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.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[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.

3 thoughts on “Maximianus lacked consolation of Lady Philosophy & Boethius”

  1. I was glad to see your piece, which I came upon as I was doing my last edits for my Maximianus translation/commentary coming out from University of Pennsylvania Press in 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *