erasing woman raping man: the old virgin in Codex Salmasianus

Apparently unknown for nearly a thousand years, Luxorius brilliant, transgressive collection of epigrams have survived in only one manuscript. Luxorius seems to have authored his epigrams early in the sixth century GC. A manuscript containing 91 of Luxorius’s epigrams was written in the late seventh or early eighth century. That manuscript is called the Codex Salmasianus. Luxorius’s epigram collection apparently was unknown until the Codex Salmasianus was found and presented to a prominent scholar in 1615.[1] Yet establishing what Luxorius wrote still requires careful study and analysis.

Codex Salmasianus: Luxorius epigram on old virgin woman

How many generations of copies separate the Codex Salmasianus from Luxorius’s autograph or dictated manuscript isn’t known. When scribes copied texts, they sometimes made mistakes. Moreover, scribes would sometimes change text to reflect their views of what should be written. A scholar of Luxorius’s poetry stated in 1961:

the text became more and more corrupt in the course of successive copying and recopying. Copious emendations were required; much work in that respect still remains. [2]

A scholarly work published in 2011 explained, “reading of many passages is still a matter of debate.”

Behavioral philology can help to elucidate Luxorius’s text. The fundamental principle of behavioral philology is that stable patterns exist in human discourse across thousands of years. Human biology and human groups have considerable stability across thousands of years. Language emerged within that biological-cultural stability.[3] Behavioral philology brings to the reading of ancient manuscripts insights from current, deeply rooted patterns of discourse.

Consider Luxorius’s epigram “To an aged virgin who is getting married.” Here’s an English translation of the best current Latin reading, along with a proposed emendation (in parentheses) of the last line:

To an aged virgin who is getting married

Virgin, whom Phlegethon calls his sister,
old enough that you could be Saturn’s parent,
you whom Nyx and Erebus and Chaos bore,
with many heavy wrinkles as numerous as your years,
you to whom an elephant gave his face and skin,
whose mother was an old monkey who gave birth
to you in the fields of Libya when the world was new,
who long ago fittingly, in the place of Ceres’s daughter,
could have been given as wife to Dis to live among the dead:
why do you burn with such wanton passion,
now and for some time since death for you has been all that remains?
Is it that you yearn for a large inscription on your tomb,
so that widespread fame will thus speak of you:
old woman raped by a guilty man
(old woman guilty of raping man)

{In vetulam virginem nubentem

Virgo, quam Phlegethon vocat sororem,
Saturni potior parens senecta,
quam Nox atque Erebus tulit Chaosque,
cui rugae totidem graves, quot anni,
cui vultus elefans dedit cutemque,
mater simia quam creavit arvis
grandaeva in Libycis novo sub orbe,
olim quae decuit marita Diti
pro nata Cereris dari per umbras:
quis te tam petulans suburit ardor,
nunc cum iam exitium tibi supersit?
An hoc pro titulo cupis sepulcri,
Ut te cognita fama sic loquatur,
quod stuprata viro est anus nocenti
(quod stupratus vir est anu nocenti)} [4]

Combining learned classical allusions with animal imagery, Luxorius’s epigram ridicules a lustful old woman who has never had sex. While anyone daring to utter such words today would be harshly punished, freedom of expression was much greater under the Roman emperors and within the early Islamic caliphates. Yet the last line in the epigram, as received in the Codex Salmasianus, makes no sense in context. Why would a man rape an ugly, lustful old woman? Even if a man were to do that, what does such action have to do with the rest of the epigram?

Behavioral philology provides a clear answer. The best available statistics on rape today show that men raping women is about as prevalent as women raping men. The former issue is widely described as a major public problem. The latter issue is commonly ignored. Public discourse is strongly biased toward declaring men to be rapists, and ignoring women raping men under the same meaning of words. A female teacher sexually abusing a middle-school boy and receiving no jail time attracts almost no mainstream media attention.[5] Such a communicative effect can best be understood as a deeply rooted bias of gynocentric society. Such bias can easily account for a scribe re-writing the last line of Luxorius’s epigram to change a woman raping a man into a man raping a woman. Behavioral philology provides reasonable grounds for emending the last line to reverse its subject and object.

Luxorius himself is unlikely to have obscured women raping men. In a poem about Marina, Luxorius celebrated and honored men’s sexuality in a context associated with falsely accusing men of rape. Luxorius taunted a woman for hating men. Moreover, Luxorius was unafraid to challenge and expose corrupt intellectual practices. Even narrowly within the received Latin text of the epigram, the titular, sepulchral inscription “old woman raped by a guilty man” subverts itself. The “guilty man” is a presumptive construct of anti-men bias in discussing rape.

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[1] For discussion of the textual record of Luxorius’s epigrams, Rosenblum (1961) pp. 97-108. A few of Luxorius’s epigrams appear in other manuscripts dating from the late ninth through the eleventh centuries.

[2] Id. p. 102. The subsequent quote is from Wasyl (2011) p. 170, n. 32.

[3] Henrich (2013) Ch. 13.

[4] Anthologia Latina 296, Latin text from Wasyl (2011) p. 198, my translation with help from the translations of Rosenblum (1961), p. 121, and Beck (2012), p. 47. Rosenblum and Beck number the poem 15. In Riese & Shackleton Bailey (1982), this epigram is n. 296; in Reise (1894), n. 301. I’ve used the Wasyl text, with minor changes to editorial paratext, as the best version of the text according to the most current scholarship. The Latin texts in all these versions are nearly identical. The titles to Luxorius’s epigrams are thought to be later additions.

Rosumblum translated the last line of Luxorius’s epigram as: ‘“Old lady raped by a sex criminal”?’ Rosenblum (1961) p. 121. The quotation marks and question mark are editorial, as is clear from the manuscript image above. While providing the Latin text but no specific translation note, Beck translated the final line as: ‘“Here lies an old woman, convicted of raping a man”?’ Beck (2012) p. 47. Beck thus reversed what a leading classical scholar has described as the clear meaning of the received Latin text. Beck’s poetic insight, however, is penetrating.

[5] The structural anti-men bias has produced astonishing effects. Under the operation of current U.S. law, men are forced to pay “child support” to their rapists, e.g., the case of a 15-year-old boy whom a female teacher raped.

[image] Codex Salmasianus, last eight lines (ll. 7-14) from Luxorius’s epigram Virgo, quam Phlegethon vocat sororem. The scribe mis-ordered lines 4-7 as {6,7,4,5}. In the final line, the scribe corrected the final e with a faint line through it and with an i inserted above the final t. In addition, Claude Saumaise (Salmasius), the scholar who received the text in 1615, corrected stubrata to stuprata in the final line. In the image, see the caret (^) above the s of stubrata, and stuprata written in the left margin. Detail from p. 162 in Anthologia latina {Anthologie dite de Saumaise}, Bibliothèque nationale de France Latin 10318, ark:/12148/btv1b8479004f. Thanks to BnF’s Gallica.


Beck, Art, trans. 2012. Luxorius. Opera omnia or, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone. Los Angeles: Otis Books | Seismicity Editions.

Henrich, Joseph. 2015. The secret of our success: how culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton: Princeton 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.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2011. Genres rediscovered: studies in Latin miniature epic, love elegy, and epigram of the Romano-Barbaric age. Krakow: Jagiellonian University Press.

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