castration culture shows ancient, bloody grip in Hesiod’s Theogony

castration of uranus

Students wondering how university officials today can support policies that viciously disparage and persecute men’s sexuality should study Hesiod’s Theogony. That influential work, written in Greek nearly 2700 years ago, depicts the earth goddess Gaia plotting to castrate Uranus, the sky god, who was both her son and her husband. Gaia’s unjust and vicious hostility toward male genitals indicates castration culture’s ancient, bloody grip on western Eurasian gynocentric societies.

The sky god Uranus covered the earth goddess Gaia. She then gave birth to three strong sons. Hostility to male sexuality made those births problematic. Greek theogony distinctively celebrates goddesses creating child on their own, without men — reproducing by parthenogenesis.[1] Many government policies now support effectively similar reproduction among humans. Unlike ancient Greek gods, men today are vastly disproportionately forced to make enormous “child support” payments to women holding privileged custody of children. That’s the cultural construction of parthenogenesis.

After she had children with Uranus, Gaia with vague and unsubstantiated charges incited his castration. Gaia said to the children she had with Uranus:

Children of mine and of a wicked father, obey me,
if you wish: we would avenge your father’s evil outrage.
For he was the first to devise unseemly deeds.

{ παῖδες ἐμοὶ καὶ πατρὸς ἀτασθάλου, αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλητε
πείθεσθαι, πατρός κε κακὴν τισαίμεθα λώβην
ὑμετέρου: πρότερος γὰρ ἀεικέα μήσατο ἔργα. }[2]

Consensual heterosexual activity isn’t unseemly, nor should it be blamed on men. In ancient Greek theogony, Gaia was the original exponent of parental alienation. Cronus, son of Gaia and Uranus, responded like a well-programmed zombie to her work of parental alienation:

Mother, I would promise and perform this deed,
since I do not care at all about our evil-named father.
For he was the first to devise unseemly deeds.

{ μῆτερ, ἐγώ κεν τοῦτό γ᾽ ὑποσχόμενος τελέσαιμι
ἔργον, ἐπεὶ πατρός γε δυσωνύμου οὐκ ἀλεγίζω
ἡμετέρου: πρότερος γὰρ ἀεικέα μήσατο ἔργα. }

Gaia rejoiced at her son’s willingness to commit horrible violence at her behest. She arranged for an ambush:

She placed him in ambush, concealing him from sight, and put into his hands
the jagged-toothed sickle, and she explained the whole trick to him.
Great Uranus came, bringing night with him. Spreading out around Earth
in his desire for love, he lay outstretched in all directions.
Then his son reached out from his ambush with his left hand,
and with his right hand he grasped
the monstrous sickle, long and jagged-toothed, and eagerly
he reaped the genitals from his dear father
and threw them behind him to be borne away.

{ εἷσε δέ μιν κρύψασα λόχῳ: ἐνέθηκε δὲ χερσὶν
ἅρπην καρχαρόδοντα: δόλον δ᾽ ὑπεθήκατο πάντα.
ἦλθε δὲ νύκτ᾽ ἐπάγων μέγας Οὐρανός, ἀμφὶ δὲ Γαίῃ
ἱμείρων φιλότητος ἐπέσχετο καί ῥ᾽ ἐτανύσθη
πάντη: ὃ δ᾽ ἐκ λοχέοιο πάις ὠρέξατο χειρὶ
σκαιῇ, δεξιτερῇ δὲ πελώριον ἔλλαβεν ἅρπην
μακρὴν καρχαρόδοντα, φίλου δ᾽ ἀπὸ μήδεα πατρὸς
ἐσσυμένως ἤμησε, πάλιν δ᾽ ἔρριψε φέρεσθαι
ἐξοπίσω: τὰ μὲν οὔ τι ἐτώσια ἔκφυγε χειρός }[3]

Fathers understand Hesiod’s Theogony in a deeply personal, deeply painful way. College students not yet fathers are beginning to recognize castration culture.

Jupiter (Cronus) castrating his father Saturn (Uranus)

When Bernardus Silvestris wrote a new cosmogony in twelfth-century France, he confronted the castration culture that Hesiod’s Theogony described. As Roman culture developed with awareness of the earlier Greek culture, the Roman god Saturn assimilated the Greek god Cronus. Bernardus described Saturn as:

an ancient to be most strongly condemned, cruel and detestable in his wickedness, savagely inclined to harsh and bloody acts.

{ accusatissimus veteranus, crudelioris quidem et detestandae malitiae, dirisque ac cruentis actibus efferatus. } [4]

Writing under gynocentrism, Bernardus didn’t dare attack long-established castration culture directly. He challenged it figuratively with a new poetic description of Saturn’s violence:

he {Saturn} mowed down with a blow of his sickle whatever was beautiful, whatever was flourishing. Just as he would not accept childbirth, so he forbade roses, lilies, and the other kinds of sweet-scented flowers to flourish.

{ insumpto falcis acumine, quicquid pulchrum, quicquid florigerum demetebat. Rosas et lilia et cetera olerum genera, sicut nasci non sustinet, non sustinet et florere. }

Destroying gardens is a poetic metaphor for castration. Bernardus sought to create a new, more humane cosmos. His Cosmographia ends with creating man’s penis and celebrating the importance of the penis’s skillful work.

Penetrating castration culture to implant the seeds of a new imaginative world requires gleaning discarded resources in literary history. For example, classical Latin Priapus poems exposed the brutalizing and commodifying stereotypes of men’s person. The Golden Ass {Asinus aureus} recounted a woman’s delight in a large male member. The medieval French knight Geoffrey de La Tour Landry taught his daughters concern for violence against men. Unlike Hesiod’s Theogony, the medieval Latin Cosmographia of Bernardus Silverstris excludes castration culture. All just, merciful, and loving persons should strive to create such a world.

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[1] Relative to other western Eurasian creation myths, female parthenogenesis is far more important and marked in Hesiod’s Theogony. Park (2014) pp. 265-9. Scholars today tend to see female parthenogenesis as part of the primordial Golden Age:

The mythic form his {Zeus’s} act of creation assumes completes the trend of the Theogony that began with Earth’s natural parthenogenetic capacity and ends with the male’s imitation of her. The seal is set on the finality of the transition from female dominance to male dominance by conscious male usurpation of her procreative functions, the basic source of her mystery and power.

Zeitlin (1996) p. 108. Students are now thoroughly indoctrinated with these threadbare clichés of anti-meninism:

Evidently, Hesiod merely reflected the opinions of his society onto his story of the gods’ creation of the universe, creating a justification for the philosophical opinions of the society in which he lived.

Could myths like the Theogony have been used to reinforce the patriarchy as it operated in ancient Greek society? It seems likely.

Pelos (2016). Of course it seems likely when you live in a Soviet-style indoctrination camp. See the praise for the good little apparatchik.

[2] Hesiod, Theogony ll. 164-6, Greek text from Evelyn-White (1914) via Perseus, English translation (modified slightly) from Most (2007) p. 17. Subsequent quotes are similarly from Theogony ll. 170-2, 174-82. The Evelyn-White (1914) Loeb edition of Hesiod’s Theogony is available online.

The Roman pantheon of gods assimilated many of the Greek gods. The Roman goddess Terra assimilated the Greek goddess Gaia, the Roman god Caelus assimilated the Greek Uranus, and Uranus’s son Chronus encompassed Saturn.

[3] Reflecting the fantastic imagination that now drives totalitarian sex tribunals at American universities, Vernant declares:

Ouranos {Uranus} sprawls over Gaia, covering her permanently, and discharges into her without stopping, imposing on her an incessant copulation—at least, at night (Theog. 176). There is neither spatial separation nor temporal interlude between them, in this union without pause.

Vernant (1990) p. 466. This contempt for Uranus isn’t warranted. Without Uranus’s work, ordinary life would be impossible. Uranus provides relief that helps persons begin a new day.

Echoing tenets of today’s dominant castration culture, Park declares:

The emasculation of Uranus is key to progress: it ends his sexual relationship with Gaea and explains in symbolic terms the separation between earth and sky.

Park (2014) p. 271. Castration also occurs in the earlier Hurrian-Hittite Kumarbi Cycle (Song of Kumarbi). In the Hittite version of that theogony (from the fourteenth or thirteenth century BGC), Kumarbi overthrows king Anu by biting off his genitals. For an English translation, Bachvarova (2013). Long-established castration culture has broad bite today in the broad criminalization of men’s sexuality.

While he presented castration culture, Hesiod himself seems not to have been an anti-meninist. Hesiod sought to provide men with prudent counsel in the work of their ordinary days:

Do not let a fancy-assed woman deceive your mind
by guilefully cajoling while she pokes into your granary:
whoever trusts a woman, trust swindlers.

{ μὴ δὲ γυνή σε νόον πυγοστόλος ἐξαπατάτω
αἱμύλα κωτίλλουσα, τεὴν διφῶσα καλιήν.
ὃς δὲ γυναικὶ πέποιθε, πέποιθ᾽ ὅ γε φηλήτῃσιν. }

Hesiod, Works and Days ll. 373-5, Greek text from Evelyn-White (1914) via Perseus, English translation (modified insubstantially) from Most (2007) pp. 117, 119.

[4] Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia, Microcosmus 5.5, from Latin trans. Wetherbee (2015) pp. 101. The subsequent quote is similarly from Microcosmus 5.6, id. pp. 101, 103.

Underscoring his condemnation of Saturn / Cronus for promoting castration culture, Bernardus describes “the barren and frozen wastes of Saturn {infecunda Saturni frigora}” as a place:

where the peace of the sky had been broken and shivered with chill and icy harshness.

{ ubi gelidis et pruinosis rigoribus demutata caeli tranquillitas inhorrescit. }

Microcosmus 5.7, id. p. 103. I suspect that the Latin gelidus shares a common origin with the Old Norse term gelda (“geld, castrate”).

Other medieval Latin poetry sadly shows more tolerance for castration. Walter of Châtillon, who vigorously addressed the poetic problem of man-hating Amazons, nonetheless wrote:

Nor should priests be excused who are known to be fouling themselves with their sheep. Some have been castrated for this or put to death, whenever Fortune has wanted some amusement.

{ Sed neque presbiteros decet excusari
quos cum suis ouibus constat inquinari
unde quosdam contigit uel ementulari
uel perimi quotiens uoluit fortuna iocari. }

Walter of Châtillon, Stulti cum prudentibus 16, Latin text and English translation from Traill (2013) pp. 116-7 (poem 43). Aelred of Rievaulx recorded a brutal account of a monk being castrated for having sex with a nun about the year 1160.

[images] (1) Cronus castrates his father Uranus at his mother Gaia’s urging. Oil on panel. Giorgio Vasari  and Cristofano Gherardi, 16th century Florence. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Saturn (Cronus) castrating his father Uranus (Caelus). Illumination from late-fifteenth-century manuscript of Le Roman de la Rose {The Romance of the Rose}, made for Louise of Savoy, mother of French King Francis I. Oxford Library MS. Douce 195, folio 76v.


Bachvarova, Mary. 2013. “Translation of the Kumarbi Cycle, with Song of Hedammu separated into two different versions.” Pp. 139-63 in López-Ruiz, Carolina. Gods, heroes, and monsters: a sourcebook of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern myths in translation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Most, Glenn W., trans. 2007. Hesiod. Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Loeb Classical Library 57. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Park, Arum. 2014. “Parthenogenesis in Hesiod’s Theogony.” Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural 3.2: 261-283.

Pelos, Andy. “The Asexual Revolution: Parthenogenesis in Hesiod’s Theogony (Revised).” A Classic(s) Dilemma. May 12, 2016.

Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the shorter poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Vernant, Jean-Pierre. 1990. “One…Two…Three: Eros.” Ch. 14 (pp. 465-78) in Halperin, David M., John J. Winkler, and Froma I. Zeitlin, eds. Before sexuality: the construction of erotic experience in the ancient Greek world. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, trans. 2015. Poetic works: Bernardus Silvestris. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 38. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Zeitlin, Froma I. 1996. Playing the other: gender and society in classical Greek literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Macrobius’s Saturnalia shows social constraints on men’s behavior

Macrobius, Saturnalia

In Rome about the year 431, the Right Honorable and Illustrious Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius wrote a series of books for his son. With these books,  father offered son “a fund of knowledge {scientiae supellex},” an “accumulation of things worth knowing” {noscendorum congerium pollicetur}.” Macrobius didn’t merely heap together bits of ancient knowledge. He subtly ordered them, blended them, and digested them so that they would provide zest in learning and harmony of understanding.[1] Such transmission of knowledge was vitally important for men in fifth-century Rome, just as it is for men today.

For dessert after a banquet of knowledge, Macrobius arranged a series of jests. Macrobius’s concern for verecundia (modesty, discretion, and decorum) prevented him from discussing directly important aspects of gender under gynocentric society.[2] Jests provide an opportunity for communicating aspects of reality not otherwise discussable.

A man visiting Rome from a province attracted crowds because he appeared as if he were Caesar Augustus’s brother. Caesar summoned him and asked, “Was your mother ever in Rome?” The man answered, “No, but my father was many times.”[3]

The bite of this resemblance jest comes from underlying gynocentric reality. If Caesar’s father had an illegitimate child with a provincial woman, that would matter little to Caesar. But if Caesar’s mother had an illegitimate child with a provincial man, that would make Caesar’s father a fool or a cuckold. That “edged barb {iocus asper}” became notorious. Caesar Augustus’s indulgence of it was widely discussed with amazement. The purity of matrilineal descent was crucial for social status. What women did mattered much more than what men did.

Nonetheless, women in ancient Rome were less subject to social control than men were. Julia, the daughter of Caesar Augustus, wore extravagant and provocative clothes. She was known for licentiousness. Caesar himself behaved more modestly. When asked why she didn’t behave soberly as her father did, Julia saucily replied, “He forgets that he is Caesar, but I remember that I am Caesar’s daughter.”[4] Julia ignored her political responsibility to model normative behavior. Unlike Caesar, she acted as her privilege allowed. From the most privileged to the least privileged groups of men and women, men are more constrained in the exercise of privilege.

The cultural construction of gender forces men to struggle to be virtuous and to be recognized as men. Men are commonly disparaged as pigs, or accused of behaving like dogs. Macrobius recorded for his son a jest that Julia made:

When people aware of her outrageous behavior expressed surprise that her sons looked just like Agrippa {her husband}, though she had been so free in letting others enjoy her charms, she said, “I take on a passenger only when the ship’s hold is full.” [5]

The point of this jest isn’t merely Julia’s shrewd and heartless technique of birth control. The narrator immediately instructs the reader:

Compare the mot of Marcus Popillius’ daughter: when someone wondered why other animals sought a mate of the species only when they wished to become pregnant, she replied, “Because they’re animals.”

Women being sexually promiscuous is celebrated in elite culture. In authoritative media today, slut walks signify that women are strong, independent human beings.

Immediately following the women’s jests about being promiscuous while pregnant, Macrobius placed a jest about public contempt for a man. Vatinus was stoned for not offering the public a sufficiently entertaining gladiatorial show. Roman officials subsequently issued a decree that only fruit could be thrown in the arena. When an official was asked if a pine cone was a fruit, he ruled:

If a person is going to throw it at Vatinus, it’s a fruit.

Throwing stones at men, or at boys, like joking about men getting raped, doesn’t violate decorum in gynocentric society. Publicly criticizing women, in contrast, is extremely dangerous.

Men’s subordinate social status generates tighter constraints on men’s sexuality than on women’s. The dessert discussion session ends with an uninvited guest, the aristocratic, bullying Evangelus, urging the men to “act like men”:

As in battle, then, we have to square up to the enemy — pleasures and indulgence in wine — and fight them at close quarters, so that we fortify ourselves against them not by flight or evasion, but by relying on mental exertion, unswerving resolution, and moderate indulgence to preserve our balance and self-restraint.

Unlike women, men must respect norms to be socially recognized as different from animals:

We understand that the two pleasures of taste and touch — that is, food and sex — are the only ones that human beings share with the beasts, and that’s why anyone wholly in the grip of these pleasures is counted among the animals of the fields and the wilds; all other pleasures, which derive from the three remaining senses, are peculiar to human beings. … Will anyone with a shred of human decency, then, exult in these two pleasures, of sexual intercourse and gluttony, which human beings share with swine and asses? [6]

Women can and do exult in those pleasures. Julia and another elite woman were examples that Macrobius recounted under the cover of jests. Men, in contrast, face more social pressure to uphold verecundia and the gynocentric construction of virtue. Macrobius’s son probably would have understood the lesson better than most modern readers have.

Today, men’s sexuality is broadly criminalized, men have no reproductive rights, and cuckolding of men is institutionalized in official paternity establishment procedures. Today, with freedom of expression more constrained in Western countries than it was in the early Islamic caliphates or in medieval Europe, few dare to discuss men’s significant social and political disadvantages. Macrobius points to the importance of men getting together in men-only environments and jesting.

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[1] Saturnalia, Preface, pp. 3-9. The quotes are from p. 5. The discussion reportedly offered “plenty of applications for the conduct of life.” Saturnalia 1.2.8, p. 17. The dating of the Saturnalia to 431 GC is based on the work of Alan Cameron. For discussion, id. pp. xiv-xvii.

[2] On concern for verecundia in Macrobius’s Saturnalia, Kaster (1980) and Long (2000).

[3] I’ve lightly paraphrased the jest from Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.4.19-20, from Latin trans. Kaster (2011) p. 353. All subsequent page references to the Saturnalia are in id. Bill Thayer has commendably made the Latin text of the Saturnalia available online.

A similar resemblance jest is recorded in Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 9.14.3. Valerius wrote that work about 30 GC. The jest, with minor variations, has occurred in a variety of contexts through to the present.

In Macrobius’s Saturnalia, resemblance subsequently frames Augustus’s misunderstanding about his daughter Julia:

when he saw his crowd of grandchildren and their resemblance to Agrippa {Julia’s husband}, he was ashamed of doubting his daughter’s fidelity. And so Augustus deluded himself with the thought that his daughter’s high spirits gave the appearance of license but were innocent in fact

Saturnalia 2.5.3-4, p. 363.

[4] Saturnalia 2.5.8, p. 365. Subsequent quotes are from 2.5.9, 2.5.10, p. 365 (When people aware…; Compare the mot…); 2.6.1, p. 367 (If a person…), 2.8.9 (As in battle…), 2.8.12, 2.8.15 (We understand…). Macrobius’s account of after-dinner jesting (Book 2) ends at 2.8.16 with sexual intercourse being compared to the effects of disease.

[5] Julia had five children with Agrippa. Id. p. 362, n. 73. Macrobius subtly sets up the recounting of Julia’s jests:

he began to speak about Julia in these terms: ‘She was thirty-seven, a point in life when — if you have any sense left — you know you’re no longer young, but she was abusing her standing as fortune’s darling, and her father’s.

Saturnalia 2.5.1-2, p. 361. When Julia was thirty-seven, Augustus exiled her for adultery. He ultimately refused to allow her to be buried with him in his Mausoleum. Long (2000) pp. 348-9. Saturnalia never mentions Julia’s exile, but surely Macrobius was aware of it. Macrobius’s point was women’s license, not the unusual punishment of Julia.

Modern scholarship confirms Macrobius’s point about women’s license. Mary Beard, probably one of the most powerful figures in classical scholarship today, laments:

One thing that we almost entirely miss in Rome is the tradition of subversive female laughter — what we call giggling — that is a distinctive strand in modern Western culture and can be glimpsed as far back as Geoffrey Chaucer. … this form of laughter, including its cultural and literary construction, is almost exclusively associated with women and “girls”; in its strongest form, it is, in Angela Carter’s words, “the innocent glee with which women humiliate men.”

Beard (2014) p. 157. Many men don’t even understand what’s going on. In a move characteristic of domestic violence scholarship, Beard defines giggling to exclude men:

I am referring here not just to moments when a woman laughs (or women laugh) at a man (or men) but when she laughs, in a gendered role, as a woman, at a man (which is what, in its powerful and positive valuation, the giggle signifies).

Id. p. 259, p. 5. Men should weep that such work stands on the commanding heights of intellectual life today.

[6] Long observes:

Women had a kind of license to admit sexuality. Julia and Populia joke acknowledging desire, whereas Avienus {a man banqueter in Macrobius’s Saturnalia} is squashed for an ambiguous hint about after-dinner music.

Long (2000) p. 354.

[image] Opening page of twelfth-century manuscript of Macrobius, Saturnalia. Manuscript preserved in Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana – Firenze; item IT-FI0100; Segnatura: Plut.51.08. Thanks to Internet Culturale: Cataloghi e Collezioni Digitali delle Biblioteche Italiane.


Beard, Mary. 2014. Laughter in ancient Rome: on joking, tickling, and cracking up. Sather classical lectures, v. 71. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kaster, Robert. 1980. “Macrobius and Servius: Verecundia and the Grammarian’s Function.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 84: 219-262.

Kaster, Robert A. trans. 2011. Macrobius. Saturnalia, Books 1-2. Vol. I, Loeb Classical Library 510. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Long, Jacqueline. 2000. “Julia-jokes at Macrobius’s Saturnalia: Subversive decorum in late antique reception of Augustan political humor.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 6 (3): 337-355.

Luxorius: sixth-century African poet against dinner invitations

social intrigue at dinner

Early in the sixth century in the prominent north African city of Carthage, Luxorius wrote a poem about the burden of receiving hospitality. Arabic tribal culture within Carthage probably contributed to an ethos of generosity. But as al-Jahiz’s masterful work on misers highlights, generosity can be burdensome to its recipients.

I am happy that you frequently feast me
sumptuously, Blumarit, and with proud extravagance.
At whose expense am I being fed? Whatever I own
has been scattered among your guests. I did not want
you to feed and invite anybody else with me lest
anything be given to you for feeding us.
But if you are addicted to this failing,
I beg of you never to invite me.
{Gaudeo quod me nimis ac frequenter
Ambitu pascis, Blumarit, superbo.
Unde sed pascor? Mea sunt per omnes
Sparsa convivas bona. Nec volebam
Pasceres quemquam peteresque mecum,
Ne tibi quicquam detur unde pascas.
Hoc teamen sed si vitio teneris,
Me precor numquam iubeas vocari.} [1]

The sponger or parasite, living off the generosity of others, is a stock figure in ancient literature. Luxorius, in contrast, complains of being impoverished by Blumarit’s hospitality.[2] Blumarit apparently is a Germanic name meaning “flowery.” That probably indicates that he has ties to the the northern European tribe (Vandals) that conquered Carthage in 439 GC. Luxorius seems to have been a government official in Carthage.[3] At Blumarit’s frequent and extravagant banquets for Luxorius, guests apparently competed to offer each other and the hosts gifts. In a comical reversal, the effect was to push Luxorius toward starvation.

Please don’t invite me to dinner! That’s not inconceivable in reality. Human cultural evolution can produce bizarre effects.

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[1] Luxorius, Poem 40 (De eo qui amicos ad prandium clamabat ut plura exposceret xenia / About a Man Who Used to Invite His Friends to a Meal That He Might Ask for Many Gifts), from Latin trans. Rosenblum (1961) pp. 134-7, which also includes the Latin text. I’ve added lineation to make exploring the Latin easier. I’ve also made a few minor changes to the translation.

A Syriac manuscript probably from the sixth century offers related wisdom:

Do not eat food each day with someone who is richer than you, for if you happen upon him, he will receive you with his daily supplies, but if he should happen upon you, you will pay out your gleanings of 30 days on him, and afterwards, you will lay yourself waste.

Sentences of the Syriac Menander (British Library Ord. Add. 14.658) VII.5, from Syriac trans. Monaco (2013) p. 160. Monaco judges the Sentences of the Syriac Menander to be a Jewish pseudepigraphical work from the end of the second or early third century, perhaps from Edessa.

[2] I refer to the poem’s “I” as Luxorius for convenience. The first-person speaker can be read as a constructed poetic voice. Antithesis is a characteristic of Luxorious’s poems. Consider some lines from Poem 43 (In eum qui foedas amabat / Against a Lover of Ugly Girls):

Myrro loves hideous and ugly girls.
On the other hand, he fears any beautiful girl he sees.

Yet I now know why you seek such lovers.
A beautiful girl will never give herself to you; an ugly one may.
{Diligit informes et foedas Myrro puellas.
Quas aliter pulcro viderit ore, timet.

Iam tamen agnosco cur tales quaeris amicas.
Pulcra tibi numquam, se dare foeda potest.

Trans. Rosenblum (1961) p. 137, with my adaptation.

[3] On Blumarit as flowery, id. p. 207, 40 n. 2. Luxorius apparently held the titles vir clarissimus et spectabilis. Holding those titles doesn’t necessarily imply holding public office, but they suggest so. Id. pp. 39-43.

[image] Luncheon of the Boating Party. Oil on convas painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-1, France. Held in the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Thanks to Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons.


Monaco, David Gregory. 2013. The Sentences of the Syriac Menander: introduction, text and translation, and commentary. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

Rosenblum, Morris. 1961. Luxorius: a Latin poet among the Vandals; together with a text of the poems and an English translation. New York: Columbia University Press.

killing Patricida frees men’s inner selves from political oppression

I am the leader, I am the victor, a gift I seek: grant it.
Yet, because he performs honorable services that you bestowed on him,
your king ceases to be king over himself.
Swiftly I lay aside the royal robes, swiftly your king divests himself —
Free, I am my own man again, unimpeded in fulfilling my own desires.

{ Dux ego, victor ego, munera quaero: date.
Sed quia muneribus vestri fundatur honoris,
rex ideo vester desinit esse suus.
Pono citus trabeam, vestrum citus exuo regem
liber et explicitus ad mea vota, meus. } [1]

Men to the empyrean

Mathematicus of Bernardus Silvestris isn’t widely recognized as a major medieval work of men’s sexed protest. It has none of the anguished impotence of Matheolus’s outcry. It lacks the daring intertextual reversal of Hildebert of Lavardin’s De querimonia et conflictu spiritus et carnis. Yet with intricate antitheses, Mathematicus eloquently depicts man’s inner struggle against Patricida. Men must shed the deceptive integument of their dominance in serving women and in administering father-killing. Men must assert their value in doing nothing more than being.

Mathematicus tells the fabulous story of a Roman knight and his wife. He was valiant in fighting other men, rich in material goods, and publicly prominent. Like most husbands, he was devoted to his wife.  She was superior to him, or at least his equal, yet modest:

His wife was no less nobly born than her husband, not inferior in character,
no older in years, no less trustworthy;
direct, modest, unassuming, not, as is often apt to be
for a beautiful woman, overbearing with her husband.

{ Sponsa vira non stirpe minor, non moribus impar,
non aevo senior dissimilisve fide;
prompta, modesta, timens, non, ut solet esse frequenter,
imperiosa suo femina pulcra viro. }

In describing the wife, Bernardus subtly evokes literature of men’s sexed protest, yet distinguishes the wife: not all women are like that (NAWALT). Subtle manipulation of men’s sexed protest is a vital current throughout Mathematicus.[2]

Although wife and husband ardently sought to have children, they remained childless. The issue wasn’t sexless marriage:

she cannot complain of the frosty age of an elderly husband,
nor he of the chilled limbs of his wife.

{ nec senis haec gelidos causari coniugis annos,
ille nec uxoris frigida membra potest. }

She consulted an astrologer. His calculations foretold that women’s cosmos-changing new creation “will bring fertility to your sterile womb.” The wife would give birth to a son who would have characteristics of excellent men and women, e.g., beautiful, but not overbearing.[3] This son was fated to kill his father.

When the husband realized that his wife was upset and weary with worry, he asked her about her troubles. She told him of the astrologer’s calculations. He listened to her attentively and was filled with sorrow. Lacking reproductive rights himself, as men have been throughout history, he begged her to have a post-birth abortion:

I thus pray, my wife, my love, my sole delight,
sharer of my soul and half of my being:
when the child has been conceived by this evil genius,
and your womb has given forth its timely burden,
forgetting tender feelings, forgetting motherhood,
do not hesitate to put your son to death.

{ Unde precor, meus uxor amor, mea sola voluptas,
altera pars animae dimidiumque meae:
cum fuerit soboles genio concepta sinistro
et tua maturum fuderit alvus honus,
affectus oblita pios oblitaque matrem
ne dubites puerum mortificare tuum. }

The “evil genius” to which the husband referred was his penis, fated according to the astrologer’s calculations. That night the wife and husband lay together and conceived a child.

Like many mothers throughout history, the wife loved her new-born son. He was beautiful, smiled with joy, and seemed to be the image of divinity in human substance. She couldn’t bear to kill him. She feigned his death and sent him far away. She ordered that his name be Patricida:

His name was ambiguous, but Patricida he is called,
as ordered by the secret shrewdness of his parent,
so that the youth at such great crime, such great madness,
might shudder as often as he heard his name.

{ Nomen in ambiguo, sed Patricida vocetur
imperat arcana calliditate parens,
ut iuvenis tantumque nefas tantumque furorem
horreat audito nomine saepe suo. }

Patricida means killing the father. Relative to mothers, fathers today are vastly disproportionately legally exiled from physical custody of their children, as well as vastly disproportionately incarcerated and killed. Patricida is personally horrifying, but it is socially supported in gynocentric society.

Patricida, not surprisingly, came to rule Rome. Patricida charged into an enemy horde of Carthaginians and overturned the Roman army’s defeat. Men’s battles against men put Patricida in power. Having men rule doesn’t indicate victory for men.

With Patricida ruling Rome, the issues of men’s sexed protest became prominent. Patricida’s mother understood that his father was now in grave danger. Yet she was reluctant to tell her secret to her husband. Like wives in the literature of men’s sexed protest, the husband made various emotional plays to get his wife to divulge her secret:

He rushes to embrace and tenderly kiss his beloved
wife, then breaks off and asks her why she is sad.
But she tells him nothing; he holds her roughly and clings to her,
he is insistent and overbearing, and he entreats her endlessly.

He asks, invoking the trust of marriage and its sacred rites,
what is the meaning, what is the cause from which her sorrow has arisen.
If a matter for deliberation, it will enter trustworthy ears;
if a crime, a loving husband can accept this.

{ Currit in amplexus et dulciter oscula carae
coniugis irrumpit et rogat, unde dolet.
Cui tamen illa nihil; premit importunus et haeret,
instat et incumbit multiplicatque preces.

Quaerit perque fidem thalamique sacros hymeneos,
quis, quibus ex causis fluxerit iste dolor.
Si res consilii, tutas descendet in aures;
si scelus, hoc poterit scire maritus amans. }

Like husbands in the literature of men’s sexed protest, the wife eventually revealed her secret to her husband. But before she told her secret, she forcefully rehearsed themes from men’s protests against women:

Mine is the sex to which simplicity is an enemy,
to which shame is unknown, to which trust is foreign.
Mine is the sex which detests integrity,
which claims as its right any crime whatsoever.
If it please the gods, be destroyed that wicked gender
womankind; then let man live for himself in a world of his own.
A destructive wind, the swelling waves of the ocean, the fury of war
do not result in murders equal to yours, ominous woman.
A plant or tree, to prolong life through the ages, has
seeds that ensure the perpetuity and continuity of its kind.
A woman likewise has the root of crime within herself,
seeds and substance of evil she harbors.
If the ancient days of open honesty should return,
and the spirit of crafty ingenuity should perish,
woman would be capable of restoring the destructive arts,
and might well add some new work of treachery.
In time, lions grow tame, laying aside their fierceness,
in time, tiger and bear usually become pacified.
Her step remains fixedly faced toward crime,
woman alone never changes her perverse nature.
Should any woman wholly separate herself from her sex,
she would make herself more of a marvel than a snow-white raven.

{ Is meus est sexus, cui simplicitas inimica,
cui pudor ignotus, cui peregrina fides.
Is meus est sexus, qui detestatur honestum,
qui, cuicquid scelus est, vidicat esse suum.
Si libeat superis, genus evertatur iniquum
femina, vivat homo tum suus orbe suo.
Aura nocens, maris unda tumens irataque pugna
non necat ad numerum, femina dira, tuum.
Planta vel arbor habet, quibus extendatur in aevum,
semina; perpetuant continuantque genus.
Femina non aliter radicuem criminis in se
sementemque mali materiamque tenet.
Tempora si redeant antiquae simplicitatis
argutique cadat spiritus ingenii,
femina sufficiet artes reparare nocendi
perfidiaeque noveum forsitan addet opus.
Tempore mitiscunt posita feritate leones,
tempore leniri tigris et ursa solent;
fixa pedem manet ad facinus numquamque malignam
mutat naturam femina sola suam.
Si qua suum penitus descivit femina sexum
plus niveo corvo prodigiosa fuit. } [4]

The concluding reference to a “snow-white raven” inverts the coloring of Juvenal’s black swan. Juvenal, however, merely and sensibly urged a friend not to marry. The wife’s categorical condemnation of women is better understood as similar to Andreas Capellanus’s sophisticated rhetoric of men’s protest. Working polarities like Andreas did, the wife repudiated her own rhetoric:

But why to a natural failing, why to innate
behavior do I ascribe the burden of this crime?
What evil, what vile, what monstrous, what damned acts
that I basely impute to my sex, I myself have done.
No elegant argument can disguise what my guilt colors;
my crime has no way to hide itself.

{ Sed quid naturae vitio vel quid genuinis
moribus ascribo criminis huius onus?
Quod mala, quod nequam, quot atrox, quod perdita feci,
ad sexum refero turpiter ipsa meum.
Non bene causa nitet, qua se mea culpa colorat;
seque meum facinus non habet unde tegat. } [5]

The mother preserved the life of Patricida, destined to kill his father. To do otherwise would have been to defy the order of fate. Yet she insisted on her own guilt in doing so. That guilt implies the inner freedom and responsibility associated with personal being.

Mathematicus extends personal being to men in the face of Patricida. The father that Patricida must kill is the man whom his mother addressed with pity:

Perhaps by obedience and tender devotion
you believed that you had won my heart.
From our earliest stages, your only desire,
your only affection, your only care was for me.

{ Forsitan obsequiis et blanda sedulitate
credebas animum promeruisse meum.
A primis aevi gradibus tuus unicus ordor,
unicus affectus, unica cura fui. }

In short, the father was an exemplar of the men that uphold gynocentrism. That’s a path of misery for men:

But your generous acts, responding poorly to your hopes,
did not receive a return of equal merit.
We counterbalance obedience with injury, hatred for love,
praise with abuse, trust with betrayal.

{ Sed benefacta tuis male respondentia votis
aequalis meriti non habuere vices.
Obsequium damnis, odiis pensamus amorem,
opprobrio laudem, proditione fidem. }

That summary applies equally well to recent activity for “gender equality.” With an allusion to the self-consciousness and magnanimity of Photis, the wife implored:

Husband, seek out a new form of punishment, draw your sword,
scatter my entrails on the earth, tear apart my limbs on the wheel!

{ Quaere, marite, novum poenae genus, exime ferrum,
viscera funde solo, distrahe membra rotis! }

In the radical medieval pastourelle Lucis orto sidere, dramatic masculine assertion redeemed men sheep from gynocentrism. But the husband here wasn’t the sort of man who would proudly and fearlessly display his sword. The husband welcomed and honored Patricida.

In a brilliant poetic figure, Patricida garnered public assent to destroying father-killing and asserted his personal freedom to realize men’s masculine being. He acted with guile, an art in which women typically are far superior to men. Patricida, king and hero to the Roman people, requested a gift from them. He requested “an ambiguous gift, concealing its name.”[6] The gift he requested was named Patricida. He guilefully secured from the Roman people the gift of himself. Men must recognize the value of their own being. By any means necessary, they must reclaim their being from gynocentric society.

Just as his request was ambiguous, the gift of Patricida goes two ways. After he received that gift, he described its political meaning in reference to his external covering as the ruler maintaining gynocentrism:

Instead, I seek what could be granted by a cruel enemy:
that it be permitted me to inflict my own death,
and hasten the last day of my wretched life.

Your gift, O Rome, is my death; you sin unknowingly,
the burden of beclouded error defends you.

{ ut liceat propriamque mihi consciscere mortem
et miseram vitae praecipitare diem.

Munus, Roma, tuum mors est mea; nescia peccas,
defenditque tuum nubilus error opus. }

Gynocentrism defines the socially sanctioned meaning of sin and error. Destroying gynocentrism is a cosmopoietic task. Mathematicus ends with dual clarity. Patricida — father-killing — is no longer clothed in royal robes. In the transcendent order, that’s the fated suicide of Patricida. Patricida — the man in his essential being — goes his own way. His own way, no longer within the cage of gynocentrism, abounds in possibilities. Don’t prescribe what he must do.[7]

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Bernardus Silvestris, Mathematicus (The Astrologer), vv. 850-4, from Latin my translation, adapted from the translations in Wetherbee (2015) p. 241, Godman (2000) p. 266, Stone (1988) p. 55, and Dronke (1974) p. 134. Wetherbee (2015) and Stone (1988) feature full translations and the Latin text. The latter translation has been published as Stone (1996). The Latin text I quote is that of Wetherbee. Even persons with no knowledge of Latin can benefit from reading the Latin text. On the surviving manuscripts of Mathematicus, Stone (1988) Ch. 7.

These final lines of Mathematicus are polysemic. Liber explicit is a common concluding statement in a Latin text. The final line of Mathematicus could be translated alternately as “The book is finished to my satisfaction.” Stone (1988) p. 96. Wetherbee translates the final two lines:

I quickly lay aside my royal robes, quickly cease to be your king — my own man, set free to pursue my goal.

The translation “my goal” seems to incorporate Wetherbee’s judgment that Patricida, definitely or most likely given the weight of textual support, commits suicide. Id. pp. xxxvii-xxxviii, Wetherbee (1972) p. 157, n. 8. Dronke has “my own desires”; Stone, “my desires.” Godman (2000), p. 267, strongly dissents from Wetherbee’s judgment that Patricida commits suicide.

Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from Mathematicus. I’ve adapted Wetherbee’s translation (in unlineated prose) to lines corresponding to the Latin text. I have also made a variety of small changes to that translation. None of my changes have meaning outside the overall range of meaning that Wetherbee’s and Stone’s translations support.

The subsequent quotes, cited by Mathematicus verse numbers and translation page numbers in Wetherbee (2015), are vv. 7-10, p. 185 (His wife was no less…); vv. 33-4, p. 187 (she cannot complain…); vv. 75-80, p. 189 (I thus pray…); vv. 107-10, p. 191 (His name…); vv. 309-12, 315-18, p. 205 (He rushes…); vv. 327-46, p. 207 (Mine is the sex…); vv. 347-52, p. 207 (But why…); vv. 355-8, p. 209 (Perhaps by obedience…); vv. 359-62, p. 209 (But your generous acts…); vv. 363-4, p. 209 (Husband, seek out…); vv. 739-40, 747-8, pp. 233, 235 (Instead I seek…).

[2] Godman characterizes the wife’s description with the threadbare cliché “patently misogynistic.” Godman (2000) p. 246. It’s actually sophisticated poetry important within a larger literary design.

Mathematicus is based on the fourth declamation of pseudo-Quintilian’s major declamations. Andreas Capellanus’s De amore similarly builds upon rhetoric of the Second Sophistic. Stories in the Gesta Romanorum are less imaginatively based on Seneca’s Controversiae.

[3] Compare the description of the wife, Mathematicus vv. 7-20, with the description of Patricida, id. vv. 51-4, and his concern about his proneness to lechery and vice, vv. 137-8.

[4] Today, women’s privilege within the criminal justice system makes a travesty of ideals of equal justice under law.

[5] Godman reads this invocation of themes of men’s sexed protest as similar to that of Hildebert of Lavardin and Marbod of Rennes. Godman (2000) pp. 253-4. Hildebert wrote a searing indictment of socially constructed gender in stimulating humans’ desire for death. Marbod of Rennes was an exponent of gender-equality double-talk. Men’s sexed protest in those two authors’ works is only superficially similar to that in Bernardus’s Mathematicus.

Stone describes the wife’s speech as “an anti-female tirade put in the mouth of a woman.” She associates it with text Heloise wrote to Abelard, and with De coniuge non ducenda. Stone (1988) p. 73. De coniuge non ducenda is a short romance about angelic intervention that saved Gawain from marriage. Most scholars now recognize Heloise to have been a strong, independent, highly intelligent woman who wrote her own words. She courageously urged Abelard not to marry her.

L.S. Davidson reads Mathematicus to present conflict that is “generational rather than sexual.” Davidson understand the text to offer an affirmation of love in which the “misogynistic rave emerges as parody.” See Davidson’s appendix in Stone (1988) p. 55. Deploying terms such as “misogynistic rave” and “parody” can function as an easy alternative to engaging in the specificity of the text. In a poem concerned with gynocentrism, Bernardus deploys rhetoric common under gynocentrism. He describes King Patricida’s behavior to his mother:

lofty power, not forgetful of its origin,
assumes the character of servility.

{ naturaeque suae non immemor alta potestas
personam servae conditionis agit. }

Mathematicus, vv. 469-70. That the wife, husband, and son Patricida deeply love each other seems to me beyond reasonable question.

Scholars today seem unable to imagine medieval women writers’ loving concern for men. While scholars now commonly assert false consciousness in men’s sexed protest by medieval women writers and medieval women characters, these scholars themselves seem to lack consciousness of the reality of men’s social position today. If scholars encountered greater diversity in viewpoints, they would recognize that influential voices of men’s sexed protest today include strong, independent women authors.

[6] Mathematicus, v. 665: ambiguum sublato nomine munus. Godman (2000), p. 260, mistranslates the gift as “nameless.” That error points to misunderstanding the theme of Patricida as a gift.

[7] Dronke highlights the elevation of men’s personal being:

{Patricida} reveals and affirms a more fundamental freedom: the freedom to solve one’s own guilt, the freedom to take the decision that seems finest, regardless of the pressures of the outside world. … The hero at the close establishes not so much his freedom to commit suicide as, more fundamentally, his freedom to choose.

Dronke (1974) pp. 136-7. Men’s liberation from their instrumental roles requires an assertion of being. Yet the pressures and constraints that the outside world places on men must be addressed. Godman highlights liberation from office as the meaning of Patricida:

Patricida’s separation of the two parts of his gemina persona amounts to an act of liberation from office. Liber through parricidium {killing the ruler} rather than despite it, Patricida, the exemplary ruler, has answered the question raised earlier in the poem about the civic doctrine of Cicero’s De inventione with ambiguous eloquence.

Godman (2000) p. 267. Godman, however, fails to recognize that the fundamental office of the ruler is to serve women. Public authorization for the death of Patricida is a particular, necessary political act. Silverstein insightfully explains the poetic strategy of Bernardus:

If he has seemed daring to certain modern critics, this is because the times and his group were daring, as they sought to understand the Christian universe. But within this group Bernardus himself was singularly circumspect. In a day when literature and philosophy were in a special sense still indissolubly allied, he possessed an instrument which his more prosaic colleagues very much missed. In its use he was perhaps more skilful than profound, elegant, and highly imaginative. He was, in short, a poet. And what philosophy could not do, poetry might.

Silverstein (1948) p. 116.

[image] Photograph by Douglas Galbi.


Dronke, Peter. 1974. Fabula: explorations into the uses of myth in medieval Platonism. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Godman, Peter. 2000. The silent masters: Latin literature and its censors in the High Middle Ages. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Silverstein, Theodore. 1948. “The Fabulous Cosmogony of Bernardus Silvestris.” Modern Philology. 46 (2): 92-116.

Stone, Deirdre M. 1988. The Mathematicus of Bernardus Silvestris. Ph.D. Thesis. Department of History, University of Sidney.

Stone, Deirdre M. 1996. “Bernardus Sivestris, Mathematicus: Edition and Translation.” Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen-Âge 63: 209-283.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 1972. Platonism and poetry in the twelfth century: the literary influence of the school of Chartres. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, trans. 2015. Poetic works: Bernardus Silvestris. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 38. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.