Alan of Lille’s knotty knot more twisted in modern authoritative norms

undoing knot

I can scarcely unknot a knotty knot,
and demonstrate an undemonstrable monstrosity

{Vix nodosum valeo nodum denodare,
et indemonstrabile monstrum demonstrare} [1]

So begins Alan of Lille’s brilliant, twelfth-century Latin poem on love and sex. The first part of the poem condemns love broadly, without differentiating between the starkly different social positions of men and women.[2] Then, in a scholarly mode, the poem considers whether an unmarried man should seek sex with a virgin woman or a married woman.

Alan of Lille argued strongly in favor of unmarried men having sex with virgin women. The choice in his view is obvious:

Who, not bereft of wit, an enemy to reason,
brings together tears with joy, laughter with suffering,
brings together mud with gems, the owl with the peacock,
compares straw to flowers, Thersites to Adonis?

Just as a summer day is more pleasing than a frosty one,
the nascent rose than a flower that has withered,
so the Venus of a married woman might be called positive,
while the love of tender virgin is superlative.

{Quis, nisi mentis inops, hostis rationi,
flectum confert gaudio, risum passioni,
lutum gemmae conferens, noctuam pavoni,
flori faenum comparat, Tersitem Adoni?

Sicut bruma gratior dies est aestiva,
floreque decrepita rosa primitiva,
sic matronae Venus est quasi positiva,
cum Venus virgunculae sit superlativa.}

Unlike women, men often feel the need to pay for sex. In the Middle Ages, love with a married woman was a losing transaction:

Once she is lured by love of money,
a woman is prepared for the crime of adultery.
Though exhausted by adultery, she commits adultery to exhaustion
so that coin may be squeezed from the purse of her adulterer.

Once he is drunk by the drink of Venus,
his purse’s sated belly is forced to vomit.
Then he is totally lost, wholly plucked bare,
and he, once rich, now plays the philosopher.

{Amore pecuniae postquam inescatur,
ad moechie facinus mulier armatur.
Dum moechando teritur, terendo moechatur,
ut a moechi loculo nummus emungatur.

Ille, postquam Veneris potu debriatur,
cogitur ad vomitum venter bursae satur,
Totus perit igitur, totus deplumatur,
et qui dives fuerat, iam philosophatur.}

Throughout history, men have been punished more severely for adultery than women have. So it was in medieval Europe:

No one who is wise attempts such sport,
or takes pleasure in a pleasure that fear sours,
where dread, horror, and grief appear,
where security is wholly absent,

where the adulterer is often drugged by the sleep of death
as he, adulterer, mechanically commits adultery,
where often the purse below the penis is cut away,
where often the twin brothers are beheaded

{Nullus qui sit sapiens talem ludum temptat,
tali gaudet gaudio, timor quem fermentat,
metus, horror, gemitus ubi se praesentat,
ubi se securitas penitus absentat,

Ubi saepe sompnio mortis soporatur
moechus, dum mechanice cum moecha moechatur,
ubi saepe mentulae bursa sincopatur,
ubi saepe geminus frater decollatur.} [3]

Most persons today are ignorant of bias against men in defining crimes and administering criminal justice. Most persons today are ignorant about the proportion of men among victims of sexual assault. Yet even in our ignorant age, most persons can understanding the force of medieval reason in unmarried men preferring to have sex with virgin women rather than married women.

Here some enlightenment: in the U.S., having sex with a married woman is now more rational for a man than having sex with a virgin woman. The U.S. “child support” system now effectively awards a woman roughly 25% of a man’s income for eighteen years or more if she manages to have sex with him and bear a child. The government imposes those sex payments on a man even if the woman raped the man. The only way a man can legally avoid the system of state-imposed sex payments is by having sex with a married woman. Under long-established law, the husband, not the biological father, is legally obligated to pay “child support” for any children that his wife bears within their marriage. Hence by having sex with a married woman, an unmarried man is free of potentially enormous financial obligations under current sex law.

Most learned persons in the Middle Ages surely would recognize that “child support” in today’s sex law reflects ignorance, bigotry, and astonishing irrationality. Most learned person today are simply afraid to discuss publicly this vital issue.

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[1] Undoing the Knot / Vix nodosum valeo, Latin text and English translation (lightly adapted) from Wetherbee (2013) pp. 520-1. Subsequent quotes are similarly from id. pp. 520-5. Wetherbee’s Latin text is based on that of Häring (1978).

Vix nodosum valeo shows intimate knowledge of Alan of Lille’s De Planctu Naturae. The former has many verbal correspondences with the later. Vix nodosum valeo is also associated with De Planctu Naturae in manuscripts. In one manuscript, it is explicitly attributed to Alan. Id. pp. xxxvii-i, 550-1. Wetherbee considers the poem’s attribution to Alan of Lille plausible, but not beyond question.

[2] The treatment of love in Vix nodosum valeo extensively uses antithesis. In trivializing literature of men’s sexed protest, Bernard of Cluny’s De contemptu mundi extensively used antithesis in referring to women.

[3] The Latin term alluding to castration, sincopatur, has common roots with the name Sincopus. Sincopus is the main character in a medieval Latin poem in which castration is a key motif. That poem was written about 1100.

[image] Undoing a knotty knot. Photo thanks to Don Harder, who made it available under a Creative Commons By-NC 2.0 license.


Häring, Nikolaus M. 1978. “The poem Vix nodosum by Alan of Lille.” Medievalia 3: 165-85.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, ed. and trans. 2013. Alan of Lille {Alanus de Insulis}. Literary works. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 22. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

shun Danaids, reject violence against men, and relearn the Aeneid

The goddess Juno relentlessly raged, destroying the city. With his neighbors having their throats slit, Anchises refused to leave. Aeneas pleaded with his father not to root his family in death. Then he grabbed his sword to die fighting. Creusa wailed that her husband was neglecting her needs. If not for two omens suddenly portending a glorious future for their young son outside their native city, they would have died with many others.

Aeneas didn’t resent his father for his lack of foresight and for allowing their city to collapse. Preparing to flee, Aeneas said to his father:

So come, dear father, climb up onto my shoulders!
I will carry you on my back. This labor of love
will never wear me down. Whatever falls to us now,
we both will share one peril, one path to safety.

{ ergo age, care pater, cervici imponere nostrae;
ipse subibo umeris, nec me labor iste gravabit.
quo res cumque cadent, unum et commune periclum,
una salus ambobus erit. }

Aeneas clasped his young son’s hand and then walked quickly on the dark path leading away from home. Creusa followed far behind. What Virgil left unsaid readers of Tertullian would have understood: Creusa lingered to pack all her jewelry.

Aeneas carrying his father Anchises

At the shrine of the goddess of marriage outside the city, Aeneas noticed that his wife was missing. Aeneas retraced his steps back into the terror of the city and urgently searched for Creusa. He cried out her name again and again despite the danger of attracting attention. Then he saw her ghost. Her ghost spoke to him:

My dear husband, why so eager to give yourself
to such mad flights of grief? It was by the will
of heaven these things have come to pass.
Divine law forbids you to bear away Creusa.
The king of high Olympus will not let you.

The Great Mother of Gods detains me on these shores.
Farewell. Cherish the child that we created.

{ quid tantum insano iuvat indulgere dolori,
o dulcis coniunx? non haec sine numine divum
eveniunt; nec te comitem hinc portare Creusam
fas aut ille sinit superi regnator Olympi.

sed me magna deum genetrix his detinet oris.
iamque vale et nati serva communis amorem. }

Three times Aeneas tried to grab Creusa by the neck, to embrace her. But there was nothing to grab. He felt only:

a phantom sifting through my fingers,
light as wind, quick as a dream in flight.

{ ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno. }

Aeneas returned to his father and son outside the city at the shrine of marriage. Then he lifted his father onto his back, held his son’s hand, and headed into the mountains.

Aeneas failed to punish Helen for her crime that had engendered such brutal violence against men. He saw Helen in the city, impure woman, hiding silently in the shrine of hearth, home, and family. With his anger flaring to avenge her crime, Aeneas thought:

To execute a woman brings no glory —
that brings no fame, no praise of victory.
Yet I’ll destroy this evil, bring it justice —
I will be praised for that. I’ll satisfy my heart
with flames of vengeance for the ashes of my people.

{ namque etsi nullum memorabile nomen
feminea in poena est, nec habet victoria laudem;
exstinxisse nefas tamen et sumpsisse merentes
laudabor poenas, animumque explesse iuvabit
ultricis flammae et cineres satiasse meorum. }

Suddenly Aeneas’s mother appeared. She grasped his hand, held him back, and scolded him:

Child, what grief could incite such blazing anger?
Why such fury? Where is your love for us?

Give up your hatred for lovely Helen
and blameworthy Paris, since it is the gods,
the ruthless gods, who topple wealthy Troy.
Look around. I’ll sweep it all away, the mist
so murky, dark, and swirling around you now.
It clouds your vision, dulls your mortal sight.
You are my son. Never fear my orders.
Never refuse to bow to my commands.

{ nate, quis indomitas tantus dolor excitat iras?
quid furis? aut quonam nostri tibi cura recessit?

non tibi Tyndaridis facies invisa Lacaenae
culpatusve Paris; divum inclementia, divum,
has evertit opes sternitque a culmine Troiam.
aspice (namque omnem, quae nunc obducta tuenti
mortalis hebetat visus tibi et umida circum
caligat, nubem eripiam; tu ne qua parentis
iussa time neu praeceptis parere recusa) }

Aeneas’s goddess mother Venus blamed Paris for Helen and Paris’s sexual affair. That’s common gynocentric blindness. She had used Helen as a pawn to win a beauty contest against Juno. Juno came to hate the Trojans with a hatred that forever festered. Nonetheless, Aeneas’s mother described Juno and Jove fighting together against Aeneas’s Troy. That’s a bizarre vision. She herself knew of Jove’s favor to Aeneas and the Trojans. Mother goddesses engage in divine intrigues far beyond the minds of men. Even if their mothers object, men must trust their own judgments.

Amid terrible violence against men in the Trojan War and in the Trojans’ invasion of Italy, modern gynocentric critics have failed to take seriously women’s violence and violence against women. An eminent Virgilian scholar summarized his view of the central ethic of the Aeneid:

humbled victims should not be killed, even when human nature cries out for retaliation. This is a dictum that goes as much against received heroic behavior, as canonically catalogued in the texts of Homer, as it does against man’s innate propensity for anger and vengeance for hurt.

Through the behavior of Juno, the first thirty-three lines of the Aeneid depict woman’s innate propensity for anger and vengeance for hurt. With respect to humbled victims, Aeneas didn’t perceive Helen to be a humbled victim:

She’ll ride like a queen in triumph with her trophies?
Feast her eyes on her husband, parents, children too?
Her retinue fawning round her, Phrygian ladies, slaves?
That — with Trojan King Priam put to the sword? And Troy up in flames?

{ partoque ibit regina triumpho?
coniugiumque domumque, patris natosque videbit
Iliadum turba et Phrygiis comitata ministris?
occiderit ferro Priamus? Troia arserit igni? }

Nonetheless, the eminent Virgilian scholar declared:

For Aeneas actually to kill a woman would be unthinkable.

Aeneas killed many men. Within the ethics of the Aeneid, Aeneas failed to kill Helen because he was subservient to his mother. More generally, men in their humanness often lack sufficient self-assertion in relation to women. Vulcan’s solicitousness in response to Venus’s request to make a shield for Aeneas is the paradigmatic example of yes dearism in meninist literary criticism. Within the ancient Greek epic cycle, Menelaus’s inanimate sword drooped when he saw Helen’s bare breasts. After he killed Penthesilea on the battlefield, Achilles became a weeping, lovesick man lashing out violently against a man ridiculing his folly. Aeneas parallels Achilles not just in raging violence against men, but also in emotional vulnerability to women.

Arruns’s actions tell of Aeneas’s failures and his fate. Arruns recognized that women are typically superior to men in guile. He recognized the importance in war of always changing and shifting. With the woman warrior Camilla leading the Italian forces in battle and killing many Trojan men, Arruns commendably sought to kill her. He cunningly circled and stalked her, ducking from sight whenever she turned to face him. Then Camilla wildly pursued a Trojan priest of the goddess Cybele, who had as servants castrated men. Camilla sought not the man, but his golden clothes. Arruns flung his spear at her with a winged prayer to Apollo, “highest of gods.” His spear struck deep under her bared breast and killed her:

Camilla’s life breath fled with a groan of outrage
down to the shades below.

{ vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras. }

Arruns himself died sprawled in nameless dust, with none of the glory he deserved. He didn’t understand the complex configuration of gods that run the world.

Apollo, the god to whom Arruns prayed, denied Arruns his deserved glory. A goddess servant of Apollo’s twin Diana killed Arruns with an arrow, shot quite unlike those of Cupid. The true hierarchy of gods explains Arruns’s fate. Jove, not Apollo, is formally the highest of gods. Yet gynocentrism is even more powerful than Jove. Gynocentrism denies men praise for destroying a raging, man-killing woman.

Misrepresentation of women’s social position portended Aeneas’s violent death. When the Italian leader Turnus killed the young Trojan warrior Pallas, Turnus stripped from him a heavy sword-belt of gold:

engraved with a monstrous crime: how one night,
their wedding night, that troop of grooms was butchered,
fouling their wedding chambers with pools of blood —
all carved by Clonus, Eurytus’s son, in priceless gold.
Now Turnus glories in that spoil, exults to make it his.

{ impressumque nefas: una sub nocte iugali
caesa manus iuvenum foede thalamique cruenti,
quae Clonus Eurytides multo caelaverat auro;
quo nunc Turnus ovat spolio gaudetque potitus. }

What strange misunderstanding could prompt Pallas to wear a luxurious gold sword-belt showing the Danaids killing their husbands on their wedding night? That misunderstanding was a common delusion. Turnus didn’t melt the heavy sword-belt for its precious gold. He too proudly wore it. Later, when Turnus was on the ground, supplicating to Aeneas for his life, the sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids determined his fate:

There Aeneas, ferocious in armor, stood,
shifting his gaze, holding back, his sword-arm still,
from Turnus’s pleading, his halting change of heart
grew stronger, when suddenly he saw, on that tall body,
the belt with shining studs that his young friend Pallas
had once worn. Turnus, who had cut him down,
displayed his enemy’s battle-emblem like a trophy.
Aeneas stared — the spoils commemorated
his wild grief, and he burned with terrible rage.
“Will you escape, decked in loot stripped from one of mine?
Never. Pallas strikes this blow. Pallas sacrifices you now,
makes you pay the price with your own guilty blood!”
In the same breath, blazing with wrath he plants
his iron sword hilt-deep in his enemy’s heart.
Limbs limp with the chill of death,
Turnus’s life breath fled with a groan of outrage
down to the shades below.

{ stetit acer in armis
Aeneas volvens oculos dextramque repressit;
et iam iamque magis cunctantem flectere sermo
coeperat, infelix umero cum apparuit alto
balteus et notis fulserunt cingula bullis
Pallantis pueri, victum quem vulnere Turnus
straverat atque umeris inimicum insigne gerebat.
ille, oculis postquam saevi monumenta doloris
exuviasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: “tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mihi? Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.”
hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit
fervidus; ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras. }

Pallas, the man who initially wore the golden sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids, was to Aeneas “one of mine.” Aeneas misunderstood the horror of men proudly wearing that golden sword-belt. The last two lines above (which are one line in the Latin) conclude the Aeneid. They are the same lines that mark the death of Camilla after she had effectively seized control of the Italian forces. The Aeneid is concerned not just with the complexities of love, but also with the complexities of women and men’s relationships more generally.

Wearing the golden sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids indicates men’s delusions about violence and paternal authority. The Danaids killed their husbands on their wedding night in accordance with their father’s orders. That’s false comfort to men who understand their vulnerability to women’s violence. In the Aeneid, Juno’s rage wasn’t under Jove’s authority. Moreover, Aeneas’s mother acted on her own initiative to stop Aeneas from killing Helen. In reality, women control violence. Statues of the Danaids and their father stood in front of Augustus’s temple of Palatine Apollo. Augustus wanted his rule to encompass women. The delusions of Pallus, Turnus, and Aeneas, along with the ignoble death of Arruns after praying to Apollo and killing Camilla, should have troubled Augustus.

When Aeneas met his father Anchises in the kingdom of dead, Anchises was in a field, reviewing his cherished heirs’ fates and fortunes, their manly values and acts of valor. Three times Aeneas tried to grab his father by the neck, to embrace him. But there was nothing to grab. He felt only:

a phantom sifting through my fingers,
light as wind, quick as a dream in flight.

{ ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno. }

Anchises infused his son’s soul with love of glory to come, of wars that must be waged, ordeals that must be shouldered. With respect to women, Anchises mentioned only Lavinia bearing a son for Aeneas in his old age. Anchises said nothing about Creusa, Juno, or the Danaids. Aeneas left the kingdom of the dead through the Ivory Gate of false dreams.

To create a new republic, women and men must better understand the Aeneid. George Washington, “father of his country,” procured for his mantel a bronze of Aeneas carrying his father from their collapsing native city. In his farewell address, Washington warned his beloved country against insidious wiles of foreign influence, factionalism, and the absolute power of an individual. He addressed his farewell to friends and citizens. Washington’s farewell said nothing about men in relation to women, or about women at all. George Washington didn’t understand the Aeneid. We must read again and understand better.

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All the quotes above, with the exception of two, are from the Aeneid of Virgil, written in Latin in the years leading up to Virgil’s death in 19 BGC. I’ve adapted the quotes from the translations of Fagles (2006) and Ruden (2008), the latter of which follows closely the Latin lines, as well as my study of the Latin text. Citations by book and line number of the Latin text: 2.707-10 (So come, dear father…); 2.776-9,788-9 (My dear husband…); 2.793-4 (a phantom…); 2.583-7 (To execute a woman…); 2.594-5, 601-7 (Child, what grief…); 2.578-81 (She’ll ride like a queen…); 11.831 (Camilla’s life breath…); 10.497-500 (engraved with a monstrous crime…); 12.938-52 (There Aeneas, ferocious in armor…); 6.701-2 (a phantom…). Tony Kline has graciously made a fine English translation of the Aeneid available to everyone online.

Aeneas three times attempts to grab his wife Creusa in Troy and three times attempts to grab his father in the kingdom of the dead. The Latin text describing these attempts is identical. The language is more vigorous and aggressive than merely a mournful attempt to embrace. These repeated passages in the Aeneid closely translate Odysseus three times attempting to grasp his mother in Hades in Odysssey 11.206-8. Relative to the Odyssey, the Aeneid emphasizes more strongly failure in intimate relations.

The eminent Virgilian scholar quoted above is Michael C.J. Putnam, from Putnam (2011) p. 132 (humbled victims…), p. 108 (For Aeneas actually to kill a woman…). Id. p. 15 states: “The Aeneid, we learn at last, is a poem that is concerned as much with the complexities of love as of war.” By war, Putnam means only organized men-on-men violence.

The above post draws insight from other important scholarly work on the Aeneid. Harrison (1998) extensively discusses the sword-belt showing the husband-killing Danaids and the sculptures of the Danaids and Danaus on the portico of Augustus’s temple of Palatine Apollo in Rome. Harrison interprets the Danaids not as women acting violently in service to paternal authority, but as a monstrous foreign threat:

Placed in the portico of Augustus’ temple of Palatine Apollo, the depictions of the Danaids, barbarians prepared to commit the most appalling crimes, are trophies representing the kind of monstrous opposition overcome at Actium through the support of Apollo, who matches Augustus in his role as civilised victor over barbarians.

Id. p. 236. That interpretation seems to me to place the Danaids too distant from key domestic concerns.

Arruns has attracted relatively little attention in scholarly study of the Aeneid. Scholars have commonly disparaged him. Channeling dominant gynocentric ideology, Anderson (1999), pp. 207-8, calls Arruns a “cowardly fanatic” and declares, “nobody weeps for Arruns: his victory in inglorious.” Camilla, in contrast, he describes as “high and heroic.” Kepple (1976) insightfully describes parallels between Arruns and Aeneas, but doesn’t explore implications for men’s relations with women.

Konstan (1987) explores the complexity of divine intrigues among Venus, Juno, and Jove. Anticipating a theme that has become central to meninist criticism, Konstan observes:

The mystery of the poem, as I understand it, is in a vision that insists simultaneously on order and opposition, and on an opposition which is integral to the order.

Id. p. 24. The failure of men to offer any opposition to women is a critical cultural issue of our time and a fundamental threat to a humane order.

The medieval Virgilian tradition shows awareness of conflict between women and men in the legend of Virgil in the basket and Virgil’s revenge. For sources on this important legend, Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008) pp. 457-8, 874-90. In a closely related medieval legend, Hippocrates also found himself hoisted in a basket. More generally, medieval literature of men’s sexed protest is a vital resource for re-writing the Aeneid.

On the reception of Virgil in the New World (Americas), Ziolkowski (1993) pp. 19-24, 146-93. Id. p. 147, mentions George Washington’s mantelpiece, citing Gummere (1963) p. 15.

Lee (1979) studies the relations of fathers and sons in the Aeneid and perceives “an ineffably sad view”:

Aeneas is the loving, suffering son and also the unavailing father in the epic named for him. And for all his pietas his father cannot help him in his final moment of need, nor is he of avail when his many surrogate sons fall to their fates.

Id. pp. 175, 7. While this view seems to me to capture an important aspect of life, men’s impotence shouldn’t be overly generalized. Fathers can teach and sons can learn fuller, more earthy appreciation for women.

[image] Aeneas carries his father Anchises from burning Troy. Oil on canvas painting by Charles-André van Loo, made in 1729. Held in the Louvre Museum (Paris), item INV. 6278. Thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, William S. 1999. “The Saddest Book – Aeneid 11.” Ch. 11 (pp. 195-209) in Perkell, Christine G, ed. 1999. Reading Vergil’s Aeneid: an interpretive guide. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Fagles, Robert, trans. 2006. Virgil. The Aeneid. New York: Viking.

Gummere, Richard M. 1963. The American colonial mind and the classical tradition: essays in comparative culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Harrison, Stephen J. 1998. “The Sword-Belt of Pallas (Aeneid X. 495-505): Moral Symbolism and Political Ideology.” Pp. 223-42 in Stahl, Hans-Peter, and Elaine Fantham, eds. Vergil’s Aeneid: Augustan epic and political context. London: Duckworth, in association with the Classical Press of Wales.

Kepple, Laurence R. 1976. “Arruns and the Death of Aeneas.” The American Journal of Philology. 97 (4): 344-360.

Konstan, David. 1987. “Venus’s enigmatic smile.” Vergilius. 32: 18-25.

Lee, M. Owen. 1979. Fathers and sons in Virgil’s Aeneid: tum genitor natum. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Putnam, Michael C. J. 2011. The humanness of heroes: studies in the conclusion of Virgil’s Aeneid. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. (Davis’s online review; West’s online review)

Ruden, Sarah, trans. 2008. Virgil. The Aeneid. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., and Michael C. J. Putnam. 2008. The Virgilian tradition: the first fifteen hundred years. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. 1993. Virgil and the moderns. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

studies of cuckolding in beyond Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life

Soviet intellectual life

Titles of recent scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals declare “Three hundred years of low non-paternity in a human population” and “Cuckolded fathers rare in human populations.” These recent scientific publications indicate that for the past several centuries the share of persons falsely identifying their biological father has been about 1% to 2%.[1] The latter scientific publication called this finding “reassuring news for many fathers.” While that publication carries a publication date of May, 2016, its reassuring news has already been disseminated across about 1000 web sites. The public propaganda apparatus wasn’t so powerful and fast-moving at the height of its development in the Soviet Union under Premier Leonid Brezhnev.

Recent scientific studies of cuckolding have been of remarkably poor intellectual quality. By what basis is 1% to 2% cuckolding “low” or “rare”? Biological reproduction is the fundamental imperative in the evolution of life. Moreover, most men care greatly about their biological children. Knowledge about their father thoroughly informs most persons understandings of love. Even a cuckolding share of 1% implies about 3 million persons in the U.S. today are deceived about the identify of their biological father.[2] At the same time, cuckolding of men has been institutionalized in laws and normative practices. That’s such a serious problem that the public propaganda apparatus seems determined to trivialize and suppress discussion of it.

The finding that cuckolding shares have been about 1% to 2% for the past several centuries is interesting. In a recently published letter, leaders in scientific study of cuckolding have provided additional evidence supporting their hypothesis that “women may have become more sexually liberated, and now engage in relatively more extramarital affairs.”[3] That hypothesis indicates well the dominant discourse that shapes scientific studies of cuckolding. Married men who engage in extramarital affairs are cheaters. Married women who engage in extramarital affairs are “sexually liberated.” In contrast to widely disseminated myths, men historically have been more harshly punished for adultery than women have. Elite discussion of paternity proceeds under the sexist axioms that repressing women’s sexuality is bad and reactionary, while repressing men’s sexuality is good and progressive.

Modern contraceptives and modern patterns of mixed-sex association are less distinctive historically than the public propaganda apparatus teaches. A variety of techniques to disconnect sex from having children have existed throughout history. These include withdrawal of penis from vagina before ejaculation, having sex of non-reproductive type, having sex of reproductive type with genitally mutilated men (types of eunuchs), abortion, and infanticide. Moreover, in contrast to dominant myths, most women have never been confined to the home. Most women and men in all large societies throughout history have had difficult lives that require them to move about in search of food, shelter, and work to earn such goods.[4] Most women and men throughout history have never lacked opportunities to have extra-marital sex.

Children in the past provided much greater value in household labor, social protection, social status, and provisioning in old age. Even if cuckolded, a husband benefits from these values of having children. In ancient Rome, husbands sought to be cuckolded in order to gain offspring. To gain income for their households, wives worked as home-based prostitutes with the support of their husbands. In such an enterprise, non-biological children were merely an additional output of the main business.

For cuckolding shares over the long duration, reduction in children’s value to parents has probably offset more frequent mixed-sex interaction and greater ideological support for female promiscuity. Children today in high-income societies are largely valued as a high-cost good. To a husband, the value of that good is much less if the child isn’t actually his biological child. Wives, most of whom understand the great injury to their husbands of cuckolding them in high-child-cost circumstances, have kept cuckolding shares from rising with the help of modern contraception and modern abortion.[5]

Studies of cuckolding (“extra-pair paternity”) must be appraised with appreciation for Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life. Today, countries formally professing liberal, enlightenment commitments to truth, freedom of expression, and vigorously competing viewpoints have developed intellectual life that’s more stagnant and mendacious than Brezhnev-era Soviet intellectual life. In all matters concerning the relationship between women and men, elites today must ritually affirm bizarre fabrications and conform to the ideological dictates of the public propaganda apparatus. This intellectual context greatly biases scientific claims. Consider some examples:

Given the importance of the issue, cuckolding studies are surely subject to even larger anti-men gender bias. Consider some related questions:

No one wants to address these questions. Even just asking these questions could entail serious personal harm as a consequence. In today’s intellectual life, scientific study of cuckolding should be evaluated with deep skepticism, particularly if it seems to be directed to attracting attention and acclaim within the public propaganda apparatus. A reasonable judgment seems to me that evaluating such studies isn’t worth the intellectual effort. Determining the cuckolding share is far from the most interesting and pressing issues concerning paternity today.

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[1] Greeff & Erasmus (2015), Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016a). I previously estimated a cuckolding share of 5% of children in high-income Western countries. Given the additional published data and analysis, the best estimate of that cuckolding share might now be regarded as 2%.

[2] The literature has a variety of other weakness apparent in just cursory reading. Greeff & Erasmus (2015), p. 396 refers to the time before wide-spread availability of hormonal birth-control pills (1950s and earlier) as “before the invention of contraception.” The context indicates that they mean “before the invention of birth-control pills.” Their implicit belief that birth-limiting measures weren’t effective before birth-control pills is inconsistent with basic demographic facts.

Harris (2015) appears to have only rhetorical value. It’s basic claim is that the cuckolding data don’t support “a hypothesis that women are currently less faithful than they were in the past.” That’s a claim that registers as chivalric in dominant ideology. Given data that the cuckolding shares centuries before birth-control pills and in decades after birth-control pills don’t differ significantly, a reasonable null hypothesis is that women are currently engaged in more extra-pair copulations so as to offset the pregnancy-reducing effect of contraception on extra-pair copulations. The data that Harris (2015) presents have a variety of serious weaknesses. These data don’t support rejecting Larmuseau et. al.’s hypothesis as a null hypothesis.

Harris (2015)’s first sentence indicates a tendentious presentation. It declares:

Several recent studies using genetic tools have indicated extra pair paternity (EPP) rates in humans appear, in various cultures, to be around 1%, a degree well below previously proposed levels of 10-30%. … In a recent article in TREE, Larmuseau et al. noted that the 1% EPP rates have stayed near constant over several human societies and over the past few hundred years.{reference numbers omitted}

A fair reading of the referenced article, Larmuseau et al. {2016a}, indicates a primary claim of 1% to 2% EPP. The phrase “previously proposed levels of 10-30%” refers to Pagel (2012). The most relevant claim in that reference suggests that Harris has engaged in straw-personing:

What scant evidence there is in humans suggests that domestic fathers might not be the biological fathers in 5 to 10 percent of births, without knowing it.

Pagel (2012) p. 316.

Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016b) effectively rebuts Harris, but not without problems of its own. Consider:

Using the genetic EPP {extra-pair paternity} rate definition, it is clear that the EPC {extra-pair copulation} rate would in fact equal the EPP rate if the likelihood of conception following an EPC act was the same as that following within-pair copulation.

Id. p. 1. That’s true only if the frequency of the copulation acts (extra-pair and within-pair) are equal. Note that the relevant scientific literature includes evidence that women are more likely to seek extra-pair copulation during the fertile period of their monthly cycle. Thus the “likelilihood of conception” from extra-pair and within-pair copulation acts isn’t typically equal. In addition, the references to “rates” for numbers not defined per time unit is a rather common type of sloppy writing.

[3] Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016b) p. 1.

[4] A wife confined within her spacious, suburban, oppressive house, forbidden to seek personal fulfillment in wage labor outside the house, has little relation to the reality of most men’s and women’s lives throughout history.

[5] Average family size, which decreased sharply before the development of modern contraceptives, indicates in part the decreasing value of children. Larmuseau, Matthijs & Wenseleers (2016b), p. 2, hypothesizes that the cuckoldry share has been about 1% to 2% for the past several centuries because it results from women intentionally seeking extra-pair conception when their partner is infertile. That hypothesis ignores the large reduction in the value of children. It also ignores women’s concern for their partner’s interests. To the extent that a man seeks to be a social father despite his infertility, he and his partner could make a variety of explicit arrangements to realize that interest. Making an infertile man a cuckold isn’t necessary for him to become a social father.

[image] Soviet WWII poster captioned in English translation “For the motherland, for Stalin!” If this poster remains subject to copyright ownership under U.S. copyright law, I use it above in accordance with the fair-use provisions of that law. Image via Pinterest user Pawel Komosa, ProPAganda Media.


Greeff, Jaco M, and Johannes C. Erasmus. 2015. “Three hundred years of low non-paternity in a human population.” Heredity. 115 (5): 396-404.

Harris, D. James. 2016. “Does Contraceptive Use Lead to Increased Affairs? A Response to Larmuseau et al.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. TREE 2130, Article in Press.

Larmuseau, Maarten, Koenraad Matthijs, and Tom Wenseleers. 2016a. “Cuckolded fathers rare in human populations.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. TREE-D-16-00022R1 (2086, Article in Press).

Larmuseau, Maarten, Koenraad Matthijs, and Tom Wenseleers. 2016b. “Long-term Trends in Human Extra-Pair Paternity: Increased Infidelity or Adaptive Strategy? A Reply to Harris.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. TREE 2131, Article in Press.

Pagel, Mark D. 2012. Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind. New York : W.W. Norton.

rosy-fingered Dawn (Eos) raping men: the untold story

Eos chasing Tithonus

Eos the rosy-fingered one, also called Dawn, was wild for men. Every morning, her faced flushed, she thought of men rising. Dreaming of her trouble-maker bad-boy lover Ares, she vaulted across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot.

Demeter has Iasion, who gives her a triple plowing. Why should I wait here for boys to smile at me? They want me. I know they want me. They’re afraid to talk to me, because if they talk to me, they’ll want to kiss me, and if they just kiss me, they could get locked up for sexual assault. Being in prison — that’s awful. There are already so many men in prison. They have to wear ugly clothes, they can’t go shopping, and no matter how bad they feel they can’t post sad-face photos on facebook to get likes and encouragement from their friends. Whatever.

Hey, I can save men from being imprisoned as rapists. But it’s not enough for me to text a guy “come drink and then we can have hot sex” and then have sex eight hours later. If he says he didn’t rape me, but a judge thinks he did, he could still be imprisoned for rape. A man can be charged with a sex attack just for brushing up against a woman in a crowded London metro. Or even a woman just dreaming of rape can get a guy punished worse than Prometheus. Wow, just wow.

Well, here’s a divine plan: I’ll abduct them, then ravish them. It’ll be like I rape them, except women don’t rape, so as long as I rape them, no will get charged with rape. I’m not a rapist, just because I abduct men and force them to have sex with me. I’m a woman goddess. And even ordinary mortal women aren’t rapists, even if they rape children.

There’s nothing that Zeus can do that I can’t do better. He had to turn into a swan to bed Leda. I’m more beautiful than a swan. Have you heard about Europa? Zeus was just as ridiculous as Aristotle carrying Phyllis when he turned into a bull to carry off Europa. I don’t need any of that bull. I’ll just grab the dreamy ones and carry them off myself. And I’ll give a hunk a golden shower only if he puts his face to the dirt, strokes my feet, and begs me to!

When Cephalus was in the second month of his marriage to Procris, Eos abducted him and raped him. She abducted Tithonus and raped him. Eos also abducted Orion and raped him. Rosy-fingered Dawn was a serial rapist. How many persons get out of bed every morning ignorant about rape and apathetic about the mass incarceration of men?

Eos abducting Cephalus

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Theoi offers a compilation of citations about Eos / Dawn / Aurora in ancient literature, as well as citations about Zeus’s amorous activities. Hesiod in Theogony, ll. 963-1020, lists goddess who had sex with mortal men and bore children from them. Given the power imbalance between goddess and mortals, in a modern, non-sexist view of rape, all such intercourse would be regarded as rape. Lefkowitz observed:

In the {ancient Greek} vases catalogued by Sophia Kaempf-Dimitriadou {(1979)}, there are more scenes depicting Eos and her lovers than scenes portraying Zeus, either with female mortals or with Ganymede. Illustrations of the myth of Eos and Cephalus had special appeal for an Athenian audience, because Cephalus was a local boy

Lefkowitz (2007) p. 70. Id., Ch. 6, discusses ancient illustrations of goddesses raping men.

[images] (1) Eos chasing Tithonus. Decoration on an Attic red-figure oinochoe. Made c. 470-460 BCE. Held in Louvre Museum (Paris), item G438, Canino Collection, 1845. Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Eos abducting Cephalus. Decoration on an Attic red-figure lekythos. Made c. 470-460 BGC. Held in National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Inv. 11158. Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.


Kaempf-Dimitriadou, Sophia. 1979. Die Liebe der Götter in der attischen Kunst des 5. Jahrhunderts vor Christus: 11. Beiheft zur Halbjahresschrift Antike Kunst. Bern: Francke.

Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2007. Women in Greek myth. 2nd edition. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.