Burchard of Worms’ penitential in tradition of Seneca’s Controversiae

penitential confession

De minimis non curat lex. Res ipsa loquitur. De lege ferenda. A teacher’s most fundamental task is to attract the attention of students. Without students, there is no teaching business. Without students’ attention, they learn nothing. Burchard of Worms, a well-educated, eleventh-century bishop, surely knew these truths.[1] In building up a cathedral school at Worms, he sought to attract and train priests to serve the people of his diocese. He thus presented penitential canons in the time-tested classical Latin style of Seneca’s Controversiae.

Burchard of Worms wrote a law book, his Decretum, explicitly for school teaching. He dedicated his book to Provost Brunicho of Worms. Brunicho may well have been the chief operational officer of the cathedral school at Worms. Burchard stated in his dedication to Brunicho:

you, beloved, requested that I deliver this little book, now at last concisely assembled, to young boys for study, so that what our coworkers, today in their maturity, had neglected due to the ineptitude of their predecessors, is handed over to those now of tender age and to others willing to learn. Indeed let them first be made apt students, and afterward both teachers and leaders of the people, and let them learn in schools what some day they ought to say to those committed to themselves. [2]

Many men are reluctant and fearful of speaking about the sins of women. That’s readily understandable. But young men tend to be interested in the sins of women, particularly sexual sins. To serve the needs of his schools, Burchard wrote sensational descriptions of women’s sins.

Burchard’s most sensational descriptions of women’s sins occur in the section of the Decretum most relevant to actual priestly work among the people. Hearing confessions and forgiving persons for their sins has been at least since the sixth century a major, day-to-day responsibility of working priests. Burchard included in his Decretum an explicit list of questions and responses for the use of priests in conducting confessions and administering penance.[3] Aspiring priests could thus easily understand how their studies related to their future job responsibilities.

Burchard’s Decretum engaged students creatively. For priests, just as for other bureaucrats, uninspired workers tend to view their jobs as routine and tedious. Burchard inspired imagination in student-priests studying the work of hearing confessions:

“Perhaps, most beloved,” the priest should tell the penitent, “you are unable to remember everything you have done. Therefore, I will interrogate you. Be careful not to hide anything by diabolical deception.” [4]

Many of Burchard’s interrogations are sensational:

Have you tasted your husband’s semen in order to make his love for you burn greater through your diabolical deeds? If you have, you should do seven years of penance on the appointed fast days.

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They take their menstrual blood, mix it into food or drink, and give it to their men to eat or drink to love them more. If you have done this, you should do five years of penance on the appointed fast days.

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They take a live fish and put it in their vagina, keeping it there for a while until it is dead. Then they cook or roast it and give it to their husbands to eat, doing this in order to make the men be more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days.

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They lie face down on the ground, uncover their buttocks, and tell someone to make bread on their naked buttocks. When they have cooked it, they give it to their husbands to eat. They do this to make them more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days. [5]

These interrogations have literary sophistication scarcely imaginable in respected discourse today. Burchard sensationally figured oral sex as tasting your husband’s semen. While baking bread was a well-recognized medieval figure for having sex, Burchard sensationally dilated that figure and connected it explicitly to eating. Within the work of priests, eating bread evokes the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Within cultural circumstances disparaging and criminalizing men’s sexuality, Burchard affirmed wives’ gratitude and giving of thanks for their husbands’ sexual effort.[6]

Despite the burden of husbands’ work for their wives and families, some wives throughout history have lacked appreciation for their husbands. Juvenal, along with other classic Latin authors, recognized the problem of women killing their husbands with poison and other means. To the serious problem of domestic violence against men, Burchard brought great imagination:

Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing? They take off their clothes and smear honey all over their naked body. With the honey on their body they roll themselves back and forth over wheat on a sheet spread on the ground. They carefully collect all the grains of wheat sticking to their moist body, put them in a mill, turn the mill in the opposite direction of the sun, grind the wheat into flour, and bake bread from it. They then serve it to their husbands to eat, who then grow weak and die. If you have, you should do penance for forty days on bread and water. [7]

The woman’s naked body smeared with honey alludes to the bodily allure of women. But this interrogation reverses the figure of the woman’s eagerness and gratitude for the man’s service. Turning against the sexual-Eucharistic figure of making and eating bread, the mill turns backwards, and the husband dies. The penance of forty days on bread and water, associated with Christ’s purification in the desert, points forward to redemption and life-embracing relationships between women and men.[8]

With the modern dominance of gynocentric vernaculars, medieval Latin literature has been disastrously under-read. Those scholars working to buttress the dominant ideology have tended to dismiss medieval Latin literature as fantastical ragings of medieval monks isolated in their cells. Medieval canon law tends merely to provide grist for modern moral smugness.[9] Modern ignorance and narrow-mindedness obscures the wonders of medieval Latin literature.

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[1] A canon of Worms wrote an admiring life of Burchard of Worms, apparently soon after Burchard’s death. According to that life, Burchard was born of a high-status family and studied in various places.

Burchard’s education was probably quite similar to that described by his contemporary Walter, bishop of Speyer, who worked on the Decretum with him. In his Libellus de studio poetae qui et scolasticus, the first book in his Vita of St. Christopher, Walter described reading various Latin writers from antiquity and late antiquity, including Boethius, Horace, Persius, Juvenal, Terence, and Vergil.

Austin (2004) p. 929, n. 1. Here’s a short, modern biography of Burchard of Worms.

[2] Burchard of Worms, Preface to the Decretum, from Latin trans. Somerville & Clark (1998) p. 100. Schmitz (1898), available online, provides an early critical edition of the Latin text. An earlier Latin edition is in Patrologia Latina 140, cc. 949-76. Burchard’s preface emphasizes the usefulness of his work and the importance of training and teaching priests.

[3] The priestly job responsibility of hearing private confessions seems to have been first formalized in Ireland in the sixth century. For overviews of medieval literature and practice of penance, Frantzen (1983) and Meens (2014).

Most of Burchard’s Decretum describes sins and associated penances. Bk. 19, Ch. 5, however, is entitled Corrector sive Medicus (“Edifier or Physician“). It provides prefatory instructions (ordo) to priests on confessions. It then includes questions and prescribed penances for affirmative answers.

Burchard adopted Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, in part from Book 6 of Halitgar of Cambrai’s early ninth-century “practical guide for confessors.” Hamilton (2001) p. 39. The question form, however, apparently comes from the the late-ninth-century Paenitentiale mixtum Pseudo-Bedae-Egberti. Burchard’s penitential ordo is similar to that of Regino of Prüm’s tenth-century penitential. Burchard, however, provided about 190 questions compared to Regino’s about forty. Körntgen (2006) pp. 109-10. Burchard’s sensational questions aren’t part of Regino’s penitential.

[4] Burchard of Worms, Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, Introduction, from Latin trans. Körntgen (2006) p. 114.

[5] Burchard of Worms, Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, from Latin trans. Shinners (1997) pp. 451-3, with my non-substantial adaptations. Shinners labels the above interrogations 154, 164, 160, and 161, respectively. The Latin text in Schmitz (1898), pp. 445, 447-8, numbers them 166, 176, 172, 173. While many penitential canons were carried through centuries and across different penitentials, Burchard himself apparently created these and other imaginative penitentials. Körntgen (2006) p. 110.

Oral sex is mentioned in some early penitentials. The tenth-century Anglo-Saxon Scriftboc Penitential (less properly also called Confessionale Pseudo-Egberti) states:

Whoever releases seed into the mouth is to fast seven years.

Whichever freeman has intercourse with his wife during the menstrual period is to fast forty days. And whoever drinks a man’s blood or his seed is to fast for five years.

X02.04.01 & X05.01.01 trans. Frantzen (2003), in Cultural Index / Sex: Male-Female. See also Payer (1984) pp. 29-30. The penitential canon closest to the above canons of Burchard is in the Arundel Penitential of the tenth or eleventh century:

If she mixes a fish that dies in childbirth with menstrual blood, makes it into bread, and gives it to her husband to eat and drink, she should do five years of severe penance.

{Si qua piscem in puerperio suo mortuum vel panen super vases (?) confectum suas vel menstruum sanguinem suum marito suo ad manducandum vel ad bibendum dederit, V annos graviter peniteat.}

Arundel Penitential 81, Latin text printed in Schmitz (1883) p. 459, my Latin translation.

[6] Medieval penitentials don’t include canons about men administering aphrodisiacs to their wives. Payer (1980) p. 351. Medieval wives apparently provided men with all the sexual love that they needed. Medieval men’s relatively difficult, exhausting lives may have contributed to making them tired in bed. Medieval canon law supported men’s limited energy reserves by establishing sex canons such that marital sex was licit less than 44 days a year after accounting for holy days and restrictions related to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Hamilton (2001) p. 197. On the other hand, one of Burchard’s canons penalized men having sex with their wives from behind, like a dog (“retro, canino more”). Schmitz (1898) p. 421 (canon 52). Some men may on occasion have preferred that position. The truly chivalrous medieval man was always ready to perform his duty even despite his own personal preference.

Juan Ruiz’s early fourteenth-century Spanish masterpiece, Libro de buen amor, includes a lyrical poem known as “Cruz cruzada, panadera” (Libro, stanzas 115-22). That poem mixes baking bread with religious and sexual allusions. It’s widely regarded as one of the most obscene poems in medieval literature. Some of Burchard of Worms’s Latin penitential canons are arguably more creative and more obscene.

[7] Burchard of Worms, Decretum, Bk. 19, Ch. 5, from Latin trans. Shinners (1997) p. 455 (canon 179). The Latin text of Schmitz (1898), p. 451, numbers this canon 193.

[8] Frantzen, a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature, pointed the field toward literary study of early medieval penitentials in Frantzen (1983) Ch. 7, and Frantzen (1991). But the field of Anglo-Saxon studies hasn’t been welcoming to Frantzen’s challenging, non-conformist viewpoints.

While the literariness of Burchard’s penitential seems obvious, scholars have failed to recognize and understand it. Payer took too narrow a view of “functional utility”:

They {penitentials} were practical handbooks which would have had no conceivable raison d’etre aside from their functional utility in the administration of private penance. … There is no indication that the penitentials were conceived to have any other independent literary value such as a treatise of Augustine or a Biblical commentary of Jerome might have.

Payer (1984) p. 119. Austin declares, “we ought to look beneath the surface and not take his collection {Burchard’s penitential} at face value.” Austin (2004) p. 957. But she emphasized its theoretical-jurisprudential sophistication along with its use in straightforward pastoral care. Körntgen focused on just teaching, but took too narrow of a view of teaching:

it is hardly conceivable that a priest would have read the complete catalogue {in Burchard’s Bk. 19, Ch. 5} to the penitent believer. Should we therefore assume that Burchard’s penitential is a literary fiction, which was never intended to be used in the practice of penance? The practical significance of the work might be found in a different context. Burchard stresses in his preface that at least one of his aims for the whole collection was to educate the young clerics connected to the cathedral school in Worms. For such educational purposes the consequent amplification of the questionnaire would have provided the perfect assistance. Pupils in Worms and elsewhere could learn which kind of crimes they could encounter in the process of hearing confession and the kind of penances they should dispense for these. The question format, moreover, together with the fact that it was embedded in the ordo, provided a direct connection to the process of hearing confession. Pupils in this way not only learnt about the material side of penance, that is the possible kinds of sin and appropriate forms of penance; but also its ritual side, that is the liturgy of penance and the specific order in which confession should be heard and a penance determined.

Körntgen (2006) p. 114. The literary fictions included in Burchard’s penitentials, like the literary fictions in Seneca’s Controversiae, have practical teaching value in attracting attention. Scholars who question that claim could verify it by presenting Burchard’s sensational penitentials within the classroom. However, under some current totalitarian university administrations, such thought and expression probably would be inadvisable.

[9] Current laws regulating sexual behavior, paternity, and child custody are effectively more punitive, oppressive, and absurd than anything found in medieval canon laws. Men in the U.S. today have forced financial fatherhood legally imposed on them despite fraud and an explicit, written contract to the contrary. Many paternity judgments that impose crushing financial obligations on men are legally established through undue influence, mis-representation, and mis-service. Abortion laws effectively provide free choice to neither women nor men. The Crabtree case provides a fitting exemplar of the bigotry and irrationality of today’s family law.

[image] Penitent in confession with priest in Lviv, Ukraine. Thanks to Vodnik and Wikimedia Commons.


Austin, Greta. 2004. “Jurisprudence in the Service of Pastoral Care: The Decretum of Burchard of Worms.” Speculum. 79 (4): 929-959.

Frantzen, Allen J. 1983. The literature of penance in Anglo-Saxon England. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Frantzen, Allen J. 1991. “The ‘Literariness’ of the Penitentials.” English translation of new introduction to Frantzen, Allen J. 1991. La littérature de la pénitence dans l’Angleterre Anglo-Saxonne. Fribourg (Suisse): Éditions Universitaires {French trans. of Frantzen (1983)}.

Frantzen, Allen J. 2003. Anglo-Saxon Penitentials: A Cultural Database. Anglo-Saxon.net. Worldwide: Internet.

Hamilton, Sarah. 2001. The practice of penance, 900-1050. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Royal Historical Society.

Körntgen, Ludger. 2006. “Canon law and the practice of penance: Burchard of Worms’s penitential.” Early Medieval Europe. 14 (1): 103-117.

Meens, Rob. 2014. Penance in medieval Europe, 600-1200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Payer, Pierre J. 1980. “Early medieval regulations concerning marital sexual relations.” Journal of Medieval History. 6 (4): 353-376.

Payer, Pierre J. 1984. Sex and the penitentials: the development of a sexual code, 550-1150. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Schmitz, Hermann Joseph. 1883. Die bussbücher und die bussdisciplin der kirche. Mainz: F. Kirchheim.

Schmitz, Hermann Joseph. 1898. Die Bussbücher und die Bussdisciplin der Kirche: nach handschriftlichen Quellen dargestellt. Vol. 2. Die Bussbücher und das kanonische Bussverfahren. Düsseldorf : L. Schwann.

Shinners, John Raymond. 1997. Medieval popular religion, 1000-1500: a reader. Peterborough, Ont., Canada: Broadview Press.

Somerville, Robert, and Bruce Clark Brasington. 1998. Prefaces to Canon Law books in Latin Christianity: selected translations, 500-1245. New Haven: Yale University Press.

medieval knight taught his daughters concern for violence against men

dead knights after battle of Crécy

The fourteenth-century French knight Geoffrey de La Tour Landry experienced personally horrendous violence against men. Surviving records indicate that he was at the siege of Aguillon in 1346, fought on the losing side in the Battle of Auray in 1364, engaged in the siege at Cherbourg in 1378, and served in war in Brittany in 1380 and 1383.[1] Within this time of the Hundred Years’ War, noblemen such as Geoffrey had an average lifespan nearly ten years less than noblewomen. Women throughout history have played an important role in inciting men to violence against men. In a loving book of teachings for his daughters, Geoffrey used biblical stories to instruct his daughters to act with concern for violence against men.

The biblical story of the massacre at Shechem shows the deep roots of contempt for men’s lives. In that story, the young woman Dinah went, apparently by herself, to visit with the women of the tribe of Shechem.[2] Today, that’s like a scantily dressed woman walking alone through a high-crime area at midnight on a Friday night. All well-educated persons know that every woman has the right to do that. But few consider that such action tends to increase the job hazards of police officers, who are predominately men. Men suffer fourteen times more occupational fatalities than women do. Men suffer four times more deaths from violence than women do. Everyone, including women, should act with loving concern to lessen violence against men.

Dinah visiting the woman of Shechem was a critical link in a chain of events resulting in massacre of all the males of Shechem. When Shechem, the prince of the region, saw Dinah, he fell in love with her. Dinah and Shechem had sex during the time of Dinah’s visit to the women of Shechem. The Hebrew text doesn’t actually indicate that Shechem raped Dinah.[3] Consistent with the sordid history of criminalizing men from the “rape of Lucretia” to recent rape hoaxes, the Latin text of the Vulgate Bible presumed that Shechem raped Dinah. Many modern biblical translations, as well as most biblical commentators, have similarly promoted rape-culture culture.

Horrific violence resulted from the allegation of rape. After he allegedly raped Dinah, Shechem pleaded with Dinah’s father and brothers to allow him to marry Dinah. Dinah’s brothers deceitfully promised to allow that marriage if the men of Shechem had themselves circumcised. Evidently Dinah herself didn’t object to marrying Shechem. Desperately in love with Dinah, Shechem induced all the men of Shechem to be circumcised. While the men were suffering from the pain of male genital mutilation. Dinah’s brothers massacred all the men of Shechem. That killing in turn put Dinah’s family at risk of retaliatory violence against men from the friends of Shechem.

In medieval Europe, Geoffrey de la Tour Landry wanted his daughters to be among enlightened persons who act with concern for violence against men. Characterizing Dinah going among the tribe of Shechem as being frivolous and light-hearted, Geoffrey urged his daughters:

Look on this example and see how many evils and misfortunes are caused by foolish women. Because of her youth and her frivolous spirits, a great deal of blood was shed. [4]

Underscoring the lesson of the biblical story of the massacre at Shechem, Geffrey appended to it a story about more than a thousand Greek men killed.

According to that story, a Greek king had a daughter. Her fole amour (“foolish love”) for an earl caused a horrendous war in which more than a thousand men were killed. A wise man came to the king and said it would have been better if his daughter had never been born. The king ordered his own daughter cut into pieces just as more than a thousand men had been from her lack of concern for violence against men. If you want to understand violence against women, you must seek to understand much more prevalent violence against men.

The story of more than a thousand Greek men killed parallels in its ending the biblical story of about a hundred thousand Israelite and Benjaminite men killed. In the later story, a Levite resided in a remote area of Ephraim with his concubine.[5] She became angry with him and left him to live with her father. The Levite, rather than acquiring another concubine, sought to speak tenderly to her and convince her to come back to live with him. The Levite thus undertook the long journey to his concubine’s father’s house. The concubine’s father greeted the Levite with joy and offered him much food and drink. Evidently the concubine’s father regarded the Levite as a worthy companion for his daughter. She apparently agreed to return to live with the Levite.

The ultimate results of the concubine leaving the Levite were horrific killings. On the way home, the Levite and his concubine desperately needed a place to stay for a night. A man from Ephraim generously hosted the Levite and his concubine. Unfortunately, at night a crowd of Benjaminite men gathered and demanded that they be given the Levite to rape. Men traditionally have shown their love for others by being willing to die for them. In this story, the Levite had his concubine accept sexual abuse for him. The Benjaminites gang-raped her all night long. In the morning, she was dead. The Levite, outraged, sought vengeance. Her hacked her dead body into twelve pieces and sent a piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Violence against women, even just unsubstantiated claims of violence against a woman, is a powerfully tool to incite men to violence against men. The resulting war between the Israelites and the Benjaminites killed about 100,000 men. In addition, nearly all the inhabitants of the Benjaminite city of Gibeah were killed.

Geoffrey de la Tour Landry used the biblical story of about a hundred thousand Israelite and Benjaminite men killed to instruct his daughters to restrain their responses in anger against their husbands over minor matters. Geoffrey’s version of the story emphasizes that the Levite was a good, noble man, the woman was his wife, and her anger arose from a relatively unimportant matter. Close personal relationships inevitably involve some annoyances and anger. In this story, the wife left her husband over a minor matter. In Geoffrey’s telling of the story, the wife’s father told her that she had done wrong and should return to her husband. Geoffrey explicitly noted that the wife leaving her husband over a minor matter resulted in about thirty-three thousand persons being killed. Geoffrey instructed his daughters:

This is a good example for you of how a woman ought not to leave her husband and household-head for any anger or ill-will between them. [6]

Given the way current domestic-violence laws gender-profile men for arrest and destroy men’s lives without any due process of law, caring women today should be even more careful to restrain their anger against their husbands for minor matters.

Geoffrey warned his daughters about the terrible consequences of false accusations of rape. Today, the problem of false rape accusations tends to be trivialized in accordance with the dominant ideology of eviscerating due process of law for accused men. Yet throughout most of history, false accusations of rape, like rape itself, were treated as very serious matters. Adapting the biblical story of the false rape accusation against Joseph, Geoffrey urged his daughters to be truthful and good:

God exalts always the just and those truly loyal, and the false queen {who made a false accusation of rape} was punished. Within a little time afterwards, she died wickedly and suddenly of an evil death. And in this way God rewarded each of them after their merit. [7]

A false accusation of rape can cause a man to be imprisoned for many years. Prisons are violent places. Imprisonment itself is an act of violence that isn’t justified under a false charge. Fathers and mothers who care about violence against men should teach their children not to make false accusations of rape.

In our benighted times, caring persons can find better moral guidance in medieval literature than in much of today’s academic scholarship and public-affairs writing. Despite its prevalence, violence against men is scarcely recognized as such. The medieval knight Geoffrey de la Tour Landry knew personally horrendous violence against men. His fatherly instruction to his daughters about violence against men deserves to be taken seriously and studied carefully.

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[1] For the scant biographical information on Geoffrey de la Tour Landry, Wright (1906) Introduction, Offord (1971) pp. xxxiv-xxxviii, and Barnhouse (2006) pp. 3-5. Geoffrey had at least three daughters with his wife Jeanne de Rouge and at least one son. Their son Charles died on St. Chrispin’s Day fighting in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. They may have had another son who also served as a soldier. Geoffrey addressed his book to his three daughters: Jeanne, Anne, and Marie.

[2] For the story, Genesis 34. Shechem is also commonly spelled Sechem.

[3] A thorough evaluation of the linguistic evidence concluded:

The widespread opinion that the verb ‘innâ in the Pi’el {story of the massacre at Shechem} refers to “rape” or “sexual abuse” is not acceptable. It suffers from a lack of analysis of all the biblical material and of the distribution of ‘innâ with a female object in the Hebrew Bible. … ‘innâ in Gen. xxxiv 2 does not describe Shechem’s rape or sexual abuse of Dinah, but evaluates Shechem’s previously described actions (“take” and “sleep with”) as a debasement of Dinah from a social-juridical point of view.

Wolde (2002) pp. 543-4. Bechtel (1994) provides a historical contextualization of the story while setting out a “modern definition of rape” that precludes men being raped. Id. p. 20. Actions today are labeled rape with grotesque anti-men prejudice.

[4] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry (Book of the Knight of Tour Landry / Book of the Knight of the Tower) Ch. 56 (Of the daughter of Jacob), from Old French trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 82. Montaiglon (1854) provides an Old French text. William Caxton’s English translation of 1484 follows the Old French text closely here and throughout. Odford (1971) p. 82.

[5] For the story, Judges 19-20.

[6] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier Ch. 71 (Of little disputes), from Old French of Montaiglon (1854), my English translation. All subsequent English translations are from id. For Caxton’s translation, Offord (1971) p. 102. Schroeder (2007), p. 122, quotes much of the story, but elides the reference to thirty-three thousand persons being killed (men and women). In considering biblical stories, id. consistently ignores violence against men.

[7] Geoffrey de La Tour Landry, Le livre du chevalier Ch. 58 (Of the wife of the Pharaoh and Joseph the son of Jacob), from Old French my translation. For Caxton’s translation, Offord (1971) p. 84. Geoffrey conflates Pharaoh and his vizier Potiphar, and thus makes Potiphar’s wife the Pharaoh’s wife (the queen). For the biblical story, Genesis 39:1-20.

Geoffrey interpreted biblical stories which much more sensitivity to men victims than do modern interpreters. A recent work supporting dominant gynocentric ideology with laughably tendentious interpretations of historical texts ironically concluded:

In this book we have dealt with disturbing biblical stories, but we have also observed that the interpretations {emphasis in original} of these stories are frequently more troubling than the stories themselves. We have seen that the history of scriptural interpretation includes blind spots, glaring inconsistencies, and outrageous claims on the one hand, and empathy, insight, and compassion on the other. Perhaps this exploration of the stories of Dinah, Tamar, the Levite’s concubine, Susanna, the martyrs of the church, and others will help us become aware of our own interpretive blind spots. The lessons of history may teach us the importance of using reverence and care in approaching both sacred texts and the stories told by victims of violence, listening to the voice of each with ears that hear.

Schroeder (2007) p. 239. Schroeder and many other scholars today appear to be deaf and blind to violence against men and ignorant of the reality of rape.

[image] Edward II counting the dead men on the battlefied of Crécy. Manuscript of Jean Froissart, Chroniques, Vol. 1. Made in Paris, c. 1410. Folio 144r in The Hague, KB, 72 A 25. Thanks to Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library of the Netherlands) and Wikimedia Commons.


Barnhouse, Rebecca, trans. 2006. Geoffrey de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of the tower: manners for young medieval women. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bechtel, Lyn M. 1994. “What if Dinah is not raped? (Genesis 34).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 62: 19-36.

Montaiglon, Anatole de, ed. 1854. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, pour l’enseignement de ses filles. Pub. d’aprés les manuscrits de Paris et de Londres. Paris: P. Jannet.

Offord, M. Y., ed. 1971. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. William Caxton. The book of the knight of the Tower. London: Oxford University Press.

Schroeder, Joy A. 2007. Dinah’s lament: the biblical legacy of sexual violence in Christian interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wolde, Ellen van. 2002. “Does innâ denote rape?: a semantic analysis of a controversial word.” Vetus Testamentum. 52 (4).

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1906. William Caxton. Geoffroy de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of La Tour-Landry: compiled for the instruction of his daughters. London: Published for the Early English Text Society, by K. Paul, Trench, Trübner.

Plutarch’s Gryllus proves “men are pigs” is a virtuous ideal

men are pigs

Men are pigs, some say disparagingly today. That’s regarded as disparagement only because of men’s different bodies. Men cannot speak from their different bodies. In Plutarch’s Gryllus, a differently bodied man — Gryllus the pig — is magically given the ability to speak. Gryllus convincingly establishes the innate virtue of being male for all animals but men.[1] Men must become pigs if human societies are to achieve a virtuous ideal of gender equality.

The cultural construction of gender forces men to struggle to be virtuous. Gryllus astutely points out, “men do not naturally possess manliness {ἀνδράσιν οὐ φύσει μέτεστι τῆς ἀνδρείας}.” Men must engage, symbolically or literally, in violence against men and acquire wounds on their chests to be respected as men. To be virtuous is a burden of masculine performance and cultured achievement.[2] Women, in contrast, are valued for nothing more than their natural bodily features. Men lack women’s gender privilege.

Imagine a better life than that of men. Gryllus, a male pig, lives with his fellow male pigs without the need to do any work. The woman-witch Circe provides for their welfare. Almost all men lack the opportunity for a similar life. Gryllus thus refers to “men, the most unfortunate of all creatures {ζῷον αὖθις ἀνθρώπους γενομένους}!”[3]

Gryllus explains that animals other than men live without the gender oppression of men. According to Gryllus, animals other than men don’t have to pay females for sex if they’re not guileful enough to get sex without paying. Animals other than men don’t have to seduce women and get criminalized for their efforts. Animals other than humans just do it like they do on the Discovery Channel:

The females are not coy and do not cloak their desires with deceits or trickeries or denials; nor do the males, driven on by the sting of mad lust, purchase the act of procreation by money or toil or servitude. No! Both parties celebrate at the proper time a love without deceit or hire, a love which in the season of spring awakens, like the burgeoning of plants and trees, the desire of animals, and then immediately extinguishes it.

{ οὐχὶ θρυπτόμεναι μὲν αἱ θήλειαι καὶ προϊσχόμεναι τῆς ἐπιθυμίας ἀπάτας καὶ γοητείας καὶ ἀρνήσεις, οἱ δ᾿ ἄρρενες ὑπ᾿ οἴστρου καὶ μαργότητος ὠνούμενοι μισθῶν καὶ πόνου καὶ λατρείας τὸ τῆς γενέσεως ἔργον, ἄδολον δὲ σὺν καιρῷ καὶ ἄμισθον Ἀφροδίτην μετιόντες, ἣ καθ᾿ ὥραν ἔτους ὥσπερ φυτῶν βλάστην ἐγείρουσα τῶν ζῴων τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν εὐθὺς ἔσβεσεν }

Good governments should support all human adults’ entitlement to sex. The goal should be to give humans equal sexual capabilities to other animals. That’s a crucial component to enlightened efforts to raise human welfare.

The generic “man” throughout the history of human literature indicates lack of self-consciousness in speaking about bodily men. Inability to appreciate their own bodily distinctiveness separates men from other male animals. Male pigs don’t write about an abstract, sexless pig. They probably don’t even think about one. Not reasoning about a fantasy is reasonable. Pigs think about their real bodily conditions and real bodily desires. Male pigs think as animals with male genitalia. That’s good sense. That’s reasonable.[4]

Urging men to act like pigs promotes a virtuous ideal of gender equality. Dominant ideology today urges the domestication of men and the feminization of their temperament. That’s a strategy to achieve gender equality through gender uniformity. Gryllus recognizes that such a strategy works for animals. He also recognizes that it makes male animals spiritless and without courage.[5] Moreover, domestication tends to be associated with the extreme of outright neutering. A more temperate and sensible approach retains the courage of animals. Gryllus points out that animals naturally behave in accordance with gender equality. In acting like pigs and refusing to return to the oppressive position of men, men uphold a virtuous ideal of gender equality.

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[1] In Homer’s Odyssey Bk. 10, Circe was a woman with beautiful hair and an enthralling voice. She was also a witch. She turned half of Odysseus’s men into pigs. The setting of Plutarch’s Gryllus is Odysseus asking Circe to turn them back into men. She declares that the men prefer to be pigs. She gives one of the men-pigs named Gryllus the power of speech to convince Odysseus that being a pig is superior to being a man.

Here’s an online English translation of Gryllus (Loeb Classical Library, 1957). All the quotes above from Gryllus are from the Loeb translation. An edition of the Greek text. is also available online. Gryllus is also known under the Latin title Bruta animalia ratione uti (Non-human animals are rational) and the Greek title ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΥ ΤΑ ΑΛΟΓΑ ΛΟΓΩΙ ΧΡΗΣΘΑΙ (On the fact that unreasoning creatures employ reason). While leading scholars now attribute the work to Plutarch, the authorship of Gryllus has been questioned. Whether attribution to Plutarch is correct isn’t relevant to the above discussion.

[2] The quote from Gryllus is from 988B. The Loeb edition translates ανδρεία as “courage.” Konstan (2011), p. 378, provides the more linguistically rooted translation “manliness.” The English word “virtue” comes from the Latin word virtus. Virtus is rooted in vir. Vir means male human being. The Greek term associated with virtue is ἀρετή (arete). That term is linguistically rooted in excellence of any kind. The Greek term thus highlights the burden of performance and achievement associated with being a man. For an insightful discussion of how Plutarch plays with the ancient Greek understanding of virtue, Konstan (2011).

[3] Reflecting the obliteration of male human beings in gynocentric society, the Greek term ἀνθρώπους is commonly mistranslated as human being. See, e.g. Konstan (2011) p. 374. The context in Gryllus makes clear that the reference is to male human beings.

[4] The intelligence of pigs has deep implications for today’s academia:

Limiting one’s engagement with society through a preference for abstraction and dogmatic figures or for archaizing rhetorical practices can become an escapist fantasy. … an important implication of the Gryllus, then, that as the recipients of certain vestments of elite culture, the learned risk alienation — that is, at some point of extravagance paideia becomes merely an introspective fantasy.

Herchenroeder (2008) p. 374. That introspective fantasy is without male bodily awareness. Dyssebia at least recognizes that Gryllus isn’t more sophistic than Odysseus.

[5] Gryllus 987E-F (4.22). Herchenroeder (2008), pp. 366-74, considers at length domestication, but without any understanding of men’s actual position in gynocentric society. Herchenroeder thus fundamentally misunderstands the substance of Gryllus’s parody of men’s misunderstanding.

[image] The Big Pig. Thanks to Daniele Pieroni for sharing on flickr, CC-BY-SA.


Herchenroeder, Lucas. 2008. “Tί γàρ τοῦτο πρὸς τὸν λόγον; Plutarch’s Gryllus and the So-Called Grylloi.” American Journal of Philology. 129 (3): 347-79.

Konstan, David. 2011. “A Pig Convicts Itself of Unreason: The Implicit Argument of Plutarch’s Gryllus.” Hyperboreus. 16-17: 371-85.

knight Boucicaut lost woman-savy father & spent life fighting men

knights in brutal battle

The knight Jean I Le Maingre, called Boucicaut, rose to become Marshal of France in 1356. The name Boucicaut came from an obscure French term for a fishing basket.[1] The knight Boucicaut was as skilled in catching women as he was in fighting men. Boucicaut had a son, Jean II Le Maingre, also called Boucicaut. The older Boucicaut died just two years after his son was born. Without his father’s guidance, the younger Boucicaut grew up to be a benighted chivalrous knight who spent his life in abject service to women and in brutal fighting with men.

Just one story makes clear that the older Boucicaut rejected the man-oppressing ideology of courtly love. One day at a feast, three eminent ladies chatted at length with each other about their amusements. In response to one lady’s verbal challenge, each confessed to having a man seeking her love. Then they agreed to reveal their lovers’ names. The first said her lover was Boucicaut. The second said Boucicaut, too. The third said her lover was Boucicaut as well. Boucicaut wasn’t a man pining away with one-itis. Like the great teacher of love Ovid, Boucicaut sought them all.

The ladies were outraged at Boucicaut’s behavior. They declared:

Certainly he isn’t as loyal or true as we supposed. He is a mocker and deceiver of ladies. Let’s send for him. [2]

With the intensification of gynocentrism, medieval men were required to come when ladies beckoned them. Boucicaut came and said, “My ladies, how may I please you?” The ladies ordered Boucicaut to sit at their feet. He refused. He insisted on sitting on a chair or stool.[3] One of the ladies then interrogated him:

How is it, Boucicaut, that we have been so deceived by you? We thought you were faithful and true, but you’re nothing but a mocker of ladies. …You desired my fair cousin here, and me as well, and you swore to each of us that you loved her best above all creatures. This was a great lie. You are false and deceitful and you ought not be counted among good knights.

This was in the days before the criminalization of seduction. Yet Boucicaut still felt the need to defend his behavior and his interest in good nights. He declared:

you may have spoken, but you aren’t in the right, and I’ll tell you why. At the time that I said so to each of you, it was the truth. And therefore you’re wrong to think of me as deceitful. But I suppose I must bear with your judgment.

Even a famous knight cannot argue with women. All men must accept women’s judgments.

Men, however, should not accept being treated as chattel slaves. One of the women declared:

Let’s draw lots for him, and the one with the shortest straw will have him.

Boucicaut was not a piece of meat. He was a man, a human being with his own wishes and desires, a person with as much God-given dignity as any woman. Boucicaut rightly responded:

Nay, my ladies, by the sacrament of God, I am not to be dealt with this way. There isn’t a woman here with whom I’ll tarry.

Boucicaut then got up and walked out. That was a great moment in men’s history. But few persons today know about it, because history from its beginnings has revolved around women.

The Boucicaut most prominent in history is the younger Boucicaut, Jean II Le Maingre. He was born in 1366. His father, the older Boucicaut, died just two years later. The fatherless younger Boucicaut became a bellicose knight. At the age of twelve he participated in a battle in Normandy as a page serving Duke Louis of Bourbon. At age sixteen, he was knighted on the eve of the Battle of Roosebeke and reportedly killed a man who had chided him as being merely a child. By age twenty-five, Boucicaut had fought in three campaigns against the Lithuanians, had participated in two battles against the English, and had soldiered in the Balkans as a mercenary. King Charles VI appointed the twenty-five-year-old Boucicaut marshal of France. Boucicaut subsequently participated in extended military actions against the Turks, war against the Venetians, and a variety of raids in the Mediterranean. In 1415, Boucicaut was captured in a battle with the English. He died a prisoner in England in 1421. He had spent his whole life engaged in violence against men.[4]

As Suero de Quinones would subsequently do, the younger Boucicaut staged an extravagant public ritual of men brutally tilting at other men. In the spring of 1390, Boucicaut and two fellow knights challenged to single combat any man, French or foreign, with any agreed weapons. In the resulting tournament at Saint Inglevert near Calais, Boucicaut fought single combat with eighteen men. He knocked off his opponent’s iron helmet twelve times, and had his helmet knocked off seven times. Blows to the head are not good for men’s health. Further underscoring the extent of the violence, Boucicaut broke five lances against his opponent’s body, and had five lances broken against his own body. Boucicaut struck three of his opponents with such force that he unhorsed them.[5] Treating violence against men as sport in medieval Europe corresponds to relatively little concern about violence against men today.

The younger Boucicaut was also a leading woman-server. When informed that he had returned the curtsies of two women who were prostitutes, Boucicaut declared:

I would rather have paid my salutations to ten harlots than have omitted them to one lady worthy of respect. [6]

In 1399, Boucicaut founded a chivalric order to defend women: Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (“Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady”). The knights of this order pledged to defend the honor, fame, praise, and property of ladies. Other knights waited for a lady to ask him to fight for her. The knights of Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche publicly declared in advance their willingness to fight for women’s interests.[7] That was in a society in which noble men had a life expectancy nearly ten years less than noble women. These medieval knights were forefathers of today’s ignorant, benighted warriors for “gender equality for women.”

The older Boucicaut could have taught his son the younger Boucicaut much about how to have a long, pleasurable life. Fatherless men easily become servants of the gynocentric order. It must be overthrown. Let the ruling classes tremble at a men’s revolution. Ordinary men have nothing to lose but their chains. Working men of the world, unite!

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[1] Barnhouse (2006), p. 139, gives 1356 as the date that the older Boucicaut became marshal (maréchal) of France. On Boucicaut being derived from an Old French word for fishing basket, Curry, Pépin & Taylor (2015) p. 177.

Little is know about the older Boucicaut. Jehan Le Fèvre, who was well practiced in currying favor, denounced Boucicaut for unscrupulously seeking profit at the royal court. Id., referring to Le Fèvre’s Le Songe du vergier. Geoffrey de la Tour Landry referred to the older Boucicaut as “a wise man and well thought of by the other knights.” Geoffrey also referred to “Charny and Boucicaut … such venerated and renowned knights.” Geoffrey, Knight of the Tower, Ch. 22 (Of three ladies who rebuked Boucicaut) & Ch. 114 (How every good woman ought to guard her reputation well), from French trans. Barnhouse (2006) pp. 140, 216.

Here’s some biographies of medieval soldiers.

[2] Geoffrey, Book of the Knight of the Landry Tower {Livre du chevalier de la Tour-Landry}, Ch. 22 (Of three ladies who rebuked Boucicaut), from French trans. Barnhouse (2006) p. 140. All the subsequent quotes except for the final one are from id. Here’s a French text of the Knight of the Tower.

Other knights in Boucicaut’s time also showed self-confidence and guile in dealing with ladies. Geoffrey wrote:

I remembered the things the soldiers said about their encounters with ladies and damsels, whose love they asked for. If one lady wouldn’t listen to their prayers, another soldier would ask for her love without even waiting. And the men didn’t care what answer the ladies gave them, because they had neither fear nor shame, being so hardened and accustomed to acting this way.

Prologue, trans. id. p. 32.

[3] Boucicaut excuse for not sitting at the ladies’ feet was, “I might break my points and laces.” Barnhouse explains:

He’s referring to the laces that attach his hose to his doublet; should they break, his hose would fall, exposing his legs. You can imagine the embarrassment for Boucicaut, and the delight of the three ladies, should that happen.

Id. p. 141. That’s a superficial reading of the situation. Boucicaut actually may have been seductively reminding the ladies of their desire for him and asserting his unwillingness to be abjectly subservient to their desire.

[4] On the younger Boucicaut’s life, Housley (2003), Brough (2012), Hoornstra (2013). The main historical source on Boucicaut’s life is Le livre des fais {faicts} du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, written in 1409.

[5] Froissart’s Chronicles (written about 1380), provides an account of the tournament at Saint Inglevert. Steve Muhlberger has provided a tally of the combat from which the above account draws. Muhlberger has also made available an English translation of relevant sections of Le livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut.

[6] Huizinga (1937) p. 63, apparently from Livre des fais, but I haven’t been able to locate the reference in that text.

[7] Le livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, ch. 38-9, discussed in Hoornstra (2013) pp. 128-9. Boucicaut participated in the “Court of Love” (Cour Amoreuse) in Paris in 1401. Id. p. 129. He also reportedly was an author of Le Livre des cent ballades, composed in 1389. That book supported and celebrated the man-oppressing delusions of courtly love.

[image] Battle between Portuguese and English army and a French vanguard of the King of Castile. Manuscript of Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre by Jean of Wavrin. France, c. 1470-80. Manuscript Royal 14 E IV f. 201v . Thanks to British Library.


Barnhouse, Rebecca, trans. 2006. Geoffrey de La Tour Landry. The book of the knight of the tower: manners for young medieval women. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brough, Gideon. 2012. Entry for “Boucicaut, Jean II le Maingre (ca. 1366–1421). In Martel, Gordon, ed. The encyclopedia of war. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Curry, Anne, Guilhem Pépin, and Craig Taylor.  2015. “The French Army at the Battle and Its Commanders.” Ch. 11 (pp. 158-77) in Curry, Anne, and Malcolm Mercer, eds. 2015. The Battle of Agincourt. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with Royal Armouries.

Hoornstra, David S. 2013. “Boucicaut fils and the Great Hiatus: Insights from the Career of Jean II Le Meingre, called Boucicaut.” Pp. 105-144 in Villalon, L. J. Andrew, and Donald J. Kagay, eds. The Hundred Years War. Part III. Leiden: Brill.

Housley, Norman. 2003. “One man and his wars: the depiction of warfare by Marshal Boucicaut’s biographer.” Journal of Medieval History. 29 (1): 27-40.

Huizinga, Johan, trans. by Frederik Jan Hopman. 1937. The waning of the middle ages: study of the forms of life, thought and art in France and the Netherlands in the xivth and xvth centuries. London: E. Arnold & Co.