contract & fraud irrelevant to forced financial fatherhood

sacrifice of men's lives

Under U.S. law, men are subject to forced financial fatherhood. Forced financial fatherhood for one child typically claims about 25% of a man’s income for at least eighteen years under the deceptive label “child support.” U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon a man even against a written preconception contract assuring the unmarried man simple sexual freedom. U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon a man even when the man became a biological father as a result of the mother’s fraud against him. U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon men who have become biological fathers as a result of being raped. Particularly in the context of extensive public support for abortion rights and planned parenthood, such actions under law indicate deeply entrenched anti-men gender bias. Lack of public concern about forced financial fatherhood and men’s lack of reproductive rights exemplifies social devaluation of men’s lives.[1]

Consider the case of Budnick v. Silverman (2002). In Florida in 1987, Tamara Budnick and Frederick Silverman signed a formal, written preconception agreement (contract). Budnick wanted Silverman to provide her with his sperm through heterosexual intercourse of reproductive type. Their preconception agreement stated that if a conception occurred following their sexual activity:

  1. Budnick would pay any expenses associated with that conception.
  2. If Budnick didn’t abort the conception, legally abandon the child under “safe haven” laws for mothers, or give up the child for adoption, she would be the sole custodian of the child.
  3. Budnick agreed not to place Silverman’s name on the child’s birth certificate.
  4. Budnick agreed not to tell anyone that Silverman was the child’s father.
  5. Budnick agreed not to seek monthly payments from Silverman under “child support” law. [2]

Both parties agreed that if Budnick violated her commitments under the contract, Silverman would be given the choice to have full, permanent physical custody of the child. In reliance on this agreement, Silverman had sexual intercourse with Budnick. In 1989, Budnick gave birth to a child.

Ten years later, Budnick sought monthly payments (“child support”) from Silverman. A Florida District Court of Appeals voided Budnick and Silverman’s preconception agreement and awarded Budnick monthly payments from Silverman. Silverman’s attempt to establish by contract simple male freedom to engage in penis-in-vagina intercourse failed. Silverman’s personal, intimate, consensual ejaculation of sperm into Budnick’s vagina led to the court imposing upon him a large, long-term financial burden in defiance of a written contract that both parties had relied on for a decade.

The court justified forcing financial fatherhood upon Silverman in part through well-established paths of obfuscation. The court declared:

The rights of support and meaningful relationship belong to the child, not the parent; therefore, neither parent can bargain away those rights.

Courts regularly deprive fathers of meaningful relationships with their children through discriminatory child custody decisions. Those decisions commonly reduce fathers to wallets and visitors to their child at the will of the child’s mother. Moreover, the right to receive “child support” is the custodial parent’s right. The custodial parent has no legal obligations to spend “child support” income on supporting the child. The size of “child support” payments varies directly not with the child’s need for support, but with the non-custodial parent’s income. Many children in the U.S. live in poverty. Many children in the U.S., particularly African-American children, lack a meaningful relationship with their father. Children don’t have effective rights to even poverty-level financial support and a meaningful relationship with their father.

The court in Budnick v. Silverman also exploited the all-purpose “best interests of the child” claim. The court declared:

The total abdication of parental responsibility present in the instant Preconception Agreement cannot be said to protect the best interests of the child.

After conception, women can totally abdicate parental responsibility by having an abortion. Making a “best interests of the child” claim against an adult’s choice about whether to become a parent shows that nothing limits “best interests of the child” claims. With equal justification, courts could impose payments on grandparents to support the “best interests of the child.” Or why not impose payments on a whole village?[3]

To explain how sperm donation differs from Budnick and Silverman’s agreement, the court drew a technological distinction. Sperm donation involves a man ejaculating in a cup. Silverman, in contrast, ejaculated in Budnick’s vagina. The court explained that the penis-in-vagina procedure cannot qualify as a means for sperm donation because it “has been around long enough so that it does not constitute ‘reproductive technology.’” Along this line of reasoning, perhaps the wheel doesn’t constitute transportation technology, nor fire cooking technology.

A particularly astonishing aspect of Budnick v. Silverman is that the court voided the preconception agreement after the parties had relied on it for a decade. Silverman, in accordance with that contract, didn’t establish any meaningful relationship with the child. That deprivation of a meaningful relationship with the child didn’t matter to the court. The point of the preconception agreement was to foreclose a claim for child support. The court interpreted that effort as evidence that such a claim could occur despite the contract. Apparently to avoid challenges to that peculiar interpretation of laches, the court added:

Furthermore, time alone is not enough to establish a claim on the doctrine of laches.

The court thus tore up a preconception agreement that the parties had relied on, with great significance, for a decade. The court seems to have been determined to force financial fatherhood upon Silverman.

Forced financial fatherhood shows social support for transferring resources from men to women even under fraud. In L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. (1983), a lower court found that Pamela had conceived a child through purposefully misrepresenting to Frank that she was using contraceptives. The lower court ordered that Frank make monthly payments to Pamela “only in the amount by which the mother’s means were insufficient to meet the child’s needs.” The lower court thus imposed on Frank a needs-based obligation to support the welfare of Pamela’s child.[4]

An appellate court, however, ruled that Pamela’s fraud didn’t provide grounds for limiting Frank’s payments to her to the level necessary to meet her child’s needs. The appellate court ruled that Pamela, despite her fraud, was legally entitled to payments directly related to Frank’s income. The lack of connection between Frank’s income and the needs of the child appears in the appellate courts’ arbitrary conjunctions. A lower appellate court ruling on L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. declared:

the only factors to be considered by Family Court in fixing an award of child support are the needs of the child and the means of the parents

A higher appellate court affirmed:

The primary purpose of establishing paternity is to ensure that adequate provision will be made for the child’s needs, in accordance with the means of the parents.

The father as financial provider is a gender stereotype deeply entrenched in culture and law. L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. makes clear that the biological father is legally required not only to be financial provider to the child, but also financial provider to the mother.

Forced financial fatherhood is effectively gender-targeted financial punishment of men for having sex. In L. Pamela P. v. Frank S, “adequate provision … for the child’s needs, in accordance with the means of the parents” doesn’t mean payments from the biological father to the mother “in the amount by which the mother’s means were insufficient to meet the child’s needs.” Higher payments, based on the income level of the man who had sex, must be made to the mother. Why must those payments be made to the mother? Why must those payments be made to the mother after she committed fraud against the man who had sex with her? Why are such payments called “child support”? Such payments are best understood as government-imposed, income-based sex payments from men to women in accordance with deeply entrenched stereotypes of men as material providers.[5]

Forced financial fatherhood is clearly gender-biased. In Wallis v. Smith (2001), Smith represented to Wallis that she was taking birth-control pills. Based on that representation, Wallis agreed to engage in penis-in-vagina sex with Smith. Their sexual intercourse resulted in a conception that Smith brought to term. She established herself as mother of the child and sought monthly, income-based payments (“child support”) from Wallis. A court required Wallis to make such child support payments. Wallis then sued Smith for monetary damages resulting from her misrepresentation.

An appellate court denied Wallis claim for monetary damages for fraudulently forced financial fatherhood. Reviewing cases of damages associated with a pregnancy, the court distinguished cases involving damages to women from cases involving damages to men. The court cited the case of a woman awarded damages for an ectopic pregnancy resulting from sex with a man who represented that he was infertile.[6] The court also cited the case of a woman awarded the costs of an abortion and related expenses for a pregnancy resulting from sex with a man who represented that he was sterile.[7] A related, older line of cases award women damages for contacting venereal disease following a male sex partner’s misrepresentation of the risk of disease from sex with him.[8]

The sex structure in another cited case is more subtle. In Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez (1991), a court award damages to a woman-man couple (Mrs. and Mr. Mendez). They had a child following a medical center’s faulty tubal ligation of Mrs. Mendez. The court explained:

it is virtually undisputed that some elements of damages are compensable for this tort—e.g., Mrs. Mendez’s pain and suffering associated with her pregnancy and Joseph’s birth; the cost of a subsequent sterilization; and her expenses, including lost wages, associated with the pregnancy and the birth. To be sure, the most controversial item of claimed damage—the cost of raising Joseph to adulthood—is the critical issue in this case; but it is an issue primarily involving quantification of the plaintiff’s loss. [9]

Damages sex-limited to woman aren’t controversial. The controversial item is damage payments associated with cost-based child support. The court further explained:

Mrs. Mendez’s injury — indeed, the injury of both Mr. and Mrs. Mendez — can probably be described in various ways ….

Applying this analysis to Mr. and Mrs. Mendez’s situation following her unsuccessful sterilization operation, we believe the couple suffered at least two forms of harm. First, as indicated previously, Mrs. Mendez remained fertile despite her desire to be infertile. From the standpoint of the couple, their desire to limit the size of their family—to procreate no further—was frustrated. Within the Restatement’s definition of harm, this was a loss or detriment to them.

Second, their interest in financial security—in the economic stability of their family—was impaired. The undesired costs of raising another child to adulthood—costs which they had striven to avoid and had engaged Lovelace {a medical service provider} to help them avert— were suddenly thrust upon them. This was a detriment to their pecuniary advantage— i.e., harm.

Forced financial fatherhood imposes similar harm on men. But the court seems to have been reluctant to mention men. Reasoning further about the nature of the damage, the court again focused on women:

A professional woman, for example, might seek sterilization for a reason unrelated to financial hardship. However, if a negligently performed sterilization results in an unexpected birth, her financial situation and even long-term prospects may abruptly change.

For poor men, the effect of unplanned parenthood can be incarceration. The Wallis court distinguished Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez as not involving inter-parental liability. In other words, Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez doesn’t have implications for forced financial fatherhood because it doesn’t involve forced financial fatherhood. That’s legal rationalization, not legal reasoning.

What actually distinguishes Wallis v. Smith from cases awarding damages to women and couples is reproductive damages to men. Women have reproductive rights based on judicial reasoning about fundamental constitutional rights. Men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. Ignoring that stark and highly significant gender inequality, the Wallis court further obscured gender bias:

we hold that the actions asserted here {claim for damages from fraudulently forced financial fatherhood} cannot be used to recoup the financial obligations of raising a child. We emphasize that this holding is gender neutral insofar as it precludes a monetary reimbursement for child support.

Eight times more men than women are subject to “child support” payments. Child support law is no more gender neutral than is sexist Selective Service registration.

Men have relatively poor contraceptive options. Men have no reproductive rights. Men are subject to socially constructed paternity ignorance, state-institutionalized cuckolding procedures for paternity establishment, and forced financial fatherhood. Revealing deep gender bias, these outrageous injustices are matters of almost no public concern.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Devaluation of fatherhood is readily apparent in relevant law review articles. Consider, for example, this claim:

notwithstanding paternity doctrine, blood has little to do with one’s status as father. What matters instead is one’s relationship with the mother.

Baker (2004) p. 2. Biological fatherhood is sufficient under law to impose forced financial fatherhood on a man who has had no meaningful relationship with the child. Claiming that what matters for fatherhood is the man’s relationship to the mother, rather than to the child, makes men parentally subordinate to women. With astonishing sophism, id. essentializes the biology of having a womb while claiming that parenthood isn’t about biology. The effect is to essentialize female privilege in reproduction.

Hatcher (2013) describes the extent to which low-income fathers are deprived of meaningful relationships with their children. Id. condemns essentialized fatherhood, but says nothing about essentialized motherhood. Moreover, institutionalized misrepresentation of paternity, lack of concern to achieve gender equality in knowledge of biological offspring, and gender discrimination in child custody and child support decisions are injustices that all men suffer.

[2] Case details from Budnick v. Silverman, 805 So. 2d 1112 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. (2002).

[3] A large share of “child support” payments are paid to the state as offsets to welfare payments to custodial mothers. The best interests of the child obviously would involve child support payments going to children, rather than to the state treasury. Hatcher (2007). In reality, the “best interests of the child” is merely emotive rationalization for policies that effectively transfer money from men to women.

[4] The descriptions of the various courts’ actions in L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. are from In the matter of L. Pamela P. v. Frank S., 59 NY 2d 1 – NY: Court of Appeals (1983).

[5] Fathers’ support for children in practice involves much more than providing money. Equating “child support” with paying money has been particularly damaging to low-income African-American fathers. Maldonado (2006).

[6] Barbara A. v. John G., 145 Cal. App. 3d 369 – Cal: Court of Appeal, 1st Appellate Dist., 3rd Div. (1983).

[7] In the matter of Alice D. v. William M., 113 Misc. 2d 940 – NY: City Court, Civil Court (1982).

[8] De Vall v. Strunk (Tex.Civ.App. 1936) 96 S.W.2d 245; Crowell v. Crowell (1920) 180 N.C. 516 {105 S.E. 206}; State v. Lankford (1917) 29 Del. 594 {102 A. 63}.

[9] All the subsequent quotes above are from the opinion in Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez, 805 P. 2d 603 – NM: Supreme Court (1991).

[image] Sacrifice of men’s lives: dead men on the battlefield of Gettysburg after first day’s battle. Thanks to the Library of Congress.


Baker, Katharine K. 2004. “Bargaining or Biology – The History and Future of Paternity Law and Parental Status.” Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 14(1): 1-69.

Hatcher, David L. 2007. “Child Support Harming Children: Subordinating the Best Interests of Children to the Fiscal Interests of the State.” Wake Forest Law Review. 42 (4): 1029-1086.

Hatcher, Daniel L. 2013. “Forgotten Fathers.” Boston University Law Review 93: 897-920. University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-07.

Maldonado, Solangel. 2006. “Deadbeat or Deadbroke: Redefining Child Support for Poor Fathers.” University of California Davis Law Review. 39 (3): 991-1022.

cultural construction of Reddy’s The Making of Romantic Love

William Reddy’s recent tome, The Making of Romantic Love, shows the cultural construction of the cultural construction of gender extended to sexual desire. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, women appreciated male genitals in a way scarcely conceivable today. Men in ancient Egypt rubbed concoctions of their cocks and uttered incantations in the belief that doing so would help them to have sex with a beloved woman. The early Arabic life of Buddha described the original understanding of chivalry: a husband always being ready to have sex with his wife whenever her desire arose. The survival and evolution of species from fruit flies to elephants depends on having sex. Moreover, at least among primates, having sex predominately occurs with mutual desire to have sex. None of this reality is relevant to the cultural construction of Reddy’s The Making of Romantic Love.

romantic love: lady and knight

The cultural construction of The Making of Romantic Love draws on a variety of linguistic practices. One such linguistic practice is word-chopping. Consider sexual desire. In a wide variety of cultural contexts, some expressions of sexual desire are socially regarded as worse than others. In twelfth-century Europe, Hildegard von Bingen deplored men having sex with cows. Whether men having sex with men is better than men having sex with women has been debated for millennia. Calling a relatively culturally valorized form of sexual desire love, or “romantic love,” doesn’t imply a binary opposition between romantic love and sexual desire. That binary opposition can easily be merely a linguistic construct. Reddy’s claim that the binary of romantic love versus sexual desire was invented in twelfth-century Europe as a result of particular Gregorian reforms lacks appreciation for biological reality. That claim also lacks appreciation for the cultural construction of the scholarly valorization of claiming cultural constructs.

Other aspects of Reddy’s book indicate loss of connection to reality. The third page of the book solemnly declares that eleventh and twelfth century (European) church leaders “attempted to outlaw sexual pleasure for all Christians.” Even if that were formally true, which it isn’t, such a law would be laughably impractical. Mountains of scholarly verbiage over recent decades insist that verbiage constructs everything. That helps to explain the significance of Reddy’s observation:

there is no indication in the documents that members of these elites regarded sexual release as inherently pleasurable. [1]

Forget about motivating the evolution of sexually reproducing organisms over more than a billion years. If the pleasure of sexual release doesn’t appear in the elite documents, then no one feels it.

Reddy’s book takes a linguistic-sophistic approach to science. Consider Reddy on biology:

Quite simply, the organism does not need sex to be healthy, nor does the nervous system appear to handle sexual release as if a certain minimum were required for equilibrium. We do not inevitably grow ever more “horny” if deprived of sex.

That’s true. It’s also true that if organisms in a sexually reproducing population stop having sex, then that population will die off. A dead population isn’t a healthy population.

In the linguistc-sophistic approach to biology, the reality of social and ecological context leads to blank-slate disembodiment:

There is good scientific evidence, therefore, to suppose that what many Westerners experience as “sexual desire” is not a hard-wired physiological “drive” but a Western cultural construct, or set of related conceptualizations and practices, with a long and intricate history. … Western forms of sexual desire are like a genre of music that one learns to improvise, and the neurological mechanisms are like an instrument on which any number of such genres might be played. In the Western genre, notation of “appetite” or “drive” have long played a central structural role, but there are no keys on the instrument that uniquely correspond to these terms. … There is, therefore, nothing in the latest neuroscience research on sexual desire, sexual arousal, or romantic love that permits one to conclude these states are caused or orchestrated by hard-wired brain systems.

If you cut off a man’s head and then show him erotic pictures, no matter how stimulating the pictures are, he won’t get an erection. That’s because hard-wired connections have been cut. That observation is more meaningful than Reddy’s mixed metaphor “there are no keys on the instrument that uniquely correspond to these terms.”

A standard sophistic move in current humanities scholarship is to declare an aspect of human behavior a “cultural construct.” Reddy suggests, with an attribution-deflecting hypothetical, that “desire itself is a cultural construct.” Biological organisms create and sustain culture in accordance with the parameters of their biology. One thus could equally well declare “desire itself is a biological construct.” Both constructs are unbearably boring and barren.[2]

Human beings should aspire to using reason beyond being rationalizing animals. Reddy repeatedly suggests that his approach is “just reading” the documents.[3] Yet his doing so produces conventional claims strictly disciplined within the culturally constructed school of social constructionism. Culturally constructed scholarship has produced amazing tendentious readings of men’s subordination within courtly love:

In twelfth-century courtly love texts, the woman may seem at first glance to benefit from her elevation to the status of beloved “lady,” but a closer look reveals — or many scholars have argued — that putting her on a “pedestal” was only a more effective way of disciplining her. Men submitted to her yoke only to better make her dance to their tune. [4]

If you believe that, then you are using your mind merely to rationalize dominant ideology. As Reddy’s book makes clear, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Reddy (2012) p. 5. Subsequent quotes are from pp. 10, 13, 14-15, 27, 21.

[2] A roundtable on Reddy’s book represents well the tediousness of this school of thinking. For a more interesting approach to courtly love and the Troubadours, see Monson (2011). Dronke (1965) shows that men’s abasement in love, men toiling for women’s love, and the pedestalization of women (three behaviors characterizing “courtly love”) occur in love poetry across a wide range of cultures and throughout recorded history.  Courtly love can be understood as expressing gynocentrism, a typical primate social structure.

[3] Reddy (2012) pp. 37, 391.

[4] Denying the obvious to assert “male dominance” is prevalent in current scholarship. Consider this summary of chivalry:

Thus we can recognize that this literature not only heaped upon chivalry a great measure of idealized responsibility for the protection of women and for the elimination of the most coarse and brutal forms of subjection, it also endowed knights with an even greater valorization of their powerful place in society in general, and especially in regard to women. These works offered the knights a more refined form of male dominance as one powerful element of their chivalry.

Kaeuper (1999) p. 230. Being vastly disproportionately killed is not a sign of dominance. Sexist studies of sexism and mortality inequality defined as equality point to actual dominance.

[image] La Belle Dame sans Merci. Painting, oil on canvas. John William Waterhouse, 1893. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the rise of European love-lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Kaeuper, Richard W. 1999. Chivalry and violence in medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Monson, Don A. 2011. “Why is la Belle Dame sans Merci? Evolutionary Psychology and the Troubadours.” Neophilologus. 95 (4): 523-541.

Reddy, William M. 2012. The making of romantic love: longing and sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

widow of Ephesus story in three retellings

widow of Ephesus

Combining sex, crime, and outrage, the widow of Ephesus story has been at the sweet spot of communicative attention for at least two millennia. The widow of Ephesus mourned her husband in continual vigil at his grave. One day, she encountered there a soldier. He had been given responsibility for guarding the dead bodies of criminals hanging crucified. The widow and the soldier fell in love. They began having sex in her husband’s sepulcher. While the soldier was engaged with the widow, someone stole a criminal’s body from a cross. The soldier faced charges of neglect of duty. The widow rescued the soldier by having her husband’s body raised on the cross to replace the lost body of the criminal. Like rape and poisoning on a college campus, this sort of story makes news.

Among fables attributed to Phaedrus from about two millennia ago, the widow of Ephesus story warned of the madness of carnal passion. The Phaedrus retelling described the soldier falling madly in love after a glimpse of the widow within her husband’s sepulcher:

The soldier espied through the slightly open
Door a lady, a dream of loveliness.
Immediately, the man became madly enamored,
Possessed by a passion impossible to control. [1]

When the soldier found a criminal’s body missing, he was fearful and despondent. The widow, his lover, responded calmly and dispassionately:

And this paragon of wives said, “There’s one way
To save you. Don’t be afraid.” And she gave him
Her husband’s corpse to hoist on the cross,
So rescuing him from the penalty due for his default.

The fable of the widow of Ephesus ends with an epimythium describing moral disorder:

Thus dishonor usurped the place of righteous praise. [2]

Rather than continuing her praiseworthy grieving for her husband, the widow of Ephesus entered a dishonorable relationship with the soldier and treated her husband’s body dishonorably.

In Lamentationes Matheoluli, a thirteenth-century masterpiece of men’s sexed protest, Matheolus’s anger at his abusive wife strongly colored his retelling of the widow of Ephesus story. In Matheolus’s version, a knight merely offered the widow words of consolation within the philosophical tradition of consolation.[3] After the criminal’s body had been stolen, the widow propositioned the desperate knight. She offered to rescue him in exchange for his promising to marry her. The knight agreed. The widow then dragged her husband’s corpse from the grave and hung it on the cross. When the knight pointed out that her husband’s head lacked the two wounds that were on the criminal’s head, the wife bashed her husband’s head to create similar wounds. The knight, outraged, reneged on his promise to marry the widow. He declared:

I’d rather lose my skin than be married to you. For what you did, in justice, you deserve to be burned. [4]

In Phaedrus’s fable, the widow and the soldier secured their shared personal interests against the social order. In Lamentationes Matheoluli, the knight defended the social order in condemning the widow for seeking her personal love interests.

In the Satyricon, probably from the first century, the widow of Ephesus story is sophisticated literary entertainment. The soldier in the Satyricon version seduced the widow. Facing charges for neglect of duty, he prepared to commit suicide:

But the woman’s sense of pity matched her chastity. “The gods must not allow me,” she said, “to gaze on the two corpses of the men I hold most dear. I would rather surrender the dead than slay the living. She followed up this declaration with an instruction to remove her husband’s corpse from the coffin, and to have it fastened to the vacant cross. The soldier took advantage of the ingenious idea of this most thoughtful of women, and the next day the locals speculated on how a dead man had managed to mount the cross. [5]

To appreciate the sophistication, consider carefully: “the widow’s sense of pity matched her chastity.” The widow lacked chastity. She similarly lacked pity for her husband’s dead body. But is pity relevant to a dead body? The widow had pity on the soldier facing punishment for dereliction. That’s meaningful pity. The claim that the widow’s pity matched her chastity has multiple levels of irony.

The ending of the story is also ironic. The locals, speculating on how a dead man had mounted the cross, apparently recognized the body of the widow’s husband. That means the corpse substitution failed to obscure the soldier’s dereliction. The “ingenious idea of this most thoughtful of women” appears laughably foolish. A stolen, crucified body leading to a miraculous mounting of a cross also suggests parody of the Christian gospel:

Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “… come down from the cross.” … {after Jesus’s death and burial} some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” [6]

The widow of Ephesus story in the Satyricon emphasizes public spectacle. The story itself is a virtuoso display of rhetorical skill.

The widow of Ephesus story shows the imperatives of the living trumping respect for the dead. The exacting science of philology works to provide accurate transmission and understanding of texts. Philology deserves respect. Yet philology isn’t sufficient for lively humanities. Retelling stories in one’s own interests propagates life in literature.[7]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Phaedrus, “The Widow and the Soldier,” Perotti’s Appendix, No. 15, from Latin trans. Widdows (1992) pp. 151. The subsequent quote is from id., p. 152. Here’s the Latin text with an alternate prose translation into English. Konstan (2015) documents that in ancient Greece, beauty (kállos) was associated with sexual desire.

[2] My translation of sic turpitudo laudis obsedit locum. Id., p. 152, has “Thus was decency defeated by dishonor.”

[3] The European Middle Ages lacked the mass army of soldiers that the Roman Empire had. In Matheolus’s version, a knight replaced the soldier. Moreover, in Matheolus’s version, the widow had been a poor chambermaid before she married her husband, a knight. Marrying up made her a lady. Matheolus’s version thus adds a twist of class disparagement.

[4] Lamentationes Matheoluli, l. 850-1, Klein, Rubel & Schmitt (2014) p. 109 or Van Hamel (1892) p. 62, my translation of the Latin. The full story of the widow of Ephesus is l. 823-851. The story is referenced again in l. 2717-20. The knight’s concluding rejection of the widow occurs in an earlier version in the Seven Sages / Sindibad corpus. Lacy (1967) p. 36, Van Hamel (1892) v. 2, pp. 160-3 (pdf pages 726-30). For an English translation the widow of Ephesus story from Jehan Le Févre’s Old French translation of the Lamentationes Matheoluli, Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992) pp. 185-6.

[5] Satyricon, s. 112, from Latin trans. Walsh (1996) p. 104, with some minor changes for clarity. Eumolpus the poet tells the story. The widow’s maid quotes to her Virgil, Aeneid 4.34. That’s rich parody. McGlathery (1998) pp. 323-9. The Satyricon Latin for “the woman’s sense of pity matched her chastity” is mulier non minus misericors quam pudica. John of Salisbury in his Policraticus (written about 1159) incorporated nearly verbatim the Satyricon text of the widow of Ephesus story. See Policraticus, Bk. 8, Ch. 11, Webb (1909), Vol. 2, pp. 301-4.

[6] Matthew 27:39-40, 28:11-15.

[7] Other retellings of the widow of Ephesus story have survived. Moretti (2013) interprets the story of Drusiana in the Apocryphal Acts of the apostle John as a response to stories like that of the widow of Ephesus. Hrotsvit drew on the story of Drusiana for her work Drusiana and Calimachus. The fabliau Celle qui se fist foutre sur la fosse de son mari (La femme au tombeau) is a variant of the seduction portion of the widow of Ephesus story. Ibn Zabara included a variant in the Book of Delight, written in Hebrew about 1200. For an English translation, Abrahams (1894) pp. 516-7. More generally, the story is Arne-Thompson type 1510 and motif K2213.1 in the Stith-Thompson categorization. For other related stories, see D.L. Ashliman, “Widows in (short-lived) mourning.”

A collection of Aesop’s fables put into Latin elegiac verses by Gualterus Anglicus {Walter of England} in the second half of the twelfth century includes a version of the tale of the widow of Ephesus. This version ends with a strong, general statement of men’s sexed protest:

Woman alone oppresses men living and dead with fear and pain;
Woman’s work does not end well.

{ Sola premit vivosque metu penaque sepultos
Femina: femineum nil bene finit opus. }

Gualterus Anglicus, De viro et uxore {Of the husband and wife}, Fable 48, Latin text from Aesopica, English trans. Pepin (1999) p. 204. Since Gualterus Anglicus’s Aesop collection became one of the Auctores octo {Eight authors} of the medieval school curriculum, it was widely disseminated and read in the late Middle Ages.

[image] Widow of Ephesus pulling her husband’s body from its coffin and hanging it on a cross. Engraving, from image 32 in edition of Jehan le Fèvre, Matheolus qui nous monstre sans varier les biens & aussi les vertus: qui viennent pour soy marier (Lyon: Olivier Arnouillet, 1550), in Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, Rés. B 487656. Thanks to Gallica.


Abrahams, Israel. 1894. “Joseph Zabara and His Book of Delight.” The Jewish Quarterly Review. 6 (3): 502-532.  Augmented version, without notes, in Abrahams, Israel. 1912. The book of delight, and other papers. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America.

Blamires, Alcuin, Karen Pratt, and C. William Marx. 1992. Men Impugned, Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: an anthology of medieval texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Klein, Thomas, Thomas Rubel, and Alfred Schmitt, eds. 2014. Lamentationes Matheoluli. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann.

Konstan, David. 2015. Beauty: the fortunes of an ancient Greek idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lacy, Norris J. 1967. La femme au tombeau: anonymous fabliau of the thirteenth century. Ph. D. Dissertation. Indiana University.

McGlathery, Daniel B. 1998. “Petronius’ Tale of the Widow of Ephesus and Bakhtin’s Material Bodily Lower Stratum.” Arethusa. 31 (3): 313-336.

Moretti, Paola Francesca. 2013. “The Two Ephesian Matrons: Drusiana’s Story in the Acts of John as a Possible Christian Response to Milesian Narrative.” Pp. 35-48 in Pinheiro, Marília P. Futre, Judith Perkins, and Richard Pervo, eds. 2013. The Ancient Novel and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative Fictional Intersections. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 16. Havertown: Barkhuis.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

Walsh, P.G. trans. 1996. Petronius Arbiter. The Satyricon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Webb, Clement Charles Julian. 1909. John of Salisbury. Ioannis Saresberiensis episcopi Carnotensis Policratici sive De nvgis cvrialivm et vestigiis philosophorvm libri VIII. Oxonnii: e typographeo Clarendoniano.

Widdows, P.F. trans. 1992. The fables of Phaedrus. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Honorat Bovet on exploiting prisoners in medieval jails

Honorat Bovet, L'apparicion maistre jehan de meun

In France in 1398, the legal scholar and minor government functionary Honorat Bovet summoned his courage, scholarly learning, and literary skill to deliver a scathing policy review to leading French court officials. Bovet’s policy review began with an abstract, ambiguously addressed, double-hedged declaration:

To all those who would hear the truth spoken may God give the determination to uphold and to proclaim it, where the opportunity presents itself, without duly offending anyone. [1]

He supported that statement with a Latin gloss citing relevant canon law. Bovet’s policy review took the form of a dream vision. In his sleep, the review narrator, a prior, perceived the brilliant and audacious scholar Jean de Meun conducting interviews with four marginalized or suspect medieval figures: a physician, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Dominican friar.[2] These figures delivered wide-ranging, radical critiques of French policy. The critique of financially exploiting prisoners illustrates both Honorat Bovet’s policy concerns and his treacherous position.

Financially exploiting prisoners occurred in medieval French jails rather like in U.S. jails and prisons today. In 1394, King Charles VI of France decreed that prisoners be allowed to purchase food provided from outside the jail. Without that opportunity, prisoners were forced to pay for food whatever prices the jailer chose to charge. Charles VI also capped release fees that jailers could charge prisoners and decreed that no fees could be charged to prisoners who have been unjustly imprisoned.[3] In a recent order, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission capped the rates that prisoners may be charged for interstate telephone calls. Prisoners previously had been subjected to whatever telephones rates the service provider arranged to charge.

Speaking through the Muslim, Honorat Bovet indicated that existing regulation of jails was insufficient. The Muslim declared:

I do not dare to speak of how jailers
Oversee their prisoners;
But I have been told along the way
That their tableware and wine, they get from prisoners:
Neither gold nor silver will he take with him,
The prisoner who leaves the jail.
When someone tells him that this is a crime,
And he always replies at once
That the jail costs him a great deal of money
And that he’ll never lose a single cent while running it.
If the king knew what went on there,
He would never tolerate such a thing. [4]

Jails in the U.S. today commonly receive roughly half the revenue collected for prisoners’ telephone calls. Like jailers in fourteenth-century France, jailers today claim that they need revenue from charges to prisoners for telephone calls in order to continue to allow prisoners to call the outside world.

The issue is politically difficult. In Honorat Bovet’s policy review, the Dominican friar presented the issue as concerning the extent and recipient of the financial extractions from prisoners:

The Saracen {Muslim} says of jailers
That they despoil their prisoners,
But this much is certain:
That the jail revenue belongs to the crown,
And that, truly, it is not small sums
That are raised in the jails.
It is against the law of charity,
And the king is not well informed:
He could take the matter in hand,
And put a person {in charge} who would, in all certainty,
Levy the royal right properly,
Without harming the aforesaid prisoners. [5]

Like the Muslim, the friar highlighted the king’s lack of knowledge: “the king is not well-informed.” The friar shrewdly appealed to the financial interests of the king. At the same time, the friar also urged that royal rights to financial extractions from prisoners be exercised properly, without harm to prisoners.

Honorat Bovet’s policy review was fundamentally concerned with incentives and government. Its narrator represented the complacent elite, relaxing after dinner in a Parisian garden. Jean de Meun castigated him:

You sit there eating, like a pig,
Doing no good for anyone. [6]

Jean de Meun urged the narrator to speak out for reform. The narrator responded:

I do not know what I am supposed to say in this day and age, because the world is too perilous and the courts of princes too dangerous. And if it please you to recall some ancient teachings, Valerius Maximus repeated the opinion of a very wise senator who once, when he saw that the Republic was being governed poorly, did not wish to give his opinion in the council, and so replied: “By my faith,” he proclaimed, “My words have I often regretted; my silence, never.” And for that reason, in my opinion, when the world is a dangerous place, one does well to keep silent and to live through this time. What is more, the world takes for a fool the man who seeks to write of new things.

Honorat Bovet’s Latin gloss provided a counterpoint to Valerius Maximus’s conventional wisdom:

This happened at a time when the Republic had the sort of tyrants that a false criminal accusation would be sought in whatever way against such innocent persons, so that through it they would suffer death and thus their goods would be confiscated to the public treasury. Therefore at that time crimes were imputed not with references to persons but riches. Therefore from such a malign rule deliver us, O Lord!

Financial interests can corrupt criminal justice. Crime shouldn’t pay. That’s easy to say with respect to criminals. That’s much harder to describe and criticize with respect to the governing elite.[7]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Honorat Bovet, L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun 83, from French trans. Hanly (2005) p. 63. Older scholarship commonly refers to Honorat Bovet as Honoré Bonet. In 1387, Bovet wrote Arbre des Batailles (The Tree of Battles of Honoré Bonet). François Velde has provided a summary of it.

[2] Honorat Bovet was the Prior of Selonnet in Provence. Despite the dream and distanced voices of L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun, insightful readers would have recognized through those fictions Honorat Bovet’s policy critique. Hanly (2005) p. 35.  On the other hand, the four royal officials to whom Bovet’s dedicated copies probably lacked the learning to appreciate his Latin glosses and scholarly citations. Id. p. 3.

[3] Hanly (2005) p. 208, n. 88 continued.

[4] Honorat Bovet, L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun l. 817-28, trans. id. pp. 109-10. In a Latin marginal gloss to these lines, Bovet wrote, “O God, how much sin and how much tyranny reign in the jails of France!” P2.21, trans. id. p. 207.

[5] L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun l. 1396-1414, trans. id. p. 141.  The Muslim is referred to as a Saracen; the Domincan friar, as a Jacobin.

[6] L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun l. 14-15, trans. id. p. 65. The subsequent two quotes are m. 103-12, trans. id. pp. 67, 69, and P1.19, trans. id. p. 180.

[7] Completed in 1398, Bovet’s work was largely ignored for more than four centuries:

Since the political effort represented by the Apparicion maistre Jehan de Meun ultimately failed, and might even have put an end to Bovet’s career at court, his program appears to have been grounded in misplaced belief in both the good will and the intellectual ability of the most powerful French nobles. … Honorat Bovet addressed his poetic appeal to a very difficult audience, and hindsight would suggest that such criticism could hardly have the desired effect. But it seems hard to believe that the man would have written the poem — and paid for two deluxe presentation copies, to boot — if he did not give it at least an even chance of winning over hearts and minds. Given his circumstances, therefore, Bovet’s optimism is extraordinary, and even inspirational. … Il pourra bien venir un jour.

Id. pp. 1, 4, 56.

[image] Maistre Jehan de Meun (Jean de Meun) introducing the prior to the physician, the Jew, the Muslim, and the Dominican friar. BNF fonds Français 810 (Honoré Bovet, Vision du prieur de Salon) fol. 6v. Thanks to Bibliothèque nationale de France and Gallica.


Hanly, Michael G. 2005. Honorat Bovet. Medieval Muslims, Christians, and Jews in dialogue: the apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun of Honorat Bovet : a critical edition with English translation. Tempe, Ariz: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.