Maximianus lacked consolation of Lady Philosophy & Boethius

Maximianus’s sixth-century elegiac poetry lacked the consolation of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. Unlike Lady Philosophy taking Boethius home, Maximianus through a series of demoralizing sexual relationships aged into a bitter old man. Maximianus is the unsaved Boethius, boasting in his social status, exploiting the power of money, and living in memories. Because his achievements couldn’t secure for him stasis in incarnate life, Maximianus sought death. Without understanding, he achieved it.

Lady Philosophy (Lady Grammar) teaching her children

Maximianus’s most enduring intimate relationship failed from sameness and stasis. He had a long-term relationship with Lycoris, a lady as lovely as the Lycoris of Cornelius Gallus’s famous elegies. Maximianus explained:

Lo, lovely Lycoris too much loved by me,
our minds, our very lives one and the same,
though we had lived for many years united,
in loathing now has rejected my embrace
and seeks other younger men and loves.

{ En dilecta mihi nimium formosa Lycoris,
cum qua mens eadem, res fuit una mihi,
post multos quibus indiuisi uiximus annos
respuit amplexus heu pauefacta meos,
iamque alios iuuenes aliosque requirit amores }[1]

Lack of polarity — minds and lives one and the same — kills sexual unions. Maximianus ignorantly pleaded with Lycoris:

I’m aged, but your hair’s as white as mine:
our equal age brings harmony of souls.

{ sum grandaeuus ego, nec tu minus alba capillis:
par aetas animos conciliare solet }

Equal age brings harmony only in the mind. Memories similarly are only assets in the mind:

If I cannot now, remember, once I could:
suffice it to please you that I pleased you before.

{ si modo non possum, quondam potuisse memento:
sit satis ut placeam me placuisse prius. }

Suffice that didn’t. Virgil wisely observed that women are always varying and responding to circumstances, and that men must live with similar dynamism.[2] Maximianus begged for love to endure as memory:

Old reverence still remains for worn-out farmers,
the soldier loves what he saw in the veteran,
the rustic weeps for the bullock which has served him,
the rider honors the horse with whom he aged.

{ permanet inualidis reuerentis prisca colonis,
quod fuit in uetulo milite, miles amat,
rusticus expertum deflet cessisse iuuencum,
cum quo consenuit uictor honorat equum. }

Reverence for an old farmer differs significantly from appreciation for being vigorously plowed. Life is in the performance:

Time has not spoiled me so of my earlier blooming:
look, I make verses and sing sweet ditties for you.

{ non me adeo primis spoliauit floribus aetas:
en uersus facio et media dicta cano. }

The fundamental performance is the word made flesh, not the flesh made word.

Maximianus’s work negotiating an international peace treaty was less significant than the proclamation of a Greek dancing girl. As a legate from Rome to the East, Maximianus negotiated a peace treaty between two kingdoms. Then he fell in love with a young Greek dancing girl. She radiated feminine sensuality:

A thrill it was counting her curls as they shook with her motion,
and it was a thrill to see her dark hair on white skin.
Her nipples stood firmly forth, bewildering our eyes,
while her breasts you could squeeze in the hollow of your hand.
Ah, how her writhing loins stirred the spectator’s lust
and also the round plump thighs that joined her stomach beneath!

{ grande erat inflexos gradibus numerare capillos,
grande erat in niueo pulla colore coma.
urebant oculos stantes duraeque papillae
et quas astringens clauderet una manus.
ah, quantum mentem stomachi fultura mouebat
atque sub exhausto pectore pingue femur! }[3]

Maximianus understood his role narrowly and impersonally. In his first night with her, he declared that his penis had “paid its debt {sua solvit}.” However, under the weight of the inward gaze of internalized misandry, Maximianus’s penis stopped functioning. The girl made vigorous and valiant efforts to revive his vitality. Maximianus, however, remained sexually inert. Seeking to sooth his grief and hurt, the girl sang a tearful, praising lament:

Penis, the busy provider of festive days,
once the delight of my heart and a treasure to me,
what dirge can I moan for you, drowned in your tears?
What songs shall I sing for you worthy of such great merits?
You were accustomed to please me when I was lustful
and to divert my passion with fun and games.
You were my fondest guardian throughout the night,
the dear companion of sadness as well as joy.
You were the most faithful confidant of my secrets,
standing at guard with indulgent intimacy.
Where has your fervor gone, which would strike and please me?
Where is its crested and wound-producing head?
You’re certainly limp, no longer suffused with a blush,
pale, with your head held low, you’re certainly limp.
My blandishments and charming songs do nothing for you,
nor anything which could coax your passion avails.
Here I shall weep for you just as if you were dead.
Yes, it is dead because it lacked careful attention.

{ mentula, festorum cultrix operosa dierum,
quondam deliciae diuitiaeque meae,
quo te deiectam lacrimarum gurgite plangam,
quae de tot meritis carmina digna feram?
tu mihi flagranti succurrere saepe solebas
atque aestus animi ludificare mei.
tu mihi per totam custos gratissima noctem
consors laetitiae tristitiaeque meae,
conscia secreti semper fidissima nostri,
astans internis peruigil obsequiis:
quo tibi feruor abit per quem feritura placebas,
quo tibi cristatum uulnificumque caput?
nempe iaces nullo, ut quondam, perfusa rubore,
pallida demisso uertice nempe iaces.
nil tibi blandities, nil dulcia carmina prosunt,
non quicquid mentem sollicitare solet.
hic uelut exposito meritam te fungere plango:
occidit, assueto quod caret officio. }[4]

The Greek girl lavished Maximianus’s body with loving attention. His sexual death resulted from his own lack of attention to himself.

Unlike Maximianus himself, the Greek girl recognized the universal significance of Maximianus’s sexuality. In response to her tearful, praising lament for his limp penis, he laughed at her and suggested that she was sick with carnal yearning. As a strong, independent woman with a clear-reasoning mind, she denounced his narrow-minded betrayal:

She raged, “You’re wrong, you traitor, dead wrong!
I’m lamenting not a private, but universal chaos.
This generates the race of humans, the herds,
the birds, the beasts, whatever breathes in this world.
Without it, there is no coming-together of sexes.
Without it, the consummate joy of marriage is gone.
This it is that draws two minds to a single agreement
in order to transform into one body two souls.
With its loss a beautiful woman loses her beauty
and if he has lost it a man turns ugly as well.
If this sparkling seed is not sown in a shining soil,
it becomes but another deceptive and deadly weed.
Pure truthfulness, well-kept secrets whisper to you,
O truly our bountiful, beautiful, fruit-bearing blessing!
You are very happy, I say, suited for the happy,
lo, take and use the delights that are kindred to us!

You force the raging tigers to a mutual affection,
by you the lion is rendered both gentle and tame.
Your virtue is marvelous, so is your patience: the conquered
you love, and you often love to be conquered yourself.
When overcome you lie low. You then resume strength and vigor,
and once again you defeat and then are defeated.
Your anger is brief, your pity is great, joy recurring,
and whenever your power is lost your purpose remains”

{ illa furens, “nescis, ut cerno, perfide, nescis:
non fleo priuatum, set generale chaos.
haec genus humanum, pecudum, uolucrumque, ferarum
et quicquid toto spirat in orbe, creat.
hac sine diuersi nulla est concordia sexus,
hac sine coniugii gratia summa perit.
haec geminas tanto constringit foedere mentes,
unius ut faciat corporis esse duo.
pulcra licet pretium, si desit, femina perdit,
et si defuerit, uir quoque turpis erit.
haec si gemma micans rutilum non conferat aurum
externum fallax mortiferumque genus.
tecum pura fides secretaque certa loquuntur,
o uere nostrum fructiferumque bonum!
ualde, inquam, felix, semper felicibus apta,
en tibi cognatis utere deliciis!

tu cogis rabidas affectum discere tigres,
per te blandus amans redditur ipse leo.
mira tibi uirtus, mira est patientia: uictos
diligis et uinci tu quoque saepe uoles.
cum superata iaces, uires animosque resumis
atque iterum uinci, uincere rursus amas.
ira breuis, longa est pietas, recidiua uoluptas,
et cum posse perit, mens tamen una manet.” }[5]

Maximianus’s work negotiating international peace treaties was trivial relative to the sexual potential of his body.[6] He lost his purpose because he failed to understand.

While the Greek girl was Lady Philosophy in the bedroom, Maximianus’s Boethius parodied Boethius. Maximianus as a young man was lovesick for the young woman Aquilina. She was also lovesick for him. Her parents impeded their union. Maximianus in despair cried out to Boethius, whom he called “the greatest investigator of the biggest things {magnarum scrutator maxime rerum}.”[7] While Boethius’s Boethius couldn’t diagnosis his own despair, Maximianus’s Boethius diagnosed Maximianus’s lovesickness. Maximianus’s Boethius effected a cure through buying off Aquilina’s parents. When Aquilina became available to him, Maximianus lost interest in her. In response to his coldness, her love turned to hate. Boethius boasted of this cure. Maximianus left Boethius to lead a life of chastity as a sullen, unhappy person. That’s not the end of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy.[8]

Maximianus’s elegiac poetry ends as it begins — with death-oriented prayer not directed to God above.[9] Worldly incarnation is sexual. Maximianus’s elegiac poetry emphasizes failure in sexual acts and offers instead living in memories and words:

Unhappy as though from a funeral, I rise:
although my part is dead, I live I think.

{ infelix ceu iam defleto funere surgo
hac me defunctum uiuere parte puto. }[10]

In Latin, this couplet has an end rhyme in the verbs for “rise” and “think.” The Latin etymology of mentula (“penis”) suggests “little mind.”

Be brave enough to follow the lead of the Greek girl. Speak the name of the penis. In the universal order, human life continues only with the rising penis.

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[1] Maximianus, Elegies 2.1-5, from Latin trans. (modified slightly) from Lind (1988) p. 326. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from Maximianus similarly use Lind’s translation, modified slight. I’ve noted more significant changes to Lind’s translation. The line numbers refer to Lind’s translation. They follows the Latin line numbers closely. The subsequent four quotes are from 2.55-64. Maximianus’s Latin text is available online.

With his edition of 1501, the young Venetian humanist Pomponius Gauricus established the division of Maximianus’s work into six elegies. In the surviving medieval manuscripts, Maximianus’s work appears continuous, with widely varying graphic marks indicating sections. Wasly (2011) pp. 113-4, inc. n. 9. I use the division of the poetry only for conventional referencing. My interpretation favors the unity of the elegies.

Gauricus attributed Maximianus’s elegiac poetry to the famed Augustine elegist Cornelius Gallus. Gallus was distinctively associated with a mistress named Lycoris. Several fourteenth-century manuscripts similarly attribute the poetry to Gallus. In one of the best manuscripts, Maximianus’s elegiac poetry is included with Ovid’s Remedia Amoris. Id. p. 113, n. 5.

Nothing is known about Maximianus other than what is inferred from the poetry. The name Maximianus comes from within the text at 4.26. The author probably wrote in the mid-sixth century. The extent to which Maximianus’s elegiac poetry is autobiographical is controversial among scholars. Walker (1689), the first published English translation, offers a realistic-biographical interpretation. Maximianus’s poetry is highly literary and intertextual, particularly with reference to Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and Ovid. On Maximianus’s intertextuality with Ovid, see especially Amores 3.7 and Uden & Fielding (2010). I refer to the narrator / author as Maximianus merely for ease of reference.

Perhaps some or all of another, closely related set of six anonymous poems are also by Maximianus. Barnish (1990) p. 16. When I refer to Maximianus’s elegiac poetry, I mean the six poems of the established Maximianus tradition.

Maximianus’s poetry was highly popular in late medieval Europe. It was used as a medieval school text. Lind (1988) p. 309.

[2] Virgil, Aeneid 4.569: varium et mutabile semper femina (woman is always varying and circumstantially responsive).

[3] Maximianus, Elegies 5.25-30. The subsequent brief quote is from 5.47.

[4] Maximianus, Elegies 5.86-104. The opening Latin word of address is mentula. Lind translates that with the disparaging term “pecker.” Above I substituted the objective term “penis.”

[5] Maximianus, Elegies 5.109-24, 145-52. The Latin for 5.110 is non fleo priuatum, set generale chaos. Lind has “I’m not lamenting a private, but general chaos.” Above I’ve clarified the position of the negative and replaced “general” with “universal” to bring out the cosmic, generative connotation. Lind’s 5.111 begins “This member …”  The Latin has only haec (this). That’s what I’ve used above.

[6] Insightfully directing attention to the “Ode to Mentula” (5.109-53), Tandy (2015) interprets it as carrying the universal meaning that the contemporary Roman world is “frustrated, old, and dying.” From a Christian perspective, the personal and the universal are intimately connected. Just as in Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Christian understanding in Maximianus’s elegiac poetry is subtle and fundamental.

[7] Maximianus, Elegies 3.47-8, my literal translation. Lind has “lone investigator of the universe.” The above paragraph describes the plot of elegy three. Mitchell (2003), p. 379, observes that elegy three is “on any reckoning potentially rich with irony at the expense of Boethius.”

[8] Elegy 3 ends with Maximianus leaving Boethius to live a sullen life of chastity. Elegy 5 ends with the Greek girl leaving Maximianus in sorrow. In the apt phrase of Wasyl (2011), Maximianus offers elegy without love. That’s no consolation.

Barnish (1990), pp. 25-8, reads the Greek girl {Graia puella} as an adaptation of Boethius’s “musical and highly Greek lady Philosophy.” Barnish, however, contrasts the sexual interests of the Greek girl with the intellectual interests of Philosophy. That contrast seems to me overdrawn. Lady Philosophy has conjugal interests in Boethius. The Greek girl has deep intellectual understanding of the world.

Uden & Fielding (2010), pp. 453-4, relate elegy 5 to Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy 3.7:

Such is every pleasure
goading those enjoying it,
and like swarming bees
that have poured out their pleasing honey,
it flees, and strikes our hearts
with a too lasting sting.

{ Habet hoc voluptas omnis,
stimulis agit fruentes
apiumque par volantum,
ubi grata mella fudit,
fugit et nimis tenaci
ferit icta corda morsu. }

Latin text and English translation from Stuart, Rand & Tester (1973). Those words of Lady Philosophy plausible refer to Boethius’s activities with the “cute little theater whores {scenicae meretriculae}” of 1.1. Lady Philosophy and her muses seek to bring Boethius to a truer and happier loving union. Id., p. 457, emphasizes in Maximianus “ongoing conflict between the will of the flesh and the will of the mind.” Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy ends that conflict.

The Greek girl is much more forward than Lady Philosophy. Wasyl (2011) perceptively observes:

She {the Greek girl} focuses precisely on the problem of sex, rejecting the asexual or anti-sexual vision of the world. What she emphasizes is the creative power of mentula … and – which sounds particularly worthy of note – in human beings, the natural correlation between the body, epitomized, so to speak, by the phallus, and the mind. These two elements, the woman seems to warn, must be seen as complementary.

Id. pp. 154-5.

[9] Compare Maximianus, Elegies 1.1-8 to 6.1-2.

[10] For Maximianus, Elegies 6.11-2:

infelix ceu iam defleto funere surgo
hac me defunctum uiuere parte puto.

Lind translated:

Unhappy as though from a funeral I arise:
Although my member is dead I shall live in my art.

Cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses XV.871-9. Uden & Fielding (2010), p. 457, translates the last couplet:

I rise unhappily, as it were from my lamented funeral rites:
though dead in this part, I think that I live on.

Id. alternatively translates the last line as “Although my member is dead, I think I live on.” My translation above tries to preserve the subtlety of Maximianus’s poetry, particularly the resonances of the end-rhymed verbs “rise” and “think” in relation to Maximianus’s obliquely specified mentula / parte.

[image] Lady Grammar teaching the rules of Latin to her children. Illumination from tenth-century instance of  Martianus Capella, Marriage of Philology and Mercury. Folio 127, Latin 7900 A, Département des Manuscrits, BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France), Paris. Thanks to BnF and Wikimedia Commons.


Barnish, S. J. B. 1990. “Maximian, Cassiodorus, Boethius, Theodahad: Literature, Philosophy and Politics in Ostrogothic Italy.” Nottingham Medieval Studies. 34 (1): 16-32.

Lind, L. R., trans. 1988. Gabriele Zerbi, Gerontocomia: on the care of the aged ; and Maximianus, Elegies on old age and love. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Mitchell, J. Allan. 2003. “Boethius and Pandarus: A Source in Maximian’s Elegies.” Notes and Queries. 50 (4): 377-380.

Stewart, H. F., E. K. Rand, S. J. Tester, ed. and trans. 1973. Boethius. Theological Tractates. The Consolation of Philosophy. Loeb Classical Library 74. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tandy, Sean. 2015. “The ‘Ode to Mentula’ and the Interpretation of Maximianus’ Opus.” Presentation at the 111th Meeting of  Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), Boulder, CO, March 25-28.

Uden, James, and Ian Fielding. 2010. “Latin Elegy in the Old Age of the World: The Elegiac Corpus of Maximianus.” Arethusa. 43 (3): 439-460.

Walker, Hovenden, trans. 1689. Maximianus. The Impotent lover: accurately described in six elegies upon old age; with the old doting letcher’s resentments on the past pleasures and vigorous performances of youth. Made English from the Latin of Cn. Cornelius Gallus. By H. Walker, Gent. London: Printed for B. Crayle at the Peacock and Bible at the West end of St. Paul’s Church.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2011. Genres Rediscovered: Studies in Latin Miniature Epic, Love Elegy, and Epigram of the Romano-Barbaric Age. Kraków: Jagiellonian University Press.

De miseria humanae conditionis: elegant medieval Latin design

Salisbury Cathedral: elegant design

In 1195, the young cardinal Lotario dei Segni dedicated a text to his older friend and near-classmate among cardinals, Peter Gallocia. Lotario’s prologue intimately related:

I lately took a bit of rest during my many troubles, the occasion of which you know; but I did not spend this time in complete idleness. Rather, to put down pride, the chief of all vices, I undertook to write, as best I could, something about the vileness of the human condition. This little work I have dedicated to you, asking only that if your keen mind find in it anything worthwhile, you attribute all to divine grace. Yet if your lordship approve it, I will henceforth, with Christ’s favor, describe also the dignity of human nature; so that, as in the present work the proud man is brought low, in that the humble man will be exalted. [1]

The text that Lotario dedicated to Peter — De miseria humanae conditionis (On the misery of the human condition) — is a woeful treatise. It contains:

  • Book 1 — The miserable entrance upon the human condition
  • Book 2 — The guilty progress of the human condition
  • Book 3 — The damnable exit from the human condition

Lotario probably wasn’t seeking to immerse his friend and colleague in misery. Misery is only part of the design. In the prologue, Lotario explicitly presents himself as humble. Moreover, he planned another, complementary work that would exalt the dignity of human nature. Humiliating the proud and exalting the humble is a theme of Mary’s Magnificat and a pattern of Jesus’s life. From an all-encompassing perspective, De miseria humanae conditionis has an elegant design. Its appeal is reflected in its reception: it was a widely disseminated and highly influential medieval and early modern text.[2]

Lotario was concerned with words and with acting in the world. Lotario, who was from a wealthy family, explained:

How many magnates are in need, and how much, I myself frequently experience. Wealth thus makes a man not rich, but poor. [3]

Lotario’s lived experience connected to his rhetorical contrast. Lotario’s experience among the elite of the Roman curia apparently shaped his figures of vanity and prompted personal meta-commentary:

“All things are vanity, as is every man living.” For what is more vain than to comb the locks, paint the face, smooth the hair on the head, rouge the checks, elongate the eyebrows, when “Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain.” … But let me pass over the adornment of the person, lest I seem to be attacking some men more in malice than in truth.” [4]

More than a century before Dante wrote his Commedia, Lotario perceived that in Hell, “evil-doers will be punished in those parts {of their bodies} where they have sinned.”[5] An even wider span of sense occurs in Lotario’s discussion of variations of punishment in Hell. He declared that quantity of punishment will be ordered, but the quality of punishment will be uniform:

there will be no order in quality: they will all be plunged from icy water into unbearable heat, so that the sudden extremes will inflict a more dread torment. For I have found from experience that if one who has been burnt applies cold, he feels a more burning pain. [6]

Dante within his Commedia insisted that his verbal figures were real. Lotario’s verbal figures implied real experience to him.

Lotario considered carefully the order of words in relation to truth. He recounted a scholastic exemplum:

Once a certain philosopher, wishing to ridicule the arrogance of a certain king, when he saw him sitting up high on the royal throne, fell down on the earth and worshiped him as a suppliant. And then all of a sudden without invitation he went up and sat beside the king. The king was amazed, and knowing that the man was a philosopher demanded the reason why he had done this. Whereupon the philosopher replied: “Either you are God or you are a man; if God, I must worship you; if a man, I may sit beside you.” But the king, turning the philosopher’s answer against him, retorted: “But then, if I am a man, you must not worship me; if God, you must not sit beside me.” The philosopher replied wisely, but the king cleverly outmaneuvered him. [7]

Such wisdom and cleverness wasn’t for Lotario merely a human technique to pursue human ends. Arrangements and re-arrangements of words in exploring truth forms the elegant verbal design of De miseria humanae conditionis.

Death is called a meeting, because Christ comes to meet the soul.

{ Dicitur obitus, quia obviam venit ei Christus. }

Should I say the tolerable intolerance of diseases, or should I say the intolerable tolerance? I should better join both together, for it is intolerable because of the severity of the suffering and tolerable because of the necessity of suffering.

{ Tolerabilem dixerim morborum intoleranciam, aut intolerabilem dixerim toleranciam? Melius utrumque coniunxerim, nam intolerabilis est propter passionis acerbitatem et tolerabilis propter paciendi necessitatem. }

Not what law decrees, but what your mind desires. You do not incline your intellect to justice, but incline justice to your intellect; not that what is lawful may be pleasing, but that what is pleasing may be lawful.

{ Non quod lex sanctiat, set quod mens cupiat. Non inclinatis animum ad iusticiam, set iusticiam inclinatis ad animum; non ut quod licet hoc libeat, set ut liceat hoc quod libet. }

Profit in the bank, loss in conscience; you capture money, but you take your soul captive.

{ Lucrum in archa, dampnum in consciencia; pecuniam captatis, set animam captivatis. }

A person is valued according to his wealth, when wealth should be valued according to the person.

{ Secundum fortunam estimatur persona, cum pocius secundum personam sit estimanda fortuna. }

Their nervousness makes them depressed, and their depression makes them nervous.

{ Conturbat tristicia, contristat turbacio. } [8]

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[1] Lotario dei Segni, De miseria humanae conditionis Prologue, from Latin trans. Dietz (1969) p. 3. Here’s a Latin text. Maccarrone (1955) provides a Latin text based mainly on Biblioteca Vallicelliana (Rome) MS. F. 26. Lewis (1978) p. 65, n. 1, criticizes that choice and notes that Maccarrone’s edition is based on “study of fewer than 30 percent of the extant manuscripts.” Lewis (1978) provides a Latin edition that attempts to reconstruct the text that Chaucer read. Id. includes a critical apparatus that provides variant readings.

Manuscript variants have rather little significance for the discussion here. Different manuscripts have different orders of chapters, and some omit some chapters. Chapters 2, 3, and 8 in Book 3 are commonly omitted. See Lewis, Appendix III. Lotario is also spelled Lothario. De miseria humanae conditionis is variously spelled De miseria humane conditionis and De miseria conditionis humanae. It’s also commonly titled De Contemptu Mundi. That title, however, is neither original nor appropriate:

The de contemptu mundi tradition of the century or two before Lotario stressed withdrawal from the world and secular affairs. De Miseria more accurately describes the contents of this treatise, one which is admittedly one-sided, stressing the misery of the human condition but consciously reserving the dignity of human nature for a treatise to be written later. It is a treatise, moreover, which does not call for withdrawal to a monastery.

Moore (1981) pp. 554-5.

Lotario was born in 1160 or 1161 within the powerful Roman Conti family. His father was Count Trasimund of Segni. Lotario studied under leading scholars at the leading universities of Paris and Bologna. In 1190, when he was about 30, Lotario’s uncle Pope Clement III made him a cardinal-deacon. When Celestine III became Pope in 1191, Lotario was not relieved of his duties as a cardinal. Moore (1981) p. 554. Cf. Dietz & Howard (1969) p. xxi.  Lotario wrote De miseria humanae conditionis in 1195. In 1198, at age 37, Lotario became Pope Innocent III. Patrologia Latina includes many writings of Lotario dei Segni / Pope Innocent III.

Peter Gallocia (Galluzzi) was born about 1125 in Rome. In 1188, Pope Clement III made him a cardinal-deacon. In 1190, Gallocia became cardinal-bishop of the Diocese of Porto and Santa Rufina. Under the leadership of his long-time friend Lotario dei Segni / Pope Innocent III, Gallocia became Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals in April, 1206.

[2] About 672 manuscripts of De miseria humanae conditionis have survived. Through the mid-seventeenth century, about 52 editions had been printed. By the end of the seventeenth century, it had been translated into Dutch, English, Flemish, French, German, Irish, Italian, and Spanish. It was widely read and quoted, and greatly influenced other writers. Lewis (1978) pp. 3-5. De miseria humanae conditionis has far more literary importance than merely as a source for Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale.

[3] De miseria humanae conditionis 2.8 (“On riches falsely named”), trans. Moore (1981) p. 559. The translation of Dietz (1969), p. 39, has a minor inaccuracy in the verb tense.

[4] De miseria humanae conditionis 2.40 (“On the adornment of the person, table, and house”), trans. Dietz (1969) combined with Moore (1981), p. 559. Id. notes that aliquos is masculine. For that term above I’ve used “some men.” Christian men writers championing women’s natural beauty frequently condemned women’s cosmetics and woman’s personal adornment.

[5] De miseria humanae conditionis 3.9 (“On the fire of Hell”). A structural feature of punishment in Dante’s Inferno is contrapasso: punishment physically fitted to the sinful act. Armour (2000) traces contrapasso to Dante from Aristotle through Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, Albert of Cologne and Thomas Aquinas, but ignores Lotario dei Segni.

[6] De miseria humanae conditionis 3.11 (“On the variations in punishment”), trans. Dietz (1969) p. 78.

[7] De miseria humanae conditionis 2.36 (“On the qualities of the arrogant”), trans. Dietz (1969) p. 61.

[8] De miseria humanae conditionis,referenced in Dietz (1969): 3.3 (“On the coming of Christ on the day of any man’s death”), p. 70; 1.26 (“That there are innumerable kinds of illness”), p. 29; 2.4 (“On respect of persons”), p. 35; 2.5 (“On the sale of justice”), p. 37; 1.15 (“On the misery of the rich and poor”), p. 17; 1.14 (“Of various anxieties”), p. 16. The translations also draw on Lewis (1978) and my adaptations.

Lotario’s non ut quod licet hoc libeat, set ut liceat hoc quod libet echoes thematically Arundel Lyrics 16.31-36:

Lex amoris anxia
lex est legum nescia,
lex obvia
legum racioni.
{Love’s law causes anguish, a law ignorant of laws, a law opposed to the very principle of laws.}

Trans. McDonough (2010) p. 79. The Arundel Lyrics are thought to have been composed between 1171 and 1185 and “not widely accessible for imitation by others.” Id. p. ix, xv.

[image] Salisbury Cathedral (Wiltshire, England), view looking west from the choir towards the nave. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0, available on Wikimedia Commons.


Armour, Peter. 2000. “Dante’s Contrapasso: Context and Texts.” Italian Studies. 55 (1): 1-20.

Dietz, Margaret Mary, trans. and Donald R. Howard, ed. 1969. Lothario dei Segni. On the misery of the human condition. De miseria humane conditionis. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Lewis, Robert E., ed. and trans. 1978. Lotario dei Segni. De miseria conditionis humanae. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Maccarrone, Michele, ed. 1955. Lotario dei Segni. Lotharii cardinalis (Innocentii III) De miseria humane conditionis. Lugano: Thesauri Mundi.

McDonough, Christopher James, ed. and trans. 2010. The Arundel lyrics; The poems of Hugh Primas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Moore, John C. 1981. “Innocent III’s De Miseria Humanae Conditionis: A Speculum Curiae?” The Catholic Historical Review. 67 (4): 553-564.

understanding the misery of sexless and married men

beautiful woman, sexless men

In 1195, Lotario dei Segni, a young man of privilege and achievement, wrote De miseria humanae conditionis (On the misery of the human condition). The status of De miseria humanae conditionis as a masterwork of medieval rhetoric has tended to obscure its contribution to the literature of men’s sexed protest. De miseria humanae conditionis recognizes the natural burden of men’s lustful nature and the misery of sexless and married men. Public policies that better accommodate men’s natural burden can lessen gender inequality and increase the happiness of women and men. Men’s misery is everyone’s misery.

Within its extensive description of human misery, De miseria humanae conditionis marshaled wide-ranging authorities on men’s misery in sexlessness and marriage. The relevant chapter begins aphoristically:

Only as fire does not burn, does flesh not lust
{Si potest ignis non urere, potest caro non concupiscere} [1]

The chapter then provides a biblical figure. Like the Jebusite in Jerusalem, lust is an aboriginal inhabitant in the land of humanity.[2] The chapter further adds non-Christian authority from an epistle praising rural life to a city-loving friend:

You may drive nature out with a pitchfork,
But she will come back again. [3]

Wisdom, holy scripture, and pagan authority make for a weighty argument. Condemning men’s lust means condemning men. Lust is an inextricable part of men’s human nature.

Socially recognized states of celibacy and marriage regulate men’s sexuality. For men burning with lust, the normative course is to turn formally from celibacy to marriage. De miseria humanae conditionis forthrightly acknowledged men’s subordination within marriage:

She {a wife} wants to master, and will not be mastered. She will not be a servant, she must be in charge. She must have a finger in everything. [4]

De miseria humanae conditionis influentially described three mundane problems that promote homelessness among married men:

There are three things which keep a man from staying home: smoke, a leaky roof, and a shrewish wife.

De miseria humanae conditionis incorporates material from Theophrastus’s golden book on marriage. However, reversing Jerome’s gynocentrism, De miseria humanae conditionis transformed the various ways that men attract women into various ways that women attract men.[5] Jerome sought to dissuade women from marriage. Given men’s natural burden of lust and the miseries of marriage for men, dissuading men from marriage is the more important task.

De miseria humanae conditionis describes the dilemma of a husband with an adulterous wife. Men’s natural lustfulness leaves them without appealing choices as husbands:

the burden of marriage is heavy indeed, for “He that keeps an adulteress is foolish and wicked,” and he is the very protector of shame who conceals his wife’s crime. But if he puts away the adulteress he is punished for no fault of his own, since while she is alive he is forced to be continent. [6]

Being forced to be continent oppresses men. Yet living with an adulteress-wife is also difficult:

Who could ever calmly put up with a rival? Suspicion alone tortures the jealous man, for although it is written, “They shall be two in one flesh,” a man’s jealousy will scarcely tolerate two men in the flesh of one woman.

Upon divorce, gender-biased family courts commonly deprive men of custody of their children and impose crushing monthly payments that ex-husbands must make to their ex-wives. To promote gender equality, some men today are learning to support their adulterous wives within marriage. Yet educating men to embrace adulterous wives falls short of overcoming the effects of anti-men gender bias in family courts. The lustful man gets married at his peril.

De miseria humanae conditionis includes delightful elements of self-consciousness and satire. After a lengthy, lengthy enumeration of sinners of specific types, Lotario adds “and finally those ensnared in all vices together.” In a chapter on compassion, Lotario speculates that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus “perhaps because He had called the dead man back to the miseries of life.” Lotario, who was a priest, declares that lust assails even priests:

who embrace Venus at night, and then worship the Virgin at dawn. … At night they excite the son of Venus on a bed, at dawn they offer the Son of the Virgin on an altar. [7]

Some medieval Christians idealized those who restrained from sex within marriage.[8] In De miseria humanae conditionis, Lotario titled a chapter “De miseria continentis et coniugati” (“The misery of those restraining from sex and married”). Given Lotario’s keen recognition of men’s natural burden of lust, perceiving satire in that chapter title isn’t anachronistic.[9]

While anti-men gender bias in family courts and forced financial fatherhood must be addressed, broader policy initiatives are needed to lessen men’s misery from their natural burden of lust. Governments and employers should extend benefits and support to married men’s mistresses. Public provision of affordable prostitutes through a modest expansion of the civil service should be explored.[10] More funding should be allocated to research and development of sex bots. Many men many times a day experience the emotional and physiological burden of having an erection. Special, low-cost, subsidized nutritional supplements should be made available to men to help them recover from the labor of their erections. Persons — women and men — who dress in ways that could trigger a man’s erection should carry trigger-warning signs. De miseria humanae conditionis could become the text for a new national conversation about lessening misery, especially the misery of sexless and married men.[11]

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Read more:


[1] Lotario dei Segni, De miseria humanae conditionis 1.17 (De miseria continentis et coniugati), from Latin trans. Dietz (1960) p. 19. Here’s a Latin text. The context makes clear that Lotario is addressing men. On Lotario dei Segni and the broader context, see my post on De miseria humane conditionis.

[2] Genesis 10:16, Numbers 33:50-3, 2 Samuel 5:6-10.

[3] De miseria humanae conditionis 1.17 (De miseria continentis et coniugati), trans. Dietz (1960) p. 19, quote from Horace, Epistles 1.10.24. The subsequent line from Horace’s epistle declares that nature will “secretly burst in triumph through your sad disdain.”

[4] De miseria humanae conditionis 1.17, trans. Dietz (1969) p. 20. The subsequent quote is from id. Maccarrone (1955), p. xli, attributes the material in 1.17 to John of Salisbury’s Polycraticus 8.11. The material quoted above, however, is in neither Theophrastus’s golden book on marriage, nor in John of Salisbury’s Polycraticus.

As Pope Innocent III, Lotario dei Segni recognized and affirmed gynocentrism. He described himself as married to the church and described the church as “mother and teacher {mater et magistra} of all the faithful.” “Fatherly severity” generated fear, while love for “the mother church” created “a more profound bond.” Shaffern (2001) pp. 73, 83. This gendered understanding has regrettably contributed to anti-men bias in child custody decisions and relatively little social concern for violence against men.

[5] Jerome’s construction of Theophrastus’s book states:

One man entices {another’s wife} with his figure, another with his brains, another with his wit, another with his open hand. Somehow, or sometime, the fortress is captured which is attacked on all sides.

Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I.47, from Latin trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 847. De miseria humanae conditionis, in contrast, observes:

One man is attracted by a woman’s figure, another by her charm or humor or personality; one way or another she is taken, since she is besieged on all sides.

1.17, trans. Dietz (1969) p. 20.

[6] De miseria humanae conditionis 1.17, trans. Dietz (1969) p. 21. The subsequent quote is from id., with an embedded quote from Genesis 2:24. Under Christian church law, a man could not have sex outside of marriage and could not remarry until his spouse died.

[7] De miseria humanae conditionis 1.17 (“On the universality of lust”), trans. Dietz (1969) p. 49. The previous two quotes are from 3.1 (“On the damnable exit from the human condition”), id. p. 68, and 1.25 (“On compassion”), id. p. 28.

[8] The Christian practice of refraining from sex within marriage is ancient. For a poignant example of the misery that such practice can impose on a husband, consider Margery Kempe’s husband. Sexless marriages are probably much more common today and bear no relation to Christian ideals. On sex differences in lust and the misery of lack of sex for men, Baumeister (2010), pp. 221-9.

[9] Dietz (1969) obscures the satirical reading by mistranslating the title as “Of the misery of married and single people.” The chapter is clearly addressed to men. For readers today, being single does not imply not having sex. Moreover, continentis is not necessary a characteristic disjoint from marriage. The two participles continentis and coniugati have genitive singular masculine/neuter forms. Moreover, satire is an aspect of the text. On satire of the Roman Curia in De miseria humanae conditionis, Moore (1981). The ambiguity of et (“and”) is a significant aspect of the title. 

[10] In sixth-century Athens, Solon reportedly established municipal brothels (dicteria) to increase men’s opportunities for sex. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae Bk. 13, Ch. 25 (ll. 569d3-f4).

[11] As Pope Innocent III, Lotario dei Segni strongly supported clerical celibacy. Smith (1951) Ch. 5. However, he showed his appreciation for the burden of lust with his policy toward female prostitutes. In a Papal Bull dated April 29, 1198, Pope Innocent III declared:

it is necessary to ask women who live voluptuously and permit anyone indifferently and without concern to have relations with them to contract a legitimate marriage in order to live chastely. With this thought, we decide by the authority of these presents that all who will rescue public women from brothels and marry them will be doing an act which will be useful for the remission of their sins.

Trans. Fliche (1994) p. 70. Marrying a former prostitute probably lessened the risk of a man suffering from a sexless marriage.

Innocent III’s willingness to engage in policy experiments is apparent in his response to Francis of Assisi. After a single meeting, Innocent III granted Francis and his brother penitents permission to follow lives of poverty, itinerant preaching, and physically rebuilding churches. See, e.g. Cunningham (2004) pp. 30-5. Innocent III responded to the needs of the times. A key need of our time is to support men’s sexuality.

[image] Marginal drawing of a woman, detail. From manuscript instance, dated 1200, of John of Salisbury’s Polycraticus. Royal MS 12 F.viii, f.69r, British Library.


Baumeister, Roy F. 2010. Is there anything good about men? how cultures flourish by exploiting men. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cunningham, Lawrence. 2004. Francis of Assisi: performing the Gospel life. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Dietz, Margaret Mary, trans. and Donald R. Howard, ed. 1969. Lothario dei Segni. On the misery of the human condition. De miseria humane conditionis. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Fliche, Augustin. 1994. “The Advocate of Church Reform.”Pp. 55-72 in Powell, James M. 1994. Innocent III: vicar of Christ or lord of the world? 2nd ed, expanded. Washington, D.C: The Catholic Univ. of America Press.

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892.  The Principal Works of St. Jerome.  Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

Maccarrone, Michele, ed. 1955. Lotario dei Segni. Lotharii cardinalis (Innocentii III) De miseria humane conditionis. Lugano: Thesauri Mundi.

Moore, John C. 1981. “Innocent III’s De Miseria Humanae Conditionis: A Speculum Curiae?” The Catholic Historical Review. 67 (4): 553-564.

Shaffern, Robert W. 2001. “Mater Et Magistra: Gendered Images and Church Authority in the Thought of Pope Innocent III.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture. 4 (3): 65-88.

Smith, Charles Edward. 1951. Innocent III, Church defender. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.