Martianus Capella, updated: the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules

Night sky's stars present celestial gods

“You provide the flowers at wedding ceremonies. You offer, they say, the most exquisite arrangements, so necessary for a memorable day, that day that joins the fighting couple in a legal embrace. The wedding transformation, though unnecessary to collect sex payments, pervades the gynocentric universe, associates a cloud of myth with specific bodies, and naturalizes the imagining of the sexes reconciled in loving loyalty. O famous Special Day Wedding Services, you who are most beloved of brides, you know that desire for photos of your services burns in their faces. Whether pays a father, or a single mother, or three love-besotted women determined to adorn the venue as well as any other parents have, honor Cybele, the great mother goddess. She implores you, despite your full business schedule, to find an opening to inspire a woman to marry my son.”

While I was praying this silly, popular wedding prayer and pondering something or other unexpected and heretofore unattempted, my son Martianus, not tolerant that a head grayed with a son living with his father for five-score years should chatter fatuous marketing fodder, interrupted me, saying, “Why is it, my father, that you hasten to sing of things no girlfriend of mine has ever proposed? Why, in the fashion of an old-fashioned priest, do you pretend that a wedding ceremony is necessary to unbolt the door that I delight in entering? What in the signs of our time don’t you understand?”

“Surely,” I said, “you are being foolish. Although you recognize a culture where enlightenment is fading like the dusk of the last day, show a flicker of your own life spirit. Is it not clear to you that love depends on material substances, that Special Day Wedding Services provides for a sacramental marriage? If, as a godless lover, you ask from what fountain’s gushings are my imaginings born, I shall tell you a little tale adapted from mass media and shadowy sources of truth that sparkle and disappear along seldom-traversed strands of knowledge’s web.”

The golden age of what used to be called classical democratic Athens arose with reverence for sacred marriages among gods of prolific procreation. Numerous descendants of the gods themselves enjoyed embrace and union and increase in number. Gossiping humankind made these doings the center of mass-media attention-seeking. Following the model of Maxim Gorky’s Mother and Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered, poets served the dominant ideology’s needs in both the epic and lyric styles. They taught that among the pleasures of heaven, nothing was sweeter to Jupiter than faithfully loving no female other than his wife Juno. Old academics, threatened with their younger peers’ scorn and institutional irrelevance, embraced the divine myths that the organs of intellectual prestige acclaimed. Hymen, Hymenaee, all honor and glory to beautiful Helen, whom every man yearns to have as wife!

The ultimate arbiters of the world are goddesses. Behind the veils of ignorance, the god Jupiter is subservient to his wife, the goddess Juno. Suppose Jupiter, unsatisfied even after large sacrifices to him, denies some grant to the prayers of men kept on tenterhooks by some agitated dubitation of anxiety. If those men are shrewd, they know to appeal to Juno. If she agrees with their plea, then what they seek will be forthcoming. Juno’s persuasive embraces and injunctions will prompt her husband Jupiter to rescind whatever he has decreed as his published opinion. Not only the king of the gods was said to be so controlled by his wife — the feelings of Dis and Portunus were similar. Moreover, it is certain that Gradivus, like many Christians, got burned by the love of his wife, Nerio-Neria. The level of seating — Juno slightly below Jupiter, the woman slightly shorter than the man — is deceptive. In the society of gods, like in that of humans, there is no higher law than what a woman desires.

Hercules beheld the liaisons and weddings of all the divine beings while he served them. Moved and prompted by this tale of Jupiter’s love for Juno and by the mutual loves of the gods and goddesses, Hercules decided to take a wife. When he greeted his nervous mother in his regular journey across the sky, she pushed him to this decision. She recognized that his body, exercised in the wrestling room and in frequent labors, glistened forth in masculine development with muscles bulging in the protuberance of youthful vigor. Already with the first down on his cheeks, he couldn’t continue to walk around half-naked, clad in nothing but a short cape covering only the top of his shoulders. His maturing, protruding orbs and hammer provoked great glee in Venus. Therefore, at the prompting of his mother, with his own extensive rumination and racination, he resolved to marry.

In accordance with his admirable habit of thoroughly pondering his acts, Hercules vacillated in a prolonged weighing of which woman to marry. He passionately desired Sophia because she was prudent, godly minded, and more beautiful than all other women. However, she was his sister’s foster-sister and seemed usually attached to her. Suspecting that Sophia was devoted to virginity and fearing a sexless marriage, Hercules decided not to offend masculine reason and marry her.

The splendid, curvy body of Prophecy likewise inflamed Hercules’s desire. Prophecy was noble and offered advantageous connections. Moreover, the far-seeing power of her perceptive foresight promised escape from the daily grind of husbandly labor through easy income in wife-directed commodity trading. However, while Hercules wrestled in his mind with alternatives, Prophecy became enamored of Apollo and kindled a tumultuous affair with that other.

Hercules then turned to Psyche. She was the hot daughter of actualized divine fire. With an Ivy-League education and as a strong, independent woman, she was in great favor among the ruling elite. Juno gave her a band of pure gold for her hair. Jupiter took the crown of eternity from one of his much-honored daughters and bestowed it on her. Aphrodite gave Psyche pleasure through all her senses, right down to the fundamental vaginal tingle. She sponged her skin with ointments, garlanded her with fragrant flowers, and fed her with the delightful sweetness of honey. She also trained her eye in envy for golden jewelry and in desire to be admired as glamorous in fashion.  She added to her clothing rattles and bells so even when sleeping she wouldn’t be quiet. Moreover, Aphrodite appointed Pleasure to scratch at the surface itching in the lower waist portion of Psyche’s anatomy. Sophia, who came to regard Psyche as a slut, gave her a mirror of self-knowledge. Hercules himself gave Psyche a fancy sports car, the back seat of which held memories of many a roaring love-making. Hercules sought to marry Psyche, a woman of his own mind. But Psyche vanished with her bad-boy lover Psycho. It’s said that she took a long motorcycle trip with him, and then they went to live with an opium-farming family in Afghanistan.

The long-laboring Hercules despaired of ever achieving the happiness of marriage. He looked for guidance in mass media, where oracles poured forth in evasive ambiguity and where, by the slaughter of animals and the separation of their entrails, viscera declared foreordained events. He pondered polls and sought out places where prophecies are told of what women want. But newspapers had become only a few leaves of withered fish-wrap that worms and rot were devouring. The television sat on a decaying tripod, knobs stiff with mildew, and with withered wires connecting it to walls. Force, riding on Hercules’s shoulders, whispered, “Gog, Magog, and Google, don’t be evil.” Hercules compliantly recited, “Gog, Magog, and Google, don’t be evil.” Registering those words, the lion-skin cloak of Hercules activated and responded:

Behold, there is a most learned virgin, of ancient parentage, highly educated and well acquainted with the halls of Harvard. Upon her the constellations shine in close proximity. No hidden region can conceal from her the movements of the stars through Tartarus, nor can thunderbolts hide from her the will of Jupiter. She knows your circuits through the several gathering places of your brothers; ever watchful, penetrating secrets by unstinting effort of her vigils, she can anticipate all that the gods are given to foreknow. Indeed, very often she has rights over us, impelling gods under compulsion to obey her decrees. She knows that what no manly power of heaven can attempt against Jupiter’s will, she as a woman can attain. Let her work be well rewarded. Hercules and Gynecology deserve each other as comparable spouses.

Hercules’s mother was delighted with Gog, Magog, and Google’s choice of Gynecology. Hercules himself pledged to follow whatever directions the voice uttered: “I am never more ready to give up my own will, more happy to obey orders, than when my lion-skin speaks the prophetic words of universal intelligence. Even if my designated bride is as prone to perpetrate domestic violence as Omphale was, I will marry her.”

But what of Jupiter’s will, and more importantly, that of Juno? Their positions must be honored according to the world spirit of organization that envelops all and exalts no action taken without meetings and extensive discussion. Hercules and Force thus journeyed to the home of Juno and Jupiter. Hercules saw his father keeping close to Juno’s company. He knew that she was a strong defender and supporter of marriage. Hercules addressed them gently, speaking first to Juno to win her favor, knowing that the decision of her husband depended on her judgement:

I, an overgrown youth trembling at my father’s commands, would be hesitant and of little confidence in approaching him alone to urge the marriage of his son, were it not that Jupiter’s own conjugal love provided a favorable omen and the propitious unions of the gods promise a favorable outcome. Which of the gods would not be willing to seek a marriage if he had as his confidante Juno, who promises her support and will sponsor the bride? Therefore, wheedling one, fix in advance the assent of your husband and persuade him to be favorable to our efforts.

After Hercules finished his address, Jupiter turned to his wife and asked her will. She was pleased with the idea of Hercules marrying Gynecology for many reasons. Hercules had made the request, and he had always followed her instructions for inflicting violence. Hercules had also arranged for her daughters to receive prestigious educations and social prominence. Juno did not normally opposes marriages. She felt motherly fondness for Hercules because he had suckled at her breasts as if he had been born of her. Moreover, he had been a dutiful foster-son. Juno urged that the marriage take place quickly. She feared that Venus would inflame Hercules and then he would father an out-of-wedlock brother for Hermaphroditus. The paternity establishment procedures had established Hermaphroditus as Hercules’s son and engendered burdensome support payments.

Jupiter timidly raised some concerns. He worried that the charms of Gynecology would make Hercules less willing to labor. But Juno declared that Gynecology would not allow Hercules to doze off even if he wanted to rest. How often have the gods complained of Gynecology’s importunate summonses, when in the dead of the night, she compels them from their rest to come to her and address some injustice against women? Far from enabling Hercules to enjoy the delightful, daily languor of post-coital marital bliss, Gynecology would agitate his mind to seek the utmost limits of gender justice for women. Why then defer their marriage? Much work remains to be done.

Pallas Athena, the goddess of learning, descended upon Juno and Jupiter and advised them to call a meeting of the gods to discuss the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules. Juno and Jupiter both assented. Jupiter then ordered his scribe to write a summons to the rank-and-file deities to come to an all-hands meeting, a celestial council. The gods were delighted to leave their stations. They were eager to come to see and be seen in their honorary finery, and to seek out gossip about which god’s star is rising, and which falling. Jupiter opened the meeting with his endorsement of the marriage:

The girl who has taken his fancy is extremely learned and his equal in study. Gynecology is earthborn, but destined to rise to the stars. Often in her swift circuits she outpaces Hercules and encompasses the terrestrial globe. Let them start their married life in equality, as is fitting, and let them add to the number of stars with descendants of mine.

Jupiter then called for a vote. All the gods shouted their approval. Thus the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules officially received divine ratification. Philosophy had that approval cast on a bronze tablet and published throughout the heavenly spheres and the village street-corners. Juno then announced that all the gods should reassemble at dawn for the nuptial ceremony at the palace formally associated with Jupiter’s command. After Juno had finished giving her order, the nominal king arose from his throne and all the gods dispersed to their homes.

When the peachy-footed dusk had slid away, Night with her starry reins began to climb the limpid heavens, summoning the glittering constellations. Canis Major, shining more brightly than Orion, slowly rose while Leo went off to sleep. The Big Dipper appeared to be thrusting forward. Rumor sped through trembling ears and Juno’s palace echoed with great shouting.

Gynecology, wakeful through the night, pondered long and anxiously. She was to be united to Hercules, whom admittedly she had always desired with a remarkable passion, especially when she wandered through the fields, picking blossoms among the fragrant herbs, and imagining a strong, rough shagging. She had seen him running back from the gymnasium, his body glistening and bouncing vigorously like men in romances she read. Yet she fretfully wondered whether this grand marriage would in reality serve her interests. She feared, not without substance, that after ascending to the heavens as Hercules’s spouse, she would no longer have access to the tales for mortal women, the pleasurable literary pastimes of Milesian romances.

Sweet music with manifold charms entered Gynecology’s chamber. The chorus of assembled Muses sang in well-trained harmony to honor the marriage ceremony. Gynecology’s calculations about Hercules’s suitability vanished from her over-active mind. Flutes, lyres, and the grand swell of the water organ blended in tuneful song as a Muse sang:

With trust in the divine will and without disputing, behold the assemblies of the stars and the sacred vaults of the heavens. You formerly studied what causes whirled the independent spheres, now as a goddess you shall assign causes to their sweeping motions. Ascend into the temples of heaven, maiden, deserving of such a marriage. Your father-in-law Jupiter asks you to rise to the lofty stars.

Then Immortality appeared, a woman of pious countenance, shining with holy and celestial light in all the dignity of a priestess. Immortality felt Gynecology’s heartbeat. It was only a faint throbbing. Pressing her abdomen, she found that it was greatly swollen with some fetid inner fullness. Immortality, as a divine being, had no need to call upon Saint Æthelthryth to bring Gynecology relief. Immortality knew that unless Gynecology were to retch violently and void the matter choking her heart, she would never obtain immortality. At that holy woman’s prompting, Gynecology strained and constricted her gastrointestinal tract. With great effort, she vomited up the heavy weight within her.

Gynecology’s heavily labored vomit was a stream of writings of all kinds. Gynocentric works in many languages and in many media flowed from the maiden’s mouth. While she spasmodically brought up these writings, young women, some majors in Women’s Studies and others disciplined in Gender Studies, eagerly collected whatever came up from the maiden’s stomach. Journalists, poets, and musicians, not wanting to be publicly associated with the smell of inner decay, slyly moved forward and slipped texts under their clothes. Gynecology, pale with exhaustion from the travail of bringing forth all that writing, received a drink from Immortality. Then Immortality ordered her to take off all her clothes. Fully purified from gynocentric writings and completely naked, Gynecology ascended into the heavens to marry Hercules.

Like a meeting, a marriage cannot be consummated without extensive ritual actions. Juno, Jupiter, and all the celestial gods gathered for the marriage ceremony. It involved an entrance procession, a formal recitation of marriage law, exchange of gifts between bride and groom, approval of the gifts by the full assembly of heaven, and then procession to the marital chamber to consummate the marriage. Major deities brought along their attendants. The agenda was well-prepared, and the participants were seated according to position and responsibility.

Although Hercules could see Gynecology in her nakedness, he didn’t understand the significance of her naked female body. He didn’t know that she had vomited the mass of gynocentric writings that she had consumed throughout the years. Wishing to please his bride, Hercules gave her as a wedding gift an elaborate dinner party with thirty-nine separate, hand-crafted place settings. At each setting was an illustrious woman who offered instruction by describing her life, explaining her hardships, and telling how men caused her suffering and how she triumphed despite masculine oppression.

The first to address the divine assembly was Gaia, earth goddess, primordial mother. Gaia spoke of how men driving cars and trains and planes spewed carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and caused her to become uncomfortably warm. While men had invented air-conditioners for their wives’ homes, those machines spewed out more pollution and made the earth warmer. The uncomfortably warming Gaia suffered as every woman, a planet under the foot of men who lacked sufficient concern for women. Gaia’s husband had been the first to devise unseemly deeds of procreation. Gaia complained bitterly to her son about his father and pleaded with her son to castrate him. Fulfilling his mother’s wishes, her son castrated his father. But that did little to cool down the earth. Separate paper from plastic, and rinse bottles before placing them in the recycling bin. Batteries, along with unused prescription medicines and old birth-control pills, should be taken to a local hazmat facility for safe disposal. Organic products, which are good, and inorganic products, which are bad, are opposites in distinctly productive ways. Organic/inorganic opposites differ from the gender binary, the relatives, because woman is opposed to man in such a way that woman is not of man and is not referred to man in any way. Organic/inorganic opposites differ from the second kind, the contraries, between which there is a specific intermediate, because woman and man are understood with respect to gender categories, so that either one or the other is constructed to be exclusively present in a person. In the same way, the earth, as a woman, is socially constructed as subordinate to heaven, the abode of men.

At this point, Mercury intervened to protect the celestial senate from further, excruciating boredom. Mercury addressed Gaia:

Madam, you speak with great skill, but now stop your exposition before you get entangled in the complexities of your subject, and its knotty problems exhaust the goodwill of Hymen. The matter that remains is founded on great deceit, and lies encompass nearly all. You prepare sophism fraught with guile, or repulsively make sport with trickeries from which one cannot get free. You have had your say. You will surely become a disreputable and itinerant charlatan if you go on to build up your claims of knowledge. Away then with your shifty profundity, and leave what time remains to your sisters.

The divine assembly nodded in approval. Gaia took the liberty, as a matter of honor, of refuting the idea of her pastoral simplicity:

The pastoral poet should recognize that I know how to feel insulted. I am more viperish than he ever imagined. I can become a wicked magician like Medea. He would not catch me asleep or drunk and babbling commonplaces when Jupiter’s stars are rising.

Gaia then silently occupied her setting in Hercules’s wedding gift to Gynecology.

Trumpets sounded, their strident song pierced the sky, and heaven re-echoed with an unfamiliar din. The gods were frightened and confused, and the host of heaven’s minor inhabitants quaked. Unaware of the reason, their hearts stood still, and they recalled the charges made about the sinking of the Costa Concordia long ago. Silvanus, protector of forests, put down his cypress tree and, in a tremor of fear, held out his defenseless right hand. He had no intention of grasping the scythe of Saturn and contributing to castration culture. He cried out for the gender equality that Jupiter had promised for the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules.

In the meantime, wrinkled Silenus, an attendant of Bacchus, was leaning against a pillar at the back of the room. Perhaps the weariness of his old age was too much for him. Perhaps it was the strain of concentrating on the gynocentric windiness of Gaia, or all the drinking he had done at the wedding ceremony’s lead-in celebration. He relaxed into a slumber and was lightly snoring. Suddenly he farted with a fart worthy of Roland the Farter. Several of the gods, shaken by this frightening and raucous sound, turned around. They noticed the profuse sweating of the old man as he belched through his ass. They burst into laughter that became more explosive as they tried to suppress it. Then other divine beings convulsed with laughter and hiccups. They came alive with violent and wanton ribaldry and unrestrained mirth. Cupid, unruly as ever, saucy and impudent in his affronts, merrily ran up to Silenus. He clapped his palm on Silenus’s ruddy, bald head. The reverberating sound revived the laughter, which became nearly universal in the celestial senate.

Then the old man, his eyes scarcely opened and his vision blurred, perceived the gods laughing at him. When someone pushed him, he looked around stupidly and wiped his drooling mouth with the palm of his hand. Shaking his corpse-like body, he sought to take a step. His efforts unavailing, he stood there, more baffled than before. His feet refused their duty and went the wrong way in fear. Reeling, struggling, he stood still, retreated, and came back. Then his bloated, quivering old body gave up, and he fell to the floor. The crowd roared in appreciation louder than before. A god shouldered Silenus, his limp body like a sack of wine, and carried him on exhibit throughout the wedding crowd.

Marcella, founding mother of monasticism, strode in. The crowd became quiet. An outstanding beauty, Marcella was another member of the dinner party that comprised Hercules’s nuptial gift to Gynecology. Marcella was tall and abounding in self-confidence. Helmeted, her head was wreathed with royal grandeur. She held in her hands the weapons that she used either to defend herself and wound her enemies. Her weapons, shining with brightness of lightening, had very high impact factors and citation counts.

Marcella declared that she had both funded and written most of Jerome’s writings, and had received no credit. “I spent many years scribbling in the desert, and none of my work bears my name,” Marcella said. She knew Greek as well as Latin, and had purchased a huge library for Jerome using money from her husband’s estate. “I am forever grateful to Jerome for dissuading me from remarrying,” Marcella earnestly declared, “but women’s scholarship has been historically neglected. Many fewer women and men throughout history would know Paul’s teaching if it weren’t for my Vulgate translation of them. I also translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into Latin, yet men’s resentment of women’s scholarship prevented those works from being recopied. Thus Homer’s epics, which Sappho wrote, were unknown in Europe for nearly a millennium.” None of the gods knew anything of Paul’s letters, the Iliad, or the Odyssey. Nonetheless, Marcella continued in a literary vein: “I wrote Luxorius’s poems about Gattula, Ovid’s letter from Hypermnestra, the love poetry of the slave girl Mahbubah, Macrobius’s Saturnalia, Menetor’s poem about Bacchis and Plangon of Miletus, Porfyrius’s carmen cancellatum, Plutarch’s Gryllus….”

All the beings in the celestial assembly were bored and fidgeting. Pleasure whispered in Hercules’s ear:

While this erudite bridesmaid is impressing the celestial company, will you in your induced tedium put off the pleasures of love that delight you, and let the prize slip from you when it was nearly in your embrace? Have serious discourses dulled the senses of the listless groom? Have you no thought for the nuptial couch? Does Venus’s son Cupid not entice you? Will you not seize my pleasures? Is this wedding ceremony truly following the rules of Hymen? Gynocentric learning is usurping a rite that belongs to Venus. Far more appropriate for sweet wantonness to lean in within the marriage chamber. The monkish woman scholar depresses the nuptial spirits. To the marriage ceremony she comes ill-disposed to the bride. Call for the mother of Venus! Far better for you to pay homage to Priapus!

Hercules was amused and delighted with these words. He responded:

Pleasure, in spite of your chiding and importuning me to consummate my marriage, these bridesmaids shall display their learning in their brief discourses. At the end I will not in embarrassment dawdle or delay in approaching the marriage bed. Whatever Venus’s Pleasure will bring to our love, I will not forego. Let Gynecology take pleasure in rough sex and let her give me the lilies and roses of her little breasts. Let not the horror of sexless marriage gnaw at us and convulse us with black bile and prompt us to tear out our hair.

Pleasure then told Venus what Hercules had said. With wanton charm and a blush stealing over her cheeks, Venus gave Hercules a seductive nod. She had slept with Hercules years ago. Juno, sensing the start of a divine extramarital affair, reprimanded Venus with a reproachful stare.

Hercules cut off Marcella, told her that her speech time had ended, and directed her to take her place at her dinner party setting. Marcella sputtered, “And I would have been known as a famous writer too, if it weren’t for you oppressive men.” “Please,” responded Hercules, “don’t be childish. You’re part of my wedding gift to Gynecology.” Marcella sat down with a pout. Gynecology smiled graciously.

Anne Hutchinson then entered to talk about herself. She had the grim, stern face of a college sex-tribunal administrator. She was a Puritan preacher now celebrated as a pioneering advocate of civil liberty and religious toleration. Hutchinson preached antinomianism and free grace. Antinomianism (“you can be whatever you want to be”) went on to become the orthodox, state-institutionalized ideology of American culture. The doctrine of free grace subsequently expanded to free software and a wide range of free, government-provided goods.

Yet antinomianism was controversial in Hutchinson’s time. Followers of a shadowy figure known only as Peeping Tom believed that men should be able to gaze upon whoever rode through the center of town. Hutchinson and other antinomian authorities insisted that antinomianism doesn’t apply to men. “Men must not look at women,” Hutchinson preached, and then looking directly at Hercules, she declared, “and men especially must not gaze upon women lustfully.” That doctrinal declaration seemed to rouse a few of the gods from their apathy. Hutchinson continued, “Women and men are equally children of God, but men are essentially more evil than women. That’s why our prisons hold more than ten times more men than women. God made men to provide goods for women and children and to die fighting Indians.” None of the divine beings looked remotely interested in what Hutchinson’s preaching. Then she started talking about the importance of forcing men to pay child support. “Forced financial fatherhood is essential to Christian society. If men are allowed to have consensual sex of reproductive type without facing the risk of huge, state-imposed financial obligations, gynocentric society will collapse.” Only Jupiter seemed to be listening to Hutchinson’s preaching. She continued with a lengthy sermon about the dangers of allowing too many men to work as children’s teachers.

Seeing the flames of the marriage torches flickering and growing dim, Venus called for a renewal of festivities. She appealed to the divine assembly:

Will there be no end? Will learned women ever thwart conjugal pleasures? Pleasure, lovely and used to pampering, sits benumbed. Cupid has a pale and glowering look. Comely Flora, who usually dresses the marriage couch with garlands, sits anxiously with the Graces. Persuasion seduces not the bridal couple’s hearts, not does Stimulation excite them with sharp goads. She who delights in loosing maiden girdles and in caressing maiden’s hearts with fond desires, represses her suggestive glances. She is afraid. She cannot bear to look upon the face of the grim Gorgon Hutchinson. If gynocentric erudition is desired at a celestial wedding, Comtessa de Dia at least should sing the learned songs. Her melodies delight the mind. With her dulcet strains, she will banish the boredom.

I must confess, I am weary of listening to these laborious maidens. I am saddened by the unaccustomed delay to the marital consummation. Juno Pronuba, if it be your pleasure to give ear to serious discourses, and you have no concern to consummate this heavenly wedding, then I give up. Joyful choruses are my way of life. I cannot bear to look upon somber maidens steeped in Attic lore.

Thus Venus spoke, and, lying next to Pleasure, she leaned in. All the earth and sea gods approved her remarks. Several of the heavenly gods did as well. Hercules was so overcome with passion for Venus that he was ready to leave with her and abandon all the elegant, elaborate preparations for his marriage to Gynecology.

Well aware of the risks of marital infidelity, Juno instructed Jupiter to hasten the marriage proceedings. Jupiter declared that the other thirty-six eminent women at the dinner party could speak later. A god noted that another 999 women were inscribed on porcelain tilings of the floor of the dinner party setting. These women had either made a worthwhile contribution to society, tried to help other women, highlighted women’s history, or were worthy role models for a more gynocentric, gender-egalitarian future. Seeking like Solomon to satisfy women, Jupiter proposed that half of the remaining illustrious women give half of their remaining speeches every subsequent day for an eternal celebration of gynocentrism. All the gods gave hearty approval to this proposal. It offered a tolerable burden of tedium, at least after a few weeks. To the delight of all, Gynecology and Hercules went with Harmony to the marriage chamber.

So there, my son Martianus, there’s an old man’s tale. We live in a world in which learning is mixed with folly, sacred matters are confused with mundane ones, and uncouth figures prate in ridiculous fictions of master narratives. Some call me a cynic because I tell the truth about the dominant gynocentric ideology. You have only one wild and precious life. If you find a women who purges herself of gynocentric writings and delights to be naked in your gaze, love her forever. Don’t get legally married. Hire Special Day Wedding Services and have an elaborate wedding ceremony.

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Notes:

The text above is adapted from Martianus Capella’s fifth-century Latin work, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii  (Of the Marriage of Philology and Mercury). Capella in Latin is a diminutive of “goat” (caper), meaning relatively small goat. As a noun, capella refers to a she-goat or a young goat. Goats in the ancient Mediterranean world were associated with randiness. Capella is a worthy name for the author of De nuptiis.

The above adaptation is closely based on De nuptiis. Substantial sections of it are nearly verbatim quotations from the English translations of Shanzer (1986) (Book 1 only) and Stahl & Johnson (1977), vol. 2. De nuptiis contains long, complex sentences, many neologisms and abstractions, and obscure, technical terminology. Stahl simplified Martianus’s style to make the English translation “as readable as possible, consistent with accuracy.” Stahl (1965) p. 114. I’ve moved farther than Stahl & Johnson (1977) in using relatively simply sentence structure and modern concepts, concerns, and terms to enhance readability.

Written near Carthage in north Africa, Martianus’s De nuptiis was a highly influential work in Europe from the fifth century through the twelfth century.

It quickly achieved canonical status: Martianus Capella’s text is mentioned by the mythographer Fulgentius (sixth century), Cassiodorus, and Gregory of Tours, and may also have been a source for the Liber de numeris attributed to Isidore of Seville. It was certainly known and read in the monastic and palace schools of the early Middle Ages. Its striking descriptions of each of the personified arts informed the visual imagery of those arts in manuscript illuminations, wood and stone carvings, stained glass, and verbal ekphrases throughout the Middle Ages. Martianus’ work comes down to us in 241 known manuscripts, the earliest of which date from the ninth century.

Copeland & Sluiter (2009) p. 2. De nuptiis was extensively glossed in the ninth century. The Benedictine monk Remigius of Auxerre produced in the ninth century the longest and most influential gloss of De nuptiis. See Smith (1987) and Rollo (2011) Ch. 2. Highlighting non-encyclopedic appreciation for Martianus in the early Middle Ages, Remigius spent more than a third of his commentary on the mythic narrative (fabula) of De nuptiis. Id. p. 50.

Lacking any critical perspective on gynocentrism, modern scholars have largely failed to appreciate De nuptiis. One of the most sensitive treatments of Martianus’s literary achievement noted:

Even in the most casual references to De nuptiis, the adjectives, “fantastic,” “strange,” “curious,” “bizarre” and the like occur repeatedly.

LeMoine (1972) p. 209, n. 4. James Willis, a leading editor of Martianus, even went as far as to suggest that Martianus was insane. Id. n. 3. C.S. Lewis’s comment is commonly invoked:

this universe, which has produced the bee-orchid and the giraffe, has produced nothing stranger than Martianus Capella.

Lewis (1936) p. 98. Lewis, an exponent of the men-abasing ideology of courtly love, failed to understand Martianus’s concern for gynocentric domination in learning and marriage. Ignoring the intellectual and socio-political significance of De nuptiis, Lewis quixotically appreciated its aesthetics:

He established a disastrous precedent for endlessness and formlessness in literary work. Yet I cannot persuade myself that the Middle Ages were entirely unhappy in their choice of a master. Martianus may have been a bad fairy; but I think he had the fairy blood in him. His building is a palace without design; the passages are tortuous, the rooms disfigured with senseless gilding, ill-ventilated, and horribly crowded with knick-knacks. But the knick-knacks are very curious, very strange; and who will say at what point strangeness begins to turn into beauty?

Id. pp. 101-2.

More recent scholarship is little better. Focusing on intellectual history, Stahl described De nuptiis as a “manual”: “a well-proportioned and comprehensive handbook of the liberal arts.” Stahl (1965) p. 116. Subsequent scholarship has continued that tedious line without any self-consciousness of the comic reality of men’s social position. For example, Hicks (2012) described De nuptiis as an “allegorical encyclopedia of the liberal arts” and explored historical debates about the trivium and quadrivium. Wetherbee (2012) described De nuptiis as “a manual of the Liberal Arts” and pondered its relation to Plato’s Timaeus. Plato engaged in parody and humor. Yet Plato falls far short of the raucous transgressiveness of Martianus Capella. Writing about Aucassin et Nicolette, Hunt (1977) declared:

If we leave the world of parody for one of extreme seriousness, we come to the influential De Nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae of Martianus Capella

Id. p. 5. Shanzer (1986), Ch. 2, and Relihan (1987) more sensibly categorize De nuptiis as Menippean satire. That formal recognition hasn’t been influential in substantively interpreting and appreciating De nuptiis. The best appreciations of De nuptiiis in scholarly literature written in English are Rollo (2011), Ch. 1, and Henderson (2011).

The structure, style, and key motifs of the above adaptation come directly from De nuptiis. Among the many references (cited to De nuptiis’s text using the paragraph numbering of Kopp (1836)) are:

  • Marriage reconciles warring sexes in loving loyalty. (K1)
  • Poets sang that nothing delighted Jupiter more than Juno (K3). Shanzer (1986) pp. 56-9 offers no comment on that outrageous claim. Geometry, however, observes: “since Jupiter as well was eager to investigate all the hiding places on earth — for the reason, I suppose, that no beautiful girls of that epoch, either, might escape that lecher of many transformations.” K589, trans. Stahl & Johnson (1977) p. 220.
  • Jupiter is subservient to Juno; she can persuade him to do anything. Other gods behaved similarly, including Gradivus. He burned with love for his wife Nerio-Neria. (K4)
  • Mercury’s mother urged him to marry because he has a mature, muscled body and wears a short cap that covers only his shoulders. (5K)
  • The woman Philology can force gods to obey her orders. Even if Jupiter is unwilling, she can do what gods cannot. (K22)
  • Mercury pledged to give up his own will in selecting a spouse. (K24)
  • Jupiter’s decision on the marriage depended on Juno’s judgment. Jupiter’s own conjugal love provided a favorable omen for the marriage of Philology and Mercury. (K31)
  • Juno feared that Mercury would father with Venus an out-of-wedlock brother to Hermaphroditus. (K34)
  • Jupiter endorsed Philology and Mercury starting their married life in equality. (K93)
  • Philology felt intense passion for Mercury, whom she saw running back from the gym after being oiled for exercise. Philology enjoys Milesian tales. (K99)
  • Philology vomited up a mass of writings. The Arts and Disciplines collected her vomit for use. (K135-8)
  • After prompting Philology to vomit up the mass of writings, Immortality had her take off all her clothes. (K141)
  • Dialectic asserted that she felt insulted, is viperish, and can become a magician. She accused Bromius, who insulted her, of being drunk and babbling commonplaces. (K424)
  • Rhetoric told Silvanus that the cause of gods’ fear “will be changed when you look for the scythe of Saturn.” (K566)
  • Silenus snored, belched, and caused wild, joyful revelry at the wedding ceremony. (K804-5)
  • Pleasure urged Mercury to pay homage to Priapus. (K725)
  • Mercury vowed to have sex in marriage. He described the pain and unhappiness of marriage without passion. (K726)
  • Venus complained about learned teachers thwarting conjugal pleasures. (K888)
  • All the earth and sea gods approved of Venus’s remarks. Mercury wanted to leave the wedding ceremony and have sex with Venus. (K889)

The above list is far from exhaustive. While showing little imagination, the scholarly literature scarcely notices these features of what’s actually written in De nuptiis.

While not significantly affecting the above list, the Latin text of De nuptiis involves contentious textual judgments. Shanzer (2013) briefly reviews the editorial history and the most recent edition. Id. wryly states: “The implication is clear: Martianus has been going to hell in a hand-basket since Kopp in 1836.” The Latin text of Kopp (1836) is available online. The Huygens Institute has provided online ninth-century (Carolingian) commentaries on Martianus.

[image] West Virginia’s night sky showing the Milky Way. Photo made on 5 July 2010. Thanks to Forest Wander and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Copeland, Rita and Ineke Sluiter. 2009. “Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, ca. 420–490.” In Copeland, Rita, and Ineke Sluiter, eds. 2009. Medieval grammar and rhetoric: language arts and literary theory, AD 300 -1475. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Henderson, John. 2011. Review of Romeo Schievenin, Nugis ignosce lectitans: studi su Marziano Capella. Polymnia 12. Trieste: Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2009. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.03.84.

Hicks, Andrew. 2012. “Martianus Capella and the Liberal Arts.” In Hexter, Ralph J., and David Townsend, eds. The Oxford handbook of medieval Latin literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hunt, Tony. 1977. “Precursors and Progenitors of Aucassin et Nicolette.” Studies in Philology. 74 (1): 1-19.

Kopp, Ulrich Friedrich. 1836. Martiani Minei Felicis Capellae, Afri Carthaginiensis, de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem artibus liberalibus libri novem. Francofurti ad Moenum: Apud Franciscum Varrentrapp.

LeMoine, Fannie John. 1972. “Judging the Beauty of Diversity: A Critical Approach to Martianus Capella.” The Classical Journal. 67 (3): 209-215.

Relihan, Joel C. 1987. “Martianus Capella, the Good Teacher.” Pacific Coast Philology. 22 (1/2): 59-70.

Rollo, David. 2011. Kiss my relics: hermaphroditic fictions of the middle ages. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (online review)

Shanzer, Danuta. 1986. A philosophical and literary commentary on Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, Book 1. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Appendix 2 provides an English translation of Book 1)

Shanzer, Danuta. 2013. Review of Lucio Cristante, Luciano Lenaz, Martiani Capellae De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. Vol. 1, Libri I – II. Bibliotheca Weidmanniana, 15.1. Hildesheim:  Weidmann, 2011. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.48.

Smith, Philip M. 1987. Remigius of Auxurre. Remigius Autissiodorensis Commentum in Martianum Capellam: a translation and commentary.Ph.D. Thesis, Florida State University.

Stahl, William Harris. 1965. “To a better understanding of Martianus Capella.” Speculum. 40(1): 102-115.

Stahl, William H. and Richard Johnson, with E. L. Burge. 1977. Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts the Marriage of Philology and Mercury. Vol. 2. New York: Columbia University Press. (volume 1 published in 1971)

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 2012. “Learned Mythography: Plato and Martianus Capella.” In Hexter, Ralph J., and David Townsend, eds. The Oxford handbook of medieval Latin literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

10 thoughts on “Martianus Capella, updated: the marriage of Gynecology and Hercules”

  1. I think it is fair to characterize you as an insane genius.

    The genius manifests in the breadth and scope of your knowledge.

    Both the madness and the genius manifest in how you effortlessly skip from events 2500 years past and easily tie those long past events to the contemporary travails of males…this is related to what I call “controlled schizophrenia”…as it is well established that the synapses in such a person work at a far superior rate than in the ordinary individual.

    The classic schizophrenic is invariably a tragic mess of confusion…but the controlled schizophrenic…one who is in command of his wildly creative, quick, and fertile mind…is perhaps the most powerful thinker amongst us.

    “Great wits are sure to madmen near allied.”
    ___Dryden

  2. The madness, of course, manifests when you pen articles centered on “crapping crows”, “burden of performance vis a vis farting” and “erection labor tax credits”.

    The iconoclastic and pioneering filmmaker Kenneth Anger once wrote of Cardinal d’Este:

    “There are very few things I call sexual perversion, but he liked to fuck goats, and that is technically a perversion.”

    The point being; some conduct is so far removed from the mainstream of collective thought that even though the wise and insightful may sneer condescendingly at that aforementioned collective; some behavior is just too far removed and beyond the pale for it to not be deemed madness.

  3. The Gynocentric West stands on one important assumption and its utterly binding (for the phallus bearers) corollary:

    Man is a victimizer; woman is a victim.

    Since a woman can almost never victimize a male and a male can never be a victim of a woman; a woman has essentially carte blanche to victimize males with impunity.

    And that’s all She wrote…

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