no Juvenal kidding: Milesian tales, Asinarius & Brothers Grimm

With the exasperated exclamation “if only this were nonsense {nos utinam vani},” the first-century Roman author Juvenal in Satire 6 brushed aside criticism that he was letting satire put on the high boots of tragedy. Apuleius, writing about a century later, prefaced a story of a step-mother falsely accusing her step-son of rape and poisoning by declaring that he wasn’t telling a “tale {fabula},” but was moving from the soft shoe of comedy to the high boots of tragedy.[1] Juvenal and Apuleius’s indications of tragedy extend to historical understanding of the sexuality of donkeys and men. From ancient Milesian tales to the medieval Latin Ass Tale {Fabula Asinarius} to the Brothers Grimm, masculine sexuality has been historically devalued.

asinarius updated

Ancient authorities wrote of women seeking to have sex with male donkeys. Juvenal explained that, without willing men, a sexually excited woman will turn to a male donkey for sexual pleasure.[2] A recently discovered fragment of third-century papyrus, probably from a Milesian tale, narrates a women’s sexual encounter with a donkey:

“Why are you poking me like that?” Kissing the donkey who was in anguish as soon as she had lay down with him, she says beseechingly: “Ooh, it’s fat and big as a roof-beam. Wait a little. Don’t put it all the way in at once. What, but this is it? Why then, that’s all?”

{ τί ποτέ με νύσ<σ>εις; τὸ[ν
ὄνον φιλοῦσα ἀλ-
γ[ο]ῦντα, ὥς ποτε συν-
[κατέ]πεσ᾿ αὐτῷ. καὶ
αἰ[το]υμένη λέγει
“οὐώ, παχε<ῖ>α καὶ μεγά-
λη ‘στιν, ὡς δοκός. μέ-
νε, κατὰ μεικρόν. μὴ
— ὅλην ἔσω βάλῃς. τί ποτ(ε);
οὔκ ἐστι τοῦτο ἀλλὰ
τί; οὐδὲ πᾶν τοῦτο. }[3]

A notable aspect of this text is the woman’s appreciation for the wondrous physical dimensions of the donkey’s erect penis. The fragmentary text ends with a sense that the woman wasn’t satisfied. She came to realize that she wanted it all.

In Apuleius’s Metamorphose, a woman had it all. A wealthy, married woman fell passionately in love with a donkey. She purchased from his keeper a tryst. In a luxuriously arranged bedroom to which the donkey was led, the woman got naked. She then anointed herself and the donkey with perfume. While neither party continually and affirmatively consented to sex, the woman encouraged the donkey sexually:

She kissed me ardently, yet gently, not such kisses as are usually given in a brothel, the prostitutes’ kisses-at-a-price or their customers’ kisses-with-a-hand-on-the-purse — no, she bestowed pure, sincere kisses and the most flattering words on me: “I am in love with you,” and “I want you,” and “I love you alone,” and “I can no longer live without you,” and the other phrases that women use both to lead others on and also to express their own desires.

{ Tunc exosculata pressule, non qualia in lupanari solent basiola iactari vel meretricum poscinummia vel adventorum negantinummia, sed pura atque sincera, instruit et blandissimos affatus: “Amo” et “Cupio” et “Te solum diligo” et “Sine te iam vivere nequeo,” et cetera quis mulieres et alios inducunt et suas testantur affectationes. }[4]

The male donkey, as men commonly do, showed concern for the woman and fear of punishment predominately directed at men:

But I felt quite anxious, reflecting with great fear about how, with so many and such huge legs, I would be able to mount the delicate lady, or embrace her body of milk and honey, so translucent and so tender, with my hard hooves, and kiss her dainty lips, gleaming red and ambrosia-bedewed, with such a large mouth, so enormous and misshaped because of its rock-like teeth; and finally, how the woman, even if she was titillated from top to toe, could receive such a formidable penis. Woe is me, when I have broken this well-born woman apart, I will be thrown to the beasts to serve as part of my master’s gladiatorial show.

{ Sed angebar plane non exili metu reputans quem ad modum tantis tamque magnis cruribus possem delicatam matronam inscendere, vel tam lucida tamque tenera et lacte ac melle confecta membra duris ungulis complecti, labiasque modicas ambroseo rore purpurantes tam amplo ore tamque enormi et saxeis dentibus deformi saviari, novissime quo pacto, quamquam ex unguiculis perpruriscens, mulier tam vastum genitale susciperet. Heu me, qui dirrupta nobili femina bestiis obiectus munus instructurus sim mei domini! }[5]

The woman, however, comforted the male donkey suffering from male bodily anxiety and fear of unjust punishment:

She redoubled her tender words and continuous kisses and gentle cries with gazes that touched me to the quick — in short, she said: “I have you, I have you, my fond dove, my sparrow,” and as she spoke she demonstrated that my worries had been unfounded and my fear foolish. For she clung to me very tightly and received me entirely, but fully and entirely.

{ Molles interdum voculas et assidua savia et dulces gannitus commorsicantibus oculis iterabat illa, et in summa “Teneo te,” inquit “teneo, meum palumbulum, meum passerem.” Et cum dicto vanas fuisse cogitationes meas ineptumque monstrat metum. Artissime namque complexa totum me prorsus, sed totum recepit. }[6]

The woman left the donkey, exhausted from hours of male sexual work, just before the light of dawn. Before she left, she arranged to pay the donkey’s keeper again for another night of similar pleasure.

Subsequent stories of women and donkeys depreciate the physicality of masculine genitals and the pleasure that male sexuality offers. The medieval Latin Donkey Tale {Asinarius}, written about 1200, provides key insights into that transformation over the long duration. Asinarius probably drew upon a Sanskrit donkey tale that traveling musicians helped to transmit orally from India to western Europe.[7] Asinarius also contains literary associations with ancient Greco-Roman epic texts concerning the Trojan War.[8] But the oral and literary streams that flowed into Asinarius are even richer. In that work, when a king asks a little donkey, “Do you like our daughter?” the donkey, apparently indignant with the suppression of male sexuality, responds:

Amazing! Why do you ask? O king, why do you labor to know?
Why ought I not to like her?

{ Pape, quid inquiris? O rex, quid nosse laboras?
Cur non deberet ista placere michi? }[9]

Like the donkey in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, the donkey in Asinarius appreciates the physical beauty of women:

“I like her, I like her, I like her very much,” he said.
“Certainly the man who does not like her at all is made of iron.
Her white face, suffused with rosiness, brings delight,
as if I should contemplate lilies mixed with roses,
and I like her hair. Her ivory-white neck brings delight,
and I confess that I like her whole body.

{ “Immo placet, placet illa michi, multum placet,” inquit
“Ferreus est certe cui placet illa nichil.
Candida delectat facies permixta rubore,
Ac si contemplor lilia mixta rosis
Caesariesque placet, delectat eburnea cervix
Et corpus fateor omne placere michi.” }[10]

The donkey and the daughter get married. When night comes and the couple goes to their marital bedroom, the bridegroom inexplicably “puts off his donkey garb {asinium ponit amictum}.” To all who have read the Metamorphoses or its Greek source Lucius or the Ass {Λούκιος ἢ ὄνος}, the bride’s reaction represents a complete reversal:

The maiden, seeing the noble body of a handsome man
whose appearance previously had been repulsive,
soon having marveled at her spouse’s unbelievable charm,
rushed headlong into the bond of lovemaking.

{ Virgo videns hominis formosi nobile corpus,
Cuius tunc asini turpis iinago fuit,
Mox incredibilem sponsi mirata decorem
In laquenm Veneris praecipitata ruit. }[11]

The maiden’s reaction represents the accumulation of more than a millennium of disparaging men’s penises. As male animals, a man and a donkey have similar genitals, but a donkey’s penis is typically much larger. In the sexual context of Asinarius, the man is now characterized as noble, handsome, and charming, and the male donkey, repulsive. The fundamental biological form of the male reproductive organ was celebrated in ancient sculpture, public parades, and literature. By the European Middle Ages, the penis had been devalued relative to cultural constructions of nobility, appearance, and charm. A leading scholar of Asinarius has described it as emphatically misogynistic.[12] It is also deeply misandristic.

By the nineteenth century with the Brothers Grimm, the situation had become much more grim. The Brothers Grimm created a fairy tale from the medieval Latin text Asinarius. While Asinarius drew upon the ancient idea that a woman and donkey mating makes for an interesting spectacle, the Brothers Grimm sent a servant to watch secretly the donkey-man having sex with the princess. The royal concern: “the king wanted to know whether the donkey would behave himself really nicely with courtesy and good manners {wollte der König wissen, ob sich das Eselein auch fein artig und manierlich betrüge}.”[13] As Apuleius’s Metamorphoses makes clear, males are worthy of trust in their mating with females. In addition to casting off the form of a male hung like a donkey, the Brothers Grimm added as sexual foreplay the little man seeking the woman’s approval of his being:

He then cast off his donkey skin all at once and stood there as a handsome, royal youth. He said, “You see who I am and that I have been worthy of you.”

{ da warf er auf einmal seine Eselshaut ab und stand da als ein schöner, königlicher Jüngling. “Nun siehst du,” sprach er, “wer ich bin, und siehst auch, daß ich deiner nicht unwert war.” }

That sort of male approval-seeking typically doesn’t give women sexual tingles. The new fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm continues without any sexual vigor. The bride relates to her new husband, that fairy-tale descendant of Apuleius’s fully pleasing ass, just like she would relate to her dear mother:

The bride was overjoyed, kissed him, and loved him with all her heart.

{ Da ward die Braut froh, küßte ihn und hatte ihn von Herzen lieb. }[14]

Fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and their cultural followers have prompted many women today to relish Fifty Shades of Grey. More importantly, fairy tales have prompted initiatives to suppress men’s sexuality in harshly unjust, trust-smashing, pleasure-destroying ways. Now more than ever, Western culture desperately needs more appreciation for classical and medieval literature.[15]

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[1] On the generic positioning, Juvenal referred to “letting satire put on the high boots of tragedy {altum satura sumente coturnum}.” Juvenal, Satires 6.434, Latin text and English translation from Braund (2004). Apuleius declared, “you aren’t reading an amusing story, but are rising to a higher level, exchanging the low slipper of comedy for the high boot of tragedy {non fabulam legere, et a socco ad coturnum ascendere}.” Apuleius, Metamorphoses 10.2.14, Latin text and English trans. from  Zimmerman (2000) p. 68. Apuleius’s narrator offers the story thus: “in order that you too may read it, I will put it on the record {ut uos etiam legatis, ad librum profero}.” Metamorphoses 10.2.1, sourced as previously. The unusual phrase ad librum profero (“put it on the record”) suggests both book and legal/theatrical performance.

[2] Juvenal, Satires 6.327-34. Anthologia Latina 360 (R365) describes a father named Burdo (mule) who monstrously fathered a daughter. Latin, with English translation in Rosenblum (1961) pp. 158-9 (poem 79). Cf. Job 11:12. Hildegard of Bingen, on the other hand, expressed concern that sexually desperate men were fornicating with cattle. See appreciation for men’s sexuality in Hildegard’s Causae et curae, particularly note [8]. Anthologia Latina 137 (R148) describes a man (a lawyer) fornicating with a mare. Latin, with English translation in Kay (2006) pp. 52, 248.

[3] Papyrus Oxyrhynchus LXX.4762, ancient Greek text from May (2010) p. 63, English trans. adapted from that of id. and Barron (2005).

Aristophanes’ comic plays from fifth-century Athens indicate, using metaphorical references, the appeal of large penises to women. Aristophanes, Peace (Pax) vv. 1349-1350 (last choral song), Roche (2005) p. 331: “His fig is big and strong”; Acharnians (Archarnenes), vv. 785-7, Roche (2005) p. 42: “ruddy great thick ‘un”; Lysistrata, vv. 23-24, Roche (2005) p. 420: “God, it’s huge, and God, it’s weighty.” Alternate translations of Aristophanes are freely available from Perseus. The penis references, as well as additional ones, are given in Papademetriou (2009) p. 55, ft. 22.

In non-erotic scenes on Athenian vases, elite men’s penises are typically small. In erotic scenes, these men are depicted with large penises. A modern scholar has interpreted this contrast in accordance with contemporary academia’s prevasive contempt for vigorous masculine sexuality:

Comparing the ideal flaccid, small penises of men in normal situations with their erect, large ones as seen in erotic encounters shows that these ideal men in Greek art had the best of both worlds — tastefully “dainty” penises in public, rakishly protuberant phalluses in private.

McNiven (1995) p. 10. In contemporary academic discourse, a dainty penis is “tasteful,” while a large, erect penis is the oppressive “phallus.” That reflects Grimmly Puritanical ideology projected back onto classical Athens.

In Greek myth, Pasiphae, the immortal daughter of Helios, longed for sexual intercourse with a bull. Her longing was fulfilled. She thus conceived and delivered the hybrid bull-child Minotauros.

[4] Apuleius, Metamorphoses / Golden Ass {Asinus aureus} 10.21, Latin text and English trans. (modified slightly) from Zimmerman (2000) p. 275. All subsequent quotes from Apuleius’s Metamorphoses are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted.

In the misnamed spurcum additamentum to the Metamorphoses 10.21, the woman cleans the donkey’s penis before sex:

And, by Hercules, she cleaned my round scrotum, my balls, with perfumed wine and rosewater of Chios. And then with her fingers, thumb, forefinger, middle finger, ring finder and little finger, she withdrew the foreskin, and cleared the shaft of my penis of the plentiful whitish dirt.

{ orcium pigam perteretem Hyaci fragrantis et Chie rosacee lotionibus expiauit. Ac dein digitis, hypate licanos mese paramese et nete, hastam mihi inguinis niuei spurci<ti>ei pluscule excoria<n>s emundauit. }

Id p. 434. The donkey enjoyed this action:

And when the beautiful woman arrived very soon at the top of my penis from my testicles, braying and lifting my teeth toward the sky, I got, through the regular friction, an erection of the penis, and while it moved up and down I often touched her belly with it.

{ Et cum ad inguinis cephalum formosa mulier concitim ueniebat ab orcibus, ganniens ego et dentes ad Iouem eleuans Priapo<n> frequenti frictura porrixabam ipsoque pando et repando uentrem sepiuscule tactabam. }

Id. The spurcum additamentum is generally thought to be not original and to date perhaps from the twelfth century. On its source, Hunink (2006).

[5] Apuleius, Metamorphoses 10.22. Lucius or the Ass {Λούκιος ἢ ὄνος} / Onos { ὄνος}, a Greek source for the Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, similarly shows the donkey’s concern for the woman. After stating that he had never before had sex with a woman, the donkey remarks:

this fact aroused in me an excessive fear that the lady could not accommodate me and she would be torn apart and I would have a harsh penalty to pay as her slayer.

{ καὶ μὴν καὶ τοῦτό μ᾿ εἰς δέος οὐχὶ μέτριον ἦγε, μὴ οὐ χωρήσασα ἡ γυνὴ
δισπασθείη, κἀγὼ ὥσπερ ἀνδροφόνος καλὴν δώσω δίκην. }

Λούκιος ἢ ὄνος 51, from Greek trans. May (2010) p. 68, adapted slightly. In Metamorphoses 7.21, a slave boy falsely accuses the donkey of rape and attempted rape. The slave boy claims that the donkey would have split a woman in two:

And if the clamor of her womanly wailing and weeping hadn’t brought at a run the assistance of fellow-travelers, if she hadn’t been snatched from between that ass’s hooves and set free, that poor, pitiable woman would have been rammed and split in two; the disaster would have been crucifixion for her to bear, and it would have meant the dealth penalty for us.

{ Quod nisi ploratu questuque femineo conclamatum viatorum praesidium accurrisset ac de mediis ungulis ipsius esset erepta liberataque, misera illa compavita atque dirupta ipsa quidem cruciabilem cladem sustinuisset, nobis vero poenale reliquisset exitium. }

Trans. Relihan (2007) p. 149. The mendacious slave boy evidently lacked appreciation for women’s sexual capacities. Relihan mis-inflates his translation of the donkey’s concern in Metamorphoses 10.22:

how in the world will this woman, even if she has the itch all the way to her fingertips, receive an organ as Brobdingnagian as mine? Curses!

{ novissime quo pacto, quamquam ex unguiculis perpruriscens, mulier tam vastum genitale susciperet. Heu me }

Id. p. 222. Regarding the donkey’s vastum genitale, Zimmerman (2000), p. 284, notes, “the narrator uses a polite word {genitale} for his large penis.” Genitale is a biological term without any connotations of boasting.

[6] Zimmerman (2000), p. 284, has the woman’s words as: “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, my little dove, my sparrow {teneo, meum palumbulum, meum passerem}.” The corresponding text above is from the translation of May (2010) p. 69. The latter seems to me a better translation.

Modern demonization of men’s sexuality has made men less able to distinguish between what persons say about penises and what they actually mean. For example, an anthropologist studying a Greek nomadic shepherding community (Sarakatsani) reported of the women:

There is a great deal of bawdy reference to the male sex organs, and women constantly speak of their dislike of sexual intercourse and the absence of physical pleasure they find in it. A bride, during the last days before her wedding, is kept company by those unmarried kinswomen who live close at hand. … The girls sympathize with the bride, but say that they will never leave their homes to submit themselves to a strange man. The bridge applauds their decision, and says that she will secrete a knife upon her person and that when the bridegroom comes to her she will castrate him.

Campbell (1964 ) pp. 275-6. The women’s words no more indicate castration culture than they do women’s dislike of men’s penises. These non-literary women are engaging in ironic banter that highly educated, modern persons fail to perceive.

Martial provides related banter among men. Addressing another man, the speaker describes his own girlfriend lamenting the loss of her twelve-year-old lover “whose cock was not yet eighteen inches long {mentula cui nondum sesquipedalis erat}.” Martial, Epigrams 7.14.10. Perhaps this twelve-year old had a penis whose length was slightly less than eighteen inches long. The primary point isn’t that the poet’s girlfriend prefers the length of the boy’s penis; it’s the speaker’s implied boast that his cock is that length.

[7] Ziolkowski (2007) pp. 219-25. Id. relates Asinarius to The Story of Vikramaditya’s Birth. The latter is attested no earlier than in a thirteenth/fourteenth-century manuscript, but plausibly dates from much earlier.

[8] Praet (2013).

[9] Asinarius vv. 193-4, Latin text Rizzardi (1983), English translation (modified) from Latin trans. Ziolkowski (2007) pp. 345-6. Subsequent quotes from Asinarius are sourced similarly. For a freely available Latin text of Asinarius, Bolte & Polívka (1918) pp. 154-65.

Asinarius is dated about 1200. It survives in fourteenth manuscripts and apparently was known across France, Germany, and Italy. Carver (2020) p. 7.

[10] Asinarius vv. 195-200. In Asinarius, the donkey’s description of the king’s daughter is a “classical descriptio puellae (‘description of a girl’) so typical of the lyric and poetry of the courtly fin’amors.” Praet (2014) p. 209. Apuleius’s Metamorphoses similarly includes a descriptio puellae. See above. Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, unlike Ovid’s Metamorphoses, isn’t well attested in Europe about the time Asinarius was written (c. 1200). But it may have been known. Carver (2007) p. 78.

[11] Asinarius vv. 311-4. The Latin describes the donkey as becoming a “new man {novus homo}”: “Presently the groom laid down his asinine cloak. / His old skin shed, he became a new man {Extimplo sponsus asinium ponit amictum; / Exposita veteri pelle novus fit homo}.” Asinarius, vv. 309-310, trans. Praet (2014) p. 210). Cf. Ephesians 4:24. In Christian understanding, the new man is the spiritual man succeeding the carnal man in the renewal of creation. Discussing the Biblical references in Asinarius, Praet concludes:

Incongruently enough to bring a smile to the reader’s lips, noble man’s quest for God through Wisdom is thus humorously juxtaposed with the basest of animals finding his way into an eager princess’ bed. In the end, no spiritual conversion or unfolding takes place; the Prince is not created a new man in Christ, he merely drops his trousers.

Praet (2014) p. 219. But what that act reveals lacks the massive significance it had in earlier Latin literature.

The revered troubadour love poetry of the Middle Ages showed appreciation for a male donkey’s penis. The thirteenth-century troubadour Montan (the Mounter) sang:

And I come towards you, Lady, with my trousers lowered,
with a larger cock than any randy donkey,
and will fuck you with such an outburst
that you’ll have to wring your bed-sheets the day after
—and say thereafter that they need to be washed;
Neither I, nor my huge nuts will leave
unless I fuck you until you pass out.

{ Et eu vas vos, dompn’, ab braga bassada,
ab maior viet de nuill az’en despan,
e fotrai vos de tal arandonada
que los linzols storzerez l’endeman
— e pos diretz c’ops i es la bugada;
ni mais no·m leu ni mais mei coillon gran
se tan no·us fot que vos zaires pasmada. }

“I come to you, Sir, with my skirt lifted {Eu veing vas vos, Seingner, fauda levada},” stanza 2, Old Occitan text and English translation from Trobar. Consistent with modern narrow-mindedness about medieval Europe, this troubadour song is rather under-appreciated within the whole trobairitz / troubadour poetic corpus.

[12] Ziolkowski (2007) p. 208.

[13] Brothers Grimm, Children’s and Household Tales {Kinder- und Hausmärchen} 144, The Donkey {Das Eselein}, German text from Grimm & Grimm (1857) vol. 2, p. 266, English trans. from Ziolkowski (2007) p. 354. The subsequent two quotes are similarly sourced.

[14] In Lucius or the Ass from the second century GC, after the donkey becomes the man Lucius again, he arranged another tryst with the married woman, his former donkey-lover. It was a debacle:

When the night was advanced and it was time to go to bed, I got up. With the idea of conferring on her a great favor, I took off all my clothes and displayed myself in the nude. I fondly imagined that compared with a donkey I should be quite irresistible. But she was so disappointed to find that I was in every respect a normal human being that she actually spat in my face. “Get the hell out of my house!” she screamed. “Go and sleep somewhere else!” “Why, what heinous offense have I committed?” I asked. “O, for God’s sake, don’t you understand?” she exclaimed, “I didn’t love you, but the donkey in you. He was the one I slept with, not you. And I did so hope that at least there’d be that mighty emblem of the donkey dangling between your legs to remind me of that splendid, useful animal. But just look at how you’ve been transformed — you’re nothing but a wretched little monkey!”

{ ἐπεὶ δὲ ἦν βαθεῖα νὺξ ἤδη καὶ καθεύδειν ἔδει, κἀγὼ δ᾿ ἐπανίσταμαι καὶ ὡσπερεὶ μέγα τι ἀγαθὸν ποιῶν ἀποδύομαι καὶ ἵσταμαι γυμνὸς ὡς δῆθεν ἔτι μᾶλλον ἀρέσων ἐκ τῆς πρὸς τὸν ὄνον συγκρίσεως. ἡ δὲ ἐπειδὴ εἶδέ με πάντα ἀνθρώπινα ἔχοντα, προσπτύσασά μοι, Οὐ φθερῇ ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ, ἔφη, καὶ τῆς ἐμῆς οἰκίας καὶ μακράν ποι ἀπελθὼν κοιμήσῃ; ἐμοῦ δ᾿ ἐρομένου, Τί γὰρ καὶ ἡμάρτηταί μοι τοσοῦτο; Ἐγώ, ἔφη, μὰ Δί᾿ οὐχὶ σοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ ὄνου τοῦ σοῦ ἐρῶσα τότε ἐκείνῳ καὶ οὐχὶ σοὶ συνεκάθευδον, καὶ ᾤμην σε καὶ νῦν κἂν ἐκεῖνό γε μόνον τὸ μέγα τοῦ ὄνου σύμβολον διασῴζειν καὶ σύρειν· σὺ δέ μοι ἐλήλυθας ἐξ ἐκείνου τοῦ καλοῦ καὶ χρησίμου ζῴου ἐς πίθηκον μεταμορφωθείς. }

Lucius or the Ass {Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ} 56 (excerpt), ancient Greek text from MacLeod (1967), English translatiion by Paul Turner (modified) in Hansen (1998) p. 104. For reading the ancient Greek, Hayes & Nimis (2012). Lucius or the Ass stridently affirms the raw physicality of the masculine member. That’s inconceivable in today’s culture.

Praet traces the donkey-tale transformations to recent decades. His insightful analysis indicates that Erich Ackermann’s “Das Eselchen,” in Märchen des Mittelalters (2007), and M. Jean Craig’s The Donkey Prince (1977) further diminish masculine sexuality even relative to the Grimm’s tale. At the donkey’s transformation into a dandy in a private screening of the film La Belle et la Bête (directed by Jean Cocteau, 1946), Greta Garbo reported yelled out, “Give me back my beast!” Praet (2014) pp. 357-376.

[15] Literary learning involves being able to interpret stories other than as literal instructions for action. For those lacking in literary learning, here’s a plain message: having sex with a donkey can be deadly. For further instruction, consult the famous thirteenth-century Persian Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi, commonly known among English-speakers as Rumi. Rumi’s masterpiece Masnavi describes, in verse, two women who had sex with a donkey. One woman cleverly placed a gourd with a hole in it over the donkey’s penis to lessen risk of damage to her body. The other woman, ardently seeking pleasure with the donkey, didn’t have the donkey use the gourd. The donkey’s penis tore into her intestines. She died. See Rumi, Masnavi, Bk 5, ll. 1333-1364, trans. Nicholson (1930). Nicholson switched from English to Latin in translating the verses on sex between the women and the donkey.

Concerned readers should also know that having a larger penis does not necessarily provide more sexual pleasure. The leading early-modern German surgeon Guilhelmius Fabricius Hildanus (1560-1634) confronted the case of a woman suffering serious pain and wounds from her husband’s too-large penis. Hildanus developed an ingenious device for shortening the operational length of the penis. The device worked much like the gourd for the donkey in Rumi’s Masnavi. It allowed the woman and her husband to enjoy, without adverse effects, sexual intercourse of reproductive type. See Kompanje (2006).

[image] Illustration from Crane & Evans (1874) p. 6.


Bolte, Johannes, and Jirí Polívka. 1918. Anmerkungen zu den Kinder-U. Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. Bd 3. Leipzig: Dietrich’sche Verlagsbuchhdlg.

Barron, Lucas. 2005. “On the Recovery of Ancient Literature.” Nassau Weekly. Online, Dec. 14, 2005.

Braund, Susanna Morton, ed. and trans. 2004. Juvenal, Persius. Juvenal and Persius. Loeb Classical Library 91. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Campbell, John. 1964. Honour, family, and patronage: a study of institutions and moral values in a Greek mountain community. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Carver, Robert H. F. 2007. The Protean Ass: the Metamorphoses of Apuleius from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carver, Robert H. F. 2020. “The Medieval Ass: Re-Evaluating the Reception of Apuleius in the High Middle Ages.” Pp. 1-26 in Florence Bistagne, Carole Boidin, and Raphaële Mouren, eds. 2020. The Afterlife of Apuleius. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement, 140. London: Institute of Classical Studies.

Crane, Walter, and Edmund Evans. 1874. Beauty and the Beast. London & New York: George Routledge and Sons.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. 1857. Kinder und hausmärchen gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm. 2 volumes: vol. 1, vol. 2. Göttingen: Dieterich.

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