Ruodlieb questioned romance of sexual symmetry

sexual symmetry

In southern Germany in the middle of the eleventh century, a Latin poet wrote the verse romance Ruodlieb. This artful, highly individual work experimented with the sexual symmetry that distinguished the ancient Greek novels.[1] When the Greek novels diffused into the urbane, highly learned ancient Islamic world, they generated superb, popular burlesques. Ruodlieb more subtly questioned sexual symmetry. Well-developed European dogma on gender symmetry now punitively represses outrageous literary burlesques and smothers subtle questioning. Gender-symmetry dogma (sex is now a disfavored term) has fostered sexual apathy and inaction. It portends European demographic collapse. Within the historical resources of European culture, invigorating humane romance might start with better understanding Ruodlieb.

In Ruodlieb, a knight’s match with a noble widow generated no sparks. They had considerable sexual symmetry. The knight, well on in his adult years, was the title character Ruodlieb. The widow was the goddaughter of Ruodlieb’s mother. The widow warmly welcomed Ruodlieb and his nephew, a young man, as visitors to her spacious home. Ruodlieb’s nephew and the widow’s daughter became passionately engaged. The widow apparently had similar hopes for Ruodlieb and her. She took him to listen to harp music that some men played. Ruodlieb asked the widow for a harp. She responded:

“There is a harp,” she said, “there will never be a finer one,
on which, while he lived, my lord used to play.
At the sound of it my mind grows sick with love.
No one has touched it since his life ended,
but you, if you wish, may play on it.

{ “Est” ait “hic harpa, melior qua non erit ulla,
In qua, dum vixit, meus heros simphoniavit,
Cuius clangore mea mens languescit amore,
Quam nemo tetigit, is postquam vivere finit.
In qua, si vultis, rithmos modulare valetis.” }[2]

The widow’s response sounds notes of sexual longing and makes a courtly entreaty for Ruodlieb’s love. Ruodlieb then — literally, merely — played the harp well. He missed the message of the widow’s heart. Like his fishing with an herb that caused fish to flop on the surface of the water, Ruodlieb’s relationship with the widow lacked the sharp polarity of an arrow strike or the yank of a hook.[3]

The greater king offered Ruodlieb some wisdom that is sexually symmetric implicitly. When traveling, what sort of lodging should one seek? The greater king counseled Ruodlieb:

When you see that an old man has a youthful wife,
do not seek lodging there when you are traveling:
you bring suspicion on yourself, though innocent.
He fears, she hopes; for thus their fortune turns for them.
But where a young man has an older widow as
his wife, seek lodging: he fears not, she wants you not.
There you will sleep without suspicion, safe and sound.

{ Quo videas, iuvenem quod habet senior mulierem,
Hospicium tribui tibi non poscas iteranti;
In te nam magnam facis insons suspicionem.
Hic timet, haec sperat, fors inter eos ita versat.
Ast ubi vir viduam iuvenis teneat veteranam,
Hospitium posce; non hic timet hec nec amat te.
Tunc ibi secure dormis sine suspicione. }[4]

This advice assumes the virtue of the traveler. It rests on belief in a sexually symmetric decline in ardor with age and sexual risk accruing with excess ardor across spouses. If the traveler were a young woman, the king would advise her to seek lodging with a young woman who has an old husband.

In Ruodlieb’s accounts of marriages sexually asymmetric by age, the significance of that asymmetry is subtly depreciated. The deceitful redhead declared, “Old men should have old wives {Vir vetus uxorem deberet habere veternam}.” Looking for an opportunity for adultery, the redhead sought lodging with an old man married to a pretty, young woman. A shepherd described that woman as “a stupid girl and impudent, too {iuvenis stultus nimiusque procax}.” She had contempt for her husband and deceived him with her “stupid lovers {stultis ludens}.”[5] The problem was much less the wife’s age than her character. Sexual symmetry in age implies nothing about the spouses’ characters.

To get sex with the pretty young wife, the redhead pretended to place her in a courtly romance. He told her a story about a man who didn’t exist:

In all the world this is no one more handsome than
this man. He, when he learned how beautiful you are,
and heard about the hardships you endure each day,
grieved deeply in his heart and groaning said to me,
“Beloved friend, if you were ever true to me,
go, say this to that tortured woman: if she wants
me to release her and to free her from her prison,
tomorrow when she hears a horn resounding softly,
without a word, not even to a trusted woman,
to leave the courtyard, standing hidden in the street
until I come and with my troop snatch her away.
Then she may be my mistress and do as she pleases.”

{ In toto mundo non est speciosior illo.
Qui dum rescisset, tu quam speciosa fuisses
Et quas aerumnas patereris cottidianas,
Corde tenus doluit gemebundus vel mihi dixit:
“Umquam si fueris mihi fidus, kare sodalis,
Ito, dic illi mulieri martirizatae,
Si velit, ut redimam se vel de carcere tollam,
Audierit gracilem cras quando tubam reboantem,
Ut dicens nulli sibi tam fidae, mulieri
Exeat e curte platea stans, inopine
Donec accurram cum pluribus hanc rapiendam.
Posthac haec hera sit agat et sibi quodque placebit.” }

The promise to allow women to do as they please, and the requirement for men to be subservient to women, are central to the mis-romance of courtly love. That hateful, men-oppressing romance, which may have already suppressed the earlier, more humane understanding of chivalry, apparently existed in European culture at the time of Ruodlieb’s writing.

Ruodlieb makes clear that courtly love is fundamentally fraudulent. The redhead demanded that the wife sleep with him three times for arranging the courtly romance. Echoing the adultery proposition of Xanthus’s wife in the Life of Aesop, the wife crudely responded:

“Do it ten times if you can,” she said, “or as often as you like.”

{ “Si decies possis, fac,” inquit, “vel quotiens vis!” }

In Ruodlieb, beneath the false story of courtly romance are base sexual interests.

The false story of courtly love led to brutal violence against men. The wife and the redhead flirted with each other at table with the husband. Later the redhead and the wife had sex. The husband caught them in the act. He knocked out the redhead’s front teeth. The redhead in turn mortally wounded him. Brought to public judgment, the redhead and the wife blamed each other. The redhead apparently was executed. The wife, who repented her adultery, was forgiven and allowed to live just as before, except her husband was now dead.

While bias against men is an enduring feature of public criminal justice, the wife in Ruodlieb imposed upon herself an extreme regime of penance. The wife took up a life like that of the early Christian desert mother and repentant harlot Mary of Egypt:

She cast off all her lovely clothes and ornaments,
and wore a coat which seemed to have been dyed in soot.
She shaved her hair and plaited it in little cords
with which she tightly tied her tender breasts together.
The cords bit fiercely in her flesh until it rotted.
She covered her entire head with ragged cloth,
so nothing could be seen except her nose and eyes.
She learned the Psalter, sang it for the old man’s soul,
and did not eat until she saw the evening star,
and then ate only dry bread that was dark as ashes,
and then for drink she had just three spoonfuls of water.
This woman walked barefooted through the cold and heat;
she slept upon a bed with straw her only mattress,
and for a pillow merely used a block of wood.
Before dawn broke, she visited the old man’s tomb
to pray until, perspiring, she could stand no longer,
then fell upon her face and wept a flood of tears.

{ Quae vestes pulchras ornatus abicit omnes,
Induitur tunica velut ex fuligine tincta.
Caesariem rasit, hinc resticulos ea plectit,
Cum quibus et teneras constrinxerat illa mamillas.
Restes vi mordent carnes, donec putrefiunt.
Tegmen pannosum caput omne tegebat et ipsum;
Sic nil ni nares oculi cernuntur et eius.
Psalterium discit animae senis idque canebat.
Non manducabat, nisi stellam quando videbat,
Tunc siccum panem comedens atrum, cynerosum
Vel bibit ex limpha tantum coclearia terna.
Ambulat hec pedibus nudis per frigus et estus,
Dormit et in lecto nihilo palea nisi strato
Et pro plumacio posito tantummodo ligno.
Ante diem surgit senis ad tumulum vel adivit,
Donec sudavit, donec plus stare nequivit;
Tunc ruit in faciem, dum fontem flens ibi fecit. }

Adultery, violence, and suffering didn’t result from the sexual asymmetry of an old man marrying a young woman. The crux of the story was a key disagreement between the spouses: the husband wanted the redhead to leave, the wife wanted him to stay.  The wife prevailed. The redhead stayed. The greater king in his wisdom had warned about such a disaster.[6]

Ruodlieb paired the story of the old husband / young wife with a story of a young husband / old wife. The old wife had as her first husband a dour, stingy, wealthy man. A young man, “bare and needy {nudus vel egenus},” came to their home and sought food and work. For merely crusts of bread, he washed dishes and served their food. He seasoned their food with salt to transform it from bland to savory. He worked diligently and took little for himself. When the husband died, the young servant became the widow’s lover and master of their home.[7]

Ruodlieb deftly dealt with hostility to age-asymmetric pairing. The poet through a shepherd reported:

No one objected to the widow’s heartfelt love
for that young man; we saw them go to church together.
They ate together and would go to bed together.

{ Nemo vetat, vidua iuveni tunc fiat amica.
Corde tenus, sed ad ecclesiam simul ire videmus,
Ad mensam resident simul, ad lectum simul ibunt. }[8]

They went to church together, they ate together; who, other than a dour, stingy-hearted moralist, would object to them sleeping together? The shepherd then recalled:

He calls his lady mother; she calls him her son.
The servants, male and female, learn to call him father,
while he in turn addresses them as his own children.

{ Matrem iam dominam vocat hanc ast hunc ea natum.
Mox famuli famulae patrem suescunt vocitare,
Ille suos liberos econtra nominat illos. }

Following immediately the reference to sleeping together, the mother / son address evokes the horrifying figure of incest. But that’s just a figure, like the servants calling the young man father, and he calling them children, as if he were a priest. The love of the old woman and the young man was substantially greater than that of other married couples:

For we have never seen a greater love or else
a married couple so well suited to each other.

{ Nunquam maiorem nos cernebamus amorem,
nec contectales sibi tam bene convenientes. }

Sexual symmetry is formalist dogma. While attentive to formalism in ritual, Ruodlieb presents formalism as inferior to substantial love.

Generosity and humble service is more important than sexual symmetry in Ruodlieb. In the wisdom he gave Ruodlieb, the greater king counseled:

Though she is quite attractive, never treat your maid
as if she were your social equal or your wife,
so she will not despise you or give haughty answers,
or even think she should be mistress of the house
because she spends the night or sits there at your table.
For if she eats with you and sleeps with you all night,
then she will wish at once to be the highest mistress.
Such things will make a man notorious and disgraced.

{ Ancillam propriam quamvis nimium speciosam
Non velut uxorem facias tibi consocialem,
Ne contemnat te tibi respondendo superbe,
Neve reatur, se domui debere praeesse,
Si pernoctabit ad mensam sive sedebit.
Tecum manducans pernox tecumve repausans
Continuo domina cunctorum vult fore summa.
Talia famosum faciunt ignominiosum. }[9]

Considering this wisdom as sexually symmetric, the old woman violated it in her relation with the young man, her servant. But in doing so, she opened her door to “rich and poor alike {dives atque misellus}.” The servant as the new master of the house served bread and meat to the poor and the servants. He declared:

When Christ sends anyone to me,
my house and I must celebrate that day as Easter

{ cum Christus quem mihi mittit,
Tunc est pascha meum mihi velque meis celebrandum }

Ruodlieb received generous hospitality from the young husband and the old wife. He thanked them with a subtly symbolic act:

He thought how he could thank that man.
At last he gave the lady of the house his cloak,
so, clad in it, she could attend the holy church.

{ Sicque iacens tractat, hominem qui gratificaret.
Tandem matronae, dederat sua pallia prompte,
Possit ut ecclesiam sic compta revisere sanctam. }

Ruodlieb thanked the man with a biblical item of generosity — his cloak. He gave it not to the man, but to the woman whom the man loved. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructed women not to teach men and to be silent in church. By giving the woman his cloak to wear in church, Ruodlieb gave her well-deserved authority to speak in church and instruct men.[10]

Among sexually symmetric pairings by age, Ruodlieb’s nephew and the widow’s daughter experienced romance. The widow’s daughter was beautiful and graceful:

When she came forth, she shone as brilliant as the moon.
How graceful was that woman! No one could discern
if she were flying, swimming, or just how she moved.

{ Quae dum procedit, ceu lucida luna reluxit.
Quam sollers esset, nemo discernere posset,
An volet an naret an se quocumque moveret. }[11]

Anticipating a wonderful wedding, the widow’s daughter wove two golden bands like shackles to give to her future husband. Her mother sat the nephew next to her daughter and gave them both just one plate and one cup. The mother arranged to have her guests’ feet washed after dinner. Her daughter gave Ruodlieb’s nephew a ring. Ladies secretly watched through a lattice. The nephew, much less perceptive than a dog who could sense the person who stole Ruodlieb’s spurs, didn’t perceive a set-up.

Signs of trouble existed in the romance of the young man and young women. The ring that she gave him “barely fitted on his little finger {ad minimum digitum bene vix tum convenientem}.” Later, giving him his prize for winning a game of dice, she impetuously tossed the ring to him:

In a cavity in that ring a catch was fastened —
He couldn’t have worn it without loosening it.

{ In cuius medio nodus fuerat cavus intro;
Hunc nisi laxaret, digito non inposuisset. }[12]

A finger not fitting into a ring suggests sexual non-receptivity. If that seems too crudely physical, imagine a bird, taught to be dependent on humans, preferring to be in his cage. He learns to speak the Lord’s Prayer, but doesn’t understand the petition, “lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”[13]

The young man and young woman had a Hellish wedding. The young man, apparently burning with sexual desire, had an unhappy prior relationship with a courtesan. Witnesses at the wedding were charged with offering assistance. They indecorously declared:

All of us should counsel that a man
of such great natural talent and the highest virtue
ought not to be disgraced but quickly snatched away
from that vile whore who well deserves a death by burning.

{ hoc cuncti debemus consiliari,
Indolis ut tantae vir tam virtutis opimae
Non dehonestetur, citius sed ut eripiatur
A scorto turpi digno satis igne cremari. }[14]

Later they made clear that they weren’t referring to the bride, but to the courtesan with whom the groom earlier had an affair. The groom politely thanked the witnesses for their counsel, implicit referred to Paul’s injunction that it is better to marry than to burn, and then proceeded with the wedding ceremony.

The bride outperformed the witnesses in obnoxiousness. Asked if she desired to take the man as her husband, she declared:

How could I refuse the slave I won by gambling,
whom I beat at dice and from whom I won a pledge
that, win or lose, he would marry none but me?
Let him serve me steadfastly — I wish it — night and day:
the better he does it, the more I’ll cherish him!

{ an servum nolim ludo superatum,
Tessere quem vici sub talis fenore pacti,
Seu vincat, seu succumbat, soli mihi nubat.
Serviat obnixe, volo, quo mihi nocte dieque,
Quod quanto melius facit, est tanto mihi karus. }

Men’s servitude to women in courtly love meets the dogma of sexual symmetry in the themes of pretense, falsity, and men’s servility. To the young women’s outrageous statement, everyone smiled and laughed. No one dared to take her seriously.[15]

The bride then became more obnoxious. The groom, continuing the formal wedding ceremony, drew his sword and wiped its point. In the hilt of the sword was a gold ring. The groom gave the gold ring to the bride. This ritual plausibly invoked ancient and continuing tradition of men as the point of the spear, striking (and dying) to protect women, valued gynocentrically with gold. The groom said to the bride:

Just as the ring embraces your entire finger
I pledge to you my constant and enduring faith.
You must preserve the same for me or lose your head.

{ Anulus ut digitum circumcapit undique totum,
Sic tibi stringo fidem firmam vel perpetualem,
Hanc servare mihi debes aut decapitari. }[16]

The bride insisted on sexual symmetry:

The same rule should apply to both of us.
Why should I, tell me, be more true to you than you
to me?

{ Iudicium parile decet ut patiatur uterque.
Cur servare fidem tibi debeo, dic, meliorem,
Quam mihi tu debes? }

The groom’s pledge is best understanding as sexually symmetric in “constant and enduring faith {fides firmus vel perpetualis}.” Sexual asymmetry in the threat of decapitation corresponds to the sexual asymmetry in the ancient and continuing practice of men bearing the burden of violent action. The narrator described the bride as responding “cleverly and suitably {astute et apte}.” Those words should be interpreted ironically. No other interpretation is possible given the bride’s continued rant and balk:

When you go fornicating, would you like that I
Become a whore for you? No, far be it from me
To marry you on such conditions. Go! Good-bye!
Go whore however much you like, but not with me.
The world has many men like you for me to wed.

{ Cum meretricares, essem scortum tibi velles?
Absit, ut hoc pacto tibi iungar; vade, valeto
Et quantumcumque scortare velis, sine sed me.
Tot sunt in mundo, tibi ceu quo tam bene nubo. }

The bride then stopped the marriage ritual by refusing to take the groom’s sword and the gold ring. The wedding ritual was highly formal. Nothing important that the groom said or did would have surprised the bride. Her crude outburst and balk in the middle of the wedding was an outrage and a stunning insult to the groom. If the groom were to cut off the bride’s head, just then would have been the most justified time.

The groom’s response to his bride’s outrageous behavior parodies men’s self-abnegation in courtly love. The groom declared:

So be it, my darling, as you wish.
If I ever do, I’ll lose the goods I gave to you.
And you will be empowered to cut off my head.

{ fiat, dilecta, velut vis.
Umquam si faciam, tibi quae dedero bona perdam,
Istius capitis abscidendique potens sis. }[17]

In the wisdom he gave to Ruodlieb, the greater king advised Ruodlieb that, if he wed, he should honor his wife “in all ways {omnimodus}” and treat her kindly. The bride extended no such honor and kindness to the groom. The greater king also advised Ruodlieb not to be subjected to his wife, but to be dominant to her.[18] The groom, in contrast, acted like the servile, doormat-type man known as an omega in the most credible modern intimate-relation literature. The account of the marriage of the young woman and the young man ends with the narrator’s remark:

How they will get along — what grounds do I have to worry?

{ Qualiter inter se concordent, quid mihi curae? }[19]

For a careful reader of the intricate, subtle symbolism of Ruodlieb, fertile ground exists for worry about this superficially sexually symmetric relationship.

Misunderstanding the wedding ceremony in Ruodlieb has deep roots in human social nature. In his reading of Ruodlieb as “the emergence of romance,” one of the most eminent scholars of medieval Latin literature obscured through ellipses the bride’s mid-wedding rant about the groom’s fornicating and whoring.[20] He translated the groom’s request for mutual faith as a one-sided demand.[21] He imagined the bride as having achieved a marriage “based on mutual frankness and trust.” The marriage is “a love-match in which the lovers have kept nothing from each other.”[22] The good scholar doesn’t mistake the narrator’s concluding question about worry as providing grounds for worry.[23] According to this leading authority on courtly love, Ruodlieb depicted the bride and her marriage as “unmistakably an ideal.” The marriage has “the ring not of literary model but of dramatic truth.”[24]  These claims indicate some truth. Men, like children clinging to mother, will eagerly seek women’s approval and idealize women in astonishing ways. Ruodlieb, which apparently never circulated and wasn’t completed, recognized and questioned such behavior. Recognizing and questioning men’s subservience to women typically isn’t welcomed.

Sexual symmetry isn’t associated with happiness in Ruodlieb. The four primary heterosexual pairs in Ruodlieb explore sexual symmetry by age: older woman and older man; young wife and old husband; old wife and young husband; and young woman and young man. Of these four pairs, the old (wealthy) wife and young (formerly impoverished) husband by far show love most fully and most deeply. That couple is generous to guests — poor, rich, peasant, noble alike. The husband is master of the home, but the wife is fully capable of acting in a man’s position. The wife and husband continually sleep with each other.

European culture should relax its gender-symmetry dogma and encourage broader, more daring imagination of women and men’s relations. A first step is to reject the crude topos of misogyny. That label has been a convenient excuse for disparaging and dismissing distinctly masculine literary voices.[25] Studying marginal European literature with a distinctly masculine perspective — among works in Latin, for example, the Life of Aesop, Jezebel, Lantfrid and Cobbo, Ruodlieb, Solomon and Marcolf, Asinarius, and the Lamentations of Matheolus — offers much greater cultural value than continued scholarly and public preoccupation with men-degrading courtly love. Being receptive to a bold, strong masculine presence can uncover more lively romance in medieval literature and in life today.

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[1] On sexual symmetry in the ancient Greek novels, Konstan (1994).

[2] Ruodlieb XI.30-4, Latin text from Kratz (1984) (editorial indicators supressed), English trans. Dronke (1970) p. 54. Subsequent quotes from Ruodlieb are similarly sourced. I cite by fragment.line and page from Kratz’s translation. Dronke’s translations tend to be more poetic than those of Kratz, hence I favor them when available, unless otherwise noted.

Ruodlieb probably dates between 1050 and 1075. It has survived in only two, fragmentary manuscripts (Munich clm 19486; St. Florian Port. 22) written in the same hand. Here’s a online Latin text of Ruodlieb. Grocock (1985) (prose translation), Kratz (1984) (verse translation), Ford (1965) (prose translation), and Zeydel (prose translation) are English translations.

[3] Ruodlieb showed “the widow and her retinue of ladies {domina dominellarumque caterva}” (X.29) how he fished with bugloss. Bugloss, an herb, caused fish to float to the surface of a lake so that they could be pushed ashore with a stick. Ruodlieb X.29-48. See also II.1-15.

[4] Ruodlieb V.461-7, trans. Kratz (1985) p. 123. The greater king was the king that Ruodlieb served as an exile from his homeland. In Gesta Romanorum, a merchant sold three maxims to the emperor for a large sum. Those maxims:

The first maxim is this: whatever you do, do wisely and think of the consequences. The second mis: never leave the highway for a byway. The third maxim is: never stay all night as a guest in that house where you find the master an old man and his wife a young woman.

{ prima sapiencia est ista: Quicquid agas, prudenter agas, et respice finem. Secunda est ista: Numquam viam publicam dimittas propter semitam. Tercia sapiencia est ista: Numquam hospicium ad manendum de nocte in domo alicujus accipias, ubi dominus domus est senex et uxor juvencula. }

Gesta Romanorum, Tale 103, Latin text from Oesterley (1872), English trans. Swan & Hooper (1876) p. 177. Those three maxims each saved the emperor’s life. The second and third of those maxims were ones that the greater king offered to Ruodlieb.

[5] Ruodlieb VI.23, 121, 123, pp. 133, 137. The subsequent three quotes are from VII.68-79,  86-7, pp. 141, 143; VIII.89-105, p. 151.

[6] The greater king advised Ruodlieb, should he wed, to be dominant to his wife. Ruodlieb V.488-91, p. 125. Underscoring the wife’s dominance over her husband, their dinner was served only when she ordered it to begin. VII.122-9, pp. 143, 145.

[7] “Now he is lord of her whom he served like a servant {Nunc dominatur ei, servivit cui vice servi}.” Ruodlieb VI.26, p. 133. The widow didn’t value only the young man’s domestic work. The shepherd explained the wealthy widow’s attraction to the needy young man with a proverb about sexual desire: “The old ewe gladly licks the vat for love of salt {Agna vetus cupide vas lingit salis amore}.” VI.32, p. 133.

[8] Ruodlieb VI.105-7, p. 137. They did wed. VI.24, p. 133. The subsequent two quotes are from VI.108-110, 111-2, p. 137.

[9] Ruodlieb V.476-483, pp. 123, 125.

[10] The previous two quotes are from Ruodlieb VII.4-5, 23-25, p. 139. On giving one’s cloak, Matthew 5:40.  On women not instructing men and being silent in church, 1 Timothy 2:12.

[11] Ruodlieb X.55-7. The other details in the above paragraph are from X. That fragment describes Ruodlieb’s dog sensing the person who stole Ruodlieb’s spurs.

[12] Ruodlieb X.128, p. 163, XI.71-2., trans Dronke (1970) p. 56.

[13] Cf. description of training birds in Ruodlieb XI.1-24, p. 165.

[14] Ruodlieb XIV.26-29. On the nephew’s prior relationship with a courtesan, Ruodlieb IX. While the witnesses to the wedding call the woman a whore, they also make clear the nephew’s prior ongoing entanglement with her. Whores, in contrast, tend to be associated with simple, one-shot, pay-and-act commerce. For Paul’s counsel to marry rather than burn, 1 Corinthians 7:9. The subsequent quote is XIV.52-56.  The wedding, although obviously formally scripted, wasn’t a Christian ritual. Church marriages didn’t become necessary until the reign of Pope Alexander III (1159-1181). The wedding probably was a ritual union that came to be known as Friedelehe in Germanic custom. Grocock (1985) p. 16.

[15] Within the wedding ceremony, the woman declaring that she wants the groom to be her slave is to one scholar a “playfully joking speech.” Jaeger (1999), p. 90. That scholar then seriously describes this call for slavery to indicate the rise of the cult of love service in courtly romance.

[16] Ruodlieb XIV.66-68, p. 179. The subsequent two quotes are from XIV.70-72, 77-80, p. 179.

[17] Ruodlieb XIV.82-84. The first line is my translation of the relevant part of 82: “Fiat, dilecta, velut vis.” Kratz has “It will be as you wish, my darling.” Fiat, which is a Latin word close to amen, seems to me better rendered as an initial, punchy expression. The cult classic movie Princess Bride uses “as you wish” as the hero’s constant address to the princess in that comic fantasy of medieval romance.

[18] For the king’s wisdom, V.488-492. Dronke (1970), p. 60, disparages this advice. He interprets it to indicate the king’s imperfection by showing him being at times like “a stuffed owl.” That interpretation has little basis in the medieval text.

Mass culture and billionaire-advocates today instruct men to do more housework to better sexually arouse their wives or girlfriends. Rather than follow these authorities, men should engage in free thought and enlightened reason to study, discuss, experiment, and evaluate how to best promote mutual sexual satisfaction with their wives or girlfriends.

[19] Ruodlieb XIV.99, my translation. For discussion, see note [21].

[20] Dronke (1970), pp. 58-9, quoting Ruodlieb XIV.69-87 with ll. 77-80 (lines about fornicating and whoring) effaced by ellipses.

[21] Kratz (1985), p. 179, translates Ruodlieb XIV.66-68 as:

Just as the ring embraces your entire finger,
I pledge to you my constant and enduring faith,
You must preserve the same for me or lose your head.

Grocock (1985), p. 167, and Ford (1965), p. 90, are similar translations. Donke (1970), p. 58, in contrasts, translates those lines as a one-sided demand to the woman:

As the ring encircles the whole finger, all around,
so do I bind you with firm and lasting faith,
which you too must keep, or — off with your head!

Zeydel (1959), p. 125, offers a similar translation. The middle line of this triplet (XIV.67) is from the Latin sic tibi stringo fidem firmam vel perpetualem. The line linguistically and grammatically admits either translation. But faith makes little sense as a means for binding someone else.  Moreover, in the broader context of the marriage ceremony, a mutual pledging of faith with sword and gold ring better makes sense of the text. The social value of disparaging men and the women-are-wonderful-effect seem to drive the one-sided translation.

Other scholars have proceeded similarly. In a remarkably convoluted, tendentious discussion of the marriage ceremony in terms of (mythic) patriarchy, one scholar described the young man’s “one-sided gesture” (translated in the way of Dronke) and seamless connected it the threat of punishment. Green (2009), pp. 72-4. Another scholar quoted Kratz’s translation. He then described that pledge of mutual fidelity, with a backing threat of beheading for the woman, as “what amounts to a declaration of the girl’s subservience to him.” But — you go girl! — “The girl does not stand for such blatant inequality.” Vander Elst (2011), p. 7.

[22] The greater king advised Ruodlieb, if he should wed, not to disclose to his wife everything. Ruodlieb V.493-7. See also Marie de France’s Bisclavret.

[23] Regarding Ruodlieb XIV.99, “How they will get along — what grounds do I have to worry {Qualiter inter se concordent, quid mihi curae}?”, this line is thought to be an erotic courtly metaphor suggesting that after conflict comes union. Schiller (2013) p. 95. The Ruodlieb poet surely was sophisticated enough to use it in a context suggesting that after conflict comes more conflict and more horror. Some critics have interpreted that line literally as expressing the narrator’s indifference or as “probably a jest.” Zeydel (1959) p. 152. Dronke interprets the line to mean the opposite of its literal meaning. For him, it expresses the narrator’s confidence in this ideal relationship depicted through the Hellish marriage ceremony. Dronke (1970) p. 58, n. 2.

[24] Dronke (1970) p. 59. Suggesting his view of the division of labor in an ideal marriage, Dronke observes that Ruodlieb:

noticed the young man’s “badly washed underwear, and his coat of marten fur dark with age and sweat” (X.120-30): clearly the mistress with whom he had lived had not looked after him so well in these respects! So the new coat is, we might say, more than a wedding-present: it is an augury of the young man’s Vita Nuova.

Id. pp. 59-60. Men are fully capable of washing their own clothes to their own standard of cleanliness given the time and money constraints they have. Men are similarly capable of buying their own clothes.

[25] Id., pp. 11-18,  describes four kinds of empirical weaknesses associated with analysis of topoi. The literary practice of using the label misogyny shares all these weakness. Moreover, because the label misogyny is difficult to challenge socially, it’s associated with extraordinarily shallow analysis. Even relatively high-quality scholarly work makes serious mistakes in dismissing literature via applying the label misogyny. For example, id., p. 76, describes Jezebel as a “misogynistic satire.” Id. finds that the poem uses “poetically the crudest means” in predictable and unvarying technique that only displays and satires Jezebel’s shamelessness. Ziolkowski (1989) shows that interpretation to be greatly mistaken. As its worst, misogyny has produced the absurd claim that a writer “can only be defined as a women.” See note [8] in my post on Bernard of Cluny’s De Contemptu Mundi.

[image] Sexual symmetry gender grinder, parodic transformation of Metamorphosis (Gottfried Honegger, 1962, bronze, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 (66. 2496) at Hirshhorn Gallery, Washington, DC). Photograph and digital processing by Douglas Galbi.


Dronke, Peter. 1970. Poetic individuality in the Middle Ages: new departures in poetry 1000-1150. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ford, Gordon B. 1965. The Ruodlieb: the first medieval epic of chivalry from eleventh-century Germany. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Green, D. H. 2009. Women and marriage in German medieval romance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grocock, C. W., ed. and trans. 1985. The Ruodlieb. Chicago, Ill: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 1999. Ennobling love: in search of a lost sensibility. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Konstan, David. 1994. Sexual symmetry: love in the ancient novel and related genres. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kratz, Dennis M., trans. 1984. Waltharius, and Ruodlieb. New York: Garland Pub.

Schiller, Nina. 2013. Das Menschenbild im Ruodlieb – Mittelalterliche Lebenswirklichkeiten am Beispiel eines Epos aus dem ausgehenden 11. Jahrhundert. Thesis. Magistra der Pihlosophie. University of Vienna.

Swan, Charles, and Wynnard Hooper, trans. 1876. Gesta romanorum: entertaining moral stories. New York: Dover Publications Inc. (reprint edition of 1969).

Vander Elst, Stefan. 2011. “Virtue and Equality in the Medieval Latin Ruodlieb.” Essays in Medieval Studies. 27 (1): 1-11.

Zeydel, Edwin Hermann. 1959. Ruodlieb: the earliest courtly novel (after 1050); introduction, text, translation, commentary and textual notes. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1989. Jezebel: a Norman Latin poem of the early eleventh century. New York: P. Lang.

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