Pyrrhic loss: battle of sexes necessary for achieving gender equality

Pyrrhic Dance

Pyrrhic (weapon) dances in the ancient Greco-Roman world depicted gender equality in fighting. Yet men fought and died in actual inter-society battles in vastly disproportionate numbers. Women rationalized not fighting outside the home in a variety of ways.[1] In short, gender equality in Pyrrhic dance wasn’t actually about equally shouldering the burdens of fighting foreign enemies.

Gender equality in Pyrrhic dance is best understood as a domestic political ideal. Pyrrhic dance was explicitly associated with the battle of the sexes and gender equality. Yes-dearism destroys societies. The point of ancient Pyrrhic dance was to encourage men to fight with women domestically. Men must be willing to battle with women to constrain gynocentric tyranny.

Archaic Greek Pyrrhic dance seems to have been associated with elite men warriors. Under the social power of feminization, Pyrrhic dance changed. A wise old man in fifth-century BGC Athens complained:

I get so angry when I see young men, dancing the martial dances {Pyrrhic dances} at the Panathenea festivals, and instead of raising their shield high above their naked bodies and swinging it vigorously about, they just hold it down low, in front of their dick!  No respect at all for our thrice-born goddess, Athena! [2]

Women were incorporated into the dances for cultural boasting. Xenophon reported:

After they had made libations and sung the paean, two Thracians rose up first and began a dance in full armour to the music of a flute, leaping high and lightly and using their sabres. One finally struck the other, as everybody thought, and the second man fell, in a rather skilful way. The Paphlagonians set up a cry. Then the first man despoiled the other of his arms and marched out singing the Sitalcas. Other Thracians carried off the fallen dancer, as though he were dead. In fact, he had not been hurt at all. After this, some Aenianians and Magnesians arose and danced under arms the so-called carpaea. … Then a Mysian came in carrying a light shield in each hand. At one moment in his dance he would go through a pantomime as though two men were arrayed against him. He would use his shields as though against one antagonist, and again he would whirl and throw somersaults while holding the shields in his hands. The spectacle was a fine one. Lastly, he danced the Persian dance, clashing his shields together and crouching down and then rising up again.  All this he did, keeping time to the music of the flute. After him the Mantineans and some of the other Arcadians arose, arrayed in the finest arms and accoutrements they could command. They marched in time to the accompaniment of a flute playing the martial rhythm. They sang the paean and danced, just as the Arcadians do in their festal processions in honour of the gods. And the Paphlagonians, as they looked on, thought it most strange that all the dances were under arms. Thereupon the Mysian, seeing how astounded they were, persuaded one of the Arcadians who had a dancing girl to let him bring her in, after dressing her up in the finest way he could and giving her a light shield. She danced the Pyrrhic with grace. Then there was great applause, and the Paphlagonians asked whether women also fought by their side. The Greeks replied that these women were precisely the ones who put the King to flight from his camp. [3]

In fourth-century BGC Athens, Plato’s imagined ideal laws required boys and girls to be taught equally Pyrrhic dance. About six hundred years later, Apuleius, with his keen sense for the absurdity of everyday sexism, described girls and boys dancing together the Pyrrhic dance for a large public festival.[4]

A poem fortunately preserved in the Anthologia Latina shows Pyrrhic dance’s relation to gender equality. It depicts the battle of the sexes that brings peace and gender equality through the potent functioning of a soothing instrument:

On a Pyrrhic dance

In the precinct of Venus are simulated the battles of Mars,
when the two sexes come against each other.
The Pyrrhic dance pitches the female group against the males
and it moves like a soldier in the conduct of arms,
although the weapons aren’t tipped with stiff steel,
but being made of boxwood only give off sound.
Thus do they alternately aim javelins and protect themselves with shields.
No man or woman is hurt in their coming together.
The play has fighting, but the contests bring peace,
because the soothing instrument commands them to retire as equals.

{De pyrrhica

In spatio Veneris simulantur proelia Martis,
cum sese adversum sexus uterque venit.
Femineam maribus nam confert pyrrhica classem
et velut in morem militis arma movet,
quae tamen haut ullo chalybis sunt tecta rigore,
sed solum reddunt buxea tela sonum.
Sic alterna petunt iaculis clipeisque teguntur.
Nec sibi congressu vir nocet an mulier.
Lusus habet pugnam, sed dant certamina pacem,
nam remeare iubent organa blanda pares.} [5]

Not depicting masculine sexuality as distinctively violent, the male and female dancers alternate javelin thrusts and shielding. The battle of the sexes, when conducted appropriately, hurts neither men nor women. It brings about peace and gender equality.[6]

With modern intensification of gynocentric dominance, many men are afraid to confront women. They refuse to engage in the battle of the sexes. The resulting gender rout further intensifies gynocentrism. Loss of Pyrrhic dance is extraordinarily damaging to society.

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[1] The ancient Greco-Roman world didn’t achieve modern ideals of gender equality. Sexuality in ancient Athens was regulated with a harsh gender double standard. Ancient Rome was founded with an express commitment to gender subordination. Nonetheless, across all social classes and all ordinary activities, life in the ancient Greco-Roman world was probably more gender equal than life today in high-income Western countries professing gender equality. Life for most persons in the pre-modern world — men and women — was nasty, brutish, and short.

Within the context of the Trojan War’s brutal violence against men, Euripides, Andromache ll. 1129-41, describes Neoptolemus’s Pyrrhic dance in response to actual, vicious violence against him. For analysis, Cairns (2012).

[2] Aristophanes, Clouds 988-9 (first produced in Athens in 423 BGC), from Greek trans. George Theodoridis (2007). An alternate translation:

It sends me into a fury when I see one of them dance Pallas Athena’s martial dance steps {Pyrrhic dance} screening his butt with a shield, quite ignoring Athena.

Roche (2005) p. 177. The context is clearly homoeroticism:

When a boy oiled himself, he’d never rub his body below his navel and so his balls would glisten with a soft, cool dew, much like the skin of a quince. And when he went for walks with his lovers he wouldn’t make his voice all soft and sleazy or drop his glances coyly at other boys like a pimp.

See ll. 980-4, trans. Theodoridis. On the history of Pyrrhic dance in classical Athens, Spaltro (2011) Ch. 2.

[3] Xenophon, Anabasis (Ascent) 6.1.5-13, from Greek trans. Carleton L. Brownson for the Loeb Classical Library (1922). In the Epic Cycle, Neoptolemos, whose natal name was Pyrrhos, was the first Greek to leap from the Trojan horse. Neoptolemos slayed the Trojan King Priam.

[4] Plato, Laws 7.796c5-10; 12.942d3-5. Women between the age of marriage and age forty apparently were excluded from military service. On gender equality in in Pyrrhic dance in Plato’s Laws, Spaltro (2011) pp. 94-7. For Pyrrhic dance in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, see id. 10.29.4. Metamorphoses is thought to have been written in the late second century GC.

[5] Anthologia Latina 104 (R115), Latin text from Kay (2006) p. 45, my translation, with help from id. p. 151. This epigram follows four other epigrams on performing arts: 100 (pantomime), 101 (funambulist (tight-rope walker)), 102 (citharode (singer accompanying a stringed instrument)), and 103 (lyrist). The poetic context is thus realistic. Processing in the underworld, Aeneas’s son Silvius leans on a “tipless spear of honor” (hasta pura). Aeneid 6.760. The spear cited above may have been similar.

[6] A sarcophagus discovered near Troy in 1994 and dating to about 500 BGC suggests the domestic, inter-sexual significance of the Pyrrhic dance. The sarcophagus has been tendentiously mis-interpreted to satisfy dominant gynocentric interests. For insightful analysis, Neer (2012).

[image] Pyrrhic dance. Neo-attican relief from about 100-50 BGC, modeled after relief from 350-300 BGC. Held in Museo Pio-Clementino (Vatican City)‎, Sala delle Muse. Thanks to Sailko and Wikimedia Commons.


Cairns, Francis. 2012. “Pyrrhic dancing and politics in Euripides’ Andromache.” Quaderni Urbinati Di Cultura Classica. 129: 31-47.

Kay, N. M. 2006. Epigrams from the Anthologia Latina: text, translation and commentary. London: Duckworth.

Neer, Richard. 2012. “‘A tomb both great and blameless’: Marriage and murder on a sarcophagus from the Hellespont.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 61/62: 98-115.

Roche, Paul, trans. 2005. Aristophanes. The complete plays. New York, N.Y.: New American Library.

Spaltro, Frances L. 2011. Why should I dance for Athena? Pyrrhic dance and the choral world of Plato’s Laws. Ph. D. University of Chicago, Division of the Humanities, Department of Classical Languages and Literatures.

being cuckolded is impotent husbands’ best hope for future

London cuckold

Current, official paternity establishment procedures institutionalize the cuckolding of men. Men have been completely impotent in addressing that social injustice and many other social injustices against men. Moreover, despite impassioned admonishments not to marry, many men still get married. What is impotent husbands’ best hope for the future?

An impotent husband in sixth-century Vandal north Africa shows how men can make the best of their circumstances. Whether as a result of a sexless marriage, being castrated, or some other difficulty, the husband Proconius was unable to sire children. Most women in the ancient world, including in ancient Athens, worked outside the home.[1] Women probably enjoyed such work no more than men do. Proconius offered his wife an opportunity to work within the home as a prostitute. She accepted, as would many men would if they had equally good opportunities to work as home-based prostitutes. By having his wife work as a prostitute, Proconius not only increased family income, but also increased the probability of having children in his family.

The Latin poet Luxorius ironically condemned the impotent husband’s pragmatic, multi-pronged strategy for increasing family income and having children. Luxorius wrote:

About he who made his wife a prostitute in order to have children

Unable to perpetuate your father’s lineage,
you hear yourself called father. Pious adulterer,
you damn your wife’s chaste loins
to bear for you bastard sons,
herself not knowing from which seed they have arisen.
Perhaps that detestable arrangement might have been
bearable for awhile, Proconius,
if yours could ever as an adult know
that his mother could say …

{De eo qui uxorem suam prostare faciebat pro filiis habendis

Stirpe negata patrium nomen
non pater audis. Castus adulter
coiugis castae viscera damnas,
pariat spurios ut tibi natos,
inscia quo sint semine creti.
Fuerant forsan ista ferenda
foeda, Proconi, vota parumper,
scire vel ipsam si tuus umquam
posset adultus dicere matrem …} [2]

The concluding incompleteness poetically emphasizes the burden of the unspeakable. How could the mother explain to her son that she doesn’t even know who his true biological father is? How could she say what her husband wanted and what she did? Gynocentric society not only makes men impotent, but also makes unspeakable men’s interests with respect to reproductive rights and custody of children. That unspeakability extends even to a man’s mother. Only a great poet like Luxorius can challenge the silencing of men’s interests.

Husbands tolerant of cuckolding can benefit greatly from their wives’ strong, independent sexuality. Cuckolded men have commonly been ridiculed. But a husband like Cinna, a Roman figure from about 2000 years ago, had many blessings:

By Marulla, you Cinna, have become the father of seven
non-freeborn children; for none of them is yours,
and none is the son of a friend or neighbor,
but, as they were conceived on couches and mats,
they reveal their mother’s adulteries by their heads.
This one, who struts around with curly hair like a Moor,
confesses himself the offspring of Santra the cook.
That one, with flat nostrils and blubber lips,
is the very image of Pannychus the wrestling coach.
Who is ignorant that the third is the pastry-cook’s,
when he knows and sees bleary-eyed Dama?
The fourth, with the brow and pale complexion of a passive homosexual,
was born for you from your concubine Lygdus;
Sodomize your son, if you like; it’s no sin.
Ah yes, this one with the pointed head and long ears
that move like a donkey’s typically do,
who could deny that he’s the son of Cyrta the amusing idiot?
Two sisters, one black, the other red,
are Crotus the flautist’s and Carpus the bailiff’s.
You’d now have a brood as numerous as Niobe’s,
if Coresus and Dindymus hadn’t been eunuchs.

{Pater ex Marulla, Cinna, factus es septem
non liberorum: namque nec tuus quisquam
nec est amici filiusve vicini,
sed in grabatis tegetibusque concepti
materna produnt capitibus suis furta.
Hic qui retorto crine Maurus incedit
subolem fatetur esse se coci Santrae.
At ille sima nare, turgidis labris
ipsa est imago Pannychi palaestritae.
Pistoris esse tertium quis ignorat,
quicumque lippum novit et videt Damam?
Quartus cinaeda fronte, candido vultu
ex concubino natus est tibi Lygdo;
percide, si vis, filium: nefas non est.
Hunc vero acuto capite et auribus longis,
quae sic moventur ut solent asellorum,
quis morionis filium negat Cyrtae?
Duae sorores, illa nigra et haec rufa,
Croti choraulae vilicique sunt Carpi.
Iam Niobidarum grex tibi foret plenus
si spado Coresus Dindymusque non esset.} [3]

Men throughout history have received much joy from having physical custody of children and providing loving child support. Moreover, in the ancient world, children were economic and social assets. With his large, diverse family, Cinna had a rich position as a father.

If men today are unwilling to fight for social justice and challenge castration culture, they should at least recognize their impotence. Being impotent, men can marry without fear of sexless marriage. Wanting to be fathers, they can live in the audacity of hoping to be cuckolded.

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[1] Many scholars continue to believe absurd claims that women in ancient Athens and in other non-modern societies were confined within the home. Cohen (1991), Ch. 6, underscores the ridiculousness of such belief.

[2] Anthologia Latina 317 (R322), from Latin my translation, with help from Rosenblum (1961) p. 36 (poem 36). The Latin text is from Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982) p. 257, with my minor adaptations to the editorial presentation. Rosenblum has a nearly identical Latin text. In the penultimate line, I’ve followed the primary manuscript reading scire vel (which Rosenblum follows), rather than Shackleton Bailey’s emendation ille vel.

The reading and interpretation of the last two lines have raised considerable scholarly debate. Rosenblum (1961), pp. 203-4, reviews various readings and interpretations. Rosenblum favors the reading above for the last two lines. He translates them as “if ever your son when grown-up could say that his mother herself knew.” He glosses those lines as:

You adopted this shameful way of being a father, Proconius. However, you are not the boy’s father, and what is more, the boy can never say who is his real father because even his mother cannot tell. This makes your detestable desire intolerable.

Id. pp. 133, 204. As Rosenblum himself observes, in this reading “the element of surprise is lacking.” The mother’s uncertainty about her son’s biological father is already clear from line 5. Luxorius’s poetry shows great sensitivity to men’s lived experiences and men’s interests. My translation and interpretation are consistent with Luxorius’s overall style and concerns.

[3] Martial, Epigrams 6.39, Latin text from Shackleton Bailey (1993) p. 28, my translation, with help from Shackleton Bailey’s translation, id. p. 29, and those of Tom Gardner and Mark Brustman.

[image] An Answer to the London Cuckold. Published about 1685-8. EBBA ID: 21787,  Pepys Library, Magdalene College – Pepys 4.123. Both images thanks to University of California, Santa Barbara, English Broadside Ballad Archive.


Cohen, David. 1991. Law, sexuality, and society: the enforcement of morals in classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Riese, Alexander, and David R. Shackleton Bailey. 1982. Anthologia latina: sive poesis latinae supplementum. Pars. 1. Carmina in codicibus scripta. Fasc. 1. Libri Salmasiani aliorumque carmina. Stutgardiae: In aedibus Teubneri. Online prior edition Riese (1894).

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.

Shackleton Bailey, D.R., trans. 1993. Martial. Epigrams. Loeb Classical Library 95, 480. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

husbands can work with wives reluctant to work outside the home

Penelope, wife of Ulysses

Despite much social pressure to work full-time for money outside the home, some wives are nonetheless reluctant to take such jobs. That puts husbands in the difficult, burdensome position of being primary wage-earners for their families.  Husbands with wives reluctant to work full-time for money outside the home should explain to them how their position, an aspect of socially entrenched female privilege, oppresses men. Drawing upon insights from classical literature, such husbands might discuss working together with their wives in a home-based prostitution enterprise.

Wives and husbands can achieve a more equal economic partnership through a home-based prostitution enterprise. According to the esteemed Roman author Horace, the renowned seer Tiresias advised Ulysses (the Roman name for Odysseus) to pursue such an enterprise with his wife Penelope. Penelope was renowned for her chastity since the time of Homer’s Odyssey. Ulysses queried incredulously:

Do you think her services can be bought, a woman of such honesty and virtue, whom the suitors could not turn away from the right track?

{ putasne perduci poterit tam frugi tamque pudica, quam nequiere proci recto depellere cursu? }[1]

The wise Tiresias explained:

Yes. The young men who came were frugal in giving. They were more interested in the kitchen’s offerings than those of Venus. This is why your Penelope is virtuous. Give her just one taste of a nice bit of profit from one old man, having you as her partner, and she’ll be just like the dog that can never be scared away from the greasy hide.

{ venit enim magnum donandi parca iuventus nec tantum veneris quantum studiosa culinae. sic tibi Penelope frugi est; quae si semel uno de sene gustarit tecum partita lucellum, ut canis a corio numquam absterrebitur uncto. }

Penelope’s true virtue was in her willingness to work as a partner with her husband. While not all women are like that, other women similarly partnered with their husbands. Apuleius in the second century GC described husband and wife partners who developed a thriving prostitution enterprise with a broader customer base and a more elaborate business model:

His whole house is that of a pimp, his whole household corrupt. He himself is infamous, his wife a whore, and his sons are of the same caliber. All day and night young people have their fling. There is kicking at the doors and noisy singing at the windows, the dining room is swarming with revelers, and the bedroom is open to adulterers. Nobody needs to fear going in, provided he has paid the price to the husband. This way the disgrace of his own bed becomes a source of income. Once he smartly earned money with his own body; now he publicly does so with the body of his wife. Most visitors make arrangements with the man himself — this is not a lie! — yes, with the man himself about a night with his wife! And there we see that famous “secret understanding” between man and woman. Those who have brought along ample means to pay for the wife are watched by nobody and can leave when they wish. But those who arrive more empty-handed on a given sign are “caught in adultery.” As if they have come for a writing lesson, they may not leave before they have “written something” {a financial promissory instrument}.

{ domus eius tota lenonia, tota familia contaminata: ipse propudiosus, uxor lupa, filii similes: prorsus diebus ac noctibus ludibrio iuuentutis ianua calcibus propulsata, fenestrae canticis circumstrepitae, triclinium comisatoribus inquietum, cubiculum adulteris peruium; neque enim ulli ad introeundum metus est, nisi qui pretium marito non attulit. ita ei lecti sui contumelia uectigalis est. olim sollers suo, nunc coniugis corpore uulgo meret; cum ipso plerique, nec mentior, cum ipso, inquam, de uxoris noctibus paciscuntur. iam illa inter uirum et uxorem nontam conlusio: qui amplam stipem mulieri detulerunt, nemo eos obseruat, suo arbitratu discedunt; qui inaniores uenere, signo dato pro adulteris deprehenduntur, et quasi ad discendum uenerint, non prius abeunt quam aliquid scripserint. }[2]

Unfortunately, due to the social devaluation of men’s sexuality, husbands lack equal opportunity to work as prostitutes. Nonetheless, wife and husband working together as business partners in a home-based prostitution enterprise is an important step toward gender-egalitarian marriage.

Classical literature warns of risk in husband and wife working together as sexual business partners. The wife may find a better partner:

On a pimp for his own wife

Wretched Greek, well-practiced in your ingenious art of pimping,
you began to act as your wife’s procurer,
and, when your wife’s strong allure had clawed a man,
you were accustomed to have him thrown out of his house.
But one clever fellow scorned the net you had stretched out for him,
and himself determined to stay in your house.
Thus once let in, (he won over your wife)
and thrust you wretched out of your own home.
This alone proves true the jocund poet’s words:
“While cutting the goat’s throat, you yourself were made a gelding.”

{ De lenone uxoris suae

Graecule, consueta lenandi callidus arte,
coepisti adductor coniugis esse tuae,
et, quem forte procax penitus conroserate uxor,
consueras propria praecipitare domo.
Sed praetensa catus derisit retia quidam,
quurverastatuens horemaneredomo.
Nam semel admissus (derisit retia quidam)
teque tuis miserum depulit e laribus.
Solus vera probas iucundi verba poetae:
“dum iugulas hircum, factus es ipse caper.” }[3]

The anti-men bias of criminal law is associated with men being harshly punished for adultery and women scarcely being punished at all. Moreover, wives can easily have their husbands thrown out of the marital home. Men who fail to act with true, praiseworthy chivalry towards their wives run great personal risk. But men who sufficiently value ideals of gender equality should accept that risk.

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[1] Horace, Satires 2.5.77-83, from Latin trans. Davie (2011) pp. 51-2. The subsequent quote is from id. In this and subsequent quotes, I’ve made some non-substantive changes to make the quotes easier to read. Here’s the Latin text and Tony Kline’s alternate online English translation.

[2] Apuleius, Apologia (A Discourse on Magic) 75, from Latin trans. Hunink in Harrison, Hilton & Hunink (2001) pp. 95-6. Thanks to James J. O’Donnell of Georgetown University, here’s an online Latin text, with a helpful English crib, as well as a alternate, more fluid English translation.

Pursuing adultery for financial gain apparently was a well-recognized practice in the ancient world. See Demosthenes 59.41 (Against Neaera); Lysias 1.4; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 5, Ch. 2 (1130a25). Augustan legislation explicitly prohibited pimping one’s wife:

Anyone who makes a profit from his wife’s adultery is punished, for it is no small crime to have pimped for one’s wife.

{ Qui quaestum ex adulterio uxoris suae fecerit, plectitur: nec enim mediocriter deliquit, qui lenocinium in uxore exercuit. }

Ulpian, Digest, Latin text from Mommsen’s edition, English trans. Cohen (1991) p. 130.

[3] Anthologia Latina 116 (R127), Latin text from Kay (2006) p. 48, my translation, with help from id. p. 197. Lines 6-7 have textual problems. The repetition of the half-line of l. 5 in l. 7 is obviously incorrect. Above I follow Kay’s sensible interpretations.

Husbands shouldn’t acquiesce to having a home-based sex-work enterprise be a front for murderous extortion. For example, the three knights Pirellus, Oliverus, and Levercius were murdered when they came to pay Josias’s wife for sex. She had plotted with her husband to have those men murdered. The husband and wife subsequently got into an argument. She then angrily called him a murderer. Their murderous enterprise was thus exposed and both were put to death for their crimes. See ch. 31 (“Three Gallants Entrapped”) in the Anglo-Latin Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum}, edition of Bright (2019). This story came from the story known as Amatores in the Seven Sages corpus. Id. p. 187, n. to ch. 31.

[image] Penelope, wife of Ulysses (Odysseus). Manuscript illumination from f. 1r of Ovid, Héroïdes, traduction d’Octavien de Saint-Gelais, 1497. Thanks to Gallica and Wikimedia Commons.


Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, David. 1991. Law, sexuality, and society: the enforcement of morals in classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davie, John, trans. 2011. Horace. Satires and epistles. New York: Oxford University Press.

Harrison, S. J., John Hilton, and Vincent Hunink, trans. 2001. Apuleius: rhetorical works. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kay, N. M. 2006. Epigrams from the Anthologia Latina: text, translation and commentary. London: Duckworth.