of due process! Away with the proofs of the prosecution, clear as day anyway! Away with the premeditated prevarications of the defense!

The college president, blood boiling with a vow of vengence, called an urgent meeting of the mightiest deans and biggest heads. “We must unite and move vigorously, passion against passion, and vindicate the right,” she said. “We will press forward, again and again, until we produce a press release. The earth will move under Hippolytus, the sea will roar, and he will be destroyed in the crush of our words.” The army of intellectual leaders all cheered, “Alala, alala.” In the fever of flashing eyes, the gleam of sharp-tipped fountain pens, and nodding heads, nobody noticed that the classics head was missing amidst their ranks.

My foster-nephew Hippolytus is now dead. Inspired warriors tore him to shreds in the ecstasy following the president’s press release. Emma Penelope, my sister dear, my playmate from birth, inseparable from me in mirth, now lives only in mourning for the children she loved and lost. She has not produced a single computer science peer-reviewed publication since. I, once joined with her in mirth, now join with her in mourning.

This beautiful woman’s burden of mourning crushed me like end-of-semester exam-paper grading. The sorrow in her eyes, the fall of her glistening black hair, the suffering of the poor dear, shook me to my marrow. I am only a classics professor, no scientist, not even a sociologist. Of what use is my sword in the battle against rape and poisoning on campus? To rise to be like a firm, thick column in the gleaming temple of righteousness, must I join the mind-bending groping of administrative group work with the college president, my own wife?

I wandered, dazed, out to the lake on the edge of campus and fell down into the white sand imported to make a small beach for the students. The warmth of the sand embraced my body, the music from the dormitories faded, and night enveloped me in sweet sleep. About an hour after the last couple had left the beach, in the deserted silence of the 3am sand, I am startled from my sleep with a hard bolt in the night. I see the disk of the moon, at its full, blindingly bright, just now rising out of the waves of the lake. I had gained the silence-shrouded secrets of the shadowed, sheltered night. Now I was certain that the supreme goddess does hold sway in surpassing majesty; that absolutely all the affairs of mortals are governed by her Providence; that not just animals — be they domestic or wild — but even inanimate objects are quickened at her divine nod, her light, her might; that physical bodies as well — be they on earth or in the sea or in the heavens — now wax and grow in harmony with her, now wane and fade in deference to her.

I rose quickly, enthusiastically to my feet and ran to the earth beyond the edge of the beach. I rolled in the dirt, gushed tears down my face, and prayed to the all-powerful goddess. She came forward toward me with her body naked and exposed, except that she shrouded from the heat her majestic mons pubis with a gossamer gown of silk. A fresh and curious breeze would playfully, erotically, now puff out the hem of this gown, push it aside, to reveal the flower of her blooming youth; would now sensuously blow against it, to outline in fine detail the delights of her limbs by clinging with a soft insistence. She reached out her exquisite fingers and offered me straw, saying take this, my beast, and eat. The straw stuck in my teeth as I chewed. It scratched my throat in my swallowing.

At once my thick skin hardens into a hide. At the very calloused ends of the palms of my hands all my fingers come together, no longer discrete, and coalesce into hooves, one by one. From the base of my spine a fully developed tail comes out of hiding and flops in my spreading crack. Now my face grows hideously long-drawn, my mouth gapes much larger, my nostrils flare outward, my lips hang downward; not only that, but my ears are covered in upstanding bristles of an unpluckable mass. And I could see no consolation for this pitiful metamorphosis except for this:  I had become quite superhumanly hung.

As ass can understand, the way a man can’t, the rape crisis on campus and the poison hidden from the uninitiated child putting his hand into the adder’s den. The bear, the wolf, the lion, and the leopard are there to kill, and kill they will without strong iron bars creating safe spaces in zoos. I now plead with all the eloquence of my learning to my wife and her chorus: refashion campus to make safe spaces for all, including asses, silenced no longer and seeking salvation in your justice.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


The video above, from the Associated Press, reported the news that five men gang-raped a Hofstra student on September 13, 2009. The five men were held in jail for nearly four days. Then a video emerged that completely contradicted the alleged rape victim’s story. She recanted. The men were freed from jail after intense personal trauma and damage to their reputations. The sensational, unquestioning news reporting of the rape allegations greatly contributed to harm to the innocent men.

Another recent, sensational college rape story is the Rolling Stone story, “A Rape on Campus” (published in December, 2014 issue). Subsequent critical analysis of the story found it lacking in fundamental aspects of good journalism. Among many other issues, the alleged rape victim apparently fabricated the character Haven Monahan and used that character to forward letters containing text copied from scripts of the TV series Dawson’s Creek and Scrubs. There’s now good reason to believe that the gang rape described in the Rolling Stone story didn’t actually occur.

Emma Sulkowicz, who regards herself as a victim of rape by another Columbia student, has created for her senior thesis in visual arts a public spectacle of her carrying a mattress around the Columbia University campus. A university inquiry found that Sulkowicz’s allegation was not sufficiently credible to entail punishing the accused student. However, according to the Washington Post:

{Sulkowicz} has committed herself to toting around a mattress until the school expels the fellow student she says raped her, or he leaves on his own. She’s been carrying it around since August. In doing so, she’s generated a lot of buzz, namely because it’s really difficult to ignore a woman toting a mattress with her wherever she goes on campus.

According to Wikipedia:

New York Times art critic Roberta Smith described the {Sulkowicz’s mattress performance} piece as “strict and lean, yet inclusive and open ended, symbolically laden yet drastically physical”, writing that comparisons to the Stations of the Cross and Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter are apparent. Nato Thompson, chief curator of Creative Time, said that he “[couldn’t] think of another instance where a work of art has triggered a movement in this way.” Art critic Jerry Saltz called it “clear, to the point, insistent, adamant … pure radical vulnerability”, and included it in his list of the best 19 art shows of 2014. … Sulkowicz received the National Organization for Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Ms. Wonder Award for the piece. She was invited to the 2015 State of the Union Address as a guest of Senator Kristen Gillibrand.

Further analysis of Sulkowicz’s claims strongly supports the university’s judgment that they aren’t sufficiently credible to entail punishing the accused student. Her claims, however, have attracted an enormous amount of public attention and have been highly damaging to the accused student. On April 22, 2015, the accused student filed a suit against Columbia University for a variety of wrongs it allegedly committed against him. Here’s the court filing (US District Court, Southern District of New York, 15 CV 03216, before Judge Woods).

Both rape of women and wrongful accusations of rape have been major public concerns throughout recorded history, except perhaps for today. Serious discussion of wrongful accusations of rape today is marginalized and demonized in elite public discourse.

Sections of the main text above I adapted from Apuleius, The Golden Ass / Metamorphoses, 10.2-3,6 (perfidious stepmother), 11.1, 10.31, 3.24, from Latin trans Relihan (2007) pp. 208, 209, 211, 233, 239, 62-3. Relihan labels the relevant story from The Golden Ass as “the lustful stepmother.” That’s a mis-characterization. What’s most important isn’t that the stepmother is lustful, but that she’s perfidious. She attempted to murder her stepson, falsely accused him of raping her, and falsely accused him of attempting to murder his step-brother.


Relihan, Joel C. 2007. Apuleius. The golden ass, or, A book of changes. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.

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